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Lenovo 14w laptop review and Linux recommendations

The Lenovo 14w running MX Linux

If you don’t mind I’d like to indulge my tech side for a moment.

Over the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend, I purchased a Lenovo 14w laptop  (sponsored link) for $120. This is a low-end laptop intended to be used by school students. Basically, it’s a Windows version of a Chromebook. The problem with this laptop is that it doesn’t work very well with Windows. Then again, that’s not why I purchased this laptop.

I bought the Lenovo 14w to specifically use as a Linux laptop. Before I bought the Lenovo 14w I was using an Acer Aspire Cloudbook 14 as my Linux Laptop. The Cloudbook had 2GB of RAM, a 32 GB eMMC drive, and an Intel Celeron processor. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the Cloudbook and it ran great as a Linux laptop. However, the Lenovo 14w would be an upgrade as it has 4GB of RAM and a 64GB eMMC drive along with a 1080p screen as opposed to the Cloudbook’s 720p screen.

When I first installed Linux on the 14w I used MX Linux and it worked fine with no problem. Then I tried installing Deepin on it and the installation failed midway.  I then tried several other Linux distros including Zorin, Peppermint, and Voyager.  All of them failed during the installation. I then tried to get Windows back on the 14w by using the Windows Installation Tool but during that installation, the eMMC drive was not recognized. It was at this point I thought I had either broken the laptop or I received a defective one. I was able to reinstall Windows on the 14w using Lenovo’s Recovery Tool which you can find on their website. However, since Windows is too resource-intensive for the 14w, I reinstalled MX Linux. Don’t get me wrong. MX Linux is a great Linux distro. I’ve been using the 14w exclusively for almost a week now with MX Linux and I have no complaints. If you’re new to Linux, I wouldn’t recommend starting out with MX Linux though. I would say, in my opinion, that this is more of an intermediate level distro. 

14wtop

Batman decal not included. Trench Reynolds decal available at mooshuandme.com.

Earlier today I did some research about using Linux on the 14w and it seems I’m not the only one with a problem of having limited distros to choose from. According to this Reddit thread, there aren’t too many Linux distros that have the drivers for the 14w’s eMMC drive. Apparently, MX Linux is one of them. I also tested Ubuntu 19.10 which also works. So if you’re using any type of Ubuntu derivative such as Linux Mint, it has to be based on Ubuntu 19.10 or later. 

The hardware itself is not bad either. The 14w feels good in your hand even though it’s mostly plastic. It looks sleek and clean too with its traditional Lenovo black look. It does attract a lot of fingerprints though. The one thing it’s not great for is video. While the screen may be 1080p you’ll have a hard time watching 1080p streaming video on it. Whenever I use it to watch YouTube I have to reduce the video’s resolution to 480p to get a smooth playback. The keyboard is kind of mushy but I got used to it rather quickly. The I/O is pretty good for a budget laptop. It has two USB-A ports with USB type 3. It also has a Type C port which is used for charging. It also comes with a full-size HDMI port and a micro SD card reader. While the screen is 1920×1080 it’s only 220 nits so it’s not the brightest screen in the world but I have no complaints about it.

Sadly, as much as I love the 14w, I would only recommend buying it if you plan on using it with Linux. With Windows, it’s too slow to even be a Grandma or kids’ computer.

UPDATE 12/22/2019: Since I’ve made this post, a number of updated distros have been released which do work on the Lenovo 14w. Those include Linux Mint 19.3 and Zorin OS 15.1. However, the Linux distro that I’ve installed that seems to work best with the 14w is the Peppermint 10 Respin. While MX Linux is still my current favorite distro, even by their own admission, it wasn’t designed with low-end computers in mind. Peppermint OS has given the 14w a lot of zip in my opinion. Although, you’re still going to be stuck with 480p when watching YouTube. For some, that may be a feature rather than a bug since this was designed to be a student’s computer.

UPDATE 12/27/2019: While Peppermint was great as far as speed goes for the 14w, I kind of missed the look of MX Linux. So I installed MX Linux 19 again onto the 14w. Then I encountered another problem. Due to the limited graphics of the 14w, there aren’t a lot of resolution choices for the 14″ 16:9 screen. You can either have 1920×1080 which renders most things to small for my aging eyes, or you can have 1280×720 which gives you pixels the size of canned hams. 1366×768 would have been a nice compromise but is not an option for the 14w. Also, many of the Linux distros that I use don’t have what’s called fractional scaling. In Windows 10 on a 1080p screen, I can bump up the scaling to 125% and it’s perfect for my eyes. On most Linux distros that I enjoy, it’s either 100% or 200% and that’s it. 200% (or 2x scaling) makes pixels the size of cinder blocks.

Then I found a distro that I had not used before but I downloaded it because I was told that the KDE desktop does have fractional scaling. So I installed the latest release of KDE Neon. I was never a fan of the KDE desktop until now. The fractional scaling made the 14w’s 1080p 14″ screen much more usable. Not only that but I feel like the experience now is much more stable using KDE Neon. It’s not as fast as Peppermint but it feels a lot smoother. I’ve even had some success at viewing YouTube in 720p.

So for now, KDE Neon is the reigning champion in the Lenovo 14w Laptop Linux Challenge.

14wkedeneon

The Lenovo 14w running KDE Neon.

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