|Introduction and Product Specifications|
While he may not have invented the Internet, Al Gore has played a major role in bringing the issue of Global Warming to the masses. In his book and movie "An Inconvenient Truth", Gore made a compelling case, and whether his message convinced you or not, one thing is certain, it's clear people were listening. Today, there is increased research and development searching for innovative solutions to energy conservation in virtually all areas of our lives. Technologies are being improved to collect solar, wind, geo-thermal and water power, while alternative technologies are under development as well. Regardless of your position on the topic, the benefits are obvious, as energy costs continue to increase.
Today, the computer industry is no different, developing products with ever increasing efficiency. AMD, Intel and VIA are all pushing low power processors while computer manufacturers are working to develop systems with energy efficiency in mind. Processor and GPU manufacturing processes continue to shrink, lowering power demands, while system builders are working energy efficiency into their product designs and marketing. With many homes having more than one computer, this makes sense as computers become increasingly intertwined into our daily lives.
One product designed to be environmentally friendly is the new ThinkPad X300 from Lenovo. This ultraportable notebook was designed to be the most efficient notebook Lenovo has ever offered, with claims of a 25% reduction in power consumption compared to previous X-Series models. To achieve this, Lenovo attempted a balancing act with low power components while working to ensure that system performance is up to par with more powerful notebooks. With a low power Core 2 Duo CPU, Solid-State Hard Drive and LED backlit monitor, Lenovo is off to a good start. The question is, has the focus on low power consumption come at a price in both dollars and performance? In the pages ahead we will work to answer that very question as well as spotlight a number of impressive features that make the Lenovo ThinkPad X300 ultraportable notebook a compelling choice for mobile computing.
The ThinkPad X300 comes with a relatively simple retail package which includes the requisite documentation and power cords to get the system up and running quickly. Printed materials included a foldout setup sheet, Safety and Warranty Guide, Service and Troubleshooting Guide as well as fliers pertaining to certain wireless regulations. The package also included a two piece AC Adapter and Power cord and ThinkPad X300 Series 3 Cell LiPolymer Battery.
Lenovo also includes several TrackPoint caps, one concave and one convex, to help provide the most suitable feel for each user. Any additional software comes preloaded on the system, which we'll cover more thoroughly in the pages ahead.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X300 comes with what Lenovo calls a Topseller 1yr Depot Warranty. This base warranty covers the ThinkPad X300 from defects from materials or workmanship for a full year from the date of purchase. For those looking for additional coverage, Lenovo offers a tiered plan that adds up to 5 years of coverage from the date of purchase. They also offer some warranty packages that include on-site service. Lenovo offers various Accidental Damage Protection plans as well, that protect the system over and above standard warranty issues. The Accidental Damage and Protection ranges from 1 to 4 years of coverage with options for on-site support. Overall, Lenovo offers a slew of choices at various price point to give purchasers a fair amount of options to fit their budget.
|Design, Features & Build Quality|
|Designed to be ultraportable, the ThinkPad X300 has a very small footprint, measuring a mere 12.5" x 9" x 1 1/8", and weighing in at 3.6lb, as tested. Built around Intel's Centrino Pro platform, the X300 is outfitted with an efficient Intel Core 2 Duo SL7100 processor running at 1.2GHz, with 4MB of L2 cache and an 800MHz FSB. Complimenting the processor is a single 2GB DIMM of PC2-5300 (667MHz) with a maximum 4GBs available across two DIMM slots. The main attraction with the ThinkPad X300 is its 64GB Solid state hard drive which offers extremely fast read speeds with lower power consumption vs. traditional drive technology. This one component should have a big impact on overall performance.
Another power friendly option is the 13" LED backlit display. The matte finish screen may not have the same elegance as a glassy finish screen, but it is no less clear and easy to read. LED displays offer comparable performance to traditional displays while using less power, making it a logical choice for a system touted as energy efficient. Mounted atop the display is an integrated camera and microphone while a LED light sits to the right for illuminating the keyboard in low-light situations.
For input, the ThinkPad X300 sports a full-sized spill resistant keyboard along with Lenovo's UltraNav point device which consists of the TrackPoint pointer mounted at the center of the keyboard as well as a TouchPad. To the right of the TouchPad, Lenovo provides a FingerPrint scanner that can be configured for basic log in needs. At the front left and right corners are two small stereo speakers for audio playback while the left edge provides access to a headphone and microphone jack.
On the right side of the system is an ultrathin DVD burner which can be removed to make room for a 3 Cell LiPolymer Battery to extend the overall battery life of the system even further. We should note that this is an option during system configuration, but Lenovo does not recommend both as the DVD is thin and delicate and not designed for frequent removal. The left edge provides access to 2 USB ports while the rear edge offers a third. There rear also includes an RJ-45 port for Gigabit Ethernet with a VGA port sits adjacent to the power connector. Finally, adjacent to the Ethernet port is a switch that manually toggles power to the wireless connections integrated into the system.
While Lenovo does appear to have a lot of features packed into a small system, there are a number of features missing. Most notably missing was any FireWire, Memory card reader or eSata connections and the system is not designed to fit a docking station. There is also no PCMCIA slot or Express Card 34/54 support.
|Design, Features and Build Quality Continued|
|The ThinkPad X300 has some other less obvious physical characteristics including a carbon-fiber / glass-fiber cover that Lenovo dubs a "roll cage" which protects the system when dropped. Additionally, the X300 comes with a number of wireless technologies that adds to its connectivity versatility.
Not only does the Lenovo X300 come with integrated Bluetooth and Intel 4965AGN wireless networking, the X300 also supports Ultra-Wideband USB connectivity along with an integrated Wireless WAN card supporting either Verizon or AT&T cell networks for truly mobile Internet connectivity. Wireless WAN cards are provider specific, so switching carriers in the future may require a new WWAN card.
Ultra-Wideband USB (UWB): Some of our readers may not be familiar with Ultra-Wideband USB, so we thought we'd give a brief overview of the technology to demonstrate its capabilities as well as how it compliments current and future wireless technologies.
Image Courtesy of Intel
Ultra-Wideband USB is based on the WiMedia standard, offering energy efficient, low-range wireless connectivity that delivers high-speed connections over a maximum range of 30 feet. The focus is to allow the connection of high-bandwidth data devices such as video cameras and other media devices while not being tethered to a physical data cable. Running at lower power than traditional wireless techologies, UWB works in the 3.1GHz to 10.6GHz spectrum, opening wider bandwidth capabilities while limiting interference potential from other devices. As newer devices are developed to take advantage of this technology, the Lenovo ThinkPad X300 will be equipped to work seemlessly with them.
|Lenovo includes a fair share of proprietary and after market software on the ThinkPad X300 with the intention of increasing productivity while boosting system security. The notebook came equipped with Windows Vista Business (32-bit) and a sizable collection of software including:
Overall, the ThinkPad X300's ThinkVantage software was rather impressive compared to other OEM software we've seen. ThinkVantage Power Manager offers custom power profiles to help maximize the performance based on the system's intended use. Not only can the system be optimized for Maximum Battery Life or Video Playback, the interface shows the effects the power profile will have on the system's Performance, Temperature, Fan sound level and Power Usage. The software also offers advanced settings along with a status indicator of how much charge time remains. There is also an option called Battery Stretch that, when enabled, can control various component behavior to eke out the most battery life possible. Lastly, a battery maintenance option provides for draining the battery completely to prevent degradation if the system is mainly run on A/C power.
One of the more robust proprietary software packages is the ThinkVantage Productivity Center, which offers a broad range of features and functionality. First, the software works as a front-end, integrating other ThinkVantage titles into a simple menu that is sorted by the category of software. The software does a nice job of tying all of the individual titles together into an intuitive interface that shouldn't be daunting, even for the less experienced user. The menu offers quick links for easy access to Wireless configuration, backup options, maintenance procedures and support.
The ThinkVantage Access Connections provides easy control for the various wireless connections the system offers. The ThinkVantage Fingerprint software controls access to the system log in, adding both security and convenience to logging onto the system. ThinkVantage System Update is a good utility that works to ensure the software and system drivers are all current while ThinkVantage Rescue and Recovery is a full-featured backup and recovery software package for enhanced data protection.
Lenove also includes several after market software titles including Diskeeper, NIS 2007, InterVideo WinDVD and Google Picasa.
On a number of occasions we've noted how proprietary software can tend to be more fluff than function, but that's not the case with the ThinkVantage Productivity Center, or other ThinkVantage titles for that matter. Overall, the interface was well designed and most will find it quite useful in keeping their system in good operating order. We were also impressed at how Lenovo doesn't fall into the mode of preinstalling a bunch of after market software onto the system. We were glad to see a product like Diskeeper Home Edition installed and were equally glad to see that Norton Internet Security was not installed by default but left up to the user to install on their own as this application can cause more problems than it prevents in our experience. In the end, our position is that less is more and this holds even more true with a system trying to balance power usage with performance. Not loading the system up with unnecessary software is a nice plus with the Lenovo ThinkPad X300.
Upgradeability: Access to the ThinkPad X300's integrated components was mixed. There was no easy access to the integrated wireless components or processor, yet access to the memory DIMM slots was easy with the removal of two screws and an access panel on the underside of the system. Even more readily accessible was the solid-state hard drive, which could be removed by removing a single screw and cover between the headphone/microphone jacks and the USB ports. Once the cover was removed, the drive slid out easily by pulling a tab attached to it.
Keyboard & Touchpad: The Keyboard and UltraNav pointing devices both worked well and offered a comfortable, versatile feel in both respects. Being a person who suffers with hand pain due to repetitive stress, it was very helpful to be able to change pointing methods whenever desired. Having two options helped break things up and vary the repetitive motion so it didn't cause discomfort as easily as a single input option might. The Keyboard had a solid feel that gave just the right response to our keystrokes. While the system only measured 9" deep, there was plenty of room for large hands to rest comfortably in front of the keyboard when typing. We did find the touchpad area a bit small for our liking, but it didn't impede proper usage.
Display: After using many high-gloss displays, the ThinkPad X300 seemed a bit flat initially, with its matte finish. Once we settled in and started working with the system, however, we found the screen quite clear and easy on the eyes. The 1440x900 native resolution was a good fit for a screen of this size, offering plenty of desktop space to work with.
Speakers & Sound Quality: The speakers and audio quality of the ThinkPad X300 were surprisingly good. The audio was clear while not surprisingly lacking in bass considering the size of the speakers. While these speakers are small, they did offer decent volume levels, although anyone looking for premium audio quality will want a quality pair of external speakers. But for those using the system for teleconferencing or requiring basic audio needs, the ThinkPad X300 is well equipped.
Heat & Noise: One benefit to a low power system is that it will generate less heat and therefore lower fan noise, which is exactly the case with the ThinkPad X300. The system runs very cool, even for extended periods on your lap and the fan noise is hardly noticeable. We were quite pleased with this aspect of the ThinkPad X300, where the system didn't generate uncomfortable levels of heat or distracting fan noise ever during our testing of the product.
System Recovery: System Recovery may seems like a straight forward topic, but as we reviewed the options Lenovo offers, it brought up a number of points to consider. First, the ThinkPad X300 does not come with any disks whatsoever, relying solely on ThinkVantage Rescue and Recovery 4 to either restore a particular software title or restore the system to its factory defaults. The process is very straight forward and works as designed by simply pressing the ThinkVantage button during the boot process and following the prompts. While this is fine for those needing to recover their system, what about the unlikely event that the solid-state hard drive fails or perhaps a knowledgeable user might want to do a fresh install of Window Vista Business? Since the system doesn't come with any CDs whatsoever, we considered this to be a major strike against an otherwise excellent product, leaving users to order a replacement CD separately as needed. While this is not the most convenient method for the consumer, there is another angle to this line of thinking. First, considering solid-state hard drives don't have moving components, it's a safe assumption that this reduces the likelyhood of a drive failure. Now factor in that Lenovo deems this the "Greenest' Thinkpad ever", it makes sense that disks are provided on an as needed basis. Not only does Lenovo not produce thousands of CDs that in many cases will not be needed, they are not producing thousands of CDs that will ultimately end up in a landfill and they've saved the energy and materials needed to produce these CDs. While it's not the most convenient approach for the individual user, they are not out of luck and in the bigger picture, it seems maybe Lenovo is doing the responsible thing, willing to take a little negative press for not including CDs with their products but sending a bigger message in the end.
|Test Setup & 3DMark06 CPU|
|For our evaluation of the Lenovo ThinkPad X300, we ran all performance tests on the system in its factory configuration. The only exception was with MobileMark 2007, which would not run. Once 3DMark06 and PCMark Vantage test were completed, the system was formatted, a fresh copy of Windows Vista Business installed and all factory drivers installed as needed. We compared the performance to that of the recently covered ASUS U6S, which was our closest available reference while including performance results from an ASUS C90S and Dell XPS M1730 for a broader comparison.
To start out our testing, we began with FutureMark 3DMark06's CPU performance module. 3DMark06's test is a multi-threaded "gaming related" DirectX metric that's useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems. This test consists of different 3D scenes that are generated with software and hardware GPU renderers, which is also dependant on the host CPU's performance. In its CPU tests, the calculations normally reserved for your 3D accelerator are instead sent to the central processor. GPU rendering tests employ a mix of SM2.0, SM3.0 and HDR techniques and effects.
Becuase this test focuses solely on the CPU, it is not all that surprising that the Lenovo ThinkPad X300 was the lowest performer of all four systems tested. The system runs no less than 1GHz lower than any other system tested. As we'll see further on, the Lenovo ThinkPad X300 will demonstrate that the CPU is a single piece of the performance puzzle, and one that is not necessarily the most influential.
|Futuremark PCMark Vantage|
For our next round of benchmarks, we ran the complete Futuremark PCMark Vantage test suite. This is the most recent addition to our testing toolbox that is proving to be an excellent overall assessment tool.
"The PCMark Suite is a collection of various single- and multi-threaded CPU, Graphics and HDD test sets with the focus on Windows Vista application tests. Tests have been selected to represent a subset of the individual Windows Vista Consumer scenarios. The PCMark Suite includes CPU, Graphics, Hard Disk Drive (HDD) and a subset of Consumer Suite tests."
The PCMark Vantage "Memories" suite includes the following tests:
Memories 1 - Two simultaneous threads, CPU image manipulation and HDD picture import
The Vantage HDD suite includes the following tests:
HDD 1 - HDD: Windows Defender
Vantage Communications suite includes the following tests:
Communications 1 - Three simultaneous threads, Data encryption: CNG AES CBC, Data compression, Web page rendering: graphics content, 1024x768, windowed
Communications 2 - Three simultaneous threads. Web page rendering: open various news pages from IE 7 Favorites in separate tabs, close them one by one, Data decryption: CNG AES CBC, HDD: Windows Defender
Communications 3 - Windows Mail: Search
Communications 4 - Two simultaneous threads, Data encryption: CNG AES CBC, Audio transcoding: WMA -> WMA - to simulate VOIP
In this test, the Lenovo ThinkPad X300 lagged the ASUS U6S ultraportable laptop over 600 points while trailing the ASUS C90S by over 1000 points. The communications test is dependent on the CPU and reflects the effects of the Lenovo ThinkPad X300's lower clocked processor.
|Futuremark PCMark Vantage (Cont.)|
|We continue our test coverage with more modules from the comprehensive PCMark Vantage suite of benchmarks.
Courtesy, Futuremark: "Gaming is one of the most popular forms of entertainment for all ages. Today’s games demand high performance graphics cards and CPUs to avoid delays and sluggish performance while playing. Loading screens in games are yesterday’s news. Streaming data from an HDD in games – such as Alan Wake™ – allows for massive worlds and riveting non-stop action. CPUs with many cores give a performance advantage to gamers in real-time strategy and massively multiplayer games. Gaming Suite includes the following tests: "
Gaming 1 - GPU game test
This test gives a good example of how a solid-state hard drive can help with performance. Even with the ASUS U6S running at 2.2GHz and the Lenovo ThinkPad X300 running at 1.2GHz, they returned nearly identical performance results. Regardless, gaming is not the target audience with a product like this and the results prove it.
Vantage Productivity suite includes the following tests:
Vantage Music suite includes the following tests:
Music 1 - Three simultaneous threads, Web page rendering – w/ music shop content, Audio transcoding: WAV -> WMA lossless, HDD: Adding music to Windows Media Player
With the 'Music' test, the Lenovo ThinkPad X300 competed a step behind that of the ASUS U6S, returning competitive results to systems running a significantly faster CPU.
Rounding out our testing, we ran MobileMark 2007 to assess the notebook's overall battery life while running a series of applications through a testing script.
We are using the standard benchmark settings from Bapco, along with a few other minor system tweaks. The screensaver was disabled and the volume was set at approximately 20%.
MobileMark 2007 utilizes the following applications
One area we expected the Lenovo ThinkPad X300 to stand out was in battery performance. With an efficient processor and solid-state hard drive, the system is poised to sip power only as needed. The 3 cell battery gives the laptop a 4 hour runtime rating and our MobileMark 2007 results came in quite close to that specification. In our test the system ran a full 224 minutes which translates to 3 hours and 44 minutes, only 16 minutes short of 4 hours. This was 78 minute longer than ASUS's ultraportable U6S and 122 minutes longer than the ASUS C90S.
|Impressions, Performance Summary & Conclusion|
Performance Analysis: The ThinkPad X300 put up some interesting performance numbers. Understandably, with tests heavily CPU dependent tests, we saw the effects of the relatively low-clocked 1.2GHz processor, examples included 3DMark06 CPU, and PCMark Vantage's Communication and Music tests. Conversely, tests that favored hard drive performance had the ThinkPad X300 leading the pack such as PCMark Vantage's HDD and Productivity test. Rounding out the performance picture is battery life, where the ThinkPad X300 dominated with nearly four hours of battery life.