We’ve always been big fans of the ThinkPad X200 series because of its portability and durability, but its starting price of $1,099 is not exactly within reach of small business users or students on a budget. That’s where the X100e comes in ($569 as configured), a 11.6-inch notebook that’s light enough for travel but also faster, sturdier, and more comfortable than your typical netbook. We love the keyboard on this machine, and the loud speakers and low-light friendly webcam round out the package nicely. However, we wish this AMD-powered notebook lasted longer on a charge, and the bottom of the system can get hot. Is it worth tolerating these trade-offs?
Editor's Note: After our initial review, we re-ran the battery test on the X100e, and saw an additional 20 minutes of endurance. As a result, we have updated the Battery section of this review.
Slim, sturdy, and minimalist. That’s the vibe we get from the 3.2-pound X100e. Our review model came in a rather plain looking Midnight Black, but if you want more flair there’s a Heatwave Red version. The lid has a smooth finish, complete with the trademark silver ThinkPad logo, and this treatment extends to the deck. Unlike many other low-cost ultraportables, this ABS plastic machine feels like it will last, but we noticed little flex as we twisted the unit in our hands with the lid closed. What you won’t get that’s standard on the more expensive X200 series is an inner roll cage to protect components, or a fingerprint reader.
Underneath the front lip of the X100e is the speaker bar. The design tapers from 0.6 inches at that point to 1.2 inches in the back, where the six-cell battery juts out a couple of inches. Above the keyboard is a small power button that makes it more difficult to turn on the notebook than it should be. Otherwise the deck is pretty bare, with the exception of the isolated keyboard and dual pointing options (TrackPoint and touchpad).
Keyboard and Touchpad
The X100e sports a modern-looking and water-resistant isolated keyboard layout, just like the ThinkPad Edge 13. Although the function keys are shrunken, the rest of the keyboard is roomy and comfortable. The keys provided plenty of depth with excellent tactile feedback; we typed quickly with very few errors. In fact, the keyboard on the X100e is easily the best of any notebook with this size screen. We also appreciate little touches, such as the resolution toggle shortcut (Fn + space bar) for blowing up web pages or documents.
The X100e sports both a pointing stick and touchpad, each with its own set of buttons. The TrackPoint on this notebook was erratic at first, with the cursor racing all over the desktop until we dialed down the speed in the settings. The roomy touchpad worked fine, but it felt sluggish since we had to adjust the speed to use the stick. While zooming in on photos using a pinch gesture worked, the gesture to zoom out wouldn’t always register. Despite being narrow, we found the touchpad buttons easy to press.
This is definitely one of the warmest ThinkPads we’ve used. After playing a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, we measured temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the touchpad and 103 degrees between the G and H keys. Worse, the bottom of the system was an uncomfortable 115 degrees. The left front underside of the system reached a disturbing 129 degrees. Considering the X100e is designed to be used in your lap, these high temps raise some red flags.
Display and Audio
The LED-backlit 11.6-inch display (1366 x 768) on the ThinkPad X100e is bright, offering rich colors and good contrast when watching a Family Guy episode on Hulu. However, you have to tilt the screen back about 15 degrees to get the best picture. Viewing angles from the side were fairly narrow, but two people could comfortably watch a video on this notebook.
The speakers on the front lip of the X100e were plenty powerful, especially for a notebook this size. When we streamed a Phoenix track from Pandora, the sound was loud and clear. Dialog during that Family Guy episode was also booming. Our only nitpick is that sometimes the sound would cut out momentarily while raising or lowering the volume via the Function keys.
Ports and Webcam
The back side of the X100e houses a VGA port and power jack on either side of the six-cell battery. You’ll also find two USB ports, an Ethernet port, a combo headphone/mic jack, a third powered USB port, memory card slot, and Kensington lock slot.
In our Skype test the high-sensitivity webcam delivered good video quality in low light, although the other caller said we looked a bit washed out in a room with plenty of ambient light. He also said the sound quality was clear. Bonus: you can instantly mute the mic with a Function key combo.
Performance and Graphics
The X100e’s single-core 1.6-GHz AMD Athlon Neo processor, coupled with 2GB of RAM, delivers faster performance than a netbook, but not as much speed as an ultraportable equipped with a dual-core AMD or Intel CPU. While this system’s PCMark Vantage score of 1,580 is about half the ultraportable average (2,968), it’s better than single-core ULV notebooks such as the Toshiba Satellite T115 (1,453) and netbooks equipped with Nvida Ion graphics like the ASUS Eee PC 1201N (1,488).
Then again, the Acer Ferrari One notched 2,110, thanks to its dual-core Athlon X2 CPU, and the pricier IdeaPad U150’s dual-core Intel SU7300 CPU scored 2,773. Generally speaking, the X100e was fairly snappy opening applications, and it didn’t get bogged down when we were streaming Pandora and working in multiple tabs in Internet Explorer. It took a relatively brisk 11 seconds to fly from midtown Manhattan to central New Jersey using Google Earth, and the animation was smooth.
The 5,400-rpm, 250GB hard drive (which has drop protection) turned in a slightly below average transfer rate of 19.7 MBps. Oddly, it took the X100e a leisurely 6 minutes and 24 seconds to transcode our 114MB video from MPEG-4 to AVI, which is a bit slower than the average netbook (5:55).
On the plus side, the X100e’s ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics give this notebook some oomph. Its 3DMark06 score of 1,046 is above average (902), and that group includes much more expensive systems. We also saw good frame rates when playing World of Warcraft, with 39 fps at 1024 x 768. (At the system’s native resolution that number dropped to 7 fps.) Netbooks with Nvidia Ion graphics have scored between 35 and 48 fps.
Battery Life and Wireless
This is the real cost of getting an ultraportable with an AMD processor under the hood. The X100e’s six-cell battery lasted just 4 hours and 27 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi). That runtime is about half an hour below Lenovo’s claim, nearly one hour below the category average, and even further behind such low-cost ULV machines as the Acer Aspire 1410 (6:33) and Toshiba Satellite T115 (7:08). Lenovo claims you should be able to get through a full day of classes with this laptop, but we’d say only if they’re back to back.
The Realtek 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter on the X100e delivered mediocre throughput in our tests. The notebook notched 14.1 Mbps at 15 feet from our router and only 9.8 Mbps from 50 feet. Both of these numbers are below the respective category averages of 23 and 18 Mbps. Bluetooth 2.1 connectivity is included, and the system is mobile broadband upgradeable.
The X100e is both Energy Star rated and awarded Gold status by EPEAT. In our own tests, it took the notebook 1:29 to charge to 80 percent, and 2:14 to reach 100 percent. During that time the machine used an average of 41.9 watts of power. Its LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating of 22.6 is slightly worse than the category average of 19.8.
Although the X100e starts as low as $449, we wouldn’t recommend that configuration because it comes with just 1GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive. Our $569 configuration is a much better value because you get 2GB of RAM, a 250GB hard drive, and Windows 7 Professional instead of Home Premium. You can save $20 if you don’t get Bluetooth. You can also get up to 4GB of memory and a 320GB hard drive.
Software and Support
Like most ThinkPads, the X100e ships with Lenovo’s suite of ThinkVantage utilities, including Rescue and Recovery, Access Connections, Password Manager, and ThinkVantage Power Manager. You also get a 30-day trial of Norton Internet Security 2009 and Skype for Windows.
Lenovo backs this notebook with a one-year standard warranty and 24/7 tech support. Lenovo earned an overall grade of B+ in our Tech Support Showdown.
Overall, the X100e is a good lightweight laptop for the price. It's a low-cost ultraportable with more pep than a netbook , more room for typing, and a bigger keyboard than a netbook—the best keyboard in its class. It also feels more solid than competing systems and offers better graphics performance. However, we’d like this $569 AMD-powered notebook a lot more if it offered greater battery life and ran cooler.