The Thinkpad X62 is a “restomod” of the well-received Lenovo Thinkpad X61 (produced in 2007) with a replacement motherboard and components, and usually a display upgrade, in the original case and keyboard. It's an interesting exercise in combining the lost positive attributes of older hardware (high-quality keyboard, 4:3 screens, comfortable surfaces) with some of the gains from newer hardware (faster components, broader and newer hardware standard support). I've been using one as my primary laptop since 2018, and these are my thoughts about it.
I've used Thinkpads as my primary personal laptops (and laptops as my primary personal computers) since I was in high school. Models I've used include the 600E; the legendary X40; the X300 and X301; and, up until I got this X62, the X201s. I'm a strong devotee of the classic beveled-cap keyboard, and Lenovo lost my interest completely with the introduction of the chiclet keyboard. A laptop with modern performance and features in one of the classic chassis is essentially my ideal.
Here's a quick overview of the technical specs, where they differ from those of the X61:
- CPU: an unusual engineering sample Intel Broadwell i5 at 2.0GHz.
- RAM: 2 204-pin DDR3 SODIMM sockets. I have 12GB socketed, but the system supports up to 32GB.
- Storage: the X61 chassis's 2.5-inch SATA bay is available, along with an NVMe connector on the motherboard. I have an NVMe drive connected.
- Display: the X62 is typically modded with a 1400x1050 AFFS screen manufactured by BOE Hydis. My unit has this screen, but beware: X62s exist without the mod, still carrying around the X61's execrable 1024x768 TN panel.
- The docking port is removed, and the opening plugged.
- The IEEE 1394a (FireWire 400) port is removed, and the opening plugged.
- The cardbus connector is removed. The slot remains, covered by the original dust cover, but you can open the cover for a nice view of the top of the X62's motherboard.
- The modem port remains, but I believe is no longer connected. (The X62 doesn't have any modem hardware, regardless.)
- The SD card reader remains, but is upside-down.
- One USB port has been upgraded to USB3.0; the other two USB2.0 ports remain.
- The VGA port has been replaced with mini-DisplayPort and mini-HDMI connectors.
- The Ethernet, headphone, mic, power, and battery connectors remain unchanged, along with the lock port.
The usage experience is unsurprisingly very similar to that of an X61. The X62 has the same (fantastic!) keyboard, the same compact form factor. The industrial design is well-considered and highly optimized for usability; the wrist rest edge is carefully rounded, cooling airflow routed to function even if the laptop is sitting in a lap (gasp!) and avoid burning the user, the display latch is secure and easy to use one-handed. By far the most obvious difference when you sit down to use the device is the screen, and what a difference!
IBM and Lenovo for years (arguably still) doubled down hard on the “email and Word” use case for a “business” laptop, and as a result consistently installed extremely low-quality screens. The X61's stock screen is a 1024x768 TN panel, with extremely poor colors and viewing angles, and a dim, inefficient CCFL backlight that dims even further with age. In contrast, the 1400x1050 AFFS screen is higher-resolution (nearly twice the pixels, at a pixel pitch in line with quality modern sub-hi-DPI screens) and has much better viewing angles and improved color accuracy. The backlight is still a dim, dimming CCFL, unfortunately. (There is an LED backlight mod for either screen, which is highly recommended. I haven't done it yet.)
Performance of the laptop is pretty much bog-standard for a Broadwell system. It's no speed demon and won't support high-end gaming or video editing, but it handles everyday tasks (even the horrorshow that is the modern Web) up to and including Minecraft and OpenMW with aplomb.
In other respects, the hardware is pretty good, especially given that it was designed by amateurs. The handful of oddities (upside-down SD card reader, somewhat strange plug-with-cutouts to replace the VGA connector) are just that—oddities—and do not significantly detract.
While the original hardware is bulletproof and the modded hardware is respectable, the system firmware is… sparse. IBM/Lenovo's firmware is featureful, and the features are well-supported by native Linux drivers. The X62's firmware has practically no features, and I've encountered some significant bugs: very occasional kernel panics; occasionally the temperature sensors glitch out and report an improbable +237°C; and a fun one where the wifi card stops working (but can be recovered without a reboot by disconnecting and reconnecting it to the PCI bus). The biggest feature of Lenovo's firmware I miss is the ability to control battery charge thresholds, but that's the tip of the iceberg; whatever your favorite Thinkpad firmware feature, it's a safe bet the X62 doesn't have it.
- The X40/X60 series have probably the best portable laptop chassis ever developed. A modern system mounted in this chassis is the holy grail of laptops.
- High-resolution, decent quality, 4:3 screen.
- The best keyboard ever made.
- The best laptop mouse ever made.
- Enough performance to be comfortable and future-proof.
- Mediocre system firmware.
- Uses X61 batteries. On the one hand, yay, they're well-integrated and easily acquired. On the other hand, boo, only well-used examples and sketchy clones are available.
- Some oddities and poor integrations between the original chassis and replacement motherboard.
I may never buy another laptop. Since laptop designs have regressed dramatically and almost universally in the past decade or so and manufacturers show no signs of coming to their senses, and smartphones have finally put a hammer to the kneecaps of Web bloat (one of the very few things I'll congratulate them for), I now have a system which is both pleasant to use and will remain sufficiently performant for the foreseeable future.