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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Ultralight Laptop Review
Date: Jun 06, 2011
Author: Joel Hruska
Introducing The ThinkPad X1
The new Lenovo ThinkPad X1 is a formidable system. It's generally being billed as Lenovo's champion of choice vs. the Macbook Air. That comparison makes sense based on the Air's visibility, but the X1 is set to compete across the entire spectrum, including new thin and light machines from Dell and HP and in the enterprise, where perhaps the Air doesn't have a strong presence.

The specs for the machine we tested don't represent Lenovo's highest-end X1 configuration; the company sells two SSD-powered versions of the diminutive system as well.  Here's a quick video walk-through of the system...

Our testbed included a 'Slice' battery (for very good reason); we've included its price along with the machine's full specifications in our list below.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Laptop
Specifications and Features (as tested)
  • Intel Core i5-2520M (2.5GHz, 3.2GHz TB)
  • 4GB of DDR3 RAM
  • 13.3" LCD (1366x768)
  • Intel HD 3000
  • 320GB (7200RPM) Hitachi HDD
  • 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • No Optical Drive
  • HDMI Out
  • Mini DisplayPort
  • USB 2.0 x 3
  • RJ-45 (Ethernet 10/100/1000)
  • Combined Audio Jack
  • SD / MMC / SDHC / SDXC Multimedia card reader
  • Stereo Speakers
  • 3.73 Pounds / 4.5lbs with external battery
  • Slice Battery
  • 13.26" x 9.1" x 0.65"
  • Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)
  • Price (as tested): $1454
  • Price (starting): $1199
  • 1-Year Warranty

The Core i5-2520M is Intel's midrange dual-core, HT-enabled mobile offering, with a 35W total TDP and Intel's HD Graphics 3000 integrated GPU. The CPU has a maximum clockspeed of 3.2GHz and the GPU can run at up to 1.3GHz. Intel's latest integrated GPU offering may not compete well with current low-end discrete chips from AMD and Nvidia, but it continues to push the CPU manufacturer's GPU performance upwards.

The first thing we noticed when we opened the ThinkPad X1 is how well-balanced the system is. Laptops are unbalanced more often than not, prone to tipping backwards due to the weight of the screen, battery, or both.  The X1 is laterally stable with or without the additional bottom-mounted battery. We were initially concerned that the battery (which only covers part of the bottom of the system) would cause the machine to tip forward when installed. This does not occur. The screen, meanwhile, can tilt back 180 degrees--a potentially useful feature when watching content in cramped quarters.
Design and Build Quality

Here we have the X1's right-hand side. From the left, there's the wireless radio switch, stereo speaker output, and a 4-in-1 card reader (SD, SDHC, SDXC, and MMC are all supported). The manual states that the CPRM (Content Protection for Recordable Media) standard is not supported.

The system, from its left-hand side is pictured here. Starting at the left, there are the fan louvers (aka air intakes), a latched door that hides both a combo audio jack and a generic USB 2.0 port, and another built-in stereo speaker. The user-guide notes that a conventional microphone won't function in the combination jack.

Most of the system ports are mounted at the back. Ethernet is at the far left, followed by room for a SIM card (behind the sliding panel), a single USB 3.0 port, an HDMI connector, mini Display Port, combination eSATA/USB port, the power jack, and the Kensington lock. The combination eSATA/USB port is designated as 'Always On,' the manual defines this as: "By default, even if your computer is in sleep mode, the Always On USB connector still enables you to charge some devices, such as [an] iPod, iPhone, and Blackberry." The system can also be configured to charge devices even when in hibernation mode or when completely powered off.


Here we'd like to take a moment and examine the keyboard, TouchPad, and Trackpoint. This is the only area where Lenovo, in it's zeal to appeal to everyone, may have overthought the solution a bit. The Trackpoint (occasionally known by other names) is a Thinkpad staple hearkening back to the brand's days at IBM. The X1 retains the Thinkpoint+classic mouse button design and includes the TouchPad for users who prefer it. The TouchPad, however, isn't just a trackpad—it handles both multi-touch gestures and left-or-right mouse clicks depending on which side of the pad is pushed. By default, all of these devices are on. Configuration information and various options can be fine-tuned within the 'UltraNav' tab embedded in the 'Mouse' section of Windows 7's Control Panel.  

There's nothing wrong with either control system per se, but users who aren't accustomed to a clickable trackpad  may find themselves reaching up and clicking a physical button at the same time they click the trackpad, thus launching inadvertent programs or flipping context menus on and off. The various control systems could easily be explained by short tutorials or a configuration wizard, but either way it's not a huge deal--just something to be aware of.
User Experience: Audio, Display, System Input
Display, Multimedia:

Lenovo PR has made much of the X1's 'Gorilla Glass' display and its ability to stand up to poor treatment. We have no complaint with the glass, but the display behind it is somewhat disappointing. Color reproduction is poor—even in desktop work, the colors are noticeably washed out. And any attempt to watch a  movie on the X1 will send users scurrying for Intel's HD 3000's multimedia controls in an attempt to improve the picture.

We'd like to see Lenovo offering an optional upgrade to 1400x900. The higher resolution makes a difference on the small 13.3" screen, and would put the X1 on par with the MacBook Air in this respect.

Ironically, Lenovo's press release states: "Business machines aren't normally known for their audio/visual experience, but the ThinkPad X1 changes that with its rich and full sound, a 720p camera, and high definition microphones." All those statements may be true, but the display itself isn't quite up to par with what we expect in a $1000+ multimedia system. It's still very good, just not exceptional.

The included speakers are very good by laptop standards. They're clear, loud enough to be practically useful, and handle both music and voice well. They aren't quite as nice as the JBL speakers on the Y560D we reviewed last year, but they're far better than the anemic audio most OEMs offer.


The X1 can be held from any corner without any visible flexion. The chassis feels sturdy as opposed to brittle or overly rigid. If bent from both sides it flexes easily. One oddity here—flexing the system on purpose makes the hard drive vibrate directly against the chassis. Obviously, this isn't a typical use case scenario and there's no indication that this actually harms any components, but we don't recommend it.

Keyboard, TouchPad, TrackPoint:

The X1 uses Lenovo's six-row keyboard design rather than the full seven-row keyboard that the company retains on its classic ThinkPad models. The six-row design fits the small system and is comfortable to type with, even over long sessions. The only significant flaw in the design is the placement of the arrow keys and their proximity to Shift, PageUp, and PageDown. The diminutive size of the keys makes it easy to hit the wrong one; anyone who uses them often may want to invest in a keypad peripheral. 

Lenovo's control panel allows for a great deal of customization

The complexity of the combined TrackPoint/TouchPad system makes it difficult to rate the pointing device(s). All of the control schemes work well on their own,  but users will want to fine-tune control via the UltraNav tab—leaving everything enabled (as is default) isn't a good idea. Again, we wish Lenovo offered a simple utility for calibrating and testing the mouse options rather than stuffing the UltraNav tab into Microsoft's standard 'Mouse' option in the Control Panel.
User Experience Pt 2: Included Software
Power Management:

We begin with Lenovo's power management software:

Lenovo's Power Manager 3 offers users a 'basic' view that's intuitively understandable. Users can control power consumption through pulling the slider up towards high performance or down towards high energy savings; the 'Power Used' bar reports the shift in near real-time. With the system set to High Energy Savings, it draws just 11W. It's wireless controller is enabled in this configuration, and a standard ethernet cable is plugged into the system. The two small meters at the bottom left show the CPU and GPU clockspeeds. Note that Intel TurboBoost is not enabled, although Lenovo's own 'Turbo Boost Plus' is available.

Here we see the same system, with the slider pulled to maximum performance. Power consumption is up to 29W, both Intel's and Lenovo's TurboBoost+ technology is enabled. The CPU is running at 128% of normal speed (3.2GHz); the GPU is still clocked at its stock speed.

We like the basic mode because it makes sense to users who know very little about computers. The adjustable performance/power consumption bar and the two speedometer-like gauges are much less imposing than a long column of options and checkboxes.

The 'Advanced' page is more complex than it should be. There's no explanation for some of the power settings—Power Source Optimized and Maximum Battery Life use identical primary settings when the system is on battery. It's not clear what "Timers Off/Presentation" is meant to do, either. Power settings can still be adjusted via Windows 7's CP, but the operating system's 'Balanced Performance' doesn't correspond to any of Lenovo's settings.

Lenovo's ThinkVantage Toolbox gathers information from multiple Windows subsystems and displays it in a single program. In our opinion, the Toolbox is much better for regular users than Microsoft's Administrative Tools. It doesn't offer as much data or control as Windows Administrative Tools, but it's much less intimidating.

The ThinkVantage Tools (not to  be confused with the ThinkVantage Toolbox) presents a menu of mostly Lenovo-specific services. Users can configure updates, download additional software, or monitor the system's security and recent activity. 

We like Lenovo's included software because it arguably improves and simplifies Windows default control systems. It genuinely adds value to the X1, as opposed to being dubiously classified as 'value added.'
Test Systems, SiSoft Sandra

Our test systems all launched relatively recently, and both are targeted at the lightweight, ultra-mobile market. The x120e uses AMD's new Fusion platform, while the U260 uses a last-generation Core i5 with an 18W TDP, as opposed to the 35W processor inside the ThinkPad X1.

HotHardware's Mobile Test Systems
Covering the bases
 Lenovo ThinkPad X1

Intel Core i5 2520M


Intel HD 3000

Integrated Ethernet
Integrated Audio

1x 320GB HDD

Windows 7
Professional (64-bit)

13.3"LED LCD Display
(native 1366x768)
Lenovo ThinkPad X120e

AMD E-350 Zacate (Fusion)


AMD Radeon HD 6310M Graphics

On-Board Wi-Fi
On-Board Audio

1x320GB Hard Drive

Windows 7
 Professional (64-bit)

11.6" LED LCD Display
(native 1366x768)
Lenovo IdeaPad U260

Intel i5-470UM
(1.33 - 1.86 GHz)


Intel HD Graphics

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x320 GB Hard Drive          

Windows 7 Home
Premium (32-bit)

12.5" LED LCD Display
(native 1366x768)
Testing with SiSoft SANDRA 2011
Synthetic Benchmarks

We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2011, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant.  We ran three of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, and Memory Bandwidth. All of the scores reported below were taken with the system running in its stock configuration.

The Sandy Bridge-based Core i5-2520M easily wins Sandra's synthetic arithmetic test, though the more powerful CPU in the U260 is competitive.

The ThinkPad X1's processor is the only chip capable of using Intel's AVX instructions; the x32 test only runs on an SB-class processor. The ThinkPad X1 easily surpasses all the competition.

Again, there's no real contest here. The IdeaPad U260 offers nearly double the X120e's memory bandwidth, but the ThinkPad X1 is twice as fast as it in turn.

HD Video

Click To Enlarge; 1080p - ThinkPad X120e

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

Click To Enlarge; 1080p - ThinkPad X1

The X1 has no trouble with HD video playback; even 1080P output barely stresses the CPU to noticable levels.


3DMark 06 and PCMark Vantage

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

The Futuremark 3DMark06 benchmark is significantly dated, but makes sense as a test alternative for integrated GPUs. In most cases, systems like these will be limited to playing classic games.

AMD's Fusion solution performs quite well relative to the U260, but the ThinkPad X1 is more than 75 percent faster than the X120e. This is partly thanks to Intel's HD 3000 graphics design. While the core lacks many of the advanced features baked into AMD's APUs, it shares certain resources with the CPU. Under the right circumstances, the HD 3000 is respectably fast for an integrated part.

 Performance Comparisons with Futuremark PCMark Vantage
 Details: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmarkvantage/introduction/
We ran the system through Futuremark’s latest system performance metric PCMark Vantage as well. This benchmark suite creates a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition video 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.

Vantage has been superseded by PCMark 7, but we've opted for the older test for now.

Here, we see the U260 passing the X120e, despite its relatively slow processor and 5400 HDD. Again, the ThinkPad X1 wins this contest handily.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

Performance with Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Gaming Performance 

To touch on gaming performance, we chose an older game that wouldn't stress a modern, low power system:  Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. We then ran a custom pre-recorded demo on each system at a resolution of 1280x720. The resulting performance achieved is indicated in frames per second in the graph below.

We aren't talking much about gaming this time out; the X1 isn't really aimed at the gaming market. The graph above shows just how weak Intel's original 45nm CPU+GPU (Clarkdale, Arrandale) really was—the AMD Zacate system is 2.25 times faster despite a much weaker CPU.

The X1 in turn, is 24% faster than the ThinkPad X120e. The GPU isn't fast enough for more than light gaming, but it should have no trouble with classic titles and of course just about any high def video content you can throw at it.
Battery Performance
If there's one thing a netbook (or an ultraportable) needs to be really competitive, it's great battery life. No matter how great the software or the hardware, an ultra-mobile machine needs great battery life to be really useful in the field. This, unfortunately, turned out to be the ThinkPad X1's Achilles heel.

Battery Life Testing
Medium Workload Test Conditions

The ThinkPad X1's Slice battery in action.

The Lenovo's 'Slice' battery has gotten a fair amount of attention, but we've noticed a fair degree of confusion over what the X1's battery configuration actually is.

The Lenovo X1 has two batteries. One of them is a four-cell battery integrated into the system and can't be removed without voiding the warranty. The other is the six-cell "Slice" battery, and it attaches to the bottom of the system via a series of latches. Lenovo claims it can charge the "Slice" battery to 80 percent within 30 minutes; our experience indicates that the battery does charge extremely quickly, though we didn't formally time it.

It's a good thing it does; you'll be recharging it frequently. The results of our first battery test are below.

Can we say ouch? Even with both batteries installed, the X1 barely breaks 1.5 hours. For our next test, we used Lenovo's own power utility to set the system for Maximum Battery Life.

Things are better here but not great. The X1 only outpaces the X120e or the U260 by 28 percent, and it requires two batteries to do it.  To be fair, however, the processors powering the two other Lenovo systems here are much lower-power devices. Regardless, on just one battery the system falls short of three hours. That makes the Slice battery a near necessity and adds another $149 to the price tag, though with this option you'll survive almost 5 hours untethered.

Opting for an SSD instead of an HDD might gain back a few minutes of run time, but Lenovo's "Maximum Battery Life" mode is very thorough. Screen brightness is reduced dramatically and an entire range of power management features are tuned for rock-bottom consumption. Lenovo offers what it calls "Battery Stretch," but that technology is of little help when you're already optimized for minimal power consumption. On a 4hr 37m charge, the system predicted we'd gain three minutes of life by using battery stretch.
Summary and Conclusion
Performance Summary:  The X1's performance is excellent. The system proved itself handily against both the Lenovo U260 and X120e. Its 320GB HDD performed quite well, though an SSD option would be icing on the cake. Either way, the X1 is a svelte system that offers higher performance than is typical in an ultra-mobile machine. The system's thickness (particularly with its battery attached) and its weight (3.7lbs / 4.5 lbs with external battery) may leave some arguing that the X1 isn't a real ultraportable at all. That's a question you'll want to answer for yourselves.

The X1 has a laundry list of strong points and a few weaknesses. Its battery life is a potential deal killer; even with two batteries the X1 only modestly surpasses its competitors. The slice battery does help, but it also adds nearly a pound to the system's weight and makes it as thick as a conventional notebook. We also wish Lenovo had opted for a 1400x900 display instead of the smaller 1366x768. With a price tag approaching $1500, the higher resolution display would've put the X1 on firmer ground against a system like the MacBook Air.

Balanced against these points are the system's sturdiness, impeccable build quality, excellent software, impressive audio, strong design elements, and the combination TouchPad/TrackPoint. If you don't regularly find yourself on battery, the X1 may be your best choice for a thin, fairly light system with better performance than other systems its size. The ThinkPad X1 is not perfect, but if you can clamber over Battery Hill, you'll find a very nice system on the far side.

  • Great Performance
  • Solid Construction
  • Genuinely Useful Value-Added Software
  • Good External Speakers


  • Weak Battery Life w/o 2nd Battery
  • Heavier Than Most Ultra-Portables
  • Disappointing Display Panel Given Price

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