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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (6th Gen / 2018) review – Sad story of a potentially great ultrabook

TL;DR – Don’t buy it

Don’t buy it. If you cherish your time and money and you think about a laptop as a work tool, go with something else.  There are many hardware problems with this computer and, if by any chance, you decide to open a warranty claim, Lenovo will make it really hard for you.

They will force you to send your laptop back (despite an on-site extended warranty), they will ship it back in an even worse state and will make you wait one more month to get a replacement.

Lenovo does not seem to have quality control in place. Here’s a list of problems you will likely encounter:

  • Not properly closing lid (a lot of space on one of the sides);
  • Overheating when connected to a docking station;
  • Overheating without a docking station;
  • High pitch noise when using USB headphones and a docking station;
  • Poor speakers quality and speaker cracking noise;
  • Non existing on-site warranty;
  • Really bad certified repair partners (at least in Poland);
  • A lot of configuration and tuning to make it work with Linux;
  • Screen scaling problems on Linux;
  • Backspace key missing stroke;
  • Keys / track point leaving permanent marks on the screen;
  • Weird sound distortions;
  • Low coating quality;
  • 256GB hard-drive performance problems.

If you don’t have any of those problems, consider yourself lucky. It turns out, it is a lottery. And I don’t want to test my luck against a hardware that should help me with my work. I would rather prefer to be able to rely on it.

Note: Just to be clear. This is the list of all the things reported by many users. I’ve encountered some of them, but it was way more than enough for me to lose my patience and consider this promising ultrabook a failure.

A great beginning with a poor ending

Around 3 months ago, I decided that it is about time to buy a new laptop. I’m a programmer and for me it is a long-time relationship.

I spent nearly a month researching and I was hesitating between Dell Latitude 7390 and the brand new Lenovo X1 Carbon 6th Gen / 2018. I’ve always been a big fan of the Latitude brand and have been using them for over 8 years now. But the truly lightweight Lenovo Thinkpad caught my eye with its amazing design and long battery life. The specs were also really good and the overall performance seemed nice. I thought to myself: “You can’t get that wrong with Lenovo, right?”.

Initial impression

My initial impression of this laptop was really good. Despite not being fully “Ubuntu ready” and forcing me to spend a fair amount of time tuning it, I would say I was surprised with the overall performance and robustness of this piece of hardware. You can read about the tuning and my initial impressions in this article: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (6th Gen / 2018) Ubuntu 18.04 Tweaks. Unfortunately what happened next, makes me question my decision to get this laptop in the first place.

Problems, problems everywhere

After a couple of days, I understood, that I will have to invest a bit of time to personalize this laptop and make it suitable for my needs. I was able to eliminate most of the software problems, but then after a while, I noticed a couple of things that could be acceptable in a laptop worth $500 max.

Note: All of the problems mentioned above are not rare or unique. There’s an alarmingly huge number of Reddit posts and posts on the Lenovo forum from many other people experiencing the same problems. There’s even an unofficial list of all the defects you can get with this laptop and it’s getting longer each week.

Low coating quality

The picture is not mine (taken from this Reddit post)  but after I got it, I also noticed, that the coating is somehow delicate and easily scratchable. It is definitely worse than my current Latitude E7440.

High pitch noise using USB headphones and a docking station

If you’re planning to use a Thunderbolt docking station and USB headphones, you can pretty much forget about it. You will constantly hear an irritating noise that will make you go crazy. It disappears when using the built-in USB, but hey, isn’t it why I bought a docking station not to have to plug anything directly?

I was able to eliminate it partially by tuning some sound settings but it would anyhow randomly occur again. Absolutely horrible.

Overheating when attached to a docking station

Next downside of having a business-grade laptop with a docking station support that I’ve never encountered with a Dell computer: overheating.

I’m not talking about a heavy-workload overheating when fans would go on. No, no. I’m talking about laptop getting seriously warm near the Thunderbolt connection, making it almost too hot to touch when in the idle mode.

Of course, I was able to make it better a bit by under-volting and changing some of the CPU throttling settings but it really was getting really warm in the idle mode indeed. If you buy it, 60-70 (°C) will be the norm.

This would not happen when connected to a USB-C charger only. The laptop would then maintain stable 35-45  (°C).

Not aligned lid / lid not closing properly

The worst issue of them all. If it wasn’t for my docking station, I might have not noticed that at all. But I did. And I compared it with MBP. And it looks really bad. The lid is not closing properly, having a huge gap on the right side of the laptop.

Here’s how it looks:

And MBP for comparision:

For me, it’s unacceptable. End of story. It’s not a unitary case. There are many more people reporting that manufacturing defect. Even the replacement laptop that I was supposed to get had this issue. I was also able to see the same problem in one that I saw in a shopping center (less visible but still there).

Extended on-site warranty does not exist

Ok. So the lid is not closing. Maybe it was due to bad hinges position or something like that. Who knows. I have an on-site warranty so it shouldn’t be a problem, right? It never was during my adventure with Dell.

21 June 2018 I opened a warranty claim (Incident: 180621-001473 / COMP 8000440787). After a day or so a technician from a Lenovo-certified company called me and after a brief talk, I sent him some photos. He then told me, that it seems to be my fault and I have to ship it to Warsaw.

I explained it to him, that the laptop spent 95% of its time on a docking station and that it was opened maximum 15 times. He didn’t believe nor care about that. “We won’t be able to fix it on-site, you need to send it over”. And that’s the end of my extended on-site warranty.

Regular warranty does not work as well

Let’s say he was right and it did require a more extensive amount of work to fix it. So it got shipped. It got to Warsaw on the 26th of June and it was there until it got back to me in an even worse state.

During that time, the Lenovo-certified repair company would not give me any details. I was unable to reach them via phone and they wouldn’t reply to my emails. I was able to get some information (general things like “it will be tested for 2 more days”, etc.) only by calling the repair company’s line dedicated to… Toshiba. The Lenovo line did not care to answer.

Making a complaint

While the “repair process” was ongoing, I decided to make a complaint, using the Lenovo phone line. They opened a case and Complaints Coordinator for Lenovo Poland contacted me, saying that the laptop will be fixed and delivered back to me in 2 days. It was. But as I said, in the worse state than it was before…

Trying to get a new laptop (replacement)

After I got my Thinkpad X1 back (after 12 days), I contacted the Complaints Coordinator once again. He was the first person that would not treat me like someone that wanted to fraud Lenovo. He asked me to ship the laptop back to them and said I would get a replacement. I was really tired at that point. I just wanted to have a working laptop, free of any defects…

Other laptops have same defects

Lenovo reseller from which I bought the laptop (Notebooki.pl ) contacted me and said that Lenovo approved the replacement and that they’re ordering me a brand new one, but… it didn’t work.

After a few more days, they called me again and said, that the one they got had the same defects as the old one and that it’s pretty much pointless to ship it to me. The whole batch seems to be defective.

Want a replacement one? Wait a month

If you buy a Lenovo laptop, it may turn out, that they aren’t able to replace it within a decent timeframe. If it wasn’t for the fact, that I had my old Dell Latitude, I would be left without an essential work tool. Notebooki.pl (Lenovo reseller) informed me, that there isn’t a laptop that would be a replacement for me and that I have to wait a month. This basically means, that despite me paying a lot of money for this piece of hardware plus extra for the extended on-site warranty, I would be left without anything for over 2 months. To be honest I don’t blame them, but rather Lenovo. When I got some dead pixels in my Latitude, Dell shipped a new one to me in 24 hours. Shouldn’t we expect the same kind of treatment here? Well, I do!

We didn’t solve your problem but we will send you multiple emails with Customer Satisfaction Surveys

Despite my still not having a new laptop, I was able to get 3 emails from Lenovo in which they would ask me about my impressions on their way of handling things. It made me laugh a bitter laugh.

Summary – Don’t buy this laptop unless you’re super patient

I don’t have a laptop. I was able to get a permission from Lenovo to get my money back for the laptop and I’m buying a Dell Latitude 7390. Notebooki.pl was kind enough to accept the docking station back and take care of all the paperwork.

It’s been a stressful month and I still run on my old hardware. Lenovo has proven to be a complete failure and looking at how they operate and how their certified repair partners operate, I’m 100% sure that I won’t buy anything of this company never again. If you’re a programmer and you want to have hardware that you can rely on and you want to be sure that in case of any troubles you won’t be treated as enemy, don’t pick Lenovo.

References

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (6th Gen / 2018) Ubuntu 18.04 Tweaks

If you think about getting this laptop, pick something else

Here’s an “after 1 month” summary without a happy ending.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (6th Gen / 2018) review – Sad story of a potentially great ultrabook

Introduction

Warning: I’m not responsible for any damages or injury, including but not limited to special or consequential damages, that result from your use of this instructions.

Yesterday I’ve finally received my new Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 6 gen laptop. I cannot say anything bad about the hardware. It fits exactly into my needs and requirements. Unfortunately, there are some flaws when used with Linux (Ubuntu in my case). Here are some hints on how to make things better.

Touchpad and Trackpoint under Linux

This is the most irritating issue that you will encounter.

Note: Try the first solution presented here first. If it doesn’t help, fallback to the general solution.

Solution working with Kernel 4.17.1-041701-generic

Note: with this solution you may loose the “tap to click” functionality from time to time (until a reboot).

  1. Edit the /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf file and comment out following line:
    # This line needs to be commented out
    # blacklist i2c_i801
    
  2. Edit the /etc/default/grub file and change this line:
    GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet splash"
    

    to

    GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet splash psmouse.synaptics_intertouch=1"
    
  3. Run following command:
    sudo update-grub
    
  4. Install xserver synaptics:
    sudo apt-get install xserver-xorg-input-synaptics
    
  5. Execute following command (not sure if needed):
    # You may want to add it to your .bashrc to make it work after reboot
    synclient TapButton1=1 TapButton2=3 TapButton3=2
    
  6. Reboot

Old general solution

If you have a touchpad with NFC you may observe following behaviors:

  • it may not detect movements,
  • won’t work with tap-to-click,
  • will occasionally wake up for a couple of seconds and will stop working again.

Unfortunately for this moment, you will have to disable trackpoint to make it work.

Here are the steps you need to follow.

Note: I’m mentioning also things you should not do just in case you’ve followed other instructions that didn’t work.

  1. Disable trackpoint in the BIOS settings.
  2. Disable NFC in the BIOS settings.
  3. Don’t disable trackpad in the BIOS settings (or enable it if you did) – this will make your touchpad embedded buttons work.
  4. You don’t have to use psmouse.synaptics_intertouch=1 at all for GRUB (no GRUB changes) and if you’ve applied this change, please revert it as followed:
    GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet splash"
    
  5. Don’t remove i2c_i801 from /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf (it needs to be present and uncommented).
  6. Install the 4.17.0-41770rc5-generic (or newer) Linux kernel from the mainline based on the instructions presented below.
  7. Reboot your system with the new Kernel.
  8. Be happy with your working touchpad with the bottom physical buttons.

Installing the mainline kernel

  1. Go here: http://kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/
  2. Download all the files for a selected kernel version from the Build for amd64 group except those with the lowlatency in their name. For me that was 4 files overall.
  3. Open a terminal and go to the location where you’ve downloaded the files.
  4. Run following command:
    sudo dpkg -i *.deb
    
  5. Reboot.

low cTDP and trip temperature in Linux

This problem is related to thermal throttling on Linux, that is set much below the Windows values. This will cause your laptop to run much slower than it could under heavy stress.

Before you attempt to apply this solution, please make sure that the problem still exists when you read it. To do so, open a Linux terminal and run following commands:

sudo apt-get install msr-tools
sudo modprobe msrsudo
sudo rdmsr -f 29:24 -d 0x1a2

If you see 3 as a result value (or 15 when running on battery), you don’t have to do anything. Otherwise:

  1. Disable Secure Boot in the BIOS (won’t work otherwise)
  2. Run this command:
    sudo apt install git virtualenv build-essential python3-dev \
      libdbus-glib-1-dev libgirepository1.0-dev libcairo2-dev
    
  3. Clone this git repository and enter it:
    git clone https://github.com/erpalma/lenovo-throttling-fix.git
    cd lenovo-throttling-fix/
    
  4. Install the patches:
    sudo ./install.sh
    
  5. Check again, that the result from running the rdmsr command is 3

Personally, I use a bit lower temperature levels to preserve battery life in favor of performance. If you want to change the default values, you need to edit the /etc/lenovo_fix file and set the Trip_Temp_C for both battery and AC the way you want:

[BATTERY]
# Other options here...
PL2_Tdp_W: 40
Trip_Temp_C: 75

[AC]
# Other options here...
PL1_Tdp_W: 34
PL2_Tdp_W: 40
Trip_Temp_C: 90

CPU undervolting

The amazing Lenovo Throttling fix script supports also the undervolting. To enable it, please edit the /etc/lenovo_fix.conf again and update the [UNDERVOLT] section. In my case, this settings proven to be stable:

[UNDERVOLT]
# CPU core voltage offset (mV)
CORE: -110
# Integrated GPU voltage offset (mV)
GPU: -90
# CPU cache voltage offset (mV)
CACHE: -110
# System Agent voltage offset (mV)
UNCORE: -90
# Analog I/O voltage offset (mV)
ANALOGIO: 0

Battery charging thresholds

There are a lot of theories and information about ThinkPad charging thresholds. Some theories say thresholds are needed to keep the battery healthy, some think they are useless and the battery will work the same just as it is. In this article I will try not to settle that argument. 🙂 Instead I try to tell how and why I use them, and then proceed to show how they can be changed in different versions of Windows, should you still want to change these thresholds.

Description taken from: ThinkPad battery charging thresholds (for Windows).

I always stick with following settings for my laptops (and somehow I feel that it works):

  • Start threshold: 45%
  • Stop threshold: 75%

This means that the charging will start only if the battery level goes down below 45% and will stop at 75%. This prevents battery from being charged too often and from being charged beyond a recommended level.

To achieve this for Linux based machines you need to install some packages by running:

sudo apt-get install tlp tlp-rdw acpi-call-dkms tp-smapi-dkms acpi-call-dkms

After that just edit the /etc/default/tlp file and edit following values:

# Uncomment both of them if commented out
START_CHARGE_THRESH_BAT0=45
STOP_CHARGE_THRESH_BAT0=75

Reboot, run:

sudo tlp-stat | grep tpacpi-bat

and check if the values are as you expect:

tpacpi-bat.BAT0.startThreshold          = 45 [%]
tpacpi-bat.BAT0.stopThreshold           = 75 [%]

Note, that if you need to have your laptop fully charged, you can achieve that by running following command while connected to AC:

tlp fullcharge

Custom battery monitor / indicator

As you’ve probably already noticed, I really like keeping my laptop batteries in a good shape. It’s much easier, when you are aware of the state in which the battery is. Especially when it goes below 25% (as it is unhealthy for it). To get this type of notifications, you can just install the battery monitor app:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:maateen/battery-monitor -y
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install battery-monitor -y

Due to a bug in Gnome, it’s initial message after startup won’t dissapear by itself and you need to close it each time you start Ubuntu. To eliminate that problem, edit the /usr/share/battery-monitor/config.py file and make it look like this (first message needs to be commented out):

MESSAGES = {
#    "success": (
#        u"Battery Monitor",
#        u"Cheers! Your battery is being monitored now."
#    ),

after that reboot the system and the app will start automatically.

Too small (or too big) letters for WQHD resolution

If you’ve got yourself Carbon version with the WQHD screen, you may notice that everything is extremely big (or super small). That’s because of the scaling factor. Unfortunately, you cannot use fractional scaling (more details here), which means that you’ll end up either with everything being super small (100%) or super large (200%).

Luckily for you, there’s an easy way out.

Settings things from the console

Just run following commands:

gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface text-scaling-factor 1.5
gsettings set org.gnome.nautilus.icon-view default-zoom-level standard
gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface cursor-size 32
gsettings set org.gnome.shell.extensions.dash-to-dock dash-max-icon-size 64

Settings things using UI interface (Gnome-Tweak-Tools)

Install Gnome-Tweak-Tools as followed:

sudo apt-get install gnome-tweak-tool

run it and set the Font Scaling Factor to 1,50.

HD (not WQHD) external monitor support

If you’ve used my scaling solution presented above everything will work great until you connect to an external screen with a lower resolution than a native WQHD. In that case, everything will be enormous. To bypass that, you can add this script into your Ubuntu startup programs. It will automatically detect an external screen with a lower resolution and will adapt all the scaling options (as long as connected during startup).

#!/bin/bash

xrandr --query  | grep ' connected' | grep 1920 > /dev/null
result=$?

if [ $result -ne 0 ]; then
  # WQHD
  gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface text-scaling-factor 1.5
  gsettings set org.gnome.nautilus.icon-view default-zoom-level standard
  gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface cursor-size 32
  gsettings set org.gnome.shell.extensions.dash-to-dock dash-max-icon-size 64
else
  # HD
  gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface text-scaling-factor 1.0
  gsettings set org.gnome.nautilus.icon-view default-zoom-level small
  gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface cursor-size 24
  gsettings set org.gnome.shell.extensions.dash-to-dock dash-max-icon-size 48
fi

High pitched noise when using USB headphones with docking station

Took me a while to fix that one. You need to edit the /etc/pulse/default.pa file and disable the module-suspend-on-idle module:

### Automatically suspend sinks/sources that become idle for too long
# The line below needs to be commented out
# load-module module-suspend-on-idle

After a reboot, the pitched noise should no longer be present.

Unobtrusive mode

My previous Dell laptop had a great feature called Unobtrusive mode. By pressing Fn+B it would turn the screen off as well as keyboard and touchpad. Although I was unable to mimic the whole behavior, you can assign this command as a keyboard shortcut in Gnome to disable the screen upon pressing the Fn+B combination:

xset -display :0.0 dpms force off

Summary

I was kinda surprised with the amount of tuning required to make this laptop work with Ubuntu. I always considered Lenovo to be Linux friendly, especially that it is a brand loved by many programmers. On the other hand, maybe that’s exactly the reason why they didn’t put too much effort into making sure everything works out of the box. We’re programmers – we can fix that stuff on our own ;)

Anyhow, enjoy your X1 Carbon as much as I do!

Picture taken from the Lenovo website

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