A Tech Writer’s Linux Mint Laptop

Lenovo ThinkBook 14 G3 ACL

Linux Mint running on Lenovo ThinkBook. Screenshot by Gene Wilburn

When I’m in any store that offers a computer section, I’m attracted to it like a moth to a campfire. A momentary form of tech lust seizes my psyche and I want to check out every unit on the shelves. I like to keep track of what features are trending, such as CPUs, GPUs, and the usual amount of memory and disk storage being offered. Mainly I’m just kicking the tires, but sometimes one appeals to me so much I want to take it home with me.

I’m particularly vulnerable to quality laptops. My wife runs a Dell XPS 17 with Windows 10. I run an M1 MacBook Air with MacOS, which I think is the classiest laptop I’ve ever used. Nonetheless I was smitten by a Lenovo ThinkBook that I tried out at Costco. One of the things that matters most to me in a laptop is the quality of the keyboard and its typeability. The Lenovo ThinkBook 14 G3 ACL had a great typing feel, and a nice overall slim design with lots of ports.

I’d been thinking of adding a pure Linux laptop to my collection of computers for quite awhile, and I knew that most laptops that run Windows can be converted to Linux. In the ThinkBook, I saw an opportunity to create a great writer’s and programmer’s laptop running Linux, the world’s sauciest operating system, and at a reasonable price — slightly less than $1K US for 24GB RAM, 500GB SSD, Ryzen 7 CPU, and Radeon GPU.

Why Linux?

There are many good answers to this question. Simply put, as a techie I like an operating system that allows me to fiddle under the hood. As a writer, I have plenty of choices of writing tools in Linux, from the traditional Vi(m) and Emacs editors to more modern writing tools such as LibreOffice Writer or, my current favorite Markdown editor, Ghostwriter. Using Pandoc, an open-source conversion utility, I can convert any of my Markdown text files into a Word document for delivery to a client or publisher.

Setting up Linux

After purchasing the Lenovo, I had a few rituals to dance to. It came with Windows 10 Pro which I only needed long enough to update the laptop’s BIOS. Lenovo has some great utilities for this, as well as the updated BIOS to download. The BIOS update done, I was ready to install Linux.

My favorite Linux is Linux Mint, a member of the Ubuntu Linux tribe. I had already created a USB stick disk with an ISO image of Linux Mint. By inserting the USB drive and rebooting the machine, pressing the F12 key just as the Lenovo logo displayed, I booted a live version of Linux Mint, gave it my WiFi password, and told it to blow away Windows and install Linux in its place, which it did. I followed the prompts and Linux Mint booted from the SSD quickly.

Troubleshooting

This is not a tutorial on installing and setting up Linux, but I did run into one issue that I’ll share in case anyone else goes down this route. Although the laptop booted up beautifully and I added several of my favorite software packages, it didn’t recognize the Radeon graphics processor. What this meant was that the CPU was running like mad to fulfill screen handing duties, cutting battery life short. The screen was also at maximum brightness and not even the function keys would dim it.

After searching the Internet, I found a suggestion that what I might need to do is install a more recent version of the Linux kernel. This is done by invoking the Update Manager on the task bar, and clicking on View to see kernels available. By picking version 5.15 I was updating to the latest kernel available at the time of this writing.

Linux Mint Update Manager Kernel Upgrades

Bingo! After this was installed and the system rebooted, it engaged the Radeon GPU and the Ryzen GPU breathed a great sigh of relief. Now I have 6–7 hours of battery life and I can dim the screen.

Bottom Line

If you’re a writer and you’re also a techie, I can say that this little Lenovo unit has a great look and feel. I think the keyboard edges out my MacBook keyboard for writing and programming, and I always considered the MacBook keyboard one of the best.

To say the least, I’m very pleased with the Lenovo ThinkBook 14 G3 ACL as a Linux laptop. I suspect I’ll end up doing most of my writing on it.

Gene Wilburn is a Canadian writer, photographer, and retired IT professional. He is the author of Markdown for Writers.

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Gene Wilburn

Gene Wilburn

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Writer, Photographer, Retired IT specialist, and occasional Folksinger