Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme First Impressions

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.

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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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Conversation 44 comments

  • dcdevito

    03 October, 2018 - 1:52 pm

    <p>I've always liked the Thinkpad line, but I just can't ever get past the back-lit keys (and how they look). </p>

    • Trickyd

      03 October, 2018 - 4:29 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#342224">In reply to dcdevito:</a></em></blockquote><p>Some of the lower level ThinkPads have backlighting as an option like on my E480 so it can be avoided.</p>

  • Sir_Timbit

    03 October, 2018 - 2:04 pm

    <p>What don't you like about the scalloped keys? Isn't that what Thinkpads are renowned for? I agree with you on the misplaced FN key but that is also nothing new for Thinkpads.</p>

    • jaredthegeek

      Premium Member
      03 October, 2018 - 2:13 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#342292">In reply to Sir_Timbit:</a></em></blockquote><p>I don't recall my old Thinkpads having those scalloped keys.</p>

      • ibmthink

        03 October, 2018 - 3:55 pm

        <blockquote><em><a href="#342297">In reply to jaredthegeek:</a></em></blockquote><p>All ThinkPads have rounded "smile shaped" keys. The only thing that different on newer models is that Lenovo changed it to a Chiclet design where the keys are more separated. Paul apparently prefers flat keys, which I don't get. Flat keys are just worse ergonomically, because fingers are round as well and not flat.</p>

        • MikeGalos

          04 October, 2018 - 8:48 am

          <blockquote><em><a href="#343719">In reply to ibmthink:</a></em></blockquote><p>The indentations on the keys also keep your fingers centered on the key which keeps the pressure even on the switch which provides a better feel than pressing down off-axis. </p>

    • nschaper05

      Premium Member
      06 October, 2018 - 2:49 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#342292">In reply to Sir_Timbit:</a></em></blockquote><p>The Fn key is fine…. sheesh</p>

  • will

    Premium Member
    03 October, 2018 - 2:21 pm

    <p>We have the same machine in office now and it is a very powerful machine. With a 4k screen, it will be right around 4lbs and when you pick it up you will be surprised how light it is. Overall it is an impressive machine if you want a 15" sized screen that is touch, and works with a Lenovo Pen.</p><p><br></p><p>FYI While the keys are backwards on the keyboard, you can change the function in Lenovo Advantage software to be what you would like. One other area that the X1 Extreme has over the SB is you can expand the storage or memory on your own. You can upgrade the HD and RAM on your own later down the road. </p>

  • MacLiam

    Premium Member
    03 October, 2018 - 2:45 pm

    <p>If I didn't have a completely satisfactory upper-level Book 2 already but needed to fill the niche, I'd certainly take a look at this one. But I kind of suspect that I might go for the Book again. I actually like the detachable screen, and I don't mind the extra thickness because the hinge is so clever in managing the potential tip-over problem of top-heavy clamshells. Even if I don't reverse or remove the screen every day, the ability to reconfigure on the fly is very much appreciated. The thing that surprised me about the Book 2 when I got it was that its processing and graphic power, along with its form flexibility, let it function as a kind of Studio Jr. That is not a bad thing to be, and I don't know why Microsoft hasn't heavily played up that potential in some of its videos displaying different use cases for its devices. </p><p><br></p><p>I've always liked Lenovo's designs and the specs of their higher-end products. I may end up with one some day, but for the moment I'm happy with competitive devices in the Surface line-up.</p><p><br></p><p><br></p>

  • MikeGalos

    03 October, 2018 - 2:55 pm

    <p>Well, seeing how the big differentiators with the Surface Book are the detachable screen and the touchscreen capability comparing them is kind of going to end up on whether you care about those features.</p><p><br></p><p>Now, is the ThinkPad X1 Extreme an iMac Pro killer? That's a more interesting question.</p>

    • digiguy

      Premium Member
      04 October, 2018 - 10:07 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#343621">In reply to MikeGalos:</a></em></blockquote><p>Agreed, this is not the most appropriate comparison, the Thinkpad extreme is a competitor to both the Macbook pro 15 and the XPS 15 (and asus zenbook pro for those that know that it exists…)</p>

  • james_wilson

    03 October, 2018 - 3:11 pm

    <p>For me, the Thinkpad line illustrates what was boring about the PC world. Nice hardware surrounded by a bland, boring design. Function over form. Some people like that but not my preference.</p><p><br></p><p>Who uses that horrible 'nipple' that Lenovo insist on keeping?</p>

    • globexco

      03 October, 2018 - 3:40 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#343682">In reply to James_Wilson:</a></em></blockquote><p>The blandness is also what makes it so much more capable. They don't compromise (as much) in functionality to fit a form factor, and for some people that's great. I value having the Ethernet port, SD Card reader, extra ports, durability, the secondary battery options, most importantly a keyboard with travel because they keep the size of the laptop a little thicker.</p><p><br></p><p>The reason the nipple is nice is so you can navigate the mouse without lifting your hand. I actually only use the trackpad on my Thinkpad for button presses that's really it. </p><p><br></p>

    • ibmthink

      03 October, 2018 - 3:58 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#343682">In reply to James_Wilson:</a></em></blockquote><p>The ThinkPad design is not bland. That would imply that there are many other laptop lines with a similar design – there used to, but today, in a time when almost every laptop looks like a discount MacBook, they look unique. You may not like that unique look, but that doesn't make it bland.</p><p><br></p><p><em>&gt; Who uses that horrible 'nipple' that Lenovo insist on keeping?</em></p><p><br></p><p>Many people. Which is why competitors like the Dell Latitude or HP EliteBook lines also feature it on some models.</p>

      • globexco

        03 October, 2018 - 4:28 pm

        <blockquote><em><a href="#343729">In reply to ibmthink:</a></em></blockquote><p><br></p><p>Honestly I think by blandness he meant uninspired. And he's probably right if you go off first impressions. But the problem is thinking that's a bad thing. A lot of hardware today is actually regressing significantly in performance for the sake of a "prettier" design. Whenever I go to Best Buy or the MS store and try out their laptops, it baffles me how few of them have keyboards that the oldschool crowd can appreciate. They're mostly all low travel and uncomfortable and honestly one of the primary reasons I didn't consider anything other than a Thinkpad for my laptop purchase earlier this year. </p><p><br></p>

        • james_wilson

          04 October, 2018 - 3:15 am

          <blockquote><em><a href="#343737">In reply to globexco:</a></em></blockquote><p><br></p><p>Maybe it’s repressed memories to my IBM Thinkpad many years before Lenovo took over the brand. Nothing seems to have changed. Obviously that’s because a large number of people still buy them. Certainly the IBM people I work with still use them (together with Lotus Notes). Drives me crazy – especially calendar invites to my Exchanfe account. I still think they are bland, uninspired and boring but highly functional but that’s just me. Each to their own. </p>

    • skane2600

      03 October, 2018 - 5:54 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#343682">In reply to James_Wilson:</a></em></blockquote><p>To each his own I guess. Why not buy some real art rather than trying to make technology into something it's not?</p>

    • hrlngrv

      Premium Member
      04 October, 2018 - 4:00 pm

      <p><a href="https://www.thurrott.com/windows/windows-10/184238/lenovo-thinkpad-x1-extreme-first-impressions#343682&quot; target="_blank" style="background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);"><em>In reply to James_Wilson:</em></a></p><blockquote>. . . t<span style="background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);">hat horrible 'nipple' . . .</span></blockquote><p>OK, ThinkPads aren't for you. OTOH, I've been using joystick pointers on laptops for 2 decades now, and I absolutely HATE (loathe rather than detest) laptops without joystick pointers. That means my preferences tend towards ThinkPads and Dell Latitudes and Precsision laptops.</p><p>Thank God there's choice. Thank God some OEMs make devices which apparently annoy some people.</p>

    • drdrted

      05 October, 2018 - 4:23 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#343682"><em>In reply to James_Wilson:</em></a><em>the "nipple," as you've labelled it, is a TouchPoint.</em></blockquote><blockquote><em>As globexco notes, it is ergonomically superior to any touchpad. </em></blockquote><blockquote><br></blockquote><blockquote><em>Unlike Dell imitations, the TouchPoint has X and Y motion AND acceleration sensors, which is why it's such a joy to use.</em></blockquote><blockquote><br></blockquote><blockquote><em>I was a skeptic until a co-worker lent me a spare Lenovo with my promise to turn off the touchpad for a week.</em></blockquote><blockquote><br></blockquote><blockquote><em>That was ~ 15 years ago, and I've never gone back to a touchpad.</em></blockquote><p><br></p>

  • wunderbar

    Premium Member
    03 October, 2018 - 3:24 pm

    <p>The likely reason it doesn't use USB-C for power is that the USB Power Delivery spec "only" allows for up to 100W of power, and I'd be willing to bet a device like this would need more than 100W at max load.</p>

    • will

      Premium Member
      03 October, 2018 - 4:25 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#343683">In reply to wunderbar:</a></em></blockquote><p>The laptop comes with a 135w power supply, but you can power it via a TB3 power supply and USB Type C connector such as the Lenovo TB3 dock.</p>

  • ndwilder

    03 October, 2018 - 3:38 pm

    <p>Hoped for a full size ethernet jack….specs are impressive. </p>

    • IanYates82

      Premium Member
      04 October, 2018 - 4:53 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#343686">In reply to ndwilder:</a></em></blockquote><p>Agreed – this does count against the device imho. I'd rather a few mm of extra thickness to help with battery, staying cool or providing balance, and therefore allow a full-size Ethernet port, than have to carry a dongle. Might as well use a USB-C dongle for it, although I appreciate you get things like Wake-on-LAN with the proper built-in (albeit mini) Ethernet.</p>

  • jwdixonjr

    Premium Member
    03 October, 2018 - 5:26 pm

    <p>Love the performance and keyboard of the X1 Extreme. Great screen real estate too. 32 gigs of ram and nice 1tb drive. </p><p><br></p><p><br></p>

    • PeterC

      04 October, 2018 - 5:28 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#343782">In reply to jwdixonjr:</a></em></blockquote><p>I guess it chews through big spreadsheet data projects with ease?</p>

  • BBoileau

    Premium Member
    03 October, 2018 - 7:29 pm

    <p>Although I don't think I would ever have either of these machines, I do think if the budget allowed I would likely want to try out the Surface Book for the large tablet that you get with the detachable screen. I wouldn't worry about the reliability and this would likely become problematic. Good thing its not in the card for me.</p>

  • longhorn

    03 October, 2018 - 7:31 pm

    <p>From a typing perspective it's a joy to see that the touchpad is aligned (centered under G and H keys) with the keyboard. Not many laptops get this right.</p><p><br></p><p>From a typing perspective it's a bummer that the arrow keys are so far down that they can be accidentally reached with the palm. I get why they want full-size arrow keys, but it keeps me from buying a ThinkPad.</p><p><br></p><p>I think the main reasons I still prefer desktops are better keyboards and bigger screens.</p><p><br></p>

  • PeterC

    04 October, 2018 - 4:48 am

    <p>After some years of using MS Surface Pro's Ive been wondering about Lenovo a lot recently. Ive got to replace 2 old SP3's and I reckon its time to move back to a proper hardware manufacturer (not a cheap dig). Sorry Ms. These Thinkpad X1 carbon laptops really do tick all the boxes for me. I think this X1 extreme maybe too large for me and I'd stick with the 14" X1 Carbon 6th gen, although the X1 tablet is also in the running too, but I am really interested in seeing how this reviews for Paul. </p>

  • IanYates82

    Premium Member
    04 October, 2018 - 4:52 am

    <p>This might be my next laptop next year when it drops a bit in price :)</p><p><br></p><p>I've already got a T560 for demonstration, and a T570 for my daily dev / travel machine. Looks like the power adapter is the same, and hopefully the dock is the same too (both of the above came with docks which was very handy).</p><p><br></p><p>The 570 is a bit underpowered as it's an i7, but the dual-core hyperthreaded variety. Lags a bit on visual studio sometimes 🙁 I suspect this laptop wouldn't ever have that problem :P</p>


    04 October, 2018 - 8:31 am

    <p>The design looks very … dated. </p>

    • red.radar

      Premium Member
      04 October, 2018 - 9:01 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#347070">In reply to TEAMSWITCHER:</a></em></blockquote><p>Who cares. It’s a tool not a toy. </p><p><br></p><p>Plus to each their own. I like the classic design. I don’t need my laptop wrapped in an Italian t-shirt so my Cheeto dust can gum it up. </p>

  • okwei

    04 October, 2018 - 9:13 am

    <p>USB-C charging works? I heard some people are saying it works, while others saying no.. can you test it out?</p>

    • lyphlynk

      04 October, 2018 - 9:25 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#347094">In reply to okwei:</a></em></blockquote><blockquote><em>so far the 10 that I've used have worked. </em></blockquote><p><br></p>

  • lyphlynk

    04 October, 2018 - 9:19 am

    <p>One thing that Lenovo won't tell you or release is that Internet Explorer has a "First Run" command script that goes to a phishing website. This is on a bunch of the newly released lenovos.</p><p><br></p><p>Open Internet Explorer "not Microsoft edge" and leave it open for 3minutes. The home page will automatically redirect to a "Fake mircosoft Phishing website". Please check your new lenovo! </p><p><br></p><p>It's starting to show up more.</p>

  • bls

    Premium Member
    04 October, 2018 - 2:02 pm

    <p>I used Thinkpads for a super-long time. A couple of years ago I got a Surface Book and was constantly frustrated by the Fn/CTRL key swap, so much so that I ditched the Surface Book and am now back on a Thinkpad X1 Carbon V6. Super-light and GREAT keyboard layout ;)…perfect for my current usage.</p>

  • gascat

    04 October, 2018 - 3:16 pm

    <p>I was excited when I saw this announced, the idea of replacing my aging gen 1 x1 carbon with it seemed perfect and I'd planned to buy it at the end of the month, looking at the i7 8750h version which came in at about £1500….</p><p><br></p><p>Or it was, 2 days ago Lenovo decided the UK were evidently getting it too cheap and boosted the price, the i5 base model now clocks in at a staggering £1859 (thats about $2400 for you US people) the price seems not to have changed anywhere else in the world, just the UK </p><p><br></p><p>I've loved my x1 and really wanted the x1 extreme but I'm sorry I can pick up a dell xps15 9570 refurbished for around £1000 with an i7 8750h and 16gb, over a solid £1000 less than the equivalent x1 extreme, it's nice but its not £1000 nice.</p><p><br></p><p>It's actually cheaper to buy a ThinkPad p1 than the x1 extreme which doesn't seem right to me. I've asked Lenovo sales staff about it but all they say is "we don't know but the price on the site is the price you pay, no exceptions"</p>

  • John Dunagan

    Premium Member
    04 October, 2018 - 5:05 pm

    <p>Still the Fn key on the outside of Ctrl on the left side where I hit it. Pass.</p>

    • colmob

      Premium Member
      05 October, 2018 - 12:55 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#347880">In reply to John Dunagan:</a></em></blockquote><p>You can swap this easily in the BIOS; the keys are still mislabeled but it works just like any other PC once the option is set.</p>

      • John Dunagan

        Premium Member
        09 October, 2018 - 11:26 am

        <blockquote><em><a href="#349548">In reply to colmob:</a></em></blockquote><p>As it is on my current ThinkPad, but the Fn-now-Ctrl key on the outside is microscopic compared to Ctrl-now-Fn. My next laptop's going to be a Dell.</p>

    • nschaper05

      Premium Member
      06 October, 2018 - 2:43 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#347880">In reply to John Dunagan:</a></em></blockquote><p>Sorry, but the function key is fine on the outside</p>

      • John Dunagan

        Premium Member
        09 October, 2018 - 11:24 am

        <blockquote><em><a href="#350134">In reply to Gandalforce:</a></em></blockquote><p>OK. You do you.</p>

  • darrix

    Premium Member
    04 October, 2018 - 10:24 pm

    <p>Any chance you'll be reviewing the Lenovo P1 as well? If so, I'd like to know how both perform with Windows Mixed Reality.</p>

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