Notes about open source software, computers, other stuff.

Lenovo Thinkpad X100e and Ubuntu 10.04

About a month ago I bought a Lenovo Thinkpad X100e laptop. Well, maybe laptop is a bit too big a word for it. Size-wise it’s more like a netbook with its screen diagonal of 11.6″. Performance-wise however, it’s much better. The one I’ve got has an AMD Turion Neo X2 L625 dual core processor running at a maximum of 1.6GHz and 2GB of RAM. It’s a nifty little machine that serves my needs: doing some work on the train to and from work, or while being on conferences.

I took quite some time to look around for a laptop like this, and this Thinkpad seems to be the only one that satisfies my minimum requirements:
– Matte screen; no glossy screens for me, I’ve already got a mirror in my bathroom :-).
– Trackpoint; yep, that’s the red dot in between the G, H, and B keys.
– A processor that was more powerful than Intel’s Atom
– A decent keyboard, because for me, using Linux means using the command line and Emacs a lot.

After several weeks of use I’ve found only one drawback to this machine: it’s processor is not that efficient. It uses quite some power and therefore gets a bit hot. As a result the fan runs a lot (even though it’s not that audible) and battery life is not too good. I’m getting approximately 2 to 3 hours out of it if I reduce the screen brightness and turn wifi off. That could have been better (maybe Lenovo should have used an Intel CULV processor?), but it’s not too much of a limitation. But this came at no surprise, most reviews on the web mention it.

After opening the box I quickly made an image of the Windows partitions that were on it and then proceeded to install Ubuntu 10.04 on it. Most of the hardware was recognised by the 2.6.32 kernel included with Ubuntu’s 10.04 release. However, as several blogs (see links below) pointed out there are a few bumps, e.g. with suspend and resume, or the wireless chip that is able to connect, but doesn’t want to send or receive data. The bumps were smoothed out by installing a newer kernel (2.6.35-12-generic) from the Ubuntu kernel PPA. The 2.6.35 kernel is the one that will be used in the next Ubuntu release and the PPA contains packages that make this kernel run in the present release as well. With that kernel, suspend and hibernate run well, as well as most Fn function keys. In fact, the only one that doesn’t seem to work is Fn+F3 for microphone mute. I had to turn on the bluetooth module in Windows before it showed up in Ubuntu (as noted by several blogs). At the moment, the things that don’t work correctly are:
– The microphone doesn’t record (neither in the sound recorder, nor when using Skype). Sometimes it shows some activity if the mic-volume slider is moved to about 25%, but I couldn’t get that to work reliably.
– The combined mic/headphone jack doesn’t mute the speakers if a pair headphones is plugged in (neither is any sound heard through the headphones).
Maybe a newer ALSA release in the upcomming Ubuntu 10.10 will remedy these problems.

I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that using the open source radeon driver (installed by default) for the AMD/ATI graphics card worked out of the box, including Compiz 3D desktop fancy stuff. The VGA out also worked perfectly when I hooked it up to my Sony Bravia TV. Xorg’s RandR detected it and I could choose between an extended desktop or a clone setup.

As I already mentioned, I’m a trackpoint user, so I wanted to disable the touchpad, especially since the two buttons for it are located at the front edge of the laptop and are easily pressed when the device sits on your lap and you’ve got your knees pulled up.
Secondly I enabled wheel emulation for the trackpoint. Now, if I click and hold the middle ‘mouse’ button and push the trackpoint in a certain direction it acts as a scroll wheel. To achieve this I created the file /usr/lib/X11/xorg.conf.d/20-thinkpad.conf (EDIT: for Ubuntu 10.10 this file should be located in /usr/share/X11/xorf.conf.d/) with the following contents:

Section "InputClass"
	Identifier "Trackpoint Wheel Emulation"
	MatchProduct "Trackpoint"
	MatchDevicePath "/dev/input/dev*"
	Driver "evdev"
	Option "EmulateWheel" "true"
	Option "EmulateWheelButton" "2"
	Option "Emulate3Buttons" "3"
	Option "XAxisMapping" "6 7"
	Option "YAxisMapping" "4 5"

All in all I’m very happy with the X100e. It’s a small but sturdy laptop with an excellent screen and a great keyboard.

Some links:
An excellent review of the Lenovo Thinkpad X100e
A recent review at AnandTech
Ubuntu kernel PPA
ThinkWiki page for the X100e, has lots of info on running Linux on this laptop.
A blog about installing Ubuntu Linux on the X100e, the problems mentioned in that post and its comments have now been solved (if you install the 2.6.35 kernel from the PPA). I tried the gpointing-device-settings package for some time (to get the trackpoint scroll functionality to work), but its settings didn’t survive across reboots or even after hibernating, so I removed it again.


  1. Athena

    Thanks for this little config file. I’d like to get my x100e’s middle button to work. Unfortunately, the code didn’t seem to do the trick. Do you need the updated kernels?

  2. LCK

    Hi Athena,

    Which Linux distribution do you use? I’m using Ubuntu 10.10 with it’s default kernel. For me, the above config file (in /usr/share/X11/xorf.conf.d) makes the middle trackpoint button work. Using the middle button together with the trackpoint results in vertical or horizontal scrolling. Without touching the trackpoint the middle button has its default behaviour (like opening a link in a new tab in Firefox, or pasting selected text).

  3. Athena

    Hey LCK,
    I’m using Kubuntu 10.04, and my middle button, even with the config changes, still does the default ‘paste’ thing. I’m upgrading to kubuntu 10.10 and will see if that newer kernel opens up a few options.

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