Comment: The X1 Carbon 2015 – finally a worthy X301 successor?

Some time ago, I wrote about my wish of a ThinkPad X350, because, at this time, there hasn’t been any ThinkPad I’d really like to replace my awesome X301 with.

You probably know that Lenovo announced the 3rd generation of their high-end ultrabook X1 Carbon some days ago, so you may ask yourself if that’s finally the worthy successor of the X301 I’ve been waiting for so long.

Before I’ll try to answer that question, let’s have a look at the specifications of the newest iteration of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon:

CPU You’ll have the choice between several Intel Broadwell Dual Core CPUs with a TDP of 15W:

RAM You’ll get either 4GB or 8GB 1600MHz DDR3L RAM (soldered to the system board).
Display
  • 14″ 1920×1080 (“Full HD”) TN, 300 nits
  • 14″ 2560×1440 (“WQHD”) IPS, 300 nits
  • 14″ 2560×1440 (“WQHD”) IPS, 270 nits (touchscreen)
GPU Intel HD Graphics 5500 (supports three independent displays)maximum resolution of an external display:

  • 3840×2160 at a refresh rate of 60 Hz via Mini DisplayPort
  • 4096×2304 at a refresh rate of 24 Hz via HDMI
SSD Unlike the second generation model, the third generation of the X1 Carbon now supports M.2 SSDs that are attached via PCI Express (2.0 4x), so you’ll benefit of higher transfer rates if you choose a M.2 PCIe SSD.
I/O ports Besides using a different Intel Ethernet chip that supports Intel vPro, there haven’t been any changes compared to the second generation of the X1 Carbon.
Keyboard, TrackPoint and touchpad Besides using the classic 6-row Chiclet keyboard introduced with the Haswell ThinkPad generation (the “Adaptive Keyboard” isn’t used anymore), you’ll propably celebrate the return of the TrackPoint keys. Note the different way you click them compared to older ThinkPads.
When it comes to the touchpad, there have been some changes compared to the previous generation as well: the new style of the clickpad seems to be much better.
 Battery 50 Whr, 8-cell integrated Lithium-Polymer battery, supports “RapidCharge”

But let’s have a closer look at the new X1 Carbon compared to the X301:

Chassis

Both the original X301 and the newest generation of the X1 Carbon are really beautiful ThinkPads. Although I like that the X1 Carbon is slightly thinner, this brings some disadvantages you’ve probably noticed: to connect the X1 Carbon to a network via Ethernet, you’ll need an adapter. While I don’t use Ethernet very often, I presume that every time I need it, I ‘ll forget to pack the adapter into my backpack. For this reason, it wouldn’t have been a problem for me if the device would be a little bit thicker when it would offer a full size Ethernet port. However, from my point of view that’s no big disadvantage. Both the X301 and the “X350” feature an optical drive bay, but I must admit that, although it would be nice to be able to add another battery, I don’t really miss it. When it comes to durability, I expect the new X1 Carbon to perform as good as the X301.

In my opinion, there are no big changes needed, because the new generation of the X1 Carbon seems to be an awesome ThinkPad when it comes to the exterior. Let’s see if the intrinsic values are superior as well.

Processor and GPU

Both the X300 and the X301 featured rather slow Intel Core 2 Duo processors. In combination with a SSD, they’re okay for everyday use like text editing, watching videos or browsing the internet, but especially when I’m editing photos with Photoshop or Lightroom using an external monitor, I really want more processing power. To make matters worse, the energy efficiency of the processors isn’t too high regardless of the low thermal design power.

As mentioned above, the third generation of the X1 Carbon features Intel Broadwell dual-core processors with a thermal design power of 15W. Especially the i7-5500U or the i7-5600U should even perform better than the i5-3210M in my L430, so there should be enough performance for all my needs. Battery life should be superior as well due to the high energy efficiency of the processors. However, I fear that there might be “throttling” issues especially when you choose the i7-5600U because under heavy load of both the CPU and the GPU, the TDP limit will probably be exceeded. Although Jonas Hendrickx from ThinkScopes who reviewed the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 3 earlier pointed out that the Intel Core i7-5600U performed really well when playing games. He used Counter-Strike Global Offensive, which is somewhat slightly CPU and GPU dependant…

You probably remember that I wanted to use the Intel Core M-5Y71 in the “X350” because I thought that a CPU with a TDP of 15W would be too much for the cooling system of the X300/X301. I haven’t decided yet if that’s the best solution when it comes to the performance, but I think either a Core M (Broadwell-Y) or a Core iX-5xxxU are good options for a X301 successor, so Lenovo probably should keep using the Core ix-5xxxU processors in the future.

When it comes to the GPU, I’m a bit disappointed nevertheless that Lenovo uses a 15W Core ix-5xxxU. In contrast to the second generation of the X1 Carbon, you’ll only get a HD Graphics 5500 (GT2), while the second generation offered a HD Graphics 5000 (GT3) when you chose the Core i7-4550U. However, the HD Graphics 6000 (the only GT3 GPU available with 15W Broadwell CPUs) is no big improvement compared to the HD Graphics 5500, because both support 4K at a refresh rate of 60Hz and the performance should be equivalent due to the TDP limit, so it’s not a problem for me that they don’t offer the HD Graphics 6000.

I’d prefer if they’d also offer the X1 Carbon with a 28W CPU and the Intel Iris Graphics 6100, but as I don’t play games very often, that’s propably nitpicking, especially if you keep in mind that they propably have to change the cooling system to be able to use a CPU with a TDP of 28W.

Memory

Both the X300 and the X301 supported a maximum of 8GB RAM. If you keep in mind that the X301 has been available since August 2008, you’ll easily spot one of the big disadvantages of the third generation of the X1 Carbon: you have the choice between 4 and 8GB RAM, both soldered to the system board. In my opinion, that is really inopportune, so I really hope the Skylake generation of the X1 Carbon will feature 12 or even 16GB RAM. I think 8GB of RAM may be enough for the next couple of years for me, but if you keep in mind that ThinkPads are known for their long useful life, it’s really a shame.

Display

As mentioned above, you’ll be able to choose between three display options:

  • 1920×1080 TN, 300 nits
  • 2560×1440 IPS, 300 nits
  • 2560×1440 IPS (Touch), 270 nits

The WQHD displays are also used in the second generation of the X1 Carbon. They’re really awesome and compared to the mediocre screen used in the ThinkPad X301, they’re a huge improvement, but unfortunately, they’re not as good as I hoped the display of the “X350” to be. The contrast ratio as well as the resolution are very good, but there are also some minor disadvantages:

  • The color space coverage is really good, but not perfect: approx. 86% of the sRGB color space and 65% of the Adobe RGB color space are covered according to the review by Jonas. Keep in mind that the AU Optronics FHD screen used in both the ThinkPad T440s and the ThinkPad T440p covers about 97% of the sRGB color space! I really hope there will be a screen that covers more than 95% of the sRGB color space in the Skylake generation of the X1 Carbon.
  • The brightness, especially of the version with a touchscreen, should also be increased in the next generation to further improve sunlight readability.

The entry-level 1920×1080 TN display option is an improvement in comparison to the 1600×900 TN display available in the previous generation, but unfortunately, I don’t expect it to perform better than the WQHD+ displays when it comes to color space coverage or brightness.

Solid State Disk

In my opinion, it’s awesome that the new generation of the X1 Carbon now supports M.2 solid state disks that are attached via PCIe. It’s not only a huge improvement compared with the X301 and its (nowadays not widespread) 1.8 inch microSATA port, but also compared to newer ThinkPads only supporting SATA solid state disks. However, there is one little “pain point”: the M.2 port of the X1 Carbon only supports PCIe 2.0 x4 according to Lenovo, so SSDs already using PCIe 3.0 x4 – like the Samsung SM951 – are propably thwarted a bit. That’s no big issue, because otherwise, I think that the use of an M.2 port supporting both PCIe and SATA for a SSD is the perfect solution.

Audio quality

As I didn’t have a chance to try out the new generation of the X1 Carbon yet, it would be inadequate to deliver a judgement about the quality of the speakers and the audio chip of the third generation of the X1 Carbon. However, I fear that especially the audio chip might be mediocre, as it was in all other ThinkPads of the last few generations. That’s the reason why I’d really like if Lenovo would focus more onto the quality of these components in future generations. In my opinion, it’s a shame that even cheap consumer devices sometimes have better audio quality than high-end ThinkPads.

Input devices

As mentioned above, it would be invidous to deliver a judgement about the keyboard, the TrackPoint and the touchpad without having personal experience. Nevertheless, it’s awesome that the TrackPoint buttons are back. The “new” keyboard should be much better than the “Adaptive Keyboard” used in the previous generation, too. Personally, I’d prefer a 7-row keyboard (either chiclet or “classic style”), but I also really like the 6-row chiclet keyboard, so this shouldn’t be a problem for me.

Ports

Compared to the X300 or the X301, there are some major differences:

  • Thanks to the 2 USB 3.0 ports, you can transfer data much faster.
  • Thanks to the OneLink port, you’re finally able to use a docking station – one of the most important features I missed with my X301.

However, I wish for some improvements in the future:

  • If possible, Lenovo should use a Thunderbolt port instead of the Mini DisplayPort in future generations of the X1 Carbon.
  • Lenovo should use HDMI 2.0 in the future to allow the use of 3840×2160 (4K) displays not only via Mini DisplayPort, but also via the HDMI port. I don’t really like the use of HDMI though, but that’s a different kettle of fish.
  • Lenovo should add at least one more USB port. I hope we’ll see some USB 3.1 Type-C ports soon, but as I have many legacy devices, there should also be some Type-A ports left.
  • I understand that there are many users of in-ear headsets, but I’d like to see separate audio jacks for headphones and microphones, as I really don’t like these “combo” jacks

Wireless connections

Besides removing the whitelist (as mentioned below), there are no changes needed in my eyes when it comes to wireless connections, as the X1 Carbon 2015 supports both 802.11 ac and LTE.

Miscellaneous

  • In contrast to the first generation of the X1 Carbon, the second and the third generation models don’t feature a SD card reader. As I need SD cards quite often, it would be awesome if the Skylake generation of the X1 Carbon supports them.
  • Unfortunately, as far as I know, Lenovo continues to “whitelist” WLAN/WWAN devices.  With my L430, I ran into problems due to the whitelist in the UEFI: unlike my other ThinkPads, I wasn’t able to install an Intel Dual Band Wireless AC 7260 WiFi card because there is no modified UEFI with removed whitelist available. Nowadays, that isn’t too problematic due to support of LTE and WiFi 802.11ac, but when you keep in mind there may be new wireless standards in the future, you propably won’t be able to upgrade your X1 Carbon with newer WLAN/WWAN modules. I hope they’ll stop to use a whitelist one day, but that is unlikely.
  • Although the quality of the integrated camera is satisfying according to Jonas, I hope they improve both video resolution, frame rate as well as the low-light performance in future generations of the X1 Carbon. In my opinion, it’s a shame that smartphones for some hundred $ feature better front-facing cameras. Although the limitation of the video resolution and refresh rate is mostly to blame on the interface being used, which isn’t really an issue with Lenovo. But if you want a better webcam in 2014, you usually need to spend a lot of money.

Verdict

From an objective point of view, the third generation of the X1 Carbon is not the perfect ThinkPad, but that doesn’t matter. Remember that the ThinkPad X301 – one of the best ThinkPads ever – isn’t perfect either.

There are some disadvantages mentioned earlier like the maximum of 8GB RAM, the lack of a Thunderbolt port or the lack of a SD card reader, but if you put up with them, you’ll probably get one of the best ThinkPads ever. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

What do you think about the new generation of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon? Feel free to comment below.

Don’t forget to have a look at the review of the new X1 Carbon by Jonas.

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