Lenovo's newest 12-inch business notebook, the ThinkPad X220, offers the latest Intel Sandy Bridge processors, a high-quality IPS display, and battery life that is so incredible you've got to see it to believe it. Keep reading to find out more about what is sure to be a very popular business laptop.
Our review unit of the Lenovo ThinkPad X220 features the following specifications:
Build and Design
Lenovo recently announced their latest ThinkPad line of business notebooks, but they had one more surprise in store: the ThinkPad X220. If you've never heard of the "ThinkPad" brand name then I'm glad you finally left that cave you've been living in since the mid 1990s. ThinkPads have long been regarded as some of the best business laptops thanks to a trusted combination of cutting-edge performance, solid build quality, excellent keyboards, precision TrackPoints (that red dot in the middle of the keyboard) and fantastic warranty support. The previous generation of 12-inch Thinkpads, the ThinkPad X201, was widely regarded as the best 12-inch business notebook on the market.
Can the X220 do even better?
At first glance, the exterior of the ThinkPad X220 has only a few minor changes from the X201. The location of several ports has been shuffled around, but you've still got the same tried and true boxy design combined with durable magnesium alloy and plastic construction covered in matte black rubberized paint. Lenovo continues to provide essentially a full-size keyboard on a 12-inch ultraportable notebook, but that larger keyboard comes at the expense of space for the palm rests. Although typing is very comfortable on the X220, your wrists don't have abundant space with your fingers in the traditional typing position.
Regardless of the compact design, the X220 continues Lenovo's trend of "business rugged" laptops. This ThinkPad is Milspec tested (physical shock, thermal shock, altitude, dust, vibration, humidity, heat and cold) for proven durability. Translation: mobile professionals don't need to treat this laptop with kid gloves. Toss the X220 in your car or let the flight attendant jam it into an overhead compartment. The X220 will take the beating and keep working.
The majority of Lenovo's business clients order their notebooks pre-configured exactly the way they want them. However, Lenovo still makes it reasonably easy for those customers who want to upgrade the X220 on their own. The hard drive is easily replaced by removing the single screw on the side access panel. As far as RAM is concerned, there are two slots located under the main access plate on the bottom of the notebook. Our review unit came with a single 4GB memory module installed, so it would be quite easy to upgrade to the maximum 8GB memory capacity by installing a second 4GB stick of RAM.
Ports and Features
The ThinkPad X220 has what can only be described as the most robust port layout we've seen on any current-gneration 12-inch notebook. You get two standard USB 2.0 ports and your choice of either one "always on" USB 2.0 port (for charging USB devices when the notebook is powered off) or one USB 3.0 port for high-speed data transfers. The X220 also comes with a VGA port, Display Port connection, Gigabit Ethernet and a SDHC card reader. Oh, and the engineers at Lenovo also managed to squeeze in a full size 54mm ExpressCard slot for accessories and port expansion. If that isn't enough ports, there is a docking station connection on the bottom of the notebook so you can turn this 12-inch laptop into a desktop replacement.
Front: Speaker grills
Rear: AC power jack and battery
Left: USB 2.0 port, VGA, Display Port, USB 2.0 port, ExpressCard slot and Wi-Fi on/off switch
Right: SD/SDHC card slot, optional "always on" USB 2.0 port or USB 3.0 port, Ethernet, headset jack, and security lock slot
Screen and Speakers
The 12.5-inch screen on our review unit of the ThinkPad X220 is an optional IPS panel with LED backlighting. The screen features the same 1366 x 768 resolution as the standard display, but the IPS panel provides greater screen brightness, more contrast and wider viewing angles. Our lab test results show this screen has a 743:1 contrast ratio and a peak brightness of 263 nit. Horizontal and vertical viewing angles are quite simply superb; we barely noticed any color distortion even out to extreme viewing angles.
Speaker quality is average as the maximum volume output is loud enough to fill a large meeting room with clear sound. The audio performance is good enough for a basic video conference or webcast, but there is a little distortion at the maximum volume setting and bass output is almost nonexistent. As with most modern ultraportable notebooks, the speakers are located on the bottom front edge of the X220. This means sound is directed down and away from you rather than up toward your ears. If you use the X220 like a "laptop", then the sound is often muffled against your clothing or your legs.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on the new ThinkPad X220 features a few subtle changes from the previous generation of X200/X201 series keyboards. The X220 delivers everything we have come to expect from the typing experience on a ThinkPad. The main key sizes are still 100% of normal and Lenovo hasn't switched to the Chiclet-style keyboards on the X220 yet. The typing surface has excellent support with barely any flex under heavy pressure. The tactile feel from each key is great with soft clicks emitting very little noise when fully pressed. You can type for hours at a time without much discomfort.
The classic red TrackPoint and buttonless touchpad are Synaptics models that provide an excellent sensitivity and responsiveness as you move your cursor in various applications. The new buttonless touchpad provides a 45 percent larger surface area than the touchpad on previous generation of X Series notebooks.
If you've read other reviews here on NotebookReview.com, then you know most touchpads with integrated buttons have problems. Specifically, if you rest one of your fingers or thumbs on a touchpad button while you move the cursor with another finger, it's possible that the touchpad will interpret the two fingers on the touchpad surface as a two-finger gesture or quickly move the cursor between the two fingers when you lift one finger off the touchpad surface.
This is still an issue with the touchpad on the X220, but the diver that Lenovo uses result in fewer "jumping cursor" problems than what we've seen on many other buttonless touchpads.
Performance and Benchmarks
Part of the headline news with the release of the ThinkPad X220 is the use of the latest Intel "Sandy Bridge" processors. Our review unit came equipped with the Intel Core i5-2520M dual-core processor. This CPU has a standard clock speed of 2.5GHz and quickly steps up to a 3.2GHz turbo frequency whenever the notebook is performing a difficult task or running a complex application.
The new integrated graphics in the Intel Sandy Bridge platform are a noticeable step up from the previous generation of Intel integrated graphics. The X220 delivered some impressive benchmark numbers in 3DMark06 but real-world gaming tests were a combination of hit and miss since many games still won't run on Intel graphics.
Of course, most businesses don't care about the ThinkPad X220's ability to play Crysis. In fact, the only thing that most potential buyers of the X220 are likely to care about is whether the notebook can handle HD video playback, video editing, and demanding Photoshop work. Can the X220 do those things? In a word, yes.
The 320GB Hitachi Travelstar Z7K320 hard drive in our review sample is extremely speedy and is quick enough for average tasks. Lenovo also offers a number of optional solid state drives (SSDs) ranging in capacities of 4GB to 160GB.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
PCMark Vantage measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark06 measures overall graphics performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
Heat and Noise
Noise levels were virtually a non-issue during normal daily use with the X220. The default fan speed is whisper quiet--so much so that you have to put the notebook to your ear in order to hear the fan at all. The fan does get louder when the system is under heavy stress (benchmarking, gaming, or HD video editing/encoding), but even then the fan noise isn't likely to bother a co-worker or the passenger sitting next to you on your next flight. We were impressed by the relatively low exterior temperatures considering the impressive level of performance in our test configuration. All temperatures shown below are listed in degrees Fahrenheit:
The ThinkPad X220 with Intel Core i5-2520M processor delivered 8 hours and 47 minutes of battery life with the 6-cell battery. Our standard battery life test sets the screen to 70% brightness, wireless active and continuously refreshing a website on a 60-second interval, and Windows 7 set to the "balanced" power profile. This is almost a half hour more battery run time than an Intel Atom netbook like the HP Mini 1103. That's extremely impressive for a business notebook with this level of performance.
Battery life test results (higher scores mean better battery life):
Lenovo was also kind enough to send us a review sample of the optional slice battery. The slice battery costs an additional $179 and makes the notebook look and feel significantly thicker; making the X220 a full 1.75 inches tall (not including the rubber feet). On the brighter side, our tests showed the slice adds roughly 10 hours of battery life to the X220. During our standard battery drain test the X220 with 6-cell battery and slice kept running for 18 hours and 34 minutes. I have little doubt this could have been extended past 20 hours if the Wi-Fi was off and the screen brightness was turned down.
The only minor annoyance I found with the slice battery is that it lacks a "pass through" for the Lenovo docking station. In other words, you can either dock the X220 with the slice battery or you can dock the X220 with the docking station, but you cannot do both at the same time.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X220 is arguably the best 12-inch business notebook currently on the market ... and we won't argue. Any business laptop that can deliver top-of-the-line perfromance and more than eight and a half hours of battery life with a standard 6-cell battery is amazing. The fact that the X220 can keep running for more than 18 and a half hours with the optional battery slice is nothing short of astonishing.
Considering that the starting price of this notebook is less than $1000 we have a hard time not recommending the ThinkPad X220 for businesses looking for a powerful and durable notebook for a mobile workforce.