Personal ThinkPad hit parade

Although I have a box full of ThinkPads, I'm by no means a ThinkPad hoarder or, worse, collector. I just never had the heart to sell any of my trusty workhorses. Every ThinkPad I owned served me well, but there are several models that stand out. For the record, I use exclusively Linux (mostly Linux Mint and openSUSE), so I can't attest to how any of my ThinkPads perform when paired with Windows. In fact, decent Linux support was a decisive factor in switching to ThinkPads in the first place.

Stack of ThinkPads

ThinkPad X220

I bought a ThinkPad X220 around 2017 when looking for an inexpensive machine I could use when traveling. I liked it so much that I later bought another two of them (one as a backup, another for spare parts). Despite its age, it's still a useable machine. It runs Linux Mint and handles the Firefox, digiKam, VS Codium trifecta that covers pretty much 90% of my daily computing needs. Upgrading RAM to the maximum of 16GB and replacing a hard disk with an SSD definitely helped to extend the X220's productive life. The only one thing that lets this otherwise excellent machine down is its truly terrible trackpad.

As much as I like the X220 I don't use it as my travel companion any more. It's relatively heavy by today's standards, and my back is not what it used to be. Packing an older ThinkPad also means lugging around a dedicated power brick, which is impractical in this day and age, where most devices can be powered using a small and light USB-C power supply.

ThinkPad X220 is probably not worth buying today as a primary machine. But if its weight is not an issue for you, a X220 can still serve as a decent travel companion. Particularly because — unlike the brittle creatures that are modern notebooks — the machine is solidly built, and you don't have to handle it like a precious treasure. Sure, its battery life is thoroughly unimpressive by today's standards (even if you opt for a 9-cell battery). But power outlets are pretty much everywhere nowadays, so it's pretty much a non-issue.

ThinkPad T430

Connected to a docking station, my X220 also served as my primary machine for a while. But at a certain point, its USB 2.0 ports proved to be a real bottleneck. So in 2020, I set out to find a worthy replacement, and I settled on a ThinkPad T430. I'm not the only one who thinks that this is one of the best (if not the best) ThinkPads ever made. Although I appreciate the classic 7-row keyboard of old ThinkPads, the chicklet-style keyboard introduced in the T430 has never really bothered me. The same is true for the display panel, as my T430 spent most of its life sitting in a docking station connected to an external display.

So for my money, it was — and still is — a flawless machine. I mean, upgradeable RAM and processor, a seriously solid build with an internal roll cage to boot, plenty of connection options, an UltraBay port. The only fly in the ointment was Lenovo's harebrained scheme to whitelist batteries and wireless modules. So to use third-party batteries or upgrade the wireless card, you have to flash a custom BIOS.

Depending on the condition, a ThinkPad T430 can be had for 100-150 Euro, which makes it an exceptionally good buy. It's not the most travel-friendly machine, but if you're looking for a modest dependable workhorse — and you don't mind flashing BIOS — T430 is still worth a consideration.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon 5th Gen

The switch to ThinkPad X1 Carbon 5th Gen in 2021 was a reflection of my changed priorities. These days, I'm willing to sacrifice upgradeability and connectivity for a reduced schlep factor. Having a lightweight and upgradeable machine would be nice. But if I can't have both, lightweight is what I choose. Why Gen 5, you might ask? I guess I've been living in Germany long enough to have Preis-Leistungsverhältnis as my guiding principle. And thus, I picked ThinkPad X1 Carbon 5th Gen, because it strikes a balance between performance and price. It's definitely not a machine I'd carelessly throw into my backpack (I use a PGYTECH protective wrap), but carrying around such a lightweight machine is an enormous relief. The weight aside, I also appreciate the keyboard with its smooth-yet-firm key travel and a spacious and comfortable glass trackpad. The display is nothing to sneeze at either. The machine may be lacking in the connectivity department, but it's nothing that a decent USB-C hub can't solve.

The prices for ThinkPad X1 Carbon 5th Gen are still hovering around the 500 Euro mark, so it's probably not a machine you'd buy on a whim. But if slim and light is what you're going for, you can do much worse than opting for ThinkPad X1 Carbon 5th Gen. 😀