Thursday 28 July 2022

Old But Gold: Lenovo Thinkpad T430s

I was getting tired of using the battered old Dell Latitude E6500 as my main laptop, and my Thinkpad X201 needs the fan replacing, so that's out of action, so I needed another laptop to use. Thankfully I managed to pick up a very tidy Lenovo Thinkpad T430s for a good price. It's in excellent condition for its age. It has a nice bright screen with no marks on it, an apparently not very old battery, and a replacement power supply, though I do have a Lenovo one that fits from my oldest dead Thinkpad. It has a very durable magnesium alloy and carbon-reinforced plastic construction. The screen bezels might be considered chunky but it helps with the durability. The T430 has a quad core i5-3320M CPU, 8GB RAM, and Intel HD 4000 graphics, 2 USB3 ports, one USB2 port, SD card reader, Mini Displayport, Gigabit Ethernet, a DVD-RW drive and came with a 500GB hard drive with Windows 10 installed, but that was the first thing to be ditched. 

Getting the Thinkpad up and running with Linux was as simple as swapping out the 500GB hard drive for the SSD from my old Thinkpad X201. It's just a case of removing the X201's little caddy and rubber mounts and putting the rubber mounts of the T430s on. The DVD drive can be replaced with an Ultrabay battery or second SSD/hard drive.

Once installed, the outer panel screwed back on, KDE Neon booted up and was ready to use. I then installed all the updates it had missed while being offline. 

The T430 has a nice bright screen and a great keyboard to type on with its island keys. It's also the first laptop I have had with a back-lit keyboard (Fn key + Space to turn it on and off). The textured touchpad takes a little getting used to, though I do tend to prefer a mouse on older laptops. It supports multi-touch gestures like pinch to zoom, in Linux you press Control while pinching. The keyboard layout is a little different to my older Thinkpads, and my Dell Latitude, with a smaller rectangular Return key, which also takes a bit of getting used to. Of course being a Thinkpad has the Track Point, or Nipple Mouse as I like to call it, but I always disable it, I have never got the hang of using them.

Thinkpads are well known for being Linux-friendly (though I am not sure about the latest ones), so it's no surprise that everything works out the box - shortcut keys, graphics etc. The keyboard layout was not set right on the first boot, likely because I had swapped the drive from another machine, but it's easy to change that in KDE settings, to generic US layout. Even the grainy built-in 720P 1.3MP webcam works out the box, I installed kamoso to test it out, which is in the 'buntu repos. Bluetooth also works perfectly out of the box with KDE.

I got just a little over 2 hours battery life with heavy usage - Facebook, lots of YouTube video playing - with the screen at 50% brightness. That's not bad for an old battery, though when new it would have lasted around 5 hours. The only slight oddity is sometimes when the battery is really low, and you plug the charger in, KDE sometimes reports that it is not charging, when it actually is, eventually after a moment or two it shows as charging. The optical bay can be replaced with an Ultrabay battery that apparently adds around 3 hours of usage.

If you find that under heavy usage the temperature go up to 75°C, it may help to place the T430 on a flat hard surface, rather than directly on top of your lap, I find it goes back to around 40 to 50°C depending on usage. It may also be worth cleaning out the fan too. It's got a bit warm a few times with YouTube, not helped by the hot weather at the moment. I already had Thinkfan installed to control fan speeds, and the config is very similar to the X201, there's a how to here to set it up. 

Another slightly annoying thing I have discovered is that there's an admin BIOS password on this T430s, which is always a hazard when buying secondhand laptops, you can get in without entering a password but you won't be able to change certain settings. Without the admin password you cannot change anything in the "Security" section of the BIOS apart from you can add a hard disk password. and you cannot change anything in the "Startup" section apart from Boot Mode (Quick or Diagnostics). If you need to choose a boot device though you can press F12 when starting up and choose what you want. The one thing I want to change at some point is enabling hardware virtualisation (Intel VT). There are a few workarounds as detailed here, but you should be very careful to follow them correctly for fear of bricking the laptop. Right now I really cannot be bothered to go through all that hassle until I absolutely have to.   

Apart from the odd minor niggle, I am pretty happy with this old Thinkpad. It's amazing how compact and fairly lightweight the T430s is (compared to a beast like my Latitude E6500), but still has a decent number of ports and room for a DVD bay too. And I prefer the size of the 14 inch screen on this to the 12.1 inch of the X201, that's a bit too small for my liking. 14 inch is the sweet spot for me. I love how snappy this laptop feels with KDE Neon, compared with my old Latitude E6500 and even my Chromebook. It's very quick to boot and I like how when it dims the screen after I have left it for a bit, it also turns the keyboard back-light off until I start using it again. The trackpad beneath the spill-resistant keyboard could be a bit better, but it's often that way on older laptops, I've been spoilt by the excellent trackpad on my Acer Chromebook 14. The T430s keyboard is superb to type on though. The T430s is a pretty sturdy laptop, and pretty quick considering it was released back in June 2012, 10 years ago at the time of writing, and I hope it will last me a few more years without going wrong, but only time will tell. 

Wednesday 27 July 2022

Goodbye Endeavour Linux, Hello Manjaro!

Goodbye Endeavour!

After a surprisingly long stint of usage with Endeavour Linux on my Dell Latitude E6500, one night the streaming app, the one I specifically installed Endeavour for, Mkchromecast, stopped working for no obvious reason. It's an old app that hasn't been updated since 2017 so I suppose it's easily broken if something else changes. Also I was getting tired of the distro for a few other things, and felt it getting a little sluggish.  Anyway, I went looking for other Arch-based distros, since mkchromecast only seems to work on them, it doesn't work properly on my favourite Linux flavour, KDE Neon, which is Ubuntu based. I was looking at easy to install and use variants of Arch, since I just wanted to quickly get the next distro installed and use it as quickly as possible. 

Hello Manjaro!

I have tried Manjaro before but it was a long time ago, a long time before KDE 5 came out, so it was an opportunity to see if it has improved since then. Naturally I chose the KDE variant, which is currently on version 5.24.6, though it also comes in Gnome and XFCE official flavours. There are also community flavours including Budgie and Cinnamon desktops. I used Balena Etcher to pop the KDE edition onto a USB stick for installation. The Manjaro installer is pretty neat apart from one thing, it does not have an easy way to make a dual partition setup, with a separate /home partition. I tried to create it manually but when I clicked next it came up with some warning about creating an 8MB blank boot partition for GPT, in the end I gave up and stuck with a single partition. 

Apart from that slight annoyance, the install went smoothly, and I was greeted by a Manjaro-ised KDE desktop with it's green accents and icons, which I am really not keen on. Of course the great thing about KDE is it's so customisable. I switched the theme to Breeze Dark and installed Papirus icons from the handy Pamac graphical package manager that comes with Manjaro. 

It's also nice that my favourite terminal app, Yakuake (a Quake style terminal emulator) was already installed, (all i had to do was add it to Autostart) as was VLC. I then installed all my favourite tools, including GIMP, K3B, Clementine music player, qbittorrent, Soundkonverter, Filezilla and Latte Dock. Manjaro has some neat touches like in the terminal it shows how long a task took to complete on the bottom right-hand side. 

Installing Chrome on Arch-based distros is still a bit of a faff, there are a couple of different ways, both requiring copy and pasting a bunch of commands, I used this howto here. Installing Dropbox also required a little tinkering too, similar to Endeavour, and I used this installation tutorialNext up I installed Mkchromecast (with yay -S mkchromecast) and then eventually realised it will not work without also installing python-pychromecast and now it works a treat, much to my relief.

There is one elephant in the room though, Manjaro's track record for security is not great, and they keep back packages in the distro for two weeks, which can cause issues with the very up to date packages in AUR. So far I haven't had any serious issues, and everything seems to be running fine so far, but we'll see! I am open to suggestions of other distros that Mkchromecast will run on. My Dell Latitude E6500 is basically a dedicated player/server casting to a bunch of Chromecasts, main laptop duties have gone to my newly acquired Lenovo Thinkpad T430s.


Wednesday 13 July 2022

Linuxiversary… Two Years With Linux Mint

Today marks two years of me using Linux full time, this time last year I was still getting used to the switch from a life time of using a Mac (over 20 years to be more precise), but a further twelve months on and I am feeling much more at home.

I have settled in to the operating system – Linux Mint 20.3 Cinnamon at present – and while I used a lot of open source and cross platform apps prior to moving to Linux I have really embraced them and any additional ‘non Apple’ alternatives I needed. I even find myself loading up the Terminal and typing in commands without that dreaded fear of messing something up.

Don’t get me wrong I am no Linux genius, but my friend, fellow Linux user and owner of this blog will attest that I have asked far less questions in the last year.

I have upgraded my laptop once again since my last article going from my Lenovo ThinkPad X201 to a Dell Latitude E7250, the jump in specs is superb and a noticeable difference in performance, but you would expect that going from a second gen i5 to a fifth gen i5.

Never have I felt so comfortable using an operating system as I do in Linux Mint. I have dabbled with it over the years either dual booting alongside Mac OS or virtually using VirtualBox, so I wasn’t a complete novice when I ditched the entire Apple world and set off using Linux full time.

Linux has come a long way over the years and it isn’t as scary or different – it is very user friendly and so far I haven’t had any hardware that won’t work on it – which was always a problem in the past. Even most software – except major developers like Adobe – are pushing the Linux platform.

So happy Linuxiversary to me – and here's to many more years of enjoyable computing.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at