Inaccurate Design

Linux on the new X1 Carbon

Monday, 22 October 2012

As I was researching to buy one of the new X1 Carbon ultrabooks from Lenovo, I was trying to gauge how well it worked while running Linux. Considering Lenovo’s track record of perfect Linux functionality on most of their laptops, when I didn’t find anyone complaining I thought I’d give it a shot.

So far, I’ve installed Arch Linux and Ubuntu Quantal 12.10 on it. While most of my testing has been under Ubuntu (reasons in a future post), everything will work under most distros thanks to most of the hardware having drivers in the kernel (3.5.0-17 at this time). It’s especially nice to scroll through the output of dmesg and find lines like:-

    [    7.837445] thinkpad_acpi: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, model 3443CTO
    [ 7.839742] thinkpad_acpi: This ThinkPad has standard ACPI backlight brightness control, supported by the ACPI video driver
    [    7.848063] input: ThinkPad Extra Buttons as /devices/platform/thinkpad_acpi/input/input5

(full dmesg output is here for those who are curious).

Double so because the laptop has only been on the market a few months.

The BIOS is set to Legacy compatibility rather then UEFI, which hasn’t been tested. And I’m not switching it until it results in noticeable improvements.

I can say with a totally straight face, that the results of my testing fell into two categories: things that work perfectly, and things I didn’t test.

Things that work perfectly:

  • brightness keys
  • keyboard backlight keys
  • bluetooth
  • media shortcut keys
  • volume keys (hardware buttons above keyboard)
  • suspend functionality
  • audio
  • video
  • wireless
  • webcam
  • CPU power management

Things not tested:

  • external monitors (either DP, HDMI or VGA, however all of the ports are detected. Being an Intel video card, I’d be terribly surprised if anything was wrong).
  • fingerprint reader
  • built-in 3G wireless modem (my model doesn’t have it installed)

As far as battery life goes, it’s pretty good. Considering I am just running a stock install of Ubuntu, I’m at 80% battery remaining and the timer reckons I’ll get another 5 hours 20 minutes out of the current charge (wifi on but not connected, brightness at about 50%). Not too shabby by any standards (although perhaps slightly lower than the tightly-integrated Macbook/OSX combination).

Overall, I haven’t found a single problem yet with the X1 Carbon’s linux compatibility. Interestingly enough, everything works straight out of the box with no restricted drivers required. I’m sure that if I had to install Windows on it, I’d be directed to head off to the Intel or Lenovo website to find obscure drivers.

On another note, Ubuntu 12.10. I’m glad the Ubuntu team finally got the whole ‘swap subsystems out on a whim’ out of their system (pun intended?). Their latest release is very stable, Unity is fast and unobtrusive, although it still doesn’t have all of the customisability options I’d like (mainly to move the launch bar from the left to the right of the screen). I was tossing up between my favourite distro ever Arch LInux and Ubuntu for this laptop, and although I prefer Arch (I like knowing exactly what’s on my system and how is works), Ubuntu won this round for me purely because of the ‘it just works’ factor. The Ubuntu team have put a lot of work into this recently, and it shows. Network browsing works without having to mount SAMBA shares manually from the command line, USB sticks mount when I plug them in, and roaming between wireless networks works properly without having to futz around with netcfg. While Arch is awesome, some of this stuff took forever to set up if you weren’t using a desktop environment such as Gnome (my preferred window manger being Xmonad. While I know it’s not comparable to Gnome, it’s the subject of a future blog post).

The Lenovo X1 Carbon is a dream for Linux. If you want to run Linux on an ultrabook, I cannot recommend the Carbon more highly.