Lenovo ThinkPad X300 First Thoughts Review

by Andrew Reads (337,706)

by Andrew Baxter

The Lenovo ThinkPad X300 is the latest addition to the ThinkPad family and has recently been garnering a lot of attention. The ThinkPad X300 is a 13.3" screen ultra thin-and-light notebook designed for the traveling business type of person — the executive road warrior if you will. But let’s be honest, suit or no suit, with the type of technology and cool engineering crammed into the X300 everyone’s going to be a little bit curious about this notebook, and envious of anybody that has one.


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Our ThinkPad X300 has the following specifications:

  • Processor: 1.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo L7100 (800Mhz FSB, 4MB Cache)
  • Graphics: Intel X3100
  • Screen: 13.3-inch WXGA+ (1440 x 900, 300 nit) LED backlit display
  • Memory: 2GB (up to 4GB configurable)
  • Storage: 64GB SSD
  • Optical Drive: Ultra-thin DVD Burner
  • Wireless and Communications: Intel 4965AGN (802.11 a/b/g/n wi-fi), BlueTooth 2.0 EDR, Intel UWB, GPS, Verizon WWAN (EV-DO)
  • Battery: 6-cell Li-Ion extended life battery
  • Ports: 3 USB 2.0 ports, Monitor out port, AC adapter, headphone/line-out, microphone/line-in, Gigabit Ethernet
  • Dimensions: 12.4" x 9.1" x 0.73" – 0.92"
  • Weight: from 2.93lbs with 3-cell battery and no optical drive to 3.32lbs with 6-cell battery and DVD Burner in
  • Port Replicator: Via USB
  • Input: Full sized keyboard, trackpoint navigation, touchpad, fingerprint reader
  • Operating System: Windows XP or Windows Vista (in various flavors)
  • Other Features: Integrated web camera
  • Warranty: 1-year

The pricing on the X300 is going to start at around $2,400, our configuration is closer to the $3,000 mark since it’s fairly loaded with options. Needless to say, this isn’t something John Doe consumer will be dropping their money on in place of an $800 Dell.


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, and 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 thin, thin, thin making it cool looking by that fact alone.


Apple MacBook Air on the left, ThinkPad X300 on the right (view large image)


ThinkPad X300 supporting the Apple MacBook Air (view large image)

 

Input and Output Ports

The number of ports the X300 has is fairly good, certainly much better than the Apple MacBook Air provides, but you’re still left a bit wanting. Here’s a run down of the ports:

  • 3 USB 2.0 ports
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • Audio out, microphone in
  • Monitor out
  • Kensington lock slot

Key things missing are any type of expansion port, there’s neither PCMCIA or ExpressCard. There’s no type of media card reader, something I sorely miss having on a notebook. There’s also no option for a docking station, you have to go with a USB based port replicator to get the additional ports you would want at a desk. Obviously engineers had to make design trade offs and you can’t have it all. Personally I would really have preferred an SD card reader and lose a USB port, but when you’re out of room you’re out of room I guess.


Left view (view large image)

Right view (view large image)

Front view (view large image)

Back view (view large image)

Performance and Benchmarks

Let’s get this straight, 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 on my homepage. That is amazing, the ThinkPad X61 I use 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 comparison results (lower scores means better performance):

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Lenovo ThinkPad X300 (Intel Core 2 Duo L7100 @ 1.20GHz) 118 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

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)

Notebook PCMark05 Score
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 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.

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:


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Screen

The 13.3" WXGA+ 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 decent, although as with any non-IPS notebook LCD screen, once you get to a certain viewing angle the colors do start to invert.

Keyboard and Touchpad


Keyboard by day… (view large image)

and in the dark(view large image)

The full-sized keyboard on the ThinkPad X300 has zero flex, it’s as good as every previous ThinkPad’s keyboard (fantastic) and then some. Lenovo has added a matte finish to the keys so that they don’t wear and get all shiny over time. 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 generous sized touchpad with scrolling areas is in place on the X300.


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The palm rest area is pretty neat, it has a rubberized paint finish so it both feels and looks nice. It’s very smooth, almost satin in feel. A fingerprint reader sits just to the right of the top mouse buttons.

Audio

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 I have 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. I like the new style

Battery

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 yank out the DVD Burner and put that in instead. That gives you an exta 3 hours of quoted battery life.

We’ll have more detailed battery life tests in our final review, but for now we’ll assume these battery life quotes are probably a bit high for real world usage.

More to Come

As of this writing we’ve only had the ThinkPad X300 for a few hours now so once the honeymoon is over we’re sure there will be more to complain about, but right now it’s a big thumbs up on this piece of engineering from the ThinkPad labs. Key things we’ll want to find out is how the battery life holds up, how the heat is when under stress, whether installing a bunch of applications slows the performance down and how such extra features as the camera and GPS work out. Stay tuned for the full review next week. We’ll also do a comparison of the X300 to another notebook you may have heard of called the MacBook Air from Apple.

More Videos

ThinkPad X300 compared to ThinkPad T61

ThinkPad X300 Wireless Options

Bootup Time Comparison of the X300 to the X61


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