Recently I came into possession of a used IBM ThinkPad T43. Ever since the death of my T41's screen backlight, I have been mourning not having a Thinkpad for use with Linux.


When this T43 came to light in a stack of old gear, I begged to be allowed to have it, and I guess I looked pitiful enough that they had mercy on me and it followed me home. I had the unit for about 5 minutes before I had it booted to a Mint 8 USB key, and was installing Linux over the top of whatever version of Windows XP it had been running. Once the unit was fully checked out, it was time to move it to its new bleeding edge OS testing role.


The unit itself is not pristine: Like most Thinkpad's of its age, it was ridden hard across the prairie, and put up wet. The screen back-light is showing signs of fading away, just like the T41's did, and the keyboard has about 20% of the letters polished clean off by hard typing. Still, it is the lovely-to-use IBM Thinkpad keyboard (second only to a Mac's these days), and it works.


The T41 has:


• The 15” 1400x1050 panel, which is beautiful, if dim.
• The processor is the 1.83 Ghz Pentium M, and it has 2 GB of RAM (533 MHz front-side system bus PC2-4200 DDR2 SDRAM 533 MHz SO DIMM memory).
• The hard drive is a 7200 RPM 60 GB unit.
• The graphics card is the standard Mobility Radeon X300 with 64 GB of RAM.
• This T43 uses the Intel chipsets that collectively define the brand name “Centrino”, which means Wifi is supported by Linux without any muss or fuss.


By todays standards, in other words, about the same specs as my Acer Aspire One or Dell Mini-9 netbooks, other than the screen resolution. Laptops have come a long way in the last 4 or 5 years! The netbooks have LED screen backlighting, which would have added years to the life of the T41, if that had been available back then. It is clear the T43, when it goes to the great Linux laptop junkyard to join its ancestors, will die of feeble back-light syndrome too. I would buy a refurb'ed screen if someone could figure out how to replace the Cold Cathode Tube with LED's on these units.


Ubuntu 10.04


It was time to get back into Linux on with my new/old Thinkpad. The old T41 had always run Linux well, and the newer spec T43 does as well. The main performance related differences between the old T41 are:


1) The T41 was a 1.7 Ghz Pentium M, and this is a 1.86. Not much extra speed there.
2) The T41 maxxed out at 1.5 GB, and the T43 takes 2GB: That is enough to make a difference, at least on memory bound applications. Linux does not need it all. Even running Gnome and Compiz and Chrome and Firefox and Evolution all at the same time, only 33% of that 2GB is in use.


The screen resolution and the hard drive were the same between the two laptops. I mention all this because Linux runs amazingly well: feels downright crisp in fact, on this T43. I credit that not to the CPU or the RAM, but to changes in Linux itself. Ubuntu has been driving a lot of effort into faster boot times and other related performance enhancements, and they show.


To see how well 10.04 was progressing, I grabbed the daily build and installed it, then updated it with the current updates via apt-get update / apt-get dist-upgrade. Gnome is still at 2.29.92 rather than 2.30, but it appears that Ubuntu will ship with the latest Gnome. I was not sure that would happen, since 10.04 is a Long Term Support (LTS) version, and that tends to make the package selection be a bit more conservative.


I won't waste a lot of electronic ink of my normal Evolution status. Evolution works via DAVMail, but not via MAPI, and that is the way it has been for a long time. Nothing to see here: Move along.


OK: One thing of interest in Evolution land: There is a new IMAP backend coming in 2.30, and it implements the IMAP IDLE functionality. That is going to be very very nice, since that means that changes in the inbox are reflected in near real time to the client. Apparently you will have to define the IMAP inbox again to pick up the new backend: Existing accounts that are migrated will continue to use the old back end, if I understand this correctly.


From stone cold to fully booted is a matter of less than a minute, even on this old hardware. Compared to my Dell D620 booting Windows XP or Windows 7, it is a rocket, and the Dell is much newer. Of course the Dell booting Linux is fast, and I imagine when I get 10.04 on there it will be *very* fast.


Oh Be Quiet


One annoying thing about the Thinkpad is the fan. The default fan settings under Ubuntu are just too loud. I am sure the CPU running at 46C is better, but not if I can't stand the box. Ubuntu has the "thinkfan" utility available in the repository, version 0.6.6-1. This very simple deamon read a file called /etc/thinkfan.conf. I updated this file to look like this:


(0,    0,    55)
(1,    50,    60)
(2,    58,    62)
(3,    60,    64)
(4,    62,    66)
(5,    64,    66)
(7,    65,    32767)


The leftmost number is the fan speed, and it is a predefined speed. 0 is slowest and 7 is fastest. On 7 the Thinkpad doubles as a hovercraft. The next two numbers on each line are ranges of temperatures in Celcius. The first is the temp that the fan kicks it up a notch on. The last defines the range and overlaps the value of the next line so that the fan is not jumping up and down like a rabbit, but instead running a bit longer than is absolutely required.


I run the gnome sensors applet in the taskbar, and watched the CPU temp for a while (the IBM ACPI is well supported and presents *tons* of temperature zones), and came up with the above. I am not running in in daemon mode yet, rather I am starting it from the command line so I can watch what it does still. Eventually that will stop being entertaining, but by then the temp and fan speeds should be fully tweaked out.


sudo thinkfan -n -p:


Config as read from /etc/thinkfan.conf:
Fan level    Low    High
0        0    55
1        50    60
2        58    62
3        60    64
4        62    66
5        64    66
7        65    32767
Disengaging the fan controller for 0.500 seconds every 5 seconds


sleeptime=5, temp=52, last_temp=0, biased_temp=52 -> level=1
sleeptime=5, temp=50, last_temp=51, biased_temp=50 -> level=0
sleeptime=5, temp=55, last_temp=54, biased_temp=55 -> level=1
... etc


The -p option is what causes the fan controller to be disengaged every 5 seconds. This appears to keep the fan from making this little 'pulsing' sound, as the fan speed makes a brief, mad attempt to speed up only to be tamped back down when it is realized it is not needed. The old T41 pulsed its whole life, and this setting alone makes it worth the trouble of getting the package going.


Other ThinkPad Goodies


When I first got a ThinkPad, I thought the ThinkLight was the coolest thing since sliced bread. With backlit and virtual (which are backlit by virtual of being virtual) keyboards being the norm for me now, it is not quite as cool as it once was, but it is still better than having no keyboard light at all by a long shot. And there is a package called "Pidgin-ThinkLight" that will make the ThinkLight blink whenever you get a new message. There is one for Kopete as well.


That may be cool, or it may be annoying. There is another package in the repository called "tleds" that I took back off. It blinked the Scrollock and Numlock leds with TX and RX on the network. I kept forgetting it was doing that and thought the ThinkPad was having a cow. Maybe I could adapt to it over time, but I decided I did not need to know that much about my network traffic: I have the system monitor in the taskbar, and gkrellm. The winken-blinken-lights just made me think the hardware was having intermittent connections.


Hardware Support


I have said over the years that I am not a hardware purist when it comes to Linux, meaning that I'll install Nvidia drivers or NDISWrapper  if that is what it takes to get my hardware working. But I like it better when all the drivers are right there, in the box, and fully sourced. Ubuntu installs no special drivers to support the T43. It all just works. Wifi is solid. The special ThinkPad keys work, and as mentioned, the IBM ACPI package exposes the myriad sensors in the Thinkpad:




Compiz runs extremely quickly in full on graphics mode (called "Extra" at System/Appearance/Visual Effects), giving me all the wiggles and shakes and other visual stuff that I actually rarely use. It is mostly interesting that this older hardware runs all that stuff so well, and extends my wonderment at why Windows needs all that graphical hardware juice. The Compiz Settings Manager has to be added from the repository to be able to set up the graphics that way I like them (which is to say, with the "Windows Previews" and expose-like "Scale" enabled and configured.)


OpenOffice is 3.2, launches much more quickly than past versions, and looks great on the T43 panel.


Ubuntu 10.04 is looking extremely solid: It is clear that it will be a good long term release, and the Mint based off it should be a nice place to be in a couple months as well. It has this older ThinkPad running well, with only fan tweaking to get it past its one major annoyance. My primary Linux desktop, currently 64-bit Ubuntu 9.10 will be making the move to 10.04 as soon as it GA's, based on this set of testing.