Tweaking my Lenovo x220 Tablet and running Windows 8

A short while ago I replaced my trusted by heavy Acer laptop with a Lenovo x220 tablet. After a couple of months running windows 8 I’m ready to put my thoughts into words.

If you’ve landed on this post looking for notes on Windows 8 drivers for the x220, skip to the end. UPDATE 12/06/2012 – added some points to the Windows 8 section.

A painful purchase

Nothing could have prepared me for the deeply unpleasant experience of actually purchasing my new tablet. The Lenovo UK site is shockingly bad at providing the information and options you need. Examples include (some of which bit me!):

  • Confusing information about specification and options. I still don’t actually know whether I have USB 3 or not – the product page suggests yes; the lack of identified hardware suggests not.
  • Appalling lack of detail on options and accessories. I ordered the docking base – there was only one choice. Nowhere did it say that I could have one with an optical drive. If I want to get a DVD now, it’s another £130!
  • Confusing information on critical choices. I still don’t understand the screen choices. I think I messed up on this – all the notes said five-point multitouch but Windows reckons I have only two-point. I got the standard screen because nothing I read said I needed anything but that. This is the one that might well bite me, so be careful!

However, on the plus side I was lucky enough to get a honking great discount off the final price thanks to lucky timing. The discount more than covered the cost of the extras I added post-purchase.

A solid platform

What I did manage to do was some research before my purchase. Lenovo will only ship the x220 with up to 8Gb of RAM. If that had been the maximum I could stuff into the system, I would have walked away. In fact, it will work quite happily with 16Gb, installed in the form of two 8Gb SODIMMS. Mine are Corsair, from my local supplier, and it works just great. Coupled with the dual core with hyper-threading Core-i7 option I chose from Lenovo, this thing is quick and great for VMs.

Less useful was the discovery that the x220 can only take 7mm drives. I had a 750Gb hybrid drive in the Acer that I wanted to use, so I order the x220 with the basic 320Gb drive. When I tried to fit the hybrid drive I found that I couldn’t.

It turns out that 7mm drives are actually quite hard to find in reasonable capacities, and I quickly learned that the 320 was definitely not fast enough and not really big enough. Step forward my second addition to basic spec – a 512Gb Crucial M4 solid state drive. That actually took some digging as well – the Crucial UK site denied the existence of any 7mm SSDs in their range. I got mine from Amazon in the end. What did we ever do before internet search engines?

The end result is a shockingly quick, light and flexible laptop that gives me over six hours of battery life and can comfortably run the battery of virtual machines I use for demo, customer work and testing.

Would I recommend the x220?

In a word, definitely. Would I recommend the Lenovo web site to purchase it from? Probably not. If you can reach out to a product specialist for advice I would strongly suggest you do so. Not only that, but I type this the week after the x230 was announced, with Ivy Bridge and other new-tech goodies. Am I disappointed to have bought ‘too soon’? A little bit, but you can wait forever in this business – something shinier is always around the corner, and I needed something pretty urgently when I bought the x220.

Overall, it’s good kit. It’s light, with a small, light power charger. It’s quick enough for development and running VMs – something I do a lot of. The convertible design means its ready for Windows 8 but doesn’t sacrifice that wonderful Lenovo keyboard for when I need to write documentation. The screen is bright and crisp, and whilst I would love more pixels (it’s only 1366×768) I’ve not been frustrated by lack of screen real estate.

Running Windows 8 on the x220

My first install of Windows 8 was before Lenovo released their suite of beta drivers. More on those in a while. I started with a clean disk and installed Windows 8 Consumer Preview. Not unexpectedly, the bulk of the devices were located and installed by the OS – display, networking etc. However, the WWAN, bluetooth, tablet buttons and a few others were not found.

I had to work through the drivers from Lenovo, installing pretty much everything including software. It’s irritating that there is no way to change the state of the wireless radios other than software. There’s a ‘flight-mode’ button on the x220 but everything else is controlled by the Lenovo apps. That means installing pretty much all the battery of crapware Lenovo ship in order to merely use the stuff the laptop ships with.

However, once it was all installed I was very happy. The arsenal of Lenovo stuff meant that startup was slow, but once up it was quick. Hyper-V installed with no problems and the Windows 8 UI was lovely to use with the touch screen.

With hindsight, I should have left it like that. Except Lenovo released their beta drivers, and I decided to install them.

True to form, disaster struck when I was on the other side of the world, in California. The fault manifested as a corrupted hard drive. The OS was beyond repair, so I had to salvage what data I could onto a pod that thankfully I always carry. With the help of others around me I managed to get a USB stick with Windows 8 CP on to rebuild. That night I spent a while in my hotel room fiddling with drivers again.

It ran, but it was flaky after that, so this week I decided to methodically rebuild and be sparing with the software.

x220 driver step-by-step

I now have a solid, quick, tidy install of Windows 8 on my laptop. I only installed two pieces of Lenovo software in addition to the beta hardware drivers (and you could argue that one of those is a driver as well).

UPDATE: I had some stability problems shortly after installing the Release Preview. Upgrading the firmware to the latest version fixed them.

  • Install the OS clean. Don’t mess around with upgrades – take off and nuke the site from orbit; it’s the only way to be sure!
  • Get all the Windows Updates done first. You should find that takes care of the Conexant Audio driver and the Lenovo monitor driver.
  • Download the drivers from the Lenovo Windows 8 beta drivers page that list the x220.
  • Start with the Intel Rapid Storage driver and the chipset drivers, then install the rest. The Tablet Button drivers are important if you want to be able to rotate the screen.
  • Download the latest version of Lenovo ThinkVantage Access Connections from the x220 support page. That’s the only way I’ve found to manage the wireless connections (especially my Ericsson WWAN card, for which there seems no other way to establish a 3G mobile data connection).

What doesn’t work after this lot? Just the bluetooth, which refuses to install the drivers because it’s not enabled, but without the software won’t enable. Ah well. I can live with that for now.

UPDATE: Upgrading the firmware reset the bluetooth status. Installing the Lenovo Hotkey Utility after everything else has now given me full control of all wireless radios. Whilst I was at it, I tracked down the last unknown device as being the power management interface. I installed the Power Management Driver (Note: not the Lenovo Power software, just the driver) and all is fine. With all the radios off I’m getting at least 6 hours if not more.

Notice that I avoided the Lenovo Power Management (software), tablet menu, active protection and many other software utilities. My experience has been that they add very little whilst significantly slowing boot time.

4 Replies to “Tweaking my Lenovo x220 Tablet and running Windows 8”

  1. Kali, I haven't managed to enable auto-rotation. However the tablet button drivers will allow you to use the rotation button beneath the screen. When in tablet mode the only issue I have found is that occasionally the touchstick in the middle of the keyboard gets 'nudged' by pressure on the screen. I'm not a fan of the touchstick anyway, and the official touchpad drivers will allow you to disable it if you want to. The trackpad doesn't seem to give me any problems – honestly, I hadn't realised it could be automatically disabled when in tablet mode on Win7 either!

  2. having read your review I am now quite tempted to upgrade my core-i7 tablet to 16 GB RAM despite not finding any documentation to say it supports this much memory. Could you tell me if this is specific to a certain model number of the X220 or to all?

  3. Ismail, I can't answer that, I'm afraid. I spent a while looking through forums on the net and there were lots of other people who had successfully upgraded their x220 tablet to 16Gb. Note that I'm talking about the x220 tablet, not the standard x220 laptop. I was also fortunate in that I have other machines that would take the memory had it not worked. You are quite right – the Lenovo documentation does not document support for RAM greater than 8Gb. However, the chipset and CPUs will support the higher amount, and that's why I decided to take the plunge. In fairness, the 8Gb SODIMMS I purchased were relatively inexpensive, and if you check with the supplier first you may be able to return them if your laptop doesn't work. The one thing I would say is stick to brands of RAM that others have confirmed to be working – that will reduce any risk of failure.

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