How To Set Up A Thinkpad X230 Tablet For Best Results

Today I’ll tell you how to set up a Thinkpad X230 tablet for best use, and save you a lot of time investigating tweaks.  This and the non-convertible X230 are some of the best laptops under $500 despite being several years old. With the right deal, you can find them on eBay used for $100-300 in good condition.

I set mine up for dual-boot, using an older mSATA SSD I had on hand (Crucial m4, 128 GB).  This small SSD goes in the mini-PCI slot where the WWAN card would go, next to the wireless card.

Hardware Upgrades:

Memory: you want to upgrade to at least 8 GB.

Usually systems will come with 4 GB, and you just get another stick for ~$30.  It needs DDR3 or LPDDR3 (aka DDR3L) up to 1600 MHz.

  • I have both 1.5V (DDR3) and 1.35V (DDR3L) chips in place at the same time and it works.
  • Reportedly the X230 series may be able to use higher-speed RAM even though the official specification doesn’t list it (rather than simply downclocking it as normal).
  • If you’re considering an external GPU rig for gaming, be aware that there is a known issue when combining 16 GB of memory with an eGPU, so stick to 8 GB.

Storage: you want an SSD

This makes a night and day difference in performance and usability.

  • The main drive bay will accept a 2.5″ SATA 3 SSD.  This is the fastest and best option for most people, since you can get the full SSD speeds.
  • The mSATA slot under the keyboard will also accept a smaller mSATA SSD, but only has a SATA 2 connection.  This limits peak disk throughput to ~200-275 MB/s in practice, but does not impact the far-more-crucial random I/O performance.  Still, I’d suggest a 2.5″ drive unless you are using an existing mSATA drive or need the additional storage from an internal HDD.
  • I would suggest the Samsung 850 EVO 250 GB SATA/mSATA models as a good combination of price/performance/capacity for most people.

Optional hardware service: re-pasting the CPU  

Many X230/t laptops come with old thermal compound on their CPU that is in poor condition (as mine was).  While they are still perfectly usable, it is often helpful to replace the thermal compound  to reduce CPU temperatures under load and quiet down fan use.   I did a CPU re-paste using Noctua NT-H1 thermal compound.

  • Before this, the fans tended to spin up to maximum (loud) speed regularly in response to brief bursts of activity, mainly in Windows.  This is also solvable by using the “thinkfan” (Linux) and tpfancontrol (Windows) utilities to reduce fan use and run warmer or use low-speed fans more.
  • This reduced temperatures under load a lot, from 90C under sustained Prime95 load to about 80C, and from 83C when gaming to ~63C.
  • I find that fans spin up some still but run at a much lower speed and are usually not audible.
  • The laptop still idles quite warm, generally 47-50C, and re-pasting did not change this.  The price you pay for putting a 35W TDP chip in a 12.5″ laptop, it seems.

Easy Fix: Jiggling Screen or Clicking When Opening/Closing The Display

If your X230t screen feels loose and jiggly or makes alarming clicking/popping noises when opened/closed, there is a very easy fix!  You just need to tighten two screws under the display bezel and perhaps lightly oil the hinges.

  1. First get another device and open up the X230t hardware maintenance manual
  2. You will need to remove the battery, the display hinge cap (section 1050 in the manual) and the button bezel (section 2010 in the hardware manual)
  3. In the hinge, you will see two screws on both sides of the hinge in the middle.  They need to be tightened with a jeweler’s screwdriver, and the little pivot wiped clean with the end of a rolled up paper towel or Q-tip.
  4. You may opt to apply a very small dot of light oil on the hinge here and on the horizontal rotation for smoother operation.  Be sure not to put too much, and wipe off any excess.
  5. Before replacing the bezel and hinge cap, verify it opens, closes, and rotates smoothly without noise.
  6. Enjoy the silky-smooth and firm motion of your display – just like new!

Windows 10 Setup:

  • Windows is installed first, because it is easier to get the Linux bootloader to work with Windows than the other way around.  This was my secondary OS, for gaming and use of the Adobe Suite (rather than Wine).
  • When installing by bootable USB drive, you may need to boot from the USB 2.0 port to install.  This is due to an issue with Windows 10, older BIOS versions, and the USB 3.0 drivers.  It is supposedly possible to fix by BIOS update.  Oddly enough, you can still boot into recovery mode from the USB 3 ports, it just will not function or install correctly, for the most part.
  • It is nearly impossible to successfully migrate a preinstalled Windows image from the hard drive to an mSATA drive.
    • I went through all the automated boot repair options, sysprep, and the recovery-mode BCD fix options, plus manual BCD editing without luck.
    • This is probably due to the change in controller, or the fact that the mSATA port was not intended to be used for primary storage (just small caching SSDs or WWAN cards)
  • All the hardware more or less works out-of-box, including touch screen.  For optimal results, find and install all the Windows 10 drivers via the Lenovo site or their driver/update utility.  If you have issues with multitouch or pen pressure not working correctly, uninstall the touch/pen drivers, and install the http://us.wacom.com/en/feeldriver/ (thanks /r/thinkpad).
  • The handwriting recognition and on-screen keyboard are truly excellent.  The latter is almost as good as Android or iOS despite different technologies.

Linux Setup (Xubuntu 16.04 LTS):

  • Basic install of Xubuntu 16.04, done second to handle bootloader setup.  XFCE works well with touchscreen use here.
  • All the hardware more or less works out of box, except for the special tablet-mode buttons on the screen bezel.  This includes touch & multi-touch support in the UI, but the default settings are imperfect.
  • Install “tlp” to automatically tune the power settings.  This can make a huge difference in battery life.  On a new 6-cell battery, you can get up to 6 hours of light use  (WiFi on) and low screen brightness vs. 4ish if not well configured out-of-box.
    • To prolong battery life, you may wish to install “thinkpad-acpi” and customize the threshold at which the battery starts and stops charging, so it doesn’t wear out as fast.  I used 75% and 90% as my start/stop thresholds.
    • You may wish to install ‘powertop’ and do ‘powertop –calibrate’ to monitor power drain from processes, to improve battery life.
  • For easy screen rotation, install the thinkpad-scripts package, and in XFCE under the Keyboard settings, map the screen rotation tablet button to “thinkpad-rotate left”
    • The screen will automatically rotate when you move the screen into the tablet configuration
    • To fix the direction of automatic rotation, create ~/.config/thinkpad-scripts/config.ini as below (which will fix the autorotation direction and change the onscreen keyboard.
[rotate]
default_rotation = left
vkeyboard.program = onboard
  • Fix poor default 802.11n wireless performance with the Intel 6205 wireless card
    • echo options iwlwifi 11n_disable=8 bt_coex_active=N | sudo tee -a /etc/modprobe.d/iwlwifi.conf
    • This enables multiple streams to be used (both of the 2×2 antennas in the card), and disables concurrent Bluetooth (which should be disabled anyway unless needed)
    • This improves performance from 35 Mbps/50ish Mbps down/up speeds to ~200/200 when near a good router.  When further away, the difference is less noticeable but still significant.  This gives performance similar to the Windows driver.
  • On-screen keyboard:  install the “onboard” package to get a nice on-screen keyboard for use in touch mode.  You may want to try “cellwriter” for handwriting recognition – I was not impressed but some people like that.
  • Tweak xinput settings to make the screen more sensitive to scroll & pinch-zoom gestures:
    • Set up the following to run upon user login:
      • xinput set-prop “Wacom ISDv4 E6 Finger touch” “Wacom Touch Gesture Parameters” 15, 50, 150
    • Xinput has a preset number of pixels you must move fingers in order to trigger zoom/scroll respectively, and a tap time in milliseconds.  This modifies the defaults to something more usable, but still imperfect.
    • If someone else has a better xinput configuration, I’m all ears (leave a comment!), especially if it mimics the fairly strong behavior settings in Windows.
    • The ArchWiki also has some good general advice for customizing Wacom interfaces
  • The “thinkfan” package can be used to customize fan use for quieter operation, although the system without it works quite well out of box.

Do the following to enable fan control:

echo “options thinkpad_acpi fan_control = 1” |  sudo tee /etc/modprobe.d/thinkfan.conf

Will need to do:

sudo sensors-detect

You’ll need to customize /etc/thinkfan.conf (sorry, no settings yet!)

  • Get hardware decoding of video (H264 especially), with the VAAPI driver:
    • sudo apt-get install i965-va-driver vainfo vaapi
    • Playback of H264 1080p video in SMPlayer went from 25-30% CPU use to 5-7% with this

Applications To Take Advantage of Pen & Tablet Mode:

Multiplatform:

  • Inkscape – for vector graphics, such as diagrams and sketching
    • The calligraphy pen/brush tool can be used in pressure-sensitive mode, to change width (brush and dip pen mode within the tool)
    • You’ll have to enable pressure sensitivity under the Edit > Input Options settings to take advantage
  • Krita – really nice digital painting with an excellent interface. Basically made to use a pressure-sensitive tablet, and it takes full advantage of pressure sensitive features in multiple ways.

Linux:

  •  Xournal – excellent whiteboarding/diagramming/note-taking, and vector-based.
    • You’ll want to customize it to use the pen and pressure features under options:
      • Menu: Options > Pen and Touch > Check “Eraser tip”, “Pressure Sensitivity”, “Pen disables Touch”, and optionally “Touchscreen as Hand Tool”
      • Then under the “Options” menu click “Save Preferences” to make this persistent
      • Under “Tools” > “Eraser” you may want to set it to “delete strokes” (similar to the Windows Sketchpad) and then select “Set as Default”
    • (details TBD), disable touch when pen is in use, enable use of the eraser, and set the eraser to erase strokes.  This gives much better usability, I feel.
    • Vector-based, but unfortunately limited to PDF export and its internal format, so not optimal for sketching or graphic design.

Windows:

  • Windows Ink Sketchpad – really handy for whiteboarding, diagrams, or quick notes.  Note: this is raster-based, so your image will not scale to higher-resolution displays effectively.  However in practice this is not a big deal.
  • Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, of course.

Tips and Tweaks:

  • Set up your user interfaces to auto-hide top and bottom menu/notification bars.  This will preserve more of the limited screen area for use.  For Gnome, the “Maximus Two” extension has been recommended to help with minimizing title bar size.
  • In tablet mode with low brightness, the X230t makes an excellent comic or eBook reader.  Due to the screen size and resolution you will only be able to fit a single page on-screen at a time, but it’s very handy to use before bed.
  • When web browsing, you may wish to scale sites to 80-90% to fit more on-screen. Antialiasing will ensure the text is still quite readable, and this increases usability.  For Chrome, you can just do  ctrl + “-” key.
  • Most of the advice here also applies to the vanilla X230 (except for tablet and pen sections), and to a lesser extent to the X220 and X220 tablet.
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4 thoughts on “How To Set Up A Thinkpad X230 Tablet For Best Results

  1. Awesome tips! and Awesome site with lots of info on Thinkpad! I will be using your tips with regards to the Linux tweaks. Thank you!

    Like

  2. Really helpfull!. Have you succeeded in installing the OS in mSATA SSD. Because i am planning to buy one to use as a booting drive. If so can you post a guide to do the same ?

    Like

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