The ThinkPad X201 is the newest 12-inch ultra-portable business notebook from Lenovo. As a refresh to the X200-series, the X201 showcases Intel's latest Calpella platform. One of the most interesting new processor options included in the X201 is the new 32nm Core i7-640LM dual-core CPU clocked in at 2.13GHz. In this review we take a look at the entire X201-lineup including the X201, X201s, and X201 Tablet and see how well they stack up against previous models.
Our Lenovo ThinkPad X201 Specifications:
Our Lenovo ThinkPad X201s Specifications:
Our Lenovo ThinkPad X201 Tablet Specifications:
Build and Design
The ThinkPad X201 carries the same delightfully-intimidating, ultra-portable business-notebook-on-steroids design as all the X-series notebooks before it. At first glance it looks like any other T-series notebook with a boxy frame and rubberized paint but much smaller. With the notebook open, you see that the design is as small as it can be without reducing the size of the keyboard. Keeping the large keyboard on the small frame does have consequences, however, such as a short palmrest that's too short to support most wrists with your fingers in their typing position. The X-series notebook is essentially the smallest ThinkPad that still allows Lenovo to incorporate a full-size keyboard in its design.
Build quality is great compared to many of the small netbooks and CULV notebooks that have hit the market in the past couple of years. Just like the larger T-series counterpart, the X201 retains the strong stainless-steel screen hinges, durable ThinkPad keyboard, strong plastic cladding, and alloy chassis. The thinner design does introduce some minor flex and the screen hinges feel "weaker" when scaled down but this is all relative. For a 12-inch notebook the X201 can easily be tossed around with little worry about it breaking ahead of schedule or wearing out before its useful life is up. Try to do the same thing with cheaper consumer competition and you won't like the results.
End-user servicing is still taken into consideration with easy memory and hard drive access. The X201 retains the side panel to quickly swap out the hard drive and the bottom cover to upgrade the system memory.
Screen and Speakers
While the build quality surpasses many CULV-notebooks one area the X201 really falls behind is in the screen category. Compared to many of the modern 11.6- and 12-inch glossy screens found on new consumer ultraportable notebooks, the panels on the X201 and X201s fall behind in color saturation and contrast. Colors appeared faded and weak while black levels felt washed out. This seems to be the downside to most business notebooks. Vertical viewing angles are average with colors starting to invert quickly when you tilt the screen 10 to 15 degrees forward or back. Horizontal viewing angles are better with colors staying consistent even at steep angles.
The X201 Tablet screen is a step above the X201 or X201s and offers much better color saturation and contrast. Viewing angles are also greatly improved with minimal color inversion even when tilted 45 degrees forward or back. One problem we noticed on our X201 Tablet review model though was the screen appeared very warm (yellow/orange). This gave the screen an aged look and was not very pleasing to the eye.
The backlight brightness of all three notebooks was plenty bright to be viewable in an office setting. The X201 was the brightest of the bunch and measured 250cd/m2 at its brightest point. The X201s was second and measured 232cd/m2 at its brightest point. The X201 Tablet came in third measuring 182cd/m2 at its brightest point. If you plan on using the X201 outdoors, Lenovo offers a high-brightness outdoor-viewable screen on the X201 Tablet as an option.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Each of the new ThinkPad X201-series notebooks we have in for review offers the same keyboard that was previously seen on the X200. After the huge change with the T400s and T410 we were expecting to see a similar redesign with the X201 models but that wasn't the case. With that said the typing experience is everything we have come to expect from the trusted ThinkPad brand. The keyboard size is 100% with the 12-inch widescreen chassis which is an improvement from the 4:3 aspect ratio X61 which had condensed keys along the perimeter of the keyboard. The typing surface has excellent support with barely any flex under moderate pressure. The tactile feel from each key is great with soft clicks emitting very little noise when fully pressed. If you plan on spending hours sitting in front of your computer typing the ThinkPad keyboard is hard to beat.
One entirely new feature on the X-series ThinkPad is a narrow Synaptics touchpad on the X201 and X201 Tablet. The X-series has always had the limitation of being TrackPoint onlywhich is a huge turnoff for some users. With the majority of buyers preferring the touchpad interface it was a no-brainer to see Lenovo adding it to the X201 to help increase sales. The small touchpad is odd to see at first it is about half the height of a normal touchpadbut you get used to it really quick. During the review process I favored the touchpad over the TrackPoint and had no trouble using it with common multitouch gestures. The touchpad had an excellent response time with no noticeable lag and each axis offered the same acceleration rate to prevent unwanted ovals.
Ports and Features
Port selection has stayed the same as previous models with three USB ports, VGA-out, LAN, ExpressCard/54, audio jacks and a modem jack. For storage expansion Lenovo also includes an SDHC slot located on the front edge of the palmrest. I was really hoping to see some form of digital video out but as this is a business-oriented model most business users still demand VGA-out for legacy projectors.
Performance and Benchmarks
I have to admit that when I first heard Lenovo was sticking a Core i7 processor in the X201 I had the mental image of a 12-inch gaming or workstation-class notebook. That was not the case as the Core i7-640LM processor included in our X201s and X200 Tablet are dual-core processors designed with power efficiency in mind and not breakneck performance. It also turns out that the low-voltage Core i7 processors are slower than the Core i5 processor we testedmaking things even more confusing for the average consumer who might be purchasing a notebook on model numbers alone.
Compared to the Intel P8600-equipped X200 we reviewed more than a year ago, every X201 we reviewed offered a substantial boost in speed, including the X201s with the new Core i7-640LM. Overall system performance went up 30 to 50% across the board depending on configuration. 3D-performance went up 63 to 106% with the newer GMA HD integrated graphics over the older X4500 chipset. Users will note that the GMA HD inside notebooks with the low-voltage Core i7 processors are clocked lowerat a 266MHz base frequency instead of 500MHzthan similarly-equipped Core i5 systems.
If you depend on your notebook to be your "desktop-away-from-home" the newer platform offers plenty of performance to satisfy most users. Multimedia enthusiasts will enjoy streaming 1080P Flash video through YouTube or decoding downloaded 1080P movies with barely making the notebook break a sweat. If you find yourself wanting more power than the standard run-of-the-mill netbook or CULV notebook can provide, one of the 12-inch X201 ThinkPads might be the best alternative.
>wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark06 measures overall graphics performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
HDTune storage drive performance test:
Heat and Noise
Thermal performance of the X201 is very good even with the Core i5-540M processor. Under a light load the keyboard and palmrest stayed a few degrees above room temperature. Temperatures increased with the system under a full load but "touch" areas on top of and below the notebook stayed within reasonable levels. The cooling fan was audible in a quiet room but only when the system was being stressed. With our sound meter in a room with a tested 31.5dB ambient background, we measured the system fan on low speed at 33dB, mid speed at 38dB, and high speed at 42dB 6 inches from the exhaust vent.
Battery life across all the models we tested was excellenteven on the X201 with the Intel Core i5-540M processor and 7200RPM hard drive. Each model was tested with the screen brightness set to 70%, wireless active, and Windows 7 set to a balanced profile. Note that the X201 is equipped with a 9-cell battery, the X201 Tablet has an 8-cell battery, and the X201s is configured with a 6-cell battery. Our results are shown below:
During the test the X201 with the Intel Core i5-540M and 7200RPM hard drive consumed between 7.5 to 8 watts of power. The X201s with the Core i7-640LM consumed between 6.5 to 7 watts. The X200 Tablet also using the Core i7-640LM consumed between 7.5 and 9 watts of power. If you want the perfect mix of speed and battery life the X201s tested with the 9-cell battery stayed on for 11 hours and 50 minutes!
The Lenovo ThinkPad X201 offers quite a few solid features compared to the older X200. Users who prefer a touchpad interface can now get it on the X201 and X201 Tablet, and even though it is netbook-sized it is still very usable. The newest Intel platform offers a huge boost in overall performance from the previous generation and in some cases doubled the 3D performance. Battery life also increased across the board with the help of the power-sipping Intel Core i7-640LM processor. If you find yourself always wanting a bit more than what most netbooks or CULV-based notebooks have to offer, the Lenovo ThinkPad X201 packs a huge punch in a small package.