What I learned buying a Lenovo T500 and hardware

The Lenovo T500 is one of the last Thinkpad models that don’t have reliance on Intel’s Management Engine. This was my main interest in buying this laptop. But buying this laptop required research.

 

Wireless

There are three mPCIe slots available on this laptop. My T500 came with a half-length Intel-based wireless card present in the far-right slot, and had two antenna connection ports.

The objective for me was to find a new card. The important factor in choosing a card was that it supported the ath9k driver in Linux, as this is a completely-free and open-source driver without binary blobs, and is well-supported. Finding a list of cards that met this requirement was tricky, as there is no nicely laid-out list available for this.

I eventually was recommended the Atheros AR5BXB112 card, which uses the Atheros 9380 chipset. It supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands and also 3×3 MIMO (3 antennas). The tricky part was figuring out if full-length mPCIe wireless cards were supported in this laptop, as most guides available on this recommend half-length cards. But the person who recommended me the AR5BXB112 card also mentioned they were using the full-length version, and after I bought it, I can confirm it fits and works nicely.

I’m using Coreboot on my T500, which doesn’t enforce a wireless card whitelist. I’m unsure if the AR5BXB112 card is supported on the stock Lenovo BIOS.

 

RAM

This was probably the most difficult purchase. Coreboot and Libreboot have a different manner on how they initialize RAM (raminit), and thus, have different compatibility with different memory modules that can differ from the manufacturer specifications.

I had no such luck in finding recommended Coreboot-compatible RAM for the T500, but eventually stumbled upon someone recommending the F3-8500CL7D-8GBSQ kit from G.SKILL for another Coreboot laptop. I can confirm this RAM kit works great, and G.SKILL is a memory brand I have good experience with.

I originally purchased a random unnamed memory kit that matched the specifications provided by Lenovo (PC3-8500 DDR3) which did not work.

 

CPU

Nothing inherently tricky with this. I chose the X9100 processor because of the price, and at the time of writing, I’m still waiting for it to arrive from China.

There is apparently a method for allowing quad-core processors to be used in the T500 involving a hardware modification to the CPU socket. I don’t believe I’ll be doing this.

 

SSD

Nothing tricky with this either. This laptop supports standard 2.5″ SATA drives, and I chose a SanDisk 120GB SSD (SDSSDA-120G-G27). Only SATA 3.0Gbps is supported on this motherboard, but that is still plenty fast enough with this SSD.

I have an interesting idea later on involving RAID0 and another SSD in the Ultrabay slot, but this is completely overkill and would only serve as a fun experiment.

Apparently some T500s can also come with a small 32GB Intel SSD in one of the mPCIe slots.

 

Battery

Finding an affordable (cheap) Lenovo OEM battery for a T500 doesn’t seem possible nowadays. There’s a lot of generic batteries available though, and as far as I’m concerned, are decent enough.

There are 6-cell and 9-cell batteries available. The 6-cell batteries fit the T500 perfectly without extending past the rear of the laptop. The 9-cell batteries extend a bit (possibly 2 inches) past the back of the laptop, but also have more capacity than 6-cell batteries.

I went with a 9-cell battery. Took half a month to travel across the US somehow. At max screen brightness, battery life with general web browsing seems to be around 3 hours, which is relatively decent. I will likely purchase a second battery in-case of long commutes.

 

Charger

Opposite of the battery, finding a cheap Lenovo OEM charger for a T500 isn’t too hard at all. There’s also generic chargers available.

90W chargers seem to be the best available for the T500. I ended up going for the OEM 90W (42T5000/92P1105) charger and have had no problems with it so far.

 

TrackPoint

I figure I may as well invest in some nice new TrackPoints. I imagine there’s official OEM TrackPoints available, but I went with the cheapest 3-pack I could find, which look and fit just fine.

As I understand, there are different types of TrackPoints though, and some only fit newer ThinkPad keyboards. I haven’t done too much research into this.

 

Screen

The screens supported and available for a T500 definitely required a bit of research. As I understand, most of the screen choices are backlit with CCFL. But there is one screen officially supported with LED backlighting instead. Most random eBay sellers of the T500 don’t mention detailed specifics about this.

I received a T500 with a LED-backlit WXGA (1280×800) display, which I’m relatively content with.