Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

Lenovo ThinkPad X201s - mini review

Lenovo ThinkPad X201s - mini review

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imageIt’s fascinating to have one of the smallest ThinkPads made, sitting side-by-side with one of the largest.  The mighty W510 sitting next to the diminutive X201s.  But don’t let size fool you.  The X201s evaluation unit I received has more under the hood than you’d expect.  The W510 I have is my machine refresh laptop and will be with me for the next three years.  Sure makes for an interesting comparison.  But this post is about the little guy so lets dive in.

The Specs, Performance and Battery Life

The model I received is the ThinkPad X201s 5397-FFU.  It has the Intel® Core™ i7 processor i7-640LM (dual core), Intel HD Graphics, 12.1” WXGA+ 1440x900 resolution screen, 320GB 7200rpm Hitachi hard drive, modem, Intel Ethernet, Intel 6200 WIFI, etc.  The model came with the 47+ six cell battery so that is what you see in the picture tour below.

The Windows Experience Index number for this machine is a paltry 3.3.  However, that number is somewhat misleading.  The dual core CPU scored a 6.5 which is very good.  The memory that came with this eval unit scored a 5.9 which is also respectable.  The hard drive scored a 5.9 which is about as good as it gets for a 2.5” laptop hard drive.  The only way to improve that is to move to a SSD drive.  I recommend the Intel X-25M 160GB Second Generation drive if you do.

The place the machine falls down on performance is the GPU.  The Intel HD Graphics only scores a 3.3 which ends up being the overall WEI as a result.  If you are just going to use this machine for email, spreadsheets, surfing the web and other tasks that aren’t graphics intensive, you should be fine with this machine.

As for battery life, I did a test today that was pretty interesting.  I set the Windows 7 power management profile to balanced.  I changed the settings so the LCD would not dim or turn off. I then fired up Tweetdeck and let it monitor the tweets on the internet.  The machine lasted for five hours on battery.  This is the 6-cell 47+ battery so obviously setting or creating a power profile that is more aggressive at power management is going to extend those results.

The Size and Feel

I don’t have the exact specs because this model isn’t listed in the tabook.pdf comprehensive reference materials. This machine is easy grabbed and carried around with one hand.  Sitting on the couch you can balance it on one knee.  It’s not tiny netbook size, but not far off.  This machine would pair nicely with the W510.  Use the W510 for chores like video encoding or compiling code, but when you need to travel grab the X201s and hit the road.  In fact, having carried two ThinkPad T61p’s around many times, I would have no problem traveling with the W510 and the X201s.

The machine feels good to hold onto.  The battery design is easily gripped.  And of course the case is tacky so it isn’t slippery like some other devices that will remain nameless.

The Keyboard, TrackPoint and TrackPad

One of the commenter's at a forum area I read mentioned that a benefit of the widescreen laptops is they provide enough room for a full size keyboard.  Barely.  The keyboard is certainly full sized but it’s edge to edge.  Pretty cool in my book.  It got me thinking, how does the keyboard size compare to the W510.

That was easily answered.  I just opened the W510 up and set the X201s on top of the keyboard.  They look nearly identical from a size perspective.  The X201s keyboard feels great. ThinkPad owners will feel right at home.

If you are a TrackPoint user, you’ll find the red dot in the usual spot.  If you have historically been a TrackPad (Ultranav) user, then you’ll probably find yourself using the TrackPoint more with this laptop.  The Trackpad is pretty small and one of the few complaints I have about the machine.  From looking around on the Internet, I am not alone.

If I were Lenovo engineering, I probably would have considered a different design.  The mouse click buttons above the trackpad are full size, so it seems there was an opportunity to make them smaller and the TrackPad bigger.  I know you can order a X201 without the trackpad, but I guess the current design is as good as it gets.  There’s only so much room and I’d rather have a full size keyboard.

The Screen

I am quite impressed with the little screen.  Certainly 1440x900 resolution on a 12.1” screen isn’t going to be for everyone, but I like it and wouldn’t think twice about ordering it for long term use.  Your other option on the X201 is a 1280x800 native res screen and I’m sure that would drive me nuts over time.  The brightness for the 1280x800 screen is 200 nits but the 1440x900 screen on the eval unit I have seems brighter.  I have no way of knowing for sure due to the lack of official specifications.

Keep in mind the machine and any video monitors you might use are being driven by the Intel HD Graphics onboard chipset.  This is not a high performing GPU.  It is designed to get the job done for an Information Worker (IW) role and it certainly handles Windows 7 and some of the typical apps like Office 2010 with ease.  See the section below on virtualization about concerns with the video driver.

A Photo Tour 

The following photos show the ThinkPad W510 on bottom, then the T410, then X201 Tablet, and finally on the top you have the ThinkPad X201s.

  • Front - as you can see in the picture, I have the W510, T410, X201 tablet and X201s stacked on top of each other to give you a size and port placement comparison across these machines.  I’ll be using the W510 for the next three years as it’s my daily machine now.  All four of the machines have a lid release level and several of the machines have the Ricoh multicard reader on front.  The black shiny bump on the tablet is an antenna. It looks nearly identical to the bumps that were on the T60p.
  • Back - like the front, there isn’t a lot going on in the back.  Notice the 6-cell battery and feet for it.  It has the rest of the X201s jacked up in the air in the back.  It’s a little odd.
  • Top - the top down view of the machines is slightly off center so it makes the picture look a little weird.  The shadows also play tricks on your eyes. I lined the machines up flush left (or pretty close) and you can see the two X machines are the same width.  It’s pretty clear how much smaller they are compared to the T410 and W510.  That’s a blue Windows 7 lid sticker on the W510.
  • Left - as you can see, most of the ports are located on the left side of these machines. Please refer to the Front and back pics for the stack order.  Notice on the T410 and W510 the DisplayPort connection.  The W510 has two blue USB 3.0 ports and a USB/eSATA combo port.  Firewire IEEE 1394 is also present on the W510.  Pay particular attention to the size of the X machines.  The X201s is much smaller from a depth and thinness perspective.  If I would have lined them up flush with the front edge it would be much more pronounced in the picture. In your hand it’s a huge difference.  Another interesting thing on the X machines is the 54mm ExpressCard slot present in the pic.  That surprised me.  It you wanted to run a virtualization product like Hyper-V and attached an external hard drive via an eSATA ExpressCard you could.
  • Right - like the left side, there’s all sorts of interesting stuff to notice.  The primary hard drive bay and cover is visible on this side and the eval unit I have has a standard Hitachi 320GB 7200rpm hard drive.  I would replace that hard drive right away with a good fast SSD drive to reduce heat and noise. Look closely at the back rubber feet on the X201s which is the machine on the top.  The battery is so thick the normal feet don’t even touch.  You don’t really notice this when the machine is on your lap, but I thought I would point it out. The W510 has an oddly placed Ethernet port on the right side.  I’m glad it’s close to the back.  This sort of stuff really makes you wonder how machines are designed. The hard drive adaptor in the W510 can also be used in the T410.  It leaves that ugly little gap in the W510 Ultrabay but on the bright side, there’s room for the fatty Blu-ray drive. The W510 has a 34mm ExpressCard slot.  The Ricoh multicard reader is also visible.  The combo audio jack is visible on the T410 and W510.  I really don’t know what Lenovo was thinking on the combo jack.  The T410 also has a 34mm ExpressCard slot and you can see the eSATA port just below it. 
  • X201s compared to the W510 - you’ll notice I called this picture “Father and Son”.  I thought it was fitting.  I opened up the W510 and placed the X201s on top.

Virtualization

This machine is obviously not built to run a server operating system.  And it was designed to run several virtual machines.  But that doesn’t mean it won’t. The Intel i-7 CPU in this model does have Intel-VT capabilities and will run Windows Server 2008 R2 with the Hyper-V role.  I did a limited test.  It installs.  I started creating a Windows 7 Enterprise x64 VM and it was happily doing that as well.

Given this machine has a decent dual core CPU, is capable of having 8GB RAM, has a 54mm ExpressCard slot for high speed eSATA I/O, it isn’t out of the scope of reason to use the machine for some demos or virtualization.  There’s just one problem.  The Intel HD Graphics video drivers really didn’t like Windows 2008 R2.  They also didn’t like the SP1 Beta.  I downloaded and tried the lenovo.com and intel.com video drivers.  I didn’t have success.  Therefore I could only get the standard VGA driver to work the ships with Windows Server.  This is going to b a problem for anyone wanting to use the LCD native resolution, multiple monitors, or an external projector.

Summary

If you are looking for a 12” screen laptop, this should be on the list of candidates.  If you really must have an optical drive, you’ll probably either want to purchase the expansion base, or use an external DVD drive like I do.  If you must have the optical drive in the laptop, then you should look at other models from Lenovo like the X301 which apparently isn’t going to be around much longer.

imageWhen I did some Bing searches for the specifications, I noticed this particular model was selling for $1900 at many of the online retailers.  Considering it’s pretty well loaded up, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.  Size and convenience has a cost. 

Lenovo has the X201 on sale right now and a Model 3249 with the WXGA 1280x800 screen is $1189.  See the configuration at right for the rest of the items in that order.  You can certainly configure a machine that has a lower cost, but this is pretty similar to the evaluation unit I have, except for the screen.

Like I said, this is a cool little machine that appears to be the replacement model for the X301 that is supposedly going out of production.  Lenovo has been saying that for several months, but considering they didn’t upgrade the X301 to a i3, i5 or i7 processor it looks like eventually the X301 will disappear from the buying site.

In the meantime, enjoy the X201s.  It’s a great little machine.

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  • Hi Keith

    A very well done review about a machine I consider to buy alternatively to the X301 oder T410(s). Are you planning a review of the more powerful alternative T410s? Thanks for your Lenovo tests, I always look at. MGM

  • I actually don't need the physical T410s to do a review on it.  I had the previous model, the T400s, for 30 days and I'm pretty familar with the changes that were made for the T410s. If you can afford it, it's a good machine. Like the x201s, you are certainly paying a premium for something thin and light. Strike one in my book.

    If you order the T410s with the switchable graphics, that drops the ExpressCard slot. Strike two.

    There really isn't a strike three unless you get concerned about the primary drive bay. The primary drive bay only uses 1.8" drives. At the moment there are good hard drives and SSDs in the 1.8" form factor. But if you have a failure while out on the road, you might have some challenges finding a quick replacement drive.

    Since the machine didn't make the cut for our fiscal guidelines, I am not going to request an eval unit.

  • thanks for your generous review :)

  • Hi Keith,

    >In the meantime, enjoy the X201s.  It’s a great little machine.

    I would if I could get my hands on one.

    I thought this machine had been discontinued because Lenovo were having problems sourcing parts (screen and possibly CPU).  It is no longer listed on their website in the US or various other sites overseas.  This is a shame because the screen resolution makes it a much more attractive option than the T210 (without the 's') and it still has a 2.5inch drive (unlike the T410s).

    How did you get your unit?  Do you know whether the T210s should be available via the Lenovo website again in the near future?

    I've tried phoning Lenovo sales but get no information.

  • George,

    Sorry for the delayed response. I got busy this week and forgot the comment. As for answers to your questions, here's how this works. I request an eval unit from my Lenovo rep. They send me something. It's really pot luck. I receive whatever the Lenovo "Try It" program company has in stock and that's what they sent me.

    I did look around because I could not find the model in the tabook.pdf file. I don't really know what that means. You could be right about the screen and sourcing issues, I don't know. We went through that with the W510. Demand out stripped supply for several months (Jan-May).

    Hopefully the 1440x900 screen will come back and be available on lenovo.com.  Until then if you really want the model I have, it appears some of the online retailers have them.  But it's going to cost you.

  • You mentioned that "The Intel HD Graphics video drivers really didn't like Windows 2008 R2". Can you be more specific? What technically, was the issue?

  • They would not install.