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A Review of the ThinkPad T480s

The last time I had a laptop was late 2021, before I returned it and built a desktop. That was the right choice: the laptop1 was overpriced and underperformant, and the desktop turned out to be a much better fit.

Not having a laptop, though, was annoying: I would have waste time, functionality, efficiency, and frustration using the computers at school. I would often have to worry about having access to a computer for sufficient time to e.g., write an essay the class before it was due.

Coincidentally, I saw a YouTube video talking about ThinkPads, their low price, upgradability, durability, etc. People seemed to like the T4xx2 series, in particular.

The heft of e.g., the T440 wouldn’t work for me. I have a spot in my bag that can fit a slim, 14-inch laptop, and that’s it. There’s some distain online for the ThinkPads ending in “s”, for slim: less of their components are easily replaceable.

But that’s the tradeoff, I guess. And, realistically, I’m ever actually going to upgrade the thing.

I ended up with the T480s that I’m using to write this post (and every other one on this site, so far). It wasn’t the product of much research; I just saw a listing for an OS-less (but entitled to Windows!) T480s on eBay one day, and bought it. It has an i7 from 2018, 16GB of RAM, an SSD, and a passable, 1080P display3. And the thing was <$300.

The mouse buttons above the trackpad are nice, and I use them instead of the built-in trackpad click. The design is minimal, but businesslike and sharp. They don’t look ultra-premium, but they don’t look like they’re from, either.

I worried that the battery would be terrible, or the thing would look like it fell off a truck, but it’s not, and it doesn’t. There are, of course, signs of wear: some of the keys are shiny, and there’s a bright spot in the bottom corner of the display.

But it runs well, the keyboard is quite good (I originally thought it was mediocre-at-best, but it’s really grown on me), and it lasts 5-6 hours, which is about how long you can expect this sort of laptop to last.

Maybe I should’ve gone for an X1 Carbon; it’s basically this laptop but better. But this thing works! My only complaint is the screen, since I think a 3:2 aspect ratio is preferable (though all my screens have been 16:9, and I don’t have the weird LG one) and 2K with a little more vibrancy thrown in would be a welcome improvement. There are also some weird lags, sometimes, but those seem like a feature common to laptops, rather than a problem with this one in particular.

The experience of using my desktop is better (for reference, the keyboard cost more than the laptop), but using my laptop is lower-friction. It means I do interesting things, like writing this post, more often. It also means that things I’d write down and put off until I felt like walking over to the computer and turning it on (yeah, it’s just as easy as it sounds – it’s like eight feet away from me as I write this) got done a lot sooner and more often. I’ve subscribed to GeForce now for a few months now (the 4K tier, since I tell myself I need it for my desktop), and don’t use it much. I’m falling for the sunk cost fallacy, since I’ve spend some amount of money on Steam games, and losing GeForce Now (though I could immediately resubscribe and be fine, when I actually want to play) would mean I lose access to those games. But having the subscription means I one of the things I can do more often is game, since I can open it on this laptop. I might write at more length about GeForce Now, but maybe it’d be after I get a GPU and finally cancel the subscription4.

I’m thinking about preordering a Framework Ryzen 7040 series (Ryzen 5) because of their famed efficiency, and because it’d be a nice upgrade, a laptop that I could daily drive for years, easily refurbishing when needed. It’s been a while since I built my desktop, and the DIY version seems fun. It would also be a nice gift to myself for my last year of high school, shipping late Q3 of this year.

But the ThinkPad is excellent, and the more I use it, the more hesitant I become to preorder a Framework. This thing works pretty well! And if it stops working, I can cheaply repair or replace it. That also means I don’t have to worry too much about it: I can just throw it in my bag without worrying. Of course, the easy repairability of the Framework might have the same effect, but it doesn’t seem the same.

I guess we’ll see. The Framework improves on almost every one of my gripes with the Thinkpad, but they’re mostly luxury, quality of life improvements.

If you’re looking for a laptop, don’t get one from Best Buy for $300: it’ll almost certainly be terrible. Look for ThinkPads for that price; there are plenty, and they’ll probably actually work. There’s a prolific ThinkPad community5 on the internet, and it’s fun to see their passion.

1It was a Lenovo IdeaPad, which cost 3x as much as this thing, and was much worse.

2jvscholz on YouTube makes different, interesting videos. I think he has a few other channels, too. Definitely worth a watch.

3 The screen is 14" (perfect size!) and 1080P, which, coincidentally, evaluates to the same PPI (and, thus, same perceived sharpness) as my 28", 4K desktop monitor. (I actually don’t miss the high refresh rate as much as I thought I would, but the higher resolution and much better colors always make me glad to be back on the desktop.)

4I try to vary my entertainment – games, books, movies, TV, podcasts. I like to feel multifaceted in that sense. It’s often difficult for me, though; maybe I’ll write about this.

5Reddit and YouTube are good starting places.