A Refurbished Lenovo X250 As My ‘New’ Notebook

For 3 years, I’ve used a refurbished Lenovo X230 as my main notebook. During those years I’ve changed the disk drive several times, first to a 512 GB SSD, then to a 1 TB SSD and finally to 2 TB SSD. Also, I upgraded the RAM to 16 GB as I make heavy use of Virtual Machines and I even exchanged the display panel when it started to malfunction about a year ago. But the frame is now around 6 years old and the replacement IPS panel from China was starting to show a number of brighter patches  that kept growing so it was time to do something about it.

So the basic decision I had to take was whether to get another IPS panel for around 80 euros, to buy another X230 or to go for something newer. Each option had its pros and cons.

I Really Need Faster Wifi

One thing that spoke for something newer than an X230 was that this 2013 Lenovo model only supports 802.11n Wifi. In practice that limited me to around 100 Mbit/s in good radio conditions and around 60 Mbit/s at the location where I use the notebook when I’m at home. When testing another notebook some time ago I noticed that the performance of 802.11ac Wifi that is in newer devices is much better, and since Internet connectivity at home and in many other places I frequent fortunately exceeds my X230s 802.11n’s capabilities, a Wifi upgrade would be a welcome enhancement.

Vanity Plays A Role As Well

Admittedly, from a vanity point, the X230 looks somewhat dated these days, while the X240 and successor models share the same physical design. Only the very latest generation, the X280 is different again. The X240 was out of the question from the start as it only supports a single 8 GB RAM module while the X250 at least supports a single module with 16GB. Also, the X240s touchpad has no hardware buttons, something Lenovo lived to regret and fixed in later models. A nice side effect of going for another Lenovo X-model is that the X240 and onward use the same external batteries so replacements won’t be difficult to find for many years to come. Also, I can reuse the batteries should I move to one of these successor machines one day.

Money Wise

From a monetary point of view I had the choice between buying another display panel for 100 euros with an unknown quality, to get another refurbished X230, or to get successor model. The X230 is still available but the price difference to an X250 is only around 120 Euros. So in the end I decided to buy an X250 with the high end IPS 1920×1080 pixel panel option, the bare minimum of 4 GB RAM and a 500 GB hard disk for 365 Euros. A stunning price!

New RAM Required

Obviously, such a configuration is of little use but I needed more than the 8 GB of RAM vendors of refurbished computers offer as an option. Also, I already had a 2 TB SSD I wanted to put into the new notebook anyway so the smallest and cheapest disk drive would do. The 16GB of RAM cost another 150 euros as I couldn’t re-use my existing memory modules for two reasons: First, the X250 features only a single memory slot. And secondly, the X250 requires low voltage DDR3L RAMs that can operate at 1.35V and higher, and not the more conventional DDR3 RAMs that only operate at 1.5V. I tried using the DDR3 1.5V ‘only’ 8 GB RAM to bridge the time until the RAM I bought from a different vendor arrived, but the X250 would not start. So they weren’t kidding.

365 Euros + X

So what did I get for 365 Euros + 150 euros for the additional memory? It’s always a bit of a gamble with used parts but this time I think I was extremely lucky as the device I received didn’t show any signs of wear whatsoever. And I really mean no signs at all! Everything was in pristine condition. I’ve bought five used Thinkpads over the years, had to return one because they used stickers on the keyboard and declared it as a ‘refurbished’ keypad but all others were in good condition with visible but little wear. Not this one! There was not even dust or signs of wear on the inside, so perhaps it was a spare that was never used!? It’s also not a dud that was returned as over the past four weeks, I’ve ran the notebook through prolonged CPU, memory and disk intensive workloads and I couldn’t detect any issues. So the hardware is fine.

The Pros compared to upgrading the display panel or to buying another X230

  • The 802.11ac Wifi is 8x faster in downlink with a sustained data rate of 420 Mbit/s and 360 Mbit/s in the uplink direction compared to 50-60 Mbit/s with 802.11n on the X230 at the location I use it at home.
  • Suspend resume works faster.
  • Programs seem to start a tick faster.
  • The display is excellent, and it’s an upgrade from the HD resolution of 1280×768 of the X230 to 1920×1080 on the X250. This is mainly positive but also has some drawbacks when connecting an external display with a lower pixel density and then using both screens simultaneously. To compensate, icons, menus and fonts would have to be of different sizes on the two screens. Since they are not, its not ideal. After two weeks of use I came to the conclusion that its not a problem for me but I understand now why Ubuntu 18.04 makes everything a little bit bigger…
  • The quality of the webcam’s video stream is much better.
  • Power consumption for tasks that produce little processor load such as working on text with the display brightness set to 80% consumes around 8 Watts of power compared to 11-12 watts on the X230, so autonomy while on battery is significantly increased or can be traded for smaller overall dimensions and less weight.
  • The Ethernet port is at a better location as it’s towards the back and not the front of the device.
  • The USB port is a a bit faster. I got around 180 MB/s of throughput for backups to external hard disks and solid state drives with my X230. The X250 pushes this to around 210 MB/s with external SSDs.

The Downsides

  • The X250 has only one memory slot, so I had to buy a new single 16 GB DDR3L (low voltage) memory module instead of being able to reuse my two 8 GB RAM modules. On the other hand, even if the X250 had had two memory slots, I would have still been stuck due to the Low Voltage requirement my normal DDR3 RAM modules would not have met.
  • Instead of three, there are only two USB ports on the X250. That’s a shame, there would have been enough space at the sides for a few more. However, at least VGA is still present which is on newer models in the meantime, too. Also, the Ethernet port that is important for me is still there.
  • Replacing the keyboard was very simple on the X230 but is a major pain on the X250 as it needs to be completely disassembled. Good luck with that.
  • The ‘END’ key needs to be pressed together with the FN/CTRL key when function keys are set to their native state which is important for me because F4, F5, F11 and F12 are part of my daily working routine. This is extremely annoying! However, having the special functions mapped to the function keys instead of their ‘F’ numbers is even more annoying.
  • Also, there are no more dedicated hardware buttons to change the volume and mute the microphone and speakers altogether. Yes, the ‘design’ of the keyboard looks smoother now, but those keys were very useful.

The Final Verdict

After two weeks of use, the pros definitely top the cons by a wide margin so I’m really happy made the upgrade and took the small extra expense!