Thinkpad X62

Back in January, I used an old Thinkpad while my 12” Macbook was being repaired. I found myself really enjoying some aspects of it. This nudged me down a path that ended with me modding a frankenpad built by some enthusiasts in Shenzhen.

Using my old X61s left me frustrated with current laptops. Sure, the X61s was old and slow, but that was to be expected. What I didn’t expect was just how much laptops have regressed. Chiclet-style keyboards are abysmal compared to the keyboard on the X61s. I forgot how much I preferred 4:3 screens for work. Title bars and tabs tend to consume vertical space, which 4:3 screens have plenty of. The X61s screen was dim, but I fixed that with an LED backlight conversion kit.

Dear Lenovo: Please bring back the classic keyboard
Dear Lenovo: Please bring back this classic keyboard

Some features were nice to have, but not particularly compelling: I liked the form factor, though it was a bit thick. The removable battery came in handy a few times. And I enjoyed little details like the latching lid and thin bezel.

Of course, some aspects of the X61s were embarassing by modern standards. The screen resolution was only 1024×768, and not IPS, meaning colors changed with viewing angle. The VGA-out restricted possibilities for external displays. Performance and battery life were… less than ideal. Even a maxxed-out machine (1.8GHz Core 2 Duo, 8GB of RAM, SATAII SSD) was a little sluggish for work.

Despite its shortcomings, I ended up using the X61s more than my 12” MacBook. The X61s convinced me that a much better laptop could exist. The same chassis with modern components would be a very compelling product.

The X62

In the quest for something better, I stumbled upon the X62. This “model” isn’t made by Lenovo. It’s the product of 51nb, a group of enthusiasts in Shenzhen. The X62 is an X61 chassis but with:

I ordered one back in March and received it in June. As with the X61s, I replaced the backlight with an LED kit. This improved battery life and brought the screen brightness from 160 nits to over 600. The backlight mod took hours, as it involved disassembling most of the laptop.

ThinkPad X62 disassembled. I'm so glad I only have to do this once.

You can see more pictures of the process here.

Linux

Ubuntu 17.04 worked out of the box, but there was one annoyance: battery life. For some reason, the laptop was using 10 watts at idle. Thanks to some forum posts, I managed to tweak various kernel module options and got idle down to 4 watts. This drastically improved battery life. I then put together a script to enable power savings on startup. These tweaks should benefit most Linux users on modern Intel hardware:

#!/bin/sh

# Disable the NMI watchdog
echo '0' > '/proc/sys/kernel/nmi_watchdog';

# Runtime power management for I2C devices
for i in /sys/bus/i2c/devices/*/device/power/control ; do
  echo auto > ${i}
done

# Runtime power-management for PCI devices
for i in /sys/bus/pci/devices/*/power/control ; do
  echo auto > ${i}
done

# Runtime power-management for USB devices
for i in /sys/bus/usb/devices/*/power/control ; do
  echo auto > ${i}
done

# Low power SATA
for i in /sys/class/scsi_host/*/link_power_management_policy ; do
  echo min_power > ${i}
done

# Disable Wake-on-LAN on ethernet port
ethtool -s wlan0 wol d;
ethtool -s eth0 wol d

#Enable Audio codec power management
echo '1' > '/sys/module/snd_hda_intel/parameters/power_save';

# Low power wireless
iw dev wlan0 set power_save on

I also had to use Realtek’s driver for the ethernet controller, as the default one wasted power. A sudo apt install r8168-dkms and a module blacklist later, I was in business. With these tweaks, my X62 idles in power state PC6. It’s possible to go lower, but I’m content with the current battery life.

I wish Linux had better defaults, but this sort of thing is to be expected when it comes to open source software.

Conclusion

ThinkPad X62

The X62 is a niche product, but it really scratches an itch for me. There’s no other way to get a 4:3 matte screen, a great keyboard, and modern performance. My MacBook has become my secondary laptop. I’ve only taken it out of the house once since I got the X62, and that was for my Oregon bikepacking trip.



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