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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2014, A Fantastic Revision
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Date: Feb 17, 2014
Section:Mobile
Author: Dave Altavilla
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Introduction And Specs
In terms of brand recognition, Lenovo's ThinkPad probably has some of the best "brand equity" of just about any notebook line in the history of Windows PCs.  A favorite among IT managers for their rugged reliability, especially in business environments, Lenovo's ThinkPad brand, previously acquired from IBM, helped propel the company towards the number one PC market share position that it enjoys today.  Over the years, the ThinkPad has evolved dramatically as well, shape-shifting from squarish, utilitarian designs of the past, to new innovative, mechanically-gifted incarnations like the ThinkPad Yoga we recently reviewed. 

And while even these newer ThinkPads are usually "dressed for business," it could be said that Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon series cuts through the stuffy facade, offering something for the conference room or coffee shop with a sleeker physique and sports car-like good looks.  The original ThinkPad X1 Carbon was initially released back in 2012 and at the time, its carbon fiber-infused chassis offered a rare combination of build quality and light-weight durability that Lenovo could still call a "ThinkPad" but with a style and feel all its own.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook
Totally Revamped For 2014 - Lenovo's 14-Inch ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

New for 2014, Lenovo has completely revamped the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, from the 4th generation Intel Haswell Core series processor under its hood, to its new higher density carbon fiber-filled polymer skins, a higher resolution display and even some major upgrades to the keyboard area.  The previous generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon scored itself a HotHardware Editor's Choice award. Let's see if the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon has what it takes to earn that accolade again. 

First, we'll go hands on with a video preview and then we'll dig into design, software and performance specifics in our full detailed review on the pages ahead...



Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2014
Specifications & Features
Processor: 
Operating System: 
Graphics: 
Memory: 
Display/Resolution: 
Camera: 
Storage: 
Integrated Communications: 
Connectors: 




Keyboard: 
Audio: 
Battery: 
Case Material: 

Software: 






Weight: 
Price: 
Intel Core i5-4200U (3MB Cache - 1.6 - 2.6GHz)
Windows 8.1 Pro
Intel HD Graphics 4400
8GB DDR3L 1600MHz
14-inch IPS WQHD (2560X1440) with mutli-touch, 300nits
720p HD camera
128GB SSD
Intel Centrino Wireless-AC 7260 + Bluetooth 4.0
USB 3.0 (x2), mini-HDMI 1.4, Ethernet
4-in-1 card reader
Lenovo OneLink
Volume and display lock
Headphone/mic jack
5-row with Trackpoint plus Adaptive backlit Keyboard keys
2 x 1 Watt Dolby Home Theater v4
8 Cell 45 Watt-hour - up to 9 hours battery life, Rapid Charge
Top: Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer
Bottom: Magnesium Aluminum Alloy
Lenovo Companion, Lenovo Support, Lenovo Quick Control
Lenovo ThinkVantage Tools, Lenovo QuickSnip
QuickCast, rara music, Zinio, Hightail, eBay
Microsoft Office trial
Desktop Toasts ForCriticalUpdates
Nitro Pro 8, Skitch Touch
Absolute Data Protect, Reading List, Norton Internet Security
2.8 lbs (Non-Touch), 3.15 lbs. (Touch Screen)
Starting at $1299 - $1579 as configured and tested 

Scanning through the high level specs, you'll note the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon has been upgraded with Intel's latest Core i5-4200U Haswell dual-core with integrated Intel HD 4400 graphics.  This change alone offers the machine significantly better graphics performance, power efficiency and battery life.

Lenovo now also offers a high resolution 2560X1440 multitouch IPS WQHD display in this 14-inch machine, in addition to the standard 1600X900 display option.  We of course opted for the WQHD version panel which also has brighter output at 300nits.



Lenovo also offers 128GB or 256GB SSD options as well as 4GB or 8GB DDR3 1600MHz configurations for the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.  In addition, you also get the latest Intel Centrino 7260 Wilkins Peak 2 AC wireless and Bluetooth 4.0 radio in this new ThinkPad, along with a native RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet dongle.
 
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Design, Layout and Build Quality
Lenovo took the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon almost back to the proverbial drawing board.  Not only does the machine sport a few major functional design changes but the chassis itself is built with a more rigid, high density carbon fiber filled polymer that feels just as light (it's actually slightly lighter than the previous gen) but much more solid in the hand.



The previous generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon felt just a little bit flimsy in spots.  The wrist rest area and lid especially had some flex to them.  The new X1 Carbon chassis does away with this completely with a smoother, less textured exterior surface and all around much sturdier construction. There is zero flex to the entire chassis including the lid and display area and even the 180 degree wide-swing hinges are designed better and offer a smoother, more confident motion.  If you liked the previous 2012 ThinkPad X1 Carbon design, you'll absolutely love the new model's build quality. It's just, in a word, fantastic.

The 2014 ThinkPad X1 Carbon's 2560X1440 display is also pretty fantastic, sporting a matte finish that minimizes glare but optimizes viewing angles very well.  It's one of the best touch panels we've seen yet, as far viewing angle performance is concerned.  Colors are rich and balanced while text remains crisp and legible, even while switching between apps or IE, which aren't optimized for ultra-high resolution on a small 14-inch display.  Lenovo sets the machine up with a balanced 150% magnification for web browsing and desktop apps, while Metor or "Modern UI" home screen optimized apps look clean and sharp at full res.



One major design change decision that was made was to do away with the trackpad mouse buttons that accompany the red Trackpoint mouse.  These mouse functions are now fully integrated into the trackpad itself and we didn't miss the discrete functionality at all, though Trackpoint purists might miss them.  We will say that, out of the box, the touchpad is configured with a very fast scroll speed and we'd recommend dialing it back a bit if you find yourself over-correcting often.

 

The 2014 ThinkPad X1 Carbon keyboard itself is just more Lenovo excellence.  There were some small concessions that needed to be made for the new 5-row design, versus the previous generation 6-row implementation, but adapting to these small changes requires assuming a minor learning curve.  Specifically, the combination split Backspace and Delete key may catch you hitting one or the other command accidentally, but it took us less than a week to settle in to reaching just a little less for Backspace and just a little more for Delete.



 



For ports and IO, you get a pair of USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, mini DisplayPort, an Ethernet Dongle port that supports native RJ45, a combo mic/headphone port, a micro-SIM card slot for option cellular connectivity, a Kensington lock port and Lenovo's USB-like rectangular port jack.  Everything is here, except for the micro-SD card slot.  Why Lenovo did away with this in the new X1 Carbon design is beyond us.  Frankly, this one omission kept us from deeming the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon as "perfect" Hot Hardware.  But alas, few things, if anything in life, are truly perfect. 



Another nice surprise is that the Lenovo's new power brick for the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is dramatically smaller; in fact the new model has 45 Watt total power capacity while the previous version is a 90 Watt adapter.  Regardless, travelers that like to minimize bulk and weight will appreciate the significantly more efficient footprint here as well.


One of the hallmark features of this new ThinkPad design is Lenovo's adaptive function row display strip above the keyboard.  This is actually a liquid crystal display that allows for various icon patterns to be displayed even in bright lighting conditions.  Lenovo achieves this with an electroluminescent layer behind the display. 

The Home function row includes icons for volume, brightness, gesture control, screen snip voice recognition with Dragon Assist. The Web Browser row shows when IE, Chrome or Firefox are launched, and the Web Conference row activates when Skype, ooVoo, WebEx, Lync, Google Talk or Windows Messenger are engaged. Finally, there is a standard F-key function row that activates for Microsoft Office apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc.

Though some of the functions offered are more of a novelty, other functions like brightness, volume, screen snip, search and some of the browser functions, are valuable additions for accessibility, usability with Windows 8, and aesthetics.   F-key functions are feeling a bit dated at this point but have been the current convention for so long now, they're hardly given a second thought by most manufacturers.  We're pleasantly surprised by the usefulness of this new evolution of the function row and hope to see more adaptive presentations in future Lenovo products.
 
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Experience, Software and Utilities
Lenovo presents a relatively clean setup of Windows 8.1 with the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon, though there are some additions of both useful utilities and bloat.







Lenovo QuickCast allows you to share files with other ThinkPads on the same network while the Lenovo Settings app lets you configure things like the camera, power profiles, audio setup and location aware services.



Lenovo Companion contains quick access to user guides and a previews of recommended apps, along with promotional spots for different services that you might find useful or entertaining with your machine. Frankly, this is where things feel a little "bloaty," if that's a word.



rara is a music streaming service offering titles from a number of major and independent record labels, including Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, EMI Music and Warner Music Group. Lenovo installs a limited free trial with the ability to upgrade to a monthly subscription.  Again, you may or may not deem this as useful software and may ultimately end up deleting it.

Regardless, most users will find Lenovo's custom utilities and configuration menus a nice addition to the Windows 8 interface that still occasionally has its moments of mysteriously hidden functionality, at least comparatively, if you're migrating on from a Windows 7 machine and are still trying to understand the inner-workings of Microsoft's new touch-centric OS.
 
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SiSoft SANDRA and Cinebench
We started our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, File System).

SiSoftware SANDRA 2014
Synthetic Benchmarks


CPU and Multimedia Tests


Memory Bandwidth and Physical Disk Tests

There weren't many surprises here as the new X1 Carbon's CPU and Multimedia scores fall in line with performance expectations for Intel's dual-core Haswell architecture.  However, notable early indicators here in the Memory Bandwidth test (19.3GB/s) and Physical Disk test (530MB/s) show a robust dual-channel memory subsystem and solid state storage (a Samsung mSATA SSD).  We're happy to see Lenovo didn't cheap out on the memory configuration, opting for a single channel setup as we've seen on other Lenovo machines.  The 2014 ThinkPad X1 Carbon is fully enabled for its CPU and memory config, thankfully.

Cinebench R11.5
3D Rendering Content Creation Performance
Cinebench R11.5 is a 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation suite used by animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others. It's very demanding of processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput.



Here the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon took the top spot amongst our stable of ultrabooks in the OpenGL portion of the test.  Even the Toshiba KIRAbook, with its Core i7 CPU couldn't catch it due to the fact that it's based on previous generation Intel Ivy Bridge integrated graphics.  In the CPU test, the new X1 Carbon lands about as expected, in the middle of the pack.

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PCMark 7 & 8
Futuremark’s PCMark 7 is a well-known benchmark tool that runs the system through ordinary computing tasks, including word processing and multimedia playback and editing. Graphics and processor power figure prominently in this benchmark, but graphics power doesn’t play as big a role here as it does in another Futuremark benchmark, 3DMark (which is designed for testing the system’s gaming capabilities). This test also weights heavily on the performance of the storage subsystem of a given device.

Futuremark PCMark 7
Simulated Application Performance



It's another strong showing for the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2014), with a top-end score that was third-best of our tightly packed group.

Futuremark PCMark 8 v.2
Trace-based Workload Testing
Futuremark recently launched PCMark 8, which has several built-in benchmark tests. The Home test measures a system's ability to handle basic tasks such as web browsing, writing, gaming, photo editing, and video chat. The Creative test offers similar types of tasks, but has more demanding requirements than the Home benchmark and is meant for mid-range and higher-end PCs. The Work test measures the performance of typical office PC systems that lack media capabilities. Finally, the Storage benchmark tests the performance of SSDs, HDDs and hybrid drives with traces recorded from Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office and a selection of popular games.



For this test we threw in some stiff competition with the Dell XPS 15.  This machine is a larger 15-inch model with discrete graphics and as a result, it scores on top here overall.  Again, the group is tightly mapped in terms of performance, with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon for 2014 putting up solid numbers as well.

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Gaming Benchmarks
Most ultrabooks like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon aren’t designed to be serious gaming machines, especially business-class notebooks. However, even though these systems don’t have discrete graphics GPUs, Intel's latest iteration of their HD Graphics 4400 IGP can still handle casual gaming. To see how the ThinkPad X1 Carbon fares, we fired up 3DMark11, Cloud Gate, and Far Cry 2.

Futuremark 3DMark 11
Simulated DX11 Gaming Performance
As a synthetic gaming benchmark, 3DMark 11 puts extra emphasis on your system’s handling of DirectX 11. However, 3DMark 11 measures more than just the graphics card’s performance; the processor has an influence on the score as well as system memory bandwidth. As a result, this benchmark is a good way to get a feel for how well the system can handle gaming and general computing tasks.



Here we see Intel's integrated HD 4400 Graphics engine, in the Core i5-4200U that powers the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, start to approach mainstream discrete graphics performance.

Futuremark 3DMark Cloud Gate
Simulated DX11 Gaming Performance
3DMark is the latest flagship benchmark in Futuremark’s catalog. As a result, it is a popular choice for testing all types of PCs. 3DMark has a separate test suite for different device categories. The Cloud Gate test is aimed at entry-level PCs and laptops. It has two subtests: a processor-intensive physics test and two graphics tests. Cloud Gate uses a DirectX 11 engine but the graphics are designed to be compatible with DirectX 10 systems. We ran the test suite at its default 1280 x 720 resolution and at default rendering quality settings. It’s important to remember that 3DMark Cloud Gate scores aren’t comparable to scores from other categories such as 3DMark Fire Strike (gaming PCs) or Ice Storm (smartphones and tablets).



Here again, the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon makes a strong showing but what's perhaps most impressive is the gain seen versus the previous generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon circa late 2012.  The performance gain with Intel's latest Haswell Core series processor is an impressive 20 percent.

Far Cry 2 
Midrange DX10 Gaming Performance
Far Cry 2 uses high-quality textures, complex shaders, and dynamic lighting to create a realistic gaming environments and jungle battlegrounds. Using the game’s built-in benchmark, we can get a better look at a system’s performance with DirectX 10 level gaming graphics.



Here we've got a wealth of data to share from generations of notebooks over the years.  We like to include older benchmarks like this because it gives you view of performance with legacy software but also versus machines that were optimized for these applications back in their day.  Here again, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon for 2014 shows how far Intel's architecture has come in terms of graphics performance, once again at least getting within sniffing distance of discrete graphics.  On a side note, you might be scratching your head with respect to the ThinkPad Yoga's score here, with an identical processor powering that machine, as is configured in the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon.  With the ThinkPad Yoga, Lenovo decided to go with a single channel memory configuration and as a result, graphics performance takes a significant hit.  Again, thankfully, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon sports a full-bandwidth dual-channel DDR3-1600 memory configuration.

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Battery Life And Acoustics
There’s an 8-cell battery in the new Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, and we tested the system against the others in our database to see how much uptime the machine would offer before its battery gave up the ghost.  We've tested the machine in what could be considered  "worst case" and "best case" scenarios in the following two metrics.

Battery Eater Pro And Web Browsing Battery Life Tests
Power Consumption And Battery Life Tests
In an attempt to quantitatively measure the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's battery life in a controlled benchmark environment, we ran Battery Eater Pro. This test is designed to tax a laptop’s resources to give a feel for how long the laptop’s battery will last under heavy use. For the test, we set the ThinkPad's display to 50% brightness and enabled Wi-Fi.



In our Battery Eater Pro torture test, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon was  only able to eek out about 2 hours of uptime, which is not unusual for an ultralight machine.  In fact, it was about middle of the pack in this test, which exercises the CPU, Memory and HDD continuously until the battery gives out.

Our web browsing test measures the machine's ability to maintain power under light duty use with its WiFi radio on and the display set to 50 percent brightness with keyboard backlighting turned off.  This test refreshes a dedicated web page every couple of minutes and the page has a mixture of text, images, and Adobe Flash media.   We consider this to be a "best case scenario" and a decent relative gauge for battery life versus competitive products in a given device class.



The numbers say it all here.  Lenovo claims the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon will last 9 hours on a single charge under standard usage.  We realized just 24 minutes shy of that claim in our testing.

A Note On Noise (Or Lack Thereof) -

It should come as no surprise that the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a relatively quiet machine.  Ultrabooks are designed to meet certain criteria in this regard as well, though frankly an ultralight like this has to almost defy the laws of physics, at least thermally, due to its super thin low-profile form factor.  Regardless, even under the heavy workloads of game testing or under the duress of our Cinebench professional graphics rendering test, the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon makes only the slightest of whir.  You do hear the fans spin up but the machine definitely maintains as low of a profile acoustically, as it does physically.
 
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Performance Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary:

From purely a performance standpoint, the new Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon does not disappoint.  The model we tested, with a more modest configuration of Intel's Core i5-4200U (you can configure a system with up to a Core i7-4600U) performed very well, ranking near the top of the pack in most tests, even in more strenuous game testing.  The Samsung SSD on board the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon ranks among the fastest on the market currently and boot times, as well as application load times, are "don't blink, or you'll miss it" kind of fast.  So the numbers are good, but what really sets the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon apart is usability, premium build quality and an overall premium experience.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2014) Ultrabook
If you're partial to Lenovo ThinkPad design cues, with its dark, slate gray color palette, accented with an occasional flash of "Think" red, then you'll most likely love this latest Lenovo design.  Even if the looks of traditional ThinkPads turn you off, you'll most likely be thoroughly impressed if you get a chance to lay your hands on one of these machines. Yes, it's built that well.

In addition, the adaptive function key row that resides above the keyboard area, is a nice evolution beyond the legacy F-key layout.  The feature ads both an attractive aesthetic flare but also useful functionality that can even fill in some of the gaps that users migrating from previous generations of the Windows OS might experience the first time with Windows 8.  These functions are there of course without Lenovo's new adaptive function row, but in some spots it offers quick shortcuts that come in handy.

Though the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon isn't perfect, it's about as close to perfect as we've seen from ultrabook yet.  We wish Lenovo included a micro-SD card slot and we wish the display was just a touch brighter, but these were very minor drawbacks in our estimation.  All told, and we don't toss this word around casually, we really love this machine.  Personally, Lenovo's new ThinkPad X1 Carbon is by far the nicest ultrabook I've had the pleasure of working with to date. This machine strikes a perfect balance of both a light weight but durable feel that inspires confidence.  Its 14-inch touch display is gorgeous at 2560X1440 and we think it's a well-placed upgrade when configuring a build-out of the machine. And its keyboard, as is common with many ThinkPad designs, is top-shelf with an easy learning curve.

The main caveat for most consumers considering this machine will be its price tag.  Starting at $1299 and working up from there, the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon as we tested it retails for $1579.  Regardless, this is also one of those rare times you get what you pay for.  This notebook has an original design and build quality that rivals premium products from the absolute best of breed out there.  If you're looking to invest in a notebook that looks great, performs flawlessly, and offers one of the best experiences you can get right now from a Windows machine, look no further than the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon.


   
  • Beautiful design
  • Superb build quality
  • Gorgeous 2560X1440 display
  • Great performance
  • Useful adaptive function row
  • Best keyboard in the business
  • No SD card slot
  • Pricey



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