ThinkPad X280: First Look

(Draft of Lenovo forum blog article)


X280 and USB-C charger

Another year, another CES, and another pre-production laptop to test and enjoy.  This year it’s a high-spec X280.  The below is not a review – more of a quick survey of specifications and a look at the usual things that I find of interest.  But first:

From time to time  Lenovo sends me a gadget. They’re handy to have around – both for my own use and when trying to help out in the Lenovo forums. I do some testing and writing as well. Beyond the use of the laptop, I’m not otherwise compensated.

Professional images are Lenovo’s.  Amateur snapshots are mine.  Opinions are exclusively mine.  I do not work for, represent, or speak for Lenovo.

 

Introduction

This X280 is the successor to the X270. I haven’t had any keyboard time with the earlier x270 but looking over its specs and documentation I’d call it a compact “conventional” laptop.  The X280 moves more into the ultrabook range (non-removable battery, proprietary small Ethernet port…).  Specifications and major differences between the ‘270 and ‘280 are called out below.

 

Lenovo Gallery

 

  X280 360 Degree Video (MOV)

 

Specifications

Note: all specifications here are based on currently available documentation and the evaluation X280 as delivered.  I’ve done my best to check them – but this is preliminary.  Please do not make a purchase decision based on what you read here without verifying yourself.

Lenovo Data Sheet

My unit’s major specifications

  • CPU: Quad Core Intel i7-8550U @ 1.80GHz – 1.99GHz
  • RAM: 16GB DDR4 @ 2400 MHz (soldered)
  • SSD: 512GB Lenovo-branded PCIe
  • Graphics: Intel UHD 620
  • Display FHD IPS Touch – 10 touch points
  • Camera: 720p HD with privacy shutter
  • WLAN: Intel 8265 AC
  • WWAN: none

X280 / X270 specification major differences

  • CPU: up to 8th gen i7 quad core up to 6th or 7th gen i7 dual core
  • RAM: up to 16GB DDR4 soldered / up to 16GB DDR4 single socket
  • Storage: PCIe SSD / 7mm HDD or SSD, m.2 PCIe SSD
  • Graphics: Intel UHD 620 / Intel 520 or 620
  • Display: HD TN, FHD IPS, FHD IPS Touch / HD TN, FHD IPS, FHD IPS, Touch
  • Camera: 720p HD Camera with ThinkShutter or IR Camera without ThinkShutter / 720p HD
  • LAN: proprietary GigE port + RJ45 Dongle / GigE standard RJ45
  • WLAN: Intel (2 x 2) AC, Bluetooth 4.2 / Various including WiGig
  • WWAN: (optional?) LTE-A L850-GL and Fibocom L830-EB / Various
  • Ports: 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB Type-C, 1 Thunderbolt™ 3, 1 x HDMI, 1 proprietary Ethernet with RJ45 dongle,  1 x headphone and microphone combo jack / Two USB 3.1 Gen 1 (USB 3.0, one Always On), USB 3.1 Type-C Gen 1, HDMI 1.4b, Ethernet (RJ-45), Dock connector
  • Docking: Side Dock using USB-C and Ethernet connectors / bottom port
  • Card reader: combo SIM + uSD carrier on back, (optional?) Smart Card reader / 4-in-1 reader (MMC, SD, SDHC, SDXC), (optional) Smart Card reader
  • Battery: fixed internal / removable external + (optional) fixed internal
  • Power: charge via either USB-C port / charge via Slim Tip or USB-C port
  • Dimensions: mm: 307.7 x 209.8 x 17.4-17.8 inches: 12.11 x 8.25 x 0.68-0.70 / mm: 305.5 x 208.5 x 20.3 inches: 12.03 x 8.21 x 0.80
  • Weight: 1.16 kg/2.56 lbs – 1.30 kg/2.87 lbs / 1.27 kg/2.7 lbs – 1.52 kg/3.33 lbs

Among the welcome enhancements to the new model are a quad-core i7 CPU option (linked above) and a camera privacy shutter.


Privacy shutter open and closed

 

Front/Rear/Side Views and Ports


Front


Rear with SIM/uSD Tray


Left – USB-C, Thunderbolt, Proprietary Ethernet, USB 3.0, HDMI, Audio Combo


Right – Smart Card, USB 3.0, Lock

 

Assorted Information

The Lenovo-branded PCIe SSD is fast.  Wireless AC hooks up with my AC 1900 router at 867mbps.  SSD partitioning is as expected for a machine running a Push-Button Reset preload.  (The ADATA in Disk Management is a flash drive … I forgot to unplug…)


SSD Model, Partitioning, and Performance, Thunderbolt Details, WLAN Details

 

Virtualization

Intel VT-x was turned on by default in the test laptop’s BIOS.  In my working life I did some *nix driver development and support.  VMs were handy when coding and for occasional use of tools that weren’t available in windows (less of an issue now with Ubuntu & Bash on Windows).  This i7 16GB laptop had no problems at all running multiple VMs.

 

Linux

I don’t often run Linux as a bare-metal install these days unless I’m testing a device driver (usually on a desktop).  There are times when it’s useful to run a live distro for forensics and/or recovery  – and there are lots of folks who simply prefer Linux on their daily driver.

Testing with a live Ubuntu 16.10 and 17.04 produced mixed results.  (I’m staying away from 17.10 until the dust settles on the UEFI “corruption” problem.  There seems to be a fixed kernel now, and it doesn’t seem to be an issue for ThinkPads – but better safe than bricked.)

A serious problem was lack of UltraNav input once booted to Ubuntu.  The TrackPoint was completely unresponsive, and the touchpad would only occasionally respond.  There’s a long thread in the Lenovo Linux forum on what seems to be a similar [edit: perhaps unrelated] issue.  I’m confident that the open-source wizards will fix this eventually.  For now I did my testing with my favorite accessory: a Lenovo compact USB keyboard/TrackPoint combo. It at least allowed some continued testing and may help when trying fixes in the future.

[edit 2018.01.20]  A simple edit of the Ubuntu grub2 boot stanza gets the basics of the TrackPoint and touchpad working.  Adding “psmouse.proto=bare” (without the quotes) to the linux line in the live flash boot stanza gets the basics of the TrackPoint and touchpad working Smiley Happy  The full grub2 stanza looks like the below.  This is with Ubuntu 17.10.1:

menuentry "Try Ubuntu without installing" {
    set gfxpayload=keep
    linux    /casper/vmlinuz.efi  file=/cdrom/preseed/ubuntu.seed boot=casper psmouse.proto=bare quiet splash ---
    initrd    /casper/initrd.lz

I didn’t give things a very thorough workout but the basics – wifi, touchscreen, and SSD access – all seemed OK.

 

A Few Quick Tests

I haven’t had this unit long enough to do really exhaustive testing.  I did make time to try some brief basic fiddling with USB-C accessories.

An Anker USB-C to USB 3.0 hub with GigE port worked fine.  As did a CableMatters USB-C to HDMI adapter.  I was able to run 3 displays – 720p TV, laptop display, FHD monitor – independently using the adapter and the laptop’s HDMI port.

I did not have time or appropriate displays to test resolution and refresh rate options.

Battery runtime looks to be 10-12 hours in my normal use mode: ~half screen brightness, ~half way on the performance slider, a few tabs open in FireFox, maybe an text editor running.  It’s too soon to make a very accurate call on runtime.

 

The Last Word

As stated, this is more  a quick survey than a review.  I’ll edit and add as/when/if things change.  In the meantime, I’m happy to try to answer questions as time and available gadgets permit.

I’ve also received a mechanical dock that works with the X280.  It’s a “side dock” that uses the laptop’s regular USB-C, Thunderbolt, and Ethernet connectors.  A look at that interesting design will come along in the fullness of time.  There just weren’t enough hours before CES to get to the dock.  I’m looking forward to it.

For now, here’s snapshot of the X280 parked in the mechanical Side Dock:


Basic Side Dock – Ports: Audio, Slim Tip Power, Display Port, VGA, USB x4, RJ45

This wouldn’t be complete without a final comment about issues and unanswered questions:  I don’t know if the RJ45 dongle will be included with customer-ship units.  My test machine has balky TrackPoint buttons.  The fingerprint reader is inconsistent.  It also takes a minute or so to shut down.  I ascribe these to pre-production hardware and software but won’t be able to verify until customer-ship machines are available (and I don’t know yet when that will be…)  The Linux TrackPoint issue is a problem.  For now.

[edit 2018.01.08]  The above concerns have made their way to Lenovo engineering.  Hoping for feedback – time frame unknown.

[edit 2018.01.20]  A simple edit of the Ubuntu grub2 boot stanza gets the basics of the TrackPoint and touchpad working.  See above.

[edit 2018.02.26]  The laptop’s rearward USB-C port will support a -C to HDMI adapter but it is exclusive of the laptop’s HDMI port.  This also applies to the basic dock’s Displayport which apparently connects via the rearward USB-C port.

As above, the laptop will support 3 displays: laptop monitor + HDMI + HDMI via adapter, but the adapter must be plugged into the forward USB-C port.

When in the basic dock the laptop’s HDMI port or the dock’s Displayport may be used – but not both.

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25th Anniversary ThinkPad

The “Retro” has arrived 🙂

I haven’t laid hands on one yet.  Looking forward to giving that classic  – but updated – keyboard and TrackPoint a test run.

That’s what I miss most with recent ThinkPads: the 7-row keyboard.  And a TrackPoint isn’t an option – it’s a necessity.

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Stuffed Bell Peppers

Our favorite spin on this old standard:

Not the typical floating-in-tomato-sauce version.  That’s not bad… this is better 🙂

  • 4 red or yellow bell peppers.  Green if you like but they are just unripe colored peppers and can be bitter.
  • 1/2 cup of uncooked rice.  White or brown.  We’ve used white so far.
  • 2 carrots peeled and chopped.
  • 1 onion minced.
  • 2-6 garlic cloves minced.
  • 1 tsp chili powder.
  • 1/2 lb lean ground beef.
  • 2 tomatoes cored and chopped – seeded if you must…
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth.
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese.
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice.
  • 1 seeded and minced jalapeno – for flavor, not heat. Optional.
  • Some might add 1 tbsp of tomato paste and 2 tbsp of minced parsley.  We don’t.

It helps if the peppers, onion, carrots, jalapeno, tomatoes, and garlic come straight from your garden.  If not, make do @ the super 😉

Trim the tops off the peppers, seed and core.  Submerge in boiling salted (1 tbsp or so) water to cover and cook until they just start to soften.  Maybe 5 minutes.  Remove, drain, and let cool.

Bring the water to a boil again, add rice, cook until tender, drain and transfer to your working bowl.

Saute the carrots, onion, and jalapeno (if using) in olive oil until they start to soften.  Add garlic, tomato paste (if using), and chili power and cook another 30 seconds or so.  Don’t scorch the garlic.

Add the ground beef and cook while breaking it up until all is just browned through.  Add tomatoes and chicken broth and cook until the tomatoes start to break down.

Add the beef mixture to the rice in your working bowl along with the chicken broth, lemon juice, parsley (if using), 3/4 cup of the cheese, salt and pepper to taste.  Mix thoroughly.

Dry the inside of the peppers, fill with the mixture, top with the rest of the cheese, and place in a suitably-sized baking dish (so they don’t fall over…).  Bake in a pre-heated 350F oven until heated through.  30 minutes or so.

Enjoy 🙂

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Stinky Spuds

One of my favorites, especially now when the garden provides potatoes, onions, and peppers.  Goes great with grilled chicken, ribs, whatever floats your boat.

I’ll skip the measurements…

Spuds – chopped/diced/sliced per your whim – raw fried in olive oil.

When they’re ~ 5 minutes from done toss in chopped/diced/sliced sweet bell pepper and chopped/diced/sliced onion and turn the heat down a little.

I sometimes add garlic but be careful – it can scorch.  The other day I did include some jalapeno with the bell pepper for a little added interest.  Delish 🙂

A minute or so from done I like to sprinkle in some cumin and paprika.

Once it hits my plate I usually top with grated Parmesan cheese and salt + pepper.

[edit to add] Make a one-skillet meal out of it:  add chopped spinach, cabbage, or kale then with the heat turned down make pockets and (gently) crack some eggs into them.  (There’s no rule that says it couldn’t involve some bacon or sausage 😉 )

Enjoy 🙂

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Update ThinkPad BIOS with Bootable Flash Drive

This is the original draft of a KB article written for the Lenovo forums.  It may be old news, but I’ve only recently come across it.  There are likely other ways to do this using the ISO instead of the .exe – perhaps grub2 + loop-mounting, grub2 + memdisk, geteltorito – but this is the “official” Lenovo approach.

Full disclosure: I haven’t yet actually had occasion to build the flash drive and test the BIOS update process.

Traditionally, ThinkPad BIOS updates have been provided for download in two formats:  a Windows .exe installer, and an ISO that can be used to create a bootable CD.  The CD version was useful for those who aren’t running a Windows OS, or who have a damaged main drive or OS that won’t boot.

These days, an optical drive is becoming a rarity – requiring the use of an external drive.  Fortunately, with recent ThinkPad BIOS updates using a bootable flash drive has become an option.  The instructions and tools are included in the Windows .exe.  It’s necessary to run the 1st stage of the install to access them, so a Windows PC or virtual machine is required.

We’ll use a 1st generation X1 Yoga BIOS in this example.  Be sure to use a BIOS .exe that matches your laptop model, not the one in this example.

The first step is to download  the .exe for the BIOS installer desired.  Start with the Lenovo main support page https://support.lenovo.com/us/en enter your laptop model in the search box, select the appropriate model from the list offered, navigate the Drivers and Software link to the BIOS download.

The way the .exe is built it’s necessary to run the first stage of the install to be able to access the contained files.

Locate the downloaded .exe and run it.  You’ll be offered a target folder and the option to browse for a target folder of your choosing.  Make a note of where the driver files are going and proceed.

The next phase of the process will ask to actually install the BIOS on the current PC or virtual machine.  Don’t let it.  Un-check the “Install ThinkPad BIOS Update Utility Now” check box and click Finish.

Now you can navigate to the installer files.  You should see something like the below.  Read and follow the instructions.

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