Whats the deal with coreboot/libreboot on the x220/230? (looking for a more powerful freedom laptop)

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Joined: 11/28/2017

Very interested in a device like the x220 or x230 if its possible to install libreboot or even coreboot with ME neutralized. Anyways, I have questions about both.

Right now I use a librebooted x200, and a Dell XPS 13 (9360 - not free). I keep the xps for when I need more power, but the X200 is fine for most of the time. Id gladly sell the xps if I could get a more powerful libreboot device.

-people mention the x230 has better dedicated graphics. Am I missing something? Don't they both have intel HD (integrated) graphics?
-Is there a big difference between the x220 and x230? Ive heard the x220 is better for coreboot - why is this? I also don't have preference as to what keyboard is included. I like both, not a big deal to me.
-Will the graphics performance be the same with coreboot as it is with the default bios? I play some games occasionally and my xps 13 with integrated graphics is powerful enough for me - will I get anything close to this performance on the x220 or x230?
-Do either come with a higher res screen by default - or is this something Id have to upgrade on either one?

It might make sense for me to just keep the setup I have now, but I would love to consolidate and move to all free hardware all the time, instead of using one free and one non-free laptop.

How do you all feel about purisms offerings, and system76? Havent looked much into it recently, but I remember them mentioning that they have intel ME disabled on all their devices.

Anyways, if there is a "near perfect" powerful freedom device out there, im willing to sell my xps and spend some money on it, but I dont even know if that device exists at the moment.

I do with I had a bit more screen real estate on my x200 (and resolution). My optimal laptop would be:
-14-15 inches with thin(ish) bezel
-1080p (I dont like to mess with scaling, so either 1440*900 or 1980*1080 is the minimum res I would need)
-RAM upgrade-able to 16 or 32GB
-not super thin, but not gaming laptop thick either
-would and AMD graphics card be supported by libreboot/coreboot? I see AMD has some vega graphics built into intels new cpus, so obviously this would be the absolute best case scenario if it were supported

Im hoping the x220/x230 will fit the bill, but if not I guess Ill have to wait until something else comes along...


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Joined: 07/07/2017

I'm pretty sure that the X230 can be upgraded to 16GB RAM, and it may be possible with the X220. They cannot be librebooted, but they can be corebooted and ME-cleaned. If you have the technical knowledge to flash Coreboot, this will be as free as the most recent Purism laptop (the one with no ME, I forget the model) and probably much cheaper. However, it will not be as free as your librebooted X200.

I'm curious to know what tasks you require 16GB RAM for. I need to replace my X60 keyboard and am in the meantime using my non-free X230 temporarily. While I never had a problem with the X60's 2GB RAM, I was curious to see if I would start to exceed that with 8GB available on my X230. I've been pretty liberal with how many programs I run at a time, and have yet to reach 3GB. Perhaps with a heavier desktop environment I'd get there, but I don't know how I make it to 4. If my X60 ever dies completely, I'll probably go with a X200 tablet with 4GB.

It seems to me that the specs of modern laptops are needed for proprietary systems affected by Wirth's Law[1], but are less important for GNU/Linux. A friend of mine recently switched from macOS to Trisquel. With macOS, he certainly rquired his 8GB. During basic desktop usage he sat at 6-7GB. Since switching to Trisquel he sits at 1-1.5GB and rarely exeeds 2GB.

But everyone's needs are different. If your X200 (which you can upgrade to 8GB if you haven't already) really is insufficient for you, a corebooted and ME-cleaned X230 is a better compromise than your Dell. I think there are also a few libreboot-supported laptops that are slightly newer than the X200 (T400, T400s) but I don't know specifically which if any specs are better.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wirth%27s_law

Joined: 11/28/2017

Hey thanks for the response. Ive seen some x220 on ebay that include 16GB of RAM so I think itll work on either if needed.

One reason why I was leaning towards the x220 is because Ive heard a lot that its eventually going to get libreboot support, so if everything else is almost equal, the chance of libreboot would give the edge to the x220 for me. Since I posted this, Ive heard a few stories of video issues when flashing coreboot and removing ME on the x230, so I guess thats another reason to go for the x220.

Ive flashed libreboot on a x200 and T400, and put coreboot on a Dell Chromebook 11 - is it any harder to do on a x220? Is there any news about libreboot? Id obviously prefer that since it handles ME by default, unlike Coreboot which reqires an additional step (if im correct).

As far as 16GB, its definitely not a necessity, just more breathing room for the future. Ive got 8GB on my XPS13 and 4GB on my X200 and both are fine. Pretty sure my Dell chromebook only has 2GB and it was fine for light use, so im definitely not one of those people who needs a ton. I do some work in kdenlive, and use a ton of tabs and stuff when browsing, but 8GB is definitely fine for now for me.

My x200 is fine for 90% of what I do, and I can assume itll be fine for another 3-5 years, but eventually its gonna be either dated or fail, and it seems the x220 may end up being a worthy replacement.

Do you know if the graphics performance will be the same with coreboot/libreboot as it is in the lenovo bios? Like - if I can play Civ 5 or some emulator in linux with lenovo bios - will I get the same performance with coreboot/libreboot?

I also have a T400s btw, but havent gotten around to trying to libreboot it because I havent found any good instructions. Its actually really nice, but has terrible coil whine. Someone mentioned libreboot might fix coil whine, but I have my doubts.

Since the newer X series may be getting libreboot, any news on the T series? Something like the T460 might be a better device for me, since 1080p at 12.5 inches is a bit small. 14-15 inches would be perfect. My T400s is 1440x900 at 14 inches and its OK. 1440x900 is good for 13 inches and under, and 1080p for 14-15 inches is the sweet spot imo. 1080p on my 13.3inch xps 13 is just a bit small - but im happy with it.


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Joined: 07/07/2017

> One reason why I was leaning towards the x220 is because Ive heard a lot
> that its eventually going to get libreboot support, so if everything else is
> almost equal, the chance of libreboot would give the edge to the x220 for
> me.

A while ago Leah said she was working on the X220, but she later said in a thread here that it isn't happening for the forseeable future and that she had refunded the preorders. Also, from the libreboot website[1]:

"Basically, all Intel hardware from year 2010 and beyond will never be supported by libreboot. The libreboot project is actively ignoring all modern Intel hardware at this point, and focusing on alternative platforms."

If a corebooted and ME-cleaned X220 or X230 is the best way for you to avoid ME and the factor BIOS on your Dell then it's worthwhile, but I wouldn't count on either getting more free than that in the future. Intel is a dead end. I'm more optimistic about EOMA68, but that doesn't address your immediate problem of needed a more powerful libre computer.

> Ive flashed libreboot on a x200 and T400, and put coreboot on a Dell
> Chromebook 11 - is it any harder to do on a x220?

From what I hear the X220 and X230 work well with Coreboot. I have no experience with external flashing, but if you've done it three times I'm sure you can handle it.

> Is there any news about
> libreboot? Id obviously prefer that since it handles ME by default, unlike
> Coreboot which reqires an additional step (if im correct).

For the reasons above, I think libreboot has gone as far as it can with Intel hardware.

> it
> seems the x220 may end up being a worthy replacement.

I think it would be a good replacement for your Dell, but would be a step backward from your X200.

> I also have a T400s btw, but havent gotten around to trying to libreboot it
> because I havent found any good instructions.

Yes, it looks like the libreboot site only mentions the T400. I don't know if librebooting the T400s requires a different process, but it must be doable since Technoethical is selling[2] them. Maybe you could contact them?

[1] https://libreboot.org/faq.html#intel
[2] https://tehnoetic.com/tet-t400s

Joined: 02/19/2016

Someone mentioned libreboot might fix coil whine, but I have my doubts.

It doesn't

Only I didn't know what the noise was, so thanks for enlightening me on that.
Absolutely nothing one can do about it?

Flashing the T400s should be harder than the other machines but the guys from Technoethical developed a short cut. I once had a link to a video showing it, but can't find it any more.

Joined: 05/01/2018

Both X220 and X230 support up to 16 GiB RAM and are ideal for coreboot. The main difference is that X230 has native USB 3.0 whereas X220 not.

Starting Haswell (4th generation Core), Intel implemented a treacherous anti-feature called "Boot Guard". So it's impossible to change the firmware on newer platforms with Boot Guard. One exception is the high-voltage Haswell processors (without U or Y in their model names).

Stay away from: X240 or newer, T440/s or newer, P50 or newer. When you try to modify the firmware, it will instantly power off (forcibly shut down by Boot Guard).

Joined: 11/28/2017

@mason thanks for all the info. Kinda sad that core2duo is as good as you can get with libreboot, but I do agree EOMA68 looks promising (thought I heard about some arm processors supporting it as well).

I think I will keep looking on ebay for a reasonably priced x220 or x230 to pop up and then sell this xps 13 when I can. I was going to put some money into my x200 (upgrade RAM, upgrade screen to AFFS and maybe a higher res - but not sure if thats possible) and maybe I still will but an x220 or 230 will be my "powerful" pc, and I can keep the x200 the way it is. Any idea what I should be willing to pay for a x220 or x230?

And about the T400s, I did talk to them on here a while back, but I kinda shyed away from doing it until there is some solid documentation out there. They said it involves some serious soldering, and I dont trust myself not to ruin a pretty nice laptop. Ive seen someone on ebay only charge $50 to flash a T400s - not sure if I trust someone else with my hardware, but I might consider it.

@nadebula.1984 Ive heard that the i7 versions of the x220 have a usb 3.0 port, and all Id really need is one, so going by that I think either the x220 or x230 would be fine for me.

Wasnt haswell released before skylake? Ive read that its possible to install coreboot and remove ME all the way up to skylake - so going by that, should we be good until you reach kaby lake? Maybe I read wrong, and that explains the lack of devices with support with the exception of purism.

I also remember AMD teasing possible support for libreboot - what ever happened to that? Im sure theryre full of crap and the US govt will make sure backdoors remain in newer CPUs :(

Is the x1 carbon something to consider? Ive heard it has coreboot support: https://www.reddit.com/r/linux/comments/68k8hs/lenovo_thinkpad_x1_carbon_now_supported_by/?st=jhsn6exx&sh=66b68df0

14 inch is ideal - and has 1080p by default - no messing with a screen upgrade on the x220. What do you all think?

Joined: 05/01/2018

Response to your questions:

1, i7 version of X220 does have a USB 3.0, but not a native one, so there might be some compatibility issues.

2, As I said, starting Haswell, Intel implemented an anti-feature named "Boot Guard". I believe that there might be very few models with Boot Guard not activated. But it's very unlikely that you run into a computer without Boot Guard.

3, AMD processors have a similar anti-feature named "PSP". So they are no better than Intel ones.

4, Only the first generation X1 Carbon (based on 3rd generation Core) doesn't have Boot Guard. If you see a Carbon with 4th-generation or newer CPU, run away.

5, Personally, I don't like 14-inch ones...

Joined: 11/28/2017

2+4. I see that now after doing some research. I guess the X1 carbon is one of those models that people are having luck with, but I also read somewhere that not all are missing boot guard and you might get unlucky (seems unlikely but possible). If it will take coreboot - then you should be able to remove ME right? Not sure why some people are leaving it there after corebooting - why would anyone want ME if you are taking the time to install coreboot?

3. I was referring to this about AMD: https://libreboot.org/amd-libre.html
I see now that they have no plans, but maybe its something thats possible in the future? Who knows.

5. I actually much prefer the form factor of the x series compared to the T series, but 1366*768 or whatever the default is kinda sucks. 1080p at 12.5 inches is kinda tiny (and I hate scaling up), but 1080p at 14 or 15" is perfect. I think a 1600*900 screen at 12.5 inches. Is there a 900p IPS/LED option for the x230? I think that would be perfect at that size.

Joined: 05/01/2018

If you like X series form factor and also want high resolution screen, I would like to suggest S1 Yoga (or simply ThinkPad Yoga, Haswell platform).

I do have one S1 Yoga which is based on Haswell ULV CPU. But it doesn't have Boot Guard, which is a very rare exception.

Specification: i7 4500U, 8 GiB RAM, 256 GB M.2 2242 SSD, 2 TB 7mm HDD, 12.5 inch FHD 1080p screen with optional digitizer pen support.

Joined: 08/29/2017

Here in Switzerland there is this provider: http://www.purelab-tefc.ch/overview_english.php
that offer the x230 already corebooted and me_cleaned. They ship also internationally.
I think that the another option would be to find second-hand x230. I think that the cheapest second hand are in the US market. I would certainly go for a good x230 since the external flashing is not a problem. Maybe I would change the x230 keyboard with the x220 (they are compatible but firmware and wrist rest must be modified).

Joined: 11/28/2017

@nadebula1984 Looking into that now, had no idea that this was even an option. Not sure why its so hard to find coreboot-able devices out there. I own 2 corebooted chromebooks, and when searching around for "corebootable devices" they dont even show up - so not sure why there isnt a nice list somewhere. (Dell chromebook 11 and Acer chromebook 11 - do these need ME cleaned btw?
I flashed it a while ago when putting galliumos on there, so wiping the ME wasnt my priority back then.)

Are all Thinkpad Yoga S1 boot guard disabled (haswell version) or is there a chance of getting unlucky? Looking at this i7 version https://www.amazon.com/Lenovo-ThinkPad-Yoga-Convertible-Black/dp/B00P9PIYKE

Those specs seem to hit about everything that im looking for, the only downside might be - is it as rugged as the x series? And how much more expensive is it compared to a x230? I think I can maybe get an x230 for around $150 on ebay, and then upgrade the screen for around $100. Theyre pretty much identical performance, except the touchscreen and form factor (and a glossy screen which I dont mind but dont prefer). And how easy is it to flash? Any harder than the x230?

@ivanB1975 Looks like reasonable prices, but I cant figure out how to order, or if they are quoting me in US dollars.

This is the email I got:


Zwischentotal1: 425.-
Setrabatt (5%): 21.25
Zwischentotal2: 403.75
Spende (freiwillig): 0.-
Versandkosten: 10.-
ENDTOTAL: 413.75

Any idea what my zwischentotal would be with this configuration:
i7 2.9GHZ
IPS display
atheros wifi
no docking station
90 watts power supply
Coreboot and grub (this is what I want right?)
without VGA blob (what should I choose here?)
security - ????
No OS/no excryption

Joined: 05/01/2018

Why is it so hard to find coreboot-capable devices? The major obstacle is Boot Guard, which renders modifying firmware totally impossible. Minor obstacles might include proprietary secret firmware design.

I am not sure whether all ThinkPad Yogas don't have BG enabled, because I simply can't test all of them. I do know how to test whether BG is enabled and have the tools, but can't post them here because of the community guideline (no proprietary software allowed).

A fully upgraded Yoga might be expensive. You can start with one with i5 processor and 8 GiB RAM (on board, can't be upgraded). It should be as durable as X230. In addition, remember that there is currently no coreboot implementation on this model. It is just theoretically possible to support coreboot because some of them don't have BG. If you manage to flash coreboot on them, it can be a big contribution to the coreboot community.

As for a comparison between X230 and Yoga:

Pros for X230:
Upgradeable memory.
Physical buttons for TrackPoint.
Non-ultrabook: indicator LEDs and removable battery.
VGA and Mini-DP ports, express card and ethernet.

Pros for Yoga:
Better screen.
AVX2 instruction set support.
Lower power consumption and faster battery charging.

Joined: 08/29/2017

the prices should be in swiss franc that are almost 1:1 to USD. in your case 419USD.
I think that shipping would be expensive to US, depending on the weight.
I think that if you write them, they would answer.

For the second configuration you could just try the same you did for the other configuration.
In my opinion all depends on the time you want to invest on the project. If you have time and since you have the technical abilities (you did it before) you could buy a good second hand in US and flash it yourself. Prices are quite low. Here in Switzerland instead second hand prices are much higher (around 300-400). It is why I was considering the machines from that company. But I have still to convince my wife to have an additional laptop :) rather impossible :)

Joined: 05/01/2018

I went to the marketplace this afternoon. I saw one ThinkPad Yoga for about $360 USD.

i5 4300U, no BG
250 GB SSD
12.5-in 1080p FHD IPS with digitizer pen support

Joined: 11/28/2017

@nadebula.1984 Kinda scares me that no ones flashed coreboot on a thinkpad s1 yet. Im still sitting on a t400s because im scared to flash it without documentation from others. I would love to contribute to the community, and wouldnt be against buying this and maybe paying someone to try and flash coreboot if I oculd find someone who is in the US and would do it for a good price.

That being said Im leaning more towards the x230 since Ive already found some guides, and I like the form factor a little better. Plus I really dont like glossy/touch screens. I hate accidentally touching the screen - it seems like it would never happen but it used to happen to me all the time.

Any idea how hard a screen upgrade is on the x230? 1600x1900 and a better panel would make it a perfect screen. The biggest thing I notice when using my xps13 vs the x200 screen is how much better the screen is on the Dell. If I could get something similar on a coreboot ME cleaned x230 Id be very happy.

@ivanB1975 I most likely will try flashing myself, and then worst case scenario find someone to flash if I cant figure it out. I would like to get a really good condition model though, so sites that sell this vs random people on ebay seem much better.

Joined: 05/01/2018

Hackers in my local community have already upgraded X230's screen to up to 2560*1440. Even higher resolutions (e.g. 3840*2160, a.k.a. 4k screen) are theoretically possible. The cost is the express card slot.

As for touch screens, I have found a way to globally disable the touching but not to affect the digitizer pen. i.e., you can still use the pen as usual and you'll not be annoyed by accidental touching. This is extremely useful if you use your tablet to take notes or draw pictures.

I have several "multi-touch" devices without Boot Guard, including ThinkPad Yoga, ThinkPad Helix and X230t. I also have several Wacom boards.

Joined: 11/28/2017

Are there any guides out there to do this? I would also be willing to pay if its an involved modification.

That 768p screen is my biggest problem with the x230. I would love a super high res screen, but the last time I tried to deal with scaling in linux it didnt work out so well. Some distros it was OK, but some apps would still give me a lot of trouble.

I think ideally Id like to stick with 1x scaling for the time being for simplicity sake. My 13.3" xps has a 1080p screen, and that dpi is about as tiny as I would go. I think at 12.5 inches 900p would be ideal.

On the other hand, 3200x1800 and scaling set to 2x should be easier than 1.25 or 1.5 scaling - but I have tried that on a friends XPS laptop (13.3" and 3200*1800) and I STILL had trouble with scaling. Most (native) apps scaled nicely, but there was a few that were so tiny they were unusable. Yes I probably could have spent more time getting those apps to scale better, but Id like to avoid extra messing with settings if at all possible.

And my last rant - why does setting the native res on a 3840*2160 panel to 1080p somehow look worse than 1080p on a 1080p panel. Is there something Im missing? It should just double all pixels, so everything should line up nicely, and should just just as sharp as 1080 on a 1080 panel.

Have you tried flashing coreboot on your thinkpad yoga yet? I know you mentioned no one has done it yet - any reason you havent tried? This to me would be the biggest reason for wanting one of those devices, but I get why you wouldnt want to try it yet (same reason I havent flashed my T400s yet).

Joined: 05/01/2018

As long as the fonts are vectorized, it doesn't really matter if the scaling factor is integer or fractional.

If you want hardware guide, search "model hardware maintenance manual". If you want firmware guide, search the coreboot's wiki.

I haven't flashed coreboot on my Yogas, because there is currently no official implementation, and I don't want to risk bricking them.

Joined: 11/28/2017

It was mostly just some apps that looked crazy. Yes I know I can get it right with the right amount of time, but I try to minimize problems by just going with a setup that is more popular. I know 900p with 1x scaling would cause no problems, give me better battery life, better performance, and be just as functional as 1800p with 2x scaling. Yes 1800p would look much crisper, but its a tradeoff Ill take.

Those guides are awesome btw. Not sure why after all the searching around in google and reddit I didnt find it before this.

And understandable about the yoags, Id probably do the same.

Joined: 11/28/2017

So I looked into the mod. I might give it a go. Putting my xps 13 on top of my x230, the difference is night and day. I think id order a pre-cut bezel as well so I could go for the 13.3" inch FHD screen.

This is the perfect laptop right here: https://i.imgur.com/GiasnKg.jpg (minus libreboot, but coreboot+me cleaner is a close 2nd).

My only concerns are: is this gonna cause weird issues at all? (especially in linux).

Ive read that battery life will suffer a bit, and the power button controls brightness, which doesnt bother me, but im worried about coreboot and linux compatibility. Should I be?

Like I mentioned before, I like to avoid problems that need weird solutions, and im worried having this screen might introduce some weird issues.

I guess worst case scenario I could just upgrade to ips, but 768 is kind of a bummer compared to 13.3" 1080p.

Where do you live btw? You mentioned your local community? I was consider paying someone to do this mod if the price was reasonable. But I wouldnt mind doing it myself I guess.

Joined: 05/01/2018

You "wouldn't mind doing it" by yourself? Excellent. Then stop talking and do it.

You'll surely encounter "problems that need weird solutions". But don't try to avoid failure. By avoiding failure you avoid success as well.

Joined: 11/28/2017

Your right, I was just more concerned about once im finished - am I gonna have whats basically a x230 with a stock 13.3" screen, or will I encounter some problems forever across different distros.

If the upgrade is done, and done properly - will this function like a normal screen (besides the screen dimming button), or will it always require more attention and hacks. If the former im all for it, if the latter then its not worth it for me and Id rather just stick with a low res.