The X20 comes with a Intel Mobile Pentium III 600MHz processor. While it’s nowhere near the Gigahertz of desktop machines, it packs quite a punch for a notebook. Considering the fact that this is not a gaming system or graphics workstation, it is more than adequate for a machine of this size.
The standard amount of system memory is 128MB, maximum amount is 320MB. 128MB is fine for Windows 9x, but for Windows 2000 256MB would be of advantage, which brings us to upgrading the RAM. The review model we had came with 128MB. After opening the memory slot cover it reveals that the single accessible slot was already filled. Turns out the machine comes with 64MB built-in RAM, and with another 64MB in the upgrade slot for a total of 128MB. This means that in order to upgrade to 320MB you need to remove the stick of 64MB and replace it with a 256MB module. Given the fact that RAM is extremely cheap and that 128MB is the minimum any decent system should have, it would make more sense to equip the system with 128 from the factory and leave the upgrade slot open.
Below are some benchmarks (click thumbnails to see full size view) showing that the X20 performs well. Since this is obviously not a gaming system, but a productivity oriented computer, we didn’t run any Quake framerate benchmarks on it …
The X20 is great to work with. Because of its small size and light weight, it’s suitable for pretty much any situation, whether it’s a crammed airplane seat, a cluttered conference table, a small school bench, or your lap in the back of a cab on the way to a client.
The keyboard is fairly comfortable, even for extended periods of time (though I’m still waiting for somebody to invent the ergonomic keyboard for laptops). I just wish there was that Windows key. A neat gadget is the built-in keyboard illuminator, a “nightlight”-type LED hidden in the top of the frame, that is activated with a Function key combination. It illuminates the keyboard in low light situations like an airplane at night or a darkened conference room during a presentation to help you type without disturbing your sleeping neighbor.
Installing software on the X20 is something you’ll need to think about. The model we had for review was just the barebone notebook, no accessories like USB floppy or CD-ROM drive, Ultrabase, or docking station. If you want the convenience of being able to install software and copy files from CD or floppy on the go, you’ll need to pay extra for a USB floppy drive and/or CD-ROM drive. Alternatively you can purchase the Ultrabase for additional ports, a floppy drive, and connecting more drives like CD-RW, DVD-ROM, CD-R, hard drive, Zip drive, or LS-120. If you choose not to pay extra for either option, you can still copy files and install software to the X20. Simply hook it up to a network and copy files from a network share, and install software from a shared CD-ROM drive.
Reinstalling the operating system is also possible without the extra gadgets. The hard drive of the X20 contains a hidden partition with a drive image of a clean OS. In our case, the X20 came with Windows 2000 preinstalled. To start from scratch and reinstall the OS, all you do is press F11 during bootup and the recovery process kicks in, wiping the drive clean (back up your data first!) and restoring a clean OS with a few ThinkPad applications. But for a clean install of a new OS you’ll need a bootable CD-ROM at the minimum.
The recovery process is actually pretty slick. When pressing F11 you’ll be presented with the option to either restore a clean Windows 2000 or NT 4 installation using PowerQuest’s EasyRestore. You can perform either a full recovery by formatting the entire drive or run diagnostics (PC-Doctor in DOS mode – check out the freaky color patterns during the video test) and create a recovery boot disk.
The notebook comes with two USB ports which can be pretty important because it enables the user to hook up not only a USB floppy or CD-ROM drive, but also other popular USB devices such as a Palm/Visor cradle, digital camera, etc. This has more significance considering the fact that there are no serial or parallel ports on the X20. You’ll need the Ultrabase for those.
The built-in modem is identified as a Lucent Win Modem. Not my first choice, but it works. However, this means you won’t be able to use with Linux if you so choose to install it, and need to get a Linux-compatible PCMCIA modem.
One thing that really irked me was when i found out the hard way that the ethernet port on the back wasn’t functional when I hooked it up to my network. First I thought it was a bad cable or configuration error. Turns out you actually have to purchase an upgrade to get ethernet functionality from that port. That didn’t go over very well with me. If the port is there, it should be functioning. If i wanted to purchase an upgrade I would get a good quality PCMCIA LAN card, which on the other hand of course would mean occupying the only PCMCIA slot. When you buy a car, it comes with an exhaust pipe which already works. You don’t have to pay extra for the catalytic converter piece to make it work.
What I really liked was the sturdy feel of the X20. Just because it’s small doesn’t mean that it’s fragile. Neither the top cover nor the body give under pressure, and it does not flex when picked up by a corner. I felt comfortable carrying it with one hand by the cover or body without getting the impression it was twisting and flexing. This sturdiness is a far cry from some other small notebooks I’ve handled recently that had a very squishy plasticky feel (those are the technical terms) to them and you were afraid of breaking them if you didn’t handle them carefully. The X20 definitely stands out with its ruggedness.
Long story short: The X20 rocks, and I’m sad that I have to send it back. It is compact, sturdy, powerful, reliable, and functional. A functional ethernet port and a Windows key would have been the cherry on the pie. When my next notebook purchase rolls around, the ThinkPad will definitely be at the top of my list.
Note: This review describes the X20, which in the meantime has been replaced with its successor, the X21.
Submitted by: Alex “crazygerman” Byron