Lenovo Thinkpad T460s First Impressions

I recently switched laptops from the T440s to the T460s. I’ve long been a fan of the Thinkpads, both during the IBM period and the Lenovo reign of late. The T440s was a bit of a mistake in my opinion. Sure it performed as you’d expect, but the mouse was a huge pile of dung, and the keyboard wasn’t nice either. My favorite is still the T410s, which had the non-chiclet keyboard, similar or same as the old IBM Thinkpads had. I had a bunch of issues with the T440s over its 2 year and some odd month lifespan. The SSD broke early on and had to be replaced. I broke the keyboard (no fault of Lenovo, but still), and one USB port is unusable (not sure why). Battery life is still good after two years of business use, and it has no technical faults other than the ones I listed. It’ll still serve as my secondary machine, and probably do so for quite some years.

Plan old packaging
Plain old packaging

I got the T460s hot off the press, just a week after release, or so. I opted for the 20F9-0043MS model which has the full-HD matte screen, 4 + 4GB of RAM (which i expanded to 20GB by switching out the sole 4GB stick for a 16GB one), Core i7-6600U processor, and so on.

Hardware

First, let’s look at the hardware. We have output from CPU-Z first, showing the features of the CPU:

cpuz_lenovo_t460s
Detail of the main page, showing Skylake U/Y series CPU. Note the rather cool 15W TDP and 4MB L3 cache, plus the awesome 14nm manufacturing process.
cpuz_memory_lenovo_t460s
Detail of memory page. Total of 20GB DDR4, 4GB internal soldered on the motherboard, + 16GB SO-DIMM
cpuz_mainboard_lenovo_t460s
Mainboard details. Propietary Lenovo motherboard, running 1.05 BIOS (later upgraded to 1.08)
cpuz_caches_lenovo_t460s
CPU-Z Cache page listing the CPU caches

Then GPU-Z, showing the integrated Intel HD Graphics 520:

gpuz_lenovo_t460s
GPU-Z output. Chip is Skylake GT2 from last fall

 

Then we move on to the SSD, which appears to be an M.2 type drive and not your standard 2.5″ SSD. I’ll get an internal picture later for you, but opening the bottom of the machine (which is much easier than in the T440s which had icky plastic tabs that were too easy to break off), shows you all the user replaceable parts, which are very easily accessible! The SSD is manufactured by Samsung, however the model seems to be something sold to OEMs (the catchy MZNLN256HCHP). Some forums speculate that it is similar to the 850 (EVO?) model, but nothing certain.

Here’s some output from SSD-Z:

ssdz_lenovo_t460s
Some data on the Samsung SSD. Sata-3 bus, 256GB

 

CrystalDiskMark 5.1.2 results for the T460s
CrystalDiskMark 5.1.2 results for the T460s

If you want to compare performance (I’m not saying Crystal Diskmark is the ultimate tool, and these are not official testing conditions, but they are .. comprable I would wager) to some select SSD:s, here’s my Intel 910’s (PCI-E card) results, and here are the Samsung 840 Pro results, the T440s results and finally the venerable T410s’ results. All results with 64-bit CrystalDiskMark version 5.1.2, default settings.

Mobile Connectivity

There’s a 4G/LTE card in this model, which is a Sierra Wireless EM7455 Qualcomm Snapdragon X7 LTE-A WWAN Modem. The fun part was taking out the SIM-caddy, which was surprisingly already occupied! There was a “Lenovo Connect” SIM-card inside. Apparently, Lenovo has partnered up with a number of carriers worldwide (115 countries according to Lenovo). But since those cost extra, and I already have such connectivity in the countries I need to travel to, I took the SIM out. You might want to have a look at it, but it looks like most packages have data caps, which I discard out of principle. The prices don’t look.. bad, I suppose. Here’s the link http://shop.lenovo.com/fi/fi/lenovoconnect/index.html

As for the 4G performance, I tested it in Lapland, which has superb 4G connectivity (probably due to the low amount of subscribers per cell), it works fine without additional software in Windows 10. Speedtest gave me the following results (DNA is the carrier).

Speedtest run in April of 2016 in Finnish Lapland
Speedtest run in April of 2016 in Finnish Lapland

WiFi card is an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260, and the gigabit NIC is an Intel I219-LM. Both are bog-standard intel quality and have worked fine.

There is one thing that annoyed the piss out of me. Clicking the Notifications icon in the systray…

..this one!
..this one!

You get the otherwise handy Action Center / Notification bar thing, where you can turn off things like bluetooth, wireless, and yes, even cellular (though it is not showing here right now). Well, what happens if you turn off cellular here, and you want it back? Naturally, instinct tells you to open the action center thing again and re-enable it! But, what if it doesn’t show up (like it did for me)? What then? Well the next step is to go to Network Connections, look at the adapters and enabl… oh but wait it’s already enabled. But still it’s off, and you can’t connect? Crap!

Handy action center!
Handy action center! Not showing cellular because of reasons?

So after an unreasonable amount of googling, I found some people with similar issues. Apparently you can’t enable it anywhere in Windows proper (if you can, please tell me in the comments). No amount of enabling and disabling the card in network connections or device manager brings it back, or going to airplane mode or.. whatever. Instead what you need to do is sign out, and in the login screen, click the connectivity icon (the wireless symbol). From there, you can re-enable the radio of the WWAN card. Horse shit I say!

Clean install of Windows 10

I don’t care for manufacture-bloated OS’s, so I did a clean re-install of Windows 10 Enterprise, build 1511. Because I’m a dummy, I didn’t initially realize my mistake and attempted to install from my Easy2Boot USB drive. And that works too, if you’ve read the instructions and understand what you are doing… Here’s what I did wrong, so you don’t have to do the same things:

  1. Easy2Boot works fine, but you have to understand that if the install image is of UEFI type (which the windows image is), you can’t just copy the image to the Windows directory like other images
  2. You have to follow these instructions and make the Windows install image into an imgPTN image, and then try again.. Follow these instructions: http://www.easy2boot.com/add-payload-files/adding-uefi-images/
  3. Or, alternatively, get a suitably sized USB stick (4GB should do, 8GB will most definitely do), and use the Windows Media Creation tool (only for home and pro versions), or use Rufus but select the “GPT partition scheme for UEFI” option under ‘Partition Scheme and Target System Type’, or it won’t boot correctly. Or use the Windows 7-era tool (step 12 onwards) https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/ptsblog/2015/08/19/how-to-create-a-bootable-usb-stick-or-a-bootable-dvd-for-windows-10/
  4. In my case, it did boot, but failed to find suitable devices to install to, or was lacking other drivers
  5. And no, adding SATA or other disk-related drivers during install did nothing to fix this – It’s an UEFI issue
  6. Changing BIOS settings between UEFI only, Legacy only, and Legacy first (and the CSM setting) also didn’t help in this case

After learning about UEFI stuff, installation was straightforward. The only Lenovo tool I like to install is the excellent Lenovo System Update, which keeps track of correct drivers and helper software and makes sure it is up to date. Also updates your BIOS, which is pretty useful. As of this date, BIOS 1.08 (or.. UEFI, I guess)

There’s more to write, but so far, I’m very pleased with the T460s. Much more than the 440s. The hardware is easily accessible, it’s performant and the mouse is much improved. To quote Wil Wheaton: “Later, nerds.”

 

 

HTPC 2013

So about the HTPC…

It’s now 2013. Three years since I bought the thing, or so. It’s still running fine. I’ve done some upgrades during the past months, and I’ll discuss them in this article.

First of all, the CPU fan had to go. And by go, I mean replaced with a thin form factor, larger fan. The fan is attached to the case with some wires. It looks ugly, but then again, you don’t really see it from where you sit in the living room. There’s little to no vibration or noise from the fan. The one i got, and that i can recommend to any case that needs a low-RPM thin fan, was the Scythe Kaze Jyu Slim, from Jimm’s PC Store. I paid 8 euros for it. Works like a charm. It’s not attached to the CPU heatsink, but it still moves enough hot air out to keep things running. I guess I could run things passively, as I have speculated in the past, but I don’t really like my stuff running that hot, even if it’s within spec. Things just tend to last longer when they are at least somewhat cooled.

The second thing I replaced, was the hard disk. I wish I had a few extra bucks for an SSD, because that is what I will put in as an OS drive (if just for the fast boot time), but right now, I opted for a 3TB Western Digital Red. The old drive was a Western Digital Green 1TB, which had a number of issues (I lost one drive due to a feature relating to power saving, which wore out the drive prematurely. The warranty of course covered this, and no problems with WD). The drive also was a bit sluggish, it felt. But then again, the Green series drives are “supposed” to be. They run at lower RPMs, and are designed for power saving instead of high performance. The Red series drives (I paid around 150 for my 3TB version) are designed for NAS use, and are rated for a very large amount of usage hours. The HTPC is pretty much always on (well not really, but a lot of the time), so this was a good choice. I’ve now had it in use for a few months, and I can’t say I have any complaints. The drive runs smooth, silent and has a lot of capacity. It’s also, unsurprisingly, faster than the Green drive. I have a 20 GB partition set aside for the OS (which I will get to in the next paragraph) and the rest for media and backup from my desktop (over smb, I suppose it could be nfs too..). Nothing bad to say about the drive really. 3TB should be enough for everyone. “:)”

As for the OS, I am now running XBMC 12 “Frodo” RC2. There’s an RC3 but I have not upgraded, except for what I get through apt-get. I have to say that this is by far the best “out-of-the-box” XBMC experience so far. Every damn thing worked. The only thing I really had to set, was the audio output, since I’m running it out through SPDIF instead of HDMI (which was the default). I now no-longer had 9 audio devices to choose from (as in XBMC 11), but three. HDMI, SPDIF, and analog, which is exactly what you would expect. Before I had three devices, each with the three options. Very confusing. I also didn’t have to fiddle around with alsaconf or anything else to get both stereo and surround sound to work using the same output. Very much recommended.

Ok so here’s where I’m at right now. There are two final upgrades I would like to do, and I would like to finalize the fan-attachment so that it doesn’t look like ass. Still thinking about how to do that. The other two, are: SSD for the OS (I could take any size, really, as XBMC takes around 4 to 5GB), and upgrade the RAM from 2 to 4GB.

The SSD, Slipstreaming Windows 7 and installing from USB

Ok so the SSD is now installed. It’s a Samsung MZ-7PC128B/WW, that is, a Samsung 830-series 128 GB drive and the final B stands for “bulk”, i.e. does not come with any mounting brackets, cables or doohickeys. On second thought, the mounting brackets would have been cool, but since the drive weighs 61 grams and doesn’t contain any moving parts, i think you can essentially put it anywhere. I have it tied down with some velcro at the moment. Though, my case needs replacing anyway, so I’ll just do properly when i get the new case in September or October. The case I’m getting is a Fractal Design’Define’ R4, in the black pearl color. Retails for about 100 euromoneys.

The SSD then. It had the latest firmware (that came out sometime in January), so an upgrade was unnecessary. The software used to update the drive is called ‘Samsung SSD Magician’, and can be downloaded from here. It’s also on the CD that came with even the bulk drive. The latest firmware is CXM03B1Q, and you can get it from that same page. Click “See All Downloads” and then either the software or firmware page. But if you buy your drive now, chances are it’ll already come with the latest firmware. The Magician software does other things too, such as suggests performance enhancing options and you can benchmark the drive, so i figure it’s pretty much a good thing to have around.

I did a complete re-install of Windows 7 since I wanted a completely clean start. Before starting, I made sure i had AHCI turned on in the BIOS, which I did, by default. AHCI is something you really want when you have an SSD since it offers some optimizations (hotplug capability, and Native Command Queueing for instance) with newer SATA-drives versus the standard PATA emulation and other modes. Changing it while having Windows installed is not something I’d try, but maybe it can be done. It’s a small registry change, which involves changing the dword value of “start” in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\services\msahci to 0 (zero). This means AHCI is enabled. If you have AHCI enabled in BIOS and do a clean install, AHCI should be installed (It was in my Win 7 SP 1 x64 at least). I had also integrated the AHCI drivers for my motherboard into the Windows 7 install media using RT Seven Lite.  That’s also how i integrated SP1 into my non-SP1 media. Finally I used these instructions to get the installer on a USB stick since I tend to avoid optical media if I can these days. You could also use RT Seven Lite to make the .iso and use this tool to get the job done.

Ok so Windows 7 installed, time for some other settings. I used the recommendations in SSD Magician to do these, but you could do them by hand too. For SSD drives, it is recommended to disable scheduled defrag, since it puts unnecessary strain on an already fast drive. Also, you should disable disk indexing, since searches are fast anyway, and again you don’t want unnecessary reads on the drive. Make sure you have TRIM enabled, using the command  fsutil behavior query DisableDeleteNotify  in an administrative command prompt. If the value returned is 0 (zero), you have trim enabled. If it returns 1 (one), then you don’t have trim enabled. In that case you can use fsutil behavior set DisableNotify 0 to enable it. Reboot required.

A note on Windows 7. The slipstreamed SP1 install worked fine, and changing the drive from mechanical to SSD did not require a re-activation by phone. The online activation worked just fine.

Samsung also recommends that you disabled “Super Fetch”, which can be done using the Magician tool or manually.

Boots are not as blazingly fast as I’ve heard, but there is a difference in how snappy things feel. The Windows Experience Score, whatever that stands for, is now 7.5 determined by the lowest sub-score, which is no-longer the Hard Drive, but the CPU (amazingly enough!), the i5 2500.

I’ve partitioned the drive so that i have 90 gigs for Windows, and the rest for my Linux operating system partitions. I haven’t yet installed linux, so I’ll tell you more if there was anything special about that. All the relevant SSD features should be supported as of kernel 2.6.19+ and OS X (should you be stuck on that..). So any modern Linux will basically have all the features you want.

Sources: SSD stuff primarily adapted from this, http://muropaketti.com/artikkelit/ssd-asemat/opas-nain-otat-ssd-aseman-kayttoon (on 10.08.2012) and from Samsung’s sites as well as some comments and forum posts.