Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lenovo ThinkPad X120e Review

In today's market, manufacturers have to find an aggressive way to reach out to potential future clients and offer the best possible product. You want something that's portable, yet powerful enough when you are at home plugged in. Something that's got a little punch, yet doesn't drain battery life. Something small enough to fit in your bag, yet you don't want to scroll down the page every time to check a new page. AMD might have an answer for you : APU. APU (advanced processing unit) is a CPU (central processing unit) and a GPU (graphics processing unit) merged into the same die (chip).

Lenovo has introduced this new technology recently in their new Lenovo ThinkPad X120e notebook. Let's see if it fits the bill.

The X120e can come in different configurations so here is what was in the system that we reviewed :
  • AMD Fusion E-350 (Zacate)
  • Radeon HD 6310 Graphics
  • 2GB DDR3 Ram
  • 320GB HDD (5400 rpm)
  • Wireless B/G/N
  • Bluetooth
  • Windows 7 Pro 64-bit
  • 6 cell battery

Retails for $589.99 CDN.

A closer look

The outside :

Lenovo has decided to stick to their business look with this new entry in the ThinkPad series. At first we were skeptical about the look, but it grows on you, a simple yet classic design. We loved that the material used all around for the plastic is a matte black color. No finger marks everywhere, no cleaning to do, it looks good.

On the front we find 2 light indicators, battery and sleep. No HDD or Wireless light indicators but we don't find that to be too much of a negative thing. People rarely use those lights. Looking on the right side we find a card reader and 2 USB 2.0 port, one color-coded yellow that can be used to charge an iPod, iPhone or a BlackBerry even when the system is turned off (having it plugged in is recommended). On the left side we have a Kensigton lock, vents for the fan, HDMI, USB 2.0, Ethernet (10/100/1000) and a combo audio jack. The back features the A/C adapter plug, the battery and VGA to connect an external monitor.

The X120e does not come with an ODD, which is often the case with systems of this size.

The small but surprising X120e from Lenovo.
The matte screen in all it's glory.  Notice the lack of reflection!
Right side : Card reader and 2 x USB.
Left side : Kensigton lock, vent, HDMI, USB, Ethernet and combo audio jack.
The keyboard :

The keyboard has a chiclet style with slightly curved keys, helping you hit the right key and not land a “key hit” in-between two keys. The layout is simple and what you would expect from a notebook of that size : smaller F and arrow keys. The fact that the “Home”, “End”, etc … buttons have been moved to the top row with the F keys allows you to have a bigger keyboard that's almost full size. Both Shift keys have a good size to them, none of that shorten silliness. Sadly we found the positioning of the FN key slightly annoying. It's located where the Ctrl key is usually found and was hit many times by accident trying to do simple commands such a Copy and Paste (Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V). A FN fitted somewhere between the Alt and Windows key would have been appreciated.

The overall construction feels very solid with no keyboard flex.

Chiclet keyboard with the two mouse combo.
Trackpad and mouse :

The X120e comes with Lenovo's good old double mouse action : a trackpad and a red button mouse. The top of the trackpad has 3 buttons associated with the red button mouse and the trackpad itself has 2 buttons under it.

The button mouse works, but we would probably rarely to never use it. The trackpad is responsive and feels good. The buttons are excellent and easy to press. Our only grief with this combo design is we'd want more trackpad surface to use. We find it to be a little small, making you having to constantly move your finger to reach what you want instead of getting it in one motion.

The screen :

It's matte. Yes, a matte screen. We are so happy to see a matte screen on a portable computer simply because in bright daylight when it is usually used, it gives less of a reflection and makes it a lot easier to work with. It puzzles us as to why no one follows in Lenovo's footsteps and a few others who still use matte screens. For a computer of that price we are pleasantly surprised! The resolution also at 1366x768 is simply huge for a screen of that size. Everything looks sharper and better compared to the same resolution on a 14inch screen.

The battery :

With it's 6 cell battery, Lenovo claims that the system will have enough juice on a full charge for 6-7 hours of usage.

At first we didn't like the idea of the battery sticking out behind like that, be found it helped to stabilize the notebook, especially when opening the screen. It soon didn't bother us anymore. It must be noted though that although it is a 11.6inch screen due to the battery sticking out like that, buy a sleeve for a 12inch screen!
Speakers at the bottom.
Under (the hood) :

Under the notebook is nothing special. We find the speakers hidden behind a mesh cover at the front of the notebook. The look works with the rest of the system. To open her up, simply remove 3 screws and you can remove the cover. The HDD and RAM are easily accessible for quick upgrades down the road. The system supports up to 4GB of RAM.

HDD top left and 4GB of RAM (2x2) bottom right.
 Let's boot it up!

To our surprise, we thought it was a typo, but yes the X120e comes with Windows 7 Pro 64-bit, not the Home version we usually find in the X120e's competitors around the same price range. Good for you Lenovo! Also on first install Lenovo asks you if you want to install the typical bloatware on your computer. We happily said no to Microsoft Office and Norton Anti-Virus. Great idea to be able to choose if we want the bloatware or not!

Once fully booted up and configured we still found a little bloatware from Lenovo, mainly their “Toolbox” found in the taskbar. It is powered by PC-Doctor and keeps an eye on your system for you. It can be disabled or simply ignored if you do not want/need it. Everything else can be easily uninstalled.


Ok, it seems to work, the size, the look, but does it have that little punch? The short answer is no. The AMD E-350 (1.6GHz) is great for web browsing, writing, listening to some music and watching your typical YouTube video with it's dual-core, but it isn't very snappy. It will work, but sometimes we found ourselves wanting to have our things displayed faster. Don't get us wrong, this notebook isn't suppose to blow anything out of the water, it's certainly more powerful than a netbook, but not by much. The best thing you can do, and we strongly recommend it, is to upgrade the RAM from 2 to 4GB.  A stick of 2GB of RAM (DDR3-1333) costs around $25.  The system instantly became more responsive.

When we look closer at the system, we notice that the graphics card used 384MB of the system's memory, explaining why the X120e feels sluggish with only 2GB of RAM, leaving only 1.6GB for Windows 7 and other applications.

Here with 4GB of RAM installed, 384MB being reserved for the Radeon 6310.
Watching HD movies:

When we tried to watch some HD movies at 720p we found that the system was being taxed with only 2GB of RAM but as soon as we upgraded it to 4, it was smooth sailing. With the screen so sharp and especially with a true HD resolution, it looks fantastic and really works.

Gaming :

Can I game on this system? We tried running StarCraft 2, a fairly new and demanding game, on the X120e and our verdict is : it's debatable. The thing that still puzzles us is that StarCraft 2 by default sets the settings to Medium, but it is not playable. We had to drop everything to Low and set the resolution to 1024x768 for the game to be playable. This little confusion with the settings makes us think that perhaps a more mature driver could perhaps fix this issue. But as mentioned, with everything at Low, we were able to play most games, but when we tried the Phantom mode with 8 players having maxed out armies, the frame rate dropped to about 4fps and became unplayable.

The X120e isn't a gamer at heart but should be able to satisfy your needs for current and older games at lowish settings. Enough to help you if you feel like you are going through gaming withdrawal on a business trip.

3dMark06 :

When we ran 3dMark06 on it at the default settings we obtained a score of 1648 3DMarks with 2GB and 1669 3DMarks with 4GB of RAM.  After every test, 3dMark06 said the scores could not be added to leaderboards or shown as example due to "Graphics driver is not approved.".  We think that the drivers are simply not mature enough, typical with brand new releases.

In comparison, the ASUS UL80VT-A1 with the same resolution, same 3dMark06 settings, a duo-core Intel CPU at 1.73GHz vs 1.6GHz, also 4GB of RAM but with a discrete 210M graphics card with 512MB of dedicated memory scored 3452 3DMarks.  The APU simply cannot match the discrete graphics card's raw power, and as long as it will use the system's memory, it probably won't.

The ASUS can easily handle StarCraft 2 at 720p resolution with settings on Low, which are selected by default.  This puzzles us as the Radeon 6310 had their settings set to Medium.  The ASUS retailed (now discontinued) for $200 more.

The Radeon 6310 that powers the graphics of the X120e.
Battery life :

THE question. Does AMD's APU technology work? Yes. Does it meets there estimated battery life? No. Surprised? We were able to get near 6 hours of out the battery with brightness set to 1/3 and Wi-Fi on, so a typical school day. Watching HD with brightness at ½ and gaming we got almost 4 hours out of the battery. While not spectacular, it is more than enough to get you through the day if you forgot your A/C adapter at home (like we ALL have at one point).

Final Thoughts :

Small and portable (1.5kg), it's the size of a netbook with the power of a notebook. Battery life should be enough to get you through the day and when you get back home in the evening you can plug it in and enjoy some HD movies on its matte screen sporting a native HD resolution.

While not a gamer at heart, it will be able to perform with older games when required. Do yourself a favor if you pickup this system (or a similar AMD E-350 system), add the extra 2GB of RAM, you'll thank yourself.

Backed up by a one year (only) warranty from Lenovo, we recommend this system to the user who doesn't have a main system at home. If you have another computer that can satisfy your gaming and more complex needs or 1080p movies, perhaps spending less and getting a netbook would be a better option.

After all is said and done, we still think that Lenovo has a winner here with the ThinkPad X120e. This new integrated CPU and GPU technology is still not perfect, battery life isn't exceptional, CPU power is a little on the slow side, but the AMD Zacate is still a big step forward, and not a waste of money if it fits your needs.


  1. Really nice review :)

    Cheers from Montreal, Canada

  2. really thorough and useful review--thanks!

  3. Love your review...also I read many reviews in past few days for this machine. This review was exceptional answering all my in-mind questions

    And thanks for noting the actual battery it wasn't available anywhere else

    apart from that, I enjoyed viewing images taken for laptop side as with it's unusual perspective revealed more than standard straight forward machine side images do

  4. Thanks for that great review. Unfortunately Lenovo has decided to not releasing the x120e in Germany, but it's certainly worth the $80 for shipping.
    I'm looking forward to set my hands on it very much.

  5. I own a x120e and just installed another 2gb of RAM. Just wanted to say I liked your review. ;)

  6. Nice review. Found the detail about the need for a 12'' case nowhere else, and it is really helpful. Well done!