Thoughts on Lenovo ThinkPad X300 vs. Apple MacBook Air.

CNET did a review of the X300 and gave it an Excellent rating (8.5 out of 10).

The ThinkPad X300 breaks new ground by packing a broad display, full-size keyboard, and nearly every feature a mobile user needs into a sleek, lightweight case.

I used two different ThinkPads many years ago and loved them. They were (and I believe still are) the closest thing to a “lust” laptop in the Windows world. They looked great, had solid build quality, were nicely outfitted, and I loved the eraser head for moving the cursor.

I have little experience with ThinkPads since IBM sold them to Lenovo, but everything I’ve read is that Lenovo has maintained the line’s well-earned quality and reputation — and expense.

I can see where the X300 will continue that tradition, but it’s also a good example of the compromises Steve Jobs claimed are made in the ultra portable market. Specifically, Jobs stated that to get the machines small and light with “typical” I/O generally required these three things:

  • Smaller screens
  • Smaller keyboards
  • Slow processors

As we know, Apple thought differently; the MacBook Air eschews all three, with the resulting compromise being that it doesn’t have the “typical” I/O (no DVD, no Ethernet port, only 1 USB port, etc.).

To Lenovo’s credit, they thought differently as well, and skipped the first two of the above compromises, but kept most traditional I/O. My personal opinion is that they couldn’t let go of the I/O and, building around it, simply had to make that third compromise.

You can read the CNET review for yourself; what strikes me is that the extra I/O — which may or may not be routinely used — is so gladly taken as a trade-off for abysmal performance and battery life!

Look at the measurements at the end of the review, the Air trounces this thing in performance and battery life. This is all the more amazing when you consider the following:

  • The X300 has a SSD. This obviously helped it on the Photoshop test (though it still lags behind the Air), and battery life test (though it still lags behind the Air). Keep in mind this as fast as the X300 gets, whereas it was tested against the slowest possible Air.
  • The SSD is 16GB less disk space for the X300 compared to the Air.
  • The X300 was benchmarked with Windows XP. Ouch! You mean the best this thing can do is get stomped by the slowest Air running Apple’s latest and greatest OS while it runs a seven year old OS? Are you freakin’ kidding me?
  • The X300 cost $800 more than the Air.

Maybe all the reviews of the Air have been unfair, if this review is any indication. After all, the Air was blasted as being too expensive, too slow (oh no, it’s the slowest Mac in Apple’s lineup!) and the drive too small. Apparently, Windows users are so used to slow performance they don’t care any more. Forced to use a 1.2 GHz processor? No sweat, we’ll just run an OS from 2001 and hope nobody notices all the things touted for Vista don’t apply.

Yes, all UMPCs require compromise, and it may be that the Air and X300 are the best of breed right now. I’m not sure either is my cup of tea but I think the crappy processor is a bad compromise, and the I/O you get in return isn’t enough to make up for it. You utilize the processor every second you’re using the machine. The DVD and three USB ports? Not so much. Your mileage may vary.

I also think the requirement of a SSD was a bad decision on Lenovo’s part. Less space and more expense. Still, given that it has to run XP to get the best performance, a slow hard drive would really have bogged it down so maybe they had little choice. That ought to tell you something.

If you’re happy with Windows XP, an Air using Boot Camp would be a much better performer. Heck, you could even get it with the upgraded 1.8GHz processor and still pocket five hundred over the X300.

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One thought on “Thoughts on Lenovo ThinkPad X300 vs. Apple MacBook Air.

  1. I’m a big fan of the Thinkpad brand and have owned more than a half dozen of them. I have a friend who just bought a Lenovo Thinkpad T61 and is returning it in part because he claims it feels flimsy. In particular the wrist rest, which flexed so much that he could feel it touch the hard disk underneath. I was sorry to hear that, and I do hope that this won’t be a trend.

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