Technology is anything but timeless, but if such an animal as a timeless piece of tech existed; it might just be the ThinkPad. The ThinkPad has survived an ownership change (from IBM to Lenovo) without losing its distinctive qualities or market share: amazing. It’s still synonymous with the bulletproof laptop with the minimalist rectilinear design and soft touch black finish (the ThinkPad did soft touch long before it became popular on smartphones). The ThinkPad has one of the best keyboards in the business and features long battery life. It’s made for business, has an impressive array of management and security tools and ships minus bloatware. It’s not flashy and it’s never been cheap. Until now… OK, it’s still not cheap but the price of Lenovo’s ThinkPad X220 ultraportable on steroids no longer sits north of $1,600 (or dangerously close to $2,000). Pricing starts at $979 and a well-configured X220 like our review unit with an IPS display and a second gen 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 plus beefy battery costs $1,299.
The ThinkPad X220 replaces the successful and also laudable ThinkPad X201. Since the X220 weighs a mere 3 lbs. we doubt there will be an X220s to replace the X201s. It’s already that thin and light. Many netbooks weigh a bit more than the X220, yet the ThinkPad manages to pack a 12.5” display and powerful Sandy Bridge CPU with Huron chipset into the X220’s svelte roll cage magnesium alloy frame. It may not be as thin as the MacBook Air, but it weighs nearly as little and is faster.
There are 3, 6 and 9 cell battery options as well as a 19 cell battery slice that mounts on the bottom and can be used in conjunction with the 6 cell battery. As with the X201, runtimes are exceptional. The 6 cell lasted us up to 8 hours with WiFi on when web browsing and working on MS Office documents. Lenovo claims the 9 cell is good for 15 hours (we don’t have the 9 cell to test it). Even more impressive is the 6 cell standard battery plus 19 cell battery slice combo package: Lenovo claims 23 hours, and we’re still testing it. The battery slice weighs 1 lb. 9 ounces and has a button on the side you can press to see battery remaining in 25% increments. It mounts securely with no wiggles or jiggles, and has pass-through air vents. You can't use the Ultrabase while the slice is installed since it blocks access to the dock connector. The X220 ships with a very compact world charger.
Trackpad, Trackpoint and Keyboard
Like the Lenovo ThinkPad X100e and X120e, the X220 has a dual trackpad and Trackpoint setup. The usual ThinkPad eraser stick pointer has traditional buttons and the trackpad is buttonless (in reality the entire trackpad moves down and mechanically clicks). This works better than most HP buttonless trackpads with fewer false touches, though we did find it sometimes difficult to click-drag. The trackpad is quite small due to the overall small size of the laptop and oversized keyboard above.
The biometric fingerprint scanner (TouchChip fingerprint coprocessor) lives to the right of the trackpad. The webcam can act as a security device: if you set the ThinkPad to lock after a specified keyboard idle period, it checks first to see if your face is in view of the webcam before locking itself.
Deals and Shopping:
The ThinkPad is famous for its wonderful keyboard, and though this design has evolved subtly over the years, the ThinkPad X220 is among the best for breakneck touch typing. The sculpted keys provide excellent tactile feel and travel is just right: neither shallow nor so deep as to make your fingers wallow. Our only complaint is that Lenovo loves to move the delete key from its standard location, though it’s at least over-sized. We noted that the keys masking is done with decals; a cheapening touch. Want to type in the dark? The ThinkLight sits above the display and provides a spotlight for just that.
CPU and Horsepower
CPU options are all Sandy Bridge second generation Intel Core CPUs, and you can get the ThinkPad X220 with a Core i3, Core i5 or Core i7 CPU. The Core i3 clocks at 2.13 GHz (but please, get the Core i5), and the Core i7 is 2.7GHz. That 2.7GHz upgrades the machine to USB 3.0, according to Lenovo. Our review unit shipped with the middle Core i5 option; the Intel 2520M with 3MB L2 cache and Turbo Boost+. It has 4 threads running on 2 cores, and is a very fast CPU. It had no trouble running Photoshop CS5 and editing 20 meg RAW files (see our video review), using MS Office and gaming with some fairly demanding titles like Left 4 Dead 2 and Mass Effect 2 (see our gaming video). The X220 is capable of most any task you throw at it if you get the Core i5 or i7 CPU.
Our ThinkPad shipped with 4 gigs of 1333MHz RAM, and the max is 8 gigs in 2 SODIMM slots. Hard drives run from 160 to 320 gigs (7200 RPM) and there are a variety of SSD options including a fast 160 gig Intel SSD drive. The X220 doesn’t have an internal optical drive (there’s no room), but you can get the Ultrabase with optical drive or use the USB external drive of your choice.
The machine has 3 USB 2.0 ports (one sleep and charge), VGA, a Display Port rather than HDMI, an SD card slot and a 54mm ExpressCard slot. There’s a Gigabit Ethernet port, a combo headphone/mic jack but no FireWire. The ThinkPad has 1 full internal PCIe slot and one half slot. A 720p webcam with dual mics is standard and the notebook is compatible with Ultrabase docks.
Despite the laptop's compact design with little buffer area between you and hot internal components, the Lenovo stayed cool with external temperatures in the high 80's and low 90's Fahrenheit.
Display and Graphics
Graphics are courtesy of Intel with their new Intel HD 3000 graphics. That’s perhaps the most exciting part of Sandy Bridge: Intel made significant improvements to integrated graphics and the Lenovo X220 is thus capable of some decent 3D gaming. The Intel HD 3000 in the X220 scored a respectable 3812 on 3DMark 06. Not bad for a business ultraportable. You can indeed play Left 4 Dead 2 in the hotel room after a long day of meetings (see our gaming video review below).
How about streaming video? We tested Hulu and got 48 fps full screen at 360p resolution and 27 fps full screen at 480p resolution. Netflix managed 25 fps full screen. We tested streaming video using the ThinkPad’s Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205 Wi-Fi on our 802.11n network. The laptop also has Intel 82579LM Gigabit Ethernet and Bluetooth is optional.
The 12.5” LED backlit display (a size first seen on the Lenovo IdeaPad U260) has 1366 x 768 resolution (standard 16:9) and there’s an IPS display option. Get it. Really, it’s that good. Have you seen the iPad and how bright, sharp and colorful its display is? Noticed those extremely wide viewing angles? That’s the same tech in the X220’s IPS display (made by LG Philips, as is the display on the U260) only better because there’s no glare. Brightness rivals Lenovo’s 400 nit display option on the X201, colors are very saturated (though not as artificial as on Samsung’s Super AMOLED smartphone displays) and sharpness is tops. This is a matte display that lacks glare yet maintains deep blacks.
The battery slice on top of the Lenovo ThinkPad X220.
The battery slice installed on the X220.
The X220 uses a latchless lid design.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X220 with the 6 cell battery.
Here's our 9 minute Lenovo ThinkPad video review.
Lenovo ThinkPad X220 Gaming
Here's our video showing the Lenovo X220 playing some fairly demanding 3D titles including Left 4 Dead 2, Mass Effect 2 and Elder Scrolls Oblivion.
All games were played at native 1366 x 768 resolution.
Left 4 Dead 2 settings:
Resolution: 1366 x 768
Frame rate: average 35 fps (32-49 fps)
Anti-aliasing mode: None
Filtering mode: Trilinear
Wait for vertical sync: Enabled
Shader detail: Low
Effect detail: Medium
Model/Texture detail: High
Temperature after gaming: Cores: 61-62C degrees; Thermal Zone: 64-degrees C
Mass Effect 2 settings:
All effects and shadows turned Off
Resolution: 800 x 768
Frame rate: average 30 fps (running at higher resolutions, game plays at 18 fps)
Elder's Scrolls Oblivion settings:
Resolution: 1366 x 768
Temperature: 59 degrees C
PC Mark Vantage
TV and Movies: 4273
We've always liked the ThinkPad X201, it was one of our favorite ultraportables despite a few complaints, including a high price tag. With Lenovo's new ThinkPad X220 it's hard to find anything not to love. The price is more accessible, the quality is excellent, the 12.5" display really hits the sweet spot for highly mobile computing minus the squint factor and the IPS option is a must-have. The laptop is very fast, yet runs cool and quiet. The keyboard is a touch typist's dream and the software management tools are top notch. The X220 handily wins our Editor's Choice award for ultraportable notebooks.
Pro: Very fast with latest Intel CPU, chipset and integrated graphics. The usual excellent ThinkPad build quality, software bundle, top notch keyboard and dual Trackpoint plus trackpad. Runs quite cool and battery life is exceptional. Very compact and light. The 12.5" IPS display is a must-have.
Con: Currently no dedicated graphics option (Look to the Sony Vaio Z for that kind of rig at this size and weight).