December 13, 2011

1432 words 7 mins read

Review: Lenovo X220

At work we started purchasing some Lenovo Thinkpad X220s and of course I got the first one. I’ve used the X220 before, so this isn’t my first time with it. Though along with this purchase I got a couple of the popular accessories, those being the Ultrabase and the 6 Cell (19+) battery. Also, since I like to tinker I purchased an Intel 160GB SSD to replace the stock hard drive. I’ll talk about about all of these fun bobbles, but mostly about the X220 itself.

System Specs

The machine I have is nearly maxed out, but not every X220 is, so your experience may vary.

  • Intel Core i7-2640M Processor (2.8GHz, 4MB L3, 1333MHz FSB) — This is as high as they go for CPUs on the Lenovo and I must say that it is quite nice. There aren’t many better CPUs available in ultra portables.
  • 12.5” HD (1366×768) LED Backlit Display, Mobile Broadband Ready, 2×2 Antenna — The screen resolution could be higher, but on a 12.5” screen it is quite nice — you’ll get 720P out of it.
  • Intel® HD Graphics 3000 — There aren’t any other options for graphics cards, but the Intel 3000 is both a fairly powerful card (as far as integrated GPUs go) and a standard across many recent laptops.
  • 8 GB PC3-10600 DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz SODIMM Memory (2 DIMM) — This is as much RAM as the machine can take, but if you happen to not order 8GB of RAM — it is easy to upgrade. Both RAM slots are easily accessible so you can swap/upgrade as you see fit.
  • ThinkPad Battery 29++ (9 cell) — There are actually 3 battery options for the X220; 4 cell, 6 cell, and 9 cell. The 9 cell sticks out the back a bit while the 6 cell is flush. The trade off for batteries is, as usual, size/weight/runtime. I prefer the longest possible runtime, so I’ve got the 9 cell. According to the Lenovo battery widget (and my usage) I could get up to 8 hours off that battery.
There are some other miscellaneous bits that you can fiddle with on the machine. There are options for Bluetooth 3.0 (why not?), different wireless cards (a/b/g/n/wimax), Mobile Broadband card, and mSATA SSD.

Features and Hardware

One of the first things I want to point out about the X220 is that it has 3 different USB ports (Note: I believe this is specific to the i7 model). There is one “regular” USB 2.0 port (Black), one “always on” USB 2.0 port (Yellow), and one USB 3.0 port (Blue). Please, do not try and install Windows 7 via USB 3.0.

In addition to the USB ports you’ll find VGA, DisplayPort, Ethernet, and that’s about it in the way ports. As it goes these days, the X220 has more ports than many laptops in the same generation.

The three hardware components I care most about are the screen, keyboard, and mouse. The screen, as previously noted, is 1355×768 and 12.5”. The quality is good and it comes with a matte finish, nothing ultra amazing but nothing to scoff at. The keyboard is exactly what you’d want & hope for from a ThinkPad. If you’re not sure what I mean by that, it means this keyboard is another in a long line of sturdy keyboards that haven’t changed much in at least 10 years. On the mouse side you’ll find a touchpad (which I don’t use) and my favorite little red nub. In other words this machine might be an “ultra light”, but it is 100% ThinkPad.

Weight, Durability & Travelability

One of the reasons I decided on buying the X220 was for its “ultra portable” classification. Engadget reports that the machine weighs in at 3.6 pounds with the 6 cell battery. With my 9 cell it is a little heavier, but I doubt it surpasses 4 pounds. I carry my laptop with me everyday and while I don’t fly, I certainly appreciate less weight. In fact I don’t regularly take my power adapter with me, instead opting to rely on the lengthy battery — doubly so if I’m also carrying the slate battery.

I’ve read that the X220 has an internal “roll cage” and while I’m not quite sure what that means, I can say this thing is stable. It’s solid enough that there is zero flex on the keyboard. You can grab the machine and try pushing it in different directions but it just doesn’t have any flex. Even the screen is resistant to flexing (as far as you could reasonably expect off of an LCD). Add all that internal stability with a matte black exterior case which is 100% unexciting (which is a good thing), you’ve got yourself a great combination. The X220 looks like it could take a beating and keep on ticking AND still look fairly clean while doing so.

Cons?

I know this isn’t really a “con” per se, more of a “it comes with the territory”, but the X220 does not have an optical drive. I know the ultra portables typically do not have one, but it feels like there might be enough space to sneak one in.

Additionally the battery (at least my 9 cell) has a little bit of wiggle, even when locked into place. As the battery has this great handle effect, it makes me just slightly nervous because that’s where my hands tend to gravitate when picking up the machine.

Both of these things are super nitpicky. The X220 is a good solid machine, and I really haven’t found anything about it that I don’t like. Even the out of the box software is mostly useful.

Accessories

First the Ultrabase. It’s a docking station, and a fairly small one at that. It locks onto the bottom of the X220 in much the same manner as the slate battery (which means it does not block any ports of the machine). On the ultra base you’ll find: A DVD Drive, Audio ports, 4 * USB 2.0 Ports, Gigabit Ethernet, AND dual video in the form of a DisplayPort & a VGA port. You can use BOTH ports at the same time — but you’re limited to 2 screens total (IE You can have 2 external monitors, but the onboard screen will be dead). I keep the Ultrabase at my desk at work and have it plugged into 2 24” Dell LCDs.

The 6 Cell (19+) battery. According to Lenovo.com this slice battery comes in at 1.6 pounds making my Lenovo come in at roughly 5.5 pounds — still an acceptable travel weight when you consider the amount of time I can get. With the 9 cell alone the ThinkPad reports and estimated 8 hour battery life. Add the slice battery to the mix and it reports 13 hours. Of course real world battery life will vary on your usage, but I’ve put a solid 3-4 hours of video game time on the X220 without power — and had just started to exhaust the slice. The awesome thing about the slice is that it has a ThinkPad standard A/C adapter port on it so no need to hold onto extra power dongles just to charge it. My one complaint about the slice is that it doesn’t lock down as tight as I’d like. The Dell slice equivalents have catches in the front and latches in the back giving you a really solid lock.

While I did buy an Intel 160GB SSD for the X220, a word of warning. This machine uses 7mm tall hard drives, that’s 2mm shorter than standard laptop hard drives. You cannot simply drop any hard drive into the X220 as most won’t fit. Even the SSD I bought had to be modded slightly in order to fit.

Conclusion

I have a Lenovo ThinkPad X220 and it’s safe to say that I really love it. This is the first ultra portable ThinkPad I’ve gotten to play with and they really hit the mark with it. I actually replaced my BRAND NEW 4th Gen MacBook Air with the X220, as my “everyday carry” machine. It might not be as light, but it is far, far, far more versatile and useful as compared to an Air (besides, I rarely need to slice cakes on the go). If nothing else sells this machine, the X220 is no slouch when it comes to getting work done. A 2.8Ghz Intel i7, 8GB of RAM, USB 3.0, Bluetooth 3.0… everything you need to get your work done quickly… and at a weight/size that won’t break your back.