Notebooks Guide

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 (Core i5-2520M, 160GB SSD) review

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 - Seriously Black

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Overall rating 9/10
Design:
9
Features:
9
Performance:
9
Value:
8
Mobility:
8
THE GOOD
Thin and light
Tough and durable build
SSD provides excellent performance boost
THE BAD
Integrated graphics
Expensive
Protective roll-cage does not extend to back of screen


Performance Benchmarking

Performance Benchmarking

The launch model of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 comes with a solid-state-drive (SSD) option and as a result, this is the same version we've got for our review too. While these drives are expensive, and come with relatively small storage space, they are the one factor that determines if your machine is a tortoise, or a hare in today's context. These drives also have no moving parts, so you can work with no worries while in transit to your next meeting. The X1 however does have other configurations with a normal hard drive if you're concerned of the cost. For now, here's how our review unit stacked up against a few other choice notebook models selected for comparisons.

Since we're still fresh into Sandy Bridge notebooks and companies are still refreshing their line-ups, we don't yet have an exhaustive test list, but it's a growing one surely. Add to the fact you can hardly have two identical notebook configurations for easy comparison, we'll have to make do with what's available and use our tech insight to derive if the reviewed notebook make's the grade or not. In this case, we chose a recently reviewed Sandy Bridge upgraded HP Pavilion dv6 using a Core i7 processor and an older Sony Vaio Z that ran on SSDs to have an idea how far a new and well-decked performance laptop like the ThinkPad X1 compares. Since the comparisons have discrete graphics, we've chosen to show their integrated graphics performance results to better compare with the ThinkPad X1's Intel integrated graphics.

Specifications / Notebook Lenovo ThinkPad X1  HP Pavilion dv6  Sony Vaio Z
Processor Intel Core i5-2520M
(dual-core, 2.5GHz)
Intel Core i7-2630QM
(quad-core, 2.0GHz)
Intel Core i7-620M
(dual-core, 2.66GHz)
Chipset Intel HM65 Intel HM65 Intel HM57
Memory 4GB DDR3 4GB DDR3 2 x 4GB DDR3
HDD 160GB SSD 750GB HDD (5400RPM) 4 x 64GB SSD
(RAID 0 Config)
Video Intel HD Graphics 3000 ATI Radeon HD 6770M / 
Intel HD Graphics 3000
NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M /
Intel GMA HD

 

 

PCMark Vantage

For comparison, we used one of the latest multimedia laptops, the second generation Sandy Bridge laptop HP Pavilion dv6, and one of last year’s top performers, the Sony Vaio Z which also uses an SSD drive array (RAID 0 configuration). The HP dv6 and the Sony Vaio Z both had discrete graphics cards. But to illustrate the ThinkPad X1's performance, we decided to use results derived from just using the integrated graphics.

The PCMark scores for the ThinkPad X1 were astounding. At 12109 points, it’s almost double HP’s latest second generation multimedia laptop, the HP Pavilion dv6 (integrated graphics). It also scored about 20% better than the Sony Vaio Z. You can tell that the SSD really improves overall test scores as a lot of these tests involve either fetching or writing content where the speedy SSD makes its presence felt. How else can an old Sony Vaio Z pounce the brand new HP Pavilion dv6 and itself lose to the seemingly lower specced ThinkPad X1?

It performed well in other detailed PCMark benchmark tests as well, but where it really pulls ahead is in the productivity (almost double the scores from Sony Vaio Z) and HDD (almost double again) tests. The RAID-0 SSD array configuration in the Sony Vaio Z theoretically sounds faster and it was in its heyday, but SSD drive technology has been improving at warp speed. The ThinkPad’s Intel SSD confirmed this point by trouncing the Sony Vaio Z in terms of pure speed. Of course the speedier Sandy Bridge Core i5 processor, along with the newer Intel HM65 chipset and its improved storage controller (derived from the same one used on the desktop P67/H67 chipsets) on the ThinkPad X1 helps as well.

This is particularly important for users who need their notebooks to crunch data and provide speedy access to their applications, because most tasks (music, movies, spreadsheets) involve your laptop drawing information from the storage drive. The faster it draws data, the faster it can work on it, which makes it seem like a no-brainer to upgrade your hard drive right? Well not really. Given the astronomical prices of SSDs these days, (the price seems to be dropping, but still a 128GB unit can cost you more than S$350) you’d seriously need the boost in OS performance to want to shell out for an SSD hard drive. If it's of any consolation, enthusiasts will tell you that once you make that change, you'll never want to look back again.

Note that this benchmark serves its purpose for mainstream usage needs, but if you're more attuned to professional work needs like 3D rendering, heavy graphics manipulation and video encoding, a quad-core machine like the HP Pavilion dv6 will definitely give you a marked advantage over dual-core machines as these tasks are very dependent on the CPU processing platform. The ThinkPad X1 can handle those tasks too, but the dv6 will do it faster as they are both built for different purposes.

 

3DMark06

As for its 3Dmarks scores, it fared much better than the HP dv6 and Vaio Z running on integrated graphics. However, the reason for its lead is linked to the nature of this old benchmark. Because it doesn't really benefit much from a multi-core processor, a HP Pavilion dv6 with a lower clocked quad-core processor ranked lower than the Lenovo ThinkPad X1's faster clocked dual-core processor. Both notebooks have the same integrated graphics engine - an Intel HD Graphics 3000. Sony's Vaio Z with an older generation of Intel's Core processing platform naturally came in last despite a 'speedier' processor because its integrated graphics is much less capable.

Despite this old benchmark's limitation, many of the simpler and older games would best represent what we found in 3DMarl06. We would love to test with newer 3DMark benchmarks but it requires higher resolution screens that only come with more powerful systems. The Far Cry game benchmark was skipped because with scores like these, we wouldn’t recommend any graphics intensive gaming and it's also not this notebook's forte.

In any case, this section is just to reiterate what are the X1's capabilities realistically. Videos and other general multimedia needs should not be a concern as the integrated graphics is more than capable of such.