by Andrew Baxter, New York USA
The IBM ThinkPad X41 notebook is a 12.1″ screen ultraportable style machine that follows in the footsteps of last years ThinkPad X40 release. Noteworthy for the X41 is that it has a 1.50 GHz Pentium M 758 processor that uses the latest Intel 915GM chipset. So while most ultraportables on the market sport a 1.10 GHz or 1.20 GHz Pentium M, IBM is able to leverage its design prowess to keep this tiny laptop cool while running a faster processor. Decent speed and performance are two things people generally expect to give up when using an ultraportable, but the X41 shows this does not have to be the case.
IBM ThinkPad X41 collapsed out above view (view larger image)
The ThinkPad X41 is built in the same rugged manner as any other X or T series notebook from IBM. Don’t let the size of the X41 fool you, it may look cute and small, but once you pick it up and feel the titanium reinforced plastic case you’ll understand this is a device that’s been designed to take a beating and not just to look suave. There’s just nothing chintzy about this machine; the hinges, keyboard, screen cover, case and trackpoint buttons all exude physical quality.
IBM X41 Specs and Configuration Options (text in blue indicates review unit configuration when there is a choice available)
- Processor: Intel Pentium M LV 758 (1.50GHz, 90nm technology, 2MB L2 Cache, 400MHz FSB)
- Wireless: Intel PRO 2200BG or 2915ABG, Bluetooth optional
- OS: Windows XP Home/Pro
- Screen: 12.1″ TFT XGA (1024 x 768)
- RAM: 256MB or 512MB/1536MB PC-4200 DDR-2 SDRAM
- Hard Drive: 1.8″ 20GB, 30GB, 40GB or 60GB @ 4200RPM
- Battery: 2.5 hr (4-cell) 5.7 hr (8-cell) (extended-life battery option adds 3 – 4 hours of life on top of quoted numbers for each respective battery)
- Ports: 2 USB 2.0 (1 IBM Powered USB 2.0), Infrared, expansion bus (for optional ThinkPad X4 Ultra Base Doc); external display; AC adapter; RJ-11 modem port;RJ-45 ethernet port; audio: headphone/line-out, external microphone.
- Slots: 1 PCMCIA card slot, 1 Secure Digital card slot
- Dimensions: 10.5″ x 8.3″ x 1.06″ (w x d x h) (with 8-cell battery it’s 10.5″ x 9.3″ x 1.06″)
- Weight: 2.7lb with 4-cell battery, 3.2lb with 8-cell battery
- Expansion: ThinkPad X4 UltraBase dock optional
- Warranty: 3-year
Design & Build / Overview
The X41 is wonderfully light and thin. The X41 is 1.06″ inches thin and with the longer life 8-cell battery I have the X41 weighs 3.2lbs, if you use a 4-cell battery the weight is cut down to 2.7lbs. Even at 3.2lbs it’s easy and fun to pick up the X41 and wave it around with one hand, just because you can. Try doing that with a notebook that has a screen over 15″ in size. After 2-weeks I still get a kick out of throwing the X41 in my notebook bag and not even noticing it’s there, my back thanking me all the while. And all those folks on the subway wonder why I’m smiling.
One thing that is common in ultraportables, but that must be pointed out, is that there is no built in optical drive for the X41, nor has there ever been for the X-series. That’s part of the formula for keeping the weight down and the overall package thin. So what happens when you need to load software from a DVD or CD? That’s when you’ll need an expansion base such as the ThinkPad X4 UltraBase Dock. This dock has a built-in optical drive a bunch of ports, you simply slot the X41 into it when you arrive at the office and away you go. One great option is to have an external monitor and all your favorite accessories hooked up to the base so that when you get to the office or home you slide the X41 into the UltraBase and then start working right away, and while on the road just use the X41 in its raw form factor.
ThinkPad X41 Right-side (view larger image)
ThinkPad X41 Left-side (view larger image)
ThinkPad X41 underneath (view larger image)
If you don’t want the expansion base, you can always use a fast network to access drives on other machines to read large amounts of data, but the UltraBase is a highly recommended and virtually necessary accessory option.
IBM ThinkPad X41 UltraBase X4 (view larger image)
Processor and Performance
The X41 provides much better performance than your average ultraportable due to the fact it has a 1.50 GHz Pentium M that uses the latest Intel 915 chipset. Not only is this processor running at a faster clockspeed than the typical 1.1 or 1.2 GHz ultraportable processor, but the updated chipset provides superior graphics performance (up to 76%) and better overall calculation performance (about 10%) relative to the older 855 chipset seen in last years Pentium M line and most (if not all other) of today’s ultraportables on the market.
We’ve done a few benchmarks to give a feel for where the X41 stands relative to other laptops in terms of performance.
The program Super Pi is used to get a benchmark of raw processor speed. The Super Pi program simply forces the processor to calculate Pi to a selected number of digits of accuracy. Calculating to 2 million digits is our chosen benchmark:
Comparison of notebooks using Super Pi to calculate Pi to 2 million digits (plugged in):
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|IBM ThinkPad X41 (1.50 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||2m 02s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|IBM ThinkPad T41 (1.6GHz Banias Pentium M)||2m 23s|
|Compaq R3000T (Celeron 2.8GHz)||3m 3s|
|Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|Dell Inspiron 8600 (1.7GHz Banias Pentium M)||2m 28s|
So we can see from the numbers above that the processor is able to outpace much larger laptops from just last year. Not bad.
Benchmarks for ThinkPad X41 (integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900, 1.50GHz Pentium M, 512MB RAM) compared to the ThinkPad T43 (ATI X300 64MB Graphics Card, 1.86GHz Pentium M, 512MB RAM)
|Futuremark PCMark04 Scores|
|IBM T43 (1.86GHz)||IBM X41 (1.50 GHz)|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression||3.33 MB/s||2.66 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption||27.19 MB/s||21.81 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression||23.4 MB/s||19.03 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing||10.88 MPixels/s||8.65 MPixels/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning||1914.17 MB/s||1349.58 MB/s|
|Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check||2.82 KB/s||2.09 KB/s|
|File Decryption||54.11 MB/s||43.78 MB/s|
|Audio Conversion||2496.87 KB/s||2014.01 KB/s|
|Web Page Rendering||5.27 Pages/s||4.43 Pages/s|
|DivX Video Compression||51.71 FPS||39.19 FPS|
|Physics Calculation and 3D||159.19 FPS||79.59 FPS|
|Graphics Memory – 64 Lines||868.44 FPS||399.62 FPS|
|Futuremark 3DMark05 Scores|
|3DMark Score||727 3DMarks||160 3D Marks|
|CPU Score||3414 CPUMarks||1598 CPUMarks|
|GT1 – Return To Proxycon||3.3 FPS||.6 FPS|
|GT2 – Firefly Forest||2.2 FPS||.5 FPS|
|GT3 – Canyon Flight||3.4 FPS||.9 FPS|
|CPU Test 1||1.18 FPS||.9 FPS|
|CPU Test 2||2.9 FPS||1.3 FPS|
So by looking above we see that the PCMark04 numbers show overall performance and processor speed are pretty good and can actually come close to our well performing ThinkPad T43 notebook in some cases. But the graphics performance, as you would expect for an ultraportable, is much left to be desired. Playing any game such as Half Life 2 on a 12.1″ screen with no dedicated graphics card is just not recommended anyway, so these graphics performance numbers are just posted to emphasize this laptop is not meant for games!
Here’s a size comparison of the X41 to the T40, the X41 has an 8-cell battery in so it adds an extra 1-inch to the back notice (view larger image)
Perceived performance for using Office applications, browsing the web and using such programs as Visual Studio for programming is very good. I have 12 programs open right now as I type and they all work fine whenever I switch to the program to use its specific utilities. No lag whatsoever. The X41 most certainly is an ultraportable that will enable you to get work done.
The hard drive speed of 4200RPM is often pointed to as being too slow. And the problem with the hard drive size on the X41 (1.8″) is that there is no upgrading to a faster hard drive. With extra RAM that will provide less need to hit the hard drive, you’ll be able to overcome performance issues, and with the included processor you’ll be humming a happy tune anyway. To me the 4200RPM limitation hard drive isn’t a big deal.
Keyboard and Input
The X41, despite its size, comes with a keyboard that is amazingly comfortable to use and fantastic for typing on. Keys are slightly smaller to fit everything on there, but no space is spared as the keys are pushed right out to the edge so you know IBM has done everything they can to make the keyboard usable. Feedback from the keys is great, there is not even an ounce of flex to this keyboard — it is completely rigid in build — and it is also spill resistant. The trackpoint navigation is fantastic, the pointing stick makes it easy to navigate the cursor to the area on the screen you wish. Some complain about lack of a touchpad, but I’ve never come across a touchpad I’ve ever liked or used so for me this is a good riddance. On the X41 that I have as a review unit, where the touchpad is placed on many other laptops, there is instead a finger reader for use with the optional built in biometric login software.
The 12.1″ screen on the X41 is XGA resolution and there’s nothing fancy about it. It has a matte finish and is not widescreen. But this is perfect for use of Office applications and what not. You’ll only be able to see one application at a time on the screen given the fact the resolution is XGA (1024 x 768). The screen is bright and easy on the eyes, you’ll get no glare or reflection on the screen in an office environment with lots of ugly fluorescent style lights.
More to Come
There’s much more to cover on the X41 of course, we just wanted to get some first thoughts and pictures out there for people to see. We’ll be back with a full review of the X41 in the next couple of weeks. Feel free to post questions in the forum regarding this ultraportable.
Availability and Pricing
Some gadgets (Sony PSP and Apple iPod Mini) next to the X41 for the sake of size comparison (view larger image)