Lenovo Thinkpad x300 Review

April 1st, 2008

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Ever since I got my first Thinkpad I’ve been a fan of them. My first one was a T41p. It was powerful, fully featured, had a 14.1″1400×1050 display and at 4.5 lb was pretty light for what it was. Next up was a T60. It was similar to the T41p but more powerful and about 0.5 lb heavier. I was looking to replace my T60 with a T61 14″wide screen but when I checked one out, I thought it was a little heavy and thick for my liking.

I contemplated getting a X series many times but the T60 only comes with a 1024×768 display, while the T61 tablet is too deep. Then along came the X300.

13.3″ 1440×900 display, SSD, 3 lb weight, the X300′s got the features I want. Now that it’s here, let’s see how it is.

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First Impressions:

Here are some of the X300′s specs. I’m doing this off the top of my head since you can just go to Lenovo’s website to read them:

  • 1.2Ghz Core 2 duo
  • 13.3″ 1440×900 LED backlit display
  • Up to 4GB PC5300 RAM (You can order whatever amount you want)
  • 64GB Samsung SSD HD
  • 1000mbps network
  • Integrated graphics (Intel x3100)
  • 3 USB ports (2 on the left, 1 on the back)
  • DVD RW drive
  • 6 cell extended battery
  • Headphone/microphone jacks
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Touchpad
  • Trackpoint (the red eraser head pointing device)
  • Webcam
  • Thinklight (an LED which shines on the keyboard when it’s dark)
  • Stereo speakers

I actually ordered a X300 with 1GB of RAM and Vista Business 32bit. When I received the X300, I promptly removed the 1GB of RAM and stuck 4GB in. Since I’m running Vista 32bit, the operating system can only see 3GB of RAM. I would have ordered 64bit Vista which would have been able to use all my RAM but it wasn’t an option on Lenovo’s Canada site at launch.

Let’s take a tour of the X300.

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On the left you get: 2 USB ports, some sort of cover (I’m guessing there’s a hard drive behind it), headphone and microphone jacks.

In front there’s the switch to open the screen.

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The right side has the DVD writer – you can swap this with a second battery, and a laptop lock connector.

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The back has a VGA port, power plug (the same one found on the T60 and other Lenovo era Thinkpads), network connector, wireless on/off switch, other USB port.

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There are 2 SODIMM slots behind a door underneath. There’s also 2 mini PCI Express slots.

As someone who’s owned a couple of Thinkpads (T41p and T60), the first thing that I noticed was just how light the X300 is. Of course the T series are bigger and heavier but with its 13.3″ screen, the X300 isn’t that much smaller yet it’s almost 1.5 to 2 lbs lighter.

Actually, my first impression was that the X300 came in the same box as my T60. It even says T series on it.

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My third impression was that the rubberized paint you normally find on the lid of the screen is also on the part that surrounds the keyboard. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look at someone who owns a T or X series Thinkpad. You know all the fingerprints on the lid (probably from eating KFC while computing)? They actually wash off with soap and water. I’ll post something about how to do this later.

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The battery is located under the unit (instead of at the back). This is good and bad – I’ve always hated how my extended batteries stick out the back because it makes them a pain to stick in a bag. I’ve always loved how my extended batteries stick out because it gives me something to hold when you’re walking around. I ordered my X300 with an extended battery. It sticks out a tiny bit on the bottom. I’m guessing the smaller one is flush.

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Underneath there are no important ventilation holes so you can leave the X300 on a bed all day and it won’t overheat. There are some small holes that allow you to drain coffee out in case you spill it on your X300.

The T series are known to be tanks. Underneath their body shells are very solid metal frames which can take a beating. The X300 feels just as solid despite being so light.

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Thinkpads are known for their awesome keyboards and the X300 maintains this heritage. The keyboard has an excellent feel to it. The keys are full sized and have the right amount of travel to them.

I was a little surprised to find out the X300′s keyboard has certain keys which light up. Specifically the power button, caps lock, Thinkvantage button (the blue button) and the mute button. Light up buttons are cool but what about the rest of the keys? If it’s too dark, you can press the function key and the <top right button> to activate a LED on the top part of the screen lid. It’s not the prettiest but it will light up the keyboard enough to see what your typing when its dark.

The trackpoint is pretty much the same as on my T41 and T60. It still drift occasionally but I love the trackpoint because you can use it to scroll by pressing the middle button (I think it’s called an UltraNav). The touchpad is almost flush with the rest of the wrist wrest.

As I mentioned before, the screen measures 13.3″, has a resolution of 1440×900 (most 13.3″ laptops have a resolution of 1280×800) and is backlit with LED’s instead of CCFL’s like most screens. It has a matte finish and isn’t reflective like a lot of other laptops. LED’s are supposed to be brighter and use less power.

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Compared to my T60, the X300 is noticeably brighter. Both are plugged in and set at maximum brightness. Don’t pay attention to the colour accuracy in the picture.

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The screen lid has two latches to stay shut. The switch you slide to open the laptop is located on the lower part, instead of being part of the screen.

You get two speakers which are located on top of the wrist rest. They’re not super loud but they don’t suck either.

If you’re right handed and use a wired mouse, it will pain you to hear that there are no USB ports on the right side of the device. There are two on the left and one on the back.

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I normally carry my Thinkpads in either two ways. I leave it open and carry it with my finger, cradling it underneath and my thumb on the top left corner of the keyboard.

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I also carry it by the top part of the screen while it’s open (yes, when I’m indoors I walk around like this and yes this makes me look like a moron but the laptop can take it). There isn’t that much space on the top left corner of the keyboard so I’ll either have to carry it the stupid way or by putting my entire hand underneath it.

Battery life is not bad but it’s also not as good as I thought it would be. Surfing the web I’d say you can get around 3.5 hrs with the extended battery.

One computer the x300 is often compared to is the Apple Macbook Air.

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Really they’re totally different computers. The only similarities are that they both have displays that are about 13″, both weigh the same and both come with SSD’s (the Macbook can also come with a regular HD).

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The Macbook Air is faster, more compact and it’s curved case is more striking. The x300 has more features.

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The Macbook Air is thinner but slightly wider.

Software:

As far as software goes the X300 has some very useful programs and utilities along with some crapware. The “Uninstall or change a program” list is pretty huge but most of it is populated with driver related software. Here are some programs and my take on their usefulness. Please note I’m not listing everything, but what stuck out to me.

Most useful software:

  • InterVideo WinDVD
  • Access Connections.

Mildly useful software:

  • PC Doctor
  • Rescue and Recovery
  • If you use any of these:
    • PC Doctor
    • Windows Live Toolbar
    • Picasa
    • MS Office 2007 60 day trial
    • Norton Internet Security 60 day trial

Less useful software:

  • Disk keeper (I’m pretty sure there’s no point defragmenting a SSD HD, plus defragmenting a SSD probably helps wear it out faster)
  • Lenovo Message center
  • Active Protection Services (parks the hard drive head when the laptop is moved suddenly – also useless on a SSD).

Access Connections is a sort of connection manager. With it you create profiles for each place you connect to the net. You can specify specific network settings for each profile (such as ip address, what home page you want, whether you want the firewall up or down, etc) – it’s really useful.

Lenovo has some very nice fingerprint reader software. You can use it to log into Windows (most Biometric software let you do this) but you can also use it when your computer POSTS.

Performance:

I’ve never used a SSD equipped laptop till now. There are times when any computer bogs down because it’s waiting for the hard drive. The X300 is no different but instead of hearing the hard drive grind away, it’s silent. I must say it’s quite an eerie experience.

In terms of performance, an SSD’s greatest advantage is that it’s very fast when it comes to tasks such as booting up, opening programs and that sort of thing.

Benchmarks are run with 4GB of RAM install. Given the X300′s relatively high price and the low price of RAM, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that this will be a popular configuration. I’m testing against a Lenovo Thinkpad T60 (Windows XP, Intel T2500 Core Duo 2Ghz, 2GB PC5300 RAM, 100GB 5400RPM hard drive) and my desktop (Vista Ultimate 64bit, Intel QX6700 Core 2 Quad 2.66Ghz, 8GB PC6400 RAM, 3x150GB 10000RPM hard drives RAID 5 with Areca 1210 RAID controller).

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Here’s the Vista score. Click to see the original image.

The first test is how long it takes to turn the system on and see the Windows login screen. This includes the time it takes to POST (POST time is in the brackets).

  1. Thinkpad X300 40secs (15 seconds)
  2. Thinkpad T60 62secs (12 seconds)
  3. Desktop 75 seconds (45 seconds)

25 seconds from when the computer is done POSTing to when you get the Vista login screen is pretty impressive. It’s even faster than my desktop. The desktop has the slowest total boot time because it has an extra RAID card, other drive controller and a DVD in the DVD ROM (whoops).

Admittedly, the next tests aren’t very real world but it does give you a good idea of how fast the CPU, RAM and hard drives are.

Time to create rar files for a Linux ISO. In this case, CentOS 4.6 32bit which is about 2.3GB in size. This tests the CPU mostly and can take advantage of multicore processors although it doesn’t scale well after 2 cores. It doesn’t use much RAM or tax the disk too much. I issued the command:

rar a -v20000 CentOS-4.6-i386-binDVD.iso.rar CentOS-4.6-i386-binDVD.iso

  1. Thinkpad X300 35mins 40secs
  2. Thinkpad T60 34mins 45secs
  3. Desktop 19mins 36secs

While the X300 has a measly 1.2Ghz Core 2 Duo, it’s almost as fast as the T60 with it’s 2.0Ghz Core Duo processor – impressive!

Next I unpack the rar files I just created. This is disk intensive, somewhat CPU intensive and doesn’t use much RAM.

unrar e CentOS-4.6-i386-binDVD.iso.part001.rar

  1. Thinkpad X300 154 seconds
  2. Thinkpad T60 310 seconds
  3. Desktop 96 seconds

With it’s SSD, the X300 blows the T60 out of the water. While the desktop looks a lot faster, keep in mind that it has three 10000rpm hard drives plus a high end RAID controller.

I didn’t bother testing the video card. If you want to game, get a laptop with dedicated graphics card. It seems to run Aero Glass fine.

The X300 does well in my benchmarks but there are times where it could use more processing power (compared to the T60). The 1.2Ghz Core 2 duo isn’t fast enough to view a 15Mbps AVCHD files from my high definition camcorder.

Conclusion:

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I really like the X300, it’s light, has a high res screen and has a SSD and most of the connections I need. The ergonomics are terrific. My only complaint is that I wish Lenovo had stuck a faster processor under the hood.

Howard Chui
04.01.2008

Entry Filed under: Computers

5 Comments Add your own

    Stefan Constantinescu  |  April 13th, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    nice to see a fellow thinkpad user. since i saw the x300 i wanted it, but i just purchased a X61 tablet. grrr, jealous.

    Paul  |  May 13th, 2008 at 8:00 am

    Hey … X300 looks awesome.

    Are you able to test running a VPC on the X300. I run quite a few software demos and it would be interesting to see how well this would perform.

    Lenovo laptops are great  |  October 20th, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    great review thank you

    Lenovo coupons  |  October 30th, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    The x300 looks awesome very small and compact

    Lazy Hacker Babble »&hellip  |  November 4th, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    [...] some detailed reviews out there. I found that I’m in agreement with a lot that was said here and he has a lot of pictures of the [...]

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