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Endeavour OS on Thinkpad T490

First Impressions

I bought this 10th gen i7 laptop in 2020 after using a very trusty E430 for 7 years. The E430 has been repurposed as a music server, currently running Plex and mpd on Arch-based Endeavour OS.

Although they’re both 14” laptops, the E430 is a hulking beast next to the T490. Bigger, thicker, heavier, sturdier. The trend in laptops is thinner, smaller, lighter, and as a result, flimsier, more expensive and less performant. I spend a lot more time using my laptop than I do lugging it around, so I’d gladly add a couple inches and some weight for some breathing room in the hardware department. I’ll take a better keyboard and battery, better cooling and performance over being a little thinner and lighter any day. Unfortunately, I seem to be in the minority on that.

The E430 had room for what I consider a far superior keyboard with a lot more travel, though the T490’s keyboard is still better than most laptops I’ve used. It is not, however, as good as the Dell Latitude keyboard I use for work. That is a fantastic keyboard and Dell is eating Lenovo’s lunch in the keyboard department.

The screen is beautiful, a huge improvement over the E430, but the higher resolution (1920x1080 instead of 1366x768) has forced me to bump up font and zoom settings so I can comfortably read the text on the screen. I’d have preferred a 15” screen for a bit more room. Unfortunately almost all laptop vendors feel the need to put a numpad on their 15” laptops, and an off-center keyboard is a non-starter.

The T490 performance is admirable, and the modest NVIDIA MX250 graphics are enough to give Minecraft 60 FPS at max settings, which is 3X what the E430 was getting, and only with a remote server (local play was unusable). I don’t game much, and Minecraft is about as graphics intensive as I get. Even with the NVIDIA turned off, Minecraft runs very capably on this laptop.

Re-reading this, it sounds like I’m complaining about the T490. I do like it and have no regrets on the purchase. But I struggled to find a new (and reasonably priced) laptop that didn’t feel like a compromise. The Thinkpad P3 Workstation laptops and Dell XPS 15 come close, but cost a good $500 more for the same specs. Given I spent only $650 on the E430 in 2013, spending $1,500 on the T490 was about as much of an increase as I could justify in a laptop that will hopefully last 5-7 years.

Update the Firmware

First thing I did was boot into Windows, run Windows Update and open up the Lenovo app that comes installed, which made updating the drivers, BIOS and other firmware a snap. There are some issues noted about this laptop on the Arch Wiki that I didn’t experience, and I’m guessing they were resolved in the firmware update.

BIOS, USB Boot

At first, I could not get the laptop to boot off USB. Eventually, I remembered learning this on a newer Dell Latitude at work: you have to disable secure boot in BIOS before it will boot off USB. Also, Windows 10 ships with BitLocker encryption enabled with the key conveniently stored in your Microsoft Account. After disabling secure boot, I needed to find that key and type it in before the laptop would boot. Now hitting Enter during boot lets me boot from USB or enter BIOS.

Install / Compatibility

Overall, Endeavour OS was a clean install, no issues. Notes below are some lessons learned but nothing was broken.

Hardware Events

logind seems to be handling hardware events without the need for acpid. XFCE Power Manager has settings to determine how to respond to power button and lid close events, and these work OOB. At first I thought the power button wasn’t being caught, but learned it must be pressed for about 1 second before it gets picked up - a quick press is ignored.

CPU Scaling

Installed i7z and confirmed CPU scaling is working OOB with no special config. The fan seems to engage and disengage as needed under load. Battery life under normal use is good at 5+ hours. Haven’t performed a full test yet as I’m almost always plugged in and don’t see much value in wasting a battery cycle on a test.

NVIDIA GeForce MX250

This is the first laptop I’ve owned with a dedicated graphics card, so it took some learning on my part to understand how that works.

Endeavour OS installed the NVIDIA driver (because I selected that option during the install process), but it’s not enabled by default. Booting gives you the Intel driver by default, which is a lot easier on power and fine for anything that isn’t graphics intensive.

The NVIDI page on the Arch wiki talks about making Xconfig changes, which led me down an unnecessary path. Just having the nvidia package installed is enough. No special X configuration was required.

To use NVIDIA, I installed optimus-manager and use optimus-manager --switch nvidia to reload X with the NVIDIA driver. Use optimus-manager --switch intel or just reboot to switch back. To see which card is currently active, use optimus-manager --print-mode.

It is not recommended to use the NVIDIA on battery power.

Install nvidia-settings to tweak video card settings after activating the NVIDIA card with optimus-manager.

USB-C Charging

Another first for me is this laptop’s USB-C charger. I find a USB-C connection much flimsier than I’d like for something as essential and as often used as the power cord, but the Thunderbolt 3 is welcome as many higher-end audio interfaces use it.

I tried charging the laptop on my phone charger - that doesn’t work. The charger that ships with the laptop is 65W. It can also work on 45W but will charge slower. Phone chargers are typically under 10W and cannot power or charge the laptop.

Installed Packages

The following packages have been installed in addition to the initial Endeavour OS install.

Arch

AUR

Other