Lenovo ThinkPad X200s Review

by Andrew Reads (259,800)

by Andrew Baxter

The 12.1-inch screen Lenovo ThinkPad X200s ultraportable notebook is a lighter and slightly less powerful version of the ThinkPad X200. The three major advantages the X200s offers over the X200 is a lighter weight, higher resolution LED backlit screen and better battery life. The better battery life comes as a result of using a lower voltage processor in the X200s, so that does leave you with a less powerful processor. If you’re a user that values battery life and lower weight over performance then the X200s could fit your needs better than the X200 — so long as you can justify the extra $500 price tag for those needs.


Overview

The ThinkPad X200s is a 12″ screen ultraportable business laptop that replaces the X61s predecessor, the X200s is the lightest notebook offered in the ThinkPad series.  With the smallest 4-cell battery installed the X200s weighs in at an amazingly light 2.47 lbs.  Consider the fact many of the 7 to 10-inch screen sized netbooks are weighing in at 2.5 lbs these days and here we have a 12.1″ screen highly durable laptop with that same weight (along with a laundry list of superior features over netbooks) and you can start to understand what it means to have a nicely engineered product and why “you get what you pay for.”

The X200s shares all of the same rugged features found in the larger sized T400 series, such as a magnesium roll cage and spill proof keyboard, and more.  It also has the comfort of a full-sized keyboard that matches the size of the larger ThinkPad T400 (14.1″ ) /T500 (15.4″) series.

Since the X200s is designed to be a notebook for road warriors it uses an Intel Core 2 Duo low voltage (LV) processor to provide better battery life.  While an LV processor does mean slower performance compared to the regular voltage Core 2 Duo processors used in an X200, for most normal business tasks you will not notice a slow down due to the lower clock speed.

The X200s also offers a bevy of wireless options and SSD storage to appeal to the business user types who worry about how they will connect to the Internet and how their data will be protected.

The Specifications of the X200s being reviewed are as follows:

  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo SL9400 1.86 GHz (6MB L2 cache, 1066MHz FSB)
  • Chipset: Intel GS45
  • Memory: 2GB DDR3 1067MHz (1x 2048MB) (can support up to 4GB of DDR3 Memory @ 800/1067MHz)
  • Hard Drive: 7200RPM 160GB Hitachi Travelstar (HTS722016K9SA00 ) SATA
  • Screen: 12.1″ widescreen 1440×900 LCD, 250 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, Bluetooth, Wireless USB, WiMax (optional), 56 Kbps modem (optional).
  • 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)
  • Weight:
    • 4-cell battery ~ 2.6 lbs
    • 6-cell battery ~ 3.0 lbs
    • 9-cell battery ~ 3.3 lbs
  • Operating System: Windows Vista Business
  • Extra Options: Web-cam, fingerprint reader, 56Kbps modem, 5-in-1 card reader

The price of the above configuration at the time of this review is $2,078 USD.

Competing Ultraportable Notebooks

It’s always good to know what the competition is out there for similar notebooks, so here’s a list of 12″ business ultraportables sold by other manufacturers and links to reviews if available:

The competition and design choices among each of the different 12.1″ business notebooks are very interesting.  Dell chose to offer the Latitude E4200 feather-weight 2.2lb SSD only laptop that can be decorated in Blue, Red or Black.  HP went the route of offering an optical drive in their 12.1″ 2530p.  Toshiba also offers an optical drive in their 12.1″ R600 laptop.  The ultraportable category is always quite fascinating as it’s where each company allows their engineers to really innovate and unleash their design prowess.  Sure, more 14″ and 15″ laptops get sold, but it’s the 12 – 13″ screen laptop category that turns heads and gets the most attention for design.

Design, Looks and Build Quality

The all black staid look of the X200s can be called either clean and professional or downright boring, depending on your take.  At last check bankers and CEO’s still wear black suits to work so why should Lenovo change when its customers aren’t either.  You can’t go wrong with black.  

At 1.2-inches thick the X200s is not super-model thin like the Dell Latitude E4200 which is less than 1-inch thick, nor is the X200s offered in red, blue or pink like the E4200.  Nor does the X200s have a striking look or built-in optical drive such as you get with the Toshiba Portege R600.  In terms of looks and eye-candy factor, the ThinkPad X200s is the least interesting of its competitors.

Where the X200s does shine is in the fact it has an incredibly light starting weight of 2.5lbs and still feels more durable than any other ultraportable we’ve handled.  When you pick up the X200s with a 4-cell battery after seeing how solid it looks and feels, you’ll simply be amazed by the weight.  Upon initially picking the X200s up before bootup this author thought it must have been a hollowed out prototype. The case feels rugged and durable so it seems like the the case alone should weigh 2.5lbs.  One trick Lenovo uses to keep weight down comes with the carbon and glass fibre composite lid that offers durability better than titanium at a mere 22% fraction of titaniums weight.  Material choices such as a magnesium roll cage that reinforces both the bottom of the notebook and keyboard area along with strategically placed plastic reinforcement plates also contribute to the durable feel of the X200s.

The most noticeable change we see between the X200s and its ThinkPad X61s predecessor is that the display is widescreen instead of the 4:3 ratio aspect screen seen on the X61s. This offers a lower overall system profile, more spacious keyboard and ability to more easily view two windows side-by-side.

More subtle design changes between the X61s and X200s 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 X61s to black on the X200. The power button look changes to that seen on the ThinkPad X300, except it is not backlit.

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 X200s 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 X200s 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 X200s. 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 at purchase, the necessary antenna is installed by default so all you would have to do is open up the X200s and put in the WWAN card and voila, built-in WWAN.

Input and Output Ports

The X200s port selection has changed a bit from the X61s, 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 X61s had is dropped with no appearance on the X200s. You can choose between an SD card reader and no built-in modem or an enhanced 5-in-1 card reader and a modem.

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:

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

Right side – USB port, headphone out, microphone, modem port:

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 X61s appear in their full glory here. The keyboard on the X200s is exactly the same as that on the T-series, so it’s entirely comfortable to type on with no adjustments necessary for smaller keys you often find on ultraportables.  The feel of the ThinkPad keyboard is well documented as being one of the best in the industry. Each key feels individual and the feedback you get from a key press is very satisfying. The keyboard is 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.

While there have been some complaints regarding keyboard flex on the T-series, there is no noticeable flex on the X200s under normal typing pressure.  Of course, if you apply extra force on the keyboard you’ll generate some flex, just as with any object that has space inside.

The lack of a touchpad will probably come as a shock to some users. To save space the X200s omits the touchpad system in favor of just a touchpoint/trackpoint. The trackpoint is a navigation stick in the middle of the keyboard, it allows you to move a cursor around the screen efficiently as you can keep your fingers on the keys while using it.  Some users that are familiar with a touchpad will take some time to adjust to the trackpoint, and potentially never get over the fact the X200s 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

The ThinkPad X200s screen is of the LED backlight variety and has a high resolution WXGA+ (1440 x 900) type display.  The LED backlight has a thinner profile than a regular CCFL backlit display, a lighter weight and is more power efficient.

Screen brightness is very good, measuring in at over 200 nits, which is better than the sub 200-nit screen the ThinkPad X61s had.  The screen 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 with some business laptops.

The 1440 x 900 WXGA+ resolution is a real gift for those of us who crave being able to see more on a screen.  The X200 offers a maximum resolution of XGA (1280 x 800) with no option for a higher resolution, so the X200s offers about 20% better viewing real estate.  Of course, if you have poor vision the smaller text and icon sizes that come with the higher resolution might be a problem.  For most, the higher res screen will mean better productivity.  As an example of the extra screen real estate WXGA+ gets you on a 12″ screen over XGA, you can see the top 9 forums displayed on the screen of the X200s while only the top 4 forums display on the XGA ThinkPad X61 screen with 1024 x 768 resolution.

Below is a screenshot of the NBR forums from a ThinkPad X61 12″ screen with 1024 x 768 resolution display

Below is a screenshot of the NBR forums from the X200s 12″ screen with 1440 x 900 resolution display

The viewing angles on the X200s screen are typical for a laptop, the horizontal viewing angles are 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.

Speaker

The mono-speaker on the X200s is located on the front side underneath the keyboard. The speaker loudness is good, but because the speaker is located on the bottom of the laptop, the sound direction isn’t exactly optimal.  The speaker sound quality is ok enough for listening to speech audiobut not as great when it comes to highs and lows associated with music, you’ll want to plug-in earphones when listening to tunes. 

Performance

The X200s utilizes the latest Intel Core 2 Duo low voltage processor.  This particular review unit comes equipped with the Intel SL9400 1.86GHz processor.  While the SL9400 is on paper a slower processor than the Core 2 Duo 2.40GHz processor, there was no noticeable performance difference for the daily tasks a typical business user would be doing.  The PCMark05 score generated by the X200s was actually slightly higher than what was achieved on the X200.  PCMark05 measures overall system performance, not just processor, so a faster hard drive and fewer background processes might have been helping the X200s out in this case.

PCMark05 benchmark results (higher scores are better)

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Lenovo ThinkPad X200s (Intel Core 2 Duo SL9400 @ 1.86GHz, Intel X4500) 4,309 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X200 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.40GHz, Intel X4500) 4,298 PCMarks
HP EliteBook 2530p (1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SL9400, Intel 4500MHD) 5,787 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 X200s, 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 X200s (Intel Core 2 Duo SL9400 @ 1.86GHz, Intel X4500) 897 3DMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X200 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.40GHz, Intel X4500) 927 3DMarks
HP EliteBook 2530p (1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SL9400, Intel 4500MHD) 898 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

The ThinkPad X200s 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 3.3 lbs instead of the 2.6 lb weight you get with the 4-cell. However, 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.

With the screen set to the to 8/15 level of brightness, Vista power mode set to power saver, wireless on and using the X200s for 4 hours to write this review, surf the web, check email and download programs and the rest of the time spent idling the X200s went into hibernate with 5% battery remaining at exactly 7 hours and 30 minutes of usage.

The power adapter for the X200s remains the same as that used for the X61 and X300, though the battery for the X200s 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 X200s has adopted the “owl-like” fan design that was first seen in the ThinkPad 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 X200s. 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 X200s 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.

Wireless

The X200s has a number of Wi-Fi options: the Intel WiFi Link 5100, WiFi Link 5300 and ThinkPad 11b/g Wireless LAN Mini PCI Express.  The new Intel WiFi Link 5300 worked well for the most part, though sometimes we found that the ThinkVantage connection software froze for a few 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 X200s screen and non-metal lid help when it comes to improving wireless range.

BlueTooth is also an option with the X200s. It’s definitely a recommended feature for those that want to use a wireless BlueTooth mouse or pair the X200s with a PDA or Smart Phone device. Also part of the mix now is a built-in GPS option if your opt for WWAN.

Expansion Capabilities

The X200s 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), four USB 2.0 ports, VGA, DisplayPort, Microphone in, Headphone out, Stereo Speakers, RJ-45 Ethernet, Cable lock slot, Key lock slot, second battery charger.  The list price for the X200 UltraBase is $219.

Conclusion

The ThinkPad X200s offers a few premium features over the X200 that do make it more desirable as a travel laptop, but you’ll have to carefully assess whether the $500 price premium of the X200s over the X200 is worth it to you.  The higher resolution screen and lighter weight of the X200s are definitely nice to have, and the performance is so close between the X200 and X200s that it’s not even worth considering the difference.  The battery life achieved with the X200s isn’t much different to the X200 in our testing, you’ll get about 9 hours with either if you turn off wireless radios and dim the screen.  At the end of the day, both the X200 and X200s are great ultraportables, the higher-res LED screen on the X200s really gives it the edge and the lighter weight is sugar on top.

The downside of the ThinkPad X200s compared to the 12.1″ screen HP 2530p and Toshiba Portege R600 is that there’s no optical drive built-in and no touchpad for those that prefer that style of input.  Having 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 the appeal for a more contemporary design such as the Latitude E4200 offers might sway some.

Overall, the X200s is an excellent business ultraportable due to its durability, light weight, great battery life (at least with a 9-cell battery) and more than adequate performance when it comes to business related applications.


Pros:

  • Surprisingly good performance from a low voltage processor
  • Runs very cool and quiet thanks to unique fan design
  • New WXGA+ widescreen display and extra width means more keyboard space and can fit enough on the screen for dual-window viewing
  • Great battery life, close to 9-hours with conservative usage on the 9-cell battery
  • Very sturdy notebook built to last with mag-alloy case, magnesium internal roll-cage and carbon-glass fibre lid protection

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
  • Costs $500 more than the X200


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