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Lenovo ThinkPad X201 3626 review: Lenovo ThinkPad X201 3626

Lenovo ThinkPad X201 3626

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
6 min read

Few brands have as firmly established a brand identity as the Lenovo ThinkPad (and the IBM ThinkPad before that). The iconic look and feel of these systems have changed in only subtle ways over the years, maintaining a road-tested list of features, from the solid, chunky keyboards to the jutting top lip of the display lid to the familiar red trackpoint and secondary mouse buttons.


Lenovo ThinkPad X201 3626

The Good

Powerful processor in a 12-inch laptop; excellent battery life; typical ThinkPad-quality construction.

The Bad

Bulky for a 12-inch laptop; expensive for a nongaming system.

The Bottom Line

Anyone looking for the power of a midsize laptop in a compact 12-inch body has only a few choices, and none to date tops Lenovo's excellent ThinkPad X201.

The ThinkPad X machines are small, if not exactly svelte, versions of the bigger ThinkPads found in corporate offices around the world. The current version of the X201 maintains a surprisingly large keyboard, accomplished by literally running the keys to the very edges of the chassis, as well as a 12-inch display and Intel's latest Core i5 processor.

It's about as powerful an ultraportable package as you're likely to find (and a wholly different beast from the other small-but-mighty laptop we've seen recently, the Dell Alienware M11x), but it's also not nearly as portable as most 11- or 12-inch Netbook-style systems. We could see shaving a little mass off by ditching the trackpoint (which requires a large wrist rest to accommodate its double set of mouse buttons), but at the same time, we're happy to shoulder a little more weight in return for the semirugged feel and the peace of mind the construction provides.


Price as reviewed / Starting price$1,464 / $1,099
Processor2.53GHz Intel Core i5 M540
Memory4GB, 1066MHz DDR2
Hard drive320GB 7,200rpm
ChipsetIntel HM55
GraphicsIntel Media Accelerator HD (integrated)
Operating SystemWindows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD)11.6 x 10.1 inches
Height1.3 inches
Screen size (diagonal)12.1 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter3.8 / 4.5 pounds

If the Lenovo ThinkPad X201 looks familiar, that's exactly the point. Similar to the rest of Lenovo's ThinkPad line, and virtually identical to the last X-series ThinkPad we reviewed, there's a satisfying sameness to the micromanaged (in a good way) design details. Sure, there are occasional tweaks and improvements, but today's ThinkPad retains much of the design DNA of systems from years ago.

Interestingly, however, Lenovo has started to seriously experiment with its standard look and feel, starting with the underrated consumer-targeted IdeaPad series. We've seen new colors, new keyboards, and an overall much flashier look from those systems, and some of those ideas have started to bleed over to the commercial side, with laptops such as the ThinkPad Edge.

This system, however, sticks to the traditional beats. Exactly where in the list of contenders it places is up to individual taste, but Lenovo's chunky tapered-key keyboards are in nearly everyone's top tier of laptop keyboards. The look is positively retro now, with many (including several Lenovo models) switching to flat-topped island-style keyboards. That said, this version of Lenovo's classic keyboard is a dream, with easy to hit keys, large versions of the Shift and other important keys, and absolutely zero flex, under even heavy typing. Our only complaint would be that on this smaller keyboard tray, the red trackpoint button seems bigger than ever, and we occasionally stumbled over it while typing.

The recessed touch pad has a slick, accurate surface and is easy to use, although it seems small compared with the generous keyboard, as if it had to be shrunk down to squeeze in the second row of mouse buttons above it.

One of the reasons ThinkPads are popular with big companies, small businesses, and individual consumers alike is the specialized suite of software and support apps that come with every system. Called ThinkVantage, and handily summoned by a dedicated blue button just above the keyboard, the ThinkVantage interface gives you one-stop access to security and diagnostic tools, plus Lenovo support features. It's a very useful tool, but at the same time, it may be our imagination, but there does seem to be more advertising for Lenovo accessories and services in ThinkVantage than we recall from previous versions.

The 12.1-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800-pixel native resolution, which is standard for many 13- and 14-inch laptops (12-inch models themselves are a relative rarity). It's essentially a 16:10 aspect ratio version of the 1,366x768-pixel displays seen on 16:9 laptops with wider screens.

One of the best reasons for a nonbusiness user to consider a biz-oriented system like this is Lenovo's matte displays--a nice change of pace from the overly glossy screens we usually see (or try to see, through the ever-present glare).


Lenovo ThinkPad X201Average for category [ultraportable]
VideoVGA outVGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
AudioStereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacksStereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data3 USB 2.0, SD card reader2 USB 2.0, SD card reader
NetworkingEthernet, modem, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadbandEthernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical driveNoneNone, or DVD burner

Lenovo laptops are typically highly configurable, although they rarely offer much in the way of CPU or GPU choice. Instead, you get a variety of options for RAM, hard drives, networking, and even operating system. Even the ExpressCard slot, nearly extinct among consumer laptops, is here, offering some extra expansion flexibility, as well as an equally rare old-fashioned modem jack--both are more frequently found on business systems than on consumer ones.

Intel's Core i5 CPU, in this case the 2.53GHz Intel Core i5 M540, continues to impress. Especially as it's packed into a 12-inch system (even if it's on the large side of 12-inch models). You're not going to find many laptops at this size that can pack in the same power as a mainstream 15-inch system; the only comparable ultraportable we can think of right now is Sony's Vaio Z116. The end result is a laptop that can handle just about any nongraphics-intensive chore you can throw at it.

Juice box
Lenovo ThinkPad X201Average watts per hour
Off (60 percent)0.80
Sleep (10 percent)1.1
Idle (25 percent)8.88
Load (5 percent)29.57
Raw kWh37.57
Annual power consumption cost$4.26

Annual power consumption cost

Toshiba Satellite T135D-1324


Lenovo Thinkpad X201


Asus Eee PC 1201N


Sony Vaio VPC-Z116GX/S


The Lenovo ThinkPad X201 ran for 6 hours and 52 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included six-cell battery. That's very impressive, and usually the kind of numbers we only see in the best low-power Netbooks. Working in the system's favor are its larger battery (the extended battery we tested sticks out from the back significantly) and the smart power management built into Lenovo's ThinkVantage software.

Lenovo includes only a one-year mail-in parts-and-labor warranty by default, but if you're buying a ThinkPad for mission-critical office use, you'll probably want to upgrade to a combination of a longer term and onsite service. Moving up to a three-year term that also includes onsite service will run $223, and a variety of other options are available. The battery itself is not covered by extended warranties, but you can add a "no questions asked" three-year battery coverage plan for $139. Online support is accessible through a 24-7, toll-free phone line, and an easy-to-navigate online support site with a knowledge base and driver downloads.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Sony Vaio VPC-Z116GX/S

Lenovo Thinkpad X201


Toshiba Satellite T135D-1324


Asus Eee PC 1201N


Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Sony Vaio VPC-Z116GX/S

Lenovo Thinkpad X201


Toshiba Satellite T135D-1324


Asus Eee PC 1201N


Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Lenovo Thinkpad X201

Sony Vaio VPC-Z116GX/S


Toshiba Satellite T135D-1324


Asus Eee PC 1201N


Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Lenovo Thinkpad X201

Toshiba Satellite T135D-1324


Sony Vaio VPC-Z116GX/S


Asus Eee PC 1201N


Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations:

Lenovo Thinkpad X201
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.53GHz Intel Core i5 M540; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 64MB (Dedicated)/1273MB (Total) Intel GMA HD; 320 Hitachi 7,200rpm

Sony Vaio VPC-Z116GX/S
Windows 7 Professional (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 M520; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 330M; 256GB Intel SSD

Toshiba Satellite T135D-1324
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz AMD Turion Neo X2 Dual-Core L625; 4096MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3200; 320GB Toshiba 5,400rpm

Asus Eee PC 1201N
Windows 7 Home Premium; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N330 Dual-Core, 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 2050MHz; 256MB Nvidia ION; 250GB Hitachi 5,400rpm


Lenovo ThinkPad X201 3626

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Battery 9Support 7