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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Preview

Lenovo’s current ThinkPad X series is mostly a way for the Chinese tech giant to show off how good it is at fitting the superbly designed, enterprise-class ThinkPad components into form factors beyond the staid, boxy business laptop. The company has tackled ultraportables (the ThinkPad X1 Carbon), 2-in-1 convertibles (the ThinkPad X1 Yoga), and even detachable tablets (the ThinkPad X1 Tablet). At the IFA 2018 electronics trade show in Berlin, Lenovo unveiled a new effort to ThinkPad X-ify an existing laptop design. This time, it’s the 15-inch desktop replacement, which comes to us in the form of the ThinkPad X1 Extreme (starts at $1,899). Even though I only spent a few minutes with it, I could tell that it’s poised to be the new desktop-replacement laptop to beat, as long as money is no object. Let’s take a look.

Discrete GPU, Big Screen

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme has two of the best hallmarks of a desktop-replacement laptop. Most notably, you get a roomy 15.6-inch display, plus a discrete graphics chip, here the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti. The power consumption and cooling requirements of these two components—not to mention the screen’s considerable size—mean that they usually can’t fit in an ultraportable or 2-in-1 convertible laptop.

Lenovo not only managed to fit these components into the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, but as you’d expect, the company’s designers did so in a chassis that’s smaller and lighter than many cheaper laptops that are comparably sized and equipped. At 0.72 by 14.24 by 9.67 inches (HWD) and 3.75 pounds, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is a feather compared with the likes of the Acer Aspire E 15 (1.19 by 15.02 by 10.2 inches, 5.27 pounds). It’s even lighter, though not quite as compact, as the 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro (0.61 by 13.75 by 9.48 inches, 4.02 pounds).

But unlike the MacBook Pro, which has an extremely shallow keyboard that many people find uncomfortable, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme has the same luxurious keys that have appeared on ThinkPads for more than a decade. I typed a few lines on them and especially appreciated the generous travel distance, and I didn’t notice any keyboard flex near the center, which is frequently a problem on cheaper large laptops. And, of course, there’s the iconic red pointing stick in the center of the keyboard, a ThinkPad staple that lets you move the cursor without lifting your hands off the keyboard’s home row.

The weight mentioned above applies to the base-model X1 Extreme, which comes with a 15.6-inch full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) non-touch display. Many buyers will want to step up to the 4K option, which in addition to boosting resolution also adds touch support and increases the brightness. Unfortunately, it boosts the weight, too, from 3.75 pounds up to 4.04 pounds.

Above the display, there are two webcam options. One lacks the infrared sensors that let you log in to Windows using face recognition, but it does come with a convenient sliding door that protects you from hackers’ prying eyes when you’re not using the camera. The other option includes the IR sensors but lacks the privacy slider.

Up to 64GB of RAM

Processor options top out at the Intel Core i7. There is no Core i9 option like you’ll find on the new Asus ZenBook Pro 15. Instead, since this is a business laptop, some of the processors have support for Intel’s vPro technology, a must-have for large corporate IT departments. While I did not get the chance to run any games or resource-intensive apps during my brief demo, the combination of a Core i7 and a GTX 1050 Ti should offer more than enough horsepower to speed up workflows like light video editing or 3D rendering.

Indeed, if you pair these two components with the laptop’s upper limit of 64GB of DDR4 memory, you start to see why Lenovo is calling it Extreme. Not only do you get a high RAM ceiling, but the chassis also has two M.2 slots for speedy PCI Express SSDs. If you fill both of them, you could get up to 2TB of scary-fast solid-state storage.

Ordering an X1 Extreme with 64GB of memory and 2TB of storage is likely to be astronomically expensive, however. The company didn’t announce specific pricing, so we’ll have to wait until the ThinkPad X1 Extreme’s launch in September to see just how expensive.

The I/O port complement includes two USB 3.1 ports, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a full-size SD slot, and an HDMI output. Noticeably absent is a full-size Ethernet jack, a major deficiency for a laptop of this size that could be spending much of its time plugged in on a desk. Instead, Lenovo worked in its proprietary mini Ethernet port, which requires an adapter dongle to work.

It’s Not a Workstation

As extreme as the ThinkPad X1 Extreme might be, one thing it can’t do (beyond easily connect to an Ethernet port or help you stick to your budget) is serve as a perfect fit for running workstation-specific software, such as financial modeling tools, that requires Intel Xeon processors and error-correcting memory. That could be a problem for some of the ThinkPad X1 Extreme’s potential customers, and it’s a definite concern in a laptop that’s almost certain to cost more than $2,500 once you’ve bumped up the memory and storage capacities and opted for a 4K display.

If your company needs workstation capabilities, Lenovo offers them, of course. There’s even a workstation laptop, the ThinkPad P1, that’s almost physically identical to the X1 Extreme.

We’re looking forward to seeing whether or not the ThinkPad X1 Extreme lives up to its name once we get a unit in to PC Labs for a full review. Stay tuned.


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