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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 4) could be the biggest threat to the 16-inch MacBook Pro yet

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme
(Image credit: Lenovo)

For the past few years, Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon has soaked up the limelight and earned a top spot in our best business laptops rankings. While it deserves that attention, the Carbon tends to cast a shadow over other excellent enterprise notebooks. One such laptop deserving of airtime is the bigger, more powerful sibling of the Carbon: the ThinkPad X1 Extreme. 

Unveiled today, the latest ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 4) brings substantial updates to an already mouth-watering recipe. Spicing things up is an 11th Gen Intel Core CPU, Nvidia GeForce RTX 30 graphics, 5G support, and a larger 16-inch display. Only time will tell if these changes are enough to help the X1 Extreme make a name for itself. As it stands, the new laptop has all the ingredients to compete among the likes of the 16-inch MacBook Pro and Dell XPS 15.

We expect to publish a full review of the ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 4) in the coming weeks. While we wait for a unit to land on the Laptop Mag doorsteps, let's take a deep dive to see what the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is all about. 

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 4) design

Lenovo uses its words carefully, referring to the X1 Extreme as "completely reimagined" rather than "redesigned." This is a new chassis but the overall aesthetic is familiar. Go down the list of signature ThinkPad design elements and the X1 Extreme strikes them all off. 

Matte-black color? Check. Red trim on the touchpad? Check. Divisive red rubber nub in the keyboard? You got it. 

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme

(Image credit: Lenovo)

I haven't seen the X1 Extreme (Gen 4) in person just yet but photos shared with us reveal some interesting tidbits. For one, the X1 Extreme, like the X1 Carbon, comes with either a matte-black lid or one with a carbon-fiber weave. The latter option isn't actual carbon fiber; rather, it's meant as a nod to the carbon elements used in the laptop's frame. 

Whichever lid you choose, it should be kept free from smudges thanks to anti-fingerprint paint Lenovo adopted with this newest version. Instead of covering the chassis with fingerprints, you can instead use your unique identifier to power on and wake the ThinkPad X1 Extreme via its fingerprint sensor. If that's too much effort, the X1 Extreme has an IR camera with a camera shutter.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme

(Image credit: Lenovo)

Another nice touch is that the top-firing speakers are located on the deck, flanking the keyboard on each side. This should result in better sound quality than laptops with bottom-firing drivers. I'll talk more about the display below, but before I do, Lenovo earns props for trimming the bezels down to make the X1 Extreme (Gen 4) as compact as possible.

To that end, at 14.1 x 10 x 0.8 inches and 4 pounds, the X1 Extreme is more portable than it has any right to be as a 16-inch laptop (though it is somewhat chunky). By comparison, the 16-inch MacBook Pro measures 14.1 x 9.7 x 0.6 inches and weighs 4.3 pounds.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 4) display

Sixteen is in! Continuing a trend we're seeing across the industry, Lenovo replaced the X1 Extreme's 15.6-inch panel with a 16-inch screen. It went a step further by opting for a taller 16:10 aspect ratio; this allows you to see more vertical space on the screen for improved productivity.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme

(Image credit: Lenovo)

There are three display options at launch (before you ask, sorry, no OLED yet). The base non-touch display has a 2560 x 1600-pixel QHD+ resolution at 60Hz with 400 nits of brightness and 100% sRGB coverage. 

Upgrading from there gets you a 3840 x 2400-pixel UHD+ non-touch display with 600 nits of brightness, 100% Adobe coverage and HDR400 support. For the best picture quality, you can opt for a 3840 x 2400-pixel UHD+ touchscreen display with 600 nits of brightness, 100% Adobe coverage, HDR400 support with Dolby Vision, and Low Blue Light certification. 

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 4) keyboard

I can't say much about the X1 Extreme's keyboard having not typed on it yet, but my fingertips enter a meditative state even thinking about the plush, scalloped keys found on most ThinkPads.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme

(Image credit: Lenovo)

What I can tell you is that the ThinkPad X1 Extreme has a generous 1.5 millimeters of key travel and the touchpad was expanded to 4.5 inches wide. Those dextrous enough to skip the touchpad can use the rubber pointing stick nestled in the keyboard.  

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 4) performance

The latest from Intel and Nvidia combine to give the ThinkPad X1 Extreme muscle car-level horsepower. Lenovo went straight to the top of the stack with the X1 Extreme, which can be equipped with up to an 11th Gen Core i9 vPro CPU and Nvidia GeForce 3080 GPU. 

If that isn't enough power, the X1 Extreme can be outfitted with up to a whopping 64GB of RAM and up to dual 2TB SSDs for a total of 4TB of storage. 

The final piece of this performance puzzle is 5G support for fast and reliable cellular internet from wherever you work — be it in a coffee shop or WeWork. Unfortunately, 5G is limited to sub-6Ghz and skips the ultra-fast (and ultra-illusive) mmWave variant. 

We'll put the X1 Extreme to the test once we receive a review unit, but based on the specs, this business laptop could deliver unrivaled performance for high-compute tasks and gaming alike. 

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 4) battery life

Our battery test could be the make-or-break moment for the X1 Extreme. Previous models with high-res displays struggled to reach 6 hours on a charge. Lenovo promises 10 hours but estimates from vendors are typically achieved under ideal conditions. 

Subject the X1 Extreme to our lab test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits) and that runtime could plummet. 

Outlook

If someone told me to build the perfect laptop, it would look a lot like the new ThinkPad X1 Extreme. This fourth-gen model flaunts a stealthy design, a large 16-inch display, a generous assortment of ports and security features, and some of the most powerful components for running demanding programs or playing games.

Of course, reality rarely meets expectations. The X1 Extreme needs to be as good as the sum of its parts in order to rank among the best laptops. The pieces of a fantastic business laptop are all there — will they fall into place or crumble? We'll find out soon. 

Phillip Tracy

Phillip Tracy is the assistant managing editor at Laptop Mag where he reviews laptops, phones and other gadgets while covering the latest industry news. After graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin, Phillip became a tech reporter at the Daily Dot. There, he wrote reviews for a range of gadgets and covered everything from social media trends to cybersecurity. Prior to that, he wrote for RCR Wireless News covering 5G and IoT. When he's not tinkering with devices, you can find Phillip playing video games, reading, traveling or watching soccer.