Ubuntu for Schools Part 3: Lenovo X120e

This is part three of a series on our school Ubuntu Linux project.  Previous posts explained my strategic reasons for adopting Ubuntu and discussed several of the open source apps we will install on our laptops. Next, let’s discuss hardware. I decided on Lenovo’s X120e. Here’s why.

I should begin by explaining the choice in the context of our history. Penn Manor has been a predominately Mac laptop district for the past 6 years. During that time, hardware decisions were rather simple. Apple’s offerings typically provide little choice in configurations. Beyond a memory or hard drive capacity bump, there are few configuration options on Macbooks. By embracing Ubuntu Linux, a huge constellation of PC hardware and configuration options are available for review.

My team, along with multiple teachers and student testers, evaluated about a dozen laptops over the course of several months. Crucial elements of our selection criteria were battery life, keyboard comfort, Linux support, physical size and price. Given the current state of technology we were pleased to have so many excellent choices. Based on classroom demos and our internal testing, I selected Lenovo’s Think Pad X120e for our district Ubuntu laptop project.

Lenovo’s X120e was introduced at the January 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, where it a  “Best of Show” award. Many other sites have conducted extensive reviews of the X120e, so I’ll keep my comments focused to my rationale for the x120e in our classrooms.

The X120e is a lightweight 11.6 inch ultraportable laptop. Weighing about 3.3 pounds, the laptop is compact yet sturdy. Overall, the shape and size is well suited for our elementary students and is comfortable in the hands of high school students and adults. The X120e includes a native 1366 x 768 anti-glare matte finish screen. Unlike glossy screens, a matte finish helps prevent glare in daylight. Of particular note is the screen’s ability to lay nearly flat without stressing the hinges, a feature which, over time, may help decrease damage to the unit through accidental abuse. Both VGA and HDMI are included for connecting to projects and monitors.

Even with its small stature, the x120e features a full-sized, spill resistant keyboard. Lenovo includes both a standard trackpad and their signature trackpoint pointing stick. Prior to selecting the X120e, I had minimal experience with trackpoint devices. After several weeks of regular use, the trackpoint has infectiously grown on me—so much in fact that I now often instinctively reach for the little red stick on other non-Lenovo laptops. Our student testers quickly adjusted to the trackpoint as well.

Lenovo’s X120e is the first laptop to feature AMD’s new Fusion processor. Unlike the Intel Atom processors common in most netbooks, the Fusion chip provides significant horsepower while conserving battery life. The X120e feels fast and responsive when playing full-screen video, zipping around in Google Earth and browsing the web. Battery life is approximately 6 hours, which should help our classrooms spend more time learning and less time recharging batteries.

Technical Note: My team is running Ubuntu 11.04 with XFCE. Many drivers worked out of the box, some did not. Our system engineer, Chad Billman, spent time hunting down newer wireless and trackpad drivers. Realtek support deserves an honorable mention for providing an updated wireless driver compatible with 11.04.

In sum, the Lenovo X120e is an exceptional little laptop for our classrooms. Priced around $400, it satisfies our classroom learning requirements while keeping our technology acquisition costs low. I’m excited to see how our students and teachers will put this new device to use in the months to come.

4 Replies to “Ubuntu for Schools Part 3: Lenovo X120e”

  1. Which particular wifi driver are you running? I have been experiencing a hard crash caused by all the wifi drivers I have tried on this hardware.

  2. Ben – We were having connectivity problems with the stock kernel in ubuntu 11.04 however I never noticed any crashes.

    After trying a bunch of different wireless drivers we ended up using the ones from the realtek site. However we are using the drivers marked for 2.6.34 and earlier. Those drivers build fine and run on the 2.6.38 kernel in ubuntu. Just make sure you blacklist the built in module.

    The exact version number is – 2.6.0006.0321.2011

    Are you using 40mhz channels on your wireless by any chance? Apparently that has been known to cause crashes with the stock drivers.

  3. Looking forward to reading more about your “outside the box” thinking on using Linux in the classroom. What (if any) tools are you using to image and maintain the Ubuntu operating system? There doesn’t seem to be too much readily available information out there on how to deploy, setup and maintain large scale deployments in education using Linux, so I commend you in blazing this trail.

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