ThinkPad E14 Gen 2 (AMD) + ThinkPad USB-C Dock – Ubuntu 20.04 (20.10) review

03/2021: Last week I updated to Ubuntu 20.10. I faced this issue which results in a frozen desktop. It seemed to me like it was fixed with some kernel updates (within 5.4.*) but kept reoccurring with the following updates. I prefer to stay on official releases if possible and not manually upgrading the kerne (mainline). Ubuntu 20.10 comes with the 5.8 kernel and the DisplayPorts on the dock worked fine so no reason to install the proprietary AMD drivers on 20.10. The upgrade process with the Ubuntu software updater went without any issues. That’s why I would currently recommend Ubuntu 20.10.

I had the chance to setup the new ThinkPad E14 Gen 2 with Ubuntu 20.04. While doing so I experienced some issues and was able to fix them in the end. I hope this review will be helpful for you. 😉

About the ThinkPad E14 Gen 2

Specifications of the E14 Gen 2:

  • AMD Ryzen™ 5 4500U CPU (up to 4 ghz, 6 cores)
  • 35,6 cm (14″) Full HD 16:9 LED Display (anti-glare), 250 Nits
  • 16 GB RAM
  • 512 GB NVME SSD
  • Windows 10 / Ubuntu 20.04 (Dualboot)
  • together with the ThinkPad USB-C Dock (2. Gen.)

I am currently doing my main programming work on the ThinkPad T495 with the following specifications:

  • AMD® Ryzen™ 5 Pro 3500U CPU (up to 3,70 GHz, 4 cores)
  • 16 GB DDR4 RAM
  • 512 GB NVME SSD
  • 400 Nits 14″ display, low profile, 1080p
  • OpenSuse Leap 15.2 as operating system
  • together with the current Ultra-Dock

In this review I will compare both ThinkPads as daily drivers from my perspective as a web (backend) developer. For me the E14 actually does a very good job overall. Lenovo improved the E-series a lot in comparison to the models back in 2014-2016. The display is bright enough (the test from notebookcheck.com says its actually brighter than specified, which I can confirm) and the overall build-quality is pretty good. Compared to the T-series (carbon-fiber-plastic) we got an aluminum made outer case (back of the display and bottom). This adds minimal more weight but makes a very high-quality impression with a good look and feel to me. The keyboard is brilliant as expected.

About the pricing

If we look at the current price for the E14 (germany, 10/2020) its actually up close with the price of my T495 back in January/February of this year. This might be due to the demand for the ZEN 3 notebooks currently available on the market. I got my T495 for about 925€ which was a good offer by Lenovo. Currently its about 300-400€ more expensive. The Ultra-Dock did cost 220€. That makes 1150€ in total for my current setup.

The setup with the E14 and USB-C Dock is a little bit to close to that number from my perspective. With 820€ for the ThinkPad and 160€ for the Dock, which is 980€ total – we only got a difference of 10-15%. For sure the E14 got the more recent CPU (which indeed is much better than the previous generation ZEN 2) but just because of the missing features of the E to the T series its inferior if we look at display, warranty, build-quality and business features like docking (if we ignore USB-C), ports and slots or the missing LTE option.

Overall its kinda hard to make a good decision in the moment, because we cannot predict how the price develops in the near future. For 700-800€ I think the E14 should be considered for sure. But the difference in price should be really big towards the L/T-series. Otherwise it might be a good idea to wait for a better deal or simply invest 150-200€ more for the T-Series.

Test of the hardware

As I am not a professional hardware-tester I can only recommend the notebookcheck test. As I already mentioned, the fact that the display is slightly more bright then specified was a really positive aspect for me. Because the displays where quite behind in quality and brightness if you compare E/L-series with the T-series. I can only agree with the “Pros” of the device mentioned by the test. But i want to have some words about the “Cons”:

  • The display has very good brightness for working inside with artificial light around. Outside without being right in the sunlight its bright “enough”. The E14 Gen 2 is not meant to be a mobile-workstation. For mobile “on the road” i really would still prefer my T495 because of the much better display.
  • The ports are everything I need. I can plugin a mouse, a keyboard, a monitor via HDMI, LAN, headphones and the USB-C charging cable. The Mirco-SD slot of my T495 was never in use so I am not missing that one, but it might be more relevant for the photo/video folks out there.
  • Missing business features don’t bother me. I would be nice to be able to use the E14 together with my Ultra-Dock. But I actually regret buying the Ultra-Dock and not simply using a USB-C Dock. I think either the original USB-C Dock from Lenovo or any other USB-C dock would be more than sufficient for my work. I did not use LTE or the Smart-Card slot in my T495.
  • Very heavy – not sure what that point of the notebookcheck test is about. My T495 weights 1.487kg and the 14 Gen 2 1.596kg. Thats about 100g, which is almost impossible to notice. I prefer the aluminium outer-casing to some of the cheap-plastic option from other notebooks which would make it lighter. I am not sure how 100g can make a difference worth calling out in a test. Even more confusing that the test of the intel-model doesn’t even mention the weight, while its even more heavy.
  • Battery life is better than with the T495 from by perspective, but I didn’t do any special testing in that regard. From my experience which OS is running on the device is more important for battery life than anything else. Windows or Linux, and if Linux which kernel. Because my development stack is pretty heavy on CPU and and RAM usage (docker stack, VM’s, IDE and multiple browser) I am almost never happy with battery life of laptops/notebooks. Simple office work, videos or browsing the web is pretty much an unrelevant benchmark for me. Some years ago I would make sure my laptop can survive a whole day in school or university without recharging. I think the stats of the notebookcheck test are quite good in that regard. Back in time I would have a second swap-able battery with me – today that’s simply a power-bank, thanks to USB-C.
  • Thermals are slightly better in comparison with the T495, both under light and heavy load. Nothing to complain about on both devices.

In short: lots of the downsides simply don’t bother me much, because either they are unrelevant for my work or are missing features (Micro-SD slot, LTE) I didn’t use anyway on my T495.

Ubuntu 20.04 with Dualboot next to Windows 10

Theres not much to say for Windows 10 and the ThinkPad E14 Gen 2. Everything worked out of the box without complications. While installing Ubuntu next to Windows 10 everything was recognized correctly by the Ubuntu installer. Just Bitlocker was annoying from time to time. While doing the setup I had to enter the very long key multiple times. That of course will only happen if you encrypted your Windows partition. In that case you have to remember to prepare the partitions beforehand for Ubuntu with the Windows Disk-Management. Ubuntu wont be able to tell where the data is stored on the encrypted partition, so which areas are free to use for installation. But don’t worry to much, the installer will warn you if necessary. The installation was quite normal beyond that part.

Issue #1 – no video output via HDMI or USB-C Dock (Display Ports)

At the moment i would recommend just using Ubuntu 20.10 with a more up to date kernel 5.8 where this just works. But i will keep the information down here for the 20.04 LTS users.

Allegedly a higher kernel version should fix the problem. I don’t like to simply upgrade the kernel for issues like that. It could introduce more issues with different hardware drivers or something like docker which is a crucial component for me. Thats why I simply downloaded the current AMD drivers from AMD and installed them. After the installation the HDMI as well as the Display Ports on the USB-C Dock work perfectly fine.

IMPORTANT 12/2020: The current AMD drivers are incompatible with the recent kernel update (5.4.0-56-generic) and will break the boot process a (black screen in my case, might be related to the workaround from Issue #2). Because I need the proprietary drivers to use the USB-C Dock Gen 2 I will continue using 5.4.0-54-generic for now. More Infos in this thread.

Issue #2 – fn-keys not working

I found a solution in the Lenovo forum for that: link

1 – edit crontab

sudo crontab -e 

2 – add the following line to the end of the file

@reboot sudo rtcwake -m mem -s 2

3 – save and reboot

The workaround is ok for me, I am fine waiting 2 more seconds on every start/restart.

Issue #3 – sleep/hibernation/energy-saving mode not working by closing the lid

I was not able to fix the problem yet. My workaround is to add “stand-by” trigger to the power key and press the key or manual selecting stand-by in the menu before closing the lid. Thats ok for me and waking up by opening the lid is working as expected.

EDIT: the most recent kernel update (5.4.0-52-generic) for Ubuntu fixed the problem for me. It takes a little bit long (10 seconds) but the ThinkPad goes to sleep if I close the lid and wakes up again.

side note: i had similar issues with my T495 on Ubuntu, Arch and OpenSuse Tumbleweed or Leap 15.2. Depending on the kernel version sometimes it worked, sometimes sleep or wake-up was buggy.

Conclusion

In the meantime all problems with Ubuntu 20.04 are fixed. Currently I can only recommend the E14 Gen 2 with Ubuntu 20.04 20.10 or Windows 10. Only the price should be a bit lower, maybe its worth to wait for a good Black-Friday offer. But be careful – the first generation of the E14 (AMD) had some big issues, so make sure you get the second generation with ZEN 3 (Ryzen 4XXX), even if the model name (E14) is the same.

Photo by Allen Ng on Unsplash

8 thoughts on “ThinkPad E14 Gen 2 (AMD) + ThinkPad USB-C Dock – Ubuntu 20.04 (20.10) review

    1. Yes I did notice some backlight bleeding. I’ve seen worse but the t495 screen is definitely better in that regard. As I don’t watch movies on the E14 it really does not bother me.

  1. Hi, have you upgraded since? I’m playing the kernel up/down game atm, and idk whether the newer kernels are play nicely with the gpu.

    1. No, I will stick with 20.04 LTS and the minor kernel updates. This is my main machine for development right now, which needs to be stable.
      I used opensuse tumbleweed with my T495 for a while and kernel updates (5,6-5,9) tend to break AMD graphics. Thats why I recommend to stay on LTS kernels even if that requires closed source drivers to use all AMDGPU Features.

    2. I updated the blog post because I switched to 20.10 (5.8 Kernel) because of the linked issue, which kept reoccurring to me within the 20.04 updates in the last months. So far its been a pretty stable experience and the proprietary AMD drivers are not required anymore to use both DisplayPorts on the USB-C Dock. 5.8 might be a sweet spot, if I remember correctly I left Opensuse Tumbleweed on 5.9 to Opensuse Leap (= back to 5.3) on my T495 because updates broke the amdgpu drivers multiple times from 5.9-5.10.

  2. Are you having any issues with docker and kubernetes on Ubuntu 20.10 on ryzen 4500u with 5.8 kernel?

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