You don't always need a Threadripper system...

I had some foresight before I retired from the workplace and built a very nice Threadripper system for my daily computer usage in retirement. It is a beautiful system that runs very nicely with the development version of Slackware Linux and has never failed me. But, Gentle Reader, it can be a little 'over the top' for some of my more mundane computer tasks and I confess that the Corsair Obsidian 500D mid-tower case is not exactly portable, and the entire system sits right out in the middle of the house. Difficult when visitors and grandchildren are here and difficult when my wife is having a wild Zoom meeting with her knitting buddies in the same room! On this page I document my search and eventual purchase of a computer that has enabled me to escape from both grandchildren and crazy knitters while still having a great experience with ease of use and great convenience.

Finding a Laptop...

I decided on a laptop rather than one of those ghastly closed-system 'tablets' and this laptop had to cost about AU$400. I have had a previous great experience with this budget when I bought a Latitude D520 for this price and completed an entire Bachelor of Arts degree using it. After a few forays onto eBay and some consultations with my Linux colleagues I settled on a ThinkPad T460, a slighly aged system that according to all reports has aged well with not only minimal problems but also outstanding Linux support.

Variations on a theme...

However there were some choices to make however as the T460 comes in three different flavours, all released in early 2016:

So I have given a summary of the important specifications of the three different versions of the ThinkPad T460 but the links will take you to the pdfs which show the full specifications...

The decision...

So with these figures in front of me and a steady resolution not to consult the Internet for any more opinions on the T460 I had a careful think about my options. And this process of consideration was surprisingly easy!

The first elimination was the ThinkPad T460p and I confess, Gentle Reader, that my objections to this fine machine were almost purely academic as it is a machine that seems to be in very short supply on the second hand market! For my purposes I really did not need to spend probably AU$100 to get a few more cores and threads, the heavy lifting will almost always be done on my Threadripper build after all. As well I am pretty sure that more processing power in a laptop of this age would inevitably mean more heat and less battery life. So, scratch the ThinkPad T460p.

The ThinkPad T460s is the version of the T460 that is most commonly sold second hand but I had two reasonably solid objections to this model. First was that the battery only came as an internal fitting and I believe that this was a design choice to make the laptop a little sleeker. My preference always is to have easy access to and 'external' battery with an easy ability to remove and replace. Second was the fact that the RAM is soldered to the motherboard. Now I am not planning on doing a lot of upgrading on this little laptop but I don't like my choices being limited by manufacturing choices! And I guess, Gentle Reader, that these two undesirable features (and a few others) add about AU$40-$50 to the final price. So, scratch the ThinkPad T460p.

And so this left me with the original ThinkPad T460 and I purchased one from eBay for a total price (including postage) of AU$420. It came with an Intel i5 6300U CPU, kitted out with 8GB RAM and has a 240GB SSD, specifications that are more than enough for my purposes. Like most of this line it has a WiFi / BT card, webcam and a couple of USB 3.0 ports. It came with a genuine Lenovo battery, although the battery is the 3 cell 23.5Wh version not the heavier 6 cell 72Wh version. I see that the bigger battery (non-genuine) can be purchased for about AU$60 so if I ever want to upgrade anything this would be a worthy purchase. Genuine Lenovo 6 cell battery is AU$113. Bear in mind as well that my model came with two batteries, one internal and one external.

The computer came through the post well packed and seemed to be physically in pretty good condition. There were a couple of small permanent scuff marks on the case but the keyboard was clean as was the screen. And so with my purchase done it was time to come to grips with the laptop and get a decent operating system installed and running.

Slackware Installation...

The laptop came installed with Windows 10 and my plan was always to remove Windows and then install Slackware; I run this on my Threadripper system and I am very much at home with it. I add a few points here on the installation itself with the caveat that the installation itself was pretty standard:

BIOS Settings...

The first thing I did before installing anything was to have a good long look at the BIOS, using the F1 key on bootup. The BIOS on this computer was R06ET47W (1.21) Y-M-D 2016-11-30 and after a quick hunt around on the Lenovo site I updated this to R06ET69W (1.43) Y-M-D 2020-01-18. I confess, Gentle Reader, that I booted into the installed Windows 10 to use a nice 'SCT Flash Utility for Lenovo' rather than tussle with flashing the BIOS with Linux tools. Don't judge me! Then I made the following alterations in the newly updated BIOS:

There were a few other interesting items in the BIOS which I simply noted rather than fiddled with. I saw a 'Pre-installed OS License' key in there for Windows which I thought was a pretty cool idea. I also saw a BIOS setting for remapping the rather odd Fn key settings that come printed on the keyboard itself, but I left these as is. Save then reboot and if all is well I will have no further need to access this BIOS for the life of this laptop.

Partitioning and Installation...

I had gleaned from the BIOS the very useful information that the F12 key opened up the boot menu and so I booted the computer from a USB key with the installation ISO for the 64bit version of the newly released Slackware 15.0. As I have mentioned before the installation was pretty standard and I only have a few general points to make:

This whole procedure only took about an hour and went without a hitch. I confess, Gentle Reader, that it has been a while since I have actually installed Slackware from scratch as my usual practice is to follow the rolling development model of Slackware -current. But with all of that done it is now time to start actually using this nice little laptop!

Usage...

The first usage that this laptop has had is in the many Zoom meetings that are now such an integral part of the Covid-19 world. Nice to be able to hide away in a quiet room for these meetings and the T460 runs the Zoom client with absolutely no issues; the little webcam works fine and microphone gives absolutely no trouble. So no more setup required for this usage and there is a nice SlackBuild for Zoom that is almost always kept up to date.

A second usage is one that I have not yet set is to use the T460 for my weekly download of the amazing radio broadcast For the God who sings. It would make much more sense to set this on a small, low powered laptop than leaving my Threadripper system running all night to capture the stream. I will then have to also investigate the Bluetooth setup on the T460 as well so I can easily transfer the audio to my Android phone. So a little work ahead.

So those are the two plans that I need to get in place fairly quickly but I have longer term plans to finally investigate the nice radio player Soma on this machine as well as installing Geany and spending some quiet hours renovating this web site. Any computer project that does not really need Threadripper power or perhaps needs a slightly quieter location for concentration. I will need to put some networking in place with my main computer as well and this will open things up a little. Many, many possibilities!

A Revisit...

And so I return to this laptop after some time of usage and, Gentle Reader, I have been very happy with it! The plan was to not update the hardware in any shape or form but I feel that it is not really my computer until I have taken a screwdriver to it. Which I confess is why I mostly confine my computer activities to full desktop systems, they are much more forgiving of an errant screwdriver. So this little section will be devoted to the few times where I update the hardware:

  1. Some tools: My tools for working on a desktop computer are a little primitive, comprising a nice screwdriver and a strong right arm. But for laptop work in general I picked up a nice iFixit toolkit, the Pro Tech Toolkit. I am hoping that this nice tool kit will give me a bit of an edge with the smaller screws and tight plastic tabs of the laptop world.
  2. A new keyboard: The keys on the keyboard at the top right corner of this T460 had a habit of sticking in a particularly annoying way so after a period of attemping to conservatively remediate the issue I decided to have a go at replacing the keyboard itself. Perhaps foolishly I bought an 'authentic' Lenovo keyboard and paid a hefty premium for this authenticity. Replacement went pretty smoothly although the old keyboard lost some keys on removal and the little rubber keyboard stops were too degraded to take out cleanly. But after a few sweaty minutes wangling the last plastic tabs of the new keyboard all is now well and the new keyboard makes the T460 a pleasure to use. Now to track down some replacement rubber stoppers, part number 00HM041 if anybody can find where to source these?

Nothing much more planned for the hardware side of the T460 although if I bump into a bigger kit of RAM I would perhaps look at upgrading to 16GB, there are two slots and access looks not too bad. And then I should really leave it as it is as the plan was to make this a very utilitarian machine...