A while back I got a new work laptop, and as usual I thought I’d post my thoughts on it.
Update, March 2023: Out of the blue, the thing died on me when plugging the Thunderbolt port into my monitor, and wouldn’t charge via the secondary port when powered on. This is a known issue with the USB-C ports in the original logic boards, and the hardware just shuts down and requires a reset (pressing on the pinhole button for 5 seconds). Fortunately, I have other machines, and this is under a corporate support contract, so a Lenovo technician came around and replaced the entire logic board. This kid of failure seems to be prevalent in the batch I got, as the tech mentioned having done four swaps already…
This time I went for the ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 6, and I’ve been working with it for roughly six months, replacing my Surface Book 3 as my primary work machine.
The hardware configuration I had available at the time came with an i7-1185G7 3.00GHz, 32GB of RAM and 1TB storage, and I picked it because (in rough, descending order of importance):
- There were (at the time) no nice and compact Surface Laptop replacements.
- It has Thunderbolt, and I wanted something that could work with my ultra-wide monitor without any kludges.
- I am quite happy with the IdeaPad Flex 5 I bought for running Linux last year.
- Both share the “yoga” design and flip hinges, which have been handy on more than one occasion.
It bears mentioning that I absolutely hated the X1 carbon I was assigned many years ago, which I replaced with a Surface Pro 4 as soon as I could. But this one is pretty OK, and fixed a lot of the issues its predecessor had.
Overall Form Factor
The thing that struck me the most when I first picked it up was the heft, and the metal construction when compared to the Flex 5. It’s pretty much the same size, and slightly thinner, but the lack of plastics makes a noticeable difference.
The X1 is almost exactly as thin as my MacBook Pro, and they are both a few mm smaller than the IdeaPad Flex 5, so there are no real surprises here other than the usual (moderately ugly) fan vents on the back and the lack of an SD card slot on the X1 (mini or otherwise).
I’ve found it relatively light as a travel laptop – unlike my Surface Book 3, I can carry it around in a courier bag and it fits OK in an airplane/train tray, which I verified on a recent trip.
Screen and Keyboard
One of the reasons for my loathing towards my previous X1 Carbon was that its screen was an unreadable dim mess. The IdeaPad doesn’t win any awards there, so I was very pleased with this X1’s 3840x2400 internal panel, which is quite bright and a pleasure to look at:
The panel is also a very capable touchscreen with pen support. The pen slots in and recharges in an almost unnoticeable slot on the right side, and is compatible with the (external, standalone) one I got with the IdeaPad, so I assume it’s a pretty normal Wacom setup (which, incidentally, works great on Linux).
And yes, I do use the hinges for situations other than photographing the thing. I don’t use it in tent mode, but I do flip it and set it on top of the keyboard (turning it into a propped-up tablet) when I’m using it on my secondary desk–which is an old tailor’s cutting table in my living room, facing a huge window:
I’ve since decked it out with a proper camera and some unobtrusive speakers, and it has been one of the most pleasant places to work in even if the purple tint around the edges of that old LG Ultrafine can be a little annoying.
This time I got a US keyboard layout, since I prefer that to Portuguese for coding and working (I do spend 99% of my working day speaking and writing in English anyway). I have zero complaints.
ThinkPad users will also notice that it ships with the ignominious TrackPoint (which, to this day, gives me RSI on my index finger every time I use it), and the keyboard is backlit, with the typical ThinkPad 4-key groupings for function keys and dedicated
This is another of the key (ha!) differences1 from the Flex 5 in daily use, but overall I can change machines with out any qualms. Comparatively, the X1 keys have a slightly different, less bouncy feel than the Flex 5, and I’d say the only reason they don’t feel as nice as my MacBook has to do with their smaller keycap size.
Iris Xe graphics seem to be able to run both my LG ultra-wide at 5120x2160 and the internal panel at 3840x2400 without any significant hiccups (then again, I’m not gaming on this thing), and HDR “works” like it always has in Windows, i.e., smudging all the “normal” whites in hope there’s a decent highlight someplace on screen (I kept it off).
For a lark, I installed Blender and FreeCAD and fooled around a bit, and I’d rate the
Xe as OK. This is not a MacBook, so I don’t have amazing expectations, but it is pretty good as mobile chipsets go. My IdeaPad can’t drive anything larger than 4K, and doesn’t have Thunderbolt either…
One of the main reasons I opted for the X1 is that it has a Thunderbolt port that supports power delivery, and that means that when I spend an entire day at my main desk I can easily swap out my work machine with my MacBook by swapping a single cable.
The X1 comes with a 65W PSU, which means my LG ultra-wide can power it just fine.
I also ordered a Lenovo Thunderbolt dock, but since it is designed for multiple models and comes with a huge 300W power brick, I moved it to my secondary desk and taped the brick to the underside with a lot of sticky tape.
This may seem like a first world problem, but it is really a big quality of life improvement–with the Surface, I had to pop out DisplayPort, USB and power, swap inputs on my monitor and navigate the OSD to switch USB inputs so I could use my camera and gigabit LAN adapter (which are plugged into the LG).
Now it’s just the one cable, all my peripherals just go along for the ride, and I can leave the original 65W PSU in my courier bag, ready to go when I leave the house (which is seldom these days).
Insufferable Fan Noise
The fly in the ointment (and so far the only real issue I had with the X1) is that it is loud.
As in, the fans are stupendously, ridiculously loud for such a premium laptop. I dug around in
Settings to check the power mode and saw it was set to
Balanced, so I changed it to
Best power efficiency and the noise subsided after a few seconds–and so did any impression of speed out of the system (i.e., it was markedly slower than the Surface Laptop it had replaced).
And, of course, whenever I open Teams the thing is unbearable, whereas all the Surfaces I have (with older chipsets) will ramp up fans as well but hardly as noticeably.
The only way I’ve found of keeping it on
Balanced and cutting down on fan noise under Windows 11 is to go to
Change plan settings,
Change advanced power settings and then go into
Processor power management and set
Maximum processor state,
Plugged in to some place between 75% and 80% (I’m still experimenting).
So, effectively, I have to kneecap the i7-1185G7 (which is rated for 3GHz) and keep it around 1.8-2.5GHz.
Not a great first impression at all, especially considering the laptop is set on an aluminium laptop stand I bought for the IdeaPad Flex 5 and whose open section neatly aligns with the bottom vents.
It’s all cool and quiet now, though. But Lenovo would require me to nerf their top-of-the-range laptops to use them in a quiet setting is beyond me.
It’s quite interesting to consider how quickly you can get up to speed on a new machine these days, especially when you have sane device management policies.
If I recall correctly, I arrived at our local office at around 10:00, got the laptop, powered it on, logged in, let it run through a full set of installs and automatic updates while I futzed about chatting to people I had literally not seen in years, rebooted it once to change its name from the utterly unimaginative
DESKTOP-FOOBAR2 and was reading e-mail and heading out the door before noon.
I probably spent more time getting my creature comforts installed than anything else. And I didn’t install that much on the first day:
- XMind, which I need to think, let alone work (more on that here).
- Stream Deck, which helps me streamline my calls, and which beautifully migrated my configuration across (something that is so, so rare these days).
- The OBSBOT TinyCam software, ditto (I should write about the TinyCam sometime, I’ve had it for nearly a year now).
- Windows PowerToys, since I use FancyZones extensively.
- Region To Share, a lovely little utility I use for more finely controlled screen sharing.
wsl, since I’d die without something decent to put inside Windows Terminal.
- Barrier for sharing a keyboard, mouse and clipboard across my machines.
- Nextgen Reader for industry news.
Since this is a work machine, I did not (yet) install Linux directly, although of course I’m running
wsl (upgraded to Ubuntu 22.04) to do anything of substance on it. Otherwise it’s your vanilla Windows 11 22H2 business laptop.
But considering my long-term experience with the IdeaPad 5 and Fedora, I’d wager it would run fine.