In the old days, buying an ultralight ThinkPad meant cashing in the kids’ college fund. Designed for executives looking to make a statement, the lightweight machines were showy, expensive, and hardly designed for serious, all-day computing.
With the X100e, Lenovo hasn’t addressed the performance issues that plague mini notebooks, but it has at least taken a serious stab at the price concern while keeping the elegance and sophistication of the ThinkPad line intact. Typically, a top-of-the line X-series ThinkPad will easily run more than $2,000, but the newest sibling in the X family will set you back just $500 or $600.
The X100e may be stripped down (how could it not be?), but mind you, it’s still a ThinkPad, not a lower-end IdeaPad. A step up from a netbook, the machine features a basic graphics card (an ATI Radeon HD 3200), 2 GB of RAM, and a 160-GB hard drive. Powering the thing is a 1.6-GHz AMD Athlon Neo, a chip that’s generally thought to be a step up from Atom if still a long way from Intel’s Core series.
But more importantly, the X100e looks like a ThinkPad, with the executive lines and no-frills design indicating this isn’t some half-baked laptop with a ThinkPad logo stuck to it. The only noticeable design departure is the X100e’s chiclet keyboard — and it quickly proves to be a smart one. For an 11.6-inch laptop, the X100e has one of the best keyboards we’ve ever used, with great response and substantial stroke depth.
Sadly, performance is remedial-level as opposed to honors-class. Benchmark scores are only modestly (10 percent) better than those on Atom-based netbooks and are a bit worse than the cheapie Core 2 Solo machines we’ve tested, though graphics scores were in the usable range. All told, it can get the job done for basic tasks, which is probably all anyone would be using a laptop of this size for, anyway.