A powerful 15.6-inch laptop with a great display and a fast graphics processor, at a price that makes a lot of sense

Highs

  • Very good 4K display option
  • Lightest high-performance 15.6-inch
  • Fast battery charging
  • Great performance/value

Lows

  • Noisy under intense workloads
  • No Core i9 CPU option today

Rating and Price

  • Rating: 9/10

Announced in August , the ThinkPad X1 Extreme got a discrete GPU, along with a 15.6-inch display. This is an important inflection point because until now the X1 line of computers was not often considered to be ideal for things such as video editing or even gaming.

Starting at 3.76 Lbs. the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is also the lightest 15.6” in its category which includes the MacBook Pro 15 and the Dell XPS 15, two prestigious competitors. Let’s see how this laptop performs in the real-world.

Configuration as tested, and configuration options

As tested: Intel Core i7-8750H with 32GB RAM, GeForce 1050Ti Max-Q, 1TB SSD (Samsung).

Lenovo offers a wide array of CPU options to cover a large set of use cases going from people who want an excellent productivity system with a large screen to a near workstation-level power, storage and features for professionals. After all, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is a cousin of the impressive ThinkPad P1 Workstation we covered earlier.

CPU options include the Intel Core i5-8400H, Core i7-8750H (+$150) and Core i7-8850H (+$350). That last one is rarely offered, and some competitors may have a Core i9 option, which Lenovo should get in December.

In the same spirit, the RAM options are 8/16/32/64 GB , with the 64GB option being rarely offered, although it could be tremendously useful for people who work with large datasets such as Creatives or scientists.

The displays options go from 1080p and 300 NITs brightness, to a much better 4K HDR with 100% sRGB gamut and 400 NITs (+$403) of brightness.

Storage goes from an HDD 256GB (SATA3) to 256/512/1024 GB of SSD NVME storage, and the X1 Extreme chassis can accept two M.2-2280 modules, each connected via PCIe-X4 to the system.

Lenovo X1 Extreme Overview Video

Industrial Design

At first glance, you can immediately see that this is a ThinkPad X1 because it uses the same design language as the X1 Carbon and X1 Yoga. Obviously, the chassis size is much larger, with this X1 Extreme being ~30% larger than the X1 Carbon. Of course, this is explained by radically different use cases.

"THE LIGHTEST CHASSIS IN THIS CATEGORY"

With 361.8 x 245.7 x 18.7 mm dimensions and a weight of 1800g (3.97 lbs), the X1 Extreme is a light laptop. In its category, its size is comparable to the MacBook Pro 15 (2018), but its weight is the lightest in this high-powered 15.6” laptops category.

In fact, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme has an even lighter version (3.76 Lbs) with a 1080p display. However, we are using the heavier weight of the 4K version since this is our test unit’s weight.

At 1800g, The X1 Extreme is comparable to Apple’s MacBook Pro 15 (1830g), about 10% lighter than Dell’s XPS 15 (2000g model 9570, with 97Wh battery) and 18% lighter than the Razer Blade 15 with a similar configuration (2132g). Clearly, the carbon material Lenovo is using is helping, although the chassis is not all-carbon as there’s aluminum as well.

Note that the LG Gram 15 is much lighter, but it also does not compete in the same performance category at all, so we’ll leave it out.

Durability

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme also is rated MIL-STD 810G Mil-Spec, which means that it could endure what army hardware go through during deployment storage and transport on the front line in terms of shocks/vibration, temperature, and humidity.

For a complete explanation of what MIL-STD-810G is, you can go over our What is MIL-STD-810G article

This certification is much more on-point for laptops than it is for handsets because laptops’ masses are high enough that internal parts could be damaged by excessive vibrations. Also, laptops screens are more insulated from cracking (when closed), so this is not a primary concern here. Breaking something inside is.

The laptop is not sealed, and the user or a technician can quickly open it to access/repair/upgrade internal components. The RAM and some storage options can be replaced by the user. Being able to upgrade critical components such as memory modules and SSD provides a potentially high value to the buyer.

Such upgrades can be done at a later time for a fraction of the price it would have cost at order-time because many PC Makers have higher margins on these order-time upgrades. On the other hand, component sellers have a lower margin and a vast array of after-market products

Keyboard and trackpad

The trackpad and keyboard are used every time, all the time, so input is a critical thing to assess when purchasing a mobile computer.

This keyboard has keys that are ~0.43 sq-inch big, which is considered to be large in the laptop world. In fact, the keys surface area (16x16mm) is more extensive than my desktop mechanical keyboard (14×14 mm) by a good margin. The key-travel distance is 1.7 mm, and that is very comfortable.

This keyboard has a U-shape key design, which means that the keys are not flat, but curved downwards in the middle. This makes the downward push force naturally push the fingertip towards the center, thus helping avoid typing errors.

The keyboard is backlit (2 levels of brightness) with a monochrome light, which is very handy at night, in bed (you should not) or in the plane. Recently, Lenovo and other OEMs have chosen to dim the backlight when not in use for a short time, even when plugged. I would recommend them to at least leave the light ON when plugged to power. It’s a bit of a hassle to have to turn it back on again later.

The Keyboard Key size, layout, and shape are crucial factors in making the keyboard more (or less) comfortable. Most of it is a matter of personal preferences, so it is important to try, if possible.

The X1 Extreme keyboard is spill-proof, so it can withstand a mug of water or coffee being spilled onto it by accident. This can be a lifesaver, especially for frequent travelers who do not enjoy a comfortable work area. Having a dead laptop during a trip is the last thing anyone wants, believe me.

With a trackpad surface of ~10.54 Square-inches, the trackpad is quite comfortable. When compared to the competition, this size is not the most impressive, but there are diminishing returns when it comes to trackpad sizes.

Like any other touch-interface, the size of the trackpad in relation to the gestures matters. On laptops, most people use scroll and “pinch & zoom” motions. More advanced usages require up to four fingers, and circular gestures tend to be more comfortable with a larger surface. Check the Windows 10 gestures

There’s no need to introduce the Lenovo TrackPoint system which in some circle remains the sole justification for buying a ThinkPad, even 25 years after ThinkPad was introduced.

Ports: everything you need, and a little more

With 15.6” laptops, there are usually plenty of ports, but the mix can vary a lot. Some OEMs choose to go all USB-C (MacBook), but the downside of that choice is the loss of compatibility with USB-A (regular full-size USB) connectors: that can be a significant annoyance.

"LENOVO HAS A JUDICIOUS PORTS SELECTION"

Lenovo has a judicious ports selection and was wise to keep two USB-A ports that can accommodate all the legacy devices you may need. Additionally, there are two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 (TB3) ports to access the cutting-edge storage, displays and even external GPUs you might want.

There’s a native Ethernet port as well, but not an RJ-45 one, unfortunately (the laptop is too thin for that), so you will need a dongle which is not included in the box. These days, I would go for a small USB-C TB3 dock/HUB with Gb Ethernet, power-delivery and a bunch of ports.

  • 2x USB Type C, Thunderbolt 3
  • 1x Standard HDMI 2.0
  • 1x Ethernet, Proprietary
  • 1x 3.5mm audio
  • 2x USB Type A, 3.1 Gen2
  • 1x Flash Reader, SD
  • 1x Kensington lock

We have not listed the Power connector, but it is on the left side as well. Lenovo isn’t using a USB-C power adapter because the wattage exceeds 100W, which is the maximum USB-C Power Delivery (USB-C PD) can accept.

Important detail: 75W is the maximum power that can be drawn from an airline seat, so while most ultralight laptops do not exceed 45-65W, computers at this power level will probably trip the seat’s fuse, even though you may not even do something intensive. Just a good thing to keep in mind if you plan to work while flying.

Speakers and audio

The X1 Extreme speakers are placed at the bottom of the chassis, which is a common location for laptops. In general user-facing speakers provide a better sound experience because less energy is spent “reflecting” the sound from the table. Also, having the computer on your lap may alter the sound significantly.

Yet, the sound quality is pretty good, but perhaps not as good as we would expect from a large chassis like this one. In theory, there could have been room on either side of the keyboard.

The sound is loud but lack body and isn’t as immersive as we would like it to be. The good news is that Lenovo has a Dolby Atmos option, Windows Sonic, and DTS Sound Unbound– all three for headphones.

Display: 1080p or 4K, it’s up to you

The Lenovo X1 Extreme has two display options, one 1080p and one 4K. We are testing the 4K model, so we’ll just comment about the technical aspect of the 1080p option while sharing our live experience of the 4K one.

Display Options

  • 15.6 Inch, 3840×2160, 400 NITs, Multitouch
  • 15.6 Inch, 1920×1080, 300 NITs, Multitouch

The more expensive 4K display is better in every way, with HDR support, higher 400 NITs brightness and a sharpness that is much superior. It has an sRGB coverage of 100% which is really good, but some users may have more specific needs.

The resolution of 3840×2160 is extremely high in absolute terms, but other Windows laptops in the same category also have that option. Only Apple has a significantly lesser pixel density at 221 PPI (2880×1800 resolution) instead of the 282 PPI found on Windows laptops, including the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme.

IPS/PLS LCD displays can render more colors than regular LCD, with higher color saturation and wider view angles. Within the world of IPS LCD displays there are still some differences, but frequently IPS/PLS are beyond basic LCD displays. Since OLED displays are extremely rare in the laptop space, IPS LCD variants are among the most advanced LCD tech available.

The display brightness of is 425 NITs (measured in our lab) is very good and slightly exceeds the 400 NITs specifications. In general, a more intense backlight is excellent to see the screen content on a sunny day (or bright environment). Higher brightness leads directly to better image quality in general situations.

Webcam

The 720p webcam (0.92 Megapixel with fixed-focus) isn’t really something that will wow anyone, but it’s an industry-wide standard for laptops. The quality is good enough for a video call in a decently lit place, but that’s about it.

The 1080p display webcam has a privacy shutter than can be manually locked in place. The 4K version comes with a 3D face camera used to unlock Windows and has no privacy shutter. There’s also a fingerprint reader on the right side of the keyboard if you prefer that.

This laptop has far-field microphones, which means that the computer is optimized to listen to sound from anywhere in the room, instead of just within 1 yard in front of it. This was initially added to support voice-assistant like Microsoft’s Cortana or Amazon’s Alexa.

Far-field microphones are much better for group conferences as it can pick up the voice of everyone, regardless of their location relative to the laptop. Non-far-field microphones often drop off your voice if you go out of the optimum location right in front of the computer.

System Performance

General productivity

As you can expect, performance, as measured by benchmarks such as PCMark 8, show that the Lenovo X1 Extreme goes neck-to-neck with competitors such as the Dell XPS 15 equipped with a similar configuration. However, the X1 Carbon scores similarly, despite being less powerful.

Office tasks hardly push computers to their limits, and if anything, it shows that you could get away with something that doesn’t have computing power if all you do is basic office work. In the next sections, the CPU and graphics tests really show the real performance of this laptop.

Perhaps what that benchmark doesn’t show is how the performance remains steady as more apps run simultaneously. This is something that we definitely felt with this computer, a desktop-like experience in a ~4 Lbs form-factor.

CPU

A benchmark like geekbench is often a good proxy for intensive multiprocessor workloads such as video editing, video compression, CAD, Scientific computing and more. Here, the difference between the X1 Extreme and the X1 Carbon 2018 is evident. With more processing cores, the X1 Extreme can churn these tasks much more rapidly, thanks to the additional computing power it has.

Interestingly, it also means that heavy web browser users can have more tabs open before the computer starts slowing down. If you keep 50+ tabs open, you certainly know what I’m talking about… this is much more common than you would think.

3D Graphics

Since it has a discrete graphics processor (GPU), the Lenovo X1 Extreme can handle complex graphics and GPU computing tasks much better than laptops that only have an Intel integrated GPU. A test such as 3DMark Firestrike shows how much faster it is when compared to the X1 Carbon. It also is faster than Apple’s MacBook Pro 15 (2018) which has an AMD graphics processor.

This level of performance means that it is possible to play many recent games with decent performance (~30FPS+) even with relatively high graphics settings.

The Razer Blade 15 should be even faster because it has GeForce 1060 and 1070 options. We’re looking forward to running the numbers on that one, as things should get very interesting.

Performance and Value

Looking at performance by the prism of value is also very insightful. The Lenovo X1 Extreme has a considerable performance/price advantage compared to the MacBook Pro 15, but also a sizeable one against the Dell XPS 15 because of the configuration and pricing choices Lenovo has made.

"THE LENOVO X1 EXTREME HAS A CONSIDERABLE PERFORMANCE/PRICE ADVANTAGE COMPARED TO THE MACBOOK PRO 15"

For example, there are cross-platform apps such as the Adobe CC series that become much more cost-efficient to run on PC than on Mac (assuming you’re OS agnostic).

Temperature and cooling

We used a known CPU test named Prime 95. When connected to power, it pushes CPU utilization to 100% and the CPU heats-up to the point where the thermal throttling will kick in to maintain the temperature of the CPU to prevent a system failure. On battery, our system throttled the CPU to ~70%, even in best performance mode, which prevented the system from building up as much heat.

As you can expect, a system that requires a 115W power-supply will dissipate more heat, and will, therefore, require a more prominent and louder cooling system than a thin & light 45W laptop.

With an ambient temperature of 20.9C, the hottest point on the open-side surface was at 41C. At the bottom, the hottest location was at 44C. We took some Infra-red photos with a FLIR One camera to show you the warmest areas of the laptop. Overall, the thermal throttling does its job and keeps the computer from inducing quick burns.

When exposed to heat for extended durations (many minutes), human skin can slowly burn starting from 44C / 111.2F. Getting your skin exposed to a 41C temperature won’t make you jump, but will feel warm.

For short duration contacts (seconds), some studies suggest that what most people consider to be a burn happens when the skin temperature reaches 62.5C / 144.5F.

Battery

With a battery capacity of 80 Wh (Watt-hours) the Lenovo X1 Extreme can compete very well with the MacBook Pro 15 (83 Wh). However, the Dell XPS 15 has a 97Wh option (+21%) that remains the reference for that entire segment. Others like the Razer Blade 15 pack only 65 Wh of capacity, possibly betting that their gaming audience will mostly be connected to power. Again, that makes sense for that gaming use case.

In our tests, we found the charging speed of this laptop to be 1.2 Wh/mn (72 Wh/hour), which is very fast. Charging can sometimes offset sheer capacity, and it is essential for anyone who cares about battery life.

Be mindful that in-lab battery-life tests are never representative of real-world usage, because app settings, background tasks, brightness status, and network conditions are always different. The most important part of battery life is to look at the battery capacity (in Wh) and the overall system power baseline (CPU thermal design point, or TDP).

Conclusion

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme is a excellent 15.6-inch introduction in the ThinkPad X1 line of products, and we couldn’t be happier to see Lenovo entering this high-performance 15.6” segment of the market. ThinkPad users now have a powerful 15.6-inch laptop with a great display and a fast graphics processor, at a price that makes a lot of sense.

As it is often the case with Lenovo, the X1 Extreme is the only computer of this category that has passed some of the STD-810-G military durability tests and comes with a spill-proof keyboard. In addition to being durable, it is also the lightest option that we have spotted in this category.

The large battery capacity and the fast-charging are two traits that are desirable on any laptop, but especially on these potent ones. Being able to replenish the battery as fast as possible can be extremely important right prior to boarding a flight or heading to a keynote room in which you won’t have access to power for a long while.

Overall product rating: 9/10

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