Review: The Lenovo ThinkPad X300

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It's the MacBook Air for business.

Wait, that's not fair. The Lenovo ThinkPad X300 is actually in a league by itself for several reasons. CMP Channel Test Center's testing of the notebook turned up stellar results in just about every measurement except battery life, where it was OK but not off-the-charts great. Bottom line: Get ready for a new era in notebooks as Lenovo raises the bar for business mobility.

The thinnest, most power-efficient ThinkPad to ever make its way through the CMP Channel Test Center, the X300 provides seven features that give VARs talking points when meeting with customers considering their new notebook options:

1. It has a light design, obviously. It's less than an inch thick (between .73 inches and .92 inches) and weighs just a shade under 3 pounds (2.93 pounds). You can carry it around all day, from place to place, without feeling like you need a chiropractor. In fact, you can carry it with the display open and the system powered up without even the slightest strain or fear of dropping it.

2. Few compromises are needed (Lenovo says no compromises are needed. It's hard to make that kind of blanket statement but it's not that far off the mark.) It's got an on-board DVD burner, three USB slots (two on the side, one in the back) and notebook-robust speakers built into the console just beneath the keyboard. The storage capacity? It's 64 GB which is fine for most business uses, if the business doesn't require keeping multiple 3D projects and a video library on the drive. The MacBook Air (which we have not tested) has no optical drive built in.

3. The display, which is LED backlit, is well-designed and built. It's 13.3 inches, almost indistinguishable in size from the ThinkPad T42's 14.1 inch display. It's also clear and, even taken outside while it was powered up and a movie was playing, no squinting was required to view finer images.

4. Lenovo includes some nice flourishes. For example, it doesn't just have an integrated Web cam built into the screen -- it's got a light that prompts you when the camera is on and working (not all notebook vendors do that.) The display panel bends all the way down to create one, flat device for presentation or extra LCD hookup.

5. The 64 GB Solid State Drive makes it quieter than a whisper, barely budging our decibal meter even at startup. You actually notice how quiet it is.

6. It's cool. Not stylistically, but thermodynamically. Two hours into testing, running a movie, the keyboard's temperature never got above 86 degrees and the fan vents never climbed above 92 degrees. The only way this could run cooler was if it were dead.

7. It's familiar. Under no circumstances could this be mistaken for anything other than a business-ready ThinkPad. In ThinkPad black, it's built with the Lenovo (and heritage IBM) ThinkVantage capabilities, the unmistakeable red track button and all industry-standard connectivity options including WAN, BlueTooth and 802.11 a/g/n. (During our testing, the X300 connected right away to an 802.11n network undergoing testing in the lab at the same time, and it registered as much 130 Mbps.) It's also ready for WiMax, which we hear is coming around the corner some time in 2008.

So you could argue that it's exotic without looking exotic for the more conservative CIOs out there.

The X300 is set to ship, according to Lenovo, "soon" and pricing information wasn't immediately available to us from the company. Reports have suggested it could range in price anywhere from $2,500 to $3,000 which would, obviously, place it in the upper end of the price range for mainstream business notebooks. (We found one online retailer already taking pre-orders at a $2,999 price.) That's in the same ballpark as Apple's MacBook Air - - the one with the 64 GB Solid State Drive.

Using Primate Labs GeekBench 2.0.11 benchmarking test, the X300 rang up a score of 1573 -- about on par with other systems running the Intel Core2Duo L7100 processor at 1.20 GHz. The system that was reviewed in the CMP Channel Test Center was built with 2 GB of memory, and was pre-installed with Windows XP Professional.

On battery life, the CMP Channel Test Center's standard methodology was used: a video was copied to the X300's hard drive and set to play, with all the power-saving features disabled and the unit unplugged. Under this test, the X300 ran for 2 hours and 35 minutes before the battery died and the laptop shut down. However, a second battery unit can be attached to the notebook and Lenovo says battery life can be maximized to as much as 10 hours.

Count on the ThinkPad X300 to spark other vendor to hasten their plans for business-class, ultra slim notebooks. For now, Lenovo is in a league of its own.

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