Arch Linux ARM on Thinkpad X13S

Updated March 24, 2023 10 minutes
Thinkpad X13S running Arch Linux ARM
Thinkpad X13S running Arch Linux ARM

The Thinkpad X13s is the first Lenovo Thinkpad with an ARM processor (Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3). This laptop is designed to run Microsoft Windows 11 (ARM), but the processor has initial support from the Linux kernel.

This tutorial will install Arch Linux ARM (“alarm”) on the Thinkpad X13s, however as of March 2023 this is not yet officially supported. This tutorial will use the Generic AArch64 installation and a custom kernel package from ironrobin/x13s-alarm and the bootable archiso (.iso) image from ironrobin/archiso-x13s.

I have only finished the install, and have not tested a lot of things on the X13s yet, but I am encouraged by the reported features from the x13s-alarm project.

At some point, the custom kernel should no longer be necessary, once enough development time has been given to merge the changes into the Arch Linux ARM default kernel.

Mini review of the X13s

The Thinkpad X13s is replacing my aging Thinkpad T440s.

  • The X13s is thinner, smaller, lighter than the T440s while retaining the same basic layout.
  • The X13s keyboard is a significant downgrade from the T440s keyboard. The very minimal key travel will take some getting used to.
  • The T440s is usually quite silent, but the fan kicks on under load. The X13s has no fan, so it should stay completly silent.
  • Because of the fan in the T440s, it almost never gets hot. I wonder if the X13s will get hot under load? We’ll see.. (update: yes, it does get quite hot while compiling the kernel, using all cores; way hotter than you would want on your lap.)
  • I don’t have any idea of the performance, but I also don’t care, as I predominantly only use laptops for development on remote servers. Some benchmarks I’ve seen place this at 75% of the speed of an Apple M1, if thats true, it should be pretty decent.
  • The X13s screen does not unfold 180 degrees like a true thinkpad, its more like 135 degrees fully opened.


  • A Thinkpad X13s.
  • Two USB thumb drives. (One for the archiso, and another for the UEFI shell. You really only need one USB drive if you just overwrite the drive again, but having two drives lets you boot either tool, which you might need to do several times if you make any mistakes. Sidenote: the official X86 Arch Linux iso has UEFI shell, but for some reason it was left out of ironrobin’s iso.)
  • Another computer to prepare the thumb drives.
  • Wireless internet access.

Create UEFI shell on a USB drive

The UEFI shell is required in order to edit the system NVRAM to create/edit the EFI boot entries. Tools like efibootmgr, bootctl, or grub-install all fail to create the EFI entries from userspace on the X13s. However, the UEFI shell is a separate low level bootable program that can (successfully) edit the UEFI variables (NVRAM).

On one of the USB thumb drives, create a FAT32 partition (replace sdX with your drive name):

gdisk /dev/sdX
  • Press o to create a new (GPT) partition table.
  • Press n to create a new partition.
  • Choose the default start and end size.
  • Choose the filesystem type by hex id, ef00 (EFI system partition)
  • Press w to write the changes

Format the drive, and download and extract the UEFI shell onto the drive:

mkfs.vfat /dev/sdX1
mount /dev/sdX1 /mnt
cd /mnt
7z x UEFI-Shell-2.2-22H2-RELEASE.iso
rm UEFI-Shell-2.2-22H2-RELEASE.iso
cd /
umount /mnt

This USB drive is now bootable in any UEFI machine.

Create the X13s derrived archiso USB disk

See ironrobin/archiso-x13s

Download latest .iso file:

Write the .iso file to a USB drive with dd (replace sdX with your thumb drive name):

dd if=archlinuxarm-2022.09.11-aarch64.iso of=/dev/sdX

Boot into the archiso environment

  • Attach the archiso USB drive to the X13s, and turn the machine on.

  • Press F1 during POST to get into the UEFI setup.

  • Disable Secure Boot, and then save the settings, and reboot again.

  • Press F12 during POST to choose an alternate boot device, and choose the USB drive to boot from.

  • The boot menu of the USB drive has two options, one to boot straight from the USB drive, and the other to copy the contents to RAM. The only one that worked was the one that copies itself into RAM.

The system should now be booted and logged into the Bash terminal as root.

Create a network connection

Setup a wireless network connection with wpa_supplicant. Supply your own WiFi AP SSID and passphrase:

wpa_supplicant -B -i wlan0 -c <(wpa_passphrase "My Wireless AP" "My Wifi Passphrase")

If you want to finish the rest of the installation from a remote machine, you may now connect to the SSH server, which is already running. You must first set the root password before connecting, and find the right IP address to connect to:

passwd root
ip addr show dev wlan0

Prepare drive partitions

Use gdisk to create new partitions on the internal NVME drive:

gdisk /dev/nvme0n1

In the gdisk program, enter the following commands:

  • p to verify you are configuring the correct device.
  • o to clear the existing partition table and create a new GPT table.
  • n to create a new EFI partition.
    • Choose partition 1.
    • Choose the first sector by simply pressing Enter to choose the default.
    • Choose the last sector by adding a size: +512M
    • Choose the filesystem type by hex id, ef00 (EFI system partition)
  • n again to create the root partition.
    • Choose partition 2.
    • Choose the first sector by simply pressing Enter to choose the default.
    • Choose the last sector by simply pressing Enter to use all the rest of the space.
    • Choose the filesystem type by hex id, simply press Enter to use the default type (8300 Linux filesystem)
  • p to review the changes you’ve made.
  • w to write the changes to the disk.

Create the two filesystems:

mkfs.fat -F 32 /dev/nvme0n1p1
mkfs.ext4 /dev/nvme0n1p2

Temporarily mount the two filesystems to /mnt:

mount /dev/nvme0n1p2 /mnt
mkdir -p /mnt/boot
mount /dev/nvme0n1p1 /mnt/boot

Verify they are mounted correctly as shown:

## mount | grep /mnt
/dev/nvme0n1p2 on /mnt type ext4 (rw,relatime)
/dev/nvme0n1p1 on /mnt/boot type vfat (rw,relatime,fmask=0022,dmask=0022,codepage=437,iocharset=ascii,shortname=mixed,utf8,errors=remount-ro)

Loosely following the Generic Arch Linux ARM guide, download the latest generic Arch Linux ARM tarball:

cd /mnt
curl -L > ArchLinuxARM-aarch64-latest.tar.gz
md5sum ArchLinuxARM-aarch64-latest.tar.gz

Verify the MD5sum of the tarball against the published one here.

Set the current date and time, it does not need to be exact, but should at least be approximately correct (this is used so tar does not complain about extracting files with future dates, in the next step. Later on you can install ntp to set a more exact time.):

## Use todays date instead of this date:
timedatectl set-time "2023-03-20 12:00:00"

Extract the contents of the root filesystem:

tar xpf ArchLinuxARM-aarch64-latest.tar.gz

Mount the system /proc, /sys, /dev, and /run filesystems into the new root:

mount -t proc /proc /mnt/proc
mount -t sysfs /sys /mnt/sys
mount -o bind /dev /mnt/dev
mount -o bind /run /mnt/run
mount -o bind /sys/firmware/efi/efivars /mnt/sys/firmware/efi/efivars

Now chroot into the new root filesystem:

chroot /mnt /bin/bash

Update the chroot system:

pacman-key --init
pacman-key --populate archlinuxarm
pacman -Syu

Add the filesystems to the /etc/fstab:

echo "/dev/nvme0n1p2 / ext4 defaults 0 1" >> /etc/fstab
echo "/dev/nvme0n1p1 /boot vfat defaults 0 1" >> /etc/fstab

Add the package repository containing the custom x13s kernel:

cat <<EOF > /etc/pacman.conf

Server =

curl -O
pacman-key --add public.asc
pacman-key --lsign 9FD0B48BBBD974B80A3310AB6462EE0B8E382F3F

(Note: this repositry seems to be out of date, but it is only required temporarily, in order to get the intial kernel installed. You will most likely want to compile your own kernel and other packages to get new updates, at which point you can then remove this repository. See Post Install.)

Remove the default kernel, and install the custom one from the x13s repository:

pacman -Sy
pacman -R linux-firmware linux-aarch64
pacman -S linux-x13s

Install the systemd-boot EFI files:

bootctl install

This will ultimately fail to create the boot entry in the EFI nvram, however it still should install the systemd-boot EFI program in /boot/EFI/systemd/systemd-bootaa64.efi.

Create the systemd boot entry files:

cat <<EOF > /boot/loader/loader.conf
timeout 3
default 01-arch-linux.conf

cat <<EOF > /boot/loader/entries/01-arch-linux.conf
title    Arch Linux
linux    Image
initrd   initramfs-linux.img
options  root=/dev/nvme0n1p2 rw dtb=sc8280xp-lenovo-thinkpad-x13s.dtb efi=novamap,noruntime pd_ignore_unused clk_ignore_unused

Install any additional programs you need, especially wpa_supplicant, to get wifi working again in the newly installed system:

pacman -S wpa_supplicant

Use the UEFI shell to set the boot entry

Stick the UEFI shell USB drive into the X13s, exit the chroot, and reboot the machine.

Press F12 during the POST, and choose to boot the USB drive. This should boot directly into the UEFI shell.

The UEFI has access to many filesystems, some of which are defined in the firmware, and some are on disk. You need to find the right UEFI device name that holds your EFI (/boot) partition. For my system, this is called FS13, but it may be different on your system.

List all the device names:


To find the right device name, manually iterate through all the filesystem names:

ls FS1:
ls FS2:

… go through them all until you find the one that has the right files. Look for the files Image, initramfs-linux, and sc8280xp-lenovo-thinkpad-x13s.dtb in the directory listings. For me, I found them on FS13.

Now you have the information needed to can create a new boot entry. First, display all the current boot entries:

bcfg boot dump

You can remove any boot entry number you don’t want:

bcfg boot rm N

Create the new entry as the first (0) entry. Replace FS13: with the EFI partition you found above:

bcfg boot add 0 FS13:\EFI\systemd\systemd-bootaa64.efi "systemd-boot manager"

Remove the USB drive, and type reset to reboot.

The machine should now reboot directly from the NVME drive, loading systemd-boot, and waiting 3 seconds before booting the freshly installed Arch Linux for the first time.

Add the UEFI shell to EFI partition permanently

If you want to be able to use the UEFI shell again, but without needing the USB drive, install the shell to the EFI partition:

mkdir /tmp/uefi-shell
cd /tmp/uefi-shell
7z x UEFI-Shell-2.2-22H2-RELEASE.iso
rm UEFI-Shell-2.2-22H2-RELEASE.iso
cp efi/boot/bootaa64.efi /boot/shellaa64.efi

You do not need to create a separate loader entry, systemd-boot will automatically detect it by convention of the filename being shellaa64.efi.


Recompile the Kernel to get the GPU to work

In order to install Wayland, you need the GPU driver to work. The latest working kernel I found for the X13s is here but the package in the repository is old, and not based on this code. So you will need to compile the source code yourself.

Clone the x13s-alarm PKGBUILD repository:

git clone ~/git/vendor/x13s-alarm

Build and install the kernel:

cd ~/git/vendor/x13s-alarm/linux-x13s
time makepkg -s
sudo pacman -U *.pkg.tar.xz

Build and install the firmware (including wifi):

cd ~/git/vendor/x13s-alarm/x13s-firmware
time makepkg -s
sudo pacman -U *.pkg.tar.xz

Build and install the GPU driver / Mesa packages (Adreno A690):

gpg --recv-key 4c95faab3eb073ec
cd ~/git/vendor/x13s-alarm/mesa-a690
time makepkg -s
# After some time it will display a `Core options` screen, just press `q` to proceed.
sudo pacman -U *.pkg.tar.xz

Reboot, and check that the kernel is updated and that your wifi works:

# uname -r

You can now remove the x13s pacman repository in /etc/pacman.conf, since you are now using your own compiled versions of the same packages.

Now you can go ahead and install a graphical environment, like Sway.

Generate Locale

Generate your locale settings, for example:

echo "en_US.UTF-8 UTF-8" >> /etc/locale.gen
localectl set-locale LANG=en_US.UTF-8


The x13s-alarm repository does not allow opening issues, so I will document and try to update any issues I find here:

Screen Flickering

I have observed brief, infrequent flickering of the screen in Wayland using wayland native applications (Firefox). There is also constant flickering in Emacs X11 using XWayland. For the time being, I have switched to using emacs-nox in the terminal console (using foot, which is wayland native terminal application) and wl-clipboard with this emacs integration for copy and paste functions. I could apparently compile my own emacs using GTK and it would become wayland native.

(Self-compiled linux-x13s-6.3-3-aarch64 and mesa-a690 SHA d6248f4bf)

Crash when switching between virtual consoles

I have intermittently experienced a complete system lockup when switching from Wayland on console #1, to the tty console on tty2, and then switching back to Wayland on console #1. (Using Ctrl-Alt-1 and Ctrl-Alt-2).

(Self-compiled linux-x13s-6.3-3-aarch64 SHA d6248f4bf)

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