Linux laptop buying guide

Alex Farren
May 6, 2018 · 3 min read

I’m not sure where I heard about it, but for a while I’ve been interested in Ex-business Thinkpads, by Lenovo. I know there are other Dell and HP models out there but the Thinkpad is the iconic workhorse for IT.

I wanted to get a laptop for daily use, that was hardy and lightweight, but fast and powerful. I also didn’t want to care about it too much. Having previously had a Macbook, I was looking forward to getting something I didn’t need to worry about as much.

I started my search by exploring the different models available. Essentially I had the choice between the more powerful T range, or the smaller more portable X range. As I wanted something to carry around with me, and having already been used to a 13" screen size, I decided to go with the X.

The oldest model I was considering in my price range was the x220 from 2012, the newer model being the x230 from 2013. Yes - this is quite old, but a top spec one of these seems more attractive to me than a new ultrabook with similar specs for at least 5x the price.

The main difference between the x220 and the x230 is the keyboard, the x220 has a classic Thinkpad keyboard that developers love, whereas the x230 has a standard keyboard. The other main difference is a boost in CPU performance and superior integrated GPU power with the 2013 model, as you would expect.

I started off my search on eBay and Gumtree, doing a lot of window shopping to see what the prices were like.

Tip — I stayed away from Amazon, the laptops seemed in similar spec and condition to the ones listed on eBay but were sometimes double the price.

In the end I made a purchase, of an x220i from eBay. Now I know what you’re thinking — what is the ‘i’ ?! The x220i is the cheaper version of the x220; it only has a maximum of an i3 processor. While not ideal, this model did come with a 256GB SSD as well as the i3, 4GB RAM and a chunky 9 cell battery, so was worth the £100 I spent on it (the SSD alone would be around £80 I reckoned).

The laptop was in good condition, with hardly any scratches. I checked out the hardware and running performance which also seemed to be in good working order. I wiped the hard drive securely a few times to ensure nothing remained and then went shopping again.

The next laptop I found was another x220, however this time it was a top spec i7 with IPS screen, 500GB hard drive and 8GB RAM. This laptop was on Gumtree and I managed to pick it up for £125. This laptop had a foreign keyboard that was quite worn, but otherwise was in quite good condition.

Tip — ask why the seller is selling the laptop, and test it while there when buying in person

Now I had two laptops on my hands I had some work to do; I swapped out the SSD and the nice UK keyboard from the x220i onto the x220, and put the 500GB hard drive back in the x220i. The 500GB hard drive had Windows 10 pre installed which I left and made sure was activated properly.

I now had an i7 with 256GB SSD and 8GB RAM and an i3 with 500GB HDD and 4GB RAM.

The x220i I then put back on eBay. I brought attention to the flaws it had such as the worn keyboard and the few marks it had on the case, I didn’t want to rip anyone off, but equally it was a fully working laptop with a 500GB HDD with Windows 10 preinstalled so wasn’t a terrible machine in its own right. It sold for £100, which offset the £100 I had spent on it in the first place, only being out of pocket £10 for the postage.

This left me with the x220 that I had essentially upgraded to an SSD and replaced the keyboard for £10, leaving a total spend of £135 for an i7, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD with an IPS screen — not too shabby!

I was planning on sharing this laptop with my partner, and IT is not her strong suit by any means, so I opted for a friendly OS; elementaryOS.
This OS is great if you’re coming from a MAC or Windows, its not as customisable as some other Linux OSs but its really pretty (!) and intuitive.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade