My seven years old Asus D3000 getting a bit slow, I decided it was time for a new laptop. So what to choose? Basically, I was thinking about three options:

  • MacBook Pro
  • Dell Vostro V13
  • Lenovo Thinkpad R or T series

What I don’t like about the Mac is the keyboard. One thing I want to do with the laptop is programming, but German Mac keyboards are missing keys for [, ], { and } - characters which are quite useless for “ordinary” users, but important when you are programming. (Of course you can type these characters on a Mac too - but they are not printed on the keys and AFAIK you need to type three keys at the same time, something like Alt + Shift + 8).

The Vostro V13 looks pretty good, it has a non glossy display, an aluminium body and is very thin. But in the end a 13 inch display is too small for me. So it would be the Thinkpad.

I used a Thinkpad R500 at work for a few years and really enjoyed it. What I like about the Thinkpads:

  • Fantastic keyboard
  • “Classic” design
  • Generally good reputation for Linux support

Which Thinkpad to choose? I compared a lot of models, not really caring about whether they shipped with a Core2, i3, i5 or whatever, but what does matter to me is LCD resolution. Sadly, most of the R models I found (and even some of the cheaper T models) came with 1366x768 - which is much too low from my point of view. Basically, I picked the cheapest one which could give me more than 1366x768 - a T410i with 1440x900.

First Impression

Back in the days 2004, when I installed SuSE 8.2 on my Asus D3000, Linux support for laptops was … you know, somehow problematic. I even had to compile the video driver on my own. Not mentioning the things I never get running, like external VGA output or Standby mode. (Nethertheless I was quite happy with Linux on this laptop, in the end basic things were working and I used it every day for my master thesis.)

So now, installing Ubuntu 11.04 (64bit version) on the brand new Thinkpad T410i, things are so much easier! Almost everything works out of the box. (Well … almost everything.)


  • Touchpad, TrackPoint, scrolling, volume control keys: Works
  • WLAN, Bluetooth: Works
  • Video: Works (during installation, you are asked whether to automatically install 3rd party drivers; I answered yes, and it installed the official nVidia drivers)
  • Keyboard Illumination: Works
  • Standby, Hibernate: Works
  • Webcam: Works (tested with Skype)
  • Watching DVD: Works
  • Microphone Mute key: Doesn’t work
  • Display Brightness keys (Fn + Home/End): Works after fixing xorg.conf:
Section "Device"
    Identifier "Default Device"
    Option "NoLogo" "True"
    Option "RegistryDwords" "EnableBrightnessControl=1"

External Monitor Setup (VGA)

This gave me the most headaches, and I’m still not happy with it: The default Ubuntu control System | Administration | Multiple Monitors is useless in my case. It doesn’t show the external monitor. There’s a special control coming from nVidia: System | Administration | NVIDIA X Server Settings | X Server Display Configuration. With this tool, I couldn’t manage to disable the laptop LCD and use the external monitor as the one and only display. However it works to run the laptop in “TwinView” mode, i.e. extending the display to the external monitor. You can even set up the external monitor as the primary display, but this requires some tweaking like changing the position of the notification bubbles. Still, changing the monitor setup (say you want to disconnect from the external monitor to carry the laptop to somewhere), requires a X server restart which basically means you have to logout and login again. This is really a pain. In Windows, you just press Fn+F7, change the monitor setup, and all your applications and windows keep open.

Ubuntu Note

Please note that Ubuntu 11.04 ships with a kernel which has a higher power consumption. So you might consider to use 10.10 instead. (Maybe the standard Multiple Monitor control is working in this version, too.) I haven’t tried that yet.


Thinkpad T Series vs R Series

I couldn’t find a good description about the difference between the R and the T series, so I list this here for those of you who have to decide between R and T. Note: I can only compare a R500 with a T410i which is not totally fair since these models are not of the same generation.

  • T models are a little bit thinner and lighter
  • The T body is more robust, it is somehow specially hardened
  • The surface of the T is totally non reflecting while the R surface is a little reflecting (it is not a glossy surface however). On the T surface you see fingerprints easily. On the R surface, you don’t see them and it’s also easier to clean. On the other hand, the R surface looks somehow cheaper
  • In general, the T’s are more powerful regarding CPUs etc., but this highly depends on the concrete model