After spending half a year in the TTY, I upgraded to a Libreboot Thinkpad X200. It’s a 12” compact laptop and it’s currently the highest spec laptop you can get with a completely free/libre initialisation software (as an alternative to proprietary BIOS). Libreboot goes a long way in allowing you to compute in freedom, since BIOS (and EFI) are the biggest binary blobs a computer comes with (there’s of course proprietary firmware in hard drives too, but a proprietary BIOS has access to everything, and exploits can be terrifying).
Installing Libreboot on an existing stock Lenovo X200 is possible, but it’s not something you can get done in half an hour and be ready to go. So a lot of people from the community became Libreboot laptop vendors. I’m aware of 4 such vendors existing right now, and I decided to place my order from Vikings, based in Europe. Vikings came to my attention as a crowdfunding attempt to set up Libreboot-powered servers and become a hosting provider, something that they are still working on. But they began selling X200 laptops and D16 workstations/servers.
Vikings offer was the most competitive: at less than 550EUR you can get a laptop with a fresh 9-cell battery, 8GB of RAM, a 250GB SSD, and a docking station.
The laptop is in my hands and under use for several days now, and I have to say I’m impressed. For me, battery life is the most important aspect — I could continue living in the TTY if that was the only way to get more than five hours of battery life. But I don’t have to! The Vikings X200 with its fresh 9-cell battery reports 7 hours of battery life under typical load for my needs (brightness at 70~90%, sound and Wifi on, Firefox always open, multimedia playback). In practice, I was away from home for 3 days, and didn’t need to charge. And if I used a second battery with the docking station, I wouldn’t have to charge for 2 or 3 days more.
The SSD that Vikings heavily recommends you choose truly makes a difference. Write speeds are not comparable to magnetic media. Out of precaution though I mounted /tmp and /var/log on
tmpfs, to avoid wearing the SSD down prematurely. It’s apparently also suggested to use Ext4 with SSDs, and not my usual XFS. Needless to say, the X200 is a quiet laptop, mainly because it has no movable parts.
The CPU and RAM combination is perhaps dated to those who are used to the latest hardware, considering this is a CPU from 2008, but honestly, if you are not doing 3D rendering, or playing 3D videogames, you don’t notice any slow downs. Other than academic work, I often edit 720p videos, and engage in desktop publishing (which involves a lot of image editing) and the X200 is more than up to task.
Coming to a full-size laptop from using a 10-inch ultraportable takes some time getting used to the weight, but that’s going from 1.1kg to something around 2kg. Of course you can’t complain about the normal-sized keyboard, although Lenovo’s positioning of the Fn key is a well-known rage inducer. I am a fan of the TrackPoint (as an alternative to touchpads) though. People who first encounter the TrackPoint might be surprised, but it’s more convenient and less intrusive.
Some inconveniences I should note is that I had the luck to receive a revision of the X200 where the physical RF Kill Switch only applies to Bluetooth, and not to Wifi as well. The other is a known Libreboot limitation which results to uneven backlight on lower intensity settings, which is something the end user has to fine-tune. If you buy a Libreboot X200 do not think that’s a defective screen, it’s something that software can fix.
As for the experience shopping from Vikings, it has been only positive, and those are not empty words: we had to solve a logistics problem that occurred with my order, and the response was immediate (both quick and direct), multiple solutions were offered, and we had an arrangement within 4 hours of noticing the mistake. That’s a level of after-sales support that I haven’t received from companies that could afford it, and yet an essentially crowdfunded effort like Vikings was able to offer it.
I should also note that Vikings offers the required 2 years warranty even though they are selling a refurbished product. Again, bigger companies than Vikings trick you into agreeing to only 1 year warranty (illegally), and they are selling brand-new products.
Let me know what you think about this via email or in the public chatroom.