In fact, with the exception of a new DisplayPort connector, the X301's case is essentially identical to that of the X300, right down to the built-in DVD burner. The real change is inside the case: Lenovo has stocked the X301 with Intel's latest Centrino 2 platform, including the just-released ultra-low-voltage Core 2 Duo SU9400 processor.
The new CPU helped the ThinkPad X301 realize measurable gains over its predecessor on our performance benchmarks, though it trailed similar systems that were built on full-voltage Centrino 2 processors, such as the Fujitsu LifeBook T1010.
The trade-off, of course, is that the ThinkPad X301 outlasted those systems on our battery drain tests. Though our biggest complaint with this ultrasleek ThinkPad remains the price--the base configuration costs $2,605 and goes up from there--we still recommend it for frequent travelers seeking portability and usability without sacrifice.
That said, users looking for a slightly less expensive ultraportable may want to consider the 12-inch ThinkPad X200.
Like all ThinkPads, the ultraportable X301 features a rectangular black case built around a sturdy chassis. There's still a blue ThinkVantage button above the keyboard, a fingerprint reader below it, and a keyboard light on the top edge of the display.
However, ThinkPad fans will notice small touches that make the X301 a bit more attractive than other ThinkPads. The lid and wrist rest feature an appealing soft matte finish; the ThinkVantage, power, and mute buttons glow when pressed; and the front edge is devoid of any ports or switches.
In addition to the keyboard light, the ThinkPad X301's display bezel includes a 1.3-megapixel Webcam and a noise-canceling digital microphone for Web conferencing. The matte-finish display itself features a 1,440x900 native resolution that's sharper than that of the MacBook Air and other similar-size screens, resulting in text and icons that are a bit smaller than you'd expect.
So far the sharper resolution hasn't caused tremendous problems, though we did find ourselves pumping up the font size on a newspaper's Web site so we could read a lengthy article. We also zoomed in a bit when working on documents and spreadsheets.
The trade-off: more screen real estate for multitasking and, when it's time for a break, beautiful video.
Given the amount of typing the typical executive does through the course of the workday, a keyboard can make or break an ultraportable. The ThinkPad X301 actually uses the same keyboard found on Lenovo's 14- and 15-inch models--which is to say, not the condensed keyboard found on previous X series models and many ultraportable laptops from other manufacturers.
After conducting several days' work on the ThinkPad X301, we still don't feel like we've been typing on a laptop. We love it.
Lenovo decided to include both the red eraser-head TrackPoint pointing stick and a touch pad on the ThinkPad X301.
The decision is understandable: many ThinkPad users are viscerally attached to their TrackPoints, while other users can't stand it, so why not include both methods?
However, the double sets of mouse buttons seem to run counter to the overall theme of simplification that the ThinkPad X301 embodies. In order to make room for the TrackPoint's buttons, the touch pad is placed rather low on the wrist rest, with its buttons near the laptop's front edge.
Fortunately, the ThinkPad X301 is thin enough that we could use the touch pad with our wrist resting on a desk surface--or on our leg, when the laptop was in our lap. Of greater concern is the fact that, during our lazier typing moments when our wrists dropped to the wrist rest, we were likely to graze the touch pad and accidentally misplace the cursor.
With just three USB ports, Gigabit Ethernet, and optional WWAN, the ThinkPad X301 keeps the same basic, business-focused feature set as its predecessor. The laptop still lacks a slot for PC Cards or ExpressCards, but we're not sure the expansion slot will be missed, given that Lenovo now offers the Gobi WWAN chipset with the X301.
Also new to this model: DisplayPort, a compact replacement for the standard DVI socket. As with the X300, the ThinkPad X301 incorporates a built-in DVD burner; opting out of the optical will knock $225 off the price.
The base model of the ThinkPad X301 costs a hefty $2,605. Much of that price can be attributed to the laptop's 64GB solid-state drive, which promises faster application launch and boot times as well as a longer lifetime than a traditional hard drive with moving parts. (Deep-pocketed buyers can also opt for a 128GB SSD, which adds $400 to the laptop's price.)
Our review unit included a few upgrades -- twice as much RAM as the base configuration, plus the integrated DVD burner and an extended-life six-cell battery -- that brought the price to $2,920. That's more expensive than a MacBook Air with a solid-state drive (though that system is based on Intel's previous-generation platform) and on par with a Toshiba Portege R500 configured with a 128GB SSD.
The ThinkPad X301 is the first laptop we've seen to incorporate Intel's newest ultra-low-voltage Core 2 Duo CPU, the 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo SU9400. Based on Intel's latest Centrino 2 platform, the ThinkPad X301 showed measurable gains over the X300 on CNET Labs' performance benchmarks (though not always the 20 percent the company boasted at the product's launch).
But the X301 trailed other Centrino 2 systems with full-voltage processors, such as the Fujitsu LifeBook T1010 and the 12-inch ThinkPad X200, most likely because the X301's CPU is designed to prioritize energy savings over performance muscle.
That's not to say it's pokey; as with any Core 2 Duo system, the ThinkPad X301 proved more than adequate for typical business productivity tasks, including Web surfing, media playback, and running office applications.
The ThinkPad X301's six-cell battery lasted 3 hours, 14 minutes in our video playback drain test. That places it at least 30 minutes ahead of similar-size systems based on full-voltage Core 2 Duo processors (such as the LifeBook T1010) and those built around the Intel's previous-generation Centrino platform (such as the Dell Vostro 1310).
In anecdotal testing, we were able to squeeze about 4 hours of runtime from the X301's battery--just enough for a half-day's work. Users who need more juice can extend their mobile computing time by purchasing an additional three-cell battery ($120) that fits inside the drive bay.
As Lenovo has moved toward offering built-to-order systems, the company has dropped the baseline warranty for ThinkPads to a single year. Extending coverage to three years costs $119; other reasonably priced upgrades add coverage for accidental drops or spills and LCD damage.
The preloaded suite of ThinkVantage applications helps users troubleshoot problems, and Lenovo's support Web site includes the expected troubleshooting topics, driver downloads, and user guides.
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