Friday, April 1, 2011

All you wanted to know about the Lenovo Thinkpad x120e

The x120e is Lenovo's first AMD Fusion (zacate)-based laptop. It can be configured with either an E-240 or an E-350 APU, but really, the E-350 is worth the small price premium. You can buy one from Lenovo. In the same vein as the HP DM1z blog post by Jackharvest (which has some useful info in it that applies to the the E-350 platform in general, including the x120e), I've tried to compile all the known information about the new Lenovo Thinkpad x120e here, in hopes it will help people down the line.

If you have any questions or suggestions on how to make this post better, please leave a comment!

Useful threads/resources:

Most of the information in this post is compiled from the threads above.

Common questions
Cases that fit 

The touchpad sucks!
There are some options you can change in the drivers. From the x120e owner's thread, basically you want to go to the UltraNav tab in the Mouse control panel, click on "settings" for the touchpad. Under the "Smart check settings", you want to make everything less sensitive -- reduce the PalmCheck slider towards minimum,  disable starting zone, disable edge tap filtering, disable scrolling region filtering, and disable gesture filtering. If you find yourself accidentally triggering things, enable the appropriate options.

How do I get the middle button to click?
In the UltraNav tab, go to "Settings" for the trackpoint. Select Scrolling, then hit settings again, and select "Smooth". This allows for scrolling and middle click, though sometimes it won't allow you to scroll and do a middle click instead.

What are the RAM requirements/max RAM?
Despite the official Lenovo specs that say otherwise, the x120e has been verified to work with 8 gb of RAM (2x4gb sticks of DDR3). The E-350 has a single channel memory controller, which means you don't get any performance advantage from matching sticks. The integrated memory controller only needs DDR3-1066 mhz RAM; you can use 1333 mhz RAM, but it will only run at 1066 mhz. The 2 gb DIMM that comes with the machine is 1333 mhz.

Youtube video from wussyib showing how to upgrade memory and hard drive and part 2.

Does mSATA work?
No, the mini-PCIe slot for the wwan does not have the electrical connections for mSATA.

How to use other wifi cards?
The Lenovo BIOS has a whitelist for wifi and WWAN cards -- if the card isn't in the whitelist, the BIOS won't enable the card. There is a BIOS that has the whitelist check removed, and is available from the mydigitallife forum.

How well does this play videos?
Thanks to the Radeon 6310, the x120e has hardware acceleration for most video formats and Flash. I recommend using MPC-HC, following this guide. From that page, the out-of-spec test video 5, which is probably the most stressful test you're likely to see, runs fine, so just about any 1080p video you throw at it will work. The only videos I've had trouble with are those with frame rates above 30 fps.

Quick note: I suggest making the following change to the MPC-HC configuration. When you have an H264 video loaded, right click the video -> Filters -> MPC Video Decoder. Change the DXVA compatability check setting to "Skip ref frame check".

Flash 10.2 has support for the Zacate platform -- I can run 1080p videos on Youtube without dropping frames. I made a video of the x120e playing the Raven 1080p trailer on Youtube.

Firefox 4 and IE9 will both use the hardware acceleration capabilities of the 6310 (I get 60+ FPS on the Firefox Hardware Acceleration Stress Test).

How do games run?
Modern games aren't going to run that well. Old games might work, check out Anandtech's review (the Sony YB uses the same platform and should have comparable numbers to the x120e).

User comments on how World of Warcraft runs on the x120e.

How bad is the screen, really?
The vertical viewing angle is about 30 degrees below, 20 degrees above. Horizontal seems to be about 50/50. Below are a few comparison shots, showing a Macbook 2,1 on the left (Late 2006 model), the x120e, and a 20" Dell LCD with an IPS screen. I also posted a video on Youtube showing the viewing angles of the screen.

Calibrated color profile
I've created my own color profile using an i1Display/LT and Xrite's Eye-one match 3 software set to a gamma of 2.2 and color temperature of 6500k. I think it helps reducing the LCD washing out.

To set it up:

  1. Go to the color management control panel. 
  2. Go to the advanced tab
  3. Click the "Change System Defaults" button at the bottom. You'll see what appears to be the same window pop up. 
  4. Go to the advanced tab again, check "Use Windows display calibration". 
  5. Close the window, then on the first window, go back to the Devices tab. 
  6. Hit "Add", then "Browse", and select the profile that you downloaded. 
  7. Finally, select the profile and hit "Set as default profile". 

If you don't like it, just select the default profile, probably "Lenovo Thinkpad LCD monitor", and set that as the default.

Where to get drivers?

How to install Windows 7 without a DVD drive?
There are instructions from Microsoft, or you could follow one of numerous guides on the internet, like this one.

How to install Windows 7 without a DVD and in EFI mode?
Follow these instructions.

What's the boot/shutdown time like?
Here's a comparison between my desktop and the x120e. Note that the desktop is quad core with an SSD, but the x120e has less software installed and is using UEFI boot (you'll notice the desktop BIOS takes a relatively long time to boot).

Can you control the fan speed?
TPfancontrol works on the x120e. You can use it to set custom speed settings for different temps.

How do you get into the BIOS?
Hit F1 during  boot (or hit enter, then F1). You can access the boot device menu by hitting F12.

I hate the Ctrl and Fn key positions!
You can swap them in the BIOS. The keys are the same size, so you can also gently pry off the keys and swap them.

Likewise, you can turn on Fn lock in the BIOS so that you have to hit Fn to get F1, F2, etc.

I did a clean install, but I want the Lenovo logon screen backgrounds
From Kaso on the NBR forums:
Think Black Background and Think Blue Background
Put the file in C:\Windows\System32\oobe\info\backgrounds and rename it to backgroundDefault.jpg
Make sure HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Authentication\LogonUI\Background\OEMBackrgound is set to 1

How hard is it to upgrade the HD/RAM?
Very easy. See this video by wussyib on Youtube.

This post on the Ubuntu forums summarizes the fixes so far. I believe most of the problems should be fixed in Ubuntu natty.

For Ubuntu 10.10, you'll need to install the wireless drivers and video drivers manually.

Problems and solutions
Note: Thanks to KGr_ss from the lenovo forums, who put together a summary of most of the x120e issues in the x120 issues thread.

Bluetooth only identified as version 2.1, but it's advertised as 3.0
Lenovo is just slow at updating their drivers. Using the Broadcom Bluetooth drivers identifies the BT module as a Thinkpad Bluetooth 3.0. This was verified by wyld in the Lenovo forums.

Stuttering audio
This manifests as occasional (once a minute or so) stuttering in audio, which sounds like a bzzzzt sort of sound. This was originally traced down to a problem with the Thinkpad Power Manager software -- disabling the tray icon from inside Power Manager, stopping the power mananger DLL from loading at startup, and uninstalling the software all fixed the problem -- but a later BIOS (1.11) seems to have fixed the problem without needing to do anything funny with Power Manager.

BIOS 1.11 from Lenovo 

Trying to flash the BIOS gives me a "Driver loading failed" message
There are three ways around this:
  1. Go to the directory where the installer extracted the files (Probably c:\drivers\flash\8fuj04us). In that directory is a winflash.exe. Open that, and for the BIOS file, point it to the file located in the 8FET27WW folder. Select a name and location for the backup file, choose the "Backup BIOS and Flash new BIOS" option, then hit the Flash button. This worked for me, though I'd suggest using one of the two methods below.
  2. Download the ISO file for the BIOS flash, burn it to CD, and boot from the CD. This requires a USB CD drive though.
  3. Use a USB flash drive: Open the YUMI multiboot USB creator, select your USB flash drive letter, pick the "Try an unlisted ISO" option in the scroll box, then point it to the ISO file. Boot off the USB flash drive (Hit F12 during boot), and go through the screens to select the ISO.

Realtek LAN driver causes BSOD during install
As of now, the Realtek LAN driver available from Lenovo will cause a BSOD when you try to install on Win 7 x64. The current fix is to just install the driver from Realtek.

See this thread on Lenovo's forum, or the main issues thread.

I did a fresh install, and my OSD / Fn-keys don't work OR there's an unknown device in Device Manager
You need to install the Thinkpad Power Management driver, available from Lenovo's site. You also need to install the Hotkeys Feature Integration package.

Screen seems to randomly change brightness
AMD has a feature called "varibright" that changes the backlight according to the screen content. This can be disabled by going into the Catalyst Control Center, going to Power Options, and unchecking the "Enable Varibright" option (or adjusting the slider).
Again, referenced from the x120e issues thread.

Unsolved: Flickering lines
Some users have experienced random, flickering lines on the screen, usually during periods of low GPU utilization, such as on the desktop. There are several examples on Youtube:
X120e screen flicker issue
x120e screen flickering lines

There is currently no solution to this issue, and the cause is not well understood. It could be related to AMD's powerplay or memory. You can read the full discussion thread on Lenovo's forum.

Unsolved: Brightness control (Fn keys) stop working after a resume from sleep
Sometimes, the  Windows hotfix solves the problem. However, if you change the power source while the x120e is sleeping, the brightness controls will stop working, and the only way to solve the problem is by rebooting the computer. This seems to only happen with the 1.11 BIOS.


  • Universally acclaimed keyboard
  • Matte screen
  • Good build quality
  • Relatively small and light (~3.3 lbs with the 6 cell battery)
  • Good battery life (~6 hours with 6 cell battery)
  • Has both HDMI (with audio out) and VGA, SD card reader
  • Easy to upgrade memory and hard drive
  • Great graphics performance (compared to other ultraportables in the price range)
  • Poor screen quality, though roughly on par with other notebooks in this segment
  • Fan runs just about all the time, though this can be overridden
  • Runs warmer than the HP DM1z
  • CPU is slower than Intel Core 2 Duo/i-series
  • 6-cell battery sticks out the back
  • BIOS whitelist for wifi- and wwan cards


J said...

Thanks for the tips. Helped me figure out the middle trackpoint button. I was missing my two-finger tap for middle click, and this at least gives me the same functionality. Good general tips for someone installing their own OS too, good job.

Anonymous said...

Very helpful. Thanks!