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. 

No comments: