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The Issues with Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 6th Gen

I have been a ThinkPad user since 2007. The first one was Z61p I think, and after that I’ve had (either my own or employer-provided) T61, T420, T430s, T540p, X1 Carbon 4th gen and now X1 Carbon 6th gen (or X1C6, as they call it in some forums). In T540p the big disappointment was the “buttonless” touchpad that made using the TrackPoint unreliable because the button presses are not exact. It was a big mistake from Lenovo in the ThinkPad series at that time, and they reverted back to the dedicated buttons quite soon after that. When I’m not using an external mouse I’m mostly using the TrackPoint so it’s rather big deal for me. There haven’t been real disappointments apart from that TrackPoint button episode.

Until the new 6th gen X1 Carbon. It is a great laptop (you can find the specs somewhere else), but it has some strange properties.

The TrackPoint moves on its own too much

In all previous TrackPoints there has been the feature that if you keep pressing the TrackPoint long or hard enough, it sometimes moves by itself in the opposite direction for some short moment when you let it go. I have understood it is a feature: the pressure-sensitive sensor has to “reset” itself and find the relaxed center position.

However, in this 6th gen X1 Carbon this happens way too often and way too hard. Sometimes you have to wait like 10 seconds and just watch the cursor wander off the screen (maybe all the way over the 5000+ pixels I have when I’m at my desk with the external monitor). It’s no good trying to fight against it, get a cup of the favourite beverage and see what’s the situation when you come back. The wandering also sometimes start way too easily.

This is not how it should work in 2018, if it didn’t do it in 2007-2017.

If the symptoms get very significant, rebooting the system usually makes it better.

Sleeping problems

On the first day with this X1 Carbon 6th gen I was experiencing some unexpected disconnections with my SSH sessions. It was happening in a network where there hadn’t been similar problems earlier. Then I found the fact: Every time I locked the screen on Windows 10 and went away from the computer the SSH sessions were disconnected. Why would that happen? I had adjusted the power management settings so that the system didn’t go to sleep at all (to keep the SSH and VPN sessions running even though I have a meeting or a lunch break), but I still found the system going to sleep when I was away from the computer.

I observed the computer after locking it, and I saw the system go to sleep in about one minute after locking it up. Why is that? I certainly didn’t have that short idle timer, I had totally disabled the idle timer. I also tested with other idle timer values, with no success. Then I tested with nircmd, I had it turn off the display. Aha! The system went to sleep the same moment the display went off.

Now, the wise people in the Internet say that Lenovo have implemented something like Modern Standby with X1 Carbon 6th gen and Windows 10. To me it means that the normal system sleep mode does not exist anymore but there are some other features like getting the system to “sleep” whenever the display goes off. You know the tablet computers that go to power saving mode when you click the display off? That’s it! But this is not a tablet, this is a full computer with potential usage even though the display is off.

I also found out that there is a hidden setting in Windows 10 (and earlier) that specifies how long the system can be locked before the display is turned off automatically. This is not the normal “display off idle timer” in the power management settings, this is something else. And it is set to one minute by default. Bingo! So, when I locked the computer the display went off in one minute, and the system went sleeping at the same time, naturally disconnecting everything.

Yes, there is a setting in the power management that says to have system connected during sleep, but I believe that is only for the native Windows tile applications (whatever they should be called, I don’t care). It didn’t make any difference in my case.

The workaround for all this is to (1) disable the usual display off idle timers and (2) disable the “display off in the lock screen” timer, to prevent the display going off and getting the system in sleep mode as well. To save some power, I enabled the blank screen saver with a moderately short timer. That will turn the display black when the computer sits in the Windows lock screen. I believe it consumes somewhat less power in blank.

This is not how it should work. I should be able to turn off the display if I want to, while still having the computer do it’s computer things.

I understood this is a system firmware-level implementation that cannot be reprogrammed by the user in Windows 10. Bring me back the normal firmware with the normal sleep mode. Again, this is not a tablet.

Process Explorer exits unexpectedly

I normally have the Microsoft Sysinternals Process Explorer running all the time. It stays nice and easy in the taskbar, showing the CPU utilization. If I have some processy things to check, I can just click the icon and bring it front. For example, when the fans of the system go wild unexpectedly, I can check which process is causing it. Sometimes buggy software just consume to much CPU and the system gets hot quickly, burning the lap.

Now, every now and then I realize that after the computer has slept (or whatever is the mode it has really been in) the Process Explorer is missing. All the other icons are there but PE is not. Using the usual Task Manager I can see that PE is not running anymore. I can start Process Explorer manually, and it works fine again after that.

That is not how it should work. I bet it has something to do with the strange “sleep” mode in this laptop.

The sleep is too shallow

With all the previous ThinkPads I have been able to configure the system to ignore the keyboard and mouse inputs while sleeping. Meaning that even though I press a key or move the mouse the system stays in sleep. If I wanted to wake the system up, I could press the Fn button or the power button to get the system up again.

You guessed right: On X1 Carbon 6th gen it is apparently impossible to prevent the system waking up when I move the mouse or touch the keyboard. Also disconnecting the external monitor wakes the system up. So, in order to keep the system sleeping in the laptop bag I have to carefully disconnect the monitor and turn off the wireless mouse before I sleep the system. Otherwise it will just wake up the moment I lift the mouse from the table to put it in the bag.

This is not how it should work. I should be able to configure the system to ignore these kind of external events in sleep mode.

Regardless of the precautions I now exercise when sleeping the system, a few times I have taken a warm laptop from the bag. Not necessarily hot every time, but evidently something has got the system to wake up without my intentions. And a couple of times the battery has been nearly depleted in the bag during the night, even though I have explicitly checked that sleep was activated last time I touched the system. Also, a few times the system has been in sleep according to the slowly blinking LED but the fan was running because the system was hot. That’s not how it should behave.

Updated: September 20, 2018 — 08:45

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  1. Writing this from my ThinkPad T420 on PopOS. It works flawlessly. Better battery life than distros with XFCE or mate.

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