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Lenovo ThinkPad X230

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Editor's Choice award

What's hot: Extremely fast yet small and light, plenty of ports, IPS display is excellent.

What's not: ThinkPad look isn't for everyone, it's a bit thick compared to admittedly less powerful Ultrabooks.


Reviewed May 31, 2012 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

Editor's Update: Read and watch our review of the Lenovo ThinkPad X240 that replaces this model.

How do you make an Editor's Choice notebook even better? Upgrade it to Intel's third generation Ivy Bridge CPU. That's the Lenovo ThinkPad X230 which will replace our Editor's Choice 12.5" ThinkPad X220 in early June. The ThinkPad X230 is in a unique position as a relatively affordable yet exquisitely powerful 3.3 pound ultraportable. If you like the idea of Ultrabooks but need full size notebook processing power, the X230 is your go to machine. As with previous Lenovo X series machines, there will be an X230t convertible tablet too with pen and multi-touch. The only other machines in this size, weight and processing power class are the much more expensive Sony Vaio Z series and the comparably priced Sony Vaio S 13.3. The ThinkPad X230 starts at $1,179. The X230t tablet starts at $1,479.

The ThinkPad X230 is as ever a very configurable beast. Lenovo sells direct and they tell us you'll be able to order it with your choice of Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 CPUs. You can get a 320 gig 7200 RPM hard drive or SSD drives, and there's an mSATA slot so you can use an mSATA SSD in addition to the spinning hard drive. Our machine shipped with 4 gigs of RAM (1 DIMM, two slots total). It has Intel WiFi single band 802.11n, Bluetooth and a 720p webcam. As always, there are several WiFi options and a new LTE 4G contract-free mobile broadband option.

Lenovo ThinkPad X230

Design and Ports

This is a ThinkPad, folks. If that matte black soft touch finish makes your heart go pitter-pat, you'll like the X230 just as much as you liked the X220 and X201. It's low key, understated and strong. The magnesium alloy roll cage insures rigidity: the display panel has virtually no flex and the case is deadly strong. The keyboard deck has virtually no flex and the antenna cap area on the top edge of the display is well affixed.

The notebook isn't terribly thin at 1.05 inches. That extra real estate allows for plenty of cooling, a full mobile CPU rather than a ULV CPU and a good selection of ports (though no Thunderbolt or eSATA). The ThinkPad X2xx series used to be among the thinnest, but now Ultrabooks have made it look a little chubby.

Lenovo ThinkPad X230

The notebook has two USB 3.0 ports on the left and one USB 2.0 sleep and charge port on the right. Both VGA and a mini DisplayPort are on the left and Gigabit Ethernet and an SD card slot are on the right. There's an ExpressCard/54 slot (how many of you use this?) and a wireless on/off slider as well as a keyboard Fn key for wireless control.

The fan intake is on the left side near the back and there are several vents on the bottom. The laptop doesn't get very hot, even when playing videos. Games warm it up a bit, but on average the warmest spot on the bottom measured only 96F with moderate use and 88F elsewhere on the bottom. Thanks to the casing material used, it actually feels cooler than you'd expect from those numbers.

The hard drive is easily accessible under a cover on the right side and the two RAM slots live under a door on the bottom. You can remove the keyboard to access most everything else. The usual UltraBase dock connector lives on the bottom and the machine works with Lenovo's optional 6 cell slice battery. The UltraBase has a DisplayPort and VGA and port, four USB ports and Gigabit Ethernet. The ThinkPad Series 3 USB 3.0 is another docking option that has 5 USB 3.0 ports, a DisplayPort, gigabit Ethernet.


Deals and Shopping:


Lenovo ThinkPad X230 Video Review


Lenovo ThinkPad X230 Gaming Video

Yes, this notebook can handle some reasonably demanding 3D gaming.
We test it at 1366 x 768 resolution playing Skyrim, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 and Mass Effect 3.
These are demanding games and we stuck with low effect settings to maintain 30 to 50 fps depending
on the game and scene. On average, we saw low to mid-30's in games. Very nice!

Keyboard: Typist Heaven and Backlight Too

The machine features a revised island style keyboard that's moving toward Lenovo's ThinkPad Edge Chiclet design, and we love it. It turns me into a typing wizard--it's just that good. Nice key travel, good key shape and separation and oversized keys where you expect them. You can order it with two stage keyboard backlighting and the ThinkLight is there too. The white backlight illuminates the key edges in a diffuse manner. It gets the job done though it's not as sharp looking as the Dell XPS 13's backlight. The ThinkLight as ever will be your best friend on the airplane thanks to plenty of illumination from the single white LED that shines down from the display bezel's top edge.

I know some of you are ThinkPad purists and will mourn the change in key surface texture and the loss of the seventh row, but give this one a try; you just might grow to love it. The page up and down keys are now located in the arrow key cluster (a logical location) and some keys that haven't been terribly popular since the DOS days are gone (SysReq, anyone?).

The trackpad is Lenovo's usual ThinkPad TrackPoint ( eraser stick pointer embedded in the keyboard) and a "ClickPad" (trackpad). The trackpad is smaller than we'd like, and there's no room for a larger one given the short wrist rest area and mouse buttons above the trackpad for the pointer. It is however responsive and stable with no unexpected cursor jumps. Two finger scrolling works well, though space is a bit tight for multi-finger gestures. The trackpad surface lacks texture and feels fairly slick which isn't so great, though to be fair it works well enough.

Display with IPS Option

The display resolution is 1366 x 768. That might bum out you eagle eyed folks, but at 12.5", it's the ideal resolution for those of us with average eyes. Our review unit shipped with the IPS 300 nit matte display, and this is a must have option. Fortunately, it usually doesn't add much to the price, and it's one of those features that sets the Lenovo apart from the small-screen competition. It's simply exquisite. Colors are good, there's nearly no glare and contrast is pleasing. Editing images in Photoshop is a pleasure thanks to the decent color calibration and movies look great. The speakers are quite loud for a machine this small, but they're not wildly full despite the Dolby Advanced Audio. The display opens beyond 180 degrees; great news for those of you who like to kick back in bed with your laptop propped on bent knees.

Ivy Bridge Performance

As you've probably read, the big improvement with Ivy Bridge lays in its HD 4000 integrated graphics that simply blows away the second gen's HD 3000 graphics and even trounces lower end dedicated graphics. The Lenovo ThinkPad X230 is the perfect notebook for this tech because it relies solely on integrated graphics. If we were talking about performance machines like the HP Envy 15 with serious dedicated graphics, we'd be less excited since we rarely use integrated graphics on that class of machine. But when we leave behind our gaming Envy and want a little entertainment on the road, the ThinkPad X230 makes it possible. Yes, we got mid-30's FPS at native 1366 x 768 resolution in Skyrim! And we played Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 at native resolution on low settings at 35-50 FPS. That's impressive.

For those of you who are more practically minded, that means more contribution from the GPU when using Adobe Photoshop, and plenty of processing power for development work and video editing (go with the Core i7 for 1080p video editing). While processor scores aren't seriously improved, 3DMark Vantage scores were twice as fast on the X230 with an Intel Core i5 vs. the X220 running on Sandy Bridge. The X230 scored 500 points faster than the X220 in PCMark Vantage.

Our review unit runs on the 2.6GHz Intel Core i5-3320M. It has 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM and a 320 gig 7200RPM hard drive (Lenovo's base drive). That's a decently fast drive, but with an SSD drive this thing would really scream and benchmark numbers for PCMark Vantage would no doubt be a few thousand points higher.


3D Mark Vantage: 3209 (GPU 2607, CPU 10,423) on Performance test preset

PCMark Vantage: 8152
Memories: 4759
TV and Movies: 4751
Gaming: 4873
Music: 7944
Communications: 10,733
HDD: 4803

* Both 3DMark and PCMark were run on the Energy Saver power setting, which is Lenovo's Balanced mode, and the notebook was plugged in.

Windows Experience Index:

Processor: 7.2
RAM: 5.9
Graphics (for Aero): 5.1
Gaming Graphics: 6.3
HDD: 5.9

Battery Life

There are three battery options: the 6 cell, 4 cell and 9 cell. There's also a 6 cell sheet battery for extremely long battery life. Ivy Bridge, based on a 22 nanometer process (the smaller the CPU the cooler and more power frugal) saves battery life too. Our unit with the 6 cell battery averaged 6.5-7 hour runtimes with brightness set to 11 (approx. 66%) and WiFi active in a mix of business uses. The machine charges extremely quickly: we plugged it in with a 45% charge and it reached 96% in 30 minutes!


Last year, the ThinkPad X220 won our Editor's Choice award, and it passes the crown on to the new ThinkPad X230. Yes, there are thinner and sexier looking ultraportables, but none pack the processing power, IPS display and that unbeatable keyboard. Certainly at a starting price just under $1,200 this is an extremely fast machine with excellent battery life and superb portability. If you're a road warrior who wants to travel light but you need a full mobile third gen Intel Core CPU and refreshingly strong integrated graphics, the Lenovo ThinkPad X230 is still the one to beat.

Price: $1,179 starting price, $1,249 for our configuration

Web Site:


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Display: 12.5", 1366 x 768 LED backlit display. IPS optional. Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics. There is no dedicated graphics option. mini DisplayPort and VGA ports.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable, 4, 6 and 9 cell batteries available.

Performance: 2.6 GHz Intel third generation i5-3320M processor (as tested). Available with Core i3, i5 and i7 CPUs. Available with 4 or 8 gigs of DDR3 RAM. Two SODIMM RAM slots. 320 gig 7200 RPM hard drive, SSD drives available as an option.

Size: 12 x 8.13 x 1.05 inches. Weight: 3.3 pounds (varies with selected battery capacity).

Camera: 720p webcam with motion detection for video conferencing.

Audio: Built in speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. Dolby Advanced Audio v. 2.

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b/g/n (Intel) and Bluetooth 3.0.

Software: Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional 64 bit available. Lenovo ThinkVantage tools.

Expansion and Ports: 1 SD (Secure Digital) slot, 1 ExpressCard/54 slot and dock connector for Ultrabase and other accessories.



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