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Lenovo ThinkPad X100e Ultraportable Review
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Date: Apr 12, 2010
Section:Mobile
Author: Ray Willington
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Introduction and Specifications


Lenovo made more noise at the Consumer Electronics Show in January than any other notebook maker, and while we have since been able to test out a few of the company's newest machines, the curious X100e had thus far eluded us. We just reviewed our sample of the smallest ThinkPad ever (that actually looks like a ThinkPad), and with Lenovo claiming that this is the company's "first professional-grade ultraportable laptop starting below $500," we knew the stakes were high.



ThinkPad loyalists may be some of the most picky in all of the notebook world, and many don't take kindly to tweaks and overhauls of their favorite portable PCs. Lenovo was really going out on a limb with the X100e, as the 11.6" display and sub-$500 start point was obviously out of character for a ThinkPad. We know the ThinkPad Edge family has already branched out, but those machines were still of their own blood. There's no mistaking that the X100e is yet another member of the "classic" ThinkPad line; from the blocked edges to the red trackpoint nub to the matte black finish, it really looks like a shrunken ThinkPad at first glance.



It's not often that you see a ThinkPad notebook powered by AMD; it's even more rare to find one powered by an AMD platform that has thus far been reserved for netbooks and select ultraportables. The unique inclusion of AMD's Athlon Neo (MV-40) made us even more eager to try this machine out. Would the AMD CPU do the ThinkPad name justice? Could a netbook-centric processor handle traditional ThinkPad-like duties? Would the X100e have a negative impact on the positive ThinkPad brand? Join us in the pages to come as we evaluate Lenovo's ThinkPad X100e and find out the answers to those questions and more.

Lenovo ThinkPad X100e (11.6") Notebook
Specifications and Features (as tested)
  • AMD Athlon Neo MV-40  @ 1.6GHz, 800MHz FSB; 512KB L2 Cache
  • 2GB of DDR2 RAM (667MHz)
  • 11.6" LCD (1366x768); LED backlight, Anti-Glare 
  • AMD M780G (Radeon HD 3200) integrated graphics
  • 250GB (5400RPM) Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B Hard Drive
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • No Optical Drive
  • 1.3 megapixel webcam
  • VGA output
  • USB 2.0 x 3
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • RJ-45 (Ethernet 10/100/1000)
  • Headphone / Mic Input Jack
  • SD / MMC / SDHC Multimedia Card Reader
  • Stereo Speakers
  • Gesture-Enabled Multi-Touch Trackpad
  • 3.3 Pounds (with 6-cell battery installed)
  • Removable 6-Cell Li-ion Battery
  • 11" x 7.5" x 0.60 - 1.10" (Dimensions)
  • Windows 7 Professional (32-bit)
  • Price (starting): $449.99
  • Price (as tested): $569.99
  • 1-Year Warranty

 





A real-deal ThinkPad starting at $449.99? It's almost unheard of, but it's for real, and it just might be the most compelling ultraportable we've seen yet. This machine also puts a tremendous amount of pressure on netbook makers who are competing in the "premium netbook" sector ($400 and up), as now consumers can get an actual ThinkPad instead of a netbook for just $450 (or less, if you catch a good sale).
 
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Design and Build Quality


Frankly, we didn't focus much attention on the Lenovo X100e during the gauntlet of CES releases. Even Lenovo didn't help their own cause, pushing forth a bevy of new notebooks (and even a form factor that we'd never seen before), leaving the inexpensive ThinkPad X100e to fend for itself. Now that we've seen it, we can't figure out how it managed to remain undercover all this time. The design and build quality here is astounding; it's really a shrunken ThinkPad. That heralded ThinkPad build quality is all here, and all the rigidity we found in the T410 is here in the sub-$500 X100e as well.


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The chassis as a whole is very much like the T410 we reviewed earlier in the year; it's matte black all the way around, it's blocky around the edges, and it's built like a tank. We've yet to see an 11.6" machine built this well, from top to bottom. There's no debate on the most rigid ultraportable out there (Panasonic's Toughbook line notwithstanding): the X100e is as solid as a rock, and gorgeous in that plain-classic-ThinkPad sort of way.
 

     
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Along the front edge, you'll notice the speaker bar that lies just underneath, while the left edge reveals an audio in/out combo jack, two USB 2.0 ports and a heat exhaust vent. The back holds an AC input and a VGA output, while the right side has an SD card slot, a powered USB 2.0 socket and a Kensington lock slot. That's it as far as ports go; no eSATA, no FireWire, no optical drive, no ExpressCard. We'll confess that the port selection is a little thin, but again, Lenovo had to cut some corners to get a well-built ThinkPad beneath the $500 barrier.

     
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You will notice that the 6-cell battery sticks out somewhat from the rear, but it didn't bother us. We'd rather have more life and a small bulge than a 4-cell battery with substantially less capacity. After opening the rigid lid, we saw what we see on every other Classic ThinkPad: a chicklet-styled keyboard, a red trackpoint in the middle, minimal palm rest stickers and a dual-hinge design holding up the panel. The trackpad is particularly excellent; it's large for an ultraportable, and the multi-touch gesture support is a huge bonus. The tackpoint pointer doesn't do much for us, but it worked well in practice and will please those who have grown used to using one.

     
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The chicklet-styled keyboard feels like a full-size unit, and we had no problems at all adjusting to it. Typos were kept to a minimum, and aside from the Fn key being placed where the Ctrl key should be (a common complaint on ThinkPad keyboards), we couldn't find much to gripe about. We found it interesting that the Enter key wasn't blue, but that's just a minor point. There was no keyboard flex to speak of, and the key/click button travel was perfect. We can't get over how excellent the trackpad and click buttons were; other small machines could stand to learn a thing or two here.


Click To Enlarge

The 11.6" panel is the perfect size for road warriors. The 1366x768 native resolution provided plenty of screen real estate, and the anti-glare coating was a godsend. Most ultraportables and netbooks are saddled with glossy panels that throw off terrible reflections when used under lights and outdoors; not so with the X100e. Unfortunately, the viewing angles on this screen weren't the best. We had to be angled just right in order to avoid seeing color drain, and it didn't take much off-axis viewing for us to lose the image completely. The panel seemed somewhat cheap compared to the rest of the unit's excellent build quality, but considering that the LCD can recline all the way back to flat, we're confident that users can find an angle that looks great regardless of where they are (a coach airline seat, for example).


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Software and Accessories


There aren't ,many extras arriving with new notebooks these days, and while that used to be the exception, now it's the rule. Lenovo's following along here, serving up no bonus gear whatsoever in the box. The machine itself ships alongside a removable 6-cell battery, an AC power cord, an AC power brick and a few user guides. Of course, with a starting price of under $500, we aren't really upset with Lenovo for leaving the extras out, and we can't really blame them. We appreciate the bargain-bin price tag; here, that's good enough.


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On the software front, we found one of our first gripes. Windows 7 Professional is a great OS, but why the 32-bit version? Lenovo bills this as a "professional" machine, and when we hear the word "professional" in 2010, we're thinking 64-bit. There's no excuse for not including a 64-bit operating system here; if you upgrade to 4GB of RAM, only ~3.25GB will be seen by the pre-installed OS. That's not appealing, obviously. We would've loved to have a 64-bit copy of Win7 Pro here, and we think performance would've benefited all the way around.


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Moving onto pre-installed apps, we found Adobe Reader 9 Lenovo ThinkVantage Tools, Symantec's Norton Internet Security, Skype, a Microsoft Office 60-day trial and Lenovo's own taskbar (with wireless manager). Overall, there's not too much bloatware loaded on, but we would have rather seen the Internet Security suite left off and on an included CD for consumers to install at their own discretion. We are no fans of those "pop-ups" asking us to finish an installation or register a product that we never sought to begin with. Boot-up didn't seen to be hindered too much by the pre-loaded apps, though.

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User Experience


Lenovo's ThinkPad X100e is probably our favorite ultraportable to date, and for a variety of reasons. Using the machine is a pleasure. From the moment you take it out of the box, you know you're dealing with quality. It's honestly just like a smaller ThinkPad, and it screams "professional" inside and out. Weighing just 3.3lbs. with the battery installed, you'll hardly feel it in your bookbag, but with a robust 1366x768 resolution on the 11.6" panel, you'll have plenty of room to handle your business while cramped up in a coach airline seat.


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Boot-up was quick, and app launching was equally hasty. We had to check the system profile to make sure there wasn't a faster CPU in here, and while this is one of the first experiences we've had with AMD's Athlon Neo (MV-40) processor in a shipping machine, we look forward to testing more of them. The Athlon Neo is the real deal.

    
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Aside from being surprised by the speed, we quickly fell in love with the keyboard and trackpad. The chicklet-styled keyboard was great to type on, and it honestly felt like a full-size layout. We loved the key travel, the lack of keyboard flex and our ability to start typing away with little to no adjustment from our standard 15" notebook. We don't like the placement of the Fn key (it's where the left Ctrl key usually sits), but we could get used to it if forced to do so. The trackpad had a nice feel to it, and the right/left click buttons had a fantastic amount of solid travel. Having multi-touch gesture support was an added bonus, and something we feel that should be included on every netbook and ultraportable.



We did find ourselves wishing for a few more ports around the edges, and the LCD bezel did strike us as a bit large. That said, the anti-glare coating on the screen more than made up for those letdowns, and while the viewing angles were less than perfect, the ability to lay the LCD all the way back allowed us to always find a great angle regardless of our position. A note about heat: the X100e can get really warm under intense use. While gaming and watching multi-media files, the fans spun up and we felt our lap getting toasty. This is kind of unusual for a machine this small, but all of that speed we mentioned earlier obviously creates a fair bit of waste heat. Just something to keep in mind if you want a dead silent and cool machine.


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Portability was excellent, and we found this machine to be exceptionally rugged and sturdy. We also loved that there were only a pair of palm rest stickers, while everything else remained clean and classy. Our main usability gripes were as follows: we wanted a 64-bit OS, a 7200RPM hard drive (or a cheap SSD), an ExpressCard slot would've been nice and a cheaper discrete GPU option would really be excellent.


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Test Setup and 3DMark 06 CPU


 
  
HotHardware's Mobile Test Systems
Covering the bases
Lenovo ThinkPad X100e

AMD Athlon Neo (MV-40)
(1.66GHz)

2GB DDR2

Radeon HD 3200 IGP

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x250GB Hard Drive          
5400 RPM SATA

Windows 7
Professional (32-bit)

11.6" LED LCD Display
(native 1366x768)
 MSI Wind U135

Intel Atom N450
(1.66GHz)

1GB DDR2

Intel GMA 3150


On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x160GB Hard Drive          
5400 RPM SATA

Windows 7
Starter (32-bit)

10" LED LCD Display
(native 1024x600)
HP Mini 311

Intel Atom N270
(1.6GHz)

2GB DDR2

NVIDIA Ion GPU
(Based on 9400M)


On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x250GB Hard Drive          
5400 RPM SATA


Windows 7 Home
Premium (32-bit)

11.6" LED LCD Display
(native 1366x768)
Asus Eee PC 1201N

Intel Atom 330
(1.6GHz)

2GB DDR2

NVIDIA Ion GPU
(Based on 9400M)

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x250GB Hard Drive          
5400 RPM SATA

Windows 7 Home
Premium SP1 (32-bit)

12.1" LED LCD Display
(native 1366x768)



 Performance Comparisons with 3DMark06
 Details: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/

The Futuremark 3DMark06 CPU benchmark consists of tests that use the CPU to render 3D scenes, rather than the GPU. It runs several threads simultaneously and is designed to utilize multiple processor cores.



Lenovo's ThinkPad X100e falls behind in the 3DMark 06 benchmark when compared to Atom-based machines that boast NVIDIA's Ion GPU, but notice how it crushes anotehr GMA 3150 system that uses an Atom processor. Credit the Athlon Neo and Radeon graphics for helping it keep pace here; there's no doubt that the GMA 3150 is a weak graphics unit, and the AMD processor / Radeon combo almost makes up for it and catches it up to other Ion-based systems. Impressive, we must say. The unit's full 3D Mark 06 benchmark is below:


Lenovo ThinkPad X100e 3DMark 06 CPU Score; Click To Enlarge

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Futuremark PCMark Vantage


We ran the Lenovo ThinkPad X100e through Futuremark’s latest system performance metric, PCMark Vantage. This benchmark suite creates a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. We like the fact that most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, in order to exploit the additional resources offered by multi-core processors.



Overall, Lenovo's ThinkPad X100e bested every other similar machine here save for the Eee PC 1201N, which is definitely at an advantage with that NVIDIA Ion GPU under the hood. This certainly isn't a bad showing given the integrated GPU; AMD's Athlon Neo CPU deserves a lot of credit for powering through these benchmarks, and for a machine that's priced with an MSRP of under $600 (as our machine was spec'ed), we can't really complain. Best of all, we consistently felt that the machine performed well in real-world use. The full PCMark score is below:


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SiSoftware Sandra Benchmarks and Multimedia


Testing with SiSoft SANDRA 2009
Synthetic Benchmarks

We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2009, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant.  We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks). All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running at its default speed along with 2GB of DDR2 RAM running in dual-channel mode.

 
CPU Arithmetic Test; Click To Enlarge


CPU Multimedia Test; Click To Enlarge


Memory Bandwidth Test; Click To Enlarge


Physical Disc Test; Click To Enlarge

See that Athlon Neo keeping pace with far more robust processors? It's definitely powerful versus some other low-power, mobile CPUs. The 5400RPM hard drive was certainly a bit slow compared to 7200RPM contemporaries, but all in all, we think the ThinkPad X100e showed well against the baseline configurations here.



To test multimedia capabilities, we attempt to play back a 720p WMVHD clip, a 720p H.264 clip and a 1080p clip. We've also included two screenshots of the 1080p clip from prior test rigs to give you a better idea of CPU utilization from rival systems.


Click To Enlarge; 720 H.264


Click To Enlarge; 720p WMVHD


Click To Enlarge; 1080p


Click To Enlarge; 1080p on HP Mini 311 w/ Ion


Click To Enlarge; 1080p on Asus Eee PC 1201N w/ Ion


Talked about a mixed bag. We had an easier time playing back a 1080p test clip than a 720p test clip, yet another 720p test clip played back perfectly fine--thre was probably an issue with a particular codec that came pre-installed. We wouldn't push things to 1080p unless we had to (the screen can't handle the resolutions anyway), but it can manage most HD resolution files just fine.
 
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Gaming Benchmarks


 Performance with Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Gaming Performance

To touch on gaming performance, we chose two games that draw moderately on system resources, Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. We then ran a pre-recorded demo of each at a resolution of 1280x800. The resulting performance achieved is indicated in frames per second in the graph below, and for comparison with machines that are able to play at higher resolutions with larger screens, we'll provide you with a link to our chart from the Asus G51J review.



These numbers may lead you to believe that the ThinkPad X100e can't game at all; that's untrue. Even at 1280x800, we found the ~20FPS gameplay experience to be just good enough, and we easily hit 30-40FPS when cranking the resolution down to 800x600. If you play older games that are less demanding on the hardware, the X100e will probably handle them just fine, like WoW for example. We wouldn't recommend this to hardcore gamers obviously, but for a ~$500 machine, having the ability to game at all is a real plus.
 
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Power Consumption and Battery Life


A few things are most important to business users: portability, rigidity, connectivity, usability and battery life. While the ThinkPad X100e excels in most of those areas, it falls short in the last department. Battery life is definitely not the X100e's strong suit, as we were only able to eke out just over two hours of usage in our real-world battery test. We left screen brightness at 65%, Wi-Fi on and all other apps closed.



We're beginning to really understand why Lenovo bundled a 6-cell battery in with this machine, even though it protrudes from the rear. A 4-cell battery would've sat flush, but the battery life would have been extreme low. As it stands, 2 hours and 11 minutes isn't the worst, but it's not fantastic; most other ultraportables can get far more life out of a single charge, and while it's nice that you can carry around a spare battery if you need it, we wanted to see at least 3 hours here.


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If you used the machine lightly and disabled Wi-Fi, you may be able to get 3 or 3.5 hours from a single charge, but we wouldn't bank on seeing more than that. We also noticed a good bit of heat during usage, so it's clear that something (likely the relatively powerful Athlon Neo CPU) is really cranking through some energy.

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Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary:  In our SiSoftware Sandra tests, the Lenovo ThinkPad X100e managed to hang tough with some supposedly more powerful platforms, and in most every regard, the Athlon Neo MV-40 performed well above what we expected from a netbook / ultraportable platform. Unfortunately, these nice benchmarks, speedy boot-up times and satisfactory multi-media scores led to lackluster battery life and a good deal of heat, which were the two main drawbacks on an otherwise stellar machine.



If you hadn't noticed, we really like the Lenovo ThinkPad X100e. The classic ThinkPad cues that you're used to are all here (save for the blue Enter key), and while the port selection left some things to be desired (an ExpressCard slot, FireWire port, eSATA or HDMI socket would've been nice), the overall value cannot be overlooked with a starting price of under $500. It's built extremely well; it's rugged, tough, solid and rigid. There was no keyboard flex to speak of, which is nearly unheard of at this price point.


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The overall design is excellent. The classic ThinkPad look seems to be even more appealing at a small size, and the fantastic keyboard layout made typing for long periods really easy. The trackpad and left/right click buttons were also outstanding (among our favorites), and the inclusion of a multi-touch gesture pad really took things up a notch. We weren't really pleased with the battery life, but we think it's a fair trade for the outstanding performance put out by the AMD Athlon Neo MV-40 processor and Radeon IGP. Even still, the ThinkPad X100e gets our recommendations without hesitation; if you're in the market for an 11.6" ultraportable, do yourself a favor and check this machine out. It performed way better than similarly priced netbooks, the anti-glare screen is a rarity in this space, and build quality it top notch.

     
  • Great Value at Sub-$500
  • Wonderful Design
  • Great Trackpad
  • Solid Overall Performance
  • Very Rigid/Sturdy Chassis
  • Anti-Glare Display

 

  • Lackluster Battery Life
  • Only 32-bit OS Loaded
  • Gets Rather Warm In Use
  • No USB 3.0 Ports

 




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