I’ve generally been a desktop guy for most of my life, but since unboxing a X1 Carbon (pictured left) from work last year, I’ve been falling in love with Thinkpads. I’d had an X230 back around 2011 which was a great piece of hardware, ran Linux like a dream, but it was relatively thick and heavy with a very dim display. I ended up going back to a desktop workstation for it’s replacement.
Holding the X1 Carbon for the first time though, I couldn’t believe how thin and light it was. Sturdy, fantastic keyboard, great display, and also runs Linux like a dream. I love the simple design, not flashy but utilitarian, and from what I’ve read, designed to last. Due to that thin design it’s far from the most hackable X1, but if nothing else the battery can be easily replaced and that is by far the main thing I’m worried about for longevity. I did not actually know the 16gb of RAM was soldered to the motherboard when I ordered, that is actually a little light for the development I do and I probably should have got for a T series.
I started thinking earlier this year that it’s been a long time since I’ve really had a personal computer. The last I think I bought hardware was a workstation in 2009. I’d always spent hours tinkering at my computer in my free time but somewhere along the line working remote, it just became more practical for my work systems to take over my desk, and my personal machine sat there powered down and after work, I’m generally getting out of my office. My data came to live on my phone and a raspberrypi4 in the basement.
For a personal machine to tinker with things on and manage my own data, I can’t stomach the cost of this calibre of laptop new. I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than maybe $700 CAD on a computer, and for decent specs these run well into the 2000s. Thanks to /r/thinkpad and some Youtube videos though, I got to thinking about finding a used one on eBay and upgrading it.
The first question was how old and what model. This Used Thinkpad Buyer’s Guide was quite useful. I have a Thunderbolt 3 dock and struggle a lot with my wrists and neck, so being able to dock and use my ergonomic keyboard and finely tuned desk setup would be an immense benefit. As much as I love the X1, they tend to run a bit more expensive even used, and a little more upgradability would be nice. As such I ended up looking for a T470 or T470s and the first good deal I found on eBay was for the slim variant.
My T470s (pictured right) arrived a couple weeks later from the US. The seller was well established and well rated, and I paid about $550 CAD after all taxes and import fees to get it into Canada. The listing actually didn’t mention any specific damage, just condition used. On arrival I was thrilled to see the shape it was in. I found a small scratch on the back edge, and could see some key imprints on the screen when it was powered down, neither of which I’ve noticed since opening the box. Otherwise it was exceptionally clean and in great shape, hard to tell it wasn’t new. It’s about a half pound heavier than the X1 but only minimally thicker. It’s still not particularly upgradable but one RAM slot is, so I ordered a snappy 16gb to take it to a total of 20. It’s only an i5 but it runs cooler and quieter than my X1 with an i7 and the performance feels adequate. As with both of the Thinkpads I’ve owned previous, Linux just works right out the box. (suspend, wifi, docking, but not the fingerprint reader although I couldn’t get that to work even in Windows)
It’s been refreshing to have a machine of my own again. I’ve spent my long weekend replacing my 2006 zsh setup with oh my zsh, getting my system config / dotfiles into Ansible, fixing up this site with Hugo, and working on some blog posts I’ve been meaning to write.
I hope to keep this machine running for a good long time. With a battery I can replace easily myself, this level of performance and Linux, I’m not sure what tends to kill a machine like this. I guess RAM or motherboard failure? In any case when it does die, I don’t think I’d hesitate to hunt down another used Thinkpad on eBay. Actually I think my wife might be next in line.