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Lenovo ThinkPad X230t

Lenovo's legacy convertible notebook gets Ivy Bridge processors and other tech updates
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

The ThinkPad X230t is a convertible laptop with a lot of history, so let's start with that. Only a few people will remember that the original IBM ThinkPad, all the way back in 1992 or so, was actually a tablet and not a laptop (see a review we did in 1995 of the ThinkPad 730TE). Consumer tastes dictated a switch to a convertible notebook format, and pen computing historians may remember the IBM ThinkPad 360PE and 750P of the mid-1990s, both notebooks that could also be used as tablets. For a good while there were no IBM ThinkPad tablets or convertibles at all, but when the ThinkPad line became part of Lenovo, that changed again.

The Lenovo X230t was announced in May 2012 and replaced the X220t after that model had been on the market for just over a year. The X220t, in turn, had replaced the earlier Lenovo X200/X201 that went back to September 2008, and those machines had been replacements of the even earlier X61. The concept of all those hybrid ThinkPads hasn't really changed in a long while (though the original models in the 90s did use a different display conversion mechanism from the single-point rotating hinge in the center), and the machine itself still looks like ThinkPads, IBM and Lenovo alike, have always looked: black, elegant, businesslike and angular. It's just that technology doesn't stand still, and so IBM and then Lenovo provided regular tech updates and inclusion of the latest and greatest standards and features.

So what's new this time? Well, Intel upped the ante once again with its third gen Core i3/i5/i7 processors that featured, as their main attraction, much better integrated graphics and even better power conservation. So the X230t can be ordered with either a third gen gen "Ivy Bridge" Core i7-3520M (2.9GHz, up to 3.4GHz in Turbo Mode) or the Core i5-3320M (2.6GHz, up to 3.3GHz). Both have a Thermal Design Power of 35 watts, use speedy DDR3-1600MHz memory.

Disk technology hasn't been standing still either, and so you can now get higher capacity disks both at 5400 rpm and 7200 rpm speeds (and some offer a degree of full disk encryption). Further, with solid state disks now much more affordable, you can order the X230t with up to 256GB of SATA SSD.

Despite the standard voltage 35 watt TDP, the new chips are efficient enough to offer up to 9 hours with a 62-watt 6-cell battery, and up to a stunning 18 hours with an optional external "slice" battery. There's also a lightweight 3-cell 29 watt-hour battery, good for up to 4 hours, if weight is an issue.

One thing that Lenovo had been changing a lot with the convertible ThinkPads was display size, aspect ratio, resolution and display technologies. For a bit of history, the old X61 had a standard 12.1-inch XGA (1024 x 768 pixel) version and a high resolution SXGA+ (1400 x 1050 pixel) version, the subsequent X200/201 stayed with the 12.1-inch size but wide-format WXGA (1280 x 800 pixel) resolution and electromagnetic digitizers. The X220t came with a 12.5-inch display with even wider 1366 x 768 resolution, and that's what the new X230t still has. As before, there is a base display with multi-touch and then an outdoor-viewable version with an active pen that comes with Corning's virtually scratch/break-proof Gorilla Glass. And there's a 720p webcam.

One issue is that you while the standard display has multi-touch and an active pen, the outdoor-viewable and Gorilla Glass-protected version is pen-only and doesn't have multi-touch. Since the X230t comes with Windows 7, that's no big deal. Windows 7 supports touch to some extent, but it's really not optimized for it, and most of its pen functionality was designed for an active pen.

The X230t, like its predecessors, has no integrated optical drive. We used to consider that a drawback as some of the competition included an optical drive even in ultra-portable machines. Today, optical drives are becoming a rarity. As is, if you need an optical drive it's either an external plug-in drive or Lenovo's ThinkPad Series 3 UltraBase. The slot situation remains unchanged, with the base machine having a 4-in-1 card reader that supports all the SD card formats. There's a Display Port jack in addition to VGA, there's still an ExpressCard slot I believe, and you get fingerprint scanning. What's missing is HDMI, and no more RJ45 LAN jack.

On the wireless side, there are numerous options and variations. There are three variety's of Intel's Centrino WiFi module, with one even including WiMAX. You can get Gobi 3000 for technology and carrier independence, or there are a variety of 3/3.5G WLAN cards.

Pricing starts at US$1,056 after a promotional discount (seen May 2013). That's a good US$200 price premium over the plain vanilla non-tablet X230, so there's that to consider. And there are now also the ThinkPad Twist ultrabooks starting at US$879, and a variety of inexpensive Lenovo IdeaPad tablets and convertibles based on Windows 8, Windows RT and Android, all at very attractive prices. But if you want a "traditional" ThinkPad with presumably the benefit of 20 years of ThinkPad DNA, the X230t is it. It is a classy, elegant, and likely very dependable machine, albeit a somewhat thick and heavy one.

Specifications Lenovo X230t
Status Added 05/2012; updated 05/2013
Form-factor Convertible Laptop
Processor Core i7-3520M (2.9GHz)
Core i5-3320M (2.6GHz)
OS Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Professional (32/64-bit) Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit)
Graphics Intel Integrated HD Graphics
Standard/Max RAM Up to 16GB DDR3 1600
Disk/drive 320GB HD, 7200rpm OPAL FDE
320/500GB HD, 5400rpm
320/500GB HD, 7200rpm
Intel 180GB SSD SATA
Intel 240GB SSD SATA
Card slots SD/SDHC/SDXC card, 54mm ExpressCard, Smart Card reader
Display type Wide viewing angle IPS LCD, 300 nits
Display size/res 12.5-inch 1366 x 768 pixel, either multi-touch OR pen-only outdoor with scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass
Digitizer/pens Multi-touch OR active digitizer
Keyboard/scale Spill-proof integrated 100%-scale with TrackPoint
Ruggedness standard
Housing Magnesium-alloy
Size (WxHxD) 12.0 x 9.0 x 1.2 inches (305 x 229 x 27 mm)
Weight Starting at 3.7 pounds (1.66kg)
Power 3-cell 29 watt-hour ("up to 4 hrs"), 6-cell 62 watt-hours ("up to 9 hours"), 6-cell + external slice battery (157 watt-hours, "up to 18 hrs")
Camera 720p HD webcam
Interface 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x always-on USB 2.0, VGA, DisplayPort, opt. fingerprint reader
Wireless Intel Centrino Advanced-N + Wimax 6250 OR Wireless-N 2200 OR Advanced-N 6205, optional Gobi3000 or other 3G
List price Starting at US$1,056 (per Lenovo website, May 5, 2013)
Contact X230t webpage
Data sheet X230t data sheet
Web RuggedPC Review