Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme review: The ThinkPad, perfected
Souped-up performance, an immaculate display and layer upon layer of security tools make the ThinkPad X1 Extreme worth its high price
What do you need when a 1,500 ultrabook like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon isn't enough? The answer could be the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, which looks awfully similar but comes ready with a larger screen, an even more powerful CPU, discrete graphics and a host of added features for business users.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme review: Design
This is a 15.6in laptop, so it was never going to be the most compact of clamshells. Still, it's reasonably portable, considering both the screen size and the inclusion of discrete graphics: it weighs a manageable 1.8kg and is 18.7mm thick when closed.
Build quality is familiarly excellent - recent ThinkPads may look alike but that that only means they're made with the same mix of magnesium alloy and glass fibre that's sturdy, yet comfortable to the touch. The hinge is firm, and there's no undue flexing or creaking anywhere at all.
Lenovo has also equipped the ThinkPad X1 Extreme with a versatile assortment of physical connections. That means two USB 3 ports on the right edge, two USB Type-C ports on the left, an SD card reader, one full-size HDMI video output, a combined mic/headphone 3.5mm jack and, to add to its business credentials, a smart card reader. There's no conventional RJ45 Ethernet, but you do get an Ethernet adaptor that plugs into a much smaller network extension port, so you can have the benefits of a wired connection without sacrificing any of the USB ports to a generic dongle.
There's another benefit to this approach, one that IT managers might appreciate: using the bundled adaptor will ensure the laptop's MAC address is passed through, whereas using USB adaptors can often mean only the adaptor's MAC address is sent.
We also appreciate how the network port is positioned well clear of any others, unlike on the 2018 ThinkPad X1 Carbon, where it was so close to one of the Type-C connectors that you couldn't use both at once.
Other security measures come in the form of a fingerprint reader, wisely placed off to the right side of the keyboard, and the Windows Hello-compatible camera. Both can be enabled at once for multiple layers of protection, and in our experience they both work quickly and effectively.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme review: Keyboard & trackpad
As is typical for Lenovo, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme's keyboard is fantastic. There's a substantial feel to every keypress, with clear feedback when the mechanism has bottomed out. The signature red pointing stick doesn't intrude, either. The only potential issue is that the Fn and Ctrl keys are switched around, which led us to a few confused copy/paste failures until we got used to it.
The glass-topped trackpad hits a perfect balance between a smooth and matte finish, and offers a choice between integrated left/right click buttons or physical buttons above the pad. Crucially, we didn't have the same performance problems with this as we did with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, where there was sometimes a delay between a swipe or multitouch gesture and the subsequent action on-screen. This trackpad is crisp is responsive at all times, as is the touchscreen.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme review: Display
You can choose between the 3,840 x 2,160 touchscreen display we're testing here, or a much cheaper 1,920x1,080 non-touch version. Frankly, it's hard not to be taken in by the more expensive screen: it's wonderfully vibrant, covering 99% of the sRGB colour gamut, but not to the point of sickliness. In fact, we measured an average delta E of just 0.92, so it's sufficiently colour-accurate for professional photo and video editing.
Contrast is also nice and high, at 1,548:1, and a peak brightness of 400.6cd/m2 is enough to cope with indoor lights - though the glossy screen finish might have the ThinkPad X1 Extreme struggle with direct sunlight. Otherwise, this is an exceptionally good laptop screen.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme review: Hardware & performance
Alone, Intel's six-core, twelve-thread Core i7-8750H makes this a vastly more powerful notebook than the ThinkPad X1 Carbon we tested. That had a quad-core Intel Core i7-8550U, and scored 96 overall in our benchmarks - the ThinkPad X1 Extreme scored 168. The monster 32GB of RAM doesn't hurt here, either.
Notably, this is also a few points higher than the very similarly-priced Razer Blade 15, which also has the Core i7-8750H, and the ThinkPad X1 Extreme even edges out the Core i9 model of Apple's 15in MacBook Pro, which scored 173. Geekbench 4 favours the MacBook Pro, though not by much: the ThinkPad X1 Extreme managed very high scores of 5,142 in the single-core test and 21,237 in the multicore test.
The GPU, in contrast to the CPU, only provides a basic degree of graphics horsepower - not surprising, knowing that the Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti is a lower-end graphics card, and this is the lower-power Max-Q version. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme's 100.9fps result in Cinebench R15 OpenGL test is lower than that of both the MacBook Pro and the Blade 15, and it's a similar story in the Luxmark and Specviewperf graphics tests, where the Blade 15's GTX 1070 affords it massive leads. Specifically, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme reached 2,210 in Luxmark's GPU test, 70.8 in Specviewperf's 3dsmax 06 test, 81.9 in the maya 05 test and 47.5 in the sw 04 test - all mediocre at best.
4K laptops also aren't known for having amazing battery life, much less touchscreen ones. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme doesn't completely fail in this regard, though it doesn't particularly impress either: it lasted for 6hrs 26mins in our video playback test. That makes it fine for long meetings and short trips away from the mains, but you should keep the charging cable to hand for daily recharges and long flights.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme review: Storage
This model has the largest single-drive option of a 1TB SSD, which pushes the price up considerably - though not as much as taking the dual-SSD route, which adds a second for 2TB in total. The good news is it's one very fast drive indeed, racing to a measured read speed of 2,178.8MB/sec and a write speed of 2,294MB/sec. On both counts, these are big wins for the ThinkPad X1 Extreme over the Blade 15.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme review: Software
This laptop's business focus can be seen in the hardware, but there's plenty more on the software side. Windows 10 Pro is the most immediately obvious advantage over more consumer-facing rivals like the Blade 15 and Dell XPS 15, but there's also a rather interesting (and much more unique) addition here in the form of the Glance utility.
Glance essentially uses eye-tracking to tell where you're looking and when you're away from the screen, and leverages this information for a range of security and quality-of-life features. If you're working on something sensitive, for example, you can have Glance sense when you leave the laptop and set it to automatically lock, even if you're only gone for a few seconds.
Most of Glance's other features require a second display, but are still based around making it easier to switch between them. You can instantly move a window from one screen to the other by clicking on it then looking where on the other screen you'd like it moved to, or quickly transfer the cursor between displays, this time by holding down Ctrl when looking (presumably to stop it jumping around whenever your eyes move). These might only save you the trouble of what are ultimately basic mouse movements, but it can be a neat tool for keeping productivity up.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme review: Verdict
As expensive as the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is, it's very much the kind of laptop that earns its high-end status. That's the case even when the Blade 15, which costs slightly less, outperforms it in graphical applications - the Blade is ultimately a gaming laptop that can take on more serious responsibilities on the side. This, however, is a top-to-bottom business notebook, and one that's powerful in compute-heavy workloads, very well made, and packed with enterprise-friendly features, especially on the security side.
It also fixes and avoids several problems we had with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, making it the best of Lenovo's most recent premium ThinkPads. If the price is still a sticking point, you can always save a few hundred pounds by going with a smaller SSD and just picking up an external hard drive if needed.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme specifications
|Processor||Hexa-core 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H|
|Screen resolution||3,840 x 2,160|
|Graphics adaptor||Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti|
|Operating system||Windows 10 Pro|
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