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Lenovo Thinkpad T420s after 5 years of use

Sometimes there is a beauty in the wear and tear that shows on heavily used equipment. I think this is true for my trusty ol' Thinkpad T420s. Here's a couple of pictures of its current state and a recap of my experiences with the machine, good and bad.

A true workhorse

I bought the laptop from new in 2013 and have been using it non stop since then for my working and personal computing needs. It has been transported countless times between work and home in a bag without any protection of a sleeve. At work I drop it into a docking station and use it with a dual screen, keyboard and mouse setup. At home I generally use it as a laptop.

I'm very impressed with the reliability and workhorse performance of this machine. Not a single time have I had a blue screen of death or any serious hardware malfunction. It just keep on going and going without issues. The true definition of a workhorse.

My Lenovo thinkpad T420s The metal letters in the lenovo logo started falling off, so I decided to remove all of them for a more consistent look.

T420s worn sides The metal alloy body shows where the rubberized skin has worn off

It has developed a few issues though. The fan sometimes emit a screeching sound the first 5 - 10 seconds after boot, but after that it works fine. The main battery has seen better days as well. But issues like this are to be expected in an old laptop and could be fixed by replacing a few parts.

Main weaknesses

  • Poor heat management. The CPU (an Intel Core i5-2520M) might climb to more than 90 degrees C if pushed hard and then it will start throttling the frequency. I have punished the CPU with ~90 degrees temperatures scarily often, but it doesn't seem to have done any harm.
  • The hardware management of the fan speed doesn't seem to work very well in any OS. I had to install custom fan speed control applications in both Linux and Windows to make it spin up and down properly according to the CPU temperature.
  • Weak main battery. The battery was never very strong. To preserve its limited capacity as best as possible, I configured it to stop charging at 80%, but it has still deteriorated significantly after 5 years.
  • Poor screen. The built-in screen is pretty crappy regarding colors and viewing angles and there are big bezels around it. But it has always been functional and has done its job.

Main strong points

  • Unbeatable reliability
  • Robust docking station options
  • Great set of ports
  • Acceptable performance still today
  • Best in class keyboard and navigating device

Upgrades

The machine has been upgraded a bit over the years. I swapped the original 128 GB SSD with a Samsung SSD 840 EVO 250GB. The optical drive bay now carries an extra battery and I've added 4 GB of RAM so it's at 8 GB. These days it seems that 4 GB of ram is an impossibility with Windows 7. Having just slack, dropbox and a browser open will easily push the machine past 4 GB of ram usage. Linux is way more modest and could have been running perfectly with 4 GB.

I vehemently resisted the Windows 10 upgrade Microsoft was pushing, because I had tons of specialized software installed that I depend on professionally and I was generally happy with the performance of Windows 7. So it seemed there would be a lot to loose and little to gain from the upgrade. I'll plunge into Windows 10 when I buy a new machine, thank you very much.

Early on, I changed the keyboard part from Danish to US layout, and I remapped Caps lock to be Ctrl in both Windows and Linux. As I do a lot of coding with curly bracket languages, the US layout is clearly superior in my opinion and not having to twist the wrist to reach Ctrl is a winner.

T420s keyboard showing the wear of 5 years of use: It is still my favorite keyboard layout for a Laptop.

T420s keyboard wear

An aging Thinkpad showing a picture of its younger self:

Thinkpad T420s showing a picture of its younger self

Next machine?

I'm most likely going for a T470 as my next workhorse. Without the s. It seems to have the right balance of expandability and portability for me. I'll probably get it with the touch screen and a ~500 GB SSD. The brand new T480 series doesn't seem to bring much of an advantage over the T470.


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