Should You Buy a ThinkPad X250?

The ThinkPad X250 was the second mainline X-series laptop from Lenovo that sported the “true” Ultrabook form factor (the first being the previous X240). It and it’s older twin are usually overlooked for more popular models, meaning you can potentially find a well-specced X250 for cheap! But should you buy one? Let’s talk a bit about the X250 itself, and then I’ll decide whether or not to give it the Yutaka Channel Seal of Approval.

This is my personal X250. It may look a bit rough right now, but the inside looks much better than this.

System Specs

What’s With All the U’s?

X250’s with higher specifications will be equipped with an Intel Core i7-5600U, though most will have a Core i5-5200U in it’s place. With Lenovo’s switch to ULV (ultra-low voltage) CPUs, battery life improved dramatically, but at the cost of performance. PassMark, a benchmark that aggregates various user scores, rates the i7-5600U over the i5-3320M, the default CPU used in the X230. However, the X250’s default i5-5200U is left behind quite a bit in Lenovo’s move from 35W to 15W by default. Keep this in mind when choosing your laptop.

i7-5600U: 4323 CPU points, 1660 single-threaded points
i5-5200U: 3499 CPU points, 1397 single-threaded points
i5-3520M: 4134 CPU points, 1642 single-threaded points
The i7-5600U pulls far ahead of it’s i5 brother and exceeds even a full-wattage Ivy Bridge i5.

Picking Your Panel

The X250 comes equipped with a variety of panel options. There are officially five in total, three of them have a resolution of 1366×768, while the other two have a resolution of 1920×1080:

  • 12.5″ 1366×768 (“HD”), LED-Backlight, 200 cd/m², 300:1
  • 12.5″ 1366×768 (“HD”), LED-Backlight, 300 cd/m², 700:1, IPS
  • 12.5″ 1366×768 (“HD”), LED-Backlight, 270 cd/m², IPS, Multitouch
  • 12.5″ 1920×1080 (“Full HD”), LED-Backlight, 400 cd/m², 700:1, IPS
  • 12.5″ 1920×1080 (“Full HD”), LED-Backlight, 360 cd/m², IPS, Multitouch

Data from ThinkWiki

The first panel is a 1366×768 TN panel, and will likely be the one you most commonly see. However, the last two panels have a much higher 1080p resolution and are the ones you should go for. Aside from being much brighter, you’re guaranteed an IPS panel and a usable working resolution. A multitouch panel, while allowing 10-finger touch functionality, will reduce brightness slightly and make the top of the X250 thicker.

Looking to upgrade your LCD panel? Keep in mind the Broadwell ThinkPads have a panel whitelist that will keep you from upgrading to a generic panel. You will have to reflash either the ThinkPad or panel controller to use brightness controls.
The X250’s 1080p Touch panel in it’s full glory.

How Much RAM?

Like the older X240, the X250 has a single DDR3 RAM slot. Like most other similarly-specced laptops, X250 configurations shipped with either 4 or 8GB of RAM. However, with BIOS update 1.12, the ability to “officially” add 16GB of RAM was added. This is actually a Broadwell chipset feature; Intel improved the memory controller with the Broadwell die shrink, allowing single-DIMM 16GB modules to be used.

Battery Life

Battery life on the X250 isn’t anything to write home about compared to modern laptops, but still fairly impressive for it’s time. Power Bridge functionality, first introduced with the X240, allows nearly infinite battery life, depending on your budget and carrying capacity. The Intel Broadwell-U chip gives 4 hours of battery with the internal and external 23.2Wh batteries. An optional 6-cell battery, along with the internal battery can provide 6 hours of battery life under normal use.

Build Quality

It’s solid. There’s little flex in the body, and it feels sturdy overall. What else can I say?

Real-Life Usage

While on paper, the ThinkPad X250 might seem weaker than a brand-new laptop, in real-life usage the difference is almost unnoticeable. In a Linux distribution where every other CPU cycle isn’t wasted on telemetry, even an i3-equipped X250 can fly. This section will go through various everyday tasks that one would normally do with a laptop.

Office Work

Almost any computer that can run a modern operating system can be an office worker. However, if you’re looking to infiltrate an office space and look like you work there, this is the laptop for you. While I still prefer the T440p’s keyboard for typing long paragraphs of text, the X250 still does a very good job. In fact, I typed this entire article on it’s keyboard!

Gaming

While lacking a dedicated graphics card, the X250 can still play a respectable amount of games. Any game released before 2012 will likely run well. On the emulation front, anything up to a PlayStation 2 can be emulated with no issues.

Video Editing

Likely the most processor intensive task on this list. An i7-equipped X250 will no doubt handle this well, but an i5 might struggle with 1080p content. Rendering is fairly fast, but watch your temperatures.

CAD

Please buy a W530 for this. No integrated GPU, except those from the newest Intel families, will ever be able to keep up with even the cheapest of dedicated graphics cards. You might be able to get away with simple objects, but for more advanced projects, just get a different laptop.

Closing Thoughts

While commonly overlooked for other X series laptops, the X250 is a great machine. While not quite suited to heavy processing tasks, the X250, especially equipped with a 1080p touchscreen and i7, is a portable dream machine. For that, it rightly deserves the Yutaka Channel Seal of Approval.

ThinkPad T440p: A Review

A quad-core i7, 1080p IPS display, a quality backlit keyboard, and legendary ThinkPad durability, for under $350? It’s possible! In this review, I’ll analyze a Lenovo ThinkPad T440p, and determine whether it deserves the Yutaka Channel Seal of Approval.

The Basics

I received my ThinkPad T440p a few weeks ago after ordering it on eBay. Since then, I’ve had some time with it and I feel like I can give my perspective on it. I was deciding between this and the T430; which, while more upgradeable, is stuck with an Ivy Bridge CPU and TN displays without modification (a potential dealbreaker). I also ordered the new laptop with a touchpad from a T450, a 1080p IPS display, and a 500GB SSD from Western Digital. Unfortunately, I ran into a few problems with the display, which I’ll cover later.

Display Woes (And Picking The Right Screen)

My display of choice was actually recommended to me in the Thinkpad Lenovo IBM Facebook group, an AUO B140HAN01.3. Sadly, I made the grave mistake of ordering a listed “compatible” display. Instead, I received a Innolux N140HCA-EAB, a panel with worse color and brightness. Luckily, the seller accepted returns, so I sent the display back and ordered the proper AUO panel, this time checking to make sure I would actually get the one I wanted.

Taking a Look At The Display

When I initially received the laptop, it came with a 1600×900 TN panel, which I took a picture of here.

T440p before any modifications.

The colors were okay, but the screen gave me a headache after a short while, and the group suggested the specific display upgrades they liked. I followed their advice, and bought the AUO panel I mentioned earlier. The difference was major, with the higher resolution and lack of headaches.

T440p with the 1080p IPS panel installed. Did I mention there was an anime aspect to this blog?

Upgrade Paths

The T440p is one of the easiest ThinkPads to open up, unlike my W541 from the same generation. Two screws and you have access to almost any component you might want to replace. Well, except the touchpad. Being used to the W541’s touchpad, I felt like the “clunkpad” the T440p came with was unusable, especially without drivers.

Replacing the touchpad requires disassembling most of the laptop, save for the motherboard and a few other parts. I recommend following the HMM unless you’re absolutely sure you know that you’re doing. In any case, the upgrade was well worth it.

On my eBay search, I found that there were two types of “new” 3-button touchpads, one from Synaptics, and the other from ALPS. I ended up ordering an ALPS touchpad, as it came with fast shipping and I was moving very soon. This was fine, as I found that in Linux, there are no noticeable differences between Synaptics and ALPS touchpads.

T450 touchpad. The keyboard is a LiteOn backlit type.

The SSD was also very easy to install, requiring only one more screw to take out. The WD Blue 500GB I installed does the trick very well, and is actually my other recommendation for SATA SSD’s, after the Samsung 860 series. I also installed another 64GB Sandisk z400 SSD in the WWAN slot as a boot drive, and boot times are now almost instant.

Getting Work Done

The Intel i7-4800MQ is a powerhouse even today, still competitive with 8th gen Intel CPUs 4 years newer. I installed Pop!_OS, a Debian-based Linux distribution. I chose it mainly for it’s excellent support for GPU switching, as my T440p came with the GT 730M. It installed without any issues, and everything “just works”.

The keyboard is exceptionally good, admittedly even better than the non-NMB “classic” keyboard of ThinkPads past. I could type all day on it and my hands won’t get tired.

Final Thoughts

This is the perfect machine. It might be big and bulky, but it’s also packed with features and is very easily upgradeable. If you can find an i5 for under $150, or a mostly upgraded one like mine for under $250, I would definitely go for it. Therefore, the ThinkPad T440p receives the Yutaka Channel Seal of Approval.

Dead ThinkPad? Make it an All-in-one!

Recently, I came across my old ThinkPad T400. I wanted to use it again, but the chassis was in severe disrepair and I didn’t want to spend much money trying to get it working again. My solution? Remove the chassis entirely and make it an all-in-one PC akin to an iMac.

Bare setup
The project. A T400 motherboard with discrete graphics, 2 GB RAM… and nothing else. Yet.

I found an old Dell 1704FPV in my attic, brought it down, and took off the monitor, leaving the stand. After removing the motherboard from it’s mangled chassis, I then taped it onto the front of the stand. I gathered a low-voltage Intel P8700 from a previous project, 2GB of spare DDR3 RAM, and attached them onto the board.

Testing time.

Motherboard with monitor displaying the BIOS screen
Mostly assembled. I found a VGA cable for the screen and a spare keyboard to use the power button

It works. Mostly. The hard drive doesn’t stay put due to the nature of the port, so I’ll have to buy a SATA riser cable. There is no battery functionality, as the port is blocked off by the stand, requiring a low voltage CPU and a 90 watt AC adapter (as it throttles without those two things together). The UltraBay has the same problem as the hard drive, except that the extension cables are much rarer. Besides those problems, I feel like the project was a success.

Update 5/28/2019:

Some of the cables arrived! Also, a new monitor that more appropriately fits the style of the project. It’s now much cleaner from the front. If only I could find a way to crack open the monitor and stuff some of the internals inside…

It’s rough, but it works.