By Brian Nadel

The IBM ThinkPad X series offers an excellent balance between what you want in a notebook and what you want to carry. Starting at 3.6 pounds, this mighty mite shoehorns in a 12.1-inch screen and enough creature comforts to make this a valuable companion on the road. The X23 and X24 models sport slightly slower 866-MHz or 1.13-GHz Pentium III-M processors. The X30 comes in speeds of 1.06 GHz and 1.2 GHz but still uses the older Pentium III design. It also has room for more memory and larger hard drives and works with a new X3 UltraBase ($199) that, with a second battery in its UltraBay, can deliver up to 8 hours of battery life, according to IBM. Not bad for an ultraportable. All three versions of the ThinkPad X series also offer unusual features such as a security chip, a CompactFlash slot, a keyboard light, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless networking on some models. Add it all up, and you may never need to return to your desk. Click here to configure and price one today.

Even in its ultraportables, IBM doesn’t stray much from its tried-and-true ThinkPad design. The ThinkPad X series comes in the same matte black and (Figure A) has the same beveled-edge design (the base has a slightly smaller footprint than the top) as the larger ThinkPad T, R, and A series notebooks. The titanium-composite case makes the X series both stronger and lighter than notebooks that use conventional plastics, and its textured surfaces create an alluring look and feel. Of course, if you want a notebook with a little more sex appeal, other manufacturers, such as Sony and HP, offer products with stylized, futuristic designs. But the X series has a sophisticated design that will look equally at home in meetings or on the kitchen table.

Figure A
CNET Rating: 8 out of 10
The good: Sophisticated, durable design; Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled; great keyboard and pointing stick; CompactFlash slot; security features
The bad: No Pentium 4-M, few graphics accelerator choices, slightly larger and heavier than the competition
CNET recommends: IBM ThinkPad X30: Windows XP Professional; 1.2-GHz Intel Pentium III-M, 248-MB SDRAM 133 MHz, Intel Extreme Graphics Controller 48 MB (8 MB shared), Hitachi DK23EA-40 40 GB 4,200 rpm

The well balanced X series measures roughly 1.2 inches high by 10.7 inches wide by 8.9 inches deep with a travel weight of 3.6 pounds. A little narrower and longer than the current X23 and X24 designs, the road-ready X30 that we tested weighed just over 4 pounds, including the 15-ounce power adapter. Most competing ultraportables, including the Compaq Evo N400, Dell Latitude X200, Gateway 200, Sony VAIO SRX series, and Toshiba Portégé 2000, are generally a little smaller and lighter, but few of them match the breadth of features available in the X series.

The ThinkPad X series features IBM’s legendary keyboard with sturdy, standard-sized keys and a large, easy-to-find spacebar. For those who burn the midnight oil, the ThinkLight, located on the top edge of the display, can help illuminate the keys. With IBM’s distinctive TrackPoint keyboard, you can place the cursor anywhere, although we prefer the new pointing stick and touch pad combination (UltraNav) on the ThinkPad T series.

While all of the ThinkPad X series notebooks look the same from a distance, the X30 generally offers better components underneath its hood. For example, the X23 and X24 have slightly slower 866-MHz or 1.13-GHz Pentium III-M CPUs and supports hard drives of only 30 GB or less and a maximum 640 MB of system memory. The X30 is available in speeds of 1.06 GHz and 1.2 GHz but it still uses the older Pentium III design. (The X30 can’t handle the heat produced by the latest Pentium 4-M processors.) The 9.5mm hard drive comes in 20-GB and 40-GB capacities but unfortunately spins at a slow 4,200 rpm. The system can hold up to a gigabyte of SDRAM in its two DIMM memory slots.

Despite its diminutive size, the IBM ThinkPad X series offers a staggering variety of component choices—except when it comes to graphics. The X30 features an Intel 830MG Extreme Graphics controller, which uses between 8 MB and 48 MB of system memory for video. As a result, the 12.1-inch XGA screen never gets particularly brilliant, even at its highest brightness setting. While adequate for general business use, gamers should look elsewhere. The X23 and X24 come with an ATI Mobility Radeon M6 graphics accelerator with 8 MB of dedicated memory—a more advanced video system than the X30’s shared memory architecture.

We tested an X30 with a 1.2-GHz Intel Pentium III-M, 256-MB SDRAM, a 40-GB hard drive, and the Intel Extreme Graphics Controller set to use 8 MB of shared system memory. (You can configure it to use up to 48 MB, depending on your needs.)

IBM manages to cram a surprising assortment of components into a small case. In addition to the usual LAN and modem connections, the X30 comes with a built-in Wi-Fi radio; the buyer gets the choice of an Intel or Cisco mini PCI module. If you want a totally tricked-out system, the top-of-the-line X30 offers an optional Bluetooth radio. With the X23 and X24 models, you must choose between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless radios.

The ThinkPad X series provides a good mix of old and new ports. These include two USB ports; 56K modem and Ethernet jacks; headphone, line-in, and microphone jacks; and an S-Video out port. IBM color-codes all the plugs for easy recognition but fails to include covers to help keep out dirt and dust. The left edge features an infrared port, a Type II PC card slot, and a CompactFlash slot—a rarity these days, but perfect for owners of digital cameras or MP3 players. The X30 model also includes FireWire and parallel ports. An optional, $200 X3 UltraBase adds a pair of speakers; a plethora of ports; and a modular bay for an optical, floppy, or Zip drive. At 2.2 pounds with a CD drive in place, however, it should remain on the desk and not in your briefcase.

When it comes to security, IBM manages to outdo all its competitors. Certain X series models feature a built-in security chip and client software, which makes logging on to a corporate network safe and easy. The rest of the software depends on the specific model of the ThinkPad X series that you choose: Some include Windows 2000 Professional and others have Windows XP Professional. None include a productivity suite out of the box, though you can upgrade to a version of Office XP. The X30 comes with Lotus SmartSuite Millennium Edition, Lotus Notes Client, and a host of PC utilities, such as Veritas RecordNow for backing up your hard drive or individual files to an optical disc.

In CNET Labs’ tests, we clocked the ThinkPad X30 against the Compaq Evo N410c and the Gateway 200, two competing ultraportable notebooks. The ThinkPad X30 delivered acceptable performance on applications tests, placing second to the Evo N410c. However, the minuscule difference in performance between the two systems will go largely unnoticed in real-world use. On battery tests, the ThinkPad X30 turned in admirable numbers, this time beating the Evo N410c in another close race. The slower, 933-MHz Pentium III-M Gateway 200 finished last on both counts.

Service and support
Service remains one of the jewels in IBM’s crown. The ThinkPad X series comes with a solid three-year warranty and a worldwide network of support technicians and 24/7 phone banks. An onscreen manual, called Access ThinkPad, provides great information for beginners and veterans alike, and the IBM Web site contains a wealth of online resources, including manuals, troubleshooting tips, and accessories for older notebooks. You can also automatically find out when your warranty expires and get phone numbers for service in places from Abu Dhabi to the Turks and Caicos Islands. To prevent theft, sign up for a free year of Absolute’s Computrace service. If the thief uses your computer to log on to the Internet, the company can not only track down your hot computer, but also remotely delete sensitive material from the hard drive. After the first year, it will cost you $74 for an additional four years.

Performance Charts
MobileMark 2002 mobile performance test
On everyday application tests (Table A), the ThinkPad X30 scored just two points below the similarly configured Evo N410c. While merely average, the ThinkPad X30 offers more than enough speed to please most corporate users.

Table A
Longer bars indicate faster performance.

MobileMark 2002 battery-life test
For a 1.2-GHz notebook, the ThinkPad X30 demonstrated impressive battery life (Table B), thanks to its 10.8-volt, 4,400mAh, lithium-ion battery. It lasted a full four hours, barely beating the Evo N410c with its 14.4-volt, 2,700mAh, lithium-ion battery. The X30 also offers a clip-on $190 extended-life battery pack, which doubles the capacity to about eight hours of stop-and-go computing. A second battery can also be used with the X3 UltraBase docking station, a $199 option.

Table B
Time is measured in minutes; longer bars indicate better performance.

Testing procedures and system configurations
To measure Mobile Application Performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo’s MobileMark 2002. MobileMark measures application performance and battery life concurrently, using a number of popular applications: Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Netscape 6.0, WinZip 8.0, McAfee VirusScan 5.13, Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1, and Macromedia Flash 5.0.

  • IBM ThinkPad X30: Windows XP Professional; 1.2-GHz Intel Pentium III-M, 248-MB SDRAM @133-MHz, Intel Extreme Graphics Controller 48 MB (8 MB shared), Hitachi DK23EA-40 40 GB 4,200rpm
  • Compaq Evo N410c: Windows XP Professional; 1.2-GHz Intel Pentium III-M, 256-MB SDRAM @133-MHz, Intel 82830M Graphics Controller 32 MB (8 MB Shared); Hitachi DK23DA-40 40 GB 4,200rpm
  • Gateway 200: Windows XP Professional; 933-MHz Intel Pentium III-M; 248-MB SDRAM @ 133-MHz; Trident Video Accelerator Cyberblade X 16 MB (shared); Toshiba MK2018GAP 20 GB 4,200rpm

Complete specifications
Click here to configure and price one today. Table C shows the complete product specifications.
Table C

Processor manufacturer Intel
Processor type Pentium III-M
Clock speed 1.06 GHz, 1.2 GHz
Data bus speed / Chipset type 133 MHz
RAM installed 128 MB, 256 MB
RAM technology PC133 SDRAM
Max supported RAM 1 GB
Cache size 512 KB
Hard drive size 20 GB, 40 GB
Controller type IDE / EIDE
Physical Characteristics
Weight 3.6 lbs, 3.7 lbs
Width 10.7 in
Depth 8.8 in
Height 0.98 in
Input device(s) included Keyboard, pointing stick
Diagonal screen size 12.1 in
Display technology XGA TFT active matrix
Display max resolution 1024 x 768
Video / Audio
Video output Integrated Intel 830 MB
Modem / Networking
Modem type Fax / modem
Max transfer rate 56 Kbps
Analog modulation protocol ITU V.90
Networking 10/100 Ethernet, Bluetooth, Intel-Pro Wireless LAN
Expansion / Connectivity
Expansion slot(s) total (free) 1 Type II PC Card, Compact Flash
Port(s) total (free) / Connector type 2 USB, 1 Parallel, 1 Monitor, 1 Modem, 1 Ethernet,
1 IrDA, 1 Mic, 1 Headphone
Battery installed (max) Lithium Ion
Mfr estimated battery life 4.5 hr, 4.6 hr
OS provided Microsoft Windows XP Pro, Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional
Software included Lotus SmartSuite Millennium
Service / Support 3 year warranty

Processor speed:

The unit “MHz” measures microprocessor internal clock speed, not application performance. Many factors affect application performance.

Hard disk:

The unit “GB” represents 1,000 million bytes of hard disk capacity.

Modem max. data rate:

56k modems are capable of receiving data at speeds up to 56 kbps. However, due to FCC rules that restrict power output, maximum download speeds are limited to about 53 kbps. Data transmitting speeds are limited to 33.6 kbps. Actual speeds depend on many factors and are often less than the maximum possible.

Speed of CD-ROM drive:

Data transfer rates and transfer speeds will vary, depending on a variety of factors.

This review was original published by CNET on September 12, 2002.