Reviving my old Thinkpad X121e

I recently undusted my old ThinkPad X121e. The system specs are extremely low end for today’s standards but this machine still deserves a second live.

Hardware specifications

At the heart of the Lenovo ThinkPad X121e (NWS64MH) is an AMD E-450 ultra-mobile APU which was released in mid-2011 which exists of two cores clocked at 1.65 GHz, 32 KB L1 instruction cache, 32 KB L1 data cache per core and 2 x 512 KB L2 cache. This microarchitecture is missing AES acceleration support which negativly impact the peformance of TLS encrypted webservers and remote secure shells. The display is a mat 11,6" edge-lit LCD screen with a resolution of 1366x768 (WXGA Wide). The 4GB DDR3 (SODIMM) memory is not impressive but it should be able to handle a few browser windows.

Getting the WiFi working

The wireless chip has broken down during the years. It was still able to connect with WiFi networks but the putting data through it was problematic. The problem was independent of the operating system, Linux distributions and Windows where unable to reliability transfer data.

So I swapped it with an old Intel WiFi Link 5100 supporting IEEE 802.11a/b/g/Draft-N from an even older system I had around. In theory this should not be to difficult to install. Just plug in a new Mini PCI-Express card right? Well no. Lenovo has a list of approved wireless cards allowed for this Thinkpad. This whitelisting is informed by the BIOS.

I have found a modded BIOS that had this whitelisting removed, so no limitations anymore. For this one I needed a working installation of Microsoft Windows, but other versions of this BIOS updater might also be available.

The original firmware I was running was the UEFI BIOS Version 8RET52WW (1.15) and Embedded Controller Version 8RHT22WW (1.10). Updating it with the approved firmware and the modded firmware made the version of firmware jump to UEFI BIOS Version 8RET54WW (1.17) and Embedded Controller Version 8RHT23WW (1.11). No stability problems, and no wireless card whitelisting. Great succes!

Copyright © 2024 Yennick Schepers