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Linkoteca. Thinkpad X210

Placa base del Thinkpad X210

I have not personally used the ThinkPad X201 over an extended period of time. Despite this fact, during the month I have spent with the X210, it is easy to sense 51nb’s effort in recreating a modern ThinkPad X201. Starting by keeping the exceptionally comfortable 7-row keyboard and TrackPoint, adding support for M.2 and mSATA SSDs, finding the WUXGA upgrade, and topping it off with a user-configurable BIOS to maximise performance with the 8th generation mobile chips, upgradable DDR4 RAM slots, … These all have made the X210 a truly memorable and excellent example among the contemporary laptops.

However, this recreation requires a keen hand to assemble, upgrading the motherboard and display panel is not a job for the faint of heart. The BIOS is not perfect either, especially in regards to power consumption and the battery’s status reporting. Thankfully, this does not deal a fatal blow to its practical usability, and the latter has since been fixed with later BIOS updates.

Our test sample, as mentioned numerous times before, was hastily assembled. Despite this however, the laptop demonstrated great stability even with sustained usage and torture testing. The laptop, perhaps predictably, boots quickly and is highly responsive. Thermal performance is nothing less than staggering, to the point that I have to repeatedly make sure that the thermal measuring tools and software are performing properly.

In conclusion, the X210 is a unicorn in the realm of sub-notebooks: retaining the RJ-11 modem port while extracting the full potential of the 8th generation mobile processors; keeping the comfortable and familiar input devices while adding support for cutting edge technologies like PCIe NVMe SSDs; ensuring support for the original LVDS panels while adding support for greatly improved EDP-interfaced IPS panels… The X210 skillfully combines cutting edge technologies with classic elements that make a ThinkPad great for us enthusiasts. The X210 is not just a bottle of fine wine or a fresh breeze through a medieval castle – it’s really much more than that. A faithful recreation from a passionate community of ThinkPad lovers, that’s what the X210 really is.

The first thing to go was the beloved, clacky, positive-action keyboards, replaced by Macbook-style chiclet keyboards that wore out much faster, but at least the keyboards were easily swapped out when they started to falter. Then came new submicro designs that made swapping keyboards into a one-hour procedure that had to be performed by a professional who would have to virtually totally disassemble the computer.

The same forces made drive-swaps harder and harder. I used to order a Thinkpad with the smallest, cheapest drive available and then throw it away on arrival and replace it with a third-party, 1TB SSD. Now I just order the Thinkpads with 1TB SSDs and pay a premium for them (these custom options can add weeks to the build/delivery time, too) — thankfully, the price-gap on Lenovo’s 1TB SSDs and third party drives has narrowed.

And now, the Thinkpad X-series systems have eliminated their Ethernet ports and require users to carry (and not lose or break) a dongle to use wired internet.

51NB, a group of Chinese enthusiasts buy up classic, pre-Lenovo Thinkpad chassis and manufacturers new motherboards for them with modern CPUs and other hardware. They started with a run of Thinkpad «X62» system (X61s with a new motherboard) and then branched out into Thinkpad «X210″s — an X201 with a Core i7 8550u (4 cores, turbo boost up to 4GHz); 2× DDR4 SODIMM slots; 2× mini PCI Express slots; an M.2 NVMe slot; a 3.5” SATA bay; a 12.6 inch, 2880×1920, 450 nits, wide gamut display; Mini DisplayPort & VGA out; 3× USB 3.1 ports; an SD reader and gigabit Ethernet (no dongle required!).

We often see people funneling their passion into keeping beloved devices in operation long past their manufacturer’s intent. These replacement Thinkpad motherboards (translated) bring old (yet beloved) Thinkpads a much desired processor upgrade. This is the work of the user [HOPE] on the enthusiast forum 51nb. The hack exemplifies what happens when that passion for legendary gear hits deep electrical expertise and available manufacturing. This isn’t your regular laptop refurbishment, [HOPE] is building something new.

So am I happy with my X210? Sure. It serves my needs well enough, and I appreciate its main advantages over other laptops with 8th gen U-series CPUs–the classic keyboard and 1920×1200 display. But if I could go back in time, I might’ve bought a T440p because it has similar performance and battery life for a much cheaper price (and I could recycle my DDR3 RAM from my X220T, too), although its weight and size are detriments as well as the fact that it can only ever go up to 16 GB RAM. Or maybe it would’ve been better to get a brand new T470p, which costs about as much, although it would be missing the «cool factor.»

Setting things up took a while because I couldn’t get away with just installing Ubuntu and then running sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade. Power consumption is slightly higher than what would be ideal. BIOS requires Windows (or FreeDOS) to update. Overall a good machine but IMO maybe not worth the high price and hassle.

The X210 is an X201 chassis with:

A Core i7 8550u (4 cores, turbo boost up to 4GHz)
2× DDR4 SODIMM slots. I put 32 GB of RAM in.
2× mini PCI Express slots. There’s an 802.11/Bluetooth card in one. The other is empty but could be used for LTE or a second wireless card.
An M.2 NVMe slot. I put a 2TB SSD in it.
A 2.5” SATA bay. I left it empty, but it’s possible to put a second SSD in.
An upgraded screen (12.6 inch, 2880×1920, 450 nits, wide gamut). The bezel is cut to make room for the 3:2 aspect ratio. There is no webcam.
Mini DisplayPort & VGA out.
3× USB 3.1 ports (no USB-C).
SD card reader.
Gigabit ethernet.
Physical switch to toggle Wifi/Bluetooth.
Headphone & microphone jacks.
Internal microphone & speakers.

The X210 is sold as either a motherboard that you install into your own chassis or as a barebones laptop where you bring your own RAM, SSD, and battery. I got the barebones kit.