Lenovo ThinkPad X200 Ultraportable Notebook

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IGP Performance

ThinkPads are not meant to be gaming machines and this is especially true of the ultraportable X-series. The X200 isn't equipped with a discrete graphics solution and instead relies on an Intel IGP which aren't known for their gaming prowess. Normally we would skip gaming-specific benchmarks for a notebook that is so clearly not meant for gaming, but since the X200 is built on Intel's new Centrino 2 platform, we just had to check out how the new IGP compares to the old one it replaces.

Previous to Centrino 2, Intel's state-of-the-art mobile platform was Santa Rosa which was equipped with the GMA X3100 IGP. For Centrino 2, Intel has upgraded the integrated graphics solution to the new GMA X4500HD. The X4500HD sports a number of new features compared to the X3100, the most notable of which are higher clock frequencies, DirectX 10 support and Shader Model 4.0 features. The X4500HD sports ten unified shader units compared to the X3100's eight and in combination with increased clock speeds, is supposed to grant the X4500HD a 300% performance improvement in 3DMark06 according to Intel.

We decided to put these claims to the test in 3DMark06.
We pitted the ThinkPad X200 up against an ASUS U2E in 3DMark06. The ASUS U2E is built on the Santa Rosa platform and is equipped with GMA 3100 graphics. Unfortunately, the U2E is also sporting a relatively weak Core 2 Duo U7500 1.06GHz processor which naturally puts it at a great disadvantage to the X200's comparatively massively powerful Core 2 Duo P8600 2.40GHz processor. We didn't have any other GMA 3100 equipped notebooks handy, so we were forced to make do with what we had.  Regardless, these tests are all very GPU intensive, rather than CPU, so we're still able to garner some insight on the new chipset's performance. 

Our test system limitations reduces the range of tests we could perform since the great difference in processor speed would bias any real-world gaming tests in favor of the X200. However, we feel the difference in processor performance shouldn't excessively impact a synthetic GPU benchmark such as this 3DMark06 Shader Model tests and the results would still be of value. As you can see in the graph above, the GMA X4500HD equipped Montevina (Centrino 2) platform performs significantly better than the GMA X3100 equipped Santa Rosa platform. The GMA X4500HD did indeed perform nearly three times better than the GMA X3100, as Intel claimed. Unfortunately in the grand scheme of things, the GMA X4500HD is still a very limited gaming platform.  However, it should be more than enough graphics muscle for a primarily office productivity machine like the ultraportable ThinkPad X200. Just don't expect to blitz through a level or two of Crysis on your lunch break or in the terminal between flights.

 Intel GMA X4500HD Multimedia
 HD Video Playback Performance

While the Intel GMA X4500HD isn't much of a gaming chip, it does offer plenty of attractive multimedia features, many of which are new for the X4500HD and not found on the older X3100. The X4500HD is capable of HD video playback with full hardware decode from AVC, VC1 and MPEG2 formats. It can handle video up to 1080P and it also offers native Blu-Ray video playback support.

1080P WMV HD Video Playback
1080P H.264 Video Playback

We played a 1080P WMV HD video on the X200 and it played back the video smoothly with only 15%-25% CPU utilization.  We also tried a 1080P Quicktime HD video encoded in H.264 which required a bit more CPU utilization, around 40%-60%.  We didn't notice any skipping, tearing or dropped frames with either video and the video quality was excellent. In both cases it is clear that some or all of the video decoding was being offloaded to the IGP and the notebook still felt quick and snappy while the HD video ran in the background.

Unfortunately the ThinkPad X200's tiny 12.1" screen with a maximum resolution of 1280x800 isn't able to display 1080P HD content without the aid of an external monitor, nor can it play Blu-Ray disks without the UltraBase docking station or an external Blu-Ray drive, since it lacks an optical drive of its own. These limitations make HD video playback a somewhat moot point for the X200, but its hard to argue with extra features and you'll be ready for HD video at your desk, if you choose to get the necessary peripherals.

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