Published:

Lenovo Legion Y730 as a Linux Workstation

bookmark 2 min read

Background

Recently I had to get a new laptop. The natural choice for me would be to get a Lenovo Thinkpad T series laptop. However, after reading up on reviews, I realized that Lenovo has made too many performance related compromises in this series. Another issue is that they are unwilling to sell them without a Microsoft tax (Windows license). I don't use Windows on bare metal any more (Microsoft products cannot be trusted with confidential information or even with an enabled microphone or a web camera). On my machines, Windows run only in virtual machines, and only with the very minimum permissions and data required to perform their tasks (usually building binaries for Windows, or testing them).

The alternative was the Thinkpad P Workstation class laptops, which I really like. However, they are overpriced, and also comes with the Windows tax.

Lenovo Legion Y730

Looking at alternatives, I came across the Lenovo Legion Y730 gaming laptop. It's cheap, comes with an Intel i7-8750H 6 core mobile CPU, heavy dual fans (like the Thinkpad P series), and both a M2 SSD slot and a 1 TB 3.5" HD. It has 3 USB 3 ports, one USB C/Thunderbolt port, HDMI and DisplayPort outputs. There are several recent laptops available with this CPU. However, if they don't have sufficient cooling, they will sacrifice performance. The Lenovo Legion Y730 have a very good cooling system. It also have a really good HD monitor - one of the best I have seen on a laptop.

The only downsides are a maximum of 32 GB RAM, poor battery life and the sad fact that it has a Nvidia graphics card. (NVidia is crap on Linux - and it's 100% Nvidias fault). The battery is not all that great great, but no workstation grade laptops can run on battery for extended periods of time for C++ developers; with compilations, docker containers and virtual machines all competing for CPU and power.

The selling point for me was that Lenovo sells this laptop without an operating system in my region! It even comes with one single 16 GB memory module welded to the motherboard and one free slot. I did not have to throw away any RAM, I just plugged in a 16 GB A-DATA memory module in that free slot. I replaced the built in SSD with a A-DATA 1 TB M2 SSD (which died after 4 months, and then replaced that with an Intel SSD 660P 1 TB M2 module).

It's a really great machine. It's faster then my 2 year old 4-core state-of-the-art workstation on C++ compilations. The keyboard is not as good as the Thinkpad keyboard on my aging Thinkpad W 520 laptop, but it's way better than any external keyboard I have ever owned.

Debian GNU Linux

I installed Debian "Testing" (Buster) without any problems. Everything worked, except the track-pad (that I never use) and the Nvidia graphics card. Since the built in monitor use the Intel graphics on the CPU, it worked fine as a road-warrior laptop. But I could not use external monitors.

Ubuntu 18.4 and 18.10

When I work in my in my office, I use 3 monitors - One 4k monitor and two 32" 1920x1200 monitors. So after using the laptop with Debian Buster for a few weeks, I wanted to see if I could get it to work with the 3 external monitors.

According to this thread, Ubuntu have some additional packages that can enable the Nvidia card and allow multiple monitors.

However, Ubuntu (the nouveau driver) will hang on the first boot after a fresh install, and never actually allow you to do anything, unless you do some trickery with Grub.

  1. Turn on the laptop and press shift or esc during boot to show the GRUB menu
  2. Press e and edit the line starting with linux adding 'nouveau.modeset=0'
  3. Press F10 to boot

In order to make the Nvidia card work, I used this spell:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:graphics-drivers/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install nvidia-390

The machine has been stable, except for some issues with the Nvidia card during boot. About half of the times, the 1st monitor (on the Thunderbolt connector) is not detected. This is easily resolved by unplugging the cable and re-plugging it after I have logged in.

This laptop has now totally replaced my Workstation PC.

All in all, a great machine.