Hurtling through Space

A Year with a ThinkPad

09 January 2021
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After a full calendar year with my first ThinkPad, an X1 Carbon Gen 7 (model 20R1S05A00), I wanted to share how it’s held up day-to-day. This was the first non-Apple laptop I’ve purchased. Deciding to escape the Apple ecosystem was a tough choice, but a year later I can say I’m happy I made the switch. I’ll be using Apple laptops for comparison, having owned one from basically every generation since the 2005 Powerbook. To give you a sense of where I’m coming from, I’d argue the 2015 MacBook Pro is unequivocally the perfect laptop (though sadly underpowered today).

My use case: long-form writing, light web development, and general web surfing on the go

Specs: i7-10710U, 16GB RAM (soldered), 512GB hard drive, 1080p touchscreen

OS: Manjaro Linux and a little bit of Windows 10 Pro

Cost: I picked up this machine on sale for around $1,300. It retails around $3,200, which is absolutely insane. To be fair, the retail price doesn’t mean much because Lenovo laptops are basically permanently on sale. As of this writing, it’s listed for $1,800, which is still way too much. If you want one, wait for a holiday sale or pick up a used one at r/thinkpadsforsale. To me, I would rate this an excellent $1,000 laptop and a reasonable $1,200 - $1,300 laptop. The performance can’t justify spending more than that.


Grade: B+

The small form factor of this machine, and the reputation of ThinkPads, notably their keyboards, initially drew me to this laptop. It’s for those reasons that I still like it so much. The X1 Carbon is a 14” laptop that’s as light as a feather and features the best laptop keyboard sold today hands-down. I bought it to travel. Before the pandemic struck all travel from my schedule, it was literally so light I couldn’t feel it in my backpack. Nowadays, it’s plenty comfortable resting on my lap on the couch.

Outside of the keyboard, the quality of the rest of the hardware ranges between good and merely acceptable. The end result is a laptop with acceptable performance, satisfactory build quality, but a dope keyboard that makes me forget about any rough edges.


Grade: A+

I’m a heavy typer - I have big hands and I love beating the hell out of the Cherry MX Browns in the full-size mechanical keyboard I have on my desk. While obviously not mechanical switches, whatever switches are in the ThinkPad feel great. The travel distance and actuation force make typing feel crisp and purposeful, and the keys feel chonky and distinct. My only complaint is that I wish they had done away with the PgUp and PgDn keys and left some empty space around the arrow keys in an inverted T-shape instead.

As an aside, It’s a night and day difference with the 2019 MacBook Pro I have for work. With the MacBook, I feel like I have to keep my fingers floating over the keys because they’re so flat and sensitive. The problem with that is that I’m a touch typist. When the travel distance is short enough that just the act of feeling for keys will actuate them, my accuracy suffers. The alternative is constantly looking down at the keyboard, but that’s even more annoying than mistyping. (And I absolutely loathe the Mac touchbar, even moreso than I thought I would. Don’t get me started on what a stupid idea it is to put a touchscreen on a physical keyboard.) Frankly, the keyboard alone is reason enough why I likely won’t be buying another MacBook anytime soon. The performance of the M1 chip can’t make up for the fact that I would constantly be annoyed by the keyboard. But if Apple brings back the 2015 MacBook keyboard, I’ll be first in line at the store.


Grade: B+

My only complaint is that I wish the trackpad were a little bit bigger. Otherwise it feels great. I can mouse around quickly and precisely no problem. I’m one of those people that click by physically pressing down on the trackpad. Clicking feels tactile. It’s a heavy click, but I like that.

I’ve goofed around with the nub trackpoint, but it’s just not for me.


Grade: B

I initially ordered the low power, non-touchscreen 1080p variant, but I RMA’d it after 5 minutes. The ghosting was atrocious and instantly gave me a headache. Luckily, Lenovo customer service was cool about it and let me swap it for a model with a normal power 1080p touchscreen. That’s what I’m using now. With a 14” screen, text is plenty sharp at 1080p. Colors are fine. Motion is fine. Pre-pandemic, it was great watching movies on it on airplanes. The screen gets more than bright enough even in direct sunlight. I picked a 1080p screen over the WQHD or 4K versions because the sharper screens didn’t justify the battery drain to me. It’s no retina display, but I’m perfectly happy spending hours staring at it.

I would have preferred a 16x10 display over 16x9, but I knew what I was buying. The bezel is a little chunky, especially towards the bottom, so I have hopes that Lenovo will see to it to put a taller display into a machine of this form factor in the future.

Build Quality

Grade: B-

This machine is a mix of rubberized magnesium and plastic, but it’s a nice sturdy plastic that feels soft to the touch (and you’ll know you touched it because you’re going to leave fingerprints all over it). My machine doesn’t have any visible scratches. The moving parts, like the screen hinge and trackpad buttons, all feel great after a year. You would hardly know they’ve been used.

That being said, I have to dock points off the build quality because I’ve had to send this machine in for repairs twice. To Lenovo’s credit, they use two-day Fedex shipping so I was only without the machine for about a week for both repairs despite the fact that it had to get sent to their center in Texas. The first issue was that Lenovo apparently released a bad firmware update for the battery last summer that basically bricked it (the battery, not the whole laptop). And then around the 10 month mark I noticed that the screen panel itself was coming off the case shell. The screen still worked fine, but if you looked at the laptop sideways, you could see behind the panel and the inside of the case. It hasn’t been a real problem so far because it was under warranty, but I’m a little nervous about the longevity of the hardware. This is an area where Apple really excels - it’s not unreasonable for a MacBook to look and work like new even 10 years later. I’ve heard similar stories about Thinkpads, so I’m hoping that my early repair issues were a fluke.


Grade: B

Performance is fine. It feels plenty snappy to me during the 99.9% of the time when I’m not doing anything demanding. My only regret about this laptop is that I spent extra to get the top-of-the-line CPU, a i7-10710U, thinking that I would want the extra threads for my development work (I also thought I’d be doing more development on it). It’s a 6-core, 12-thread CPU with a base clock of 1.10 GHz and purported boost clock of 4.7 GHz. As I’m realizing now that it’s a silly CPU to have in a thin and light machine with such a weak thermal profile. The cooling solution consists of a small, square vent on the underside of the shell for fan intake connected to like two small heat pipes. (You do have to be careful when you rest laptop on your actual lap because you’ll easily block fan intake with your right thigh. You won’t immediately see a problem, but temps will pretty quickly rise under moderate load.) When I do push the CPU hard, say when I’m running AI/ML research code, the CPU ramps up to 95°C and it noticeably throttles. I even killed it once during a long run of training models.

Is it a good CPU? Sure. Does it help with bursty, multi-threaded workloads? Most definitely. But is it $400 (as of this writing) better than the same machine with a i7-8665U instead? Absolutely not.


Grade: B-

I get 6-8 hours per charge. It’s enough to stay portable but I still have to keep a charger handy just in case. Bonus points for how fast the battery charges.

Camera, Speakers, and Mic

Grade: C

They’re all inoffensive, but not that great. I like that the camera has a physical privacy switch. But it’s only 720p, so you can’t expect much in terms of quality. It’s fine for casual video calls, but I would switch to a different camera if I needed to actually look good.

I’m listing to music out of the speakers now. They’re fine for listening to something in the background while you work, but don’t expect much more. I generally keep a pair of headphones handy.

As for the mic, all I can say is that no one has ever complained about it on video calls.


Grade: C

I knew I was buying a thin-and-light, everything-is-glued-or-soldered-on ThinkPad, not one of the classic models where every component is upgradeable. The only trivial upgrade in this machine is the M.2 hard drive. Still, it’s easy to open up the machine for servicing. Only five Phillips head screws hold the bottom cover in place. Both times I sent this machine in for repairs, it was a piece of cake removing the hard drive for safe keeping at home.

The Linux Experience

Grade: A

 ██████████████████████████ cameron@ceres
 ██████████████████████████ OS: Manjaro 20.2.1 Nibia
 ██████████████████████████ Kernel: x86_64 Linux 5.10.7-3-MANJARO
 ██████████████████████████ Uptime: 4h 29m
 ████████████████ Packages: 1742
 ████████████████████████ Shell: zsh 5.8
 ████████████████████████ Resolution: 1920x1080
 ████████████████████████ DE: GNOME 3.38.3
 ████████████████████████ WM: Mutter
 ████████████████████████ WM Theme:
 ████████████████████████ GTK Theme: Adwaita-dark [GTK2/3]
 ████████████████████████ Icon Theme: Adwaita
 ████████████████████████ Font: Cantarell 11
 ████████████████████████ Disk: 401G / 477G (89%)
  CPU: Intel Core i7-10710U @ 12x 4.7GHz [40.0°C]
  GPU: Mesa Intel(R) UHD Graphics (CML GT2)
  RAM: 6358MiB / 15797MiB

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Linux is my desktop OS of choice and this laptop provides an exemplary experience. Of course, your mileage will vary by desktop environment, distribution, and kernel. At the moment, I have Manjaro and Gnome 3.38 installed on Linux 5.10. All the hardware, including the touchscreen and fingerprint reader, can be recognized by Linux so long as you have the right drivers installed. Basically everything should Just Work™ if you’re using a mainstream distro. The Arch wiki is an excellent source of information even if you aren’t running Arch. I uninstalled Windows a while ago and I haven’t missed it at all. Even firmware updates just work on Linux nowadays.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

  • USB-C is a game changer. I love the fact that for my wife and me, our laptops, phones, and Nintendo Switch all share chargers. When I do travel, it’s crazy that I only need to throw one charger in my bag to keep all of my devices happy.
  • Gaming is obviously not great. I’ll play retro games on here from time to time, but that’s about it.
  • I swapped the Fn and left control keys in the BIOS. It was a great decision.

How to cite this blog post:

    author = {Pittman, Cameron},
    title = {A year with a thinkpad},
    journal = {Hurtling through Space},
    url = {},
    year = {2021},
    month = {January},
    accessed = {Oct 17, 2022}
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