Introduction

It's not like I needed another laptop, with 5 in the house already you'd think I have enough.  But laptops to men are much like shoes to ladies.  We need a certain style and size for each type of activity or we end up with too much or too little computer, which if you use a laptop often this can become a real annoyance.

This time I had a very specific purpose in mind.  I've been tempted by the smart phone craze, and the netbook phase, but I just can't get over their tiny screens and keyboards.  What I set out to look for was a sub 3 pound notebook with a 12 inch screen which would be both powerful and tough enough to use in the field to tether to my DSLRs for focus bracketing, exposure bracketing, and time lapse photography.  As a bonus the battery should last a minimum of 6 hours and it should have WI-FI for use at restaurants and other hotspots.

 

The Search

I'm a long time Dell customer.  I buy from their professional Small Business lineup and have been a loyal and happy customer for 15+ years.  Unfortunately Dell didn't have anything remotely close to what I needed.  Sony, HP, and a few odd brands had models a lot closer.. but the Lenovo x201s caught my eye.

 

I'm a long time Dell customer.  I buy from their professional Small Business lineup and have been a loyal and happy customer for 15+ years.  Unfortunately Dell didn't have anything remotely close to what I needed.  Sony, HP, and a few odd brands had models a lot closer.. but the Lenovo x201s caught my eye.

 

Specifications

i7-640LM CPU  @2.13ghz  max in turbo mode at 2.93ghz (this is a ultra low power CPU)

4g of PC3-8500 DDR3 memory

12.1" WXGA+ 1440x900 LED backlit matte screen

Intel HD Graphics  (can run an external 2560x1600 30" monitor)

320g  7200rpm hard disk drive

PCIe Mini Card with 802.11 a/b/g/n

Bluetooth 2.1

Ethernet Gigalan

Modem  56k V.92 modem

Full size Thinkpad keyboard

Ultranav Touchpad

Thinklight (illuminates the keyboard)

UPEK Fingerprint reader

TPU

Three USB Ports

5-1 Flash memory reader

Expresscard34 slot

Stereo Speakers

Microphone built in

2.5 pounds with 4 cell battery  (6 hours of use)

2.7 pounds with 6 cell battery  (8.5 hours of use)

2.9 pounds with 9 cell battery (11+ hours of use)

Mil-spec rating for Water/Dust/Shock

Operating System  Windows 7 Professional x32

3 year warranty

$1399.00 USD's

 

What a beauty!  The case is even carbon fiber reinforced plastic with a magnesium alloy base.  This is one tough water, dust, and shock proof laptop!

 

What a beauty!  The case is even carbon fiber reinforced plastic with a magnesium alloy base.  This is one tough water, dust, and shock proof laptop!

 

Ordering/Purchase

I added this section because ordering a Lenovo x201s proved to be difficult.  The x201s is not the x201.  The x201 adds over a pound more weight and doesn't have the 1440x900 LED backlit screen.  I really wanted the x201s.  The problem was Lenovo didn't have it listed on their site despite it being their newest model!

A call to Lenovo revealed their screen supplier could no longer supply the excellent screens so they had to discontinue the model.  The good news is that there are plenty of resellers who have then in inventory but you'll need to do some legwork and perhaps pay a premium over retail.  I got lucky and found one at J&R Music (via Amazon) at $100 under retail and placed my order.

At the time I placed the order I also ordered another Crucial Technologies C300 256gig SSD  .  SSD's greatly speed up computer performance and I thought a low powered notebook CPU could use all the help it could get.  This adds significant cost to the total (currently $639) but I wanted all the speed I could get when working in the field.

I also included a copy of Windows 7 Ultimate x64.  Why?  For most office software Windows 7 x32 would have been fine.  But for imaging software the x64 operating systems and matching x64 applications perform significantly faster.  Besides, with x64 I can use the entire 4g's of RAM while with x32 it will only see 3.1g.

 

I also included a copy of Windows 7 Ultimate x64.  Why?  For most office software Windows 7 x32 would have been fine.  But for imaging software the x64 operating systems and matching x64 applications perform significantly faster.  Besides, with x64 I can use the entire 4g's of RAM while with x32 it will only see 3.1g.

 

Delivery and Performance

The x201s arrived solidly packed and booted up with a 3/4 charged 6 cell battery.  I played with it for a few hours and was really impressed with the speed.  If I'd known it was this zippy I might have passed on the SSD.  Windows performance index scores were:

6.3  (CPU)

5.9  (Memory)

4.9  (Graphics)

3.3  (Gaming Graphics)

5.9  (System Drive)

I installed the SSD and Windows 7 Ultimate x64 and the scores were:

6.3  (CPU)

5.9  (Memory)

4.9  (Graphics)

3.3  (Gaming Graphics)

7.7  (System Drive)

 

Frankly I was stunned by these numbers.  As an example, my fairly recent Dell Precision Mobile Workstation 9300, 17" monitor, Core 2 Duo 2.53g, 4gigs, and the Nvidia Quadro pro 512mb graphics cost over $3000 USD's and it's numbers are significantly lower on all counts other than gaming graphics.  The mobile precision workstation is my "powerhouse" laptop I use for onsite work and during workshops.  How could this little 2.7 pound laptop out perform it by such a wide margin?

I wasn't planning on installing my imaging software on this computer.  When I ordered the x201s I figured it would be slow, somewhat faster than a netbook, so I'd just install my tethering software.  I immediately made the decision to install my full suite of imaging software.

Setting up a SSD is significantly faster than setting up a mechanical hard drive.  What usually took days of feeding discs and waiting.. now took just 3-4 hours.  Soon I was done and had a fully operational laptop.

 

Screen

I've got to say the screen is ideal for photographers.  They call it "anti-glare coating", but what it is, is matte.  It's also LED backlit and it profiles out very nicely using an Xrite 1i2 colorimeter with a wider gamut than even my mobile graphics workstation.  This 12.1 inch LED backlit screen is beautiful, perfect for imaging, and very useful outdoors.

 

Keyboard

The keyboard is perfect.  Its full size and it's a Thinkpad keyboard.  If you've ever used a Thinkpad before you'll know exactly what I mean.  If not, lets just say it's the finest keyboard on any laptop made.  Everything is widely spaced and easy to find by touch.

 

Touchpad/Track stick

The touchpad is small but surprisingly easy to use.  I'm not sure if this is because mechanical or software improvements.  The stick is very smooth too.  Much better than my previous experiences with Thinkpad sticks.  Scrolling works great and you can navigate around with ease.

 

Thinklite

This hardly deserves it's own paragraph right?  I think this is a brilliant idea!  It's just bright enough to evenly light the keyboard in a dark room and I find myself using it any time the light is dim.

 

I use Lightroom 2.7, DxO Optics, Adobe CS4 Creative Suite, and tons of other imaging software.  This unit runs all, even several at a time, with ease.  Performance is spectacular for ANY laptop.  You won't be disappointed with the performance.

 

 

Imaging Software

I use Lightroom 2.7, DxO Optics, Adobe CS4 Creative Suite, and tons of other imaging software.  This unit runs all, even several at a time, with ease.  Performance is spectacular for ANY laptop.  You won't be disappointed with the performance.

 

Operating System and Drivers

If you're not using Windows 7 you should be.  It's easily the best operating system ever made for a personal computer bar none.  Even better than Snow Leopard.  It's also very secure.  Tests have shown how Windows 7 on a mobile platform increases the time it runs off a given battery so this is a good enough reason alone to go with Windows 7.

The Lenovo drivers are first class.  One of the things you pay for with a higher end laptop is a more refined driver set.  I work with enough laptops my clients bring, to have seen a direct relationship to the price you pay for a laptop to how well the drivers work.  This impacts both performance and function.  The drivers for the x201s performed without a single fault.  The Bluetooth suite even installed my mobile phone with a single click, which then allowed me to connect to the internet with a single click via my mobile phone network.  Other laptops I own all require special software which is flakey at best.  With the x201s Bluetooth connectivity was rock solid!

 

Connectivity

The WI-FI, Bluetooth, Modem, and Gigalan all work as they should.  I set up all four without a single glitch and they're fully supported by the included software drivers.

 

Ports and Connectors

3 USB ports on such a small laptop is as good as it gets.  One is a high power port you can use to charge devices.  The x34 card slot accepts my CF reader and works great.  Headphone jacks work as they should.  The only thing is seems to be missing is a HDMI output which is a significant omission.  You can add optional WAN cards from your phone carrier.

 

Battery Life

My x201s came with a 6 cell battery.  I don't use the power saver modes.  I want my laptop to work at full performance and screen brightness 100% of the time.  At full performance I get right under 4 hours of use from the 6 cell battery, and right under 7 with the optional 9 cell I ordered.  In the power saver modes you can figure battery life is further extended by 30-35%.

 

My x201s came with a 6 cell battery.  I don't use the power saver modes.  I want my laptop to work at full performance and screen brightness 100% of the time.  At full performance I get right under 4 hours of use from the 6 cell battery, and right under 7 with the optional 9 cell I ordered.

 

 

Summary

I have nothing but praise for this little powerhouse.  Everyone who touches it immediately comments "it's lighter than my netbook" and when the open it and see the big 12.1" screen and full size keyboard they're impressed.  But when they press the power button and get a 5 second boot from power off, and then run a few programs and see it's power.. they want one.  Everyone wants one.

 

I have nothing but praise for this little powerhouse.  Everyone who touches it immediately comments "it's lighter than my netbook" and when the open it and see the big 12.1" screen and full size keyboard they're impressed.  But when they press the power button and get a 5 second boot from power off, and then run a few programs and see it's power.. they want one.  Everyone wants one.

 

The x201s is TOUGH.  There is very little if any flex in the screen, it's rock solid when closed, has impact zones throughout, it's water/shock/dust resistant and meets Mil-Spec requirements, and the hard drive is supported by rubber mounts.

It's also easy to pick up and carry due to it's blended shape and ergonomics.  The x201s just naturally fits in your hand, your knapsack, your bag.. it's light and it fits anywhere.  The matte-black finish cleans easily with Windex.  It connects to anything.  You can operate all day off a single charge.

The screen is bright enough to be easily seen in any type of light including outdoors.  Really, I'm very impressed with the x201s.  With it's small size and high power it will be replacing 3 of my other laptops.

If you're in the market for a sub 3 pound laptop that's both extremely tough and just as powerful with a full size easy to use keyboard, a beautiful screen, and will run all day on a single battery charge.. then the x201s deserves a serious look.  It's a pricey laptop but well worth every dollar.