I’ve used a Lenovo IdeaPad 120s temporarily because of a slight emergency and even did some coding on it. To say the least, it’s been weeks of managing resources very carefully and learning why performance is still an important factor in computing in general 🙂

If you’re considering buying it, make sure to be aware that this is an incredibly low end machine and that you exclusively want to use it as a distraction free environment (it doesn’t run many applications at once) and that you’ll probably only use it to write your novel. Using vim. Also you want a machine you can probably charge using a solar panel on your van and that lasts 5+ hours without flinching (8h advertised, depends what you do).

The CPU: Celeron N3350

The CPU is probably the biggest bottleneck of the machine being a very low powered Celeron (I didn’t know these still existed)

CPU: Dual core Intel Celeron N3350 (-MCP-) cache: 1024 KB
     clock speeds: max: 2400 MHz 1: 1575 MHz 2: 1546 MHz

The biggest strain on the machine is probably browser (oh boy it’s obvious which websites are just executing a ton of JavaScript, looking at you facebook!) and Visual Studio Code.

You can actually watch vscode syntax highlighting your code as you scroll down the file (render might freeze while scrolling at times).

The RAM (4GB)

The second biggest bottleneck is the RAM. Over the last years I haven’t used many devices (not even phones) with 4GB RAM, this certainly was a painful experience. Every software company on earth apparently decided that [Electron][] (or other browser bundle) was good enough for them to demand 500mb of my RAM to run their chat client, code editor or music player.

It’s basically a question of:

Hi Jonathan, what will we be doing today? Listening to music or writing some code?

Both?

Haha! Good one.

The Battery Life

Now, for all its shortcomings, the battery life is really a huge plus. Since it doesn’t perform well at almost anything, it can do that for a very long time!

I’m not even kidding, I have never had to worry so little about battery life in my life. Sometimes I noticed that I should probably charge or whatever after lunch and not because the level is critical.

The Screen: Matte, baby!

The other positive surprise about this machine is the matte display that does not have the widest colour gamut, but it gets things displayed clearly and pretty well for both coding and (I imagine) office use!

Linux Compatibility

Since the machine came with Windows 10, my first thougth was:

Let’s get some up to date ubuntu on this!

Bad call. The overly pretty UI is not made for this machine. Even though the installation to the unbelievable 64GB NVMe went fine, it was of limited use afterwards.

Luckily installing the lubuntu-desktop package and effectively switching to [LXDE][] solved a lot of that, since it’s built around openbox and similarly low demand components.

The hardware support is surprisingly good. Bluetooth and WiFi just work. No weirdness, no extra packages. Just plug and play.

Summary

It’s fancy a typewriter. Buy it if you want a typewriter. Limited browsing on the side possible. For around 230 USD, this is not a bad typewriter.

Do buy it for your kids, even if they find a way to install games, they simply will not run.

Since it’s not actively cooled, I imagine it also will not take excessive damage from being left on blankets, couches and other dusty surfaces for a while.

Don’t buy it if you’re Richard Stallman, because this isn’t entirely libre.

Don’t buy this machine unless you’re quitting your day job and can afford to be an author to write like George R.R. Martin in an ancient arcanic editor.

PS: Lenovo should not have called this machine an IdeaPad. From what I can see around there are some actual home computer like and specced machines that are quite alright. This is just like Apple making an iPad and calling it the iPad mini, but it doesn’t:

  • have a touch screen
  • can only install 3 apps
  • can not run the funny bird game where you win against the piggies

Photo by Elijah O’Donell on Unsplash

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