IBM ThinkPad X32 Review (pics, specs)

by factus8 Reads (168,980)

by Bill Orr, Georgia USA

Note to readers: In May of 2005 Lenovo officially acquired IBM’s PC Division, which includes the.  Please understand that while these products carry the IBM logo they are produced by Lenovo. For more information on the IBM/Lenovo transaction, go here.

Overview and Introduction

The ThinkPad X32 is the latest revision to the X30 series of ThinkPad notebook computers.  Although the X32 is designated as an ultraportable notebook along the lines of X40 and X41 series ThinkPads, the X32 may also be compared to the IBM T Series ThinkPads.  In fact, while the X32 is a very attractive notebook computer in its own right, it seems to suffer from a bit of an “identity crisis,” in that it blends features of other ThinkPads without achieving a strong sense of individual identity in it’s own right.

ThinkPad X32 front profile view (view larger image)

IBM’s X40 and X41 ThinkPads have achieved acclaim due to their ultra slim profile and ultimate portability.  The T Series ThinkPads, on the other hand, are renowned for their flexibility and usability.  The X32 falls somewhere in the middle of these two models.  Not as thin and light as the X40/X41, not as flexible as the T42/T43.  As a previous owner of both X40 and T43 ThinkPads, I find the X32, strangely enough, the most well-rounded and satisfying of the three options.  Through this review, I will attempt to compare and contrast the X32 with the X40 and T43 ThinkPads, to allow you to make up your own mind on which model is right for you.

Reasons for Buying

I have a desktop at home and also at work.  I travel with infrequent regularity and need a sturdy and dependable laptop that is small enough to use in an airplane, and one that also has both wireless and wired network connectivity for use in hotels, coffee shops, and the like.   In this regard, either the X32, X40 or T42 would make a good choice.  All are Centrino notebooks with wired and wireless connectivity.   I have access to USB 2.0 CD-R/W and DVD-R/W drives, so an internal drive is not essential.   Neither the X32 nor the X40 come with optical drives.

I have a somewhat convoluted history of laptop purchases.  I initially purchased a T43 to take on a trip to Tokyo, Japan.  IBM markets the T43  as a thin and light design, and I selected the 14″ model.  During my trip, I found out two unpleasant aspects of using the T43.  First, the 14″ screen made the T43 too large to comfortably use on the airplane.  I found this out during my 19-hour flight from Atlanta to Tokyo – the passenger in front of me reclined her seat all the way back, and due to the large screen size, I had to practically hold the notebook in my lap.  Also, I found out that lugging a 5.81 pound computer along with power supply, cords and cables gets to be very heavy, especially after carrying the notebook all day.  After the trip, I wanted something thinner and lighter.

Taking advantage of IBM’s 30-day return policy (you may return your notebook for 30 days, for any reason), I returned the T43 and purchased an X40.  The model I purchased came with the Intel 733 ULV processor and 256MB of ram.  My experience with this X40 was not the best.  Although I loved the size and weight of the X40, the performance was noticeably worse than the T43.  A large part of the poor performance most likely came from my decision to purchase an X40 with only 256MB of main memory.  In reality the memory was even less due to the fact that the X40 comes with integrated graphics that share memory with the main system.  The X40 also had a relatively slow 4200 RPM hard drive, and a 1.1GHz processor.  The battery life was also not what I expected.  In real-world use, the 4-cell battery provided less than 2 hours of battery life.  To top it off, the LCD had a large dead pixel right in the middle of the screen.  Like the T43, I returned the X40 under IBM’s 30-day return policy and purchased the X32. 

I purchased the X32 because I believed it would be a good trade-off between size, battery life and performance.  As discussed above, the X32 is almost (but not quite) as small as the X40, but has some distinct advantages over the X40.  Some examples of these advantages:


Advantages of X32 over X40
Video Card Memory
X32 has 16MB ATI Radeon with non-shared video memory, X40 has Intel Extreme Graphics 2 with shared video memory
Hard Drive
X32 has 5400 RPM 2.5″ drive, X40 has 4200 RPM 1.8″ drive
Standard Battery

X32 has 6-cell standard main battery with no other optional main battery. X40 has 4-cell standard main battery with optional 8-cell extended main battery.

Connectivity
X32 has IEEE1394/Firewire port.  X40 does not.


Where and How Purchased

This X32 was purchased through IBM’s EPP program.  My X32 was priced at $974 (list $1299).  At this price, the X32 came with 256MB memory.  Owing to my bad experience with the X40 performance, I upgraded the memory to 512MB.  This added $30 to the price of the X32.  After tax, the total of the X32 and memory upgrade came out to approximately $1050 (all prices in US Dollars).

Competing Notebooks

It’s always good to know what other options you have in a certain notebook category you are looking to buy within.  Here’s a rundown of similar 12.1″ screen ultraportable notebooks that the X32 competes with:

Form & Design

While not as thin and light as the X40 series notebooks, the X32 is thinner and lighter than the T43.  The specifications of the R52 are added for comparison: 


X32
2884A2U
X40
2386BHU
T43
2686DHU

R52
184659U
Weight
3.6 lbs
2.78 lbs
5.81 lbs
6.12 lbs
Height
1.19 in.
0.81 in.
1.2 in.
1.35 in.
Depth
8.8 in.
8.3 in.
10.5 in.
10.2 in.
Width
10.7 in.
10.5 in.
13.0 in.
12.4 in.

It is interesting to note that, while the X32 is similar in depth and width to the X40 series ThinkPads, it is approximately as thick as the T43.  If you are looking for a head-turning ultraportable, then the X40 comes out ahead here.  Although the difference between 1.19 inches and 0.81 inches may not seem like much, it does make a big difference – the X40 is definitely the “sexier” of the two notebooks.  The X32 could hardly described as “thick,” however.  It is still very portable. 

X32 thickness comparison (view larger image)

The X32, X40 and T43 ThinkPads are all very sturdy, with Titanium case materials and a generally solid feel.  The X32 feels very well put together, with no case or screen flex at all.  I should note that the T43 seemed to have some flex in the case near the touchpad – the case would flex slightly when I rest my left hand while typing.  Neither the X32 or the X40 have this problem at all.  Both feel very sturdy and tight.

Most of the time, the X32 fan does not come on, and the X32 is very quiet.  The fan turns on rarely and only when the processor is stressed.   With the T43 and X40, the fan seemed to come on much more frequently.  The bottom of the X32 frequently gets warm but never uncomfortably hot.

X32 Above view (view larger image)

X32 under side view (view larger image)

X32 right side view (view larger image)

X32 left side view (view larger image)

X32 back view (view larger image)

X32 front view (view larger image)

Screen

The screen is a 12.1″ TFT screen of the non-reflective type.  Resolution is 1024×768.  The screen is bright and uniform, with no dead pixels.  The video card is an ATI Mobility Radeon.  The advantages of this card is that it uses dedicated memory that is not shared with the system (a fact that undoubtedly contributed to the poor performance of the X40 was that a portion of its paltry 256MB of memory was shared with the integrated video card). 

The disadvantages of the Mobility Radeon is that it is not a high-performance gaming card, but it is fine for desktop applications and regular use.  The T43 had a Radeon X300, which is a PCI Express part.  I could run Doom 3 at low resolution acceptably well.  I have no such expectations out of the Mobility Radeon in the X32. 

Speakers

The only speaker is a single speaker located on the bottom of the X32.  The sound is relatively poor.  If I sit the X32 in my lap during use, the sound is also muffled.  This was about the same as the X40.  The T43 was a little better, although none were outstanding.  Given that IBM markets these notebooks primarily to business users, this is not surprising.

Processor and Performance

My X32 came with an Intel Pentium M Processor 725 clocked at 1.6GHz.  I use the laptop primarily for Internet use and word processing applications, as well as light photo editing and multitasking.  I occasionally watch videos or listen to music while I am working.  The X32 performs well in daily use.  I found the performance to be on par with the T43 and much better than the X40.

Benchmarks

As you can see from the SuperPi benchmark results, the X32 lies somewhere between the X40 (1.1GHz ULV Pentium M) and the T43 (1.86GHz Pentium M).  Because I could not find benchmarks for the 1.1GHz ULV configured X40, I have substituted with the Dell Latitude X1

SuperPi Results


X32 (1.60 GHz)
T43 (1.86GHz)
Dell Latitude X1 (1.1GHz ULV)
Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
2 minutes, 9 seconds
1 minute, 45 seconds
2 minutes, 40 seconds

PCMark04 Benchmark Results

  IBM X32 (1.60GHz) IBM T43 (1.86GHz) Dell Latitude X1
(1.1GHz ULV)
 Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression 3.07 MB/s
3.33 MB/s 2.0 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption 23.30 MB/s
27.19 MB/s 16.26 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression 20.71 MB/s
23.4 MB/s 14.43 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing 9.58 MPixels/s
10.88 MPixels/s 6.5 MPixels/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning 1550.60 MB/s
1914.17 MB/s 1309.7 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check 2.37 KB/s
2.82 KB/s 1.79 KB/s
 File Decryption 47.11 MB/s
54.11 MB/s 32.66 MB/s
 Audio Conversion 2160.95 KB/s
2496.87 KB/s 1495.55 KB/s
 Web Page Rendering 4.57 Pages/s
5.27 Pages/s 3.39 Pages/s
 DivX Video Compression 42.83 FPS
51.71 FPS 78.81 FPS
 Physics Calculation and 3D 31.43 FPS
159.19 FPS 65.05 FPS
 Graphics Memory – 64 Lines 232.16 FPS
868.44 FPS 374.57 FPS
Futuremark 3DMark05 Scores
3DMark Score NA
727 3DMarks NA
CPU Score 2478 CPUMarks
3414 CPUMarks NA

HD Tune Benchmarks



IBM X32
Dell Latitude X1
Minimum Transfer Rate
11.9 MB/sec
2.2 MB/sec
Maximum Transfer Rate
34.6 MB/sec
21.2 MB/sec
Average Transfer Rate
38.1 MB/sec
16.4 MB/sec
Access Time
17.7 ms
19.7 ms
Burst Rate
67.5 MB/sec
53.7 MB/sec
CPU Usage
5.8%
5.2%


Battery Eater Pro v2.5 Classic Benchmark Mode: 3:27:15

Using Battery Eater Pro version 2.5, I got a respectable 3 and a half hours.  This was accomplished with the ThinkPad default settings and wireless card turned off.  In real world use, with wireless, I get similar battery life.  The battery life on the X32 is on par with the T43, and much better than the X40. 

Originally I expected that the ULV Pentium-M in the X40 would have had a longer battery life.  As it turns out, the CPU is only one of many factors that go into determining battery life.  As Intel’s web site points out, the CPU only draws about 10% of the main system power, compared to 8% for the hard drive, 9% for the memory controller hub, and 33% for the LCD display. 

See http://www.intel.com/products/notebook/centrino/enablingbatterylife.pdf for details.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The X32 keyboard, typical of other IBM-designed ThinkPads, is excellent.  The keys are logically laid out and the response is good.  I have large hands and find the keyboard quite usable.   The X32 keyboard is pretty much the same as the X40.

ThinkPad X32 Keyboard and Touchpad (view larger image)

The X32 contains an illuminator light that aids in typing in low-light situations (speckles in picture are dust).

ThinkLight revealing the keyboard…and screen dust (view larger image)

Like the X40, the X32 has a TrackPoint pointing device, but no touchpad area.  IBM’s TrackPoint implementation is my favorite style of the traditional “eraser-tip” style pointing device.  IBM’s TrackPoint is very precise and has good response.   Much better than the “eraser-tip” found on some Dells and Toshibas that I have used.

TrackPoint (view larger image)

Input and Output Ports

The X32 comes with 2 USB 2.0 connectors, 1 Firewire port, speaker inputs/outputs, modem (RJ-11) and Ethernet (RJ-45) jacks, an external display port, parallel printer port, infrared port, and an expansion port for an optional docking station or port replicator.  The X32 also supports Type I or Type II PC Cards.  I believe that the X32 is the only one of the three to include a Firewire port.

Firewire, infrared, PC Card slots (view larger image)

Wireless

The X32 comes standard with Intel’s Wireless PRO B/G card.  I have found range and connectivity to be quite good and on par with the X40 and T43, which were also both excellent.  All these units feature IBM’s Ultraconnect antenna, which, according to IBM, places the antenna at the top of the LCD screen to allow for maximum range and stronger signals.  I have found the wireless performance of all the ThinkPads I have used to be uniformly excellent.

Although some ThinkPad models come with Bluetooth built-in, my X32 did not.  Bluetooth is available as a standard option on some of the more expensive ThinkPads, but not on the X32 I purchased.  In fact, Bluetooth was not even available as an upgrade option on the X32.  Because I require Bluetooth while traveling to connect to the Internet through my cell phone, I have to use a USB dongle or Bluetooth PC Card.  I would have liked to see Bluetooth as an option on my X32.

Battery

During typical use, I get about 4.5 or more hours from the X32 standard 6-cell battery.  This is about on par with the T43, which also had a 6-cell battery.  I am very pleased with this performance.  The X40 4-cell performance was much lower, less than 2 hours in my experience. 

The X32 battery is located in the front of the notebook, not the back like with the X40 and T43.  This does limit expandability, because while the X40 and T43 have extended-life batteries available (both stick out of the back and increase the depth of the machines by about half an inch), the X32′s only extended battery option is an extended life battery that plugs into the bottom of the notebook, which will further add to the weight and thickness of the machine.

Operating System and Software

The X32, as with the X40 and T43, comes with Microsoft Windows XP Professional.  IBM adds a suite of utilities that allow you to manage your online connections, monitor battery life, and download update packages directly from IBM. 

ThinkPad default desktop view (view larger image)

IBM Access Connections (wireless utility) (view larger image)

IBM’s utilities are very useful, although many of the utilities run at startup and therefore use resources and clutter the tray.  If memory and performance is a concern, they can be uninstalled. 

Other than the operating system and utilities, there is little else.  IBM includes a 90-day trial of Norton Antivirus. 

Customer Support

I have not had to make any support calls for any ThinkPad I have owned, although as mentioned above, I did return 2 ThinkPads under IBM’s 30-day return policy.  This process was painless and hassle-free.  I also have also found IBM’s US-based sales staff to be well educated and helpful.

My X32 came with IBM’s standard 1-year warranty.  Additional warranty options are available at the time of purchase, up to three years.  The X40 and T43 ThinkPads all come with standard 1-year warranties that can be upgraded at the time of purchase.  Some models have standard 3-year warranties, depending on the configuration of the notebook. 

[update 7/8/2005:  Lenovo representatives informed NotebookReview.com that customers shoud have "no concerns about the future of the X30 series for some time to come in terms of new version or service & support"]

Complaints and Praises

Comparing the X32, X40 and T43, the X32 is my favorite of the three.  While I wish the X32 was as thin and light as the X40, I have experienced better performance in the X32, owing in part to the non-shared video memory and 5400 RPM hard drive of the X32, versus shared memory and 4200 RPM drive of the X40 (in addition to the obviously lower processor speed and limited 256MB memory of the X40).  In my experience, the X32 is similar in performance to the T43, but with a much more portable size. 

If IBM could have found a way to squeeze a 6-cell battery into the size of its current 4-cell battery, I would have preferred the X40 series.  Being newer designs, the X40 series, primarily the X41, and the T43 have newer technologies such as PCI Express, active hard drive protection, and Expresscard slots.  The X41 and T43 also have the embedded fingerprint reader, a feature I found worthless. 

I do not know what IBM plans for the future of its X30 series notebooks.  With its X Series, IBM appears to be moving forward with its X40 designs, including the X41 and X41 Tablet.  In that regard, I am concerned about the future support for the X32. For example, I can not find any information on IBM’s web site informing me of whether extended warranty options are available for purchase (as they are for the T43 and X41).  I am also concerned about the future availability of batteries and replacement parts. 

Conclusion

Overall, I have found the X32 to be an excellent choice.  The EPP price of $974 for the base model, even including the $30 memory upgrade (from 256MB to 512MB), totals hundreds less than a similarly configured X40 or X41, and about the same price as a T Series, which is a heavier and larger machine. 

Other models I considered but rejected were the Dell X1 and the Panasonic Toughbook W2.  These models offered similar performance but at approximately $500 (the X1) to $1000 (Toughbook) more than the X32 I ultimately purchased.  Granted, without the EPP price, the difference would have been less.  The ThinkPad notebooks also receive consistently good reviews, and I have heard favorable remarks about IBM’s support.  These factors resulted in my decision to purchase a ThinkPad machine.  The decision to purchase (and keep) the X32 were based on my needs and prior experiences with the T43 and X40.  So far, I am very pleased with the X32, especially given the price.

Pricing and Availability


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