Although the ThinkPad X300 gets all of the attention for cramming so many features into a sleek 13.3-inch notebook, not everyone has more than $2,500 to drop on a laptop. As the successor to the ThinkPad X61, the equally portable and more affordable ThinkPad X200 (starting at $1,199; our particular Centrino Pro configuration will be available August 5 for closer to two grand) skips the X300’s optical drive and makes a solid state drive optional while offering a slightly smaller 12.1-inch widescreen.
More important, it boasts better performance and battery life than the pricier X300, thanks to Intel’s new Centrino 2 platform. And as with every ThinkPad, you get a durable design, stellar keyboard, and the security features that define a first-rate business ultraportable.
The ThinkPad X200 features a lightweight, rock-solid design with Lenovo’s standard matte black finish. Measuring 11.6 x 9.2 x 0.8 inches and weighing 3.8 pounds (with the beefy nine-cell battery) the system’s magnesium alloy frame is thicker and heavier than the featherweight MacBook Air but feels more durable.
All the usual ports and connections are on board, starting with two USB ports, Ethernet, VGA, and an ExpressCard slot on the left side (along with the Wi-Fi switch). The right side houses an additional USB port, headphone and mic jacks, and a modem connection. Up front is a lone SD Card reader.
ThinkPads have been known for their sweet keyboards, and the X200 doesn’t disappoint. We loved the feel of the firm, responsive keys as we created documents in Word, and the spacious layout was conducive to an excellent typing experience. Unlike the X300, the X200 lacks a touchpad—we had to make due with just the TrackPoint—but we became acclimated to the responsive stick within a few minutes.
Display and Audio
Above the keyboard is the ThinkPad X200’s 12.1-inch display, which differs from its predecessor’s by offering a slightly sharper resolution (1280 x 800 pixels vs. 1024 x 768 pixels) and a much-appreciated widescreen format. (The standard format was one of our few gripes with the ThinkPad X61.) We jumped online to watch a high-definition trailer for The Dark Knight and were impressed with the deep blacks and color balance. The screen’s matte finish ensured minimal glare.
If you want to watch Blu-ray or DVD movies, you’ll have to invest in the ThinkPad X200 UltraBase dock ($299 for Blu-ray; $169 for DVD burner), as the system lacks an integrated optical drive. Above the display resides a VGA camera that delivered a smooth frame rate and a crisp picture both in bright and low light. Colors were a bit muted, however.
Audio quality is what you’d expect from a business machine; decent volume with a weak bottom end. Still, the dedicated volume controls located above the keyboard made it easy for us to quickly raise, lower, and mute sound.
Security and Durability
Our configuration included several security features, such as a biometric fingerprint reader, the ability to disable all ports in the system BIOS, and TPM to keep vital information away from prying eyes. The addition of Centrino Pro brings with it vPro technology that supports RAID 0 (performance) and RAID 1 (data protection) HDD configurations, eSATA support, Intel’s Active Management System (which lets IT administrators perform diagnostics and make repairs remotely), and Trusted Execution Technology (a set of hardware extensions that work with the processor to create an environment where users can work independently of other software on the notebook, preventing malware attacks). The shock-mounted 160GB (7,200-rpm) hard drive and spill-resistant keyboard offer protection from drop and liquid damage. In addition, Lenovo will offer 64GB solid state drive configurations. With a notebook as portable—and as easily lost—as this, we would have also liked to see facial recognition software, as on the IdeaPad Y510.
The ThinkPad X200’s 2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 processor and chunky 3GB of RAM (expandable to 4GB) helped power this ultraportable to a best-in-class PCMark Vantage score of 3,601. (The test we run is called the PCMark Suite, a collection of single- and multi-threaded processor, graphics, and hard drive test sets that focus on Windows Vista application tests.) The X200 trumped the next fastest machine in its class (the ASUS U6) by more than 680 points. In fact, the X200’s score was just 33 points shy of what the 16.4-inch Sony VAIO FW198U/H turned in, which has a faster T9400 processor and 4GB of RAM.
We put the ThinkPad X200’s processing power to the test by running the StopSign Threat Scanner virus-scan program and watching Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy using an external DVD drive. The system handled the resource intensive exercises with aplomb, as we experienced zero audio or video skipping while watching the movie. In day-to-day use, we were able to work in Google Docs and listen to streaming music without a performance hit.
Souped-Up Integrated Graphics
Centrino 2’s Intel GMA X4500 HD integrated graphic chipset produced very solid scores of 2,475 and 929 on our 3DMark03 and 3DMark06 tests, respectively. (3DMark03 benchmarks the graphic capability of PCs running Microsoft’s DirectX 9 API; 3DMark06 ups the test by adding additional tests such as light scattering, water shading, and other detailed graphic elements). The 2,475 3DMark03 score is 868 points higher than the ThinkPad X61’s 1,607 mark (which featured Intel’s GMA X3100 GPU), and nearly 1,100 points better than the average score notched by other ultraportables we’ve tested. In fact, only the ASUS U6 (3,073) and ASUS W5fe (3,589) outperformed the ThinkPad X200 in 3DMark03.
Although the ThinkPad X200 displayed solid graphics muscle from the integrated GPU, it can’t smoothly handle demanding 3D titles. On our F.E.A.R. tests, the system pushed polygons at a poky 18 frames per second on autodtect mode (800 x 600-pixel resolution).
Hard Drive Test
On our two-part LAPTOP Hard Drive File Transfer test, we were able to transfer 5GB of mixed media from a Buffalo MiniStation external hard drive to the ThinkPad X200’s 7,200-rpm Hitachi drive in 5 minutes and 10 seconds—a rate of 16.5 MBps. When we copied the same 5GB file from one area of the internal hard drive to another, it took slightly less time: 5 minutes and 6 seconds, or 16.7 MBps. As a point of comparison, this time is much faster than what the Lenovo ThinkPad SL400 turned in (6:36 with a 5,400-rpm Hitachi drive) but slower than Gateway T-6828’s 5,400-rpm Western Digital drive (4:40).
Our X200 was equipped with a nine-cell battery, which extends from the back of the system unlike the standard six-cell battery, which sits flush. The system delivered a whopping 9 hours and 18 minutes of endurance in MobileMark 2007 with the Wi-Fi connection disabled, which gives road warriors the ability to work all day before needing a charge.
Update: Using our LAPTOP Webn Surfing battery test, which surfs popular sites until the battery dies, the X200 lasted 7 hours and 52 minutes.
Wireless Options Galore; GPS Functionality
Our configuration came with a host of wireless connections including Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR, integrated AT&T HSDPA mobile broadband, and 802.11n Wi-Fi. On our Wi-Fi tests, the ThinkPad X200’s Intel WiFi Link 5300 radio excelled in moving data; we saw throughput of 18.1 Mbps when the machine was placed 15 feet away from our access point, and 15.3 Mbps at 50 feet away. These numbers top the 15.9-Mbps and 12.8-Mbps ultraportable averages, but we’ve seen better individual performance from non-Centrino 2 machines. Still, we had no problems streaming tunes from Slacker while chatting with friends using Meebo.
The ThinkPad X200’s mobile broadband connection had yet to be activated, but we’ll add our impressions to the review as soon as we’re able to run benchmarks. AT&T’s service ($80) features several monthly options: 5MB ($19), 10MB ($25), 20MB ($30), 50MB ($45), and 5GB ($60). Customers can also opt for Verizon Wireless’ EV-DO Rev. A service ($150) which offers 50MB of data for $39.99 or 5GB of data for $59.99.
The ThinkVantage GPS Enabler, included with ThinkPad X200s that have mobile broadband, lets users track their movements using Google Maps—even if they don’t activate the 3G connection. When we took the PC outdoors, a necessity for picking up an accurate signal, the coordinates jumped all over the place, and the X200 seemed to have trouble accurately pinning down our midtown Manhattan location.
Preinstalled Sofware and Warranty
We’ve always been fans of Lenovo’s ThinkVantage Productivity center (which launches with the blue ThinkVantage button). This suite allows users to do everything from toggling the wireless connection on and off and backing up and restoring the system to launching Microsoft Office and defragging the hard drive.
The handy Battery Stretch utility enables you to extend the endurance of our nine-cell battery by automatically disabling Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, mobile broadband, audio, and other features when the X200 is unplugged. Additional software includes Adobe Acrobat Reader, a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office 2007, a 30-day subscription to McAfee VirusScan Plus, and Microsoft Windows Vista Business. Lenovo backs the system with a three-year warranty and 24/7 toll-free tech support.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X200 is an excellent lightweight notebook for mobile professionals who demand the business essentials: security, durability, and lengthy battery life. Although some may prefer an optical drive or a slightly larger display, the power of the Centrino 2 platform combined with the usual ThinkPad excellence makes this one of the best ultraportables around.
More Centrino 2 Reviews
Lenovo Thinkpad SL400
The first ThinkPad designed for small-business customers provides good performance, a fresh new design, mobile broadband, and top-notch support
HP Pavilion dv5t
HP’s new 15.4-inch laptop, the Pavilion dv5t Entertainment Notebook PC, sports a futuristic redesign, hard drive protection, and blazing productivity and graphics performance.
HP Pavilion dv7
This stylish desktop replacement offers powerful graphics, great sound, and superb wireless performance.
Sony VAIO VGN-FW198U/H
This first-of-its-kind 16.4-inch beauty combines the power of a desktop replacement with the portability of a mainstream machine.
Hands-On Video: Sony’s VAIO FW Series
A closer, full-motion look at this groundbreaking notebook.
Hands-On Video: Sony VAIO Z Series
Sporting a 13-inch widescreen display and weighing 3.3 pounds, this is a very attractive ultraportable and the lightest system to offer Blu-ray playback.
Mini-Review: Fujitsu LifeBook T1010
As the first convertible with a 13.3-inch display, the new Fujitsu LifeBook T1010 is a sleek tablet that offers a decent-size screen without too much bulk, making it a good choice for students.