When Lenovo launched the ThinkPad X300 earlier this year, we praised the system for its razor-thin design, excellent keyboard, and sturdy, yet lightweight, build. Its update, the ThinkPad X301, keeps everything we loved about its predecessor, adding Intel’s Centrino 2 platform (which is touted as offering 20 percent faster performance), DisplayPort, and a speedy 64GB solid state drive. You’ll pay a premium for the X301 (our configuration comes in at just under $3,000), but if a no-compromise business notebook is what you need, you won’t be disappointed. We just wish that it had an hour or two more of battery life.
Familiar, Sturdy Design
The plain, matte black, squared-off exterior of the X301 looks just about the same as all of the ThinkPads that have come before it, so you’ll find the design either classic or dull, depending on your perspective. As with the X300, the 12.5 x 9.1 x 0.9-inch chassis is slightly tapered on the sides, and weighs in at just 3.4 pounds with a six-cell battery and an 8X DVD burner. Like the X300, the X301 is svelte but with excellent construction. Credit Lenovo’s second-generation internal roll-cage design, and a carbon and glass fiber exterior (similar to what’s used in F-1 race cars and commercial airplanes), which the company claims is lighter and stronger than titanium.
A new rubberized soft-touch paint gives the keyboard deck and outer shell a comfortable feel and secure grip. Lenovo includes the usual ports and connectors: three USB 2.0, VGA, Ethernet, headphone and microphone jacks, and DisplayPort. Noticeably absent, however, is a memory card slot for quickly loading the machine with additional content.
Display and Speakers
The X301 employs an LED-backlit, 13.3-inch (1440 x 900-pixel resolution) display with a matte finish that prevents most glare. That high resolution certainly lets you see more of documents and Web pages, though the default text may be too small for some eyes. The backlit, low-reflectivity LED kept the display legible when we were outdoors. We enjoyed rich colors and wide viewing angles while watching our Dark City DVD. The stereo speakers lacked low-end punch, but due to their close proximity (they’re located in the palmrest), the volume was very clear and loud. Above the display is a 1.3-megapixel webcam that provided somewhat dark visuals when we engaged in video chats with friends using Meebo.
The X301 features the always-excellent ThinkPad keyboard, which remains one of the best in the business. The individual keys are well spaced and roomy, which makes for a superb typing experience. The X301 offers both a pointing stick (situated between the G and H keys) and a touchpad, though the latter is rather small and cramped to accommodate the buttons for the former. Located to the right of the touchpad is a biometric fingerprint reader for keeping vital data away from prying eyes. Above the keyboard are dedicated volume and mute buttons, a glowing power button, and illuminated ThinkVantage button for launching Lenovo’s handy system utilities.
Our unit was configured with a 1.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U9400 Ultra Low Voltage processor and 2GB of RAM (expandable to 4GB), helping the X301 notch a very nice PCMark Vantage score of 3,157—more than 400 points higher than the average ultraportable. Still, that’s lower than the Lenovo X200’s score of 3,601, and the Sony VAIO VGN-Z530N’s score of 3,209.
Intel’s integrated GMA X4500MHD graphics chipset churned out a 3DMark03 score of 1,812, which is well above the 1,463 category average, and almost 400 points higher than that of the X300. However, it didn’t fare nearly as well on 3DMark06; it notched a score of 683, which is less than the category average at 836. When we fired up F.E.A.R. in autodetect mode (800 x 600), the game ran at 14 frames per second; bumping the settings up to maximum (1024 x 768) tanked the gameplay down to a measly 6 fps. World of Warcraft fared much better, as we were able to maintain a relatively smooth 27.4 fps.
In hands-on testing, the X301’s 64GB solid state drive booted into Vista in a lengthy 1 minute and 37 seconds, which is 28 seconds longer than the average ultraportable, and 48 seconds longer than the X300. The SSD aced our LAPTOP Transfer Test, copying a 4.97GB folder in 2 minutes and 37 seconds; its 32.4-MBps transfer rate blew away the 13.4-MBps ultraportable average. If the relatively paltry 64GB drive isn’t enough capacity for your needs, Lenovo offers a 128GB SSD for an additional $400.
Wi-Fi and Battery Life
The 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi moved data along at an excellent clip of 20.8 MBps at 15 feet away from our access point, and 18.7 MBps at 50 feet away. These are nice improvements over the 16.7-MBps and 16.1-MBps averages we saw with the X300, and made for a snappy surfing experience (CNN.com loaded in 6 seconds). Although our system didn’t include integrated mobile broadband, you can add a 3G connection from AT&T ($80) or Verizon Wireless ($150), which also features integrated GPS. The X301 will support WiMAX and UltraWideband technologies when they become available.
If you’re looking for long battery life, you may have to look elsewhere. The X301’s six-cell battery lasted 3 hours and 29 minutes on our LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi). That’s far less endurance than the Sony VAIO VGN-Z530N (which lasted 5 hours in Stamina mode, and 4 hours in Speed mode), and nearly 3 hours short of what we’ve come to expect from ultraportable notebooks. An optional three-cell battery ($120) slides into the optical drive bay to provide approximately 3.2 hours of extra juice.
Software, Security, and Warranty
The X301 comes preinstalled with Access Connections 5, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Lenovo Camera Center, a 60-day trial to Microsoft Office, and Roxio Creator Business Edition. IT managers and the security-conscious will appreciate the system’s full disc encryption, remote lockdown, centrally managed passwords, fingerprint reader, and the ability to disable the BIOS port. Lenovo covers the machine with a one-year warranty (extendable to five years), and 24/7 tech support.
Lenovo ThinkPad X301 Verdict
At $2,920, the Lenovo ThinkPad X301 is a pricey, albeit excellent, lightweight business machine that has the security, wireless options, and connections that mobile professionals crave. If you don’t want to make the splurge, the Sony VAIO VGN-Z530N is another stylish business machine that starts at a far more wallet-friendly $1,999. But the X301 combines all the business features you’ll need with the sleekness of a MacBook Air. You just might want to plop down the extra dough for the extra three-cell battery to make this fine notebook one that can last your entire workday.