Based on eWEEK Labs’ tests of Lenovo’s new, power-saving ThinkPad X300 ultralight notebook, it’s looking as though black is the new green.
While the newest ThinkPad retains its familiar, buttoned-down exterior hue, the machine’s leading-edge internals deliver, according to Lenovo, a 25 percent reduction in power consumption compared to previous X series notebooks.
The ThinkPad’s new thrift makes it the first Lenovo notebook so far to earn an EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) Gold rating. What’s more, the X300, which began shipping at the end of February, meets the European Union’s Reduction of Hazardous Substances standards, due in part to its mercury-free display.
Environmental friendliness aside, the X300’s reduced power use boils down to impressive battery life (up to 10 hours in some configurations) that comes without sacrificing good performce or adequate network connectivity and peripheral expansion options.
The biggest downside of the X300 is its cost. The ThinkPad X300 configuration I tested was priced at $2,935-a relative whopper of a price considering that Lenovo’s other two ultralight models, the X61 and the X61s models start at $1,360 and $1,575, respectively.
Much of the X300’s high cost-and some of its power-thriftiness-come courtesy of the notebook’s 64 GB solid state hard drive. Unlike Apple’s MacBook Air and Toshiba’s Portege R500, both of which cut an ultralight figure and sport SSDs, Lenovo does not offer an X300 configuration that comes with a traditional hard drive. As a result, those two notebooks are available at much lower initial price points: $1,799 for the MacBook Air, and $2,149 for the Portege R500.
The X300 unit I tested shipped with 2 GB of RAM, but the system can accommodate up to 4 GB. The X300 is powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo SL7100 processor running at 1.2 Ghz-a slower CPU than Lenovo’s other X Series notebooks, but one that contributes to the X300’s power-saving ways.
Despite the slightly slower processor, I found that the X300 packs plenty of performance to handle typical knowledge worker tasks. I tested the notebook’s performance with the Passmark Performance Test 6.1 , and the X300 garnered a respectable overall score of 347.3. To compare, the Portege R500 I recently reviewed picked up an overall score of 314.1, and my own aging ThinkPad X31 received an overall score of 293.5.
The ThinkPad X300 weighs in at a modest 3.13 pounds and sports a new form factor that departs from the dimensions of its recent X Series kin. Compared to Lenovo’s X61 and X61s units, the X300 has a larger footprint (to the tune of two inches in width and an about an inch in depth), but the X300 is about half an inch thinner than those models.
You Say You Want a Resolution?
The wider chassis makes way for a 13.3-inch, LED-backlit display that pairs with an Intel X3100 graphics adapter to boast a maximum resolution of 1,440×900 pixels. This resolution is higher than that of the similarly LED-backlit Portege R500, which tops out at a resolution of 1,280×800 pixels.
During general use of the X300, or while watching a DVD on the notebook, I didn’t find the picture quality significantly sharper or brighter than on the Portege I tested or on a conventional CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent tube) backit display.
The primary advantage of the LED-backlit displays that the X300 and the R500 feature is reduced power consumption, as these displays use up to 33 percent less power than CCFL backlit components. What’s more, according to Lenovo, LED-backlit displays have a higher threshold for withstanding impact and vibration.
I found that the system’s built-in speakers, which are embedded in both the display and the bottom panel of the notebook, offered unusually good volume and sound quality.
The assortment of expansion ports that stud the X300 include microphone input and headphone output ports, a VGA external display port. The X300 I tested also sported a digital fingerprint reader, an integrated digital microphone and a camera built into the top of the display.
I found the X300’s full-size keyboard incredibly comfortable to work with, due in large part to its generous wrist space and responsive keys. I also appreciated the fact that the ThinkPad X300 features both a trackpoint input device, and a touchpad below the keyboard.
In addition to Intel Wireless Wi-Fi Link 4965AGN and Bluetooth radios, the ThinkPad X300 boasts a trio of USB ports, and a Gigabit Ethernet adapter. These latter two items major advantages over the similarly leading-edge MacBook Air, which sports a single USB port and no built-in Ethernet adapter. The X300 also sports an ultrathin DVD burner-which is another amenity that Apple’s Air does not offer.
What’s more, Lenovo offers a broad assortment of optional network connectivity add-ons for the X300, including a Verizon Wireless WAN adapter and a personal area network Ultra-wideband radio. For lack of other UWB devices with which to test, I wasn’t able to try out this option, nor was I able to test the WiMax radio that Lenovo will make available later this year. However, the (eventual) availability of these connectivity options will be a definite plus for the X300.
Lenovo offers an assortment of battery options for the X300, beginning with three- and six-cell lithium ion batteries which, according to Lenovo, deliver 4.3 and 6.5 hours of life between charges, respectively.
Lenovo also offers a three-cell Lithium Polymer battery that slots into the X300’s option bay slot (in lieu of an optical drive), and is supposed to extend battery life by about three hours more.
The unit I tested shipped with the three-cell battery. While I couldn’t manage to get the MobileMark benchmark to install properly on the X300, Lenovo’s claim of 4.3 hours from the three-cell battery seemed about right, based on my experience using the unit sans power brick.
The ThinkPad X300 unit I tested came preinstalled with Windows XP Professional, and Lenovo offers the machine in Windows Vista configurations, as well. According to Lenovo’s Web site, the firm’s X60 and X61s ultralights are listed as compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, but Lenovo offers no such compatibility assurance for Linux on the X300.