1. 28

Hey folks,

I’m looking for a cheap laptop (can be relatively poor specs) that can be used as a tinkering/side-dev machine. I have a macbook pro from an old job that I use as my main workhorse, but I want to get better at administrating a BSD system without having to directly SSH into my VPS. I’d like to be able to keep it handy so I can pick it up to poke around when I get a little bit of time at home, but I also don’t want to rely on a constant internet connection.

Ideally, I’m thinking something between 11-14”, as close to a regular keyboard as possible (that is, no crazy media keys or whatever), and under USD$300 (new or used, I don’t care). Specs aside from that aren’t a big deal to me, as long as it’s not crawling to do basic tasks.

On my VPS, I use FreeBSD, but I’m woefully ignorant of other flavors and I’d like to correct that. Any suggestions are welcome!

  1. 15

    The best ones ever:

    • X220
    • T420s
    • T420

    EDIT: if 15” size is welcomed then also these:

    • W520
    • T520
    1. 3

      I’ll add there’s a bunch of those on eBay right now, refurbished, that are as cheap as netbooks.

      EDIT: Does anyone know if the CPU’s in these got updates for side channel vulnerabilities? Or they out of support? The Core i5 I looked at in a T420 had a microcode update posted in August on Intel’s website. Researchers are still finding more stuff, though.

      EDIT 2: Wait, they got X220 i7’s w/ 8GB RAM for $230 at a seller I could probably drive to. That sounds promising. Yo, vermaden, is that a good setup without any known issues?

      EDIT 3: Tried to bypass eBay’s charges on sellers by offering to drive the 5 miles or so to them to pay cash. They replied they’re in Rochester, NY. Epic, geolocation fail. Yeah, I’m not driving over there…

      1. 9

        I use ThinkPad T420s daily and everything is supported and works. I got ‘uptimes’ of 15-20 days for most of the time. I wrote uptime in ’ chars because I use suspend/resume all the time so its not ‘typical’ uptime :)

        About X220, I also have it and use it as laptop for FreeBSD Desktop series so yes, its as well supported as T420s: https://vermaden.wordpress.com/2018/04/11/freebsd-desktop-part-2-install/

        When buying X220 remember that only ones with i7 CPU have USB 3.0 port and also make sure to get X220 with IPS screen which is a lot better then TN one.

        These ThinkPads are also last ones with real 7-row keyboard which is VERY pleasant to use. You will literally hate every other laptop after using it. The only modern ThinkPad that has such keyboard is the ThinkPad 25 but its costs $1200 used and $1800 new, which is too much IMHO. But new ThinkPads were never cheap.

        I can also recommend T520 (for FullHD screen) and W520 (same FullHD screen and USB 3.0 ports and also powerful graphics cards if you need it), but they are 15”.

        EDIT: … and yes, all Core i3/i5/i7/i9 CPUs have updates for side channel vulnerabilities. Core Duo and Core 2 Duo (and older CPUs) will not get the updates for side channel vulnerabilities.

        1. 1

          Thanks for the tips!

          1. 1

            Ok, after looking at a lot of them, the only thing that bothers me about X220 is all the cheap ones I’m seeing have a tiny screen. All the others are 14-15” like my current laptop. In search, some programmers are complaining about lower resolution, too, affecting how code looks in IDE’s and such. One mentioned external monitor for X220.

            Is there a bigger display on X220’s? And does T420 solve whatever resolution problems they’re griping about?

            1. 2

              Maximum X220 resolution is 1366x768 but you can get an IPS one.

              Maximum T420/T420s resolution is 1600x900 which is ok.

              Maximum T520/W520 resolution is 1920x1080.

              X220 is ‘hard’ to mod to use 1080p screen, but its possible.

              T420s is ‘easy’ to mod to use 1080p screen, check ebay for details.

              1. 1

                What sort of battery life do you get on your x220? I have an x230T that I enjoy well enough, but its battery life leaves a bit to be desired.

                1. 1

                  Depends with which batteries :)

                  X220 have 3 types for internal battery:

                  • 4-cell
                  • 6-cell - with this one I get about 3+ hours, sometimes 4
                  • 9-cell - with this one I get about 5+ hours, sometimes 6

                  … and 2 types for additional battery:

                  • 3-cell ultrabay battery that you can put into Lenovo ThinkPad UltraBase Series 3 - about 1+ to 2 hours
                  • 9-cell slice/bottom battery - this one gives additional 5+ to 6 hours

                  … but I limit my CPU speed up to 1.6 GHz to not drain the power too much.

          2. 4

            If it’s Rochester, then they are within a few miles of me. If it’s the recycler across from my workplace, it’d be stupid easy to get. Mail me (justin@shiningsilence) if that is useful for you…

            1. 2

              Emailed you the seller info.

          3. 2

            I’ve got an old T510 that runs openbsd like a dream. It’s bulky but otherwise it’s a good machine and keyboard is great. I picked mine up as a refurb at a local microcenter for a little over $200, but you should be able to get one for less.

            1. 2

              The Sandy/Ivy Bridge model ThinkPads are overrated. The build quality on them feels really bad compared to the previous generation, and the generations that came after. The screen and battery life in particular are weakpoints.

              Source: I use an X230T as my daily driver on the go, and have an X201 and X61t to compare with. In retrospect, ThinkPads as a whole are overrated - maybe back in the 90s and early 2000s they were the “only good laptops,” but there’s choices nowadays. I just wish I imported a Let’s Note from Japan instead, or saved up enough for an rMBP/Surface Pro.

              1. 2

                For me its not their build quality or best screen or things like that.

                For me its the keyboard layout alone with additional things like screen/battery not interupting.

                One of my favorite laptops was Dell Latitude D630 with extended 9-cell battery that sticked out from front and also used ultrabay 3-cell battery for maximum of 9 hours battery time, but it was ‘only’ Core 2 Duo system and TN 1400x900 with 14” screen size is also not great.

                Dell D630. http://www.preturibune.ro/imagini/foto/902.jpg

                I also like/use Dell Latitude D6400/D6500 and D6410/D6510 - the last Dell laptops with REAL 7-row keyboards.

                … but for me its the keyboard.

                1. 2

                  Even on these counts, ThinkPads are problematic. The screen on my X201 was so awful I simply couldn’t use it in many situations. (The X230T at least has an IPS panel, so it’s far better on this count.) Battery life isn’t as good as 9-cell users would let you think; (My X61T with a new 9-cell battery only manages 4 hours; the X230T with a 6-cell that juts out of the rear and bottom can barely manage 2.) the battery decay from poor power management means even if you do get good battery life now, you won’t in a year. (My friends with Let’s Notes and MacBooks still are on their original batteries and still get near-stock battery life.)

                  The keyboard’s nice, but it’s not that nice that I want to sacrifice everything else that makes a useful laptop.

              2. 1

                I’ll definitely check them out. Thanks!

              3. 12

                Far as FreeBSD, the most Lobsters-like strategy might be to see what @vermaden uses or recommends so you can use the advice in their many posts on FreeBSD setups. Comments here say most OpenBSD devs use Thinkpads. Maybe ask them or use Lobsters search to see what models. NetBSD has a laptops page which says some Thinkpads work. FreeBSD supports them. DragonflyBSD mentions a few.

                So, a used Thinkpad seems to be the most BSD-friendly solution. Depending on your goals, you might want to pick:

                1. The Thinkpad that works well with the most BSD’s.

                2. The Thinkpad that works best with FreeBSD but can run others minus unnecessary peripherals or something.

                3. The cheapest if 1 or 2 are out of budget.

                Hope that helps.

                EDIT: vermaden does exactly that while I was writing the post. That’s great haha.

                1. 2


                2. 8

                  From the perspective of OpenBSD should be able to pick up pretty much any laptop, and it should work - especially if you are picking up a refurbished laptop. You can check NYC*BSD dmesg database to see what works with what. I used to take booted able usb pendrive with me to check which laptops booted OpenBSD fine.

                  1. 6

                    BSD-friendly and cheap? Sounds just like a description of some used Thinkpad.

                    You should be able to get Thinkpad X200 in this price, or maybe even something better. Basically, look for used Thinkpads series X, T or W.

                    1. 6

                      I installed OpenBSD, and later Arch Linux, on the Matebook X. It’s been a joy so far. Though, even used, it might not be in your price range.

                      Note this is not the Pro version.

                      Here is more info from jcs. https://jcs.org/2017/07/14/matebook

                      1. 3

                        Which MacBook Pro is that? You might be able to dual boot FreeBSD with your current OS on it. You might even have WiFi working on it.

                        Other than that: +1 to ThinkPads. You can go newer than the (X2|T4)20 generation if you find a good deal.

                        1. 2

                          Mid-2014 MBP

                          1. 1

                            Definitely worth trying then! :)

                        2. 3

                          OpenBSD on ibook and higher is great.

                          1. 2

                            Datum: About two years ago I got a Thinkpad T450 with a dock for about $500. Unfortunately the BSDs haven’t been a good fit – OpenBSD is great other than wifi, and FreeBSD is kind of a mess. I’ve been happy with Antergos Linux lately. I’m considering replacing it with an X220 or something like that.

                            1. 1

                              And now I’ve gone and bought myself an i7 X220 for $150 shipped. We’ll see how this goes!

                            2. 1

                              I just set-up an old lenovo g475 and is running like a charm.