Lenovo ThinkPad X120e
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Editors’ note: Originally scheduled for mid-February availability, the launch of this product has been delayed until March 8, 2011.
A new wave of AMD Fusion processors aimed at 11.6-inch ultraportables is making its way into Netbook-size laptops, promising a new generation of tiny, well-powered budget super-Netbooks. Stick one into a ThinkPad design, and you have the ThinkPad X120e, an update to last year’s ThinkPad X100e (which had AMD’s Neo processor). We liked the compact feel and excellent keyboard, but the battery life back then was too short for everyday use.
The new ThinkPad X120e ranges in price from $399 to nearly $1,000; our version costs $579 and has a 1.6GHz AMD Fusion E-350 dual-core processor–the same one as in the HP Pavilion dm1, the first laptop we reviewed with an AMD Fusion processor.
The AMD Fusion upgrade amounts to a win for this ThinkPad. The X120e offers improved graphics and a markedly better battery life at a lower price than its predecessor, the X100e. Still, that price is significantly higher than a Netbook–or, for that matter, the HP Pavilion dm1, an 11.6-incher with the same AMD e-350 processor, which starts at $450 for a comparable build. A lot of 11.6-inchers will feature this new AMD Fusion platform, which means there will be a lot of choices for interested shoppers. Consider the ThinkPad X120e a pricier, but slightly more professional, spin on the competition. It’s also the best ThinkPad budget ultraportable we’ve seen.
Matte black, solid, and unassuming, the ThinkPad X120e’s design emulates the look of most ThinkPads. It screams professional, but it’s hardly something that will turn heads. Being more than an inch thick doesn’t help, but the tapered front end helps slim the look and offers a lip for easy pick-up on coffee tables. The X120e hasn’t changed a bit compared with the ThinkPad X100e, and that includes the unfortunate bulging battery on the back end. With a laptop that’s not exactly svelte, we’re surprised that the battery couldn’t have been better integrated.
Inside, the X120e is a ThinkPad in miniature. A matte screen and the keyboard deck are framed in solid black plastic all around; the screen hinge also mirrors the feel of its larger cousins. A full-size edge-to-edge raised chiclet-style keyboard is the star of the show ergonomically, with great key response and a comfortable layout for typists. Shift and Enter keys are full-size, and there aren’t any nonsense side columns of keys squishing the classic QWERTY layout. At the top, there’s a narrow row of Function keys; holding down a Function key to activate volume, screen brightness, and other oft-used controls is required.
We’re less thrilled about the touch pad. Though the multitouch pad is solidly built, its small, narrow, and wide surface area has a clipped vertical space because of an excess of buttons added by design–namely, both bottom and top buttons. The redundancy has been in the ThinkPad X120e, and many other ThinkPads, thanks to the rubbery trackpoint that still stays lodged in the middle of the keyboard. The top buttons are there for the trackpoint control, for those who prefer a no-touch-pad lifestyle. Enough already, Lenovo; though some might like these nubbins, they’re keeping the rest of us from easily pulling off two-finger gestures. It’s time to move on, at least in these compact 11-inch systems.
The matte 11.6-inch screen, with a 1,366×768-pixel native resolution, is as good as on the X100e. Glare is significantly reduced thanks to the lack of a glossy screen overlay, and as a result text is much easier to read. Videos and pictures still look sharp, but not quite as vibrant as on some other screens we’ve seen. The X120e’s lid bends back a full 180 degrees, opening up flat with the keyboard base, but the screen’s clarity suffers at extreme angles.
Stereo speakers situated under the keyboard at the front of the X120e offer volume that’s louder than expected, with a profile that’s perfect for spoken word and Web chat. They’re better than the average speakers in an ultraportable. An included 1,280×720-pixel Webcam has better low-light sensitivity and overall picture quality than some Netbook-level competitors’. Video quality looked smoothest at 640×480 pixels. For Web conferencing, the X120e has a slight leg up on other 11.6-inchers. To that end, professionals will likely be enticed by the ThinkVantage suite of software tools, as well as the preinstalled Windows 7 Professional operating system.
The ThinkPad X120e has a USB port that charges devices while the laptop’s powered off, along with Bluetooth and HDMI-out. These features are all identical to what we saw on the ThinkPad X100e. Our $579 configuration also includes 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 320GB, 7,200rpm hard drive. Though the X120e has an entry-level model priced at a more reasonable $399, that config uses the slower AMD E-240 CPU, and has 1GB of RAM and a 250GB, 5,400rpm hard drive–and no Bluetooth.
The 1.6GHz AMD E-350 CPU featured in our configuration of the ThinkPad X120e includes onboard semidiscrete graphics, part of a new platform named AMD Fusion. These energy-efficient processors are targeted at 11.6-inch ultraportables, designed as a replacement of sorts to the AMD Neo line of CPUs. We’ve started seeing a flood of AMD Fusion 11.6-inchers hitting stores, and we expect to see even more throughout this year.
The promise of the AMD Fusion platform–better graphics, longer battery life–seems like it’s been delivered based on our benchmarking of the ThinkPad X120e. Overall CPU performance is relatively similar to the dual-core AMD Turion Neo X2 we reviewed last year, but slightly slower. That amounts to performance that’s significantly better than any Netbook, and approaches the level of processing power one would normally expect out of a full laptop. Yet, it still falls behind the performance of the 11-inch MacBook Air, or Core i7 ULV-equipped ultraportables, such as the Acer Timeline X. Those laptops are also far more expensive.
From a casual-user standpoint, the AMD Fusion platform clearly delivers. Multitasking, HD video streaming, and a multitude of other programming tasks are easily pulled off. Even better, the X120e’s side heat vent didn’t seem to blast as hot as the dual-core X100e did when we ran multiple programs on it. It works the way we’d expect an ultraportable in this size class to: somewhere between a Netbook and a full-fledged computer.
The included AMD Radeon HD 6310 graphics on the E-350 are actually pretty good for such a small laptop. Unreal Tournament 3 played at 40.9 frames per second at 1,366×768-pixel resolution and medium graphics settings, and Street Fighter IV even benchmarked at 25fps–technically “unplayable,” according to the game’s test, but a great demonstration that AMD Fusion can actually play some games. Casual and even basic mainstream games with low graphics settings should play well on the ThinkPad X120e. Of course, most people buying the X120e aren’t thinking of games–but if this system can game, it should also be able to handle some basic graphics work, which could be helpful for some mobile professionals. And, hey, a little Bejeweled 3 never hurt anyone, right?
Lenovo ThinkPad X120e
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