Review

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme review: The first X1 with a Core i7-8750H, and GeForce graphics

Lenovo announced the ThinkPad P1 in mid-August, followed by the announcement of the ThinkPad X1 Extreme a couple of weeks later. I did review the P1 earlier this month, and if you caught that one, you're in for few surprises here. The two PCs are almost identical. The only real difference is that while the P1 is built to be a workstation with a Xeon processor and Nvidia Quadro graphics, the X1 Extreme is more mainstream with a Core processor and GeForce graphics.

But the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is the first new entry to the flagship X1 family since the X1 Yoga and the X1 Tablet a few years ago, and that makes this device exciting on its own. It's quite differentiated from the rest of the pack as well.

It's the first ThinkPad X1 to have a 15.6-inch display, the first to have a 4K resolution, the first with dedicated graphics, and the first with a 45W hexa-core processor. Indeed, it's a powerful and beautiful machine, in a slim form factor. Here's our review:

Specs

CPU Intel Core i7-8750H (2.2GHz hexa-core)
GPU Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti with Max-Q (4GB DDR5)
Display 15.6 inches, 3,840x2,160, Dolby Vision HDR
Body Non-touch: 14.24"x9.67"x0.72"; 361.8x245.7x18.4mm
Multi-touch: 14.24"x9.67"x0.74"; 361.8x245.7x18.7mm
3.76 lbs (non-touch), 4.06 lbs (multi-touch)
Ports (2) Thunderbolt 3
(2) USB 3.0 (Type-A), one always-on
(1) Ethernet extension connector
(1) HDMI 2.0
(1) SD card reader (SD, SDHC, SDXC), supports UHS-II
(1) Microphone / headphone combo jack
Storage 512GB SSD M.2 PCIe NVMe Opal2
Memory 16GB (DDR4 2400MHz)
Windows Hello IR camera, fingerprint sensor
Battery 80Wh
Material Carbon fiber/graphite hybrid
Bottom: Aluminum alloy
OS Windows 10 Pro
Price $2,510.10


While these specs sound great, the X1 Extreme gets more powerful. You can have it configured with a Core i7-8850H, which is 2.6GHz, 64GB RAM, and up to two 1TB SSDs. Completely specced out, this thing will run you $4,152.60.

Day one

Design

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme is made of the materials you'll find in premium ThinkPads, which is a carbon fiber and graphite hybrid. The material is light and strong, and it also makes the device kind of unique. It's not another MacBook clone, as there are so many aluminum laptops out there. The black ThinkPad design is iconic, and the material is lighter than aluminum, which can get pretty heavy.

Like all ThinkPads, the X1 Extreme is meant to handle, well, extreme conditions. It's MIL-STD 810G tested, passing 12 standard tests along with Lenovo's own in-house tests. That means that it's shock-, temperature-, dust-, high-altitude, humidity-resistant, and more.

Another thing that's worth noting is some minor design changes that Lenovo made to its premium ThinkPads this year. There's a new ThinkPad logo that's more of a glossy black, as opposed to the old grayish silver one. There's also a new X1 logo that replaces the Lenovo logo, and finally, the shade of black is darker.

Let's talk a little bit about ports though, because one thing that's great about Lenovo ThinkPads is that they have plenty of ports. On the left side of the device, you'll find Lenovo's proprietary power port, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, HDMI 2.0, a mini Ethernet port, and a 3.5mm combo audio jack.

I was a bit disappointed to see Lenovo using its proprietary power port for the 135W charger, as I prefer to use USB Type-C for everything. The power adapter is similar in shape to USB Type-A, so it's easy to confuse them.

Each Thunderbolt 3 port should be capable of 40Gbps data transfer, and can power two 4K screens or one 5K display off of it. On top of that, you can plug in a 4K monitor through HDMI 2.0.

On the right side, there's a full-size SD card reader, and two USB Type-A ports. In other words, there's a port for everything that you're going to need.

The bottom panel can be removed with seven Phillips screws. This will give you easy access to the memory and the SSD, and you can also easily replace the speaker assembly. With the exception of the SSD, all of that can be done without tools; however, you'll probably already have a screwdriver handy from removing the bottom panel.

When you open the display on the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, everything is pretty standard. There's a power button located to the left of the keyboard, along with a fingerprint sensor. The TrackPoint is between the G, H, and B keys, and there's a clickable trackpad below the keyboard with physical buttons.

4K display with Dolby Vision HDR

Up until this year, Lenovo used to use OLED displays in its ThinkPads. The company moved to Dolby Vision this year citing better battery life and HDR, and it looks pretty great.

It's still worth noting that the X1 Extreme has the largest display of a ThinkPad X1 at 15.6 inches. The Carbon and the Yoga are both 14 inches, and the Tablet is 13.3 inches. It's also the first that's 4K, as the Carbon and Yoga max out at 1440p.

Dolby Vision works by dynamically adjusting the color profile of a video that you're watching based on its metadata. Regular HDR is static throughout the video. The good news is that there are plenty of streaming services that support Dolby Vision, including Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu. Obviously, other HDR standards will also be supported by other vendors.

With the Dolby Vision app, you can choose between Dark, Bright, or Vivid settings. My personal preference is Vivid, as I like vibrant colors, but other things might work better depending on your environment.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme also comes with Dolby Audio, which means that you get a completely immersive media consumption experience. If you're using headphones, it also supports Dolby Atmos. The key to this machine is that it's great for both work and entertainment.

Keyboard, trackpad, and TrackPoint

This is one of the best keyboards I've ever used, although it's tied with some other ThinkPads. Here's the bottom line: if you want a great keyboard, you buy a ThinkPad. Also, the carbon fiber material on the palm rest feels cool, soft, and comfortable.

Obviously, the keyboard is something that I care about a lot, since I type for a living. Again, if I had to pick a keyboard to work the rest of my life on, it would be this one or one like it. It's very precise, never feeling too sensitive or not sensitive enough.

The keys aren't as shallow as some competitors, and you can take that as a good or a bad thing depending on your preference. You'll get full-depth keys here though. I've actually noticed that Lenovo's ThinkPad clamshells actually have a deeper key press than its convertibles. But again, while the key press is deeper, it doesn't feel too resistant. I make very few mistakes on this keyboard.

I also like it because it's a little bigger. It doesn't feel as constrained as a smaller laptop does. There's a lot of room to move around.

And then of course, there's the trackpad and the TrackPoint. As is always the case with ThinkPads, you have your choice in how you move the cursor. The trackpad is clickable, so you don't actually have to use the physical buttons above it if you don't want to; those are mainly there for use with the TrackPoint.

I actually find myself using both at different times. I'll often use the trackpad for general navigation, but for scrolling, I'll sometimes use the TrackPoint and the center button (the button is there for scrolling). For dragging and dropping things, I'll use the physical left-click button and the trackpad. It's interesting that in using this setup for a while, you'll find different combinations of usage.

Windows Hello and ThinkShutter

I've been complaining about this all year, but until it's fixed, I'll keep complaining. For the first time, Lenovo offered an IR camera for facial recognition in its ThinkPads, and for the first time, it offered a physical privacy guard for the camera called ThinkShutter. The only problem is that you can't have both. If you go for the 4K display, there isn't an option and you get the IR camera.

Both are great features too. A physical cover for the camera is awesome for people that put tape over their webcam. And facial recognition is just a natural way of unlocking your computer, as you just sit in front of it and it sees you. But of course, we can't have everything in a nearly perfect PC.

There's a fingerprint sensor as well. In fact, ThinkPads have shipped with fingerprint sensors since before Windows Hello was a thing. And since Windows Hello was a thing, that's been the only method of biometric authentication on ThinkPads.

I'm really happy to see Lenovo embracing facial recognition, as it's really the way to go. I just hope that the company can work out including ThinkShutter and an IR camera in the same product.

Performance

The performance on the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is fantastic. In my time with it, I've used it for everything from editing video to playing games.

As I mentioned in the introduction, there are a lot of firsts in the X1 family for this machine. For one thing, it's the first to use an Intel H-series processor. The model that was sent to me includes a Core i7-8750H, which is a hexa-core CPU that has a 45W TDP and a 2.2GHz clock speed. There are two other processor options: the Core i5-8400H and the Core i7-8850H. The latter is pretty much the same as the one in this model, except with a 2.6GHz clock speed. The i5, however, is quad-core in the eighth-generation H-series.

For comparison, most ultrabooks use the U-series, which is Intel's 15W lineup, and the eighth-generation of that is quad-core. This is what's found in the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, Yoga, and Tablet. The H-series, particularly the i7, is much more powerful.

The Extreme is also the first X1 that has dedicated graphics, with its Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti. This is something of a mid-range GPU, and this is what's used because the X1 Extreme is designed to balance power and portability. Anything more powerful than the 1050Ti would require a bigger chassis, if only for the ventilation.

Naturally, a powerful machine like this uses a lot of power. Don't expect to get more than a few hours of battery life, and you should bring your power cable with you. The H-series is a high power series of processors. If you want low power, you go for U-series.

I've used the X1 Extreme for playing games like Forza Horizon 4, and I've used it to edit video that's 4K 60fps. Yes, there are some performance snags when editing video at that high of a resolution and frame rate, but I have to say, it was really impressive given the specs of this machine. And of course, I've used this machine for regular work, quite a bit.

As I also noted in the introduction, the ThinkPad P1 is aimed at being a workstation, so if you need Quadro graphics instead of GeForce, you're going to want to look at that. There are also more powerful ThinkPads out there if you need it, but not from the X1 family.

For benchmarks, I used PCMark 8, which provides three tests: Home, Creative, and Work. First up is Home, which checks common tasks like web browsing, video chat, and casual gaming.

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme performed pretty well, better than 66% of results. Next up is the Creative test, which checks more GPU-intensive tasks like mainstream gaming and video editing.

Finally, the Work test checks productivity-related tasks like writing and spreadsheets.

Conclusion

I absolutely love this machine. In general, I always find ThinkPads to just be a pleasure to use, and I'm always looking for the right balance of power and portability. I also feel like up until recently, these types of machines were rare. If you wanted an H-series processor and dedicated graphics, you'd have to look at a gaming machine, a workstation, or a Dell XPS 15. There wasn't much else, and now we're seeing more.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme is your PC for everything. It's great for work, play, and entertainment. Lenovo made sure of this with its powerful internals, beautiful 4K Dolby Vision display, and of course, that amazing ThinkPad keyboard.

The only real downsides are the battery life, and that you can't have both the ThinkShutter privacy guard and the IR camera. It would also have been nice to see a Core i9 option, although the option for the higher end Core i7 is pretty sweet.

At just over $2,500, it's priced at just a bit lower than a comparably priced MacBook Pro. Personally, I think that the price is a bargain. If you're looking for a powerful PC that you can comfortable carry with you, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is the perfect choice.

 

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