Old Krell (a Panasonic Pentium-III Toughbook laptop circa 2002) having served its various purposes but getting somewhat hoary with age, I decided to invest in a new laptop. My criteria for selecting the new laptop included: relatively lightweight, good battery life, and Linux compatibility. I was sorely tempted to buy one of the new MacBook Pros, but couldn’t really justify going with Apple when all my development recently has been on Linux. After the usual bout with Google, I found this thread from which I came away with the general idea that Lenovo (formerly IBM ThinkPads) laptops were pretty compatible with Linux and good computers for developers (maybe about 90% agreement on this, with the usual vocal minority that felt these computers were pieces of $*&@). Going to the Lenovo website, I then sought to find a match with my other requirments: small and long battery life. I came up with the model X220.
I’ve been using the machine for about a month now. SuperKrell has moved in and Krell has moved out — going to my granddaughter Samantha with a shiny new minty fresh installation of Linux Mint. I installed Ubuntu 11.04 on the Lenovo. I decreased the preinstalled Windows 7 partition to about 20 GB (damn Microsoft tax!) and left the rest for Ubuntu. Amazingly, everything works on this laptop with Ubuntu! Sleep and Hibernate work. Function key functions (volume, brightness, etc.) work. Trackpad works great, including two-fingered scrolling. The keyboard is great to type on. Wireless works without tweaking. Everything just works.
The system I got has a 2.3 GHz i5 Sandy Bridge processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a 120 GB solid state drive. Startup and shutdown are so fast with the solid state drive that there doesn’t seem much point in using sleep or hibernate. The fan is super quiet. I had to hold it right next to my ear to determine that it even has a fan. I got both a 9 cell and 6 cell battery with the unit. The 9 cell battery obviously is heavier and sticks out from the back of the laptop. I haven’t formerly tested it, but I seem to be getting about 8 hours of battery life with it. The 6 cell battery makes the unit sleeker and lighter, and I still get 4-5 hours with it. By the way the battery meter in Ubuntu seems somewhat confused by the batteries; I’m not sure how accurate the estimates are. Nevertheless, the battery life is definitely great and I am pleased with it. I use the smaller battery at home, and the bigger when I travel.
The negatives are minor. There is a nice yellow USB 3.0 port, but it only works if you get the i7 version of the laptop. The i5 is already insanely fast for my purposes; I couldn’t justify the extra expense of the i7 processor. I’ll live without the USB 3.0 port. The screen size is rather small (duh — what did I expect in a small laptop?). I am getting used to it. The main problem I have with the screen is a general problem with today’s laptops. It seems all laptops nowadays are going with 16:9 ratio screens. I am used to big square screens and like the amount of text you can display on a squarish screen. Looking at laptops on sale at Office Depot the other day, it looked to me like all of them had wide screens. Great for watching movies, but not my favorite for real work. Oh well. Finally, the touchpad is very sensitive and, with the small size of the laptop, it is easy to brush against it while typing, in the process finding out shortcut mouse commands that I never knew existed in Ubuntu, resulting in various odd and unwanted screen phenomena.
I have read that Lenovo ThinkPads have a reputation for being ugly. My X220 though is sleek and thin, with a black matte finish that is actually quite attractive. It’s also a sturdy little unit, not flimsy like some laptops I have played with. Overall a welcome addition to the computer armamentarium of EP Studios.