A “new” laptop: Lenovo ThinkPad x200s

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Lenovo X200s

Lenovo X200s

I think I may have a new main machine. (Whatever that means.)

I received a Lenovo ThinkPad X200s in the mail today, and thus far I am thrilled. I’ve long been a fan of the ThinkPad and, while I feel the brand has been seriously diluted, I keep finding gems like this one on eBay.

This machine is a 12″ computer with the same keyboard as the 14″ ThinkPad T60. It has a great 1440×900 display, and, while not completely silent, is so whisper quiet that even I can’t complain. (And believe me, I’m fussy.)

General hardware observations

The ThinkPad X200s strikes me as a cross between the X61s and the X300. The X61s is a 12″ 1024×768 laptop that is a direct descendant of the X23/X30/X40 line. The X300 was Lenovo’s response to the MacBook Air. It has a 13.3″ 1440×900 display and is the thinnest ThinkPad to date, but this lack of girth meant that the SD slot had to be sacrificed, as did the standard 2.5″ laptop drive, and the ThinkPad dock. I briefly owned an X300 and was far less pleased with it than I had anticipated. It was brilliant on paper, but was a bit slow in practice, and a bit large. 13″ displays are large, there’s no getting around it. This is why I like the x200s so much.

The X200s, while slightly thicker than the X300, eliminates all of the sacrifices above. It has the option of a dock, a standard 2.5″ laptop drive, an SD slot, and a faster CPU. It also has the same 1440×900 screen resolution. It’s a bit longer than an X61 but is shorter as well. It also has THE best ThinkPad keyboard I’ve used. In fact, the keyboard is the same part number as the ThinkPad T60.

Display

As mentioned, the display on the X200s is a high-resolution affair, running at 1440×900. It isn’t the highest quality display. (Sorry, no FlexView/IPS.) However, with proper colour calibration, it looks great, and the viewing angles are fine. I’d put the screen quality as slightly worse than my 2010 11″ MacBook Air. Screen brightness has a nice range. The display is LED backlit, so the lighting is even, is unlikely to fade over time, and is thinner than a CFL-backlight display.

If the display was an IPS model, this would be the perfect laptop for me. However, with proper calibration, it’s very nice to use.

 

Keyboard

It’s worth mentioning again: The ThinkPad X200s uses the same keyboard as the ThinkPad T60. Yes, they’ve managed to cram a 14″ no-compromise keyboard into a 12″ frame. This alone is almost worth going for the X200s. It is simply the best laptop keyboard I’ve owned. Given my penchant for smaller laptops, I didn’t think I’d ever use a keyboard this roomy again. Happily, I was wrong. If you like to write, buy this laptop. The keyboard is, without a doubt, the best that you will ever find on a laptop this size.

And yes, there is the standard ThinkPad light. Hooray! (Should that go in Keyboard or Display?)

Battery life, heat, and noise

The X200s is available with 4, 6, and 8 cell batteries. Mine arrived with a 6 cell. In Ubuntu 12.04 with a standard hard drive, it seems to get 5-6 hours under light load with brightness down a bit and wifi and Bluetooth on. Idle, with brightness down, the system has estimated 7+.

I may buy a 4 cell battery to get the weight down to 2.7lbs, but the 6 cell at 3lbs is the right compromise. The 6 cell gives a bump at the back, the 4 cell is flush with the rest of the laptop.

The system hasn’t gotten overly warm yet. There is a fan that switches between off, low, and high. It mostly runs at low except when things are really cooking. As I mentioned above, I am very picky about system sound. A standard laptop hard drive is significantly louder than the fan on low. I have to hold it up to my ear to hear it at all.

The X200s is the first laptop I’ve owned that has a fan that doesn’t bother me.  It really is virtually silent.  It’s not completely silent like my 2010 11″ MacBook Air or HP 2710p but it is very, very close. There aren’t many ThinkPads that haven’t crossed my desk and this is easily the quietest one that I’ve owned or used.

 

Trackpad, or lack thereof.

This will be brief: The X200s is a TrackPoint-only affair. Deal with it.

 

Other Hardware Observations

The X200s is tough. Significantly tougher than either the X300 or the X61s. It has the full roll-cage, drip trays, etc. Lenovo have managed a T60-grade machine with a standard laptop drive in under 3lbs. I’m seriously impressed. If you’re looking for small and tough, I don’t think you’ll do better than this machine without tacking on significant weight.

The machine has a decent array of ports: 3 USB, VGA, ethernet, modem, dock option, SD slot, finger print reader, headphone and mic ports. I guess some people would rather see a DisplayPort or HDMI port, but in practice, I’ve never needed anything other than the much maligned VGA port.

 

Performance

The X200s uses a Core 2 Duo ULV at 1.86GHZ. This isn’t a screamer by 2012 standards but will still run circles around lower-end CPUs. It’s actually one of the faster laptops in my fleet. Paired with a good SSD, a 1.86GHz CPU is acceptable for me. It never feels to me like the CPU is the bottleneck. My new work laptop, an 11″ MacBook Air, has a 1.7GHz Core i7. It’s faster but comparable. I’m actually really impressed with the CPU. i think it is the right choice for the X200s. Performance is good, as is battery life.

I have replaced the 160GB 5400 RPM 2.5″ hard drive that shipped with this laptop with an OCZ Agility 4 SSD. It just flies. SSDs are stil a bit pricey, though this one was less than $1/GB, but are worth it in my opinion. The performance gains are very noticeable in Linux and Mac OS, and it helps a bit with battery life and a lot with system noise. I think I’ve hit the point where I will just assume the cost of an SSD when buying a laptop. It makes that much of a difference to how much I enjoy using the machine.

 

Linux Compatibility

This section will also be brief: As of Ubuntu 12.04, everything Just Works. It’s all Intel, so there’s no big surprise there. Two year old laptops are awesome for Linux. All of the bugs have been worked out. The end.

 

Wrapping Up

When the ThinkPad X200s was new in 2010, it would have been the best laptop available. With the UltraBook trend in full-swing, it’s less clear-cut in 2012. However, if you’re interested in tinkering and upgrading your machine, I don’t think that you’ll find a better combination of screen size, upgradeability, screen resolution, batter life, performance, build-quality, and weight. This is a beautifully proportioned, small, fast, and light computer.

I bought the X200s hoping for a replacement for my 2010 11″ MacBook Air. I’ve loved MacOS over the last nine years, but I don’t want to be tied to it forever, and I’m not comfortable with where Apple is taking the OS.

To replace the MacBook Air, I wanted something small and light with a high-res display. I started looking at UltraBooks, but they are expensive and are categorically worse than their equivalent MacBook Air. If I wanted that, I’d get an Air! I think that with the X200s, I’ve found the nice balance that I was looking for. The other machine that piqued my interest was HP’s upcoming EliteBook 2170. However, the X200s was available on ebay for $350, and has been around long enough that it is a well-understood machine. These points tipped me over the edge. So far, I couldn’t be happier.

The ThinkPad X200s is what I had hoped the X300 would be: The perfect balance of great battery life, speed, ports, and a no-compromise keyboard. 1440×900 on this 12″ display is just perfect. I suppose I may miss the optical drive, but these are $30. I’ll take smaller, lighter, better battery life, performance, ports, and a dock as a trade any day of the week. I can now confidently say that the ThinkPad X200s is the best ThinkPad I’ve owned, and I would argue that it’s the best ever produced.

The ThinkPad X200s: The greatest ThinkPad released

GoSaBe Blog - Jul 18, 2012 | Hardware, Linux

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