// Linux laptop recommendation: ThinkPad T420 4180W1G / 4180PH1

If you are searching for a powerful laptop to run Fedora 15 Lovelock on, have a look at the Lenovo ThinkPad T420 4180W1G/4180PH1.1) It simply rocks. All the internal peripherals are working out of the box (LAN, WLAN, graphics, sound, microphone, webcam, volume up/down and mute buttons, brightness control buttons, eSATA…). The Intel HD3000 processor graphics runs smoothly. Even no problems with external monitors up to a 2560×1600 resolution or when using both the built-in screen plus an external monitor connected to the Mini Dock Series 3 45N6678 docking station. The Intel Core i5-2520M CPU provides VT-d and VT-x. So everything is fine if you want to run VMs.

Downsides, pitfalls and notes:

  • The built-in speakers are really bad, even for a laptop.
  • The keyboard shows signs of cosmetic wear after a few weeks of usage.
  • Microsoft tax a.k.a. Windows 7 Professional 64bit. At least, you can use the pre-installed Windows to update the laptop's firmware with a few clicks before installing Linux. And the license may be used to run a Windows 7 VM (although the laptop is shipped without installation media, you can download the original Windows 7 ISO images from Digital River).
  • I can't tell if the fingerprint sensor and the Class 1 Smartcard Reader are working out of the box because I do not need nor did I test them. But the Smartcard Reader is at least recognized by the OS.
  • When using the Mini Dock Series 3 45N6678, the analog sound line-out is not passed-through (everything else works). This means you still have to use the laptop's headphone connector to connect speakers.
  • If you are looking for similar models out of the T420 family, you should know that some of them got two graphics adapters (a combination of Intel and NVIDIA). I don't know if these make any trouble or need special configuration because the 4180W1G/4180PH1 comes with Intel graphics only.

:!: Tip for German readers: Studenten, Lehrer, Lehrkräfte und wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter bekommen das ThinkPad T420 4180PH1 bei Brünings + Sander :lang_de: mit erheblichem Rabatt. Ich habe nichts mit der Firma zu tun und bekomme auch keine Provision. Aber meine Erfahrungen mit B+S waren bisher stets positiv.

1)
Don't get confused: 4180W1G and 4180PH1 are two model numbers for the same hardware.

Comments

Amal Banerjee
No. 1 @ 2011/11/02 04:36

You have mentioned Windows 7 as a pitfall. At the time of purchase, just uninstall Windows 7. You are left with a DOS machine, and then just install anything of your choice. While I am a Linux only person, a good friend of mine bought a Lenovo laptop (the exact model I do not remember) that was pre-loaded with Windows 7. He had the store technician uninstall Windows 7, leaving him with a DOS machine. He has installed Fedora 14, Windows XP and Ubuntu 10.<something>. Works fine.

No. 2 @ 2011/11/02 06:44

@Amal Banerjee: Sorry, I don't get your point?! I mentioned the pre-installed Windows not because it's hard to get rid of it (every Linux installer is able to kill the Windows partitions. So Fedora's Anaconda). But you simply have to pay for it because it's bundled with any 4180W1G/4180PH1 (→Microsoft tax). So where is the relation to a store technician? Or did your friend get his laptop with a ~50$ discount after the technician removed Windows 7 including license tag?

Because you have no other choice than buying the bundled Windows 7, I mentioned what you may do with it to ease the pain of paying for something you don't need:

  1. There is probably a newer firmware version than the shipped one. Use the pre-installed Windows for a comfortable firmware update with the also pre-installed “ThinkVantage Toolbox” before sending the whole OS to /dev/null by installing Linux. This saves you some circumstances. E.g. you don't have to create own boot media to upgrade the BIOS or the DVD drive's firmware.
  2. If helpful, run a Virtual Machine with Windows 7 to make use of the license you have paid for. But the laptop comes without installation media, therefore you have to get a Windows 7 ISO to be able to create such a Virtual Machine. Nothing more, nothing less.
mfq
No. 3 @ 2011/11/02 19:00

Many Thinkpads from Lenovo's educational program are available without the MS tax. I bought my X220 (4290W1B) without any operating system at all. The exact same model bundled with Windows 7 (4290W1C) is sold at 70 euros more.

When looking at T420 series there is the 4180PH3 which is sold without an operating system. It seems pretty much identical to your PH1 except for the included Nvidia Quadro stuff which may be a somewhat weird choice for the no-OS version. It's also ~40 euros cheaper than your PH1. Prices are the same for all “University” Thinkpads regardless of the shop you buy them from.

Contrary to many retail channel offers the “University” program Thinkpads without OS are not of the “cheap crap”/value type. Instead, the top-notch models are also available without operating system and there is a fair price benefit. As far as regular retail sales are considered, notebooks without OS are, sadly, often sold for the same or even an higher price than their Windows counterparts.

p.s.: while some shops may advertise those noteboos as including “DOS” or something like that, it doesn't seem to be true. My X220 included a blank disk with no DOS whatsoever. The shop in your supplied link also advertises the T420 4180PH3 and my X220 4290W1B as “ideal für Linux-Fans”. ;-)

Michele
No. 4 @ 2011/11/02 21:30

Did you experienced more overheating on linux compared to windows? I do.

No. 5 @ 2011/11/03 07:43

@mfq: You are right (in general). But all dual graphics ThinkPads with similar specs (cf. 4180PH3) were no alternative for me. As I don't want to play games, the additional NVIDIA graphics adapter does not provide any benefit for my use case. Far from it. They use NVIDIA Optimus to auto-switch between discrete and integrated graphics… no call for Ironhide/Bumblebee and stuff like closed-source binary blob drivers. One of the main reason of buying a ThinkPad was “probably everything runs out of the box with Linux”. Therefore getting a 4180PH1 plus paying for a bundled Windows was more attractive than buying a 4180PH3 with the risk of having NVIDIA Optimus related hassle. :-)

@Michele: Normal usage (running an additional non-busy CentOS VM, browser, mail agent, listening to music…). Additional monitor @ 2.560×1.440 connected (may be relevant because of the Intel CPU graphics):

$ su -
$ sensors-detect
[...]
$ sensors
acpitz-virtual-0
Adapter: Virtual device
temp1:        +52.0°C  (crit = +98.0°C)

thinkpad-isa-0000
Adapter: ISA adapter
fan1:        3525 RPM

Results during a yum-update, CPU pretty busy:

$ sensors
acpitz-virtual-0
Adapter: Virtual device
temp1:        +60.0°C  (crit = +98.0°C)

thinkpad-isa-0000
Adapter: ISA adapter
fan1:        3536 RPM

Sadly, I can't compare these results to Windows because I never really used the Thinkpad with it.

Michele
No. 6 @ 2011/11/03 13:44

@Andreas Haerter: I have just the same temperatures: what I've noticed:

  1. Fan at 3500 rpm > very noise (the fan is at 2500 rpm doing the same tasks on windows)
  2. The surface under your right wrist it's hot: it becomes uncomfortable particularly in the summer when you type…

I think the problem is the cpu power governor under linux (because I had the same problem with other laptops): with the default governor (ondemand) cpu frequences don't scale as well as the should. in fact I've seen that the cpu remains over 2 GHz although the pc is in idle (just only the terminal with powertop running). So the cpu keep warming and the fan rounds speedy. Lowering the freq. by setting the powersave governor makes the pc cooler in general and the fan quiet.

I've tried to tune the up_threshold and other settings about the ondemand governor without any improvements.

Do you guys have the same problem?

Andreas Haerter
No. 7 @ 2011/11/04 08:39

@Michele:

I have just the same temperatures: what I've noticed:
[…] (the fan is at 2500 rpm doing the same tasks on windows)
[…] I think the problem is the cpu power governor under linux (because I had the same problem with other laptops).

Thanks for the information, I did not knew that there is room for improvement and therefore I never gave attention to it. I'll do some research within the coming day, maybe we are able to get the fan to 2500 instead of 3500RPM at average together. :-) Therefore I list everything I know right now:

Do you have any other useful information?

Addendum: After some monitoring plus checking if the BIOS Thermal Management Scheme is set to “Balanced”, I think it is not a problem of the cpu governor. It seems to step down the cpu frequency quickly enough and my system temperature swings into ~53°C. Therefore I think it is a fan-control issue (even I never though there is any problem until today :-P) and Lenovo provides some better fan control on windows. I will test it ASAP.

Addendum #2: I'm testing if less RPM on average are really doing the job:

  1. As root, I created /etc/modprobe.d/thinkpad_acpi.conf:
    options thinkpad_acpi fan_control=1
  2. Reload module:
    $ modprobe -r thinkpad_acpi && modprobe thinkpad_acpi

    Now I'm able to set the fan speeds manually.

  3. I'm testing how hot the system gets on average during normal usage with
    $ echo "level 1" > /proc/acpi/ibm/fan

    :!: Attention: this may damage the hardware because it disables the automatic fan control! Make sure you check the temperature manually and re-enable it with echo level auto > /proc/acpi/ibm/fan after testing! If it stays below 60°C, I think it's worth to tune the “automatic” fan control to be a bit more lenient because it seems “auto” prefers fan level 3 instead of 1 or 2 below 60 °C.

Michele
No. 8 @ 2011/11/04 13:33

@Andreas Haerter:

I'll do some research within the coming day, maybe we are able to get the fan to 2500 instead of 3500RPM at average together

For sure. I want help you to solve this “issue”

ignore_nice_load

I will do some test by activating it. I've just visited the links you provided, thanks. I've also set “balanced” on bios and tried thinkfan: but no such improvements. (ok I can set 2500 rpm manually but as you mentioned it's not so safe) I agree with you that lowering down the cpu freq. makes cpu cooler (I've also about 53°) but the governor should do it! as I reported above, the cpu keeps working at max freq nowthstanding the pc in in idle (also with other cpus as i've tested): besides the thinkfan don't works properly, because in our cases keeps the fan at 3500 rpm with 53 °. but it't secondary for now

So I think that the solution should be this:

First improve the scaling: edit the config to reduce quicker the frequencies of the cpu > so less heating > but thinkfan keep fan at 3500 rpm (not so great but it's safe)
Second. If we got lower average temperature we can experiment another thinkfan config by lowering the average speed.

Now I'm writingthis on windows (ok no flames it's for siemens solid edge :), and only) and the fan is at thinkfan 0 level (no noise!). Lower temperatures (less than 50) and the surface is cool (about 20° air temperature). I've not reached such situation in fedora or linux generally

I've also noted a bug on the new version of fedora 16 (64 bit). after some seconds from the login (about 30 seconds) with the pc in idle (only desktop, no apps, no connection), one core move to 100% of load (with gnome 3 and also xfce!) I think that's a bug because in fedora 15 there wasn't such problem.

I want to share this links with you (some are from ubuntu forums, I'm sorry…:) but this affects lots of people I think). I didn't applied their suggestions, because I don't know what they are going to change and secondly they are from ubuntu users…

I would like to see something like this ppa for fedora or centos in the near future (or have the suggestions to do it)

These days I will read the ibm documentation that you provided and do some tests.

Thanks, Michele

Michele
No. 9 @ 2011/11/06 13:00

First improve the scaling: edit the config to reduce quicker the frequencies of the cpu > so less heating > but thinkfan keep fan at 3500 rpm (not so great but it's safe)

I found that setting the

/sys/devices/system/cpu/cpu0/cpufreq/ondemand/powersave_bias

to 500 (half between 0 and 1000) makes the cpu run at lower average freq. (with the default governor ondemand). the cpu sticks at 43-44 °C in indle (just few degrees over the same load with the powersave governor), but under my right wrist is still hot, just like operating with “powersave_bias” set to 0.

I would like to know what's under the surface (maybe graphics chipset?) and try to work on it. I would avoid opening the laptop.

No. 10 @ 2011/11/06 14:01

@Michele: Sorry, I did not have any time yesterday for further investigation.

I found that setting the /sys/devices/system/cpu/cpu0/cpufreq/ondemand/powersave_bias to 500 (half between 0 and 1000) makes the cpu run at lower average freq.

Tanks, I'll give it a try and report the result.

I would like to know what's under the surface (maybe graphics chipset?)

The illustrations in the following PDF may be helpful: Hardware Maintenance / Disassembly Manual - ThinkPad T420 and T420i.

Michele
No. 11 @ 2011/11/06 15:04

@Andreas Haerter: Oh thanks for the manual (Didn't remember…)

look's like there is nothing under that (http://i.imgur.com/B70hj.png) I'll try to disable some unnecessary components from the bios and test.

Michele
No. 12 @ 2011/11/17 13:19

Some solutions found:

Heat issue on right surface > disabling the touchpad from the bios, because I have seen that under the surface there are the cable connectors of it. maybe the driver under linux make it work more than necessary, and it keeps heating the surface above…

Fan noise: using xfce and setting 'balanced' thermal on bios (also on opensuse 12.1 xfce) the fan stops as the temperature reach 36/38 degrees. In gnome it does not stop with 38 degree. maybe is related do graphic work, that is heavier on gnome then xfce.

michele
No. 13 @ 2011/11/30 11:54

everything in the last comment was false. Disabling the touchpad didn't reduce heat on the surface and fan noise now works well on both gnome and xfce.

I've found this pdf on fedora draft documentation that helped me a lot http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=8&ved=0CFMQFjAH&url=http%3A%2F%2Fdocs.fedoraproject.org%2Fen-US%2FFedora%2F14%2Fpdf%2FPower_Management_Guide%2FFedora-14-Power_Management_Guide-en-US.pdf&ei=oc_UTuyuKcbVsgbZpYS1Dg&usg=AFQjCNGowPzt22194Jody5b2K6dX2YWg_w&sig2=qsK0P7WIOW5d8O4pnLTX3Q

Also thank you for your blog post about font subpixel hinting!

michele
No. 14 @ 2012/02/17 12:24

Hi Andreas.

I've found the solution for our issue. I've noticed cooler running system by adding these lines in the grub boot parameters (/etc/default/grub) I've added this strings in GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX

i915.i915_enable_rc6=1 i915.i915_enable_fbc=1 i915.lvds_downclock=1

These will enable powersave features in the Intel integrated board.

Then you need to update your grub 2 with the command:

grub2-mkconfig -o /boot/grub2/grub.cfg

the parameter pcie_aspm=force doesn't need to added anymore if you're using fedora 16 with kernel 3.2.6-3.fc16, because the patched is already in it.

Hope this will help you.

Greetings, Michele :)

No. 15 @ 2012/02/22 09:18

@michele: Thanks man, you rock!

FYI: RC6 tinkering seems to be unnecessary when Kernel 3.3 or 3.4 is there:
http://thread.gmane.org/gmane.comp.freedesktop.xorg.drivers.intel/8722 :-)

No. 16 @ 2012/02/25 15:24

@michele: Some nice and impressive plots about how much the power consumption is reduced by setting the params: Improve energy consumption with Ubuntu and Lenovo IdeaPad Z370 (sandy bridge-chipset)

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