Lenovo, you were doing so well.
The plethora of options for someone who lives or works in the PC ecosystem is usually just as much of a blessing on the ol' pocketbook as much as it is a curse on the ol' mind when it comes to their next purchase. For decades, Apple carved out a niche for its products primarily on the back of its streamlined approach to computing. Apple applied classifications for the various computing options available to anyone looking to dive into the world of Mac and that approach until recently, made buying a Mac an easier solution for some.
While a company such as Lenovo has a wider audience than Apple and attempts to proportionally create devices to fit the niche and more moderate user bases, I sometimes think the company may have too many devices and the ThinkPad X1 Extreme falls into that category.
I reviewed the ThinkPad X1 Extreme recently and its a beast of a machine, but aside from the impressive spec sheet, I walked away from the powerhouse pondering two important questions. What makes the ThinkPad X1 Extreme any different from other Lenovo workstations and who is the audience for this device?
However, before I tackle those two important questions, I'll go over what the actual device offers and what shortcomings I stumbled upon in my time reviewing the ThinkPad X1 Extreme.
Look and Feel
The ThinkPad X1 is about 98 percent identical to the ThinkPad P1 I reviewed a few weeks ago. The Extreme offers Lenovo's patented matte black soft-touch material casing that can sometimes pick up fingerprint or scuffs, that can easily be wiped away. For fans of the ThinkPad line, the Extreme comes with pulsating red light in the ThinkPad logo as well its only real outwardly facing differentiator in the extra X1 red and black X1 branding in the opposite corner of the laptop lid.
Opening up the laptop unveils a keyboard, power button and fingerprint reader identical to the P1, equipped with red mouse knob and matte black single point 180-hinge. Once again the only differentiator on the inside of the laptop is the Intel Core i7 sticker that replaces the Intel Xeon processor sticker on the P1.
As far as screens are concerned, the Extreme unit I reviewed held a glossy 15.6-inch 4K UHD HDR IPS multi-touch display with Dolby vision and 100% Adobe RGB and SRGB. In addition to the 'extreme' color accuracy, the display also sports anti-smudge coating and 400 nits of brightness. Thanks to the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 100 Ti with its built-in 4GB's the Extreme can also support up to 4 monitors in FHD.
Around the sides are what's becoming the standard set of Lenovo port selections. Almost identical to the P1, the Extreme's framework houses two USB 3.1, two USB-C Thunderbolt 3, 4-in-1SD card reader, Kensington lock port, HDMI 2.0, 3.5mm audio and mic connector as well as a network dongle for executives who need to hardwire into more secure enterprise networking.
The ThinkPad Extreme also has a streamlined approach to venting with asymmetrical ventilation arrangement on the bottom of the device. I only make note of this because users who operate the laptop in, you know, laptop mode will definitely feel the heat when moderately pushing the processor.
More in line with the P1 and dissimilar to the X1 Yoga, the display only rotates to 180 degrees versus the increasing use of Lenovo's 360 degree hinge architecture.
Processing and productivity
The Extreme sports a touch screen panel with the support of Wacom AES and Lenovo's Active Pen 2 technologies. While the support of pen technology might be appreciated for the occasional note taking or quick sketching situations, the Extreme is primarily an Excel, Photoshop, or GPU heavy productivity experience.
With the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4 GB GPU, the Extreme was able to handle my multiple Excel sheet workload with no problem. However, the fans on this machine did kick up often and rather loudly during my testing. Speaking of fans, during any moderate workload that includes several Google AdWords tabs open, the Microsoft Store version of Affinity Photo, 5-10 Edge tabs, and Pocket Casts new beta version web player, the fans would run for about 20-30 minutes loudly. When positioned on my lap, the ventilation made th device a bit of a discomfort to use for prolonged use, as the bottom of the device got rather hot.
However, when on a desk or coffee table, ventilation was negligible and in an semi-open office, the sound was of little concern. Using the 32 GB DDR4 2666 MHz Dual DIMM memory to keep applications at their peak performance was nice, but the included 1TB SSD seemed a bit on the slower side when moving zip files of up to 2 to 3 GB in batches on and off the device.
I should note that pushing the 32 GB on my model was hard. Lenovo pitches the Extreme as a device that lets users "create multimedia or kick back & enjoy." On the product page for the Extreme, they profile Mixed Reality usage, but I don't have access to mixed reality headset to test (*cough Lenovo, hit me up *cough). However, I was able to use the full version of FL Studio to draft a song, but the device was not designed for any significant audio processing. I also flew through image editing using GIMP, Affinity Photo and SketchBook, and had no issue.
I was also able to do some relatively good gaming on the device despite the Extreme using a lower end NVIDIA GeForce 1050 vs the 1060 graphics card.
With all this power comes a bit of compromise in the battery department. Despite Lenovo's claims of up to 14 hours, my device tapped out consistently at 4 hours under heavy usage, but up to 8 hours when traveling and using the Extreme more moderately.
The Tough Questions
With all the positives that the Extreme offers, I still walked away from the device scratching my head and I said, earlier, there were two questions about the Lenovo ThinkPad Extreme left me puzzled.
- What makes the ThinkPad X1 Extreme any different from other Lenovo workstations?
- More specifically, how is this any different than the previously released ThinkPad P1?
- Who is the audience for this device?
As previously mentioned, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is 98% identical to the ThinkPad P1. Both devices sport a 15.6-inch 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) touchscreens with 100% Adobe color gamut and pushing 400 nits of brightness. There are also full HD versions.
Both the P1 and Extreme tout the matte black soft-touch material wrapped around a (1.8 kg) 4.06 pound 14.21 x 9.67 x .74 frame. The keyboard layout configuration, fingerprint sensor, power button, glass trackpad, webcam and bottom facing speakers are placed in an identical configuration. The port selection is identical and the memory and storage configurations are the same. While the battery claims are an hour apart, the P1 and Extreme are practically identical devices sans the X1 marking on the cover. The only discernible difference between the two that a consumer could identify is the processor. Instead of the Intel Xeon, the Extreme sports a Core i7 and slightly beefier graphics card.
The bottom line is, there is no significant difference in models and as an armchair product executive, I'd advise Lenovo to avoid diluting its X1 line and keep the P1 as its workstation brand. With the processor being the only real differentiator, it might serve to just offer a P1 with a Core processor as well.
The X1 brand thus far has been the thin and light executive laptop, to which the Extreme, at 4 pounds, ascribes to very little of, in my opinion.
As for who the audience this device is intended, Lenovo claims it's catered towards the IT Pro who will want to use this for both work and play. I can't argue that claim, as it does a great job at processing data, and with up to 64 GB of possible RAM, it could definitely handle some quick on the spot VM testing as well systems management. As for the play part, I suppose that's a little bit more nebulous but not out of the question. However, as I said, the X1 brand is usually thought of as the executive laptop ideally sold as the thin and portable device that can spin up some quick Macros heavy Excel and Power BI reports.
Perhaps there is a growing crowd of company executives who also do on-the-spot software development or run network performance and security checks during meetings, but I think the audience for a ThinkPad X1 Extreme might also be the same audience as the ThinkPad P1 and in that case, why not keep clearly defined and purchasing options streamlined for businesses and employees?
- Up to 8th Generation Intel® Core™ i7-8850H 6 Core Processor with vPro™ (2.60GHz, up to 4.30GHz with Turbo Boost Technology, 9MB Cache)
- Windows 10 Home – Lenovo recommends Windows 10 Pro
- Windows 10 Pro
- 15.6” FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS anti-glare, 300nits, 72% color gamut
- 15.6” UHD (3840 x 2160) IPS multi-touch, anti-reflective, 400 nits
- 15.6” 4K UHD HDR (3840 x 2160) IPS multi-touch, anti-reflective / anti-smudge, 400 nits, 100% Adobe 8+2 color depth with Dolby Vision™
- Supports up to 4 independent monitors
- NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1050 Ti 4 GB
- Up to 64 GB DDR4 2666 MHz, Dual DIMM
- Up to 1 TB SSD
* Up to 2 SSDs (2 x M.2 2280 PCIe TLC & SATA) for 2 TB max
- Up to 15 hours*, 4 cell, 80 Wh, with Rapid Charge technology
* Based on testing with MobileMark 2014. Battery life varies significantly with settings, usage, and other factors.
- Intel® Dual Band 9560 Wireless AC (2 x 2) with vPro™ + Bluetooth® 5.0
- 720p HD with ThinkShutter privacy cover
- Infrared (IR) Camera (optional; required for use with Windows Hello & doesn’t include ThinkShutter)
- Fast Online Identity (FIDO) authentication capabilities
- dTPM 2.0
- Match-on-Chip touch fingerprint reader
- Windows Hello with facial recognition software (requires IR camera)
- ThinkShutter on 720p HD Camera
- Smart Card Reader (Optional)
- Kensington® lock slot
- Dolby Audio™ Premium
- Dolby Atmos® for headset*
- Noise-cancelling dual-array far field microphones
* Headset not included.
- FHD non-touch: Starting at 3.76 lbs (1.7 kg)
- 4K Touchscreen: Starting at 4.06 lbs (1.8 kg)
Dimensions (W x D x H)
- FHD non-touch: 14.24” x 9.67” x .72” / 361.8 x 245.7 x 18.4 (mm)
- 4K Touchscreen: 14.24” x 9.67” x .74” / 361.8 x 245.7 x 18.7 (mm)
- Spill resistant
- Multitouch glass touchpad
- Backlit with white LED lighting
- 2 x USB 3.1 (Gen 1, 1 always on)
- 2 x USB-C Thunderbolt™ 3
- 4-in-1 SD card reader
- HDMI 2.0
- Network extension
- Combo audio / mic
Overall, I really enjoyed the ThinkPad X1 Extreme. It's not a device that I could see myself pushing to the edge of its limits, but time with the laptop grew my appreciation for 14+ inch notebooks. As with all ThinkPads, it's well built and with two toddlers at home, the spill-proof keyboard design came in handy. As someone who knows a lot of people in IT, I definitely see this giving their current Dell XPS 15's and older ThinkPad models a run for their money. If there is only one take away from this review, it's that the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is now Lenovo's Bizarro Superman laptop.Further reading: Intel, Lenovo, Microsoft, ThinkPad P1