Lenovo ThinkPad X60s and X60 Review (pics, specs)

by abaxter Reads (547,110)

The ThinkPad X60s is the latest incarnation of the popular ultraportable ThinkPad X-series from Lenovo.  The X60s is the evolution of the former ThinkPad X41 notebook, while the ThinkPad X60 (no “s”) is the update to the ThinkPad X32.  This review will focus on the changes between the X41 and X60s.  The main difference between the Core Duo X60 and X60s notebooks is that the X60s has a low voltage processor while the X60 does not, therefore this review can still be treated as a general overview for both models.

Specs for X60s as Reviewed:

  • Processor: Intel Core Duo L2400 1.66GHz (1.2V)
  • OS: Microsoft Windows XP Professional (Service Pack 2 installed)
  • Hard Drive: Toshiba 80GB 5400RPM SATA (Sku: MK8032GSX)
  • RAM: 512MB DDR2 SDRAM (667MHz), max RAM config of 2GB
  • Screen Size: 12.1″
  • Screen Resolution: XGA 1024 x 768 (can output resolution of up to 2048 x 1536 via monitor out)
  • Graphics: Intel Media Accelerator 950
  • Slots:
    • PCMCIA Type II (left side)
    • SD memory card slot (left side)
    • 1 Expansion slot / docking station slot (bottom)
  • Ports:
    • 3 USB 2.0 ports (1 on the left, 2 on the right)
    • FireWire Port (right side)
    • Monitor out port (left side)
    • Ethernet LAN port (left side)
    • Modem port (right side)
    • Microphone (right side)
    • Headphone line-out (right side)
    • Power jack (right side)
  • Battery: 8-cell extended life battery (can be configured with a smaller 4-cell)
  • Dimensions: 10.5″ x 8.3″ x .83 – 1.11″ (width x depth x thickness [varies from front to back])
  • Weight: about 3.5lbs with 8-cell battery
  • Integrated Communications: Modem, Gigabit Ethernet, Verizon EVDO WWWAN (optional), Bluetooth (optional), IrDA

Just a quick note regarding the difference between the X60 and X60s.  Basically the design is the same for each, but the X60 has the full fledged Core Duo processors so you can get say a 2.0 GHz Intel Core Duo T2400 processor.  The X60s uses the low voltage L2300 or L2400 Core Duo processors and therefore is slower in terms of performance, but gets superior battery life and runs cooler.

Design and Build


Lenovo ThinkPad X60s (view medium image) (view large image)

The X60s has actually undergone some quite significant changes in design.  Well, I say significant relative to how much a ThinkPad changes from one generation to the next.  The X60s is slightly deeper than the past X41.  There are now 3 USB 2.0 ports as opposed to the usual two, there’s a FireWire port and the hard drive goes from 1.8″ size to 2.5″ size.  The X60s is light enough at 3.4lbs (with 8-cell battery, it’s about 3 lbs with a 4-cell battery) that I could easily palm it while walking around a convention show floor and quickly check email and perform one handed typing tasks.  And using this notebook is possible in even the tightest of airplane quarters (such as say a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 with horribly close seating arrangements that I’m currently being subjected to).


X60s and X41 next to each other, from above you can see the X60 on the left is slightly deeper than the X41.  Also, this particular X60s has an EVDO antenna on the right side that you can see jutting out. (view medium image) (view large image)


Here we weigh a Windows Server 2000 book I might carry in my bag, it weighs 5.4lbs (view medium image) (view large image)


Now add on top the X60s with 8-cell battery and power cord and you’re up to 8.8lbs total, meaning the X60s weighs approximately 3.4lbs give or take.  If only text books could be so light! (view medium image) (view large image)

Build wise the X60s feels as strong as past X-series notebooks, meaning it is very sturdily built.  It’s rated for up to 3ft. drops. The keyboard is spill proof, there are two drains that take liquid away from the keyboard and out the bottom of the notebook if your favorite beverage gets bumped by a clumsy co-worker. Tough steel hinges provide a very firm screen opening and closing experience, and the screen absolutely will not wobble even on a very bumpy flight (unfortunately this was tested and proved so during a rough trans-Atlantic flight this author took).  The screen is held down via a double latch so that it is firmly held down when in the locked and closed position.  A magnesium alloy material screen lid provides strong protection for your LCD screen.  The built-in Active Protection System is a marquee piece of IBM software that protects your data in drop situations, it works by lifting the hard drives read/write head when sudden movement of the notebook is detected.

I did have one unlucky experience with the X60s in regards to build, the green LED display overlay on top of the notebook that is apparently glued on, fell off.  One day I simply pulled the X60s from my bag, placed it on the table and upon lifting the lid it fell off.  It still felt sticky from the glue that apparently holds it on.  Unfortunately the look of the X60s from the top looks quite awful without this, if it were a permanent notebook I’d be getting this fixed immediately of course, stuff like this shouldn’t come off of a premium notebook designed to travel and be pulled in and out of bags.  My advice?  Get a notebook sleeve to help prevent this with yours, just in case.


The LED display overlay on the top fell off of the X60s being used (view medium image) (view large image)

The overall aesthetic look has changed a bit too.  The power and volume buttons are now all silver in color and completely round and the ThinkVantage button is completely rectangular.   Personally I don’t like the look or style of the new buttons, they’re just not as convincing and nice looking as those in the past.  To the eye they look cheap, although in use they are just fine and as sturdy as past buttons.  The ultranav mouse buttons that used to have blue and red stripe coloring have also been stripped down to just black and are also squared off, to me this new design is again boring and it’s harder to see the buttons in low to no light situations.

Processor and Performance

The ThinkPad X41 notebook I’ve been using for the past year has a Pentium M 1.5GHz low voltage processor.  It’s no speed demon, but it’s really quite good for an ultraportable class notebook and gets stuff done in regards to Office applications, email and web.  However, with the Core Duo 1.66GHz Low Voltage processor there is a significant step up in performance.  Indeed, based upon benchmarks the 1.66GHz Core Duo is a fully 30+ percent faster than the 1.5GHz LV Pentium M X41. 

The X60s I have has 512MB of RAM, it’s not enough, I’ve been getting low virtual memory warnings and general sluggishness when there’s 5+ applications open (I multitask and am guilty of having a ton of windows open at one time).  With all the pre-installed ThinkVantage software that runs in the background you’ll want 1GB of RAM so there’s enough room in memory to run other programs without paging the hard drive every few seconds.  The ThinkVantage software that runs in the background such as Active Protection System and Access Connections is great, don’t get me wrong, you’ll want to keep it but you won’t want to sacrifice performance either so I highly recommend 1GB in terms of memory.

The hard drive in the X60s is the 2.5″ variety common among all other notebooks, and is certainly reason to rejoice.  You are now able to upgrade the hard drive to a 7200RPM variety and are not strapped to a non-upgradeable 4200RPM 1.8″ HD that past ultra slim X-series notebooks have been allocated.  The smaller and proprietary hard drive was always a knock against the X-series.  With a 5400RPM drive such as my X60s has you’ll see marked performance in boot-up time.  And since it’s 2.5″, you have comfort of knowing you can upgrade your hard drive as higher storage capacities and speeds become available.

Benchmarks

The proof is in the pudding of course, so the benchmarks will tell the true story of how well the X60s performs.  Below are the results gained from running Super Pi (ftp://pi.super-computing.org/windows/super_pi.zip), a program that forces the laptop’s processor to calculate Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy.

Super Pi Results:

  • Plugged-in:  1m 23s
  • On Battery: 2m 14s (when on battery, the processor is by default underclocked and slowed down to save power)

Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
IBM ThinkPad X60s (1.66 GHz LV Core Duo) 1m 23s
Dell Latitude X1 (1.1 GHz ULV Pentium M) 2m 40s
IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M) 1m 45s
IBM ThinkPad X41 (1.50 GHz LV Pentium M) 2m 02s
MSI 1013 (AMD Turion MT-40 ) 1m 35s
Toshiba Tecra A6 (1.66GHz Core Duo) 1m 25s
Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Pentium M) 2m 10s
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo) 1m 18s

…you can virtually see the X60 thumbing its nose at other ultraportables as it races by.  Below are some PCMark04 benchmark comparisons to the X41, as you can see, the X60s performs very well, up to 2-times better than the X41 in many cases.

 Futuremark PCMark04 Scores
  IBM X60s (1.66 GHz Core Duo) IBM X41 (1.50 GHz Pentium M)
Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression 5.65 MB/s 2.66 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption 46.38 MB/s 21.81 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression 43.38 MB/s 19.03 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing 18.8 MPixels/s 8.65 MPixels/s
Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning 3888.99 MB/s 1349.58 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check 4.00 KB/s 2.09 KB/s
File Decryption 49.36 MB/s 43.78 MB/s
Audio Conversion 2520.32 KB/s 2014.01 KB/s
Web Page Rendering 5.29 Pages/s 4.43 Pages/s
DivX Video Compression 62.54 FPS 39.19 FPS
Physics Calculation and 3D 89.36 FPS 79.59 FPS
Graphics Memory – 64 Lines 399.91 FPS 399.62 FPS

Below are the results generated from HDTune for the 5400RPM 80GB Toshiba hard drive that came with the X60s being reviewed:

(view larger)

Inputs & Output Ports

The X60s is really great in terms of ports provided for such a small notebook.  Here’s a rundown of what you get:

  • 3 USB 2.0 ports (1 on the left, 2 on the right)
  • PCMCIA card slot (left side)
  • FireWire Port (right side)
  • Monitor out port (left side)
  • Secure Digital (SD) memory card slot (left side)
  • Ethernet LAN port (left side)
  • Modem port (right side)
  • Microphone (right side)
  • Headphone line-out (right side)
  • Power jack (right side)
  • 1 Expansion slot / docking station slot (bottom)


X60s and X41 touching at the front, you can see that the X60s (on the left) slopes up more due to the battery elevating it more, they are virtually the same thickness when compared without batteries in (view medium image) (view large image)


Front view with X41 on top of the X60s, notice the wireless on/off button on the front of the X60s that the X41 does not have (view medium image) (view large image)


Right side view of X60s and X41, X60s on the bottom and X41 on the top (view medium image) (view large image)


Left side view of the X60s and X41, the X41 is on top and the X60s on the bottom (view medium image) (view large image)


Back side view of X60s (on the left) and X41 (on the right) (view medium image) (view large image)


Underside view of X60s without battery (on the left) and X41 (on the right) (view medium image) (view large image)


Same picture with battery in (view medium image) (view large image)

The power jack size has changed for the X60s from the X41, so if you’re upgrading then your old power cord will not work.

Screen

As far as I can tell the 12-inch 1024 x 768 (XGA) screen of the X60s hasn’t changed much if at all from the X41.  It’s certainly a bright enough screen at full brightness (there are 8 levels of brightness to choose from), I have no complaints with dimness, and the lighting across the screen is very even — no light leakage.  The screen is of the matte variety, it’s not a glossy widescreen like so many other ultraportables are migrating towards today.  Matte is best for office lighting and reducing glare, and since the X60s has no built-in DVD and is certainly not a media notebook, there would be no benefit from having a glossy screen.  Viewing angles are not so good, especially vertical.  If you’re viewing pictures and don’t have a perpendicular viewing angle to the screen then colors become slightly distorted — more so as the vertical viewing angle changes.  Horizontal viewing angles are much better and it’s fairly easy to get a wide viewing angle from the side.


The X60s screen is bright enough and really nice in terms of even lighting, it’s very much the same as the X41, in this picture the X60s is on the left and X41 on the right (view medium image) (view large image)


Vertical viewing angles are not so great on the X60s, colors tend to distort as you tilt the screen away from a perpendicular viewing angle, this is common with many notebooks though.  The X60s is on the left, the X41 on the right.  (view medium image) (view large image)

Unfortunately, with this review unit I did get a dead pixel on the lower left side.  It doesn’t bother me, it’s only noticeable on black backgrounds where it shows up as a blue dot, but Lenovo return policy specifically states that one dead pixel is not enough to qualify for a return, so if you’re a stickler with having a perfect screen you’d be a bit bummed with getting this one.


The unfortunate stuck pixel on the lower left side, it is only visible on a black background (view medium image) (view large image)

Worth noting is that some versions of the X60s will be offered with an “UltraLight” TFT display that is supposed to be 20% brighter and 25% lighter than the standard X60s TFT screen.  One such X60s SKU model that appears to have this is the 1702-94U.

Battery

The battery life of an ultraportable is, to me, the all important factor.  What’s the point of having an ultraportable computer where the battery dies in 2 hours and you have to find a power outlet as a lifeline to staying charged?  The X60s I have comes with an extended life 8-cell battery, it sticks out of the back of the notebook rather than being flushed, and weighs more than the standard 4-cell.  But I’ll gladly carry the extra weight for the 5 hours and 59 minutes of battery life I get with the X60s.  Incredible!  The notebook went into hibernation at 5% battery life remaining at the 5h 59 min mark, that was with wi-fi on and screen brightness set to medium.  The notebook was mostly idling during this time with some light typing and some internet browsing done.  When typing and using the notebook to write documents, browse the web and send email I’m cruising to 4 hours of run time with 30+% battery still showing.  This is far and away the best battery life notebook I’ve used.  The processor does significantly underclock from top performance to achieve this life, but so what, things are still snappy enough.  I’m ecstatic in regards to this feature of the X60s.


The X60s power adapter on the left, the X41 power adapter on the right.  Notice the IBM branding is gone.  The X60s adapter is skinnier but slightly taller.  (view medium image) (view large image)

If you’re upgrading from an X41 to an X60s, be aware that the batteries are not compatible, the shape and battery offerings has changed with the X60s.


X60s 8-cell battery on the left, X41 8-cell battery on the right — notice they are different and thereby incompatible for switching between machines (view medium image) (view large image)

Heat and Noise

You certainly don’t want an ultraportable to be a heat generating monster, they’re often used in the lap and carried around in bags where they could do such things as melt your favorite chocolate bar that’s stashed in the same bag.  The X60s has a couple of vents and a fan to aid in pushing out warmth generated by the processor and other components.  The fan and largest vent is located on the left back side, the fan gently blows warm air out in a very quiet manner.  One thing I’ve learned is that if you keep the bottom vents covered, which is inevitable when the notebook is in your lap, things on the right palm rest near the hard drive can get quite toasty.  In addition, if you’re in a warmish room the X60s tends to struggle cooling itself down and it does get warm pretty much all over.  In general though, the key to keeping the notebook cool is using it on a tray or table so there’s clearance underneath, otherwise the machine will get hot – although not uncomfortably so.

Keyboard and Input


X60s keyboard on the left, X41 on the right (view medium image) (view large image)

The ThinkPad X-series for the first time comes equipped with a keyboard that features a Windows key and Menu shortcut key.  First, let me say the feel of the keyboard is fantastic, every key provides firm feedback and each key feels individual.  It astounds me how utterly usable such a keyboard is on this size laptop.  The pointing stick is great and makes it easy to navigate the cursor around the screen, there’s no touchpad on this notebook but in this author’s opinion a pointing stick is far superior. 


X60s keyboard (view medium image) (view large image)

Now regarding the new Windows and Menu buttons on the keyboard. On the larger size T60 ThinkPad these new keys were fine by me, but with the X60s they bother me.  I never ever use these keys, and having them means the size of the ALT and CTRL key are greatly reduced.  I just can’t get used to these smaller sized ALT and CTRL keys that I actually use all the time while touch typing, my thumb used to instinctively be able to hit the ALT key while my forefinger hit the TAB key to swtich between open Windows, but now I keep messing that up or simply have to look at the keyboard to perform this task.

The mouse buttons, as mentioned earlier, lose the red and blue stripes they used to have and become squared off rather than rounded.  They are still raised and have little bumps which makes them very easy to feel and use.  The button travel is just right, perfect in every way.

Oh, and the Blue colored Enter key is still in place, I’d be sad if they stripped that color scheme away — I just like it, makes that ever important button stand out! (note, the top row F1 – F12 keys are now black instead of grey)

Software

The IBM ThinkVantage suite of software (formerly “Access IBM”)that makes securing, backing up and protecting your notebook’s data easy is the best in the market.  The Access Connections software to manage connection profiles is great too, it’s been updated recently and now the available wireless networks display graphically in order of closest to furthest away, secured and unsecured.  Google desktop search and Googe toolbar are included by default.  Curiously no Adobe Acrobat Reader is preinstalled, which is really annoying, try going a week without having to open a PDF — it doesn’t happen, so your forced to download and install this from www.adobe.com yourself.  Diskeeper lite is installed as a way to manage defragging the hard drive.  Symantec Antivirus software is also installed with a “limited time” subscription.  IE is installed as the default browser, you’ll have to go and download FireFox if you want that.  No Office applications are included with the X60s, you can buy them as options when configuring though.

Access Connections wireless network management application with the X60, just click on the network you want to connect to.

Wireless

The X60s has four forms of wireless built-in:

  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g using an Atheros built-in wireless mini PCI card, antenna for wireless is located in the screen for better reception
  • Bluetooth 2.0 (optional based on configuration)
  • EVDO using built-in antenna located on the screen side (optional based on configuration)
  • Infrared (IrDA) using port located on the front right side

This is about as good as you get in terms of wireless choices, especially given the small size of the X60s, that’s a lot of communication devices to fit into this space.  The built-in EVDO antenna is great, and if you don’t want to pay the necessary $80 a month Verizon billing amount for unlimited EVDO usage you can pay $15.00 for 24 hour usage of the Verizon network.  There’s a built-in application that makes it easy to pay via credit card for this service and get you connected to the web via EVDO in no time.  In a pinch when dealing with work, and when you can’t find a wi-fi hot-spot (always around when you don’t need them, but absent when you do) the Verizon card could be a life saver to send and receive an important email or access something via the internet that you need. 

In regard to the Atheros wi-fi card, reception and range have been very good.  I should mention the fact that on occasion the Access Connections software has, for lack of better term, “freaked out” and caused the screen to redraw itself over and over bringing the system to a halt while it seemed to be trying to connect to a network or have problems managing the wireless device.  This has happened about four times over a 3-week period and resulted in system reboot each time.

Docking and Ultrabase X6

Of course, the major knock against an ultraportable is that in order to keep weight down often times they don’t come with a built-in optical drive.  This is the case with the X60, but if you need an optical drive and a few more ports the Ultrabase X6 is a highly recommended docking solution that has a built-in optical drive.  With the Ultrabase X6 you simply leave all your wires plugged into the X6 docking station, then when you get to the office/home you drop the X60 into the docking station and away you go with using a full size LCD display, keyboard, wall-socket power, an optical drive and using your wired ethernet connection.  The X6 comes with the following ports and features:

  • Supports Ultrabay Slim CD-RW/DVD-ROM Combo and Multi-Burner drives; can also house a second ThinkPad hard drive (requires HDD installation kit)
  • Audio/video capability – Integrated stereo speakers, microphone in, headphone out, VGA monitor
  • Communication ports – Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45) and modem (RJ-11)
  • Standard device ports – 4 USB 2.0, serial, and parallel
  • System power-on button and easy ejection lever
  • Integrated key lock and optional cable lock slot to secure your ThinkPad notebook and your ThinkPad X6 UltraBase
  • Power pass-through to fuel your system and recharge the battery – Uses the ThinkPad 65W AC Adapter, which ships with X60 Series systems and is available separately as an option

The Ultrabase X6 retails for about $199 via Lenovo.com.  Note, this is not compatible with the X40 series and the X40 X4 Ultrabase is not compatible with the X60.

Other Features

The X60s has a lot of little features that are great and deserve mention:

  • Fingerprint security, the fingerprint reader is located below the ultra nav buttons, you can use fingerprint login to protect data at the system level and to replace typed windows login
  • One touch ThinkVantage button brings up shortcut links to various ThinkVantage software features that allow you to manager power settings, when antivirus checks run, access connections, backups and many other things.
  • The hard drive is shock mounted and has Active Protection System
  • 3-year warranty and top knotch tech support from Lenovo is standard
  • ThinkLight that illuminates the keyboard via Fn + PgUp keystroke is nice for illuminating keyboard in a dark room
  • Wireless on/off switch at the front of the notebook is new and makes it easy to quickly turn off all wireless
  • Holding in on Fn + Space bar quickly enlarges text and icon size for easier viewing when necessary
  • Use the middle mouse button for easy scrolling on long documents and web pages, simply hold down the middle mouse button and push the pointing stick up or down to scroll quickly or slowly

The list of little features goes on, once you get this little notebook you simply play around and discover which features you like, and then you’re hooked!

Conclusion

The X60s is a leap forward in performance over the X41 and offers more in terms of ports and features.  Some will find the built-in EVDO antenna an irresistible feature, some will love the extra USB port and FireWire.  Personally, the off the scale battery life has me all a flutter about this notebook and I believe is the real story.  As I type now I’m flying between London and New York and with 1.5 hours left in the flight, the battery life is still at 49% (estimated 3hours and 8 minutes of usage left).  I’ve been using the notebook screen at full brightness with wi-fi off for a total of about 4 hours during time at the airport and on the 6.5 hour flight.  Furthermore, I’m in cramped quarters and the person in front of me put their seat all the way back, but with the X60s’ small size I can still use it comfortably and have the screen tilted back far enough for good viewing.  The typing experience is better than that of many larger notebooks, I just wish the Windows key had been left from this small keyboard, I prefer the X41 in that regard.  Overall, I have some minor complaints that have been stated previously in the review, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this most excellent travel notebook to anyone that thrives on being portable, carrying the least weight possible and getting the most bang in terms of performance and chart topping battery life.

Pros

  • Hands down the best performing ultraportable on the market with the new Intel Core Duo processor
  • Best battery life this author has ever seen from an ultraportable notebook, 6 hours is very possible with an 8-cell battery
  • Great feeling keyboard
  • Very sturdy casing, no flex whatsoever
  • Superb wireless communication offerings, the optional EVDO is great
  • Excellent software and hardware security features
  • Good number of ports for an ultraportable

Cons

  • A little bland looking, somewhat less appealing than the X41 looks wise
  • What’s up with the LED light overlay falling off?  Hopefully this was an extremely unlucky incident due to this being an early production model, but I never knew it was simply glued on.
  • Gets a little warm, especially if used in the lap where bottom vents are blocked
  • No optical drive built-in

Pricing and Availability: Buy the ThinkPad X60s at Lenovo.com, Buy the ThinkPad X60 at Lenovo.com


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