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Review: Lenovo ThinkPad x220

This is my review of the Lenovo ThinkPad x220 laptop.

Lenovo ThinkPad x220 laptop

front view of x220

Last summer I was testing out an HP Stream 11 laptop. While I loved it for its price and portability, it sometimes choked under a heavy load. This led me to search Craigslist for something a little beefier.

I had used a Lenovo ThinkPad T430 with a quad-core i7 Intel processor as my work laptop for a few years and had grown to respect it. So, when it came time for me to replace the HP Stream 11 (which went to my niece), I ended up going with the T430’s smaller and older brother: the Lenovo ThinkPad x220 (released in 2011). I picked it up from a local Craigslist seller for $230 with Windows 7 and Office 2010 installed. I immediately swapped out the hard drive with an SSD with Ubuntu GNU/Linux. I have used it for a year now and I must say that it is a great little laptop.

What I like about the x220

  • small – Its footprint is about the size of a sheet of paper which makes it very portable.
  • battery – The replaceable battery lasts 6 to 8 hours. A full-day battery is also available.
  • cpu – Even though it is 5-years “old”, the quad-core i5 processor hasn’t choked under load yet.
  • OS – Ubuntu GNU/Linux works great on this laptop …everything just works.
  • modular – Since this was a best seller for corporate computer rental fleets, many spare parts and repair guides are readily available. I have replaced hard drive and wrist pad.
  • multi-monitor – The graphics card can support an external monitor in addition to the built-in LCD screen. Theoretically, it can even support 2 external monitors (built-in LCD must be disabled) with the use of a docking station – but I haven’t tested this.
  • on/off switch for WiFi – This allows you to quickly and easily turn WiFi on or off.
  • ethernet jack – It has a full-size (not fold-down) ethernet jack for fast network transfers.
  • keyboard – I LOVE this keyboard. The spacing of the keys is perfect for touch typists. Specifically, I love the gaps between function key groups and comically large Esc and Delete keys. The placement of the PgUp/PgDn and arrow keys means that I almost never have to look at my hands.
  • video ports – The x220 has both an old-school VGA port and a new-school full-size DisplayPort to connect to older and newer monitors. Together with my DisplayPort-mini DisplayPort adapter and mini DisplayPort-to-everything adapter I can connect to almost monitor.
Lenovo ThinkPad x220 laptop

view of the x220 keyboard

Lenovo ThinkPad x220 laptop

view of left-side ports

Lenovo ThinkPad x220 laptop

view of right-side ports

Modifications

Here is a listing of the modifications I made to this laptop.

  • 16 GB RAM – Although the spec sheet lists the maximum RAM at 8 GB, I can confirm that 16 GB of RAM is recognized and used.
  • 250 GB mSATA drive – I added this sweet, tiny mSATA drive as the boot drive – it really makes this computer FLY! Startup time is on the order of seconds.
  • 240 GB SATA SSD – I added this 2.5-inch SSD about 6 months ago to store virtual machines that I spin up for testing or one-time use. The fact that it can fit both a 2.5-inch SATA drive and an mSATA drive means that you can have 2 TB or more of storage on this tiny computer.
  • 3M Privacy Filter – I travel a lot. That means a lot of nosy people on buses, trains, and planes try to sneak a peek at what I’m working on. While I have nothing interesting on this computer, I still don’t feel like anyone has the right to invade my privacy. Luckily this privacy guard makes it impossible for anyone not sitting directly in front of the computer to see what is on the screen.
  • dock – I was able to buy a dock on eBay for less than $40 bucks. This enables me to quickly connect an external monitor, mouse, keyboard, power, and ethernet …soooo convenient.
Lenovo ThinkPad x220 laptop

x220 with 3M Privacy Guard on the screen

Conclusion

If you are looking for a cheap, tough, powerful, upgradable, easy-to-fix laptop (especially one that runs GNU/Linux), look into the Lenovo ThinkPad x220.

ubuntu computer running 3 vm's

Running Windows on GNU/Linux

Since my move to GNU/Linux I have had to run proprietary software several times. This is typically because of school projects that require Windows or Mac-only software like SMART Notebook or WebEx.

So what do you do when your GNU/Linux can’t run the application that you need to use?

Solution: Run Windows in a virtual machine.

What’s a virtual machine?

A virtual machine is a separate computer that runs inside your current computer. It runs inside a program on your main operating system called a hypervisor. In my case, I use a program called VirtualBox. It creates a fake environment where you can install another operating system – for me, it is Windows 7 or 8.

Said another way, a virtual machine is a client computer running inside a program on your host computer.

Getting Windows

For short-term Windows use, your best option is to download pre-configured virtual machines from Microsoft’s Modern.ie. Modern.ie is a site that allows web developers to download time-limited (90-days) virtual machines to use for testing websites on Microsoft browsers.

screenshot of Modern.ie website

Microsoft’s Modern.ie website

The virtual machines available on Modern.ie can also be used to test and use any software that runs on Windows.

If you need to run Windows over a longer term you will need to get a legitimate license. Students can check with their campus computer store for free or significantly discounted licenses. Home users can check with companies like Newegg.com for discounted original equipment manufacturer (OEM) versions of Windows which typically cost around $99.

Windows 10 on Newegg.com

Windows 10 on Newegg.com 2016-03-13

I have used virtual machines for:

  • Testing proprietary software for school – SMART Notebook
  • Test installing software to see how it affects the operating system
  • Using proprietary software not available on GNU/Linux like WebEx
  • Logging in to my work terminal server via Remote Desktop

Here is a screenshot of my Ubuntu machine running three virtual machines:

  • Windows 10 VM from Modern.ie
  • Ubuntu 15.10 displaying a remote Windows terminal server instance
  • Windows 8 installation (free from school – yay!)
ubuntu computer running 3 vm's

My Ubuntu computer running 3 virtual machines

More help

Here is a YouTube video by a fellow named Quidsup. He shows you how to install Windows 10 inside VirtualBox.