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Libreboot is Coming to the X220 (and i5/i7 processors)

Leah Rowe had recently announced that Libreboot/Minifree are actively attempting to Libreboot the ThinkPad X220. This is big news not just because the X220 is one of the all-time most-celebrated ThinkPads, but because if this Librebooting is successful in full, Rowe and colleages will have totally disposed of the Intel Management Engine, the little additional spyware processor with all i3/i5/i7 processor with the ability to rootkit your machine, access your data, and watch your screen without even your computer being on.

There are partial ways to rid yourself of parts of the Management Engine already, but if Rowe et al. are successful, a whole panoply of modern machines will be easily free-able for the consciensious computer-user. Presumedly, we'll be able to use i5/i7 processors on totally free and privacy-respecting machines.

I've already been preparing for this, and recently bought a X220 for the pretty low price of $90, which additionally included a ThinkPad Ultrabase. If Libreboot is successful, I plan on turning this $90 computer into a modern computing center to be used as both my laptop and desktop. How? Let's find out!

The Ultrabase

I used to never get the ThinkPad Ultrabase, the little base you can put on your ThinkPad which adds or replaces some of its other plugs. The X220 Ultrabase adds 6 USB ports and a CD/DVD drive, which are theoretically nice, but I always doubted how I'd use it.

But the trick is that the Ultrabase CD/DVD drive can be replaced. You can easily remove the CD drive and buy a cheap Ultrabase hard-drive caddy which can take another hard drive and be inserted in the CD drive's place.

This is important because the X220, like most lightweight laptops, only has one hard-drive slot. I've made extremely good use of this slot with a 1TB sold state drive, but 1TB isn't enough to hold all of my movies and TV shows (which I all download since if you can't use it offline, you don't really own it!). But with the Ultrabase and hard drive caddy, I have just enough room to store another hard drive, this one a 2TB HDD, holding all my movies, shows and YouTube video source files.

The end result is that I can have a highly portable laptop with 3TB of storage. If I want it to be even more portable, I leave the Ultrabase at home and still have the crucial TB of core documents and work files I need. But when I want to watch some movies at a friend's I just bring the Ultrabase too!

The other ergonomic boon of the Ultrabase is that turning my laptop into a desktop doesn't require any plugging-in. I keep my X200's Ultrabase plugged up to a screen, keyboard, mouse and microphone all day while I carry the actual laptop with me. When I come home, I just plop it on the Ultrabase and everything just werks. Now my computer is a desktop.

General Specs

The X220 is notably more modern than my X200. Don't get me wrong, the X200 is about my favorite machine, and the "oldness" is mostly just a FUDdy meme, but the X220 does have some serious advantanges.

Firstly, as I said before, the X220 has an i5, and is i7 compatible (the X200 has an Intel Core 2 Duo). This makes a good difference in compile and rendering times. It can additionally take double the RAM that the X200 can have: 16GB, rather than a still quite good 8GB. Now RAM does have significant diminishing returns once you hit 4GB or so for normal use, but it is an improvement and opens the door for doing more heavy duty things with the machine..

The X220 also has a DisplayPort which is HDMI compatible, and, interestingly enough, a SIM card slot, which, who knows, could be useful getting some telephone functionality out of the device (I'm going to do more research on this first...)

And then there's the little things. The X200 has a hit-and-miss screen brightness (different versions have different qualities), but all X220 are perfectly visible even in the hot Arizona sun. The X220 screen is also larger in pixel size and boasts a higher-def webcam. The X220 also has a trackpad (for those who want it), but it doesn't actually take up too much space (for people like me who don't).

The End Result

The end result is one machine that is both modern and free that can serve all my computing needs in all places without the need for painstaking cross-system syncing or even external drives. It's an offline media center and everything else.

I've been experimenting a lot with computers the past year, and have accumulated five ThinkPads (all cheap) in addition to my desktop. But it's time for me to start downsizing now that I've felt like I've found a setup that is universally good. If I can Libreboot a X220, and fix it up to these specifications, then I can reduce my technology wanderlust and have a long-term, yet versitile and libre setup.

The Price

Here are the prices I've paid for or will pay for materials to complete this setup:

All together that's a price of $483. Not bad. If you don't care too much about free software or Libreboot, you could have the same general setup for $378. That's cheaper than your industry standard Asus laptop with a SSD less than 200GB, and about a quarter of the price of a Macbook Pro.

There are also other expansion options that might be worth looking at, although I'm unlikely to implement them: