xx30 Series Thinkpads

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I've now been using both the Thinkpad X230 and T430 models for a few months now. This is an overview of their usability and performance in {current year}. In general, they're both very good laptops for most tasks.

Both of my Thinkpads have i5-3320m processors, have been upgraded to 8GB of RAM, and have SSD's installed. Upgrading to at least 4GB of RAM and ditching the stock mechanical hard drive is pretty much necessary; it really improves the performance more than any other upgrade. The maximum amount of RAM you can throw in these is 16GB, which is way more than most people will ever need; I rarely exceed 2GB of usage under Linux. The screens are 1366x768 TN panels stock, which is really terrible. The T430 can be upgraded to a 1600x900 panel without any significant modifications, and both models can be upgraded to 1080p or even 1440p panels using a converter board, but this is quite expensive (>$150 total at the time of writing) and requires some sensitive soldering. The screens are definitely the biggest drawbacks to these machines. The T430 also has a socketed CPU and can be upgraded all the way to an i7-3740QM, which is roughly 3 times faster than the stock i5, though this may cause issues with thermals.

Software support on these machines under Linux is fantastic. I've not had any issues with drivers or compatiblity yet. I run Void Linux on the X230 and performance is spectacular. I used Windows 10 for roughly 2 hours when I received both laptops, and it was also faster than any budget laptop I've used, and even high end ones. What really makes these systems stand out though is how easy it is to install MacOS on them. Using one of the numerous configurations and sets of kexts available on GitHub it took me about 2 hours to get MacOS Mojave installed. Catalina also works, but I haven't tested it myself. One big drawback is that the stock WLAN cards don't work on MacOS; more on this later. I've compared it side by side to an actual Macbook Pro from the same year, and the Thinkpad has considerably better performance.

The issue of the BIOS locking out 3rd-party wireless cards and batteries has been solved. Using the tool 1vyrain, you can actually remove the whitelist, flash coreboot, and do some other cool stuff with just a bootable USB drive -- no hardware flashing required. It took me about 5 minutes to get a Broadcom wifi card and chinese battery working in the T430, and I might flash coreboot soon to get rid of ME (muh privacy). I'm pretty sure the only other models that can flash Coreboot in software are the X60/X61. There's also an embedded controller patch that allows usage of the classic T420 keyboard, although I'm not sure if this requires a hardware flash or if it can be done with a tool like 1vyrain.

Overall, these laptops are the best value Thinkpads around. They're going for about $150 right now and with a couple upgrades you can have a fast, durable laptop that is multitudes better than anything else under $200 (and over $200). If you value privacy, speed, and durability, these models are in the sweet spot. They're not slow like the old xx00 series, but they're not glorified Macbooks like the newer Thinkpads. The T430 in particular, is the best laptop I have ever used. They might be ugly, but they're fierce. < /p>