I recently got myself a new computer, the Lenovo Thinkpad X240. It’s my first Thinkpad so I cannot compare it to previous models. My old laptop is a Dell XPS m1530 that’s about 5 years old by the time of this writing. Still very functional but I wanted an upgrade in hardware and a lighter computer to travel with.
- matte screen and higher resolution
- speed (processor, RAM, SSD, USB3)
- GNU/Linux compatibility
- brightness controls
- FN key and FN Lock
So let’s go and review the whole thing:
It came with Windows 8 pre-installed, but I immediately installed Debian Testing (Jessie) on it. This machine comes with UEFI boot, but fortunately it has a Legacy mode to behave like normal BIOS. Installing like normal boot instead of UEFI boot is a lot easier and you don’t have to struggle with the disk partitions and boot options. On the boot configuration settings, disable secure boot and set it to legacy boot first instead of UEFI boot first.
The X240 is very light, even with the additional 6 cell battery instead of the default 3 cell battery. It is a 12.5″ computer, so it can be comparable to a Macbook Air or similar computer. The case is plastic, but feels very well built and durable.
There are no indicating LEDs anywhere except for the power button LED that indicates if the computer is on, off or suspended (blinking). There are no hard disk writing indication, battery charging indicator, wireless, bluetooth or any. Just an additional led behind the screen, the dot in the “ThinkPad” logo lights following the power button LED and that’s it.
This is a bit confusing specially when charging the laptop, since the charger also lacks any LED indicator, so the only way to know if your computer is charging is with the software indicators in your desktop environment (the battery monitor icon in your system tray).
It has no HDMI port, but it has the old VGA adapter and a mini digital port for external monitors. Only 2 USB ports, both are USB 3.0, and one with power over USB. My model came with a fingerprint reader, an SD card reader, a 720p webcam and an Ethernet port.
It seems that all new Lenovo models are coming with the new “chicklets” style keyboard and its new layout. I’ve heard some criticism about it, but since this is my first Thinkpad, I’m not biased. Comparing to other laptop keyboards, it is nice. The keys feel good and not fragile and is very silent. My only compliant was the strange placement of the Fn key where I usually expect the Ctrl key. Fortunately for me as an Emacs user I map my CapsLock key to an additional Ctrl and use that instead, so my key stroke memory doesn’t get much affected by that. What I didn’t like is that the F keys are now by default media keys and to use them as F keys you need to press Fn+key or Fn+Esc to activate ‘Function key lock’ then press the F key you need. So, for example, if you want to reload your browser and immediately lower the volume of the speakers, you have to strike additional keys.
The screen brightness control keys by default didn’t work for me, but there is a fix. You need to load the thinkpad acpi kernel module on boot. So edit /etc/modules file and add:
Then you’ll need to add this to your /etc/default/grub file and check that your kernel options are as follows:
RUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet acpi_osi=!Windows2012 acpi_backlight=vendor"
This will enable the volume, mute, brightness and wireless media keys. I haven't been able to make the microphone mute button work.
The keyboard backlight works by default using FN+spacebar and it looks nice. It has three states: dim, bright and off.
As many other previous ThinkPads, the X240 still keeps the nipple mouse or clit mouse or however you've heard it's called. The downside is on the trackpad, now called clickpad which has no hardware buttons but does have a larger surface area. By default on Debian Jessie + KDE the clickpad works but it's not precise. When trying to press for a click it inevitably moves from the target area, so clicking is hard. Right click worked out of the box for me by just pressing the pad on its bottom right area. Clicking can be fixed by addding:
sudo apt-get install kde-config-touchpad
and configure single tap clicking, two-finger scrolling and three finger tap for middle click. If you like to use the /nipple/ pointer and miss the buttons for it on the top of the pad, you can configure the button area to be on the top part instead of the bottom part in the X config file.
Make sure you have the following in your file /usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d/50-synaptics.conf
# This option enables the bottom right corner to be a right button on
# non-synaptics clickpads.
# This option is only interpreted by clickpads.
Identifier "Default clickpad buttons"
#Option "SoftButtonAreas" "50% 0 82% 0 0 0 0 0"
Option "SoftButtonAreas" "60% 0 0 5% 40% 60% 0 5%"
# To disable the bottom edge area so the buttons only work as buttons,
# not for movement, set the AreaBottomEdge
#Option "AreaBottomEdge" "82%"
Option "AreaTopEdge" "4%"
I found this solution at this blog
The wireless card is an Intel 7620 rev 6. After having to struggle with a Broadcom card for many years I thought my wireless card struggle days were going to be over. Well, turns out that the 7620 card is a very recent card and is not very well supported yet. By default it doesn't work with Debian. To make it work you need to enable the non-free repository and install
sudo apt-get install firmware-iwlwifi
This will enable your card and make it work, but if you suspend the computer, you'll loose bluetooth conectivity. To fix that you need to disable the 802.11n compatibility in the driver configuration. Add this to a file in a new file called: /etc/modprobe.d/wifi-disable11n.conf
options iwlwifi 11n_disable=1
I have experienced some instability with it. At random times the driver would just stop working and your card will seem working and connected but no traffic goes on. If you suspend the computer with the card in that state, it will not suspend and will hang the system. Once the wifi card is stuck the only way to bring it back is with a restart. I've tried rfkill, unloading and loading the module, but nothing works.
Another issue is that it will not connect to a wireless-n router, even when disabling n-band in the driver configurations. I had to configure my home router to only use b/g bands for it to connect.
UPDATE: Debian Jessie has upgraded to the Linux kernel 3.13, enabling the use of the iwlwifi driver version 184.108.40.206, which doesn't need any of the changes mentioned and doesn't crash anymore.
Not being able to compare to other previous Series X Thinkpad models, I cannot say if the X240 is an improvement or not. I've seen a lot of criticism to it, and I don't blame them. Some indicating LEDs would be nice to have, and why does a new computer model in 2014 doesn't have an HDMI port and has the old VGA port instead? There are weird hardware choices in this, but overall I'm enjoying the portability and speed of the computer. I'm hoping that my GNU/Linux compatibility issues (specially the WiFi card issues) get fixed over time.
Do you have some other configuration or fix tips for Debian on the X240? What to you think of this model? Share some ideas with me on the comments.
Debian on Lenovo Thinkpad X240 by Gabriel Saldaña, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Mexico License.