Lenovo Carbon X1 and Fedora

My employer wants us to re-new out-of-warranty hardware. This includes laptops. Till the last week I was using Lenovo T520: heavyweight, battery sucking beast that could have been used as a melee weapon... When it went out of warranty and I was supposed to have it replaced..., I waited. It was the time when some of the more misantropic designers at Lenovo succeeded with the idea of removing physical buttons from the trackpoint (the only pointing device I'm able to use on a laptop -- touchpads are simply out of my motoric abilities). And I didn't like the big laptop anyway. I liked my old X61. I wanted that. Just faster, newer.

Then there was the Carbon X1: razor-thin, light, powerful. And even more unusable because apparently removal of the physical mouse buttons didn't make the users suffer enough. The most expensive Lenovo ultrabooks line had also one of the keyboard rows replaced by some software-controlled touch strip that most of the marketing victims never figured out how to use. Brilliant move by Lenovo. I either don't like people much.

When guys at Lenovo had enough of their fun, they decided to go back to doing business and producing laptops people wouldn't want to kill them with (the only reasonable thing those machines could have ever been used for).

So... Thinkpads x50 looked much better. Obviously some of the business-sustaining, cost-cutting decisions had to be made: soldered RAM (memory slots are obsolete), clickable touchpad (I know, Apple knows how to make them, sadly this is about Lenovo), new RealTek NICs (RealTek is not that bad as PowerVR or Mali, but still...) and of course: firmware! Still this stuff seemed to be usable at least.

But I was tired of heavy T500s and their big dust-catching docking stations with so many connectors. All in all, I need two monitors, two USB ports, microphone and headphone and that's it. It's 2015, these things Just Work these days. And I wanted the pretty and shiny stuff: Carbon X1 in its third generation. Third! They had to perfect-out that thing. It's going to be awesome, trust me. Let's unpack it.

When it came to the laptop itself, it looked OK(ish...). Apart from the fact the screws are some 0.5 mm longer than the holes, so the case is loose and rattles. Later I found out everybody I knew using this machine has tried to tighten the screws and all of them failed. The screws are simply too long. Haha! My admiration of Lenovo designers should be probably extended also to their QA. Of course, the RAM is soldered on the mainboard (8 GB in my case) and of course there is the Apple-like keyboard (the old Thinkpad keyboard I have on this old, wonderful, sturdy, perfectly designed X61 I'm typing this post on, was the best thing ever; even the Apple folks could envy you!, fools at Lenovo; I know... it would spoil the fun). And of course, there was some "invention" put in the keyboard layout, so people have something to get used to (and again: X61 is thiiiis tiny... and still... so much better keyboard). My almost 20 years old habit of Alt-F1 to Alt-F4 combination to switch between the four desktops is ... not possible. Had been turned to Alt-Fn-F1 to Alt-Fn-F4!? Thankfully, the trackpoint is there and moves the cursor down really well... I want it to move up too sometimes though... Let's use the force... OK, that works. Hm. Whatever. I drive Citroen, I'm used to rattling and violence. But otherwise, everything is comfy and never breaks. (And my Citroen was CHEAP!)

Installing Fedora 22 is a boring business. I had been warned not to install F23 to avoid problems with Wi-Fi stability... Anaconda can't install over wireless anyway. Never did, even on X61 or T520. Just won't connect. Hidden SSID or enterprise WPA... All wrong. Must have been designed that way (fun!). There's some dongle where one can plug the RJ45 connector. Fits here, yes. No surprises. Fedora installed.

It boots, I can log in. With minor violence applied on the trackpoint thingie I can choose "Shut down" from the XFCE menu. Almost like the old ugly T520. Just more silent and slightly faster (though I expected more from the SSD). Most of the time the laptop would be docked connected to much more convenient LCD panels (two of them: I got used to write longer texts on a rotated screen).

Let's plug in the dock connector (Yes. The evolution: the ThinkPad OneLink Pro dock is not a dock, but yet another box with a thick cable.). It boots and I can see the bootloader prompt on the laptop LCD but nothing at all on the external monitors. Turned out it takes several seconds for the external screens to turn on. There is even an option in EFI/BIOS to configure delay on boot to give the docking station chance to turn the monitors on. All the systemd violence that saved few precious seconds on boot in vain. Lenovo doesn't like even the systemd developers. At least, no misantropist conspiracy here.

The image is mirrored using the lowest common resolution of the detected monitors on both of them. Odd. Let's log in and tell xrand to fix this: turn the laptop LCD off, and put the two external monitors next to each other. Now there is no image on the larger panel and the smaller one flickers beyond readability. No fiddling with xrandr fixes this. The only possible combination is one external monitor plugged to the dock and the laptop screen. I'm getting really upset.

It turns out the "dock" is not what one would expect: It's basically an USB 3.0 hub with some devices hard-wired to some of the ports. So with the dock one gets and USB graphic card, USB NIC and USB sound card. Unplugging it makes the devices disappear: very funny with the soundcard for example.

And the USB NIC: marvellous piece of hardware: took me quite some time that when the thing decides to stop detecting carrier on the ethernet, the only thing that helps is reloading the r8152 module. No, even reboot won't help. Reading the other poor "ThinkPad OneLink Pro" users comments on Lenovo site I suspect this is simply crappy hardware/firmware. NFS has become an unexpected adventure with the new Lenovo hardware. Bet your data on it.

In the end the only undeniable improvement is much longer battery life (some 10 hours). It's not that big concern to me though... There power plugs in the meeting rooms and I travel really rarely. The rest is just pure downgrade in every aspect with the "dock" being definitely the biggest disappointment.

The length of this post is proportional to my frustration. Given the official price tag on the Carbon X1 and the unbelievably crappy "dock"... Just keep your old ThinkPad x20/x30 and just ignore this marketing scam. My next laptop is going to be Mac. And Microsot has also produced very good hardware, they make even laptops nowadays..

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