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Thinkpad Carbon X1 2015

A review of the X1 Carbon hardware. Some thoughts on the initial software experience.

I’ve had my T430s for a while now. It very quickly became my main laptop, replacing both my ageing T60 and the X200s I originally thought would replace it. The X was the right weight, but a little underpowered and the battery in particular was rather sad. The T430s slotted in nicely between them; powerful, yet still reasonably light. Recently I’ve carrying it with more, however, and the farther I walked with it, the more my shoulder sagged. The once reasonable battery life now seems a little short, too. (I don’t think it’s actually faded that much; my definition of all day work appears to have grown.)

Enter the X1 Carbon. Lighter, slimmer, but with more battery. And finally a decent screen. Having to tilt the T430s screen back and forth depending on whether I was reading the top or bottom of the screen was starting to get old.

The carbon line has been around for a while, but the first two revisions were too compromised in my opinion. It’s unfortunate that Lenovo has now adopted the Apple trick of versionless model numbers, such that I have to specifically identify my X1 as the model that came out in January 2015, and not some other similarly named model. The first models shipped before efficient Haswell CPUs were available. The second models came with Haswell CPUs, but crippled keyboards (tilde? who types that?) and touchpads.

Fortunately, I think the third model is back on track. Even more efficient CPU. The top F keys are real buttons again. The touchpad still clicks at the bottom in lieu of buttons, but above it are real buttons again for the trackpoint.

Particular specs of my model. i5-5300U. Upgraded from the i3 because it’s necessary in order to upgrade the RAM. i7 seems a little overkill considering the cost. Upgraded RAM to 8GB. It’s soldered on, so there’s no possibility to delay this decision. It’s now or never and I’m not confident 4GB will be enough forever. Upgraded screen to 2560x1440. The base 1920x1080 would be sufficient, but it’s not IPS and I’m really, really tired of poor viewing angles. Saved money by foregoing the touch panel, which also means it’s not covered in glossy glass, but the regular matte plastic. (This particular option seems new; previous models seemed to be only 1080p plain or 1440p touch.) Regular 128GB SATA SSD. It’s in an m2 slot that also accepts PCIe devices. I may replace it at some point, but I’m not much of a data fiend. At least it’s user upgradeable. Standard components: Intel 7265 wifi, two USB 3 ports (no longer colored blue), mini gigabit ethernet via included dongle, HDMI and mini DP.

After a day or so of use, I can say I’m pretty confident this will quickly become my new daily driver. It’s maybe not quite as fast as the T430s, but fast enough. I was only able to max it out at 8GB of RAM compared to 16GB, but I don’t recall ever using even close to 8GB before. The screen is fantastic. Applications, of course, are frequently less than fantastic because they don’t know how to scale properly, but most of the things I care about look great. I can scale text to a size that’s simultaneously physically smaller so I can see more, but logically bigger so it’s more legible. The color balance leans quite a bit towards yellow, which is a particularly striking contrast to the blue toned T430s. My iPad, which I assume to be better calibrated, comes in about half way between them.

The physical construction is great. The T430s feels solid, but picking it up by one palm rest still feels like I’m placing strain on it. The X1 is lighter, but also extremely solid feeling. Better than a plastic case around a metal roll cage. It’s amazingly cool and quiet. Most of the time the fan is turned off entirely. Even at max blast (5500 rpm) the sound is more smooth than whine. The speakers are very well hidden, but sound reasonable.

There are very few indicator LEDs any more. In the future, everything is a tray icon. A green light on the power button and a glowing red dot in the i in Thinkpad on the lid indicate that the system is on. But nothing to indicate whether AC is connected or if somebody unplugged you from the wall. Some people like to mock the hard drive light (as if the computer is saying “hey, look how hard I’m working”), but I find it useful when it seems like an application has stalled halfway through loading. Is the blinkenlight blinken? Then it is, somehow, still finding even more data it needs to read before it can launch. In Windows, there are tray icons, but that intrudes on my workspace. In OpenBSD, I certainly don’t configure any such things. I like when system indicators are available at a glance, but not always hovering in view.

After one day of carrying it around in my regular laptop bag, I’ve switched to a new (actually older) bag. A full size bag was too big and floppy with just the X1 in it, but it just fits in a smaller bag originally purchased when I was carrying the X200s around. There’s no room for a power adapter, but then again, I don’t need one.

I have a few complaints. The wedge shape looks cool, but in practice the thickest part of a laptop matters more than the thinnest. The razor like front edge doesn’t meaningfully reduce the bounding box. It does however tend to stab me in the gut when I try propping up the laptop in a lounging position. The screen isn’t glossy, but the keyboard is? The keycaps are very shiny and smudge easily. After a few days of use, I’ve noticed that the keyboard is a little squishy compared to the larger T430s. Another one of those compromises made in order to shave a millimeter of thickness. It’s still ok, and I do like the layout and feel of the keys themselves, but the T430s definitely had a more tactile click to each keypress.

This is the first Thinkpad I’ve ever owned that placed the power connector and vents on opposite sides. Usually the power is in the back. Or in the case of the X200s, both are on the left side. The X1 however puts power on the left and vents on the right. I’m accustomed to getting out of my chair and leaving my laptop on its side, vents pointing up. Can’t do that now. Speaking of the power cord, how is that only Apple has figured out the magic recipe for chokeless power cords? Why is this huge knob hanging off my sleek new laptop? The thin motif was probably carried a little too far. Just a little bit thicker and we could have had a native ethernet jack and they could have continued with the round power plug. One USB port per side probably isn’t enough. Plugging in a keyboard and mouse without a hub should be possible without wrapping one cord all the way around.

Two weeks later: Wow is it easy to become accustomed to greatness. After two weeks away, using only the X1, I switched back to the T430s to finish up a few things. First thing I noticed: it weighs a ton. Second thing: the screen is all jagged and pixely. It’s harder to perceive the smoothness at first moving up, but it’s easy to miss moving down.


OpenBSD will run pretty well. The onboard ethernet works fine via the dongle. inteldrm only supports Broadwell post 5.8. The wifi is supported in 5.7 by the iwm driver. The keyboard really does physically swap F keys and Fn keys, so F5 really is brightness down. If you want F5, you need to enable FnLock. The xhci driver is pretty stable now. Suspend works if you disable the security chip (TPM) in the BIOS. Hibernate should be good (but maybe quite slow). There is an error message from azalia0 which at first tricked me, but then azalia1 attaches and sound works fine (azalia0 is the HDMI output). Overall, it’s pretty solid.

The 2560x1440 resolution is glorious, but may require some software adjustments. Personally, I found it easiest to use the system by leaving X’s dpi at 96, then scaling up fonts in xterm and tweaking firefox to use a pixel size of 1.5. This may require adding --dpi 96 to startx. xterm with a font size of 16 is small, but quite readable. 20 point font is easier to read, but still fits a decent amount of content. In firefox, layout.css.devPixelsPerPx is the about:config setting.

The touchpad is a little touchy and there’s no good palm detection. I have the following config in .xinitrc to help:

synclient TapButton1=1
#synclient TapButton2=3
synclient AreaTopEdge=2000
synclient AreaLeftEdge=1500
synclient AreaRightEdge=5500

Let’s me tap and drap (two finger scroll works by default), but disables the parts of the touchpad I tend to hit by accident. I found two finger tapping too sensitive (most one finger taps turned into right clicks) and turned it off.

Posted 2015-01-27 20:31:48 by tedu Updated: 2016-05-13 00:25:43
Tagged: computers review