Although a little off topic, I would like to write about my experience with a Thinkpad® T430s. I recently upgraded from my old machine, which was a Thinkpad T61. Prior to purchasing the new machine, I read lots of reviews of the T430s, but still had a few questions, so maybe writing down my impressions will help other people trying to decide which laptop to buy.
The specifications are:
- Core i5-3320 processor with Intel® HD4000 graphics (no dedicated GPU)
- 16 GB DDR RAM
- 500 GB Samsung® 840 Pro SSD
- 1600×900 wide screen LCD
The first thing I did after receiving the laptop was to create recovery DVDs to be able to restore the factory state later, then wipe the hard drive and install Ubuntu® Linux 13.04 (“Raring Ringtail”). In case you wonder: I use Linux for almost all of my work. Windows® is run inside a virtual machine, and this is also where I use Excel® and develop the XL Toolbox.
Among the first things to notice about the T430s (besides the light weight) is its form factor and the new keyboard.
My old T61 had a traditional 4:3 screen; the new one is a 16:10 wide screen, which means the laptop itself is rather wide. I think this needs some getting used to. It just fits into my laptop bag. But the T430s is about 550 g (c. 1.2 lb) lighter and noticeably thinner than the T61. I do notice the lighter laptop in my bag.
A lot has been written about the new “islet-style” or “chiclet” keyboard. It is radically different than previous Thinkpad keyboards. I must say the keys are very gentle to the fingers, and my impression is that typing is faster and more accurate. Unfortunately, due to the wide-screen form factor (see above), the layout of the keyboard has changed. I preferred the block of special keys (Home, End, PgUp, PgDn, Ins, Del) on the old keyboard. The spacing between the function keys is gone, which means you cannot hit a key blindly. The Fn+F12 combination for ‘hibernate’ is gone; Fn+F10, Fn+F11 and Fn+12 are now media control keys (play/pause, skip). The keyboard has a backlight that can be controlled in two steps, which works out of the box with Ubuntu 13.04; the traditional ThinkLight is still there and is brighter than before.
Noise and Heat
One of the big gripes with the old T61 was its fan noise and the heat it produced. The fan was loud, had a nasty high pitch and would run constantly, which caused me to have a fan-controlling program (thinkfan or tpfand) running constantly in the background. Controlling the T61 fan came at the cost of having a warmer laptop. The heat would be uncomfortable during a long day of typing grant applications and the like.
The T430s has a much nicer fan, it’s less noisy, and the pitch is more agreeable. With Ubuntu 13.04, even without additional fan-controlling software, it stays off much of the time. When the laptop is under load (e.g., loading web sites containing flash elements), it will turn on, but overall the laptop will stay rather quiet. In my office at home, which is a very quiet environment, I can readily hear it, but it is nowhere near as unnerving as the T61′s fan. The T430s’ fan will turn off spontaneously — something that the T61 fan would never do.
The solid-state disk in this machine is of course noiseless and does not produce any heat (at least none that I am aware of).
The laptop stays cool and quiet even during prolonged sessions. It is not as cool as the metal body of a Samsung® 9 series ultrabook, but it is not comparable with the T61.
I used to own a R50p with a gorgeous 1600×1200 display. The T61 that I owned afterwards had a rather disappointing screen, with a narrow viewing angle and insufficient backlight in many settings (e.g., in a brightly illuminated laboratory, I would sometimes wish there was an additional brightness step). The T430s has a 1600×900 display which is far from perfect, but noticeably better than the T61′s screen in my opinion. It is brighter, and the viewing angle is less narrow. The font display using Ubuntu 13.04 is crisp, and so far I have no issues with the colors. I still have a separate, high-resolution LCD screen sitting on my desk.
Ubuntu® Linux compatibility
To my great surprise, installation of the current Ubuntu 13.04 operating
system (“Raring Ringtail”) was not as smooth as expected, even though the
laptop does not have discrete graphics, and everything should work out of
the box. There were no problems with (U)EFI, as the T430s comes with the
BIOS compatibility mode enabled. However, after finishing the
installation, I was unable to log into the GUI (Unity). The display
manager would stall, all I could do was fall back to one of the terminals
(Alt+F1). When I tried to restart the lightdm display manager, the system
would hang completely. Since I did not have an Internet connection during
the first install, I repeated the process with an Ethernet cable
connected, but did not get any further. Only after issuing a
update && sudo apt-get upgrade, the system was able to start the
Once the system had been installed properly, almost everything worked smoothly. With 16 GB of RAM and a solid-state disk, booting the operating system takes literally under 5 seconds (much faster than Windows® 7 which was pre-installed). Unity’s Dash is now (finally!) very responsive — this was one of my issues with Unity running on the old T61 (which had 4 GB of RAM, a spinning hard disk, and a Core2Duo T9300 processor). I used to have the excellent tool Synapse installed to be able to run applications and locate files quickly. With a Dash as responsive as this, I have not yet felt the need to install Synapse again.
Oddly enough, about the only thing that did not work out of the box was
the display brightness keys. A solution is to change the boot manager
/etc/default/grub, make the line
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT look as follows:
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet splash acpi_osi=Linux acpi_backlight=vendor"
Don’t forget to run
sudo update-grub afterwards. The brightness keys do
work now. The on-screen display of the current brightness level does not,
but that’s a cosmetic issue in my opinion. After booting the operating
system, brightness is always restored to the highest level, so
re-adjustment may be necessary after powering on the laptop.
All in all, I am very happy with the T430s. It’s a light, sleek, cool and powerful tool for work.