Lenovo ThinkPad Edge S430 review

The first time I saw this machine I wasn’t really impressed. I mean, it was nice, but there was something I definitely didn’t like. After long hours spent trying to find the perfect candidate to replace my 2008 MacBook Pro, I finally settled to this anyway.  I spent several days thinking about it, trying to imagine what I could not see from the few YouTube reviews I found on the net. Yes, I’m one of those who thinks a lot before spending money.

If you are reading this, it’s very likely that you are just like me, thoughtful and eager to read about the tiniest detail of your future purchase. This post if all for you.


I’m talking about this computer.

What I was looking for

Ultimately, a machine to write code, occasionally on the go, which was nice and durable, with lots of processing power and RAM. And possibly with an anti-glare screen.

Build and design quality

Coming from a MacBook Pro, I already knew the switch was going to hurt a lot. Apple had accustomed me to very high hardware quality, and ending up with a crappy piece of plastic in my hands was the thing I was fearing the most. I also knew that this is one thing I had to bet on. You can only guess at a certain degree.

I was looking for good build quality and an intelligent functional design. Unfortunately they don’t always come together. You can have good build quality meaning that components are good and durable, and you can have good design, meaning that you’ll fall in love with tiny little details which will make your daily life with the tool easier.

Looking at video reviews from other Lenovo products I found that the overall build quality with Lenovos is pretty high, even though it’s clear that this ThinkPad Edge series is a downgraded ThinkPad where several choices were made in order to cut the price.

Good Linux support

I’m still not sure if I made the switch to Linux because of this choice, or if I chose this machine because I wanted to move to Linux. One thing I was sure was that once this machine would arrive I had to install Linux on it. So it has to had a good ranking in the Linux world. For what I’ve heard around,  Lenovos are quite good at that.

No NumPad!

I really can’t take it. But the thing I really don’t understand is why it took a Steve Jobs to the industry to understand that the trackpad has to be in the middle of the thing. Centered, under the space bar. I’d much rather enjoy the vision of the symmetry rather than type ability to type numbers fast. Also I’m not a gamer, so the extra buttons are not a plus to me.

Lenovo ThinkPad S430

What I like

The keyboard

The keyboard is awesome. From the beginning it felt like the best keyboard I’ve ever typed on. I have to say that the keyboard on may previous MB Pro was quite dated, the keys had lost most of the original feedback, so right now I’m not able to express any honest comparison with a brand new MB Pro keyboard. But this one is perfect.

It’s light and small

It’s barely wider than a A4 paper sheet. When you close the lid you can handle it with great confidence even with one hand. It’s less than 2 Kilograms. You can move it around with just one hand with no hassle.

It feels robust

When you put it on the desktop, it doesn’t go anywhere. Despite its light weight, it’s not easy to move it away from its position. It feels overall solid in its everyday use. It wouldn’t say it’s the most robust computer I’ve ever head, but the brittle parts or “defects”, well, you have to look for them. They are there, but they never stand in the way a “normal” daily use.

For instance, if you slightly press one of the four corners of the plastic that holds the keyboard, you’ll notice it bends down, and occasionally it even does a “clicky” noise. Something Apple would never release. I was a little bit disappointed when I first noticed it, but then I thought: “ok, who cares?”.

The only exception is the DVD drawer. It’s not any better than a DVD drawer from the ’90. I had a Compaq Presario back in the ’90. It feels like the DVD drawer is perfectly the same. It does awkward movements in every possible direction. You have to hold it with the other hand when loading the disk in.


There’s this magnesium covering material all around the keyboard and over the lid. It’s very nice. It’s not cold to the touch, it’s kinda grippy, it helps the computer to not slip away from your hands when you hold it. It’s the first time I meet this kind of cover and I really like it.

The feel when closing the lid

There’s a snap point beyond which the lid will close itself without any further pressure. For instance you can’t keep the lid “almost open”, it would close by itself. I like it.

No useless leds

There isn’t any led on the keyboard panel. No hard drives led, no wi-fi led. No led at all. It’s not common on laptops. I like it. There’s only one led, the “Terminator eye” over the ThinkPad “i” logo. That one is not very useful per se, but you can program some function to make it blink, which may become handy for example when you decide to mute the microphone or stuff like that.


I’ve read in some review that this is the first Lenovo laptop to have a Thunderbolt port. I don’t know exactly what to do with it, but it’s nice to have it. It makes you feel like you have a recent computer. It probably won’t work with Linux according to the latest researches I did, but by the time I’ll have some spare money to buy some Thunderbolt hardware it’s probably going to be fixed.

What I don’t like

The screen frame

There’s a reflecting black plastic frame around the screen. I really don’t understand this. It almost hurts. Not for the reflecting surface, I tried it in full sun light and it’s not as reflective as it seems. The problem is that it really seems out-of-place in a computer with a matte screen. It doesn’t look good. Exception made for the monitor itself, that frame is the only place in all the computer’s body where you would be able to clearly see your fingerprints. Which being right beside the screen, the place you stare at all day, it’s not nice. It makes me mad, I always want to clean it.

ThinkPad Lenovo S430 reflecting screen frame

No led on caps lock button

This is not an issue at all, but hey, I understand you have to cut the costs, but is a little caps lock led all that effort? It just makes it seem like “too much” to not have it.

Lenovo ThinkPad S430 no caps lock led

No backlit keyboard

Keyboard is not backlit, I knew it, and I thought it wasn’t going to be a problem. It’s actually not a problem, but the backlit keyboard is probably the thing I miss the most from my previous Mac. There’s a light over the screen which you can turn on and off to make some light above the keyboard, which solves the problem. The light is a little too strong to the eyes, especially when in a dark room, so you won’t keep it always on when you type, I try  to keep it turned on just to resync my fingers on the keyboard or when I have to type a password. Maybe it’s something I’ll get used to.

EDIT: I’m editing this post in a dark room, and the keyboard light is turned on. You get used to it.

ThinkPad S430 keyboard night mode


It’s a bit noisy. I’m not sure if it’s the CPU fan or the hard drive, and I’m even not sure it’s because of Linux. Maybe it’s related to some kernel driver not handling the fan the right way. I don’t know if it’s me getting used to it or some update I did, but it looks like lately it became more quiet.

Button on the keyboard to shut wi-fi down

There’s a button on the keyboard, between the media buttons and the screen brightness ones. It shuts down the wi-fi. I was scared at first, I don’t want that button there. I can imagine myself doing some kind of operation on a remote server and pressing that key by mistake, dropping the connection and leave the server in the middle of a deploy or something like that.

Not being able to open the lid at 180°

You can’t open the lid at 180°. You can only push it back at something like 100°. With matte screens this is an annoying limit. In fact when you stand up in front of the computer, it becomes natural to push the lid back to see the screen clearly. But you can’t.

The hard drive is under the right palm

The machine stays pretty cool in general, it does not warm too much even when the CPU is working hard. But they put the hard drive right under the right palm. And you can feel it. The left side is cooler.

Trackpad is too sensitive

This may be caused by the Linux drivers. I miss the super precise MacBook Pro trackpad. I wasn’t able to tune this one to the perfection. Maybe I didn’t want to spend long hours to tune it on Linux. Anyway, I can no longer tap-to-click. I’ve started to used one of the upper trackpad buttons (very useful buttons).


I’m pretty happy with this machine. It didn’t make me forget the Apple quality yet, but it does it’s job and doesn’t feel like crap. I type all the time, and the keyboard is great. I like to move myself around while working and it follows me perfectly everywhere I go. I keep it on my legs while typing a blog post on the couch and it doesn’t burn. If you are doing a programming job and you want to work with something slightly smaller than a 15 inch, I highly recommend this computer.

Ask questions!

If you are interested in my opinions on aspects I didn’t mention, please drop a comment. I’ll be glad to update this post with other ramblings on what I like or not.


Keep packages with APT pinning

I recently switched to Debian. The thing I liked the most about this switch was the possibility to have the development environment as similar as possible to the production one of the many projects I maintain.

Very soon I found a problem though, specifically with Apache + PHP websites. Packages for PHP and Apache were too recent to work smoothly with my legacy projects.

Solution 1 – Vagrant

Vagrant helps you to keep per-project virtual environments. It works in conjunction with virtual providers like VirtualBox or VMWare. Vagrant is awesome and it was my first choice. I decided to go with this solution mainly because I didn’t want to downgrade my machine to use older software versions.

Setting up Vagrant is pretty straightforward. One problem I found though was with shared folders and Apache. Vagrant mounts your project’s folder under a /vagrant folder in the virtual machine. Having Apache to read files directly from this folder is not a good idea. In fact, you’d want to change the ownership of files under Apache to www-data. And you cannot chown a shared folder. I was not able to change this default configuration so I decided to mount the same folder under a different name. You can do it in Vagrantfile:

 # Share an additional folder to the guest VM. The first argument is
 # the path on the host to the actual folder. The second argument is
 # the path on the guest to mount the folder. And the optional third
 # argument is a set of non-required options.
 # config.vm.synced_folder "../data", "/vagrant_data"
 config.vm.synced_folder ".", "/var/www", owner: 'www-data', group: 'www-data'

It did the trick, virtual machine configured, problem solved.

Solution 2 – APT pinning

I was not completely happy with solution 1. Vagrant is perfect, but I felt like I was using it to solve the wrong problem. That little bit of overhead to startup a virtual machine for every project I had to work on was simply too much. After all this setup was only to keep older versions of two little packages, Apache and PHP.

I decided to study a little bit more on how APT works when it comes to lock packages to specific versions. I found `pinning` as a solution. Very powerful tool, highly configurable. It was enough to add this configuration in my `/etc/apt/preferences`:

Package: *php5*
Pin: release n=squeeze
Pin-Priority: 1000

Package: *apache2*
Pin: release n=squeeze
Pin-Priority: 1000

Instead of locking to a specific version I decided to use the release name, which was enough to get the job done.