Lenovo's premium X-series has produced some of our favorite laptops, and the newest addition to the lineup is no exception. The 15.6-inch ThinkPad X1 Extreme (reviewed at $2,955) lives up to its name with a jaw-dropping 4K HDR display and excellent overall performance offered by a Core i7 processor and an Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti GPU. Starting at $1,580, this powerful business laptop also has a sleek chassis and an exceptionally comfortable keyboard. Battery life on the 4K version is shorter than we'd like, but the ThinkPad X1 is still one of the best 15-inch laptops on the market, and a compelling alternative to the Dell XPS 15 and 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro.
The 15-inch Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme is a sleek, thin and lightweight business laptop made of luxurious materials.
The svelte clamshell laptop's matte black carbon-fiber chassis sports a sophisticated soft-touch finish. Embossed on the lid and deck is a black ThinkPad emblem complete with a glowing red dot that lights up like Rudolph's nose. Another logo, a stylish, red-and-gray X1, is stamped on the bottom corner of the lid.
Lift the lid and you'll find the same smooth, plush material on the black deck. The soft surface is comfortable to rest your wrists on when typing, and it isn't cold like the industrial aluminum we so often see. Unfortunately, the coating attracts fingerprints, and it's not easy to wipe clean, either.
There is no mistaking the X1 Extreme for anything other than a ThinkPad. Its design has all the mainstays that come with the moniker, including a red pointing stick, three red-trimmed clickers above the touchpad, and wonderfully rounded keyboard keys. There is a circular power button in the upper-right corner of the deck and (another) rectangular Lenovo logo under the display.
The thin bezels around the display enabled Lenovo to reduce the laptop's overall footprint. At 14.2 x 9.7 x 0.7 inches, the X1 Extreme takes up more space than the Dell XPS 15 (14.1 x 9.3 x 0.7 inches) and Apple MacBook Pro (13.8 x 9.5 x 0.6 inches), but the Lenovo is more compact than the Asus ZenBook Pro 15 (14.4 x 9.9 x 0.7 inches). As expected, the 14-inch Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (12.7 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches) is considerably smaller than its 15.6-inch sibling.
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The ThinkPad X1 Extreme weighs less than the competition, and is pretty portable for a 15-inch laptop. At 3.8 pounds, the Lenovo is lighter than the MacBook Pro (4 pounds), ZenBook Pro 15 (4.2 pounds) and the XPS 15 (4.2 pounds). That's no surprise, considering the X1 Extreme is made from the same mold as the ultraportable ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2.5 pounds).
Who said slim laptops have to skimp on ports?
The left side has even more inputs, including two Thunderbolt 3 ports, an HDMI, a headphone/mic jack and Lenovo's proprietary AC power input. There's also a proprietary network extension port that allows for an Ethernet connection with a dongle.
Durability and Security
Don't be fooled by its thin and lightweight design -- the X1 Extreme is one durable laptop. The machine has been tested to 12 MIL-STD-810G standards, which means it can survive high humidity, exposure to sand and dust, extreme temperatures and repeated drops.
Regarding security, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is certified by the Trusted Computing Group (TCG) and supports dTPM encryption and Intel vPro technology.
To the right of the X1 Extreme's keyboard is an included Match-on-Chip fingerprint reader to go along with the optional Smart Card reader for secure login. Alternatively, you can sign in to Windows 10 with facial recognition via Windows Hello using the optional IR camera ($25). The webcam cover, or what Lenovo calls ThinkShutter, is not available with the IR camera, so if you're worried about snooping, opt for the standard 720p HD lens instead.
If battery life and price aren't a concern for you, opt for the X1 Extreme's phenomenal 4K (3840 x 2160) HDR touch-screen display over the matte, 1080p option. Detailed and bursting with vivid, saturated colors, this is without a doubt one of the best 15.6-inch displays on a consumer-grade business laptop, or any laptop for that matter.
The trailer I watched of the upcoming X-Men film, Dark Phoenix, was riveting on the practically bezel-less 4K model. During the slow-motion car crash, I could see the tiniest shards of glass floating harmlessly, inches away from a young Jean Grey. I also noticed an incredible amount of detail in James McAvoy's face during a close-up shot, from the tiny cracks in his bright red lips to the smallest lines on his forehead.
The exceptionally vibrant colors on the HDR panel leap off the screen; in fact, I was so captivated by the images it produced that I felt an urge to rewatch my favorite movies just to experience them in such scintillating color and detail. In Dark Phoenix, Mystique's bright red hair looked like it had been dipped in a bucket of paint, and McEvoy's blue eyes glistened like sapphire gemstones. Even Windows 10 icons were given new life by the richness of this display.
But while white balance seemed accurate, color saturation was exaggerated to the point of being lurid. Because of this, photo editors who need accurate tones will need to use color calibration software to dial things down. On a positive note, I had no issues using the X1 Extreme's touch screen to browse the web and draw images in Paint 3D.
Our lab tests confirmed the brilliance of the ThinkPad X1 Extreme's display. The panel covers an excellent 186 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is greater than the displays on the 4K XPS 15 (164 percent), the Apple MacBook Pro (117 percent) and the Asus ZenBook Pro 15 (141 percent). The premium laptop average is paltry in comparison, at 113 percent.
At a maximum of 366 nits, the X1 Extreme's display is also very bright, although other panels are even more luminous. For example, the Dell XPS' display reached a blinding 447 nits of brightness, and the 2K panel on the Thinkpad X1 Carbon maxed out at 469 nits. The displays on the MacBook Pro (354 nits), the ZenBook Pro 15 (330 nits) and the premium laptop average (310 nits) are dimmer.
Keyboard, Touchpad, Pointing Stick
ThinkPad keyboards are reliably fantastic, and the X1 Extreme's ranks near the top. That's thanks in large part to 1.7 millimeters of key travel, which is right in the middle of our 1.5mm to 2mm preference, and above average for a laptop this thin. If I had one reservation with the backlit keyboard, it's that, with a slightly elevated actuation force of 78 grams, the keys are a bit stiff.
There is no number pad on the X1 Extreme, but the laptop's uniquely curved keys are large and well-spaced. A weighty, tactile bump rewards you for completing a keystroke, making it a pleasure to type for long sessions.
I blazed through the 10fastfingers.com typing test, achieving 116 words per minute with an accuracy of 96 percent. Those results surpass my 115 wpm and 5 percent error rate averages.
An iconic inclusion on ThinkPad devices is the small red pointing stick in the center of the keyboard, which some people use instead of the touchpad. The dimpled rubber dot tracked my movements accurately as I browsed the web.
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The ThinkPad X1 Extreme's 3.9 x 2.3-inch touchpad kept up with me rapidly scrolling through web pages. The smooth surface didn't hesitate through a regime of Windows 10 gestures, including pinch-to-zoom, a three-finger tap to open Cortana, and a three-finger swipe to change apps.
The dual speakers on the underside of the ThinkPad X1 Extreme can fill a medium-size room. Sound quality is average, though your mileage will vary depending on what music genre you listen to. The speakers can keep up with simple string rhythms in acoustic music, but complex rock tracks sound muddled.
When I listened to City and Colour's "Northern Wind," Dallas Green's rich falsetto was crystal clear, and the simple acoustic guitar chords were nice and clean. Things went downhill once I listened to the chorus of Thrice's "Just Breathe." Splashy cymbal hits tangled with piercing guitar notes, resulting in a cacophony that masked Dustin Kensrue's powerful vocals.
The X1 Extreme lives up to its name when it comes to performance -- this laptop is blazing fast. Our test unit, which came equipped with an Intel Core i7-8750H CPU, 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD, didn't stutter when I loaded 15 Google Chrome tabs and ran multiple 1080p YouTube videos. From there, the laptop speedily opened the LinkedIn app and played Microsoft Solitaire without any lag. I then played an HD Twitch stream and noticed only brief slowdowns when switching between web browser tabs.
We saw similarly strong performance on our lab tests. The X1 Extreme scored a high score of 22,021 on the Geekbench 4.1 overall performance test, narrowly outperforming the Dell XPS 15 (Core i7-8750H; 21,201) and the Asus ZenBook Pro 15 (Core i9-8950HK; 21,691). The MacBook Pro 15 (Core i9-8950HK; 23,138) had a slight edge on the ThinkPad, with a score of 22,021. Still, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is more powerful than the average premium laptop (13,996).
The X1 Extreme also has one of the fastest hard drives we've tested. The business machine's 1TB PCIe-NVME OPAL2.0 M.2 SSD needed only 5 seconds to duplicate 4.97GB of mixed-media files for a rate of 1,017 megabytes per second. That score didn't quite reach the soaring heights of the MacBook Pro (2TB; 2,724 MBps), but it outpaced the ZenBook Pro 15 (512GB NVMe PCIe SSD; 424 MBps) and the XPS 15 (256GB M.2 PCIe SSD; 391 MBps).
Our high-end configuration of the X1 Extreme matched 65,000 names to their corresponding addresses in just 40 seconds on the Excel Macro Test. The ZenBook Pro 15 (40 seconds) completed the test in the same amount of time, while the MacBook Pro (52 seconds) and the XPS 15 (44 seconds) lagged behind. The premium laptop average (1:29) took more than twice as long as the ThinkPad.
Even our rigorous Handbrake video-transcoding test was no task for the Thinkpad X1 Extreme, which converted a 4K video to 1080p in 10 minutes and 3 seconds. The XPS 15 (10:12) and MacBook Pro (10:16) took a few seconds longer, and the ZenBook Pro 15 (10:53) was even slower. Again, the average premium laptop (20:30) takes twice as long to complete this test.
The X1 Extreme is designed for business professionals, prosumers and...gamers? Yes, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme can double as an entry-level gaming machine thanks to its Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti GPU with 4GB of VRAM. The dedicated GPU is powerful enough to play most modern titles at low-to-medium graphics settings.
The ThinkPad X1 Extreme scored a 154,719 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test, falling just short of the XPS 15 (GTX 1050 Ti, 163,171) and the ZenBook Pro 15 (GTX 1050 Ti, 174,523). The average premium laptop (90,396) is far behind.
We achieved a solid 35 frames per second when playing Rise of the Tomb Raider on the X1 Extreme on Very High graphics settings. That tops the XPS 15 (22 fps) and the Asus ZenBook Pro 15 (21 fps) but is below the premium laptop average (39 fps). At 56 fps, X1 Extreme also exceeded our 30-fps playability threshold when playing Hitman on Ultra settings. The XPS 15 (60 fps) and ZenBook Pro 15 (60 fps) were a bit smoother.
Battery life on the 4K model of the X1 Extreme is disappointing. The laptop lasted just 6 hours and 7 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of display brightness. That's not terrible for a laptop with such a high-resolution panel, but it's well below the 8:14 premium laptop average.
For comparison, the 4K version of the XPS 15 (8:28) stayed powered for more than 2 hours longer than the X1 Extreme. And although the MacBook Pro's (10:21) display isn't quite as pixel-packed, the gulf in battery life is hard to ignore. The Asus ZenBook Pro 15 (4:23), with a 4K display and ScreenPad, powered off long before the competitors.
We suspect the FHD version of the ThinkPad X1 Extreme gets significantly longer battery life than the 4K model, but we'll have to wait to get our hands on a review unit to know for sure.
Rejoice! Lenovo found a way to position the ThinkPad X1 Extreme's webcam above the display, despite the laptop's slim bezels. This puts the Lenovo miles ahead of competitors whose "nose cams" reside below the screen.
The image quality of this 720p webcam is nothing to write home about, but it's not terrible, either. A selfie I snapped in our dimly lit office had accurate colors, capturing the appropriate reddish tone in my skin and the light gray color of my shirt. My green eyes and the straw-colored ends of my dirty blonde hair were even retained in the image.
Unfortunately, the camera just isn't very sharp. It failed to extract individual strands of hair in my beard, which, instead, looked like a blob. Overall, it's a decent webcam, but external cameras are a big step up.
Lenovo claims the X1 Extreme's new aluminum-alloy bottom cover can effectively dissipate heat to keep the laptop cool. Unfortunately, we didn't find this to be the case in our tests. The machine reached concerning heat levels after we played a full-screen YouTube video for 15 minutes.
The center of the keyboard hit 107 degrees Fahrenheit and the underside topped out at 116 degrees. Those results are well above our 95-degree comfort threshold. The hottest location on the laptop was the underside near the hinge, which warmed to a scolding 123 degrees. For what it's worth, the touchpad reached only 88 degrees.
Software and Warranty
To our relief, there are few extraneous programs preinstalled on the ThinkPad X1. Lenovo brings its Pen Settings software, which lets users customize the optional stylus.
There are a few unwelcome programs on the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, most of which come courtesy of Microsoft. Those include LinkedIn and games like the Candy Crush Saga and Hidden City, which feel out of place on such a premium device.
How Much Does the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Cost?
I tested the $2,955 model of the X1 Extreme. The specific configuration has a 4K display, an Intel Core i7-8750H, 32GB of RAM and a 1TB PCIe-NVME OPAL2.0 M.2 SSD. For gaming, there's an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti GPU, which comes standard no matter the configuration.
The base model of the X1 Extreme costs $1,580 and comes with an FHD display, a Core i5-8400H CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Upgrading to a Core i7 CPU and doubling the amount of RAM and storage raises the price to $1,767.
The 4K display will burn a hole in your wallet. You'll need to save up $2,370 for an X1 Carbon with a UHD display and a Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.
Lenovo calls the top-of-the-line model the "X-tremely Awesome Bundle," but it should be dubbed the "X-tremely Expensive Bundle." For $3,217, this UHD config comes with a Core i7-8850H CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. Additionally, you get an extended three-year warranty along with a bunch of extras, including a USB dock and a wireless mouse.
The X1 Extreme is truly a Jack-of-all-trades. The laptop is great for business professionals thanks to its excellent selection of ports and rugged, portable design. For everyday consumers and power users, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme's high-end components can run even the most demanding programs, and movies and shows look gorgeous on the vivid 4K HDR display. And with a GTX 1050 Ti GPU, even gamers have a reason to get excited about the laptop.
Unfortunately, there are a few areas where the X1 Extreme falls short, including its below-average battery life and concerning heat levels under a heavy workload. These shortcomings open the door for the X1 Extreme's competitors.
The Dell XPS 15 also has a gorgeous 4K display, fast performance and a dedicated GPU, all packaged in a slim attractive design. However, the webcam is poorly located. The 15-inch MacBook Pro is another contender, thanks to its blazing-fast storage and long battery life. But you need even deeper pockets to afford the Apple laptop, and there is no USB Type-A port for peripherals.
Overall, the X1 Extreme is an excellent option for business users, gamers and everyday consumers who are in the market for a premium laptop. So, to answer the question you've been wondering: Yes, this really is an X-treme laptop.
Credit: Laptop Mag