by Andrew Baxter
The Lenovo ThinkPad X300 is a 13.3" widescreen ultra thin-and-light notebook. Though it's less than 1-inch thick, the ThinkPad X300 is still choc full of features and a demonstration in usability. The X300 was meticulously thought out and designed by veteran ThinkPad engineers to raise the bar on what a notebook can be and put Lenovo at the vanguard of business notebook design and utility.
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The only problem with a notebook that's designed for those with fine tastes and demanding needs is that the price tag will of course be high. At a starting cost of around $2,500 and a high-end configuration of about $3,000, the X300 is out of reach in terms of price for most consumers. However, for those that need a business tool that their success and livelihood depends on, $3,000 isn't much at all -- the data stored on a computer is worth multiple times that for many business users.
In this review we'll cover the various features of the X300 and find out why it's considered a high-end notebook and the reasons it costs as much as it does.
The ThinkPad X300 under review here has the following specifications:
Notice the dimensions of the X300, it is well under 1-inch thick, meaning it's easy to slip into a bag for carrying purposes. The light weight of just over 3 lbs makes it a highly portable notebook as well, perfect for travel purposes.
Build and Design
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The ThinkPad X300 is as solid as you get in terms of build quality. The internal chassis and roll cage uses an advanced carbon-fiber / glass-fiber material that provides both strength and light weight. The case material is made of magnesium, you can press as hard as you want anywhere on the body of the notebook and it simply will not flex. Like any ThinkPad, the X300 is designed for accidental abuse and drops, and we're guessing the X300 might be even more able than previous ThinkPads to take a beating and keep going. As with any ThinkPad, you of course get a double latch mechanism with button release to make sure the screen is held down when it is closed and being carried.
The ThinkPad X61 on top of the X300 size comparison (view large image)
The build quality leaves no doubts and shows improvement over previous ThinkPads. The design also makes some significant strides as well. That said, there's nothing crazy going on here, the black boxy look of a ThinkPad is still very much so intact. However, the glossy bottom bezel area and the cool light illumination on the ThinkVantage button and power button add a nice touch, and add to the usability. The speakers located on the corners of the notebook also add a nice design accent. The heat vent grills are painted black to blend with the rest of the notebook design, you don't see any copper colored internals. The screen is centered for those hung up on symmetry. And last and probably most important, the X300 is very thin, making it cool looking by that fact alone.
For the sake of weight comparison we put the 12.1" X61 and MacBook Air up against the X300, following are the results:
|Notebook and battery config||Weight|
|ThinkPad X300 with 6-cell battery||3.375 lbs|
|ThinkPad X61 with 3-cell battery||3.1625 lbs|
|MacBook Air with battery||3.0375 lbs|
|ThinkPad X300 with no battery||2.725 lbs|
|ThinkPad X61 with no battery||2.675 lbs|
Note that the X61 is ever so slightly less in weight than the X300 when you discount the battery in any comparison, so if all you care about is weight and pay no attention to the fact the X300 gives you a bigger screen size and an optical drive, then the X61 still wins that battle.
We'd be remissed not to compare the the thinness of the the X300 with the Apple MacBook Air. The MacBook Air easily wins this battle, its max thickness of 0.76" is about the same as the X300 at its thinnest point of 0.73". Keep in mind that the MacBook Air has next to no ports, no optical drive and no removable battery so you've got some serious sacrifices to contend with there.
Apple MacBook Air on the left, ThinkPad X300 on the right (view large image)
Input and Output Ports
One of the compromises you simply have to accept when buying a thin laptop is that all of those ports you're used to seeing on larger sized 15.4" notebooks don't fit. The challenge for the designers is to decide what ports should stay and which should go based on space allowances. The X300 squeezes in all the vital ports, here is what's included:
Left view (view large image)
Right view (view large image)
Front view (view large image)
Back view (view large image)
The three USB ports is actually very generous for such a sized laptop. Maybe too generous, we would have much rather dropped one or two of those USB ports and had an SD card slot if at all possible. We're not sure why you'd need three USB ports for a laptop designed for on the go. With an SD media card slot you could hedge against that 64GB storage limitation by getting a high capacity 16 GB SD card for cheap and easy extra file storage space. If you read our recent article on SDHC cards you'll further see why it's a crying shame there's no SD slot available.
If there were an ExpressCard or PC Card slot on the X300 you could have installed a card reader to solve this problem, but alas there is neither.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The full-sized keyboard on the ThinkPad X300 has no flex, every key feels individual, meaning there's no issue with pushing a key down to find that the key next to it sags down. In other words, this keyboard feels as great as every other ThinkPad and has the same spill proof design with drainage holes to protect from liquid spills.
Keyboard by day... (view large image)
and in the dark (view large image)
There are actually a few enhancements to the keyboard worth mentioning. Lenovo has added a matte finish to the keys so that they don't wear and get all shiny over time. For added usability the Caps Lock has a green light indicator and the power button a white light to indicate power is on. Those that are ThinkPad veterans will appreciate the fact the blue enter key remains and the red striped mouse buttons are back.
People that like a touchpad and complained about it being missing on the ThinkPad X-series now have nothing to complain about, a decent sized touchpad with scrolling areas is in place on the X300. This reviewer actually prefers the TrackPoint pointing stick over the touchpad and exclusively uses that method of input, but in testing out the touchpad it was found it to be responsive and the size adequate. The one complaint we have is that it is quite easy to inadvertently brush the touchpad and move the cursor to another area of the screen.
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Just to the right of the touchpad is a fingerprint reader, a feature common to many business notebooks these days. The palm rest area is pretty neat, it has a rubberized paint finish so it both feels and looks nice. It's very smooth and pleasing to touch, almost satin in feel.
Performance and Benchmarks
The ThinkPad X300 was not built to compete with your Quad Core processor loaded desktop. The name of the game with thin travel notebooks is using a low voltage processor to conserve power and reduce heat build-up. The ThinkPad X300 uses an Intel 1.20GHz Core 2 Duo L7100 processor that's quite capable of running office applications and performing any general web related tasks, but will not serve well for 3D graphics applications or any heavy duty rendering tasks. The Intel X3100 will allow you to play a few light games, maybe even Half Life 2 on low settings (see our Intel X3100 review for more details), but in general you'll want to stick to e-mail, web browsing, Office and photo editing tasks. That's enough for most, and certainly enough for on the go business travellers.
The SSD storage really goes a long way to improving certain aspects of performance, the all important boot-up time is a mere 27-seconds from the push of the power button to the Windows hourglass dissappearing. It only took 32 seconds to boot-up, have the wireless connection enabled, and a browser window open to its homepage. That is amazing speed, as a comparison a ThinkPad X61 we have in house takes more than double that amount of time to boot.
Let's take a look at a few basic benchmarks so you can get an idea of how the X3100 stacks up.
wPrime is a program that forces the processor to do recursive mathematical calculations, this processor benchmark program is multi-threaded and can use both processor cores at once, it measures the amount of time to run a set amount of calculations.
wPrime V. 1.5.5 comparison results (lower score means better performance):
|Notebook / CPU||wPrime 32M time|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X300 (Intel Core 2 Duo L7100 @ 1.20GHz)||98 seconds|
|Apple MacBook Air (Intel Core 2 Duo P7500 @ 1.6GHz)
|Asus Eee PC 701 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz)||200 seconds|
|Sony VAIO TZ (Intel Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz)||76 seconds|
|Dell XPS M1330 (Intel Core 2 Duo T7250 @ 2.20GHz)||38 seconds|
You can see from the results in WPrime the ThinkPad X300 L7100 processor is slower than the MacBook Air and Sony TZ, but it's pretty hard to actually perceive this performance difference with everyday applications you would be using.
PCMark05 is a benchmark that measures the overall system performance, so it considers the processor, hard drive, memory and OS as part of the mix. Since the ThinkPad X300 has SSD on board it actually fairs pretty well with this benchmark:
PCMark05 benchmark results (higher scores are better)
|Lenovo ThinkPad X300 (Intel Core 2 Duo L7100 @ 1.20GHz, Intel X3100)||3,467 PCMarks|
|Apple MacBook Air (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7500, Intel X3100)
|Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100)||3,283 PCMarks|
|Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950)||2,446 PCMarks
|Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)||4,153 PCMarks|
|Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)||3,987 PCMarks|
|Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB)||4,189 PCMarks|
|HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)||4,234 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400)||3,487 PCMarks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX)||5,597 PCMarks|
|Sony VAIO SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||3,637 PCMarks|
|Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400)||3,646 PCMarks|
The MacBook Air we reviewed did not have SSD, which would explain why the MacBook Air beat the X300 in WPrime with its faster processor, but lost in the PCMark05 match.
The X300 has Intel X3100 integrated graphics on board. The 3D performance you'll get from the X300 is about the same as any other ultrportable or notebook with integrated X3100 graphics, here's a comparison of graphics performance scores generated by 3DMark06 to show that fact:
3DMark06 comparison results (higher score meens better performance):
|Lenovo ThinkPad X300 (Intel Core 2 Duo L7100 @ 1.20GHz, Intel X3100)||475 3DMarks|
|Apple MacBook Air (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7500, Intel X3100)
|Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100)||504 3DMarks|
|Toshiba Tecra M9 (2.20GHz Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA Quadro NVS 130M 128MB)||1,115 3DMarks|
|Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950)||122 3DMarks|
|HP dv2500t (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB)||1,055 3DMarks|
|HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)||827 3DMarks|
HDTune measures the storage performance of a PC, the numbers from the SSD are most impressive, certainly better than your average 5400 RPM hard drive and this benchmark goes to show why the ThinkPad X300 performs well in overall tests:
Lenovo offers the choice of either a 3-cell or 6-cell Lithium-Polymer battery that rests at the front of the notebook. The 3-cell is lighter and has a quoted life of up to 4.3 hours while the 6-cell is heavier and has a quoted life of up to 6.5 hours. You can also get a Lithium-Polymer option bay battery if you pull out the DVD Burner, which is easily done by removing just one screw, and then insert a spare battery instead.
We did a couple of battery tests. In the first test we had the following settings:
Under this real world style usage we achieved 3 hours and 32 minutes of battery life, at which time there was 3% battery left and the X300 went into hibernation. This is good battery life in our opinion, the half brightness setting is more than adequate for most people.
In order to try and achieve the 6.5 hour battery life we went with the following settings:
With this totally unrealistic usage scenario the battery reached 3% remaining and went into hibernate at 6 hours and 38 minutes. So it is true you can achieve about 6.5 hours of battery life if all you want to do is stare at a dimly lit desktop and do nothing. We'd venture a guess that 3 - 3.5 hours is what most people will get under real usage conditions though.
The 13.3" WXGA+ matte (non-glossy) screen on the X300 is nice and bright, with its 300 nit LED backlit spec. The screen real estate you get with WXGA+ on the 13.3" form factor is actually more than you'd expect, you can quite comfortably fit a couple of web browser or spreadsheet windows open next to each other and compare and contrast things.
The viewing angles are good, especially the horizontal viewing angles. Thanks in part to the bright screen; it is very easy to view things even if you are almost totally off to the side. Below you can see a few vantage points of the X300 screen from different angles:
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The particular screen on our X300 was manufactured by Samsung, there was a slight "graininess" to the screen that is noticeable on all white backgrounds. We also found that there was some light bleed at the top and bottom of the screen when those areas were black and the brightness was set high. Apparently LED backlighting doesn't assure there will be no light bleed.
Heat and Noise
One major concern with a laptop that's extremely thin is that it will overheat due to all of the components being crammed together. To combat this issue Lenovo went with an Intel Core 2 Duo 1.20GHz customized low voltage processor, less power draw means less heat. Heat never became an issue with the X300, it was completely comfortable to use in the lap and the palm rests never got warm.
Temperatures on the palm rest and keyboard area remained low (view large image)
Temperatures on the bottom only got mildly warm (view large image)
The fan located on the back left side of the X300 ran fairly frequently and at a constant rate. It wasn't particularly loud or annoying, with ambient room noise it was hard to hear the fan at all. Though in a more quiet room the fan is certainly audible.
Connectivity and Wireless
One of the standout features of the ThinkPad X300 is its excellent array of connectivity and wireless offerings. Included in the mix are:
The X300 is really ahead of the curve here, we aren't even able to test the Wi-Max or UWB capabilities as we have nothing to pair with. Wi-Max won't be rolled out in the U.S. until later this year. The Wi-Fi performance of the X300 has been excellent with its Intel 4965agn card on board. Connections are established fast and there are no issues with connection drops after tests with various routers.
Notice there is no modem included, you'll have to use a dongle modem extension if you want that. We don't miss this port being built-in as it's been years since we had to use a modem.
We've never reviewed a laptop with built-in GPS before and thought that was a pretty neat feature to have, though it's probably more of a "gee whiz" thing than something entirely practical with a laptop. This is genuine GPS that's at work, meaning the GPS satellites rotating around earth are used for positioning, not triangulation with cell towers is used. There are no mapping applications installed that will provide navigation in conjunction with the GPS, but you could buy software such as Microsoft's Streets and Trips to achieve this. You'd better have someone in the passenger seat willing to hold the X300 while it navigates though, it would be risky to just rest it on a seat next to you. Come to a hard stop and you'll see a $3,000 laptop hit the windshield.
The X300 picks up some satellites while 30,000 feet in the air (view large image)
For kicks we took the X300 on a cross country flight and propped it up against the window to see if it could achieve a connection with satellites. After a prolonged satellite search it did actually pick up three satellites, but then we realized that the option for launching Google Maps to determine our location threw an "error unable to connect" in the web browser. Too bad Google Earth was not installed, which would have solved the no Internet issue. On a side note, we can't wait until the day wireless web connections are ubiquitous on planes - a service we'd gladly pay for.
How about this, the X300 actually has good sound and speakers that are well positioned! For an ultra thin notebook, that's astounding. The ThinkPad X61 contains a puny speaker on the bottom of the notebook, so this is something of a quantum leap for audio quality on the X-series. ThinkPad X300 equipped executives will never have to tote their external speakers to watch DVDs by night in their hotel rooms again.
We happened to have ThinkPad X300 on a plane trip along with the ThinkPad X61 and so decided to see how easy each was to use on an airplane tray in coach class. The X61 with its smaller footprint turned out to be easier to fit on the tray as you would expect. The top of the X300 screen was just high enough that we couldn't fit it into a little "nook" created by the tray being down.
ThinkPad X300 (closest) with the X61 next to it on a folded out airplane tray (view large image)
Here you can see the X61 fits neatly into a little nook created when the tray is down, while the X300 has to jut off the tray a bit (view large image)
The plane was a Delta Boeing 757, a differently designed seat might give better results, but then again it never seems like the seat designers are keeping laptop users in mind when making these seats.
It's a tribute to Lenovo that even with a thinner screen and less space to work with, they still made the effort to put a light at the top of the screen that can be toggled on to illuminate the keyboard. Many people with ThinkPads don't know about this feature, but all you have to do is hit Fn + PgUp and a handy night light will turn on to bathe the keyboard in light. It's not as cool as the Apple approach of backlighting the keyboard itself, but it's probably more power efficient. The only problem is that when it's dark it's hard to actually find the Fn + PgUp keys to turn on the light on in the first place, having an ambient light sensor that adjusts screen brightness and turns on the ThinkLight when it gets dark would have been a neat touch.
Active Protection System
Many that have owned ThinkPads know about the Active Protection System (APS). It's a built-in accelerometer and software system that enables the ThinkPad to detect if it's being shaken or dropped. When such an event is detected the ThinkPad will lift the hard drive write and read head so that data doesn't get destroyed in the event of an impact. Funny thing, Lenovo decided to include this feature still by putting both the hardware and software on board for it, yet half the point of having an SSD is that there is no read/write head and it's shock proof by nature. Which leaves us to wonder if the APS is there in case there are other non-SSD drive options in the future for the X300.
The X300 is being touted by Lenovo as one of its most environmentally friendly laptops ever. The included low power demand processor and SSD are part of that pitch, but the packaging material for the X300 is also 90% recycled and the amount of cadmium, lead and mercury used to build the X300 has been minimized. It's good to see companies take initiatives to reduce environmental hazards in their products and put the word out what they're doing. Many businesses and consumers are weighing environmental factors in buying decisions for automobiles and certain electronics, we hope that people start to place emphasis on this as part of the buying of PCs too. European governments are forcing companies to comply with certain standards, but in other parts of the world it will probably be up to the market buyers to demand this from companies.
The ThinkPad X300 is a premium product that's worth the price if you need the features it offers. The X300's excellent portability, abundance of wireless options, built-in optical drive, SSD advantage, great screen, fantastic keyboard, and second-to-none build quality all add up to a notebook that's easy to recommend to business users who consider a notebook to be an important part of their success with work. It's certainly not the right notebook for everyone, the 64GB storage limit, under powered processor and high price immediately eliminates most consumers from even considering the X300. We would have like to have seen such things as an SD card reader, docking capability and an ExpressCard or PC slot. You can't have it all though, and the ThinkPad X300 is much more practical than the pretty but port challenged MacBook Air, and so the X300 gets the Editor's Choice recommendation that we couldn't rationalize giving to the MacBook Air. Bravo to Lenovo, and we hope that they push this 13.3" slim form factor more and find ways to bring the pricing down.
ThinkPad X300 Videos
ThinkPad X300 overview
ThinkPad X300 compared to ThinkPad T61
ThinkPad X300 Wireless Options
Bootup Time Comparison of the X300 to the X61
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