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Lenovo ThinkPad X230 Review: Blasphemy

Author: Matt Smith
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Lenovo

User Interface, Display and Audio Quality

User Interface

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Alright, let’s talk about the keyboard. 
 
Lenovo has used a beveled key cap design since the beginning of the universe. This was not unusual at the time – beveled caps were standard for years. Then a little company called Apple began to use island style keyboards and, whaddya know, PC manufacturers suddenly started to follow suit (which was a slap in the face to Sony – they’d already adopted the design, but no one seemed to care). 
 
While switching to the island style may seem like a huge departure from the past it is, for Lenovo, nothing new. The Edge has already proven that the company can make excellent keyboards regardless of the key design used and the “new” keyboard is just an adaptation of what was already found on that model. 
 
My normal typing pace is somewhere near 80 words-per-minute and can go up to 100, so I quickly notice problems in a keyboard’s feel or layout. I can find none here. Key feel is adequate, key spacing is excellent and the layout is comfortable. Small laptops like this sometimes are too cramped for my tastes, but I had no problem with the X230.
 
The main issue that a ThinkPad loyalist will notice is key feel. The key caps on the AccuType keyboard seem bit more abrupt than those on the older model. Key travel bottoms out more firmly and overall key travel seems slightly reduced. Does this ruin the experience? No – but it does change the experience in ways some ThinkPad enthusiasts won’t like.
 
As for the trackpointer, well, it’s the same as before. If you’ve never liked a trackpointer, you won’t like this one. If you’ve always liked them, you’ll like this one. A small touchpad is included for those with an allergy to red pointers.
 
Display And Audio Quality
 
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Lenovo offers a number of different display options on the Lenovo X230. All have a resolution of 1366x768 which, despite the popular hatred of that particular pixel count, is fine for a laptop of this size. Our review unit came with the upgraded “Flexview” panel, which is one of the few IPS displays available on a laptop.
 
Black level test images offered the best results I’ve yet seen from a laptop – every part of the test was discernible. Viewing angles are also a high point, as the display’s name suggests. There’s nearly no shift in color and text is fully discernible from any angle on both the horizontal and vertical axis. 
Despite all of this goodness, this remains a matte display. The X230 therefor lacks the vibrant color offered by the very best glossy displays – though it’s still better than the vast majority of displays found in consumer laptops. 720p video looks good and, thanks to the matte coat, can be enjoyed anywhere.
 
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Don’t go thinking this is the world’s smallest multimedia laptop, however. Audio quality is not up to that task. Maximum volume is insufficient for rooms with more than modest ambient noise and there’s nearly no bass. The X230 is fine for travelers in hotel rooms with no other source of audio enjoyment but will otherwise need to be supplemented by headphones or a pair of external speakers.
July 31, 2012 | 09:11 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

No OpenCL benchmarks I am sure the "mobile professionals" that Lenovo is marketing to:

http://www.lenovo.com/products/us/laptop/thinkpad/x-series/x230/x230-dat...

will have the time to play games? But what about the laptops OpenCL and heavy business number crunching that OpenCL is made to deal with? Are there any spreadsheet benchmarks that can be helped with OpenCL? This is a business laptop that needs business benchmarks! How is Intel doing with their OpenCL, Thats what I want to know!
How 'bout those OpenGL and OpenCL drivers will I have to get them form Intel or are they customizied Intel drivers that I will have to get from Lenovo? Load that puppy up with 64 Gig USB thumb drives and transfer some 40 gig data bases to them, yes fill all the USB ports and jam as much data through them as you can, and tell me how much time I have to twiddle my thumbs waiting! OH and do not forget, to test those other slots Too! Come on, I would love to see anyone on any "Tech" site really put a laptop through its' paces!

August 1, 2012 | 08:25 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I'd love to see some more benchmarks too, but gaming on these kinda things isn't unheard of (and it is a decent way to get an idea of the power of the Intel 4000). Latitudes and Thinkpads have a decent presence on campuses (we treat our computers rough. Reliable, reparable, and a decent set of hinges matters here), and students don't mind the ability to play a little Civ V or TF2 if they get the time. From experience, nVidia NVS drivers feel a little funny compared to their GeForce counterparts, but the T420/T520 (and Dell equivalent) don't fall apart entirely when taken to unfamiliar territory.

August 1, 2012 | 10:17 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

MORE and MORE testing should be done! USB (Ultra Bombastic Scam) testing USB on laptops should the most often benchmarked! On laptops with USB 3.0 testing should include thumb drives from the cheepest to the most expensave thumb drives out there, and of course testing USB 2.0 thumb drives in USB 3.0 ports should always be done, you would be suprised at how terrable some laptops USB 3.0 drivers fare with USB 2.0 devices! I am sure PCPER has a box full of USB thumb drives, pull them out and test every laptop that comes through your doors! If you review a laptop you should at least test all the I/O slots Express card, SATA, etc. Put different hard drives in the laptop and run benchmarks, let the reader know how much the laptop drives and memory can be upgraded and put the Laptop OEM's hardware drivers through some complete testing, some laptops' hardware drivers perform like crap! Last, Get a complete hardware data sheet from the OEM and list it always, readers would like to know the motherboard and chipset info for laptops as much as gamers want to know the info for the gaming rigs!

August 3, 2012 | 02:51 PM - Posted by KngtRider

Laptop USB3 is typically the same as desktop USB3
Same IC and same drivers.

Some addon expresscard adapters are not designed well and like to use extra power using a usb cable.

NEC USB3 in Ultrabook and Intel USB3 no problems, except that sleep-n-charge is usually not supprted on the third party, even though the hw can support it. Too complicated supporting two hardwares with the one control utility.

Some OEMs dont offer the latest third party USB3 driver though

August 1, 2012 | 06:30 AM - Posted by Eugenian (not verified)

Is the HD user-accessible (i.e. to replace it with an SSD when the prices are right) or is that door on the bottom just for RAM access?

August 1, 2012 | 07:55 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Yes and very easy to replace at that. But make sure you get a 7mm height, the 9.5mm drives won't fit.

Love my x220, this new keyboard layout sucks!

August 1, 2012 | 09:20 AM - Posted by Tim Verry

heh, I'm inclined to agree with you. From the pictures in the review, that new keyboard just looks... odd!

August 2, 2012 | 06:04 AM - Posted by JSL

... it's as if the keyboard we knew and loved procreated with a chicklet keyboard, and out came out this monstrosity.

August 1, 2012 | 07:57 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Oh and Thanks for reviewing Thinkpad[s].

August 1, 2012 | 08:36 AM - Posted by Jeff Frizzell_Intel (not verified)

The lower gaming performance for this laptop vs the Asus NV56M is almost certainly due to the fact that this laptop is only equipped with a single 4GB dimm - in effect running in single channel mode vs dual channel halves the memory bandwidth. Any games that are memory bandwidth intensive will get hammered as a result.

You can see this difference in reviews of two ultrabooks with HD4000:
http://www.notebookcheck.net/Lenovo-IdeaPad-U310-Laptop-Review.77082.0.html
http://www.notebookcheck.net/Review-Update-Toshiba-Satellite-Z930-119-Ul...

Identical CPUs, both with 4GB ram, but the Toshiba is 2x2GB whereas the Lenovo is 1x4GB.

Application Lenovo Toshiba
Cinebench OGL 10.22 16.27
3DMark06 3332 4948

Memo to everyone: if you are buying a laptop with Intel processor graphics or an AMD APU and you intend to do any gaming or other graphics intensive work (CAD, GPGPU, etc), make sure that the system is running dual channel mode (e.g. configured with 2 dimms).

Note: while I work for Intel, my opinions are my own

August 1, 2012 | 06:04 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

Thanks for the input. This is an explanation I wouldn't have thought of.

August 2, 2012 | 01:16 PM - Posted by KngtRider

Ryan highlighted the benefit of faster RAM in a very recent podcast and thats exactly right, the scenarios where RAM speed is more visible, both channels/aggregate bandwidth and higher clockspeed ram giving greater total bandwidth is Integrated GFX and thats where its most easily tested.

In the case Ryan was describing he was talking about AMD's APU and 1866 was cheap enough to use for this purpose.

I recall a Kingston HyperX 1866 SO-DIMM review on another site where the increase from generic 'OEM" 1333 to these performance models was remarkable especially in heavy benchmarks such as HAWX2 and other typical benchmark suite titles.

August 1, 2012 | 09:43 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Hay! Intel Jeff Frizzell, why does Intel let OEM's customize the Intel HD graphics drivers on their laptops, and why do some laptop OEM's never ever update these customized Intel HD graphics drivers? I have a Toshiba laptop that is useless to me without the ability to get updated Intel grnaric HD graphics dirvers for the Intel HD GPU on the laptop! How 'bout Intel take ownership of this process and require Laptop OEMs to at least offer updates as often as Intel does with the Intel genaric HD graphics drivers. Better yet STOP allowing laptop OEMs from customizing the drivers That Intel should be responsable for in the first place!

August 1, 2012 | 11:37 PM - Posted by Jeff Frizzell_Intel (not verified)

First, let me say that I totally get what you are saying - as an end user, you want to be able to take advantage of driver updates from Intel as Intel continues to roll out new features, bug fixes, performance improvements. In essence, this adds "future proofing" to your purchase.

Now lets look from the OEM perspective: They get paid once when you buy the system. That's it. The OEMs validate the software image (drivers, apps, etc) when they roll out a new model to verify that all the software works together. They are worried that if an end user installs some random driver and that happens to not work (or prevents the laptop from going to standby on lid close...), then they (the OEM) will get support calls for a configuration they have no data about. Call centers are expensive - OEMs operate on very thin margins so one support call may make the difference between a profit vs loss for that laptop sale. Ok, so they could revalidate with new drivers from time to time - but that adds cost too.

So they ask Intel for an ability to have you only get drivers from the OEM site which lets them control their QA cost and call center exposure. Note that this isn't just an issue with Intel graphics - some OEMs do the same with AMD and NVidia.

I don't like it but I understand their need to protect their business model. I work in graphics and, believe me, this is something I definitely am pushing to see improved.

You can help by letting them know that you will factor ability to get ongoing driver upates through the OEM or directly from Intel as a factor in your purchasing decisions (e.g. which brand you would choose OR whether you would pay a premium to have ongoing driver support OR whether you would agree that you wouldn't call their support line if you installed custom driver...). If enough customers say this then maybe some brave OEM will take the lead and the others will follow?

Note: There is a workaround - the code to check the OEM vs Intel generic is in the setup.exe. You can bypass that by doing a "Have Disk" install by following the instructions here:
http://www.intel.com/support/graphics/sb/CS-022355.htm?wapkw=graphics+ha...

Note: while I work for Intel, my opinions are my own.

August 2, 2012 | 08:22 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I hope pcper is reading your reply, as laptop OEM's should be rated on service after the sale. Any review of a laptop should include information on The Intel Graphics drivers, are they OEM customized or are are they Intel GENARIC HD graphics drivers! The Toshiba C655 laptop that I own is starting to become more unuseable! Not only have I been unable to get Intel HD graphics driver updates from The OEM, but also, The Toshiba VALUE added package, which controls my wifi has started to falter after the last few windows updates! It would help On the Intel side if Intel could maintain a list of laptop makes and models that utilize Intel Genaric HD graphics Drivers, so the laptop buyer could at least see if the laptop they are about to purchase IS on the Intel Genaric Graphics Drivers List!
Better Yet, Intel should create a graphics driver framework that the OEM's could use that could be updated without the
OEM's having to write any new code. This framework should be cross platform and maintained by Intel.

August 2, 2012 | 09:57 AM - Posted by Jeff Frizzell_Intel (not verified)

I should clarify - the "OEM customized" drivers are not different code. They are the exact same binaries as the Intel generic ones.

The only differences are in some of the installer files (.inf, etc):
1) the OEMs can customize some settings to tweak defaults or disable features that their platform doesn't support;
2) since laptop LVDS panels don't have EDID information, the OEMs can provide the equivalent about the panel they are integrating to let the driver control it more effectively;
3) the vendor id/device id string is extended to include an OEM id/model to flag this as an OEM customized driver.

August 2, 2012 | 01:13 PM - Posted by KngtRider

Have disk would just detect the matching SUBSYSID though unless the INF is modified or the INF presents multiple choices being a generic device or a OEM targeted device with a SUBSYS ID

LVDS not haveing an EDID - you have answered a question I have been rying to find an answer for for a while on why LCD panel vendors insist to 'match the LCD to your old one' when replacing panels, despite said chassis offering multple specification of screen. However I can get panel data using common tools such as AIDA64 is that not reading the EDID via DDC or whatever that other channel was called.

August 2, 2012 | 01:05 PM - Posted by KngtRider

The buttons/cards app controls your wifi. Windows updates should have nothing to do with affecting it. Use the latest version from toshiba

The end user does not need to know if a laptop uses generic drivers or not. Driver should be supported by the OEM for the product life of the notebook.

The only time the driver becomes relevant is when Intel releases a major update that addresses game performance which is infrequently and not really the realm of a laptop or if the user hangs onto a laptop for a while and upgrades the os to a newer version.

This is a misconception pushed by some.
messing with drivers is too much of a pain on a laptop and one is better off at the end of the day sticking with the officially supported versions.

Fortunately Lenovo Thinkpad has great driver support especially for things like WiFi which are quite recent builds.They even update the MANUALS for the older units such as T61 post EOL and the BIOS are not that old.

Where things go wrong with drivers is at the chipset/product EOL.

For example some older chips such as 965, 4 series no longer recive driver updates. Although I mandate latest drivers and firmware If I am honest there is not much drivers can do for those older GPUSs anyway.

Intels GPU driver relesae schedule is sometimes patchy and even when a build is released it may be targeted at only tnew newest product rather than compatible products such as Ivy Bridge V Sandy Bridge GPU drivers.

There never will be a reference graphics driver for any notebook with a lid or motion sensors, unless EVERYONE agrees on a common standard, being the platform,graphics, os people, VESA, DISPLAYPORT,USB-IF and whoever else has their toes in the water.

NVIDIA and AMD are trying and even they have not got it licked. Theres also legal aspects to consider OEMs only want to support their own validated code as they sell product to mission critical purposes or large enterprise/govt users.

August 2, 2012 | 02:44 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I looked for the latest verson for my make and model, Toshiba appears to have written them for the Vista time frame, and If the software worked under Win 7 , well Toshiba was fine with that. Toshiba does not appear to be updating their Value Added Package software for my computer, they will probably be forced to update more for Windows 8. I am thinking of converting the Toshiba Laptop to Linux and using it as a file server! I am sure that I will never buy another Toshiba Laptop again! Hell 2 years after I purchased the Toshiba Laptop The extra Wifi software that useually comes with new Toshiba Laptops finally was made available for my Satellite C655 series toshiba laptop, 2 years too late!

August 3, 2012 | 02:48 PM - Posted by KngtRider

C655 is windows7 era, most laptops that SHIPPED with vista os/logo have one or two issues with even windows 7 that require vista driver or the utilities that cant be used

I had a C660 and Z830 this year.
660 is identical cabinet to C655 and the motherboard would be similar.

I wouldnt buy another C660 but the software support for any post 2009/win7 unit shouldnt be a problem, that is 45nm core2duo and newer.

65nm c2d dates back to 2006 and many brands stopped updating bios around by 2010

Linux support is poor on modern toshibas especially with the function keys due to lack of hardware switches and ports

Get a real laptop if you want to run linux , thinkpad is a good idea.

August 7, 2012 | 09:21 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I have 2 other laptops, I want to use the C655's First generation Core i3 porcessor for a file server, I just have to replace the fast ethernet card with a gigabit ethernet card and put linux on it, then and RAID some cheep 64 gig thumb drives on 2 4 port usb hubs, 1 hub for each of the toshiba's usb ports, Take out the optical drive and replace it with a hard drive! Windows will not allow cheep thumb drives to be configured into a RAID, but Linux will. I can have a cheep file server with 2 hard drives and 2 solid state drives (Hopefully I can get 20 MBs writes from 4 thumb drives in a RAID configuration).

August 7, 2012 | 09:23 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

"Edit Put linux on it" TO Install linux on the laptop

August 2, 2012 | 02:58 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

If Toshiba Sells laptops To the government, then Toshiba needs to Do What IBM and the other Large Scale Computing COs have be doing for generations Set up a Government division and Bill for the driver updates, Use the Government $$ to keep the drivers updated and supply the consumer division with the most up to date drivers!

August 3, 2012 | 02:38 PM - Posted by KngtRider

Toshiba dont sell Satelite C series to the govt, these are entry level sub $500 units that are absolutely bare bones and cost reduced.

They have other models, but even those are not that desirable to enterprises these days

August 2, 2012 | 08:38 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Lenovo seems to have Big Blue's mainframe philosophy when it comes to laptops. The big mainframe companies IBM, BURROUGHS(gone/merged), UNIVAC(gone/merged) had great documentation Hardware and Software(operating systems).
They had plenty of SYSTEM SOFTWARE manuals written in a cogent and organizied manner ( Microsoft none of that IBM Excellent documentation philosophy rubbed off on You, DID IT!). I wish Microsoft would have some of IBM's technical writers untangle the tangled mess that is your "knowledge" base!

August 3, 2012 | 02:34 PM - Posted by KngtRider

Pre windows 95, microsoft manuals were the size of phone books - more so windows and office than dos

August 2, 2012 | 08:47 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I would like everyone reading this article to try to create a Wikipedia entry for their current make and model of laptop! My reason for asking this is The Laptop OEM's documentation is gitting worse as each new model year passes. More new laptops are being sold with incomplete manfactures' data sheets than ever before. The retailers are trying to hide as much information as possable from the buying public. Have you ever tried to query the system information from a display laptop lately? Not an easy task.
Have you ever tried to Go to the Intel website, while using that display model laptop! You need administrative privileges to install the components from Intel that will tell you if your Intel HD graphics drivers are GENARIC are not! I have 3 laptops and only one uses Intel genaric HD graphics drivers. One of those laptops will never get the needed updates from the OEM!

August 2, 2012 | 01:17 PM - Posted by KngtRider

To anyone who has criticism of the new keyboard, read LAPTOPMAG's recent 'scientific' analysis of the old versus new keyboard.

They measured, sound recorded, the works.

TL:DR new one won.

August 2, 2012 | 03:42 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Hay! I have an AUSU U56E I got at Best Buy, The letters have worn of the 4 of the Keys, You will never see that on a think pad. Good laptop otherwise, the ASUS but, I had to hound them for 2 Mo. Just to get Asus to give me the System Specs. Be careful of the laptops you get from Best Buy, some of them are special orders form the Laptop's OEMs and ASUS should not have released That U56E for sell without first having proper documentation published first! What I miss the most on the newer laptops is the lack of a WiFI hardware button, to turn the WIFI ANT. off. My newest laptop, a Samsung Series 3 software switch does not keep the wifi ant. off, even though I have it switched off in the software. It takes about 60 sec after the computer has started before the software, that controlls my WIFI, to start
and realise that the wifi should be off, and sometimes if I am at a location where I previously have logged on to the wifi My computer will auto-login for me (this I do not Like) and is a security concern! I have to constently monitor this laptop to make sure I have the Do Not Auto- login checkbox checked, and I wish that the default setting could be made to never auto-login!

September 29, 2012 | 06:08 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

My X220 was a dreadful, and expensive mistake. Milspec is a joke, like the matt black paint which is more rub-off than it is rubberised. The "rugged" magnesium alloy chassis split on one side within three months, because it couldn't handle the pressure of my hands on the palmrest whilst typing. No my arms are not overweight, and even if they were it wouldn't warrant the way Lenovo support shrugged off the fault as "damage not covered by warranty". With a month left on my warranty my laptop has since developed display ghosting (my screen is the premium IPS option) and a faulty hard drive. My keyboard is starting to rattle loose at the bottom right corner. All in all, my x220 has been more of a frail rickety contraption to be handled with apprehension and care than the "road warrior" Lenovo sold to me.

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