Lenovo 14w laptop review and Linux recommendations

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.

10 thoughts on “Lenovo 14w laptop review and Linux recommendations”

  1. I tried KDE Neon, Peppermint 10 Respin, and Elementary OS on the Lenovo 14w. I like Peppermint best.

    One word of caution: To get a working install on the eMMC drive, you need to boot and install in UEFI mode. Legacy (CSM) mode will boot from USB stick, but the resulting eMMC install won’t be functional.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, I found your page searching for Linux on 14w — I also bought a 14w during Black Friday and have been running Lubuntu 19.10 on it. I like pretty much everything about Lubuntu on this device EXCEPT that periodically the screen starts flickering terribly, it is as if the backlight starts flickering more than the display itself if that makes any sense. I suspect it is power saving of some type although it will happen with or without being plugged in.

    I’ve tried a myriad of different settings on the AMD driver and kernel settings without any improvement.

    I tried Peppermint but I just don’t really like the default set up and am not willing to expend the effort to customize it to my liking. I also tried a handful of other distros and found them either to not work at all or various issues that were hard to solve.

    I may go ahead and give KDE Neon a try, thanks for posting this as I hadn’t considered KDE Neon before.

    It is too bad that the RAM is soldered because with 8GB or RAM this thing would rock for the price.

    Like

  3. I am running KDE Neon on mine after finding this post via Google. KDE Neon is buggy! Getting the 14w internal speakers to work was an ordeal. Bluetooth sync with different devices is hit-or-miss. I tried MX Linux after buying this laptop back in the fall via the same $129 deal you referenced and it was buggy as well plus, as you mentioned, the video resolution would make an eagle squint. I will probably try Peppermint Respin next as I have had some success with it on other machines…

    Like

    1. I haven’t gotten around to writing about it yet but I got tired of not being able to watch YouTube in HD. I installed Peppermint and set the resolution to 1280 x 720 and now I can watch YouTube on it at a constant 720p.

      Like

  4. Manjaro with KDE Plasma works pretty well. I downloaded the ISO on my Windows box, and wrote it to a USB drive using https://www.balena.io/etcher/

    To successfully boot the live image on the Lenovo 14, disable Secure Boot in the BIOS. To do this, press F2 at the first Lenovo splash screen immediatly after you power the laptop up. Arrow-key over to the Security menu, arrow-key down to highlight the Secure Boot entry, press Enter to open it, use the arrow key to select Disable and then press Enter to change the entry. Arrow over to the Boot screen and make sure the Boot Mode is set to UEFI. Then arrow over to Exit and select Exit Saving Changes.

    I added the Discover software center and Flatpak for more software selections. The Konsole (Terminal) commands to do this are “pamac install discover” and “pamac install flatpak” (minus quotes). I used Discover to install Chromium and Ferdi (my preferred client for Outlook online/Gmail/Google Voice/FB Messenger). Brave browser was added as an appimage via https://www.appimagehub.com/p/1411550/ Scaling was set at 125% via Display Configuration.

    One short YouTube video played full-screen on a hotel wi-fi connection without buffering/stuttering which is encouraging.

    The only hitch so far is that if I let the laptop sit long enough for the screen to dim it won’t un-dim by waking the unit back up. I get a message on boot (before the KDE GUI loads) that says [FAILED] Failed to start Load/Save (square character)ness of backlight:acpi_video0. I believe this is related, and Iwill do some searching online to find out how to resolve the issue.

    Like

    1. Found the fix with a bit of searching…

      https://archived.forum.manjaro.org/t/resolution-help-needed-systemd-backlight-backlight-acpi-video0-service-loaded-failed-failed/68131/9

      I went directly to editing Grub. Adding acpi_backlight=video to the GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT line as per the directions in the link did the trick.

      KDE Plasma also updated after my original post. One or both of those actions fixed the issues.

      I’ve been really impressed so far – Manjaro KDE is the best distro I’ve tried on this laptop yet. This is the first new laptop I have ever bought for myself – I have been running salvage/used/castoff laptops for years because of my natural cheapass tendencies. That’s also via trial-and-error how I have acquired my meager tech chops.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.