[Review] The Lenovo X220 Thinkpad: The Last of Breed

Summary:

  • Solid like a tank, magnesium skeleton keeps things rigid. Has liquid drain holes for when you spill liquids on the keyboard.
  • Keyboard and layout is legendary to type on, before Lenovo went chiclet-style and losing travel/feel.
  • Still performs very well, even by today’s standards, thanks to undiluted i5 CPU, before the ULV models.
  • RAM user-upgradeable to 16GB, SSD easily changeable, as are two mini PCI-E expansion slots and card slot (see below for AC Wifi upgrade).
  • Lenovo provides PDF full service manual/diagrams. Even the AC power input, LCD, keyboard, hinges, trackpad, etc. Longetivity.
  • TFT LCD can be replaced with IPS LCD from better model, about $60-80 to buy one online.
  • Swappable batteries, that is all. Buy replacements (either 6/9-cells or slice batteries) online.
  • Touchpad is complete rubbish, use the trackpoint instead.
  • It’s not very heavy, but it is thick.

In the last installment, I pondered over a laptop to replace the Macbook Air. Not that it strictly needed a replacement, but I feel much more comfortable running a pure Linux laptop, especially post-Snowden. All three options, the X1 Carbon, the T440s and the X240 all started at around the $1,200 mark. Once various upgrades like 8GB RAM and larger SSDs were added, prices increased to the $1,600 mark, more for Full HD screens. Around Macbook Air territory, but with slight improvements.

But after digging further, I noticed a disturbing trend. These Thinkpad machines, which had long been bastions of user upgradeability, were being designed with limited or soldered RAM slots, or less and less I/O ports. Decisions made in the pursuit of a slightly thinner form factor, or a reduction in production costs, or planned obsolescence. None of the models I had considered were exempt, the X240 for example, only had one RAM slot, rendering it limited to 8GB of RAM, at least for the foreseeable future. One RAM slot? Really?

thinkpad-x230-keyboard-1

The glorious old-style X220 keyboard, big keys with full length travel, large ESC and Delete keys, plenty of physical buttons. Will wake your neighbours on occasion.

Around two years ago, Lenovo also began the transition from the scissor-type full-fat keys which have traditionally adorned Thinkpads, to Macbook-style chiclet keys. I never found the Air keys to be lacking, and the Macbook Pro keys have slightly more travel, but when compared to the old-style Thinkpad keys, they are mere toys. I say this with no exaggeration, the Thinkpad non-chiclet clacky keyboard is absolutely legendary. I found I could churn out more keystrokes than before, and with far more enjoyment and less fatigue, compared to the Macbook keyboard. If you’re a desktop user, imagine a comparison between a mechanical keyboard with Cherry switches and a keyboard with the best rubber/plastic dome switches. It’s not even close..

thinkpad-x230-keyboard-2

New-style Lenovo chicklet keyboard. Short key travel, no spaces in F keys, small ESC/DEL keys, but still better than most. The X1 keyboard has an e-ink F-Row, for when you need 36 different functions. If you use those, you’ve failed.

I use keyboard shortcuts for nearly everything imaginable, only resorting to using the mouse if things get dire, and I spend an inordinate amount of time in a terminal, vim or in Sublime Text, hence my single-minded obsession on the keyboard. The Thinkpad keyboard, circa non-chiclet, has thoughtful design decisions: a very large ESC and Delete key, grouped F-keys for tactile use, dedicated navigation keys (like Home/End/Pgup/Pgdn), and a glorious clacky soundtrack that multiplies satisfaction. There are people who have tried to retrofit this style of keyboard onto the newer Thinkpads to replace the chiclet keys, such is it’s prowess.

So with this in mind, I set out to find the last of the clacky-keyed Thinkpads before they were gone. Preferably something compact. The X220 was that machine. Though being released in early 2011, positively ancient by computing years, it was specced with a full-power i5-2520M 3.2ghz Sandy-Bridge processor, not the undervolted U-series as seen in today’s laptops. Pound for pound, it was every part as capable as the newer Ivy-Bridged i7-3667U in the 2012 Macbook Air. Two easily user-serviceable RAM slots and a 10 hour battery life were the icing on the cake. A slightly smaller screen, but noticeably smaller footprint and weight was an even trade.

2014-02-15 21.04.03

DDR3 RAM is easily installable via the service hatch. Note the keyboard fluid drain holes, and the speaker outlets.

To round it off, it had no less than 3 USB ports (1 more than the Air), one of which charged devices even while the machine was off. In-built Gigabit and full-size HDMI ports meant no dongles required, something which reached ridiculous proportions with the Air (I ended up having 5 or 6 dongles for different purposes). There was even a user-facing LED torch, for goodness sake. You could spill drinks (video) onto the keyboard and it was designed to drain out nicely out of two holes at the bottom. They call it Mil-spec (video), where the machines are certified to run in extreme temperatures, get splashed and spilled on, shaken, dropped, all in humid and dusty environments, 9 tests in all, without any adverse effects. It’s not bullet stopping, but it’s not iPhone-fragile either.

The best part for me, was that the entire device was designed to be modular. The keyboard (FRU 45N2211) is removable with just two Philips screws, in less than 1 minute. The other components, nearly as quick. Lenovo provides a full service manual complete with diagrams and instructions on ‘complete’ disassembly of the machine down to the bare shell, with full part numbers and specs. Call them dinosaurs, I call them heroes, good luck finding anything to assist user servicing on a Macbook. True to it’s legacy, the machine feels as sturdy and solid as any laptop that I’ve handled, the chassis is exceptionally rigid, there is no minimal keyboard flex.

2014-02-15 20.42.29

Palm rest / Trackpad easily removed, you can see the Expresscard cage, CMOS battery (CR2024) and Wifi/Bluetooth modules. There’s also enough space to stash some spare change and tomorrow’s lunch.

All for a couple of hundred bucks second-hand, with plentiful supply. An off-the-shelf SSD upgrade and 8GB stick of RAM are no-brainers (expandable to 16GB later). In the event it needs other spares later, there are a multitude of batteries of varying capacities, allowing up to 20 hours of use (X44++ 9 Cell = 10 hours, 0A36280 Slice Battery = +10 hours). For the extravagant – docking stations, replacement keyboards / trackpads and panels are available, all based around a thriving third-party community. It’s like the Miata of laptops. For example if later on, Wireless AC becomes required, it’s just a matter of swapping out the wifi card under the keyboard, in less than 5 minutes. More space? An Expresscard SSD slots in as well.

There are, however, two key weaknesses with this machine. The first is, the trackpad is utter rubbish. It’s nearly 1/4 the size of the Air trackpad, which would be fine if it wasn’t horrendously inaccurate. To add insult to injury, the integrated buttons are far too easily clicked, no matter what OS you run. It’s so bad that I normally disable the entire trackpad and rely on the trackpoint, which I’ve grown to prefer, as it doesn’t require the fingers to move away from the keyboard.

2014-02-15 20.39.53

You could swap the keyboard in the dark, it’s that easy. If you look carefully you can see liquid drain holes.

The other, is that this machine was specced from factory with two display options. A low-rent TFT display (FRU 93P56xx), which is what you’ll find in most second-hand or fleet machines, and a higher-spec IPS display, which tends to add at least $200 to the price. I briefly contemplated just leaving the TFT screen in there, but it’s pretty bad. Like flashback from the 90s bad. For $100 you can buy a factory replacement IPS panel from eBay, Amazon or AliExpress (FRU 04W3462, 04W3919, LP125WH2) and install it in under 15 minutes. Problem solved. Enjoy your new glorious viewing angles and gamut.

It should be mentioned that the X220 is nowhere near as sleek or stylish as a Macbook Air, it’s purely utilitarian for it’s function. When you bring a Thinkpad out, it means business, which may offend your colorful sensibilities. Luckily, I’ve never chosen a laptop because of perceived stylishness. On the bright side, there’s no need to bother with a protective case.

2014-02-19 13.19.06

Four screws hold the LCD panel on, and two for the chassis reinforcement. You can see the HDD caddy (with rubber mounts).

So what of the experience? For a total of around $600 (including the 256GB SSD and 8GB RAM upgrades), or less than half the price of a comparably specced current laptop (barring the FHD displays), and in some opinions, a superior keyboard, you have a fully functioning, very capable machine. Installing Ubuntu 13.10 was straightforward, the X220 supports both UEFI and legacy BIOS booting, but I had no issues with a PXE netboot. No proprietary drivers were required, everything works out of the box, which was a pleasant surprise.

Some tips – for fingerprint reader use (which can be tied into system login), install the fprint library. And no Thinkpad owner would go wrong with installing tlp, which is Thinkpad-optimized to cleverly extend battery life by 20-30% through judicious CPU governor, radio and USB/PCI tweaks. Also, not Thinkpad specific, but if you’re lazy, use the bluetooth on your phone to automatically unlock your machine when you’re close, and vice-versa.

2014-02-19 13.25.06

The motherboard is out. You know this laptop has had a tough life when there’s mould on the heatsink (condensation). Or somebody getting too happy with the spill test.

It’s a joy to use, I found no issues with the window manager detecting my multiple monitor setup, all the function keys and in-built devices work fine, sleep/resume and hibernate are working. Powertop indicator a steady 8-12w of normal use, offering around a solid 8 hours of battery life with the 9-cell battery. A happy camper indeed.

But there was a lesson to be learnt – everything initially seemed well, but after running the machine for a few days, I noticed an increasing amount of instability and crashing for no apparent reason. I isolated it down to a CPU or RAM problem, as it also began to crash while booting from USB sticks. I also noticed that the fan speed would be erratic, often remaining silent until suddenly erupting into maximum speed. These were common signs that there was a heat-related issue.

2014-02-19 13.27.49

Thermal paste was in shocking condition. But easy to clean and reapply, crashing is fixed.

Fortunately, it was a quick and painless affair to remove the motherboard from the machine. As it turns out, and a common issue amongst fleet or refurbished units, was a heatsink that had been unseated and reseated multiple times, over many years, without re-applying fresh thermal paste. Undergoing many heat cycles, the factory thermal paste (which is generally of lower quality anyway) ends up hardening and flaking away, leading to a horrendous contact surface where heat cannot effectively transfer to the heatpipes to be cooled. Even under throttling, instability occurs. But it’s easily fixed.

So what’s the moral of the story? You don’t always need to buy the latest and greatest to have an enjoyable and productive computing experience. There is satisfaction and learning to be gained from achieving more with less, and from re-purposing hardware. Instead of contributing to toxic landfill, let’s make our hardware last longer. Long live the clacky keys.

UPDATE May-2015: (SEE BELOW, NEW BIOS) If you want to upgrade the Mini-PCIE Wireless card from the Realtek/Intel cards to something else (like an AC card), be aware that Lenovo have implemented a whitelist limitation on what cards you can use. To get around this, there is a modified 1.39 BIOS (latest version) which removes this whitelist limitation, so any card can be used. Source here. Use at your own risk. Direct Link: Modified BIOS.

UPDATE Nov-2015: Still going strong, nearly four years after the laptop was manufactured. Still running Ubuntu 14.04 LTS without issue. However, ‘acpi -i’ indicates battery wear is creeping up now, around 20% wear level on the original battery (it was 9% when I got the laptop). Luckily, I have a spare battery, and replacements are a dime a dozen online.

UPDATE Jul-2016: There is a new modified BIOS available, version 1.42, which removes the whitelisting and allows all wireless cards to be used. Source here. Direct Link: Modified BIOS.

lenovox220

The Lenovo X220. Three words: Feisty! Fixable! Keyboard!

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66 thoughts on “[Review] The Lenovo X220 Thinkpad: The Last of Breed

  1. I lucked out on a used one in fair to good condition at a ham radio flea market for $90. It came with the TN screen, but honestly, it’s usable (for now). Also has 8gb dram and 320gb hd. I’m thinking of adding an Intel 80gb mSata for faster boot time. Also the battery latches are broken (common problem on 220’s), and the battery is down about 25% of capacity. Linux Mint 18 runs fine on it.

  2. Thanks for your solid review. I love the 220 keyboard and hate the newer ones. I just sent for a cpl used x220 which I will use. one will replace a x200 I recently stepped on by accident, the other will serve as a back up. I think I can just drop in the 16g without any updates in the bios, right ? Ya the industry is going sideways, but geezers like me hate change, and besides the keyboard is so important, one gets used to where the keys are, so when they’re not there, you have a fit….

  3. Anybody to explain what the advantage of installing the frequently mentionend dell 1510 WiFi Card would be? Currently running Win7 on my X220. Thanks, Reiner

    1. Installing the Dell 1510 WiFi Card is relevant only when you want to run MacOS on your X220. If you don’t want to and have no plans either, there’s no need.
      The reason for replacing the wifi card is that the X220 is nearly hardware compatible with the Aple Macbook Pro (2011 version), except for the wifi card and the SD cardreader. Not being able to read SD cards is hardly an issue, but not being able to use wifi is.
      For more info, go to http://x220.mcdonnelltech.com/.

  4. wonderful laptop. I upgraded to 16gb 1866mHz ram last month and second ssd hard drive. Think it will last another 2~3 years for me.

  5. I bought my 1st x220 i7 as a laptop , then I picked up a x220 i7 tablet all I have to say is love, I had a xps 12 that would not work right with linux aka no sound , and iffy sleep and wifi. The thinkpad just work , it is all most mac like. The fedora core 25 tablet just work now , as the buttons for sound seems to work , I had to write my own script to get the screen to rotate and the watcom to swap orientations.

    Now I am going to swap out the x220 laptop for the tablet for work.

  6. Just wanted to say that at the end of 2016 X220 still kicks ass. I bought an i5 one a week ago based on all the research which your article summarises beautifully. Added 256GB SSD, 8GB of ram and dell 1510 wifi – installed macOS Sierra – everything “flies”, including virtualbox vm’s – this machine has full Intel VT support. Easily the best value received for the money spent on a computer in my 10+ years IT career. You’ve mentioned the touchpad, there’s another downside to these “old” machines – they get reasonably hot, but that’s to be expected since they don’t use ULV CPUs – it doesn’t burn your lap nor gets too noisy, but it’s no Macbook Pro either. For something that costs 150 EUR in mint condition (no disk and no ram) I couldn’t be happier. Just a perfect, portable hacking machine. Go get yours.

    1. As mostly covered in the article – keyboard, serviceability and price are the main reasons. Either way, you can’t really go wrong, especially compared to the newer Thinkpads.

    2. not sure about author[s] but for me, I hated the newer keyboard, i’m used to the 220, it works for me, the 230 threw me off. one likes what they like, and that’s about it….I hope to have my 220 super charged with the 16g within a week or 2.
      :-)

  7. Thank you for this article. I pretty much felt the same way about the x220, I couldn’t stand the layout of x230 and up, supposedly streamlined but you with more info, summed it up better than I.
    I even told lenovo I hated the x230. Like they care , right ?!
    But I didn’t know 16-ram would fit in as is, without any bios tweaking, thanks, did not know that !
    I’m typing this out on an x200, it’s just a bit slower, I don’t think 16 will fit in this machine.
    Anyways, I’m book marking the page as to keep track of it, and it’s nice to know I’m not alone with the x220, they can keep the new stuff, x220 is a serious keeper for sure.

  8. Hi,

    Thank so much for the post.
    I have one little question, without BIOS modification, Can it handle 8GB*2 1600MHZ RAM? Or it must get a BIOS patch? Thanks.

  9. Just wanted to say I bought my first x220 in 2011 with the i5, just yesterday 6.26.16 the fan on the cpu cooler died so I went on amazon bought a x220 with the i7. Now I get the fun of taking my ips screen with webcam, 500g ssd msata and 500g sata ssd, USB 3.0 express card and the wireless card into the new rig. To say that there’s nothing that compares to the x220 currently is an understatement! I’m just worried what I’m going to do when I want to move to ddr4 :( 16gigs of ram has kept me from that and I’m hoping the extra bit from the i7 and maybe the extra clock speed from the ram on a non stock bios will let this hotrod last another 3 yrs. Was so disappointed when the x230 was released and then the 240 :( they went backwards!

    1. I’m thinking of upgrading my i7 X220 to a T460p soon. The X220 (i’ve had for a year, refurb machine) is great, but battery life isn’t great when doing anything that mildly stresses the CPU (and I have the 9-cell battery). T460p looks like a worthy successor, only really worried about the keyboard on that.

  10. How easy did you find it to disassemble to clear the fan inlet, fan, cooling radiator etc? It looks as if those parts are a bit buried in the system?

    1. Fairly simple, probably less than a 30 minute job. There’s a step by step guide with diagrams in the service manual downloadable from the link within.

  11. Spot on! Thanks for this review – it covers my own experience and thoughts 120%.

    I equipped my whole family with used Lenovos 5, 6, 7 years old now – none of them ever failed, SSD upgrade is a must and batteries will wear out of course but even the original ones are still usable. My X220 is just cute – I don’t think I will give it away soon… or if so then only for a 400/10/20S instead.

    The newer Lenovos look nicer, slim and lightweigt but the keyboard – ouch. Replace parts? Headache. Non-IPS panels are still a good lough.

    The X220 has a commonly reported weakness though: Corners on Screen Bezel and touchpad panel breaking away… my wife’s 400s has also a cracked corner – none of this of course affects the functionality and yes, these older generation machines can be serviced so easily, it’s a matter of minutes installing an ebay-replacement piece for these parts.

    Reiner from Switzerland

    1. I’ve seen a few Thinkpads with the bezel corners cracking off indeed, luckily mine hasn’t suffered the same fate. Thanks for the comment.

  12. Great review! You’ve summed up all reasons why a 5 year old X220 is a ‘best buy’, even by today’s standards.

    Last december I changed from a ThinkPad T420 to a near-mint X220.

    Modifications to date:
    – a US International keyboard (mine came with a Finnish one…),
    – a 1TB SSD 2.5 inch drive,
    – 16 GB RAM upgrade,
    – a new, fresh battery,
    – an IPS screen (found a brand new one online for only 15 euros; the seller ordered it wrong…),
    – 2 USB 3.0 ports (in the expresscard slot),
    – an mSATA 240 GB SSD card,
    – a Dell DW1510 half-height Mini PCIe wifi card,
    – 1.40 BIOS (modified version, whitelist removed).

    The availablity of a hardware maintenance manual for the X220 is a big plus.
    Another plus is that the X220 is hardware compatible with an Apple Macbook, except for the wifi card.

    Windows 10 is installed on the 1TB SSD, and OS X El Capitan on the mSATA SSD card (see http://x220.mcdonnelltech.com/ for details).

    Under both operating systems, nearly* everything is fully functional and suitable for everyday use. And all that in a package that weighs just 1500 grams, and for a total cost of 650 euros….

    This 5-year-old laptop is by far the best and most versatile computer that I have ever owned!

    *: Things that don’t not work are the SD card reader when running OS X, and Apple Facetime (cannot sign in with the Apple ID; no problems with the Apple app store, though)…

    1. Hi there,

      Where can I find a refurbished one with i7? I looked everywhere online but haven’t found good one to buy.

      I’d like to maximize it as Zeddammer.

      Thanks in advance for your help.

  13. Thanks for your post. I have an x220 from the factory, and it’s wearing (things like cracks in the case and broken LCD screen). I was wondering whether I should do a big fix-up on my x220 or buy a new machine. You’ve inspired me to do a big fix-up. I’ve loved this machine. Excellent keyboards FTW!

  14. I love this thing. The form factor is great, keyboard is great, and with a Samsung Evo 850 SSD and 16GB of Corsair Vengeance RAM (running at 1600mhz thanks to a modded bios that will allow up to 1866mhz) I can multitask pretty heavy stuff with zero troubles! Almost as well as my girlfriends Macbook pro, but a few $$ less. :) USB 3.0 is only about $20 for a expresscard addon.

  15. Everything about this Laptop is what I am looking for except the size. I am a very large man with large fingers and wide shoulders. My (admittedly average) typing skills are greatly impaired by small keyboards. Can you suggest anything that comes close (especially in performance, upgrade-ability, and the excellentkeyboard) for a writer with my physical limitations? I.E 14″ or larger? I am thinking one of the T series but I’m not sure how to compare. My first laptop was an early IBM but all since have been HP business class. I need to replace my HP 6730b.
    Regards

      1. I’m afraid you won’t be any better off with ThinkPad T420, as it uses exactly the same keyboard (same FRUs) as X220. So the typing experience will be exactly the same. You only get extra bezels with speaker grills on the sides on the T420.

  16. Great article. Bought an i7 x220 because of the excellent points you made, minr now has 12 gig of ram, ssd, and modded bios 1.40. Thanks!

  17. What about the thermal pad on the heatsink? (ICH maybe?)
    You changed that too? Remember its thickness/size?
    Not sure you can use paste there, seems thick!

    Did you use the spread method on the paste? I usually use spread on mobile processors since they don’t have heat spreaders like desktop ones.
    But it’s tricky (air bubbles…)

    1. I didn’t change the thermal compound on the ICH, as it doesn’t seem to be affected by overheating at all. As I mentioned in the article, the heat issues with the main CPU were causing actual crashes and fan issues, just a slight spread is fine, you can press and lift to check if it’s spread. Temperatures are very low, even under load, just dust out the fan once every year or so.

  18. I’ve always loved the older Lenovo Thinkpads (and before that IBM). I’m using an X220 but the wifi is killing me. I tend to use this machine mostly docked at my desk, so I”m considering just getting a USB AC dongle. Is there anyway to install one inside the machine without using a modified BIOS? Thanks. Great page by the way.

    1. There are no internal USB ports, but it’s quite easy to swap out the current mini PCI-E Wireless Card. Compatible models (without modifying the BIOS) are namely the Intel 6205/6250/6300 models which are pretty cheap online [Ref – http://www.thinkwiki.org/wiki/Category:X220%5D. Alternatively, if you opt for an external USB adapter, that might allow for a larger antenna or AC capability.

  19. Senk9,

    Thank you for this article. I had been searching for a laptop – knowing nothing in advance.

    I found some impressively spec’d machines, but they were 17 inches, and didn’t seem very convenient for mobile purposes.

    After teaching myself ALL of the mobile CPU’s, and doing tons of research, I of course zeroed in on the Lenovo. I was also intrigued by the idea of a 2-in-1 laptop / tablet, so I was drawn to the X220T. But the Fujitsu X901 also looked good.

    But in the end, who wouldn’t want that sweet Lenovo keyboard? So I found an X220T in mint condition, and get this…

    It’s spec’d out with the i7-2640M (not a 4 core model, but not a crappy low voltage “U” model either), with 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD already installed! The only thing it needs is a battery. Ha! All for right around $250 USD delivered! That’s usually the price for the laptop version, which is hard to find with the Core i7! Not sure how old this article is, but as of this writing it’s Nov. 2015 and even now that’s a lot of computer for an amazing price.

    So, I’ve chased down all of the reviews, but I’ve read this one twice and am totally stoked to take delivery on this beast. I can’t thank you enough for demonstrating how easy it is to disassemble – I’m going after the thermal paste immediately, as the stock TIM is usually dried up as you’ve shown.

    The only question I have is this: I know that the MB has one full PCI slot. Can a dedicated GPU be added to this machine? I’m not a gamer, so it’s not critical, but just wondered if I wanted to hot-rod this baby, can it be done?

    And if I dropped $90 on an i7-2740QM to upgrade to 4 cores and 8 threads, would the extra 10 watts be a problem? Overall these run pretty cool, but maybe the extra wattage would cook some caps or resistors over time?

    Anyway, thanks for your article, it should make people consider that the latest is not always the greatest.

    Peace,
    MHF

    1. It does NOT have a full-size PCI, it’s a mini PCI-E, as I mentioned in the article, thus you cannot upgrade the GPU on this machine. You also cannot upgrade the CPU, it’s not socketed, like a desktop machine. Glad to help, and hope you enjoy the machine, good thing you got the i7 model.

  20. Best article I have found for Thinkpad X220! Thanks for the excellent writeup!

    Can someone point me to a trusted website where I can get this laptop along with RAM and SSD?

    thanks

  21. Great post! It is almost end of 2015 and I am actually thinking of getting myself x220 (i7). Currently I am running xubuntu on a desktop PC with i3-4330. The question is, will I see any difference between mu current setup and the x220? My main worry is the GPU, in my fourth gen. i3 in my PC I have HD4600 (if I recall properly) which works perfectly for me, and whatever version of the CPU in x220 (i3/5/7), there is just old HD3000. I will be using two displays at once (built-in and external 1920×1080 via DP/HDMI), I am hoping to be able to use a browser on a built-in screen and at the same time have 1080p video on a bigger, external LCD. Will it be possible or should I rather think of buying a new x250 (which I would like to avoid)?

    1. Yeah should be no problem. I was running dual screen (external 1080p monitor via DP/HDMI) with the laptop’s screen with no issue. Even using Unity/Compiz, which is heavier than XFCE you’re running. Of course, playing games or GPU intensive tasks is going to suffer (even without the external monitor), but for normal productivity tasks, I didn’t have any issues. Also, if the i7’s are hard to find, I wouldn’t hesitate to get the i5 version either, for everyday use they are comparable and I found the i5’s were much more plentiful second-hand. Let us know how you go!

  22. hello there. i also have purchased the x220. with the new samsung 850 evo msata (even if msata supports only sata 2), the laptop is amazingly fast. perhaps faster than my 6 core desktop pc!!!!
    but i have a serious problem that cant find a solution. i connect my electronic drums to the audio jack. and i am trying to record my drums to the laptop. there isno way to achieve that. the only option i can see is from the built in microphone. you can only record the external sound the microphone”catches”. isnt there a way to record from the combo audio jack? in the recording devices there is no line in option. also, in lenovo forums they mention that even the Sabrent USB External Stereo Sound Adapter http://www.amazon.com/Sabrent-External-Adapter-Windows-AU-MMSA/dp/B00IRVQ0F8/ref=sr_1_14?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1446638767&sr=1-14&keywords=usb+sound+card wont work. any idea why is that? or any idea how to record from laptop line in? perhaps even with some modified audio driver? is there a replacement for the stupid conexant driver? thank you

  23. Great write up and I whole heartedly agree with getting a machine you can work on. I just bought the X220T (tablet edition) earlier this year. The tablets all have the IPS screen in them. It’s been a solid machine running Ubuntu 14.04. I flashed a modded bios to I could put in intel 7260 ac wifi card and it works great. I just bough a 128 gig msata to put in place of the wwan. I’m really glad I bought the laptop instead of a new one.

  24. Got two in excellent condition from Computer Overhauls in NYC, installed Ubuntu 14.04.3 LTS and with TLP they run brilliant with 6+ hours of battery life. I sold off my heavy 15.4″ i7 for these. They are built tough and easy to carry and thanks to superb keyboard, dream to type on just like my desktop’s cherry keyboard.

  25. I know this blog post it’s quite old but thanks a lot for your thoughts and tips. I’m in the process of buying a used X220 and your article is pretty good to have an idea of what expect from the laptop. Btw, still working? :)

  26. I chanced upon your article when looking x for Thinkpad 220 alternatives and I just want to say that I loved your article. Clean, to the point, accurate and inspiring. I just wish I lived in the US to be able to do. Unfortunately, they’ve discontinued this product and it’s parts here in India.

    Thanks again though. If you had to suggest an alternative to this godly device, which ultra portable lenovo would it be?

    I currently have had a Thinkpad Edge 14″ for the past 5 years with a RAM upgrade and I <3 it but I need something ultra portable. Please feel if you can.

    Regards
    Sneha

    1. Thank you. Have you checked on eBay? Some 2nd-hand sellers might send internationally to you.

      As for suggestions, I would avoid the Y/Edge and other consumer series, instead opting for an X/T or W business series. Of those, only the X satisfies the ‘ultra-portable’ criteria, but the T/W are still very good options, the T420 is similar in spec to the X220, just bigger, and far more common. I would definitely avoid the X1/X250, but the X240/X230 could also be an option if the X220 is not available.

      Alternatively, there is also the XPS 13 which has good Linux support.

  27. I just wanted to say after reading your article I picked up a refurbished X220 on eBay (8GB, SSD). I couldn’t be happier. Thanks a lot!

  28. I like it. We have old HP Pavilion dv2200 .. whch also exhibits exactly the same overheating and crash-4-no-reason symptoms. Do you think it is the same dry and cracked thermal paste problem? I think it is very likely …

    1. Would be worth checking. Crashes can happen for any dozen number of reasons, selectively remove factors till you isolate what it is.

  29. -How easy is it to take the whole machine apart to get to the motherboard? My X220 is running extremely hot after 3 years of use (got it at launch with a bunch of different discounts) and I’d like to strip it down and reapply TIM.
    -It’s a better idea to stick an SSD in the mSATA port under the keyboard than in the ExpressCard slot, IMHO, as long as you’re not already using it for 4G wireless.
    -Lenovo’s laptops maintain a whitelist that controls which wireless cards are allowed to be installed in the Wi-Fi mini-PCIe slot. To get around this, you’ll have to patch the BIOS. I’m not sure if the BIOS patch tool is usable without Windows.
    -Tip: if you sand down the tabs on the HDD slot and get rid of the stock shock absorber things the HDD comes in, any standard 9.5mm HDD will fit in the HDD slot. You can spec this thing to the moon, with a 1TB mSATA SSD and 1.5TB mechanical drive for 2.5TB total. Simply unheard of in all but a handful of other computers this size.

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