The Lenovo ThinkPad X100e is a thin and light laptop with an 11.6 inch display. But unlike many of the laptops I’ve reviewed that meet that description, the ThinkPad X100e is aimed at business users. It has a professional look with a black, boxy case. And in addition to a multitouch trackpad, the ThinkPad X100e has a Lenovo TrackPoint pointing stick in the middle of the keyboard, which many users find to be more precise and easier to use than a touchpad — although it takes a little getting used to.
When Lenovo first launched the X100e, it was only available with a single core AMD Neo processor. But you can now customize the laptop with a single or dual core processor, additional memory or hard drive space, and optional Bluetooth or mobile broadband capabilities.
Lenovo sent me a demo unit to review. My test machine comes with a dual core 1.6GHz AMD Turion Neo X2 L625 processor and ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics. The computer has 2GB of DDR2 memory, a 250GB hard drive, and a 6 cell battery. It supports 802.b/g/n WiFi and runs Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit. The 11.6 inch display has a native resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels.
The cheapest model of the X100e with this chipset starts at $529, and as configured, this laptop would sell for $574, but there are less expensive models starting at $449.
Overall, the laptop offers a decent combination of performance, power consumption and price. But it’s not the only game in town, and there are a number of thin and light notebooks on the market today that provide similar or better CPU or graphics performance for the same price or lower. But none of them come with TrackPoint.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X100e has a sleek, professional looking design. While most modern netbooks have either sharp edges or rounded corners, the best way to describe the overall design of the X100e is boxy. It’s clearly designed to be more functional than attractive, but that design aesthetic gives it a sort of utilitarian charm. When you plop this little guy down on a table, there’s no mistaking the fact that you plan to get some work done.
The case is solid black, from the lid down to the bottom of the keyboard. The only color shows up in the red TrackPoint pointing stick at the center of the keyboard, two red highlights on the left and right buttons, and the white and blue lettering on the keys. If you want a little more flare though, Lenovo does offer the X100e with a red case (and black keyboard and palm rest area).
Despite the sturdy case design, the Lenovo ThinkPad X100e weighs just 3.3 pounds with a 6 cell battery. Theoretically it weighs less than 3 pounds with a 3 cell battery, but I don’t think Lenovo offers that battery option anymore.
The lid has a matte finish, and while it’s not exactly immune from smudges, it doesn’t show fingerprints nearly as well as most glossy laptop lids.
The computer also has a matte display — another feature which sets the X100 apart from most consumer-oriented notebooks.
The display tilts back further than those on most notebooks as well. It doesn’t quite open to a 180 degree angle, but it comes pretty close.
Around the sides of the notebook you’ll find 3 USB ports, an Ethernet jack, a combo mic/headphone jack, and an SD card slot.
While most thin and light notebooks don’t have any ports on the back, the X100e has a VGA port and power jack on the back f the unit, flanking the 6 cell battery which sticks out like a sore two thumbs.
There’s a single large access panel on the bottom of the laptop, which you can remove to access the hard drive, memory, and other internal components.
That access panel takes up almost the entire based of the notebook — leaving just enough room for the battery compartment at the rear and a wide speaker panel at the front.
Keyboard and Touch
The Lenovo ThinkPad X100e has an island-style keyboard with a bit of space between the keys. But unlike most island-style keyboards, the X100e buttons are a little concave, which means your fingertip dips into the key a bit as you type.
Lenovo also added a bit of a curve to the bottom of each key to give the illusion that the keyboard matches those in larger ThinkPad notebooks. It doesn’t, but I found the keyboard quite comfortable to type on, and was able to score about 100 words per minute in a typing test — which is pretty close to my normal typing speed.
I’ve tested a number of Lenovo laptops over the last few years, and one thing that generally bugs me is the placement of the Fn key. Almost every laptop maker puts the Ctrl key to the far left and places a Fn key to its right. Lenovo flips those keys, which means there’s a slight learning curve when using a Lenovo keyboard for the first time. But after using the ThinkPad X100e for a few days, I honestly didn’t mind the Fn key placement at all — and got a bit confused when I started using a non-Lenovo laptop because it had the Fn and Ctrl keys reversed.
That said, I’m not a huge fan of the placement of the Home, End, Insert, Delete, and Page Up and Page Down buttons on this laptop. I’m used to all of these buttons either resting in the lower right corner or on the right side of a keyboard. But the X100e has the Home, End, Insert, and Delete buttons at the top right corner of the keyboard, and they were placed in a way so that I constantly hit End when I wanted to hit Delete and pretty much forgot that there even was a Home button. I’m sure you can get used to this layout given enough time, but I never did.
The Page Up and Page down keys are arguably in the right place, but for some reason they’re seated lower than all the other keys on the keyboard, and they have a rounded bubble-like shape instead of the boxy design of the other keys. While this could make them easier to locate without looking down at your fingers, you have to push your finger lower to hit the Page Up and Page Down keys than any other buttons on the keyboard.
Lenovo offers users two different touch input methods on the ThinkPad X100e. You can use the touchpad located below the keyboard, which includes distinct left and right mouse buttons and support for multitouch gestures. Or you can use the TrackPoint button in the middle of the keyboard and the left and right buttons located just above the touchpad.
The touchpad is reasonably responsive and I had no problem with two-finger scrolling and other gestures. The buttons, on the other hand, are razor-thin, and not the most comfortable buttons to press.
The TrackPoint takes a litle getting used to if you normally spend more time with a mouse or touchpad. It’s easy to move the cursor way too far or not far enough if you’re not skilled with the little pointing nub. But after a few days I started to get the hang of it, and I can definitely see why some people absolutely love this system. It’s not only very precise, but you don’t have to move your hand away from the keyboard to move the cursor. And since the left and right buttons are just below the cursor, you can easily tap them with your thumbs without moving your hands at all.
Overall, it looks like Lenovo sacrificed a bit of size for the touchpad buttons to make room for the TrackPoint buttons — but that’s not necessarily a bad decision because the TrackPoint system works very well once you familiarize yourself with it.
Lenovo offers the ThinkPad X100e with a choice of a 1.6GHz AMD Athlon Neo MV-40 single core, 1.6GHz AMD Athlon Noe X2 Dual Core K335, or 1.6GHz AMD Turion Neo X2 Dual Core L625 processor. All three versions come with ATI Radeon HD 3200 integrated graphics. Hard drive sizes range from 160GB to 320GB, and you can equip the notebook with 1G to 4GB of memory.
The model featured in this review has a dual core L625 processor, 2GB of memory, and a 250GB hard drive. In a series of benchmarks, I found that the laptop was significantly more powerful than a typical Intel Atom-powered netbook. In terms of CPU performance, it’s about on-par with a notebook with an Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 CULV processor. But the ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics are significantly more powerful than the Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics you get with most of those notebooks.
On the other hand, notebooks with newer ATI Radeon HD 4225 integrated graphics score even higher in graphics tests — although the reference unit I happened to have handy had a single core AMD Athlon II Neo K125 processor, so it wasn’t as fast as the Lenovo laptop in CPU-intensive tests.
Finally, I brought in a notebook with a dual core Atom processor and NVIDIA ION graphics for comparison’s sake. While that laptop scored higher than the ThinkPad X100e in some graphics tests, there was no contest in the CPU tests. The Lenovo laptop was much faster.
The first chart shows how the ThinkPad X100e fares in a set of benchmarks I run on most notebooks. It involves transcoding a video file, transcoding an audio file, and creating a ZIP archive containing more than 2,000 files.
For comparison, I’ve presented the scores for an Acer Aspire One 521 (Single Core AMD Neo K125 CPU and ATI Radeon HD 4225 graphics), a Lenovo IdeaPad U150 (Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 CPU and GMA 4500MHD graphics), and an Asus Eee PC 1005PE (Intel Atom N450 CPU and GMA 3150 graphics.
As you can see, the ThinkPad X100e is about twice as fast as a typical netbook in most of these tests — although it’s not quite as fast as the Lenovo IdeaPad U150 with an Intel CULV processor. That holds true in the following tests as well — although you’ll see that graphics performance is another story.
For the next few charts, I’m continuing to use the Acer Aspire One 521 and Lenovo IdePad U150 as reference machines. But since I want to focus on graphics performance I’m replacing the Asus Eee PC 1005PE with the Asus Eee PC 1201N, which has a dual core Intel Atom 330 processor and first generation NVDIA ION graphics.
The Cinebench test looks at both CPU and GPU performance. The CPU test measures how long a computer takes to render a high resolution image using one or more processors. The Lenovo IdeaPad U150 with a Core 2 Duo SU7300 processor came out on top here — and the Acer Aspire One 521 actually came in ahead of the X100e in the single CPU test. But in the multiple CPU test, the Thinkpad was noticeably faster than the Intel Atom powered Eee PC 1201N.
The OpenGL test uses the graphics processor to render a 3D image, and in this case the ThinkPad X100e came in second place again — but it came behind the Acer Aspire One 521. The Lenovo U150 with Intel graphics came in dead last.
The last two tests are focused on graphics performance. The 3DMark06 benchmark measures CPU and graphics capabilities, but you really need a good graphics card to score well on this test. The top ranking here goes to the Asus Eee PC 1201N, with its NVIDIA ION graphics, followed by the Acer Aspire One 521 with ATI Radeon HD 4225 graphics. But the Lenovo ThinkPad X100e still socres almost twice as high as the Lenovo IdeaPad U150 with integrated Intel graphics.
I also ran the Street Fighter IV benchmark, which is basically designed to see if a computer is powerful enough to run this graphically intensive video game. With an average frame rate of 12.74, the X100e is not.
But the computer’s overall score was very close to that of the Acer Aspire One 521 when i adjusted the screen resolution to 1024 x 600 to level the playing field. Bear in mind, the Acer laptop has a more powerful graphics card, but the ThinkPad has a dual core CPU instead of a single core processor.
It’s also worth noting that Lenovo packs the X100e with Power Manager software that lets you adjust system settings to boost performance or prolong battery life depending on your needs. Basically you slide a fader between a power icon and a battery icon to dim the display, adjust the CPU clock speed, and adjust other performance settings.
All that said, here’s what you really need to know about the Lenovo ThinkPad X100e when it comes to performance: It’s not a high end gaming rig, but it can handle local HD video playback and some 3D graphics tasks. 720p HD Flash video plays smoothly, although 1080p HD movie trailers on YouTube looked choppy — but let’s be honest, why do you need to watch 1080p HD Flash video on a machine with a 1366 x 768 pixel display?
The computer’s fast enough that you won’t notice any significant lag when surfing the web with multiple browser tabs open or while working on spreadsheets or or presentations.
You can probably run Photoshop and other apps that would be difficult to run on a netbook with a slower processor and a lower resolution display. But the AMD Neo processor line was designed to offer a balance of decent performance and battery life — it’s not exactly a high power chip so you could definitely get a faster notebook if you spend more money or decide you don’t need an ultraportable.
As I mentioned above, the Lenovo X100e ships with Power Manager software that lets you adjust settings to prolong battery life. And that makes testing the battery performance a bit tricky. But overall I was reasonably impressed with the run time I was able to get from the laptop’s 63Whr 6 cell battery.
With the power saver settings set to medium, the screen brightness was about 60% and the maximum CPU speed was set at “lowest.” Under these conditions, I was able to get about 5 hours of run time.
When I adjusted the settings to make the screen brighter and the CPU faster, the run time dropped to about 4 hours. I suspect you could probably squeeze a little more time out of the computer by further reducing the screen brightness, turning off the wireless, or adjusting other settings.
While you’d definitely get better battery life out of a machine with a lower power processor such as an Intel Atom chip, 5 hours isn’t bad for the kind for a machine that’s about twice as fast as a typical netbook.
Lenovo offers dual core models of the ThinkPad X100e for $499 and up, and given my experience with this laptop that’s a pretty good price for what you get. Unfortunately, the AMD chips used in these laptops are already dated, and I suspect you would get better performance and similar battery life out of a newer laptop with a dual core AMD Athlon II Neo K325 processor.
On the other hand, the Lenovo ThinkPad X100e with an AMD Turion Neo X2 dual core L625 processor is reasonably fast, gets reasonably good battery life, and has an excellent keyboard. If you’re looking for a thin and light notebook designed with a business-class look and feel, the X100e is one of the most affordable options on the market. And good luck finding another machine in this price range with Lenovo’s TrackPoint system.