I recently decided I needed a new laptop. Something small. Something inexpensive (sub $300). And, perhaps most importantly, something that ran Linux (without any tweaking) like a champ.
Quickly, I decided to give the Lenovo Thinkpad 11e a try. And, holy moly, am I glad I did.
This glorious little laptop cost me a measly $258 USD (from Amazon.com; Lenovo’s website lists the same, or similar, models at over $500) and came equipped with an Intel Quad-core N2940 1.83GHz CPU, 4GB of RAM (upgradeable to 8GB), a 128GB SSD and an 11.6-inch, 1366x768 screen. It even has a gigabit Ethernet port (something lacking on so many laptops nowadays).
When the 11e arrived, it was pre-loaded with Windows 10. Before I even let the machine boot for the first time, I plugged in a USB thumb drive loaded with openSUSE Tumbleweed (the rolling release version of openSUSE). Everything worked right out of the gate: Wi-Fi, audio, the GPU, the Ethernet port. Not a single hiccup or glitch, and I didn’t need to install any proprietary drivers at all.
Full disclosure: I’m on the openSUSE board. I love openSUSE. So, of course, I tried it first. But, since no proprietary drivers were needed with this hardware, I think it’s a safe assumption that most modern Linux distributions (Fedora, Arch, etc.) would all work like a charm on the 11e. If they didn’t, I would be really surprised.
The performance of the 11e isn’t insane. It’s no speed demon. But it’s no slouch, either. For a mere $250 laptop, I consider the performance to be excellent. Certainly good enough for watching videos, playing most games (though you’ll need to turn down the graphics settings of some newer games) and the like. I’ve recorded one audio podcast on this laptop so far and it was clearly more than powerful enough to handle multi-track audio work.
The only area where this laptop felt sluggish was when I did some video editing. I loaded up the kdenlive project that I used for this video. Modifying the project (moving around and trimming clips, etc.) was completely usable. But when it came to rendering a complex, 1080p project… it got downright pokey. That project took my i7 machine around an hour to render. On the Thinkpad 11e, it took roughly five hours.
In other words: you could do video editing on here, but it’s going to take you a lot longer than it would on a beefier rig.
Battery life seems to be running right around five to six hours when running openSUSE with GNOME as the desktop environment, Wi-Fi connected, and screen brightness set to around 90%. Definitely not an “all day” battery, but not bad. Definitely better than I expected from a $250 laptop. I’m happy with that.
The laptop is delightfully old-school feeling. The 11-inch screen has a relatively large bezel around each of the edges. And the screen itself, while being absolutely fine, has somewhat limited viewing angles compared to nicer display panels. The keys on the keyboard all have a satisfying “click” to them. Add to this the fact that this machine has an actual Ethernet port… and it almost makes you feel like you’ve traveled back in time to the late 1990’s. In the best possible way.
It’s… sturdy. This isn’t made of metal. It’s definitely plastic. But it’s the sturdiest plastic imaginable. The screen doesn’t have any bend to it and it feels just plain rugged.
Oh, one other thing. I’ve never heard a fan turn on and, despite extremely heavy usage, the bottom of the 11e has never gotten hot. At most, I’ve felt one spot that got a teensy, tiny bit warm. Barely.
When you add everything together, what we’ve got here is a sub-$300 laptop that runs silently, is small enough to fit in my man-bag (yeah… I have a man-bag), has adequate battery life, better than expected performance, and is supported by Linux incredibly well.
It won’t be replacing your desktop (or your beefy laptop) for intensive gaming, video editing or CPU-intensive builds. But for a bring with me anywhere laptop… I don’t know that I could ask for much more.