So I recently picked up a new X1 Carbon. This was to move away from a heavy and hot XPS 15 9560 with better Linux support.
The specs for the machine I ordered was the following:
- i5 8350U @ 3.6GHz
- 16GB RAM
- 512 Intel NVMe SSD
- 1440p HDR Display
Shipping took three weeks since this had to be manufactured. But on receiving it, nothing fancy just a carboard box with the X1 Carbon, it's Type C charger and manuals securely inside.
The build quality was in short, excellent but not perfect. The machine was solid and had no functional issues or defects but I did note some adhesive in the edge of the display panel that needed to be removed with some careful tweezer work.
With that aside, upon connecting the machine AC and first booting the machine I thought I'd briefly check out Lenovo's implementation of Windows.
A pretty minimalist approach for an OEM. Normally I'd be seeing some additional applications "bundled" with Windows, but in this case the X1 Carbon only had the Lenovo Vantage app was installed. A welcome improvement!
Strangely the OS partition had BitLocker enabled. I assume this is from Lenovo's imaging process but this machine is with Windows 10 Home which doesn't permit you to create BitLocker encrypted disks.
Rugged and to the point. I much appreciate being able to Press Enter to go to the interrupt boot menu function, much better spamming F11. A quick look and I ensured I set up Hardware Disk Encryption and the BIOS Password. Seeing features such as Intel VT and VT-d already enabled was nice to see, considering I often use virtual machines and most manufacturers switch this off by default. I've also swapped the S3 support option to be set to Linux rather than Windows, as I will be using Linux on this machine.
I opted for Ubuntu 18.10, being the most up to date version of Ubuntu at this time.
On the install I opted for LUKS to encrypt the disk partitions for security and this pairs well with the OPAL hardware-based full disk encryption.
Some consider hardware encryption enough but there are concerns that some manufacturers don't implement encryption properly due to poor firmware security. See this paper around why hardware-based encryption should not be relied on: https://www.ru.nl/publish/pages/909282/draft-paper.pdf
As such I will be using both hardware-based full disk encryption and software based encryptions together.
The install was quick and painless, and I've gotten setup quite quick with my applications with Mailspring, Remmina, nMap, FileZilla and so forth.
Ubuntu with the X1 Carbon does "work" out of the box but things such as desktop scaling does encounter some issues within the Gnome desktop environment not supporting fractional scaling.
This can be "fixed" by scaling the text up in size but not an ideal solution, as a side effect the window UI can be a little on the small side.
I suggest to look at other desktop environments such as KDE if you need fractional scaling support.
Ubuntu also lacks the support to utilise the fingerprint reader on the X1 Carbon, a project to reverse engineer the sensor exists but hasn't progressed for almost a year now. See: https://github.com/nmikhailov/Validity90
Thermal throttling. For some reason Linux uses an 80c limit before thermal throttling occurs unlike on Windows being somewhat higher. I've encountered this a few times either during VM work or a considerable amount of media streaming in 4K.
The Lenovo community seemed to of resolved this by using a script to raise the thermal limits and additionally reduce the CPU voltage (undervolting) giving power and thermal savings. Keep in mind you must disable Secure Boot for this script to work. See: https://github.com/erpalma/lenovo-throttling-fix
Now don't get me wrong, the X1 Carbon is considerably cooler when compared to a laptop with a dGPU such as the Dell XPS 15 9560. Simply put, under load the X1 Carbon gets only fairly warm but the XPS could get quite uncomfortable up to the point of a burning sensation when touched.
LTE-A Modem. This flat out won't work. Linux doesn't play well with WWAN modems over PCI-E, rather, USB is only supported in Linux for this modem the X1 Carbon comes with. So far there isn't any option to use it aside from opening the device up and severing the bus lines for the PCI-E functionality so it's USB-mode can forcibly be used.
The links below helped me tweak the X1 Carbon and may prove useful for any other owners on Linux.
My workloads consist of RDP, SSH, C# and HTML programming in addition to scripting such as Powershell. I use Visual Studio Code for this. In addition for Windows specific work I will use KVM/QEMU + libvirt to create Windows VMs to work with for testing, and development such as some specific Windows C# .NET programming with Visual Studio.
CPU and RAM was plenty and you could get 1-2 VMs concurrently running with this. Excellent performance so far.
You may question why didn't I get the i7 model? Well, for at least the 25W 8th Gen Kaby Lake CPUs Intel doesn't bring anything useful to the table. The i5 vs i7 SKUs have the exact same cores and threads (4c 8t) with a small clock difference. This makes me feel that these are simply performance binned CPUs. You're better off saving your money on the i5 model rather than shelling out hundreds more dollars for minimal clock improvements.
On my downtime I do video streaming with YouTube and Netflix, and normally in 4K if avaliable. The Intel 620 iGPU works well enough for this to drive the 1440p display. Though this wouldn't be something to do gaming with.
Final Thoughts and Summary
The X1 Carbon Generation 6 is a solid device, it's build quality meets my expectations. I did have concerns over how thin this device and heat was but the 25 W Intel CPU never causes a fuss on light tasks with it being passively cooled and only really ramps up under decent load, even then, cooled quietly.
The keyboard has been a great experience with a fair layout leaving me, an on/off touch typist, with minimal erros in comparison with other keyboards. I very much approve of the key travel times unlike other manufacturers who tend to swing to the little to no key travel.
For system administration work and development this device fits right in. Thanks to it's build materials (carbon fibre, as it's name suggests) the device is light to carry around, and it's 14" screen gives a fair happy medium between 13" and 15" displays without being too small or overbearing in size.
Hardware and OS compatability was decent, though I was under some expectation for better out of the box compatability. It's also very possibly for potential buyers to order a device with features such as the LTE modem for it not to work at all with a Linux distribution. I'm glad I had put in the extra hours of research but others may not be so smart.
As for my first ThinkPad I've been glad this has been a positive experience. It seems the ThinkPad culture is a mixture of IBM nostaglia and just about "cult" following, though not in a negative way and not without good reason. These are decent machines, well built and well constructed and it seems Lenovo haven't changed too much over the years.
I'd personally say if I had the option of purchasing the X1 Carbon's brother, the T480s, with a 1440p display I'd do it in a heartbeat. But alas the option was not avaliable in Australia. I do recommend checking out the T480s before considering the X1 Carbon though it doesn't matter what you come out with as both machines share a lot between each other, and I'd expect the user experience to be very similar as well.