Lenovo ThinkPad X200 Review

by Andrew Reads (1,147,614)
  • Pros

    • Powerful performance with the new Intel Montevina platform, regular clock speed processor of up to 2.40GHz
    • Runs very cool and quiet thanks to unique fan design
    • New widescreen display and extra width means more keyboard space and easier for dual-window viewing
    • Incredible battery life, close to 10-hours potential on the 9-cell cylindrical battery

  • Cons

    • No built-in high-definition video output port such as HDMI, DVI or Display Port
    • No touchpad available, just TouchPoint
    • No built-in optical drive
    • Can't fit it inside a manila envelope for inter-office mail like with the ThinkPad X300 and MacBook Air


The Lenovo ThinkPad X200 is an update and evolution of the ThinkPad X61 12.1″ screen ultraportable and, as the name suggests, borrows a bit from the design cue of the much praised ThinkPad X300 ultra-slim laptop.  To be sure, the X200 is not as expensive nor as cutting edge as the X300, the high-end features and supermodel thin X300 outdo what you’ll get design-wise with the X200.  With that said, the ultraportable X200 certainly has a lot to like about it, offers better performance than the X300 and has a more reasonable price.  This review will delve into the features and updates the X200 has to the previous X61.

Overview

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Lenovo ThinkPad X200 (view large image)

The Lenovo ThinkPad X200 is an ultraportable business laptop, but certainly some consumers that want a portable and durable laptop might also be interested in this notebook.  Like its larger brothers from the ThinkPad line, the X200 shares all of the same rugged features, and now even has the comfort of a keyboard that matches the size of the larger ThinkPad T400 and T500 series.  Thanks to the new widescreen design the X200 is now wide enough to support larger sized keys.


ThinkPad X61 on the left, X200 on the right (view large image)

Although the X200 is indeed smaller than its ThinkPad counterparts, it still packs the same power.  Our review unit comes with a new Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 2.40GHz processor from the Intel Montevina family, and it’s definitely no slouch.  The option for speedy SSD storage, 4GB of RAM and Intel Turbo memory can all contribute to a powerhouse in a small package.

With all this newly found power under the hood you might be wondering if the X200 is a power monger that will drain the battery like it’s its job and generate so much heat you can warm your nearby coffee.  This is not the case, incredibly battery life capability has increased over the X61 and the laptop remains very cool, indeed cooler than the X61.

Specifications of the X200 being reviewed are as follows:

  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 2.40 GHz (3MB L2 cache, 1066MHz FSB) (Montevina)
  • Chipset: Intel GM45/ICH9-ME
  • Memory: 2GB DDR2 667MHz (1x 2048MB) (can support up to 4GB of DDR3 Memory @ 800/1067MHz)
  • Hard Drive: 7200RPM 160GB SeaGate Momentus (ST9160823AS) SATA
  • Screen: 12.1″ widescreen 1280×800 LCD, 200 nits of brightness
  • No built-in Optical Drive (need X200 UltraBase for this capability)
  • GPU:  Intel X4500 Integrated Graphics
  • Network/Wireless: Intel Wi-Fi Link 5300 (802.11 a/b/g/n) 1Gb Ethernet Card, built-in Verizon WWAN and Bluetooth (56 Kbps modem optional, not installed)
  • Inputs: 95 Key Keyboard with Three Button Touchpoint
  • Buttons: Power, ThinkVantage, Volume Up and Down, Mute, and WiFi/Bluetooth On/Off Switch.
  • Slots:ExpressCard/54mm, SD card reader (5-in-1 media card reader optional, not installed)
  • Battery: Nine Cell Cylindrical (4-cell, 6-cell and 9-cell options)
  • Dimensions (with large 9-cell battery in):
    • Width: 11.61 inches
    • Depth: 9.2 inches
    • Thickness: 0.8-in – 1.4 inches
  • Dimensions (with small 4-cell battery in):
    • Width: 11.6 inches
    • Depth: 8.3 inches
    • Thickness: 0.8 – 1.4″
  • Weight:
    • 4-cell battery starting at 1.34 kg / 2.95 lbs
    • 6-cell battery starting at 1.47 kg / 3.24 lbs
    • 9-cell battery starting at 1.63 kg / 3.58 lbs
  • Operating System: Windows Vista Business
  • Extra Options: Web-cam, fingerprint reader, 56Kbps modem, 5-in-1 card reader

Design and Looks

It’s so easy to write about the look of any ThinkPad notebook: it’s black, everywhere, and if you have a problem with that then look elsewhere.  Cheek aside, there are noticeable design changes from the X61. 

 
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The most noticeable change we see between the X61 and X200 is that the display is widescreen instead of the “standard” 4:3 ratio aspect screen seen on the X61.  The question is, when do we start calling widescreen standard for a notebook screen?  There are few laptops left that aren’t widescreen so this change comes as no surprise.  We think the switch is for the better due to the lower overall system profile, more spacious keyboard and ability to more easily view two windows side-by-side.  Some people will no doubt be miffed by this change though.


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More subtle design changes include red accented mouse buttons coming back from the ThinkPad days of old.  The volume control buttons have gone from a silver color on the X61 to black on the X200.  The power button look changes to that we saw on the X300, except it is not backlit.


12.1″ ThinkPad X200 on the far left, 13.3″ ThinkPad X300 Center, X61 on the right (view large image)

For a business notebook the look of the X200 works as it is clean and professional.  We do wonder if the relentless push for new designs on consumer notebooks won’t spill over more to the enterprise business space and force the ThinkPad team to shake things up just a little eventually.  We’re seeing with the new ThinkPad SL line some introduction of consumer design features such as a glossy screen and glossy lid.  The leaked pictures of the new Dell Latitude E series indicates that company might be willing to put their neck out in a bet that business buyers might just like a notebook that’s not bland looking.

Build Quality

The X200 is a durable ultraportable computer, it features a magnesium-alloy casing on both the top and bottom of the body.  To go along with the external mag-alloy casing is an internal magnesium “roll-cage” skeleton that reinforces the overall feel of the notebook, there’s little flex to be found anywhere.

The steel hinges that we’re used to seeing on ThinkPad notebooks are of course still in place.  The hinges keep the screen firmly in place with no wobble, even during bumpy plane rides.  There are two latches to hold the lid tightly closed when you have it in a bag.

There are two spill drains on the keyboard area that will carry any liquid spills safely out of the bottom of the notebook.  Spilling that morning cup of coffee on your X200 might not be disastrous thanks to this feature.

The ThinkPad Active Protection System (APS) for the hard drive is still part of the mix.  The APS is software on board that works with a built-in accelerometer to detect drops and knocks and remove the read-write head of the hard drive so as to prevent any damage to the data.

For upgrades and repairs that might come up down the road, the X200 keeps the user in mind with easy to remove access panels and covers. The most frequent upgrade items being the HD and RAM are accessed through panels on the bottom and side of the X200. Other items such as the keyboard, wireless cards, and backup battery can be reached by removing a handful of labeled screws on the bottom, and easily popped out.   Worth noting is that even if you don’t get WWAN configured to start with (WWAN is available via Verizon, Vodafone, Telus or KDDI), the necessary antenna is installed by default so all you would have to do is open up the X200 and put in the WWAN card and voila, built-in WWAN.

Input and Output Ports

The port selection has changed a bit from the X61, placements are especially a bit different.  Gone is the old style PC card slot, it’s now an ExpressCard 54mm expansion slot.    The FireWire port the X61 had is dropped with no appearance on the X200.  One strange option you now have is to choose either an SD card reader and no built-in modem or an enhanced 5-in-1 card reader and a modem.  Our review unit has just an SD card reader and the modem port is blocked off.   Why having a 5-in-1 card reader dependency tied to having a built-in modem certainly isn’t obvious to us, how annoying!

The port locations are best described by taking a picture tour:

Left side – power jack, heat vent, USB port, monitor-out port, Gigabit Ethernet, USB port, ExpressCard 54mm slot, wireless on-off switch:

 
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 Front side – SD card slot or optional 5-in-1 card reader:


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Right side – USB port, headphone out, microphone, modem port (blocked in this config):

 
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X-series group shot: ThinkPad X61 on top of X200 on top of X300.


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Keyboard and Touchpoint

The keyboard on the X-series ThinkPad has always been a standout in the field of ultraportables.  Now with the extra real estate width the keys that were slightly shrunken on the X61 appear in their full glory here.  Indeed, the keyboard on the X200 is exactly the same as that you’ll get on the T-series, so it’s entirely comfortable for typing with no adjustments necessary for smaller keys you often find on ultraportables.


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The feel of the ThinkPad keyboard is well documented as being probably the best in the industry.  Each key is individual, there’s no sink to the keyboard no matter how hard you push, and the feedback you get from each key is so perfect it’s just plain satisfying.  It’s also quiet and won’t click or rattle to annoy others in a business meeting room, lecture hall or wherever you happen to be working away.

The lack of a touchpad will probably come as a shock to some users upon seeing only the red cap of the ThinkPad Touchpoint. To save space the X200 omits the touchpad system in favor of a touchpoint.  The touchpoint is easy to use and allows you to move a cursor around the screen more efficiently as you can keep your fingers placed on the keys and use it without lifting a hand down to a touchpad.   However, some users that are familiar with a touchpad will take some time to adjust, and potentially never get over the fact the X200 is touchpad-less.

The mouse buttons just below the space bar are easy to use with a nice travel distance, good smooth feedback, and no stiffness or annoying click noisiness.

Screen

Mercifully Lenovo saw fit to increase the brightness of the X200 screen to 200-nits from the 150-nits present on the ThinkPad X61.  One of our major complaints with ThinkPad screens in the past has been the lack of brightness, so it’s great to see this remedied.  The 200-nits of brightness is more than adequate for any indoor situation, but it’s still not bright enough for outdoor viewing.  The brightness can be adjusted along fifteen levels, if the room is dark it’s recommended to dim the screen to half brightness in order to protect your pupils – there’s no ambient light sensor to do that for you like some business laptops have.

 
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The viewing angles of the screen are typical for a laptop, the horizontal viewing angles are pretty decent while vertically colors tend to invert as you tilt the screen away from you.  With business users you’ll often find a 3M privacy filter in place, especially when a business person is on the road, so we don’t care as much about how good the viewing angles are on a portable business laptop – the goal might actually be for as few people around you to see the screen as possible.

For those that lean towards the geeky side, below is a screenshot from the Astra32 application that reads the screen info of the machine:


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Speaker

As you might expect the speakers, excuse me, speaker (as in mono sound) on the X200 is rather pathetic.   The speaker is actually located on the bottom of the laptop, so in case it wasn’t muffled enough to begin with that just about smothers things.  Lenovo claims the speaker performance was improved over the X61, but that’s certainly a relative thing.

System sounds are mostly fine and audible but headphones are necessary for any decent listening experience for those favorite tunes you might have stored on the disk.

Performance

The X200 is very impressive in terms of raw power in a small package.  This is one of the first systems we’ve seen with the Intel Montevina platform on board and the news is good, we’re finding better performance but no sacrifice with battery life or the heat increasing.   Frankly, 2.40GHz of dual core power and a 3MB L2 cache, Intel Turbo Memory, SSD storage and 4GB of DDR3 RAM running at 1066 MHz might just be overkill for a laptop this size, but the option is there if you’re like Tim the Tool Man Taylor and want more power for no other reason than the fact it’s more powerful.

Onto the benchmarks, here are the scores we received running various benchmarks against the Intel P8600 2.40GHz, 2GB RAM, 7200RPM hard drive setup:

wPrime is a program that forces the processor to do recursive mathematical calculations, this processor benchmark program is a multi-threaded application that can use both processors at once, it measures the amount of time to run a set amount of calculations.  The P8600 performed admirably well.

wPrime comparison results (lower scores means better performance):

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Lenovo ThinkPad X200 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.40GHz)  32.119 seconds
Lenovo IdeaPad U110 (Intel Core 2 Duo L7500 @ 1.60GHz) 52 seconds
Lenovo ThinkPad X300 (Intel Core 2 Duo L7100 @ 1.20GHz) 98 seconds
Apple MacBook Air (Intel Core 2 Duo P7500 @ 1.6GHz) 68 seconds
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

 

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.

PCMark05 benchmark results (higher scores are better)

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Lenovo ThinkPad X200 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.40GHz, Intel X4500) 4,298 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad U110 (Intel Core 2 Duo L7500 @ 1.60GHz, Intel X3100) 3,445 PCMarks
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) 2,478 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
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

 

3DMark06 is a benchmark that measures graphics performance, or more accurately measures the notebook’s ability to play 3D computer games. The score is based in part on overall performance, but the single most important factor in this benchmark is the performance of the dedicated or integrated graphics. In the case of the X200, the integrated graphics performance wasn’t bad … but you certainly won’t be playing Crysis on this machine:

3DMark06 comparison results for graphics performance (higher scores are better):

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Lenovo ThinkPad X200 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.40GHz, Intel X4500) 927 3DMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X300 (Intel Core 2 Duo L7100 @ 2.10 GHz, Intel X3100 502 3DMarks
Apple MacBook Air (Intel Core 2 Duo P7500, Intel X3100) 504 3DMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad U110 (Intel Core 2 Duo L7500 @ 1.60GHz, Intel X3100) 620 3DMarks
HP 2133 Mini-Note (1.6GHz VIA C7-M ULV, VIA Chrome 9) 93 3DMarks
Averatec 2575 (2.2 GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-64, ATI RS690T) 377 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100) 545 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,408 3DMarks
Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB) 1,819 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks

 

 

Battery Life


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The ThinkPad X200 comes with three different battery options: 4-cell, 6-cell or 9-cell.  The bigger the battery the longer the battery life and of course the heavier the weight.  We have the 9-cell cylindrical battery which causes the system weight to jump to about 3.6 lbs instead of the 2.95 lb weight you get with the 4-cell.  It turns out that the 9-cell may well be worth carrying the extra weight, especially if you’re a mobility freak that hates having to hunt down the next power outlet.  Lenovo gives a quoted battery life of 9.2 hours with the 9-cell battery, and for what may be the first time ever our system outperformed the manufacturers quoted time.  With the screen set to the 4th level of brightness, wireless on and the system idling for about 8 hours and being used to surf the web for about an hour the battery finally gave up at 9 hours and 53 minutes.  This was no torture test on the battery, but during heavy usage with screen brightness all the way up you’ll still pretty safely hit 5 hours of battery life.  This reviewer took the X200 to a coffee shop to do some work for about four hours and only drained the battery down to 55% of the battery life while constantly surfing, typing, opening and installing programs.  It’s nice to not have to be glancing around wondering when you’ll be able to pounce and claim that guys table who is camped out next to the coffee shops only power outlet.


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The power adapter for the X200 remains the same as that used for the X61 and X300, though the battery for the X200 is compatible with neither of those X-models.  The power manager interface within the ThinkVantage software has also changed, the UI is a little more friendly, though some long time ThinkPad users may have to figure out how to find information they were used to seeing in a different way before, there’s a bit of a re-learning curve if you will.

Heat and Noise

The ThinkPad engineers have once again raised the bar on reducing both heat and noise.  The X200 has adopted the “owl-like” fan design that was seen in the X300.  The fan is amazingly quiet when it runs and does its job well.  Even if you don’t care to appreciate the details of the engineering with the fan design, you’ll appreciate the fact there’s simply no areas of noticeable warmth on the X200.  Even if you put your hand up to the heat vent area it’s hard to feel anything more than a bit of warm air coming out.  We often find with ultraportables that the heat buildup can be off the scale and noisy fans the norm as designers have to cram all the internals into a smaller space.  The X200 proves this does not have to be the case if the right type of engineering is used.  Reducing the heat buildup is important to both your comfort and also ensuring that the system doesn’t cook itself and break down under the heat stress.


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Wireless

The X200 has a number of Wi-Fi options: the Intel WiFi Link 5100, WiFi Link 5300, Intel WiMAX/WiFi Link 5350 and ThinkPad 11b/g Wireless LAN Mini PCI Express.  The Intel “WiFi Link” chipsets are new with Montevina and we can once again thank Intel for obfuscating our buying decisions.  What exactly the difference is between the WiFi Link 5100 and 5300 is not obvious, though we do know the 5300 offers 802.11 a/b/g/n since our system does support this.  The 5350 chipset with WiMax support will not be available on the X200 until later this year.

The new Intel WiFi Link 5300 worked well for the most part, though it did frequently seem slow in acquiring network associations and a couple of times the system froze for a period of 10 seconds while the card was trying to connect to a network.  Once connected things were fine though and the range and speed what you’d expect.  The antenna placement at the top of the X200 screen helps a lot when it comes to improving range.

Built-in WWAN is an option with theX200 of course; the great news is if you’re not sure you want it at the time of purchase you can easily add it after market.   This is because Lenovo already pre-wires every X200 they produce so it’s ready for WWAN, so the antenna that’s necessary is placed into the lid area.  Once the urge or need arises to put in a WWAN card, you just order the Mini PCI part it requires, open up the X200 and pop it in, and you’re ready to go – once you’ve agreed to pay Verizon, Vodafone or Telus a monthly fee of course.

BlueTooth is also an option with the X200.  It’s definitely a recommended feature for those that want to use a wireless BlueTooth mouse or pair the X200 with a PDA or Smart Phone device.  Also part of the mix now is a built-in GPS option.

A new Access Connections interface makes finding wireless networks visually more appealing, a screenshot of the 3D satellite-type view of networks you now get is shown below:


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Expansion Capabilities

The X200 has an updated docking connector and so there is a new UltraBase dubbed the X200 UltraBase.  The X200 UltraBase allows you to snap into a dock with the following ports: UltraBay Slim (SATA), 4 USB 2.0 ports, VGA, DisplayPort, Microphone in, Headphone out, Stereo Speakers, RJ-45 Ethernet, Cable lock slot, Key lock slot, 2nd battery charger.  The list price for the X200 UltraBase will be $219.


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Environment

Lenovo has been working on making their products more friendly to the environment.  The ThinkPad X200 is the first PC to be certified by GreenGuard, it meets a Silver EPEAT rating and is Energy Star 4.0 compliant — Lenovo is claiming a 25% lower power consumption than the previous generation of ThinkPads.  Less power in but more power out — not bad.

Conclusion

The ThinkPad X200 is a very worthy successor to the ThinkPad X61.  The amazing battery life capabilities and cool and quiet running performance are real highlights.  Having so much power in a small package while still maintaining a cool and quiet computing experience further adds to the impressiveness there.  The ThinkPad X200 is also durable enough to last a very long time even with the most abusive of owners, shoving the X200 in a tightly packed bag and then physically forcing it under seat 21A on the plane won’t cause this laptop harm.

The downsides are that there’s no optical drive like you get with the ThinkPad X300 and no touchpad for those that prefer that style of input.  The removal of FireWire and then no built-in DisplayPort, HDMI or DVI port could be a deterrent for some.  The all black and professional look has stood the test of time and looks both clean and professional, we like it, but those business people demanding their IT department to support the Apple iPhone might just care about how cool their laptop looks too.  And let’s face it, the X200 won’t cause anyone to do a double take for its looks.

Overall though the X200 is yet another step forward for the ThinkPad X-series line and another check in the column for a job well done by ThinkPad designers and engineers.

Pros

  • Powerful performance with the new Intel Montevina platform, regular clock speed processor of up to 2.40GHz
  • Runs very cool and quiet thanks to unique fan design
  • New widescreen display and extra width means more keyboard space and easier for dual-window viewing
  • Incredible battery life, close to 10-hours potential on the 9-cell cylindrical battery
  • Great wireless options such as BlueTooth, WiMax, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, WWAN
  • Cool features available such as integrated GPS and integrated web-camera
  • Very sturdy notebook built to last with mag-alloy case and magnesium internal roll-cage

Cons

  • No built-in high-definition video output port such as HDMI, DVI or Display Port
  • No touchpad available, just TouchPoint
  • No built-in optical drive
  • Can’t fit it inside a manila envelope for inter-office mail like with the ThinkPad X300 and MacBook Air

 




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