ThinkPad X220 4291-4BG
: i7-2640M(2.80GHz),4GB RAM,160GB Solid State Drive,12.5in 1366x768 IPS LCD,Intel HD Graphics,Intel 802.11agn wireless,WWAN,Bluetooth,1Gb Ethernet,UltraNav,Secure Chip,Fingerprint reader,Camera,9c Li-Ion,Win7 Pro 64
: 160GB SSD replaced with 512GB SSD (Samsung 840 Evo), RAM extended to 8GB
: Ultrabase with DVD Multi-burner, additional 6-cell battery
: dual-boot between Windows 7 and Windows 8.1; both 64-bit
When it was released, the X220 caused some excitement among Thinkpadders for being the first IPS-equipped non-Tablet Thinkpad since the T60/p. Unfortunately, other than this feature, the screen itself had pretty poor characteristics. Especially disappointing was the low 1366x768 resolution, which was the source of much disappointment, given that previous X20x generations were available in 1280x800 and 1400x900. The 16:9 aspect also caused objections, but that could not be helped. Reports of quality issues with the IPS screen started popping up fast as well - it appears many of the screens had noticeable issues with image persistence ("ghosting") and a tendency to develop pressure marks ("white spots") much faster than normal, without any abuse.
At that time I was ready for a new Thinkpad, but not in urgent need of one. So, I waited a bit. However, as the next generation of Thinkpads arrived with no improvements in the screen department, but a radical change in the keyboard layout, which I did not like, I decided that the X220 is probably going to be the best modern Thinkpad I'll be able to get, under the conditions of IPS screen and classic keyboard layout, both of which were crucial to me. Remember that this was back in 2013, a long time before the screen mods and classic keyboard mods for *20/*30 series became a reality.
So I started hunting for a used X220 (at that point it was too late to get them new). I set myself a few criteria: a local model sold in Israel with a Hebrew keyboard, IPS screen (naturally), Core i7 CPU (less for the CPU, more for the USB 3.0 capability, which in the X220 was offered only with the i7 models), and at least some warranty remaining. It took longer than I imagined to find a suitable unit, mostly because only a handful of such preconfigured models existed in Israel, but I finally obtained one at the end of 2013.
Side feature: "Ultimate" X220 obtained
The laptop was sold to me with a 320GB 7200RPM HD, instead of the 160GB SSD originally installed in it. Neither option would do, really - I wanted more storage, but also a faster drive. In the end, I opted not to go the dual storage configuration, which is popular on these machines. Instead got a 500GB SATA SSD, as they became affordable. I decided that 500GB would be enough storage for me in this laptop, and this gave me an overall lighter system compared to mSATA + HDD (though not as light as mSATA + empty bay). Another small bonus is that the primary bay is SATA3 (6Gb/s) versus SATA2 (3Gb/s) for the mSATA. I also got a 6-cell battery for every day use, keeping the 9-cell for long trips.
During the past 3 years, the X220 became my primary personal travel laptop, replacing the aging and heavy 15" T60. I really appreciated the size and weight difference - it's literally almost 50% lighter, and once you get used to the fast i7 2.8GHz CPU, the Core 2 at 2GHz really feels sluggish. I rarely play games on my laptops any more, so I did not attempt to make any assessments of the X220's integrated Intel HD GPU, or compare it to the Radeon X1400 in the T60.
One of my reasons for getting a large SSD was to have enough room to dual boot Windows 7 and 8.1. Back in the day, I was not sure about 8.1 and how I'd like it, but I did want the option to have it so that I could learn to use it, with the ability to go back to the "safe" option of Windows 7. The X220 runs both OSes without any issues. Some of the Lenovo software (like the Power Manager) is not available for Win8.1, at least not without much tweaking, which I opted not to do. The Lenovo Settings application allows me to have the battery gauge in the system tray, and that's enough for me.
In terms of durability, the X220 showed no issues, and no sign of succumbing to wear, except of a few minor scuffs at the corner of the lid. It appears that one potential issue with this model has to do with the thin strip at the top / front of the LCD lid becoming 'unglued' and separating from the rest of the construction. This has not happened to mine, but I have seen some colleagues' X220 machines with this issue, and it has also been reported multiple times on Lenovo's forums. It may be a defect more common on earlier units, but I am not certain.
One thing that I recently noticed on my X220 is that when the screen is open about 20 degrees or less, the lid drops shut. I only noticed it recently, and I am not sure whether it's always been this way. It could be that the hinges are not as tight now as they were at first, or it could be just the normal function of the magnet that keeps the lid shut (since X220 has no latch). In either case it's nitpicking, since no one uses their laptop this way. At any reasonable angle, the hinges hold well, and do not exhibit the play characteristic to some T-series models.
The quality of the IPS screen overall was more than satisfactory. It's nice and bright, colors look vibrant, and despite some loss of contrast at wide vertical angles, it still fares tons better than any laptop TN panel. In that sense it's been a pleasure to use.
The screen on my unit was affected by the common flaws of this IPS panel, but fortunately they became obvious while the laptop was still under warranty, and I got the screen replaced free of charge, with the newer, slightly improved LP125WH2-SLB3 panel from the X230. The replacement has not exhibited any noticeable problems.
Side feature: X220 IPS - Image retention, white spots, warranty exchanges
The low screen resolution, however, cannot be ignored. Coming from 1400x1050 or 1440x900 laptops, I totally expected to be limited by 1366x768, and indeed I was. I wouldn't say it's impossible
for the work I do (programming / writing), but it does require a lot more scrolling, and productivity suffers due to the limit of how much data can fit on the screen at the same time. If I did any kind of graphical editing / CAD work - I probably would say that this resolution is totally inadequate, but as it is - I was just inconvenienced, but not in a debilitating way. At home, I did try to use the laptop docked and connected to an external 1920x1200 LCD most of the time, but at one point I was traveling and used just the laptop screen for about a month and a half, and I still managed to write a good deal of code without pulling many hairs.
When considering higher resolutions, one must not completely disregard the physical size of the machine. While the FHD (1920x1080) mod for these systems only recently became available, it has been discussed for a while, and I was asking myself every once in a while - would I convert this system to FHD, having the option? Honestly, I probably would not, unless it was literally the only computer I could use. On a 12.5" screen, the DPI would be too high for me to comfortably use at the native size, and once you start scaling, you are already not getting the full real estate. I think that 1600x900 (aka HD+) could be the sweet spot for me for this size, but such an option was never available. I would also seriously consider the X320/X330 mods by 51nb
(modifying the LCD assembly to fit a 13.3" FHD panel) as it makes the DPI a little more bearable.
In any case, I "survived" with the original HD panel of the X220 up until now, and at this point I have no need for more than that, since other alternatives exist.
The IPS screen of the X220 is not perfect, but looks good from every angle.
The design of the X220 is an interesting mix. It incorporates the common features and visual cues of the "Series 3" models, but a lot of its characteristics are inherited from the X200/X201: the available battery options and battery design, certain elements of the construction, such as the aforementioned separate plastic strip at the top of the lid (allegedly designed to improve reception for the wireless antennae), and the overall placement of ports around the chassis. Some changes were made, due to addition of certain ports instead of others, but the similarities are easily recognizable. The most noticeable difference is the power plug which was moved from the left side to the rear of the laptop, most likely due to the different form factor of the X220 vs X20x (16:9 means that the front and back are longer, while the sides are shorter). This is one more way in which the X220 brings the X series closer to the T.
The X220 also marks the first time since the introduction of low-voltage processor lines that the X-series does not have a slimmed-down version using an LV/ULV chip, like X40/X41 to X31/X32, and the 's' variant of every model between X60 and X201. (The X220 could be configured with some ULV Core i5 / Pentium Dual Core / Celeron CPUs, but these custom configurations were not readily available outside of select markets, and affected only the internals, not the overall system design)
. So, while the X220 can compete with previous low-voltage solutions in battery life, thanks to more power-efficient modern CPUs, it loses to them in weight and slimness, which is something to keep in mind for someone moving over from, say, an X200s/X201s. It would take two generations for Lenovo to move in the opposite direction - starting from X240 (Haswell architecture), all X-series Thinkpads use only low-voltage CPUs.
Generally, looking at the history of Thinkpads of the late IBM and early Lenovo days, shows that the X-series design cycles are often separate from the T/R/W: the X31/X32 design continued well into the T4x era and ran in parallel with the X40/X41 for a while. The X61 stayed 4:3 and identical to the X60, while T/R61 greatly diverged from its predecessors. And the X20x/X30x were completely their own thing, very different visually from contemporary T-series. The X220 in a way brought the two design trends together, but the X series would continue to introduce new design concepts in the future as well, such as the X1 Carbon series.
The X220 offers very respectable expandability for an ultraportable, although not quite up to par with its larger T siblings. It has 3 USB ports (not 4), and no eSATA port. However, all the common ports you'd expect on a business laptop of that era (LAN, VGA, Card Reader) are present. Compared to an X20x, some of them got moved around the chassis - the RJ-45 LAN connector was moved to the right side, replacing the discontinued RJ-11 modem port, and in its place sits the DisplayPort. This makes the X220 the first X-series model with a digital video port on the chassis (X20x had it via the Ultrabase).
For a great visual comparison of the X201 and X220, look no further than this
. A picture is worth 1000 words, especially if you cannot read them.
One advantage that the X220 retains from the X20x, is a full-width 54mm ExpressCard slot, versus the 34mm variant that the "Series 3" T/W models went to. This allows flush wide ExpressCards to be used, such as: 2 USB ports + power, 2 eSATA ports, eSATA + USB combo, or even 3 USB ports. Using such a card can bring the expandability up to par with the T/W series, although such solutions tend to be lower-performing and less reliable than integrated ones.
A particularly nice feature of the Core i7 variant of the X220 is the integrated USB 3.0 controller (NEC/Renesas uPD720200). There is no technical reason why Lenovo limited it to the i7 models; this was a pure marketing trick to tie two high-end features together. Since the CPU on the X220, as in all previous X-series, is soldered to the board, these two features always go together - all i7 boards will have USB 3.0, and only them.
The uPD720200 is one of the earlier USB 3.0 controllers, and not the highest performing one (read speeds are great, write speeds a bit less so), but it is very reliable. ExpressCard-based solutions can sometimes be finicky. For instance, any uPD720202-based card malfunctions terribly in the X220 (and many similar laptops) due to bugs in the PCI-Express power management flows (of the controller, or the chipset - I don't know). Other controllers tend to work OK, but they do heat up your palmrest and reduce battery life if you leave them permanently plugged in.
Side feature: X220 (and X201, X200) USB 3.0 Expresscard
Two nice bonuses with the integrated USB 3.0 on the X220 that pleasantly surprised me (I did not know of them when I bought the laptop) - it is bootable (unlike anything ExpressCard I tried), and it passes a port to the docking connector, which makes the i7 X220 the only pre-Ivy-Bridge laptop that can use the USB 3.0 port on the Series 3 Docks that have such a port, at USB 3.0 speeds.
Side feature: Thinkpad X220 and USB3 on Series 3 Docks
Speaking of the docking connector - the X220 is the first X-series machine since the X32 that can use all the same docks that its contemporary T/W series use, as well as is own Ultrabase. Typically X-series and T-series of the same generation use the same physical connectors, but they are electrically and mechanically incompatible, which limited the X4x/X6x/X20x series to their own docking solutions only. The X220 finally allows you to enjoy the best of both worlds - there is still an Ultrabase slice option with an Ultrabay, but you can also use the mainstream docks with their multiple video ports / eSATA / USB 3.0. This also makes it easier for corporations to manage laptop fleets, when they can all share the same docking stations.
Left: This X220 has the USB3/eSATA combo ExpressCard installed, for ultimate external storage connectivity. The rear blue port is the onboard USB 3.0. Right: Differences from X20x - no lid latch, card reader moved to right side, combo audio jack instead of two separate ones.
The battery design of the X220 carries over from the X20x series. There are 3 options:
Left: X220 without a battery attached (to simulate the profile of a 4-cell). Right: X220 with the standard 6-cell battery.
- 4-cell: slim (prismatic), sits flush with the laptop back and bottom
- 6-cell: cylindrical, sits flush with the laptop back, sticks out of the bottom, raising the laptop a bit
- 9-cell: cylindrical, protrudes from the laptop back, sticks out of the bottom, raising the laptop a bit
When the 6 or 9-cell batteries are used, the back of the laptop is raised a bit, so that it does not stand on its back rubber feet, but rather on the rubber feet at the bottom of the battery. In some sense, this design is a continuation of the triple battery options for the X6x (4-cell prismatic, 4-cell cylindrical, and 8-cell), but the relative capacities of the batteries differ greatly:
Code: Select all
Battery Capacity X60/X61 X200/X201 X220/X230
Low (4-cell slim) 29Wh 29Wh 29Wh
Medium (4-cell / 6-cell) 37Wh 56Wh 63Wh
High (8-cell / 9-cell) 75Wh 84Wh 94Wh
On the X6x, even the "extended capacity" 4-cell has rather poor capacity, essentially requiring the 8-cell option for good battery life. On the X2xx, the modified design (in which the widescreen form factor probably played a key role) allowed the 6-cell to sit flush with the back, offering significantly improved capacity with the mainstream battery (and a similar increase for the extended battery). For many use cases, the 6-cell would be enough. The prismatic 4-cell is another story - its capacity remains very poor - half or less of the 6-cell. It does allow some weight reduction (on an already light laptop), but it would be offset in many cases by the need to carry the power adapter. With the slightly slimmer profile of the machine as its only redeeming feature, it is not hard to see why Lenovo stopped offering the 4-cell as a standard option for the X220 (it was standard on certain X20x models).
Left: Rear view with the 6-cell. The laptop is standing on the battery's feet with its own rubber feet in the air. The battery is not centered, so the laptop can wobble if pressed hard on the back corners. This is not an issue during normal usage. Right: X220 with the 9-cell battery sticking out of the back (it sticks out the bottom exactly like a 6-cell).
For a good look at the different batteries and the relative run-times consult this thread at [H]ardForum
. This is for the X230, but the same principles apply.
The concept of an Ultrabase was inherited by the X-series from the 570 series, and accompanies it from its earliest models. It's a unique dock for the X-series, which is designed to be portable. It covers the entire bottom of the laptop, so that the laptop and the base can be picked up and carried together as a single unit. It is also usually lighter than other docking solutions. A typical 12" X series + Ultrabase may weigh approximately as much as a 14-15" T-series.
IBM/Lenovo's view of the Ultrabase as a semi-integral part of the laptop is evident from the fact that some X-series models were already pre-configured with the Ultrabase + optical drive at the point of sale. This would usually be the cheaper way of getting the base; when sold separately, it would come without the optical drive, the combined price for base+optical would be ridiculous, and the warranty would typically be limited to 1 year, whereas for pre-configured units, the warranty would follow that of the machine, and could be 3 years or longer.
Traditional features of the Ultrabases that distinguished them from most other docks are the presence of stereo speakers and an Ultrabay (for optical drives, additional hard drives, batteries and other accessories), to address the common deficiencies of the X-series, which had no built-in bays, and typically a weak mono speaker. The original Ultrabase designs were more limited than the mainstream docks in the port variety (e.g., no USB hubs, no audio jacks), but the laptops could also connect to those other docks. Starting from the X4x series, all the way to X20x, the X-series were no longer compatible with the standard docks, so the capabilities of the base were extended to include more ports, and eventually even digital video/audio via the DisplayPort connector on the X200 Ultrabase.
The X220 Ultrabase (Ultrabase Series 3) looks very similar to the X200 Ultrabase, and has almost exactly the same capabilities, except the integrated stereo speakers. These were deemed unnecessary, since X220, for the first time for a 12" X-series has stereo speakers of its own. However, the Serial Ultrabay Slim slot is still there, and remains the only way to connect an Ultrabay to an X220/X230, since none of the other Series 3 docks have this capability.
Left: Top view of the Ultrabase. Notice the openings on the front for the speakers of the X220 and the keys in the back. When locked, neither the laptop, nor the Ultrabay device can be ejected from the base. Right: Back view of the Ultrabase with the X220 and a 9-cell battery attached. All the ports of the Ultrabase are on the back, including power, LAN, 4 USB 2.0, line-out, mic-in, VGA, and DisplayPort++.
One unusual thing about this Ultrabase is the way it handles the power port. Most Thinkpad docking solutions are designed to mechanically block the power port on the chassis, when the machine is docked, or at least disable it electrically. The Ultrabase does neither. The chassis port is perfectly accessible while the X220 is docked, and can be used. Moreover, even when connected through the chassis port, the Ultrabase peripheral ports remain powered and can be used. If plugged in through both ports, the Thinkpad seems to prefer the port on the Ultrabase, judging from the messages I received from the Power Manager when I did this little experiment. I don't understand the point of this. Can it theoretically be used to charge the battery faster by pulling power from both adapters at the same time? I don't know. I have not seen any indication that it is possible, but could run some more experiments at a later point.
Left: Right side of the Ultrabase with the keyhole and the optical drive. This Ultrabay uses the standard single-latch mechanism of past Thinkpads, not the annoying two-step mechanism of Series 3 machines. Right: Left side of the Ultrabase showing the ejection lever and the "eject" button. The button is designed to "safely remove" the Ultrabase before physically pulling the laptop off. It is almost never actually required to use this feature. Not pictured: Power button on the Ultrabase (it's at the front, right hand side).
Observe that the Ultrabase is designed to accommodate the largest 9-cell battery, so it's deeper than the laptop itself. It also has an appropriate recession at the back to accommodate the cylindrical batteries, so that the laptop always sits flat in the base and is not raised further up. That's a good thing, considering how raised and angled the Ultrabase itself is.
X220 4291-4BG, Ultrabase Series 3 with keys, X220 Battery 29++ (9-cell) and Serial Ultrabay Slim DVD Multi-Burner IV optical drive