Computers and Internet

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 3 (2015) Comparative Review against Gen 1 (2012)

It has been about 2 months since I received the generation 3 ThinkPad X1 from Lenovo – model I got has Core i7 processor and 8GB of memory with 240GB SSD. I have been using Gen 1 for 2 years and been generally happy with it. I will list some shortcomings of the Gen 1 below, but the context here is that after completely skipping the disappointing 2nd generation due to removed keys and touchpad buttons, I wanted to give generation 3 a spin, use it for work for few weeks and share my experiences with you.

Here are top shortcomings of the generation 1.  I’ll look at these a little closer while reviewing generation 3.

  1. Display filter that took away a lot from the image quality of the built-in display
  2. Battery life. On generation one I’m now getting less than 2 hours (very heavy workload) after 2 years of use.
  3. Resume from standby scenarios. Generation 1 loses USB hubs, forgets that external display was connected and fails to deliver right level of power to external USB spinning drives that otherwise work on other USB ports.

With top annoyances listed, let’s take a look at X1 generation 3. Worth noting, I am using Windows 10 on it.

  1. First thing I noticed is that how much better the screen quality is. Keep in mind, this is a touch display. It is much more comfortable for finger operation (less friction relative to that of gen1). It is not the best display out there, but beats Gen 1 display easily. From OS / display experience standpoint, X1 Gen 3 right now has one flaw, and that is to reset the window dimensions down to 640×480 upon waking from deep sleep (hibernate after X hours scenario). Even when you don’t use external monitors, you would see your window sizes shrink down while a simple close-lid-at-night–sleep–open-lid-in-the-morning routine. This is quite annoying and I’m hoping Lenovo / Microsoft will sort it out soon.
  2. Battery life. I will say this — I put a lot of load on these PCs. 10GB+ of Outlook data, near-full disk with endless documents and slides, a ton of synchronized SharePoint, OneDrive, DropBox document libraries. There is constant network/indexing/disk IO activity even when people in my extended teams update a document somewhere in the cloud. To top it all, I like bright display and set the PC to run in “high performance” mode. I don’t play games on this PC. With that sort of usage pattern, I can get close to 4 hours of usage.  As was the case with Gen 1, Gen 3 also does a very quick charge up to 80%. So if I have 20mins at the airport to top it off after few hours of customer presentations, it gets me going on a 2hr flight. Whatever laptop you are getting, pay attention to how fast it charges. Lenovo makes this point clear on their X1 page as well — I agree it is quite important feature.
  3. On the USB device stability front, I’m afraid Gen 3 has ways to go, just like Gen 1. I’d find my wired mouse not functioning upon resuming from standby (7 out of 10 times — requires me to unplug/plug the cable). Disks and thumbdrives are not consistently recognized between left/right USB ports. My Gen 3 X1 is fully up to date (verified by ThinkVantage System Update as well as Microsoft Update). Lenovo / Microsoft needs to work on this aspect.

With key points discussed, I wanted to note a couple of usability / performance characteristics:

  • 15 seconds cold boot
  • 17 seconds between correct password entry and usable desktop. I should qualify this by saying, this is a virtual smartcard authentication with on-network CRL verification and many other corporate network “overhead” getting in the way. On a bare-bones system, pressing enter takes me to usable desktop within 2 or 3 seconds. This is what most people would experience.
  • Fan noise. Gen 3 is definitely noisier than Gen 1. I found that even a simple indexing process that uses 10-15% of CPU would trigger fan to speed up to very noisy levels, which Gen 1 managed better. In busy office settings this is a non-issue, but completely silent home-office will make you hear this difference.

I’ll update this post as I continue to use it. Overall, I still recommend it over alternatives. It is a great PC.

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