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things I break/fix for fun and learning

Oct 16, 2018 - 6 minute read - Comments

Using a 35 Dollar Laptop in 2018

I was able to snag a laptop for 35cad dollars (60cad including taxes and shipping) – a legendary Thinkpad X220. This laptop is from year 2011 and being a Thinkpad it is built like a tank and still functions OK up to this day. It is also legendary and well-known for it’s great 7-row layout keyboard. This is the last Thinkpad generation to use the 7-row keyboard layout, although they recently released a Thinkpad 25 Anniversary Edition with modern components and a 7-row keyboard. Most recent laptops are using chiclet keyboards, which for me is a downgrade as opposed to an upgrade. I’ve been wanting to get an X220 as my old one broke down due to water damage. Finally after months of waiting, something showed up for a good price and it’s too good to be true. Usually Thinkpad X220s are in the price of 200cad, there must be a catch somewhere!

For 35cad, here’s what I got -

  • Thinkpad X220 (released in 2011)
  • 2nd Gen Core i5 2540M 2.6GHz
  • 8GB RAM
  • 160GB HDD
  • 6cell battery
  • charger

So what’s the catch? The only issue is that it is BIOS password locked. The seller (a local refurbisher) does not know the password. I still decided to buy it and try to crack the BIOS password. I tried to guess the password but no luck. Removing the CMOS battery to reset does not clear the password also. Last resort is to short SDC and SDL pins of the EEPROM. I was able to clear the password using this method and now I have a fully working machine without BIOS restriction. Since I had the guts of the laptop opened, I also decided to clean the CPU and re-apply fresh thermal paste.

I’ve also upgraded / swapped components from my broken X220 to make it somehow more modern.

Specs after upgrading

  • 16GB RAM
  • 480GB SATA Intel SSD
  • 120GB mSATA Samsung EVO SSD replaced with 256GB mSATA SSD
  • USB 3.0 Expresscard
  • Bluetooth daughtercard replaced with internal USB mod
  • 9cell battery

Planned Future Upgrades

  • internal USB mod completed
  • Intel WIFI AC + Bluetooth 4.x combo card

Next step is to install the operating system. Since I wanted to be more familiar with Linux and to refresh my Linux+ and RHCSA certfication, I decided to still use Linux as my main operating system. I will use the 480GB SSD for Linux and the 120GB msSATA SSD for Windows. For Linux, I’ve decided to use Fedora (rpm based distro) using a combination of MATE desktop environment and i3 window manager.

Cheat sheet for Fedora install (work in progress)

- use netinst ISO
- install the groups - MATE desktop, MATE applications, C Development Tools and Libraries, Development Tools, Headless Management, Sound and Video

Post install task

- dnf install https://download1.rpmfusion.org/free/fedora/rpmfusion-free-release-$(rpm -E %fedora).noarch.rpm (rpmfusion free repo)
- dnf install https://download1.rpmfusion.org/nonfree/fedora/rpmfusion-nonfree-release-$(rpm -E %fedora).noarch.rpm (rpmfusion non-free repo)
- dnf install http://repo.linrunner.de/fedora/tlp/repos/releases/tlp-release.fc$(rpm -E %fedora).noarch.rpm (tlp repo)
- rpm -ivh http://linuxdownload.adobe.com/adobe-release/adobe-release-x86_64-1.0-1.noarch.rpm (adobe repo)
- rpm --import /etc/pki/rpm-gpg/RPM-GPG-KEY-adobe-linux (adobe GPG key)
- dnf config-manager --add-repo https://download.sublimetext.com/rpm/stable/x86_64/sublime-text.repo (sublime repo)
- dnf install i3 (preferred window manager)
- dnf install vim (preferred text editor)
- dnf install hugo (static site generator)
- dnf install elfutils-libelf-devel (for compiling vmware workstation)
- dnf install mplayer mpd mcp ncmpcpp (command line movie player and music player)
- dnf install lshw acpi powertop thinkfan lm_sensors tlp tlp-rdw akmod-tp_smapi akmod-acpi_call (thinkfan and powermanagement using tlp. tlp needs rpmfusio and tlp repo)
- dnf install p7zip unzip unrar (command line file compression / extraction tools)
- dnf install firefox chromium (GUI browser)
- dnf install gstreamer-plugins-base gstreamer1-plugins-base gstreamer-plugins-bad gstreamer-plugins-ugly gstreamer1-plugins-ugly gstreamer-plugins-good-extras gstreamer1-plugins-good gstreamer1-plugins-good-extras gstreamer1-plugins-bad-freeworld ffmpeg gstreamer-ffmpeg gstreamer1-libav ffmpeg-libs compat-ffmepg28 (for streaming videos in browser)
- dnf install youtube-dl (command line tool for downloading youtube videos / music)
- dnf install flash-plugin (adobe flash plugin)
- dnf install sublime-text (GUI text editor)
- dnf install gimp (GUI image manipulation program)
- dnf install feh scrot rtorrent neofetch screenfetch (command line image tools, torrent client and sysinfo tools)
- dnf install simple-mtpfs android-tools (command line tool for mounting android devices)
- dnf remove exaile parole xfburn cockpit gnote engrampa pluma filezilla hexcjat pidgin transmission transmission-gtk, tigervnc firewalld-applet xorg-x11-drv-ati xorg-x11-drv-nouveau xorg-x11-drv-wacom xorg-x11-drv-qxl xorg-x11-drv-openchrome open-vm-tools qemu-guest-agent iwl100-firmware iwl105-firmware iwl1000-firmware iwl2000-firmware iwl135-firmware iwl2030-firmware iwl3160-firmware iwl3945-firmware iwl4965-firmware iwl5000-firmware iwl5150-firmware iwl6000-firmware iwl7260-firmware iwl6050-firmware (remove unneeded GUI programs, X drives and intel firmware)

After much fiddling, I got it configured to my liking! Glad I have a working X220 again. The 12.5in form factor is perfect for me (coming from a 14in T420s). My T420s will then be used by my kid for their school work. Gotta figure out what OS will suit them for their school work.

Pictures, Pictures, Pictures

EEPROM exposed to short the pins for BIOS password reset. EEPROM exposed to short the pins for BIOS password reset

X220 Motherboard. Time to clean and reapply thermal paste. x220_motherboard

POST screen showing RAM and SSD. RAM installed is 16384. X220 POST screen

Multiple terminal emulator windows open, thanks to the efficient i3 window manager. linux_terminal

Text based audio player using mpd client ncmpcpp. ncmpcpp mp3 player

GIMP - GNU Image Manipulation Program. GIMP

LibreOffice - a compatible Microsoft Office Suite. libreoffice

VMware workstation for running Windows-based apps like TurboTax. vmware workstation

Linux stickers to personalize my Thinkpad X220. linux sticker

Final Thoughts

Is it worth it to use a 2011 laptop in 2018? For my use case and for the cheap price, YES. Plus the 7row keybpoard layout is really awesome! Here are the common things and apps I use my laptop for -

  • general internet browsing (Firefox / Chromium)
  • play videos from YouTube, netflix and other streaming sites (Firefox / Chromium)
  • download files (wget, rtorrent, ftp, Firefox)
  • play locally saved videos and music (mplayer, ncmpcpp)
  • edit text files (vi, sublime)
  • connect remotely to other Linux machines (ssh)
  • run Windows programs (vmware workstation)
  • run android programs (bluestacks using dualboot Windows)
  • create / edit documents (LibreOffice)
  • view PDF files (atril)
  • access outlook and gmail (thunderbird)

I will keep updating this page as I install / remove packages. This will serve as a guide and will save time if I decide to start fresh and reinstall the OS.

UPDATE 1 - Oct 31, 2018

Fedora 29 was recently released. Although I’ve been using the beta version since Oct25, upgrading to the latest GA release was painless and everything is working. I’ve also modified my i3 WM configuration to remove title bars, this gives me a little bit of space on my tiny 12.5in display. And of course, I’m using the Fedora 5 wallpaper as a remembrance.

Fedora 29 in action. Fedora29

Fedora 5 wallpaper. Fedora5 wallpaper

UPDATE 2 - Nov 17, 2018

Using dual monitors! dualmonitor

UPDATE 3 - Dec 01, 2018

Internal USB mod internal USB mod

UPDATE 4 - Dec 20, 2018

Intel 7260 AC intel 7260

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