Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme First Impressions

Posted on October 3, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 44 Comments

Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Extreme blends high-end specifications with its vaunted style and build quality. Is it a Surface Book 2 killer? And does it offer enough advantages to lure someone who might have otherwise considered a now-pedestrian ThinkPad X1 Carbon?

I intend to find out. And this one is of particular interest to me given my admiration for the X1 lineup and my preference for larger displays.

So what is this thing? Announced in late August, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is awash in firsts. It’s the first X1 with a 15.6-inch display. And it’s the first to include discrete graphics, which puts the PC in a different class than its business-class siblings.

Granted, Lenovo isn’t alone in pursuing the more performance-centric, high-end PC audience. Last year, for example, Microsoft shipped a new 15-inch version of Surface Book 2, and that PC includes discrete graphics as well.

But the X1 Extreme has a few advantages over the Surface Book 2. It’s thinner, at 18.4 or 18.7 mm, depending on model, compared to 15 mm to 23 mm for Surface Book 2, which you’ll recall has a tapered design. It’s also lighter at 3.76 to 4 pounds, depending on model; Surface Book 2 weighs in at 4.2 pounds.

I prefer 3:2 displays, and this is one area where Microsoft may come out ahead. That said, at this display size, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme will probably be less problematic in space-constrained areas, like an airline seat. And I find Surface Book’s detachable clipboard display to be a liability, given the potential reliability issues of its complex mechanics. I imagine few Surface Book 2 customers ever remove the display.

Internally, things get even more interesting. Where Surface Book 2 is powered by a laptop-class quad-cor U-series CPU, Lenovo’s new beast comes with a six-core 8th-generation Intel Core i7-8850H, offering nearly desktop-class performance. But the graphics tilt in Microsoft’s favor: The Surface Book 2’s NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 with 6 GB of RAM is a step up from the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti with 4 GB of RAM in the X1. But the X1 Extreme can be had with 32 GB of RAM to the Surface Book’s 16 GB; advantage: Lenovo.

From an expansion perspective, there’s no contest: Surface Book 2 features two USB-A ports and a single USB-C port. But you get the full meal deal with Lenovo: 2 USB-A 3.1 ports, 2 USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, a 4-in-1 SD card reader, an HDMI 2.0 port, and a mini-Ethernet port.

The X1 Extreme also comes with both a fingerprint reader, which I prefer, and a Windows Hello-compatible camera. The Surface Book 2 comes only with the latter.

Aesthetically, opinions will vary: I’ve always found the black X1 style to be both professional-looking and attractive. But some find it bland. On the Surface Book side, I feel like this is the one Surface PC that doesn’t resonate visually. It has a clearly compromised design, thanks to that ridiculous hinge. And it’s just bland looking, though you can’t beat the functionality.

No, that’s not USB-C.

I will need to test the keyboard and touchpad before I can offer an opinion there, but I’ve long been a fan of both on both ThinkPads and Surface Book, so this might be a wash. But Lenovo loses a few points for the scalloped keys and the misplaced Fn (Function) key.

Overall, I really like Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme form factor, but I need to get it set up and configured and test it real-world conditions. More soon.


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