3 months ago I installed NixOS, i3wm and XFCE on my new Thinkpad T14 (1st Gen). It is my main machine that I use every day. In this blog post I summarize my experience with this setup.

Setup

          ▗▄▄▄       ▗▄▄▄▄    ▄▄▄▖            [email protected]
          ▜███▙       ▜███▙  ▟███▛            --------------
           ▜███▙       ▜███▙▟███▛             OS: NixOS 21.05 (Okapi) x86_64
            ▜███▙       ▜██████▛              Host: 20UD0013MZ ThinkPad T14 Gen 1
     ▟█████████████████▙ ▜████▛     ▟▙        Kernel: 5.14.10
    ▟███████████████████▙ ▜███▙    ▟██▙       Uptime: 17 hours, 35 mins
           ▄▄▄▄▖           ▜███▙  ▟███▛       Packages: 1534 (nix-system), 288 (nix-user)
          ▟███▛             ▜██▛ ▟███▛        Shell: zsh 5.8
         ▟███▛               ▜▛ ▟███▛         Resolution: 1920x1080
▟███████████▛                  ▟██████████▙   DE: Xfce 4.16
▜██████████▛                  ▟███████████▛   WM: i3
      ▟███▛ ▟▙               ▟███▛            Theme: Adwaita-dark [GTK2]
     ▟███▛ ▟██▙             ▟███▛             Icons: Rodent [GTK2]
    ▟███▛  ▜███▙           ▝▀▀▀▀              Terminal: urxvt
    ▜██▛    ▜███▙ ▜██████████████████▛        Terminal Font: Source Code Pro
     ▜▛     ▟████▙ ▜████████████████▛         CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 PRO 4750U with Radeon Graphics
           ▟██████▙       ▜███▙               GPU: AMD ATI 07:00.0 Renoir
          ▟███▛▜███▙       ▜███▙              Memory: 4425MiB / 15232MiB
         ▟███▛  ▜███▙       ▜███▙
         ▝▀▀▀    ▀▀▀▀▘       ▀▀▀▘

Window Manager + Desktop Manager

Coming from Arch, I was quite comfortable using i3wm as my tiling window manager. After setting it up 4 years ago I was sure I could never go back to non-tiling windows.

However, I always assumed that the trade-off of using such a productive window manager was loss of convenience. With my Arch setup, I had to mount USB sticks myself, discover, pair and connect Bluetooth devices from the command line and map media keys (such as brightness and audio volume) manually in my .config/i3/config.

Little did I know that I was missing a Desktop Manager!

Let me explain in Nix:

services.xserver.windowManager.i3.enable = true;
services.xserver.desktopManager = {
  xterm.enable = false;
  xfce = {
    enable = true;
    noDesktop = true;
    enableXfwm = false;
  };
};

This is all it took to enable i3wm as my tiling Window Manager and XFCE as my Desktop Manager. Now XFCE is taking care of all the things that macOS and Windows users take for granted, such as USB stick mounting, login screen, screensaver, centralized settings and external monitor handling. I can have all that wile tiling my windows. Best of both worlds!

To be fair, I recall reading about using XFCE and other desktop environments with tiling window managers. But it was NixOS that made the difference between Desktop Manager and Window Manager obvious to me.

Battery life

Coming from a T470 with an external battery so large, that it was also my laptop stand, I am not that happy with the battery life of the T14. Web development, answering emails, light browsing and occasional OCaml compilation drain the battery in about 5-6 hours.

I activated TLP using following flag:

services.tlp.enable = true;

I suspect that I should invest some time into understanding TLP to make most of it.

There was an issue with the T14 draining battery while asleep. Updating to the latest BIOS fixed this issues for me.

CPU

The CPU is hands down my favorite part of the T14. It stays cool and fast. The only time when I hear the fans is when I create OCaml switches.

It compiles Sihl in about 15 seconds.

Screen

My second favorite part of this machine is the screen. A bright screen allows me to work in sunny places.

Switching my Emacs theme to the light version allows me to work directly in the sun!

Fingerprint sensor

I managed to get the fingerprint sensor working with just three lines:

services.fprintd.enable = true;
security.pam.services.login.fprintAuth = true;
security.pam.services.xscreensaver.fprintAuth = true;

It works well.

Trackpad

Don’t forget to enable the trackpad, which is not done by the NixOS installer by default:

services.xserver.libinput.enable = true;

It is just like any other Thinkpad trackpad. It is good, it does its job, but it is not an Apple trackpad.

Kernel settings

I adjusted the kernel settings based on some research on similar Thinkpad models and their recommended confiration.nix.

boot.initrd.availableKernelModules = [ "nvme" "ehci_pci" "xhci_pci" "usb_storage" "sd_mod" "rtsx_pci_sdmmc" "thinkpad_acpi" ];
boot.initrd.kernelModules = [ "acpi_call" ];
boot.kernelModules = [ "kvm-amd" ];
boot.extraModulePackages = with config.boot.kernelPackages; [ acpi_call ];

With these settings sleep and hibernation work as expected when I close the lid. Not once did the T14 wake up with a closed lid.

Summary

I am very happy with this AMD Ryzen based Thinkpad. Battery life could be better, but the bright screen and silent but powerful CPU make up for it. Everything else is typical Thinkpad level quality!