Review

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 review: A spec bump, but still a winner

Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 series is the best that it has to offer, and a couple of years ago, the company decided to kick things up a notch with a larger screen, a 45W CPU, and dedicated graphics, things that weren't previously seen in a ThinkPad X1. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme was born.

Now on the Gen 3 model, not much has changed. In fact, coming from the Gen 2 model, the only things that are different is the CPU and the GPU. That's not unique to the ThinkPad X1 Extreme either. All of Lenovo's ThinkPad lineup look the same as they did last year. So now, we've got Intel's Comet Lake H processors and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti GPU.

It's still a lovely device, despite the lack of changes. This model that Lenovo sent me packs a 4K OLED touchscreen, along with a 1TB SSD and 32GB of RAM. It's also got one of the best keyboards around, especially when it comes to its class, which is a small class to begin with.

Specs

CPU Intel i7-10850H (6C / 12T, 2.7 / 5.1GHz, 12MB)
GPU NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q 4GB GDDR6
Display 15.6 inches, 16:9, UHD (3480x2160) Dolby Vision HDR Anti-reflection/ Anti-smidge multi-touch – SDR 400 nits, HDR 540 nits
Body 14.24x9.67x0.72" (361.8x245.7x18.7mm), Starting at 4.0lbs (1.81kg)
Memory 2 x 16GB DIMM 2933 MHz DDR4
Storage 1TB SSD M.2 2280 PCIe NVMe Opal2
Ports (2) USB 3.2 Gen 1 (one always on)
(2) Thunderbolt 3 (w/ function of Power Delivery and DisplayPort)
(1) HDMI 2.0
(1) SD Card Reader (SD, SDHC, SDXC), supports UHS-II SD card
(1) Microphone / Headphone Combo Jack
(1) Optional Nano-SIM card slot
Camera IR camera and HD720p camera, fixed focus
Connectivity Intel AX201 11ax 2+2 + Bluetooth 5.1
Keyboard 6-row, spill-resistant, multimedia Fn keys with Unified Communications controls, LED backlight
TrackPoint pointing device and 2 button glass surface multi-touch touchpad
Audio Stereo speakers, Dolby ATMOS Speaker System, dual far-field microphones
Security Power-on password, hard disk password, supervisor password, security keyhole
Discrete TPM 2.0, TCG Certified, Optional Intel vPro technology
Battery 80Wh, supports Rapid Charge with 135W AC Adapter
Material Woven Carbon Fiber Finish
Display cover: Carbon Fiber (woven pattern) + PC + PPS
Hybrid Bottom: Aluminum + PC / ABS
OS Windows 10 Pro
Price $2,236.30


This is the unit that Lenovo sent me, as this PC starts at $1,399.99. It's also noted that these prices vary. Full price, as configured, is $4,066, but Lenovo.com always has some kind of discount, and it fluctuates.

Day one

Design

As I mentioned, the chassis has not changed since last year's model. The lid has Lenovo's carbon fiber weave, which made its debut a couple of years ago in the X1 Carbon. In fact, the one thing that looks different with this model is the logo on the lid. It has the same black ThinkPad logo that's reserved for premium devices, but it has X1 branding under it now.

The body only comes in two flavors, both of which are black. There's regular black, and then there's the carbon fiber weave. Black is standard for ThinkPads and carbon fiber weave has been an option for high-end ThinkPads for a while, but there's not much else. The X1 Yoga comes in a gray color now, since it's actually made out of aluminum, but if you want a clamshell that's not black, you'll have to go for Lenovo's ThinkBook lineup.

Obviously, the ports haven't changed either. On the left side, there's an AC power port, being that this requires too much power to only use Power Delivery. There are also two Thunderbolt 3 ports, HDMI 2.0, and a 3.5mm audio jack. You can charge through the Thunderbolt 3 ports, but it charges slowly. If you use a regular 65W USB Type-C charger, it's about half the wattage of the adapter that comes with this PC.

On the other side, there's an SD card slot and two USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports. USB 3.2 Gen 1, also known as USB 3.1 Gen 1 and USB 3.0, supports data transfer speeds of up to 5Gbps, and frankly, I'm a little tired of seeing it in premium PCs. It's time to move on to USB 3.2 Gen 2 for 10Gbps, if not USB 3.2 2x2 for 20Gbps.

There's really not much to say about the design, because it's a ThinkPads. ThinkPad is a brand that produces magnificent PCs, but is also glued to legacy technologies. It's also stuck to a legacy design, for the most part. That's the whole reason that the newer ThinkBook brand exists, so Lenovo can think (get it?) outside of the box on commercial PC designs.

Display and audio

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme has a 15.6-inch display, the biggest of any ThinkPad that's not under the P-series umbrella, and the only one of its kind in the flagship X1 family. As has always been the case, there are options for FHD and UHD resolutions. Unlike the 14-inch ThinkPad X1 PCs, there's no QHD option, which is a shame given that QHD resolution is often the best balance between resolution and battery life.

You do get a few options though. There's a 300-nit FHD panel, which isn't very bright but will get you the best battery life. There's also a 500-nit one that supports Dolby Vision HDR. If you bump it up to 4K, there's a 600-nit panel that supports Dolby Vision HDR, or you can go for the 540-nit OLED panel.

Lenovo sent me the OLED model, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Here's some advice if you're buying any kind of computer that has an OLED option: get the OLED option. The blacks are blacker, the colors are more vibrant, and it's just more pleasant to use. When you turn on that PC that you spent thousands of dollars on, make sure that it returns the favor.

Being that the chassis hasn't changed, you shouldn't be surprised to hear that the bezels haven't changed. The somewhat narrow side bezels do feel a bit like they were designed for 2019, and the top bezel still includes an IR camera, a webcam, and the ThinkShutter privacy guard. I don't use the privacy guard though, because if you don't remember to open it again, Windows Hello doesn't work.

The Dolby Atmos speakers are pretty solid, and they get fairly loud. For work, such as video calls, they're phenomenal. And for listening to music at your desk, they can get pretty loud.

But let's talk about streaming video too. After all, you probably need one device for work and play, especially if you're working from home, or you're an employer that wants to hand out PCs to people that will take them home. Either way, modern PCs need to be able to fit multiple use cases, and this is quite nice for that. The combination of the stunning OLED display and the powerful Dolby Atmos speakers make for a great entertainment experience.

Keyboard and trackpad

The keyboard section is one that you can actually skip if you're familiar with ThinkPads. As always, it's got one of the best keyboards around, and also one of the longest key throws. Most keyboards, including business PCs, have much shallower keyboards than this. But still, ThinkPad keyboards, especially premium ones, feel comfortable to type on, an they're accurate too.

They're also quite quiet, which is always a factor for me and other loud typists. I've heard ThinkPad keyboards referred to as the Cadillac of keyboards, and I think that's an acceptable description.

There is, however, a TrackPoint right smack in the middle of the keyboard between the 'G', 'H', and 'B' keys. It's a relic from back when Windows PC trackpads were terrible, and I think most people just ignore it. It's also one of those things that Lenovo just can't get rid of because of backlash from the ThinkPad fan base. Both Dell and HP include a similar mechanism in their mainstream laptops, at least as an option, but Lenovo puts a TrackPoint on every model of ThinkPad that currently exists.

Of course, with the TrackPoint comes physical buttons above the clickable Precision trackpad. To me, that makes it worth it. Even though the trackpad is clickable, I'll still use those physical buttons for drag-and-drop operations and such.

Performance and and battery life

This is probably the meat of the review, since since the CPU and GPU are really the only parts of the ThinkPad X1 Extreme that changed since last year. It now has Intel's Comet Lake H processors and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti.

The 10th-generation processors are an improvement over last year's ninth-gen chips, although they're still 14nm. The Core i7-10850H is still six cores with 12 threads too, and if you want more, you have to get something with a Core i9. To be clear, the Core i7-10850H is the vPro version of the Core i7-10750H. It maxes out at 5.1GHz, something that the Core i9 in last year's X1 Extreme couldn't do.

The new GPU is an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti with 4GB GDDR6. It replaces a GTX 1650 with 4GB GDDR5, so the memory is superior in the newer model. In short, this one is more powerful than last year's. It's that simple.

Battery life, unsurprisingly, isn't great. With brightness on about 33% and the power slider on the notch above battery saver, I only got about four hours of actual work. This is roughly expected when you have a 45W CPU, powerful dedicated graphics, and a 4K OLED display. You'd probably save a bit of battery life if you went for non-OLED, and you'd do much better with an FHD display. Still, when it's up to me, I always recommend sacrificing battery life for a beautiful 4K UHD OLED display.

For benchmarks, I used PCMark 8 and PCMark 10.

ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3
Core i7-10850H, GTX 1650 Ti
ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2
Core i7-9850H, GTX 1650
HP OMEN 15
AMD Ryzen 7 4800H, GTX 1660 Ti
Dell XPS 17 9700
Core i7-10875H, RTX 2060
PCMark 8: Home 3,258 3,594 4,756 3,544
PCMark 8: Creative 4,526 3,856 6,028 5,095
PCMark 8: Work 3,161 3,348 3,989 3,221
PCMark 10 4,968 5,045 5,639 5,305
3DMark: Time Spy 3,618 3,285 6,037 5,582
VRMark: Orange Room 4,427 4,600 7,533 7,343


Conclusion

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme is an excellent machine. My only complaints are that it has a 2019 design, and that the screen doesn't have a QHD option. After all, batetry life wasn't great, and it would be made better with a lower resolution, but I also don't want to go to 1080p on a 15.6-inch screen.

Other than that, the X1 Extreme is a delight. It's great for everything. Like I mentioned before, the OLED screen and Dolby Atmos speakers make it perfect for entertainment streaming, and the excellent keyboard makes it great for productivity.

The powerful internals mean that you can use it for anything from video editing to gaming. Yes, I said you can use a ThinkPad to play games, and those games look really pretty on the OLED display. In fact, so do the videos and photos that you're editing. Like I said, this machine is simply great for everything that you throw at it.

If you want to check it out on Lenovo.com, you can find it here.

 

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