Most corporate PC users don’t really stress their machines all that much—they run office productivity applications, surf websites, access databases, and do video conferencing—things that pretty much any modern laptop will do without breaking a sweat. But there are some people who need extra graphics power, for applications such as photo or video editing, 3D modeling, content creation, or architectural or engineering drawings. Others just want more power for complicated mathematical models. Generally, the response of IT has been to get these people workstations with the latest graphics. But in this era of more prevalent remote working, the idea of a mobile workstation is making sense for more workers.
Into this market steps the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Generation 3, which offers a higher powered Intel Core “H” (45 watt) processor, Nvidia Q-Max graphics, and a 15.6-inch display in a relatively thin and light notebook that weighs just four pounds, yet still has the enterprise management features that corporate IT departments require.
This isn’t a new idea. All three of the big US enterprise vendors have offered “mobile workstations” for some time, including the Lenovo ThinkPad P15 series, HP’s Zbook series and Zbook Firefly 15, and the Dell Precision 5550. (Here’s PCMag’s look at that market.) The ThinkPad X1 Extreme aims to be a bit more mobile, more designed for executives, though still with good performance. Of course, there are plenty of other 15-inch enterprise notebooks, such as Lenovo’s ThinkPad T590 and the Dell Latitude 9510; and certainly plenty of 15.6-inch notebooks with as good or better graphics aimed at the consumer or gaming markets.
When you look at the X1 Extreme, it just looks like a big brother to the ThinkPad notebooks that most corporate users are familiar with, sporting the same black matte materials. Measuring 0.74 by 14.2 by 9.7 inches, it is smaller than most mobile workstations though bigger than the smallest 15-inch laptops like the Dell Latitude 9510 (at 0.55 by 13.4 by 8.5 inches). That’s because of the 15.6-inch display, but in part, it’s because the bezels on the ThinkPad are fairly large. The unit I tested, which included an OLED display and touch screen, weighed 4.0 pounds. The non-touch version starts at 3.75 pounds, and the included 135-watt power adapter and cord are larger than the adapters for the smaller laptops. Still, it’s small enough that you can carry it in most laptop bags.
Performance is a big reason you’d consider the X1 Extreme. The unit I tested had an Intel Core i7-10850H Comet Lake processor, which is a 45-watt processor (as opposed to the 15-watt U-series processors typically used in lightweight laptops), with 6 cores and 12 threads, a base speed of 2.7GHz and a maximum turbo of 5.1GHz, manufactured on Intel’s 14nm process, with 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. For graphics, it includes an Nvidia GTX1650 TI with Max-Q, a thinner and lighter version of the popular graphics.
As you’d expect, it’s much faster than a typical enterprise laptop on most benchmarks, and does particularly well on graphics tests. In real world usage, graphics applications such as the Adobe Creative Suite worked very well, notably snappier in more complex operations than on machines using processors with integrated graphics. The 45-watt processor outperformed 15-watt ones on complex real-world benchmarks. A MatLab model that took just under 52 minutes on the HP EliteBook Pro 1040 G7 and 63 minutes on the 8th Generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon completed in less than 37 minutes on the X1 Extreme, a big improvement. A complex Excel model took 44 minutes to complete, the best I’ve seen on a laptop, though not that much better than the EliteBook Pro 1040’s 48 minutes. It’s not a gaming laptop, but in general, I was quite impressed by the performance given the weight.
Battery life was a bit disappointing. With an 80-watt-hour battery, I only got just over 6 hours on PC Mark 10’s Modern Office test.
I used a unit with a 15.6-inch OLED display with UHD (3840 by 2160) resolution with 400 nits of brightness and a touchscreen. It simply looked great. Alternatives include an IPS UHD display at 600 nits, and regular FHD (1920 by 1080) displays at 300 nits or 500 nits. You would probably get better battery life with a FHD display.
The other features are pretty much what you’d expect from a current ThinkPad. The left side of the unit includes a charging port similar to the ones that lighter ThinkPads used to use before switching to USB-C; the X1 Extreme does not support USB-C charging. It has two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, and an HDMI connector. The right side includes two traditional USB-A ports, one of which is always on, and a 4-in-1 SD card reader. As you’d expect it includes Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1 support.
For video conferencing, it has a 720p webcam, with a physical shutter. I found the camera to be about the same as those on the ThinkPad X1, which is to say adequate but not exceptional. It has three speakers, and audio quality was similarly fine but not a standout.
The keyboard will also be familiar to ThinkPad users, with a red TrackPoint pointing stick in the center, and a touchpad with physical buttons under the keyboard. I thought the keyboard was quite good, with maybe a bit more travel than on the current ThinkPad X1 Carbon. This is a keyboard I could use for a long time. On the other hand, the trackpad, while perfectly adequate, is smaller than on many competitors. The keyboard has a number of dedicated keys for unified communications, letting you answer or hang up a call with the touch of a button. It has a fingerprint reader to the right of the keyboard, and can support Windows Hello via the webcam, but does not have the presence awareness features of some competitors.
The ThinkPad X1 Extreme starts at $1,479 with a six-core Intel Core i7-10750H processor, 8GB of memory, a 256GB solid-state drive, and a 1080p 300-nit IPS screen. The version I tested with the faster processor, UHD OLED touch display, 32GB and 1TB SSD lists at $2,913.
Obviously, a machine like the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is not for everyone; many people would prefer a smaller laptop and don’t need the extra performance. But if you run complex models or sophisticated graphics and still want a thin and light laptop – and appreciate that it may have the best screen and the best keyboard I’ve seen in a laptop this year- this is a compelling machine.