Lenovo ThinkPad X120e (AMD Fusion) Review

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Pros: Long battery Life; Well-designed keyboard; Wide viewing angles; Accurate low-light webcam; Loud speakers

Cons: Warm temperatures; Medicore video playback; Short palm rest

Verdict: AMD's Fusion processor gives Lenovo's smallest business notebook longer battery life and more graphics punch.

Last year, Lenovo released its 11.6-inch ThinkPad X100e, providing business users with an inexpensive, lightweight ultraportable that carried the famous ThinkPad keyboard, design, and build quality. However, that first-gen system suffered from short battery life, warm temps, and poor wireless scores. With the ThinkPad X120e, Lenovo has taken the same design and upgraded to AMD's new Fusion platform processor and graphics, which promise improved battery life. Just how does the smallest ThinkPad stack up?

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Editor's Note: We experienced some video driver issues that affected playback of HD videos. We'll update this review when a new driver comes out.

Design

With the ThinkPad X120e, Lenovo has used the same exact design as on the prior generation ThinkPad X100e. Apart from the model number, the only way to tell the new model from the old is that it has three instead of five screws on the bottom.

This design has a subtle matte black or red lid, a matte black plastic body, and a minimalist keyboard and deck with few lights and buttons. The boldest looking element is Lenovo's bright red TrackPoint. At 3.4 pounds and 11.1 x 8.2 x 1.2 inches, the X120e is more than thin enough to fit in any bag and light enough not to weigh you down, though it is actually a few ounces heavier than the 3.2-pound X100e.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The ThinkPad X120e features an attractive island-style, spill-resistant keyboard with no buttons except the power on/off above the function keys and no old-school legacy keys such as Pause or Scroll Lock. The keyboard has the same legendary build quality we've come to expect from ThinkPads, with a rock solid flex-free base, strong tactile feedback, and curved keys that make it easy for touch typists to feel their way around.

However, the overall typing experience isn't as good as on larger ThinkPads because of a short palm rest that left our wrists hanging off the edge. When we used the Ten Thumbs Typing test, some missed keys led to a slightly higher than normal 3-percent error rate. However, we still achieved a strong speed of 82 wpm.

Like all ThinkPads, the X120e has a TrackPoint pointing stick which provides highly accurate navigation to users who are willing to work with it. The tiny 2.9 x 1.4-inch touchpad was accurate for moving around the desktop, but multitouch gestures were less than smooth; it took several attempts to zoom in and out by pinching in the Chrome browser.

Heat

After streaming a video for 20 minutes, we measured the middle of the X120e's keyboard at 100 degrees, the touchpad at 96 degrees, and the middle bottom at 98 degrees Fahrenheit.

We consider temperatures over 95 degrees uncomfortable and over 100 degrees unacceptable. However, perhaps because the 100-degree area on the keyboard was only in the base below the center keys or because the plastic key material was not highly conductive, we didn't feel much heat on our fingers while typing. The small label area on the bottom near the battery was a different story, reaching a very noticeable 108 degrees.

Display and Audio

The 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768-pixel matte display produced colorful images and strong viewing angles. We still saw a sharp and relatively bright image of the desktop at 90 degrees to the left or right of center.

For an inexpensive business laptop, the Lenovo ThinkPad X120e offers really solid audio. When we played both an R&B tune and a heavy metal song, sound was accurate and undistorted, though not overly rich or textured. It was also loud enough to fill a small room.

Ports and Webcam

On the right side of the X120e are a 4-in-1 card reader, a standard USB port and an always-on USB port for charging gadgets while the computer is powered off or asleep. On the back is a VGA port and on the left side are a Kensington lock slot, HDMI out, Ethernet, headphone jack, and one more USB port, for a total of three.

The standard definition webcam handled low-light environments with great aplomb, providing bright, sharp images even in our dark living room. During Skype calls made from both our living room and office cubicle, fine details of our face were clearly visible.

Performance

The ThinkPad X120e is one of the first notebooks to sport AMD's new Fusion E Series APU (Acclerated Processing Unit), which combines a dual-core 1.6-GHz E-350 processor and integrated Radeon HD 6310 graphics into one chip. This new platform delivers stronger graphics performance and better battery life than the previous generation AMD Neo processors and packs enough punch for productivity work.

On PCMark Vantage, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall system performance, the ThinkPad X120e scored 2,558. This score is less than the ultraportable average (3,804) but beats the previous-generation ThinkPad X100e (2,382) and its AMD Turion Neo X2 CPU. The X120e also bests the 11-inch HP Pavilion dm1z (2,198), which has the same AMD APU but a slower 5,400-rpm hard drive.

The 7,200-rpm, 320GB Seagate hard drive inside the X120e booted to Windows 7 in a modest 57 seconds, about 4 seconds faster than the category average and nearly 30 seconds quicker than the HP Pavilion dm1z (80 seconds), but 9 seconds slower than the original ThinkPad X100e. The drive took just 3 minutes to complete the LAPTOP File Transfer test, which involves copying 4.97GB of mixed media files. That's a rate of 28.3 MBPs, slightly behind the 30.1 MBps category average but miles ahead of ultraportables with 5,400-rpm drives, such as the HP dm1z (18.4 MBps) and the original ThinkPad X100e (20.4 Mbps).

With its power-efficient AMD processor, the X120e took 2 minutes and 51 seconds to transcode a 114MB MP4 file to AVI in Oxelon Media Encoder, a full minute longer than the ultraportable category average. However, the X120e was just 6 seconds slower than the HP Pavilion dm1z (2:45), but remarkably 34 seconds behind the original ThinkPad X100e with its dual-core AMD Turion Neo X2 CPU. The dual-core Intel Atom-powered HP Mini 5103 took nearly twice as long, at 4:23.

Graphics and Gaming

The ThinkPad X120e's Radeon HD 6310 integrated graphics processor far outpaces the graphics performance you can get from similarly sized and priced systems with Intel integrated graphics, but it has limitations. On 3DMark06, which measures overall graphics prowess, the X120e scored a strong 2,135, well beyond the category average of 1,489 and far better than the ThinkPad X100e (1,080) or the Atom-powered HP Mini 5103 (147). The HP Pavilion dm1z, which has the same technology under the hood, got a similar score (2,217).

Don't buy the X120e if you plan to play anything more than a casual game. The notebook managed a barely playable 23 fps in World of Warcraft at low settings. With the special effects turned up, that number dropped to a slideshow-like 11 fps. Those numbers are a little worse than the 24 and 13 fps turned in by the HP Pavilion dm1z, but are far better than Atom-based netbooks with integrated graphics that can't handle mainstream games.

Video Performance

We experienced significant driver issues when playing videos on the ThinkPad X120e, and we're still working with Lenovo to resolve some of them. At one point during our testing, any HD video we played was jerky with 720p YouTube and QuickTime videos managing only 15 fps. After consulting with Lenovo and doing a system restore to factory settings, we were able to achieve smooth rates of 25 fps on a 720p downloaded QuickTime trailer of Drive Angry. However, even after our system restore, 1080p Flash videos such as a trailer for Avatar on YouTube were jerky and a 1080p downloaded QuickTime file of the Iron Man 2 trailer managed a barely watchable 18 fps.

Worse still, the X120e had serious problems playing many Flash videos at full screen. When we tried to play episodes of Bones and Human Target from Fox.com, the entire screen turned green a few seconds after we hit the full screen button. The same problem occurred several times with YouTube videos. Eventually, we determined that we could stop the green screen issue by right-clicking on the Flash window and disabling hardware acceleration. However, without hardware acceleration, Flash videos were choppy at best.

At this time, we know that Lenovo is working to resolve these issues and we are confident that the X120e will be able to play 720p videos smoothly in both Flash and other formats by the time it ships to end users. We'll update this review once we hear back from Lenovo.

Battery Life and Wi-Fi

Battery life is one area where the ThinkPad X120e really shines. On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi, the ThinkPad X120e lasted 6 hours and 5 minutes. That's more than 30 minutes longer than the category average of 5 hours and 28 minutes and over an hour longer than the original ThinkPad X100e (4:47). However, the similarly configured HP Pavilion dm1z lasted a half hour longer at 6:37.

The Broadcom 2x 802.11n Wi-Fi card returned strong data rates of 37.7 Mbps and 20.3 Mbps at distances of 15 and 50 feet from our router. Those scores are significantly higher than the 16.6/10.6 Mbps offered by the original ThinkPad X100e and a notch above the category averages of 30.2 and 19.5 Mbps.

Software and Warranty

Lenovo bundles the ThinkPad X120e with its standard suite of ThinkVantage utilities. These include Access connections for managing Wi-Fi, Rescue and Recovery for backups, and Airbag protection for stopping the hard drive during drops and sudden movements. Our favorite ThinkVantage applications are the Power Manager, which allows more detailed control over the power settings than you get from Windows, and Password Vault, which stores your passwords.

The X120e comes standard with a one-year warranty on parts and labor and 24/7 tech support. To see how Lenovo did in our most recent Tech Support Showdown, click here.

Configurations

Our review configuration of the ThinkPad X120e carries an MSRP of $579. For that price, you get the 1.6-GHz dual-core E-350 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB 7,200-rpm hard drive and a six-cell battery. However, the X120e has a starting price of just $399. For that price, you get the base configuration with a single-core 1.5-GHz AMD E-240 processor, 1GB of RAM, a 250GB 5,400-rpm hard drive, a ThinkPad wireless card, and a three-cell battery.

Other options for the X120e include the option of getting a Heatwave Red lid, a Qualcomm Gobi wireless card or EV-DO card, RAM capacities from 1 to 4GB, and hard drives ranging from 160 to 320GB in 5,400 or 7,200 rpm speed or a 128GB SSD instead. As of this writing, the X120e is still not for sale on Lenovo.com and pricing for these options has yet to be announced.

Value and Verdict

If you're looking for a lightweight business notebook at an affordable price, the ThinkPad X120e is a strong option that provides much better performance than dual-core business netbooks such as the HP Mini 5103 ($542) for hundreds less than a high-end business ultraportable like the ThinkPad X201 (starting at $900). Thanks to AMD's Fusion processor, this $579 notebook also lasts more than 6 hours on a charge. However, parts of the laptop get pretty warm, and the video playback issues we encountered were annoying (though we expect Lenovo to fix them). Among 11-inch notebooks, the cheaper HP Pavilion dm1z is a better bet for consumers, but the X120e is a solid choice for mobile pros.

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Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master's degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director on
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 1.6-GHz AMD E-350
Operating System MS Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)
RAM 4GB
RAM Upgradable to 4GB
Hard Drive Size 320GB
Hard Drive Speed 7,200rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 11.6
Native Resolution 1366x768
Optical Drive
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card AMD Radeon HD 6310
Video Memory 64MB
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n
Wi-Fi Model Broadcom 2x2 11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth Bluetooth 2.1
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size 2.9 x 1.4 inches
Ports (excluding USB) Kensington Lock
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
USB Ports 3
Warranty/Support One year parts and labor
Size 11.1 x 8.2 x 1.2-inches
Weight 3.4 pounds
Company Website www.lenovo.com