ThinkPad X series review: ThinkPad X series

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
  • Overall: 8.0
  • Design: 7.0
  • Features: 9.0
  • Performance: 7.0
  • Battery life: 9.0
  • Service and support: 9.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Sophisticated, durable design; Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled; great keyboard and pointing stick; CompactFlash slot; security features.

The Bad No Pentium 4-M; few graphics accelerator choices; slightly larger and heavier than the competition.

The Bottom Line The ThinkPad X series squeezes a lot of computer into a very small package.

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The IBM ThinkPad X series offers an excellent balance between what you want in a notebook and what you want to carry. Starting at 3.6 pounds, this mighty mite shoehorns in a 12.1-inch screen and enough creature comforts to make this a valuable travel companion. The top X-series configuration has lots of memory, a big hard drive, and works with a new X3 UltraBase that can hold a long-lasting second battery. All three versions of the ThinkPad X series also offer unusual features such as a security chip, a CompactFlash slot, a keyboard light, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless networking on some models. Add it all up, and you may never need to return to your desk. We highly recommend the ThinkPad X series, despite its merely average ValueWatch rating. Even in its ultraportables, IBM doesn't stray much from its tried-and-true ThinkPad design. The ThinkPad X series comes in the same matte black and has the same beveled-edge design (the base has a slightly smaller footprint than the top) as the larger ThinkPad T-, R-, and A-series notebooks. The titanium-composite case makes the X series both stronger and lighter than notebooks that use conventional plastics, and its textured surfaces create an alluring look and feel. Of course, if you want a notebook with a little more sex appeal, other manufacturers such as Sony and HP offer products with stylized, futuristic designs. But the sophisticated X series will look equally at home in meetings or on the kitchen table.

TrackPoint pointing device and Internet Scroll Bar.
The well-balanced X series measures roughly 1.2 inches high by 10.7 inches wide by 8.9 inches deep with a travel weight of 3.6 pounds. A little narrower and longer than the current X23 and X24 designs, the road-ready X30 that we tested weighed just more than 4 pounds with its 15-ounce power adapter. Most competing ultraportables, including the Compaq Evo N400, the Dell Latitude X200, the Gateway 200, the Sony VAIO SRX series, and the Toshiba Portégé 2000, are generally a little smaller and lighter, but few of them match the breadth of features available in the X series.

The ThinkPad X series features IBM's legendary keyboard with sturdy, standard-sized keys and a large, easy-to-find spacebar. For those who burn the midnight oil, the ThinkLight, located on the top edge of the display, can help illuminate the keys. With IBM's distinctive TrackPoint keyboard, you can place the cursor anywhere, although we prefer the new pointing stick and touchpad combination (UltraNav) on the ThinkPad T series.

While all of the ThinkPad X-series notebooks look the same from a distance, the X30 generally offers better components underneath its hood. For example, the X23 and X24 have slightly slower 866MHz or 1.13GHz Pentium III-M CPUs and support hard drives of only 30GB or less and a maximum 640MB of system memory. The X30 comes in speeds of 1.06GHz and 1.2GHz but still uses the older Pentium III design. (The X30 can't handle the heat produced by the latest Pentium 4-M processors.) The 9.5mm hard drive comes in 20GB and 40GB capacities but unfortunately spins at a slow 4,200rpm. The system can hold up to a gigabyte of SDRAM in its two DIMM memory slots.

Despite its diminutive size, the IBM ThinkPad X series offers a staggering variety of component choices, except when it comes to graphics. The X30 features an Intel 830MG Extreme graphics controller, which uses between 8MB and 48MB of system memory for video. As a result, the 12.1-inch XGA screen never looks particularly brilliant, even at its highest brightness setting. While the display is adequate for general business use, gamers should look elsewhere. The X23 and X24 come with an ATI Mobility Radeon M6 graphics accelerator with 8MB of dedicated memory--a more-advanced video system than the X30's shared memory architecture.

We tested an X30 with a 1.2GHz Intel Pentium III-M, 256MB of SDRAM, a 40GB hard drive, and the Intel Extreme graphics controller set to use 8MB of shared system memory. (You can configure it to use up to 48MB, depending on your needs.)

The audio ports, the FireWire port, and the PC Card slots are on the left side.

The drive is on the right side with the product in the X3 UltraBase.

IBM manages to cram a surprising assortment of components into a small case. In addition to the usual LAN and modem connections, the X30 comes with a built-in Wi-Fi radio; the buyer gets the choice of an Intel or Cisco mini-PCI module. If you want a totally tricked-out system, the top-of-the-line X30 offers an optional Bluetooth radio. With the X23 and X24 models, you must choose between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless radios.

The ThinkPad X series provides a good mix of old and new ports, including two USB; 56K modem and Ethernet jacks; headphone, line-in, and microphone jacks; and S-Video out. IBM color-codes all the plugs for easy recognition but fails to include covers to help keep out dirt and dust. The left edge features an infrared port; a Type II PC Card slot; and a CompactFlash slot--a rarity these days but perfect for owners of digital cameras or MP3 players. The X30 model also includes FireWire and parallel ports. An optional X3 UltraBase ($199) adds a pair of speakers; a plethora of ports; and a modular bay for an optical, floppy, or Zip drive. At 2.2 pounds with a CD drive in place, however, it should remain on the desk and not in your briefcase.

Rear-panel right.

Rear-panel left.

When it comes to security, IBM manages to outdo all its competitors. Certain X-series models feature a built-in security chip and client software, which makes logging on to a corporate network safe and easy. The rest of the software depends on the specific model of the ThinkPad X series that you choose; some include Windows 2000 Professional, and others have Windows XP Professional. None include a productivity suite out of the box, though you can upgrade to a version of Office XP. The X30 comes with Lotus SmartSuite Millennium Edition, Lotus Notes Client, and a host of PC utilities, such as Veritas RecordNow for backing up your hard drive or individual files to an optical disc.

In CNET Labs' tests, we clocked the ThinkPad X30 against the Compaq Evo N410c and the Gateway 200, two competing ultraportable notebooks. The ThinkPad X30 delivered acceptable performance on applications tests, placing second to the Evo N410c. However, the minuscule difference in performance between the two systems will go largely unnoticed in real-world use. On battery tests, the ThinkPad X30 turned in admirable numbers, beating the Evo N410c in another close race. The slower, 933MHz Pentium III-M Gateway 200 finished last on both counts.

MobileMark2002 mobile performance test
On everyday application tests, the ThinkPad X30 scored just two points below the similarly configured Evo N410c. While merely average, the ThinkPad X30 offers more than enough speed to please most corporate users.

Longer bars indicate faster performance
Compaq Evo N410c
IBM ThinkPad X30
Gateway 200
System configurations:

Compaq Evo N410c
Windows XP Professional; 1.2GHz Intel Pentium III-M; 256MB SDRAM 133MHz; Intel 82830M graphics controller 32MB (8MB shared); Hitachi DK23DA-40 40GB 4,200rpm

Gateway 200
Windows XP Professional; 933MHz Intel Pentium III-M; 248MB SDRAM 133MHz; Trident Video Accelerator CyberBlade X 16MB (shared); Toshiba MK2018GAP 20GB 4,200rpm

IBM ThinkPad X30
Windows XP Professional; 1.2GHz Intel Pentium III-M; 248MB SDRAM 133MHz; Intel Extreme graphics controller 48MB (8MB shared); Hitachi DK23EA-40 40GB 4,200rpm

For a 1.2GHz notebook, the ThinkPad X30 demonstrated impressive battery life, thanks to its 10.8-volt, 4,400mAh, lithium-ion battery. It lasted a full four hours, barely beating the Evo N410c with its 14.4-volt, 2,700mAh, lithium-ion battery. The X30 also offers a clip-on $190 extended-life battery pack, which doubles the capacity to about eight hours of stop-and-go computing. A second battery can also be used with the X3 UltraBase docking station, a $199 option.

MobileMark2002 battery-life test
Time is measured in minutes; longer bars indicate better performance
IBM ThinkPad X30
Compaq Evo N410c
Gateway 200
To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark2002. MobileMark measures application performance and battery life concurrently, using a number of popular applications: Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Netscape 6.0, WinZip 8.0, McAfee VirusScan 5.13, Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1, and Macromedia Flash 5.0.

System configurations:

Compaq Evo N410c
Windows XP Professional; 1.2GHz Intel Pentium III-M; 256MB SDRAM 133MHz; Intel 82830M graphics controller 32MB (8MB shared); Hitachi DK23DA-40 40GB 4,200rpm

Gateway 200
Windows XP Professional; 933MHz Intel Pentium III-M; 248MB SDRAM 133MHz; Trident Video Accelerator CyberBlade X 16MB (shared); Toshiba MK2018GAP 20GB 4,200rpm

IBM ThinkPad X30
Windows XP Professional; 1.2GHz Intel Pentium III-M; 248MB SDRAM 133MHz; Intel Extreme graphics controller 48MB (8MB shared); Hitachi DK23EA-40 40GB 4,200rpm

Access ThinkPad.
Service remains one of the jewels in IBM's crown. The ThinkPad X series comes with a solid three-year warranty and a worldwide network of support technicians and 24/7 phone banks. An onscreen manual, called Access ThinkPad, provides great information for beginners and veterans alike, and the IBM Web site contains a wealth of online resources, including manuals, troubleshooting tips, and accessories for older notebooks. You can also automatically find out when your warranty expires and get phone numbers for service in places from Abu Dhabi to the Turks and Caicos islands. To prevent theft, sign up for a free year of Absolute's Computrace service. If the thief uses your computer to log on to the Internet, the company can not only track down your hot computer but also remotely delete sensitive material from the hard drive. After the first year, it will cost you $74 for an additional four years.

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Where to Buy

ThinkPad X series

Part Number: 267242U Released: Aug 29, 2002

MSRP: $1,779.00

This product is not currently available.  Click here for  ThinkPad's latest offerings

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Aug 29, 2002
  • Installed Size 256 MB
  • CPU Intel Pentium III-M 1.2 GHz
  • Operating System Microsoft Windows XP Professional
  • Color Black
  • Weight 3.7 lbs
  • Graphics Processor AGP - Intel Extreme Graphics