IBM Lenovo X41 Tablet PC – Our Full Review

by Barry J. Doyle Reads (286,091)

IBM Lenovo X41 Tablet PC – Our Full Review

by: Barry J. Doyle, Phoenix, Arizona 
     Andrew Baxter, New York USA

Excitement over the Tablet PC has gained steady momentum over the first half of 2005. Instead of existing soley for adoption by vertical markets such as the health/medical industry, law enforcement, academic and associated fields, awareness of the Tablet PC platform among general consumers has made a mad jump. Demand for Tablet PC’s has fianally increased to the point that several brand name mobile computing manufacturers have entered the market with a variety of Tablet PC models, paving the way for many more to come. Enter Lenovo’s IBM ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC and mobile computing consumers have a further renewed interest in the Tablet platform. Our read counts here at TabletPCReviewSpot.com have peaked in response to this exciting new model. The red carpet has been rolled out for the grandest welcome for the X41 Tablet. Still many people are wondering “what’s all the fuss about”?

The new IBM Lenovo X41 Tablet PC was designed to fill a space that until now was empty. Imagine first and foremost a lightweight, full-featured notebook with outstanding battery life. At about 3.2 lbs. this notebook packs the best built-in security technology, full-scale wireless capabilities to connect to wireless networks and Bluetooth peripherals. A handy batch of features in a handsome and sturdy case, a responsive, full-sized notebook keyboard and a crisp, bright display. Add the ThinkPad brand name that you know you can trust. This is the makings for a top of the line notebook. But this notebook isn’t just a notebook. It doubles as a superb Tablet PC of course! Now you have a good impression of the X41 Tablet PC convertible.

Rather than sounding like a cheerleader, raving on and on for the ThinkPad, let’s jump in and explore what this machine has to offer. Read up and decide for yourself if the IBM Lenovo X41 Tablet PC is worth the hype, but most importantly the right Tablet PC for you!

 

 

IBM ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC Basic Specs:

Processor– Intel Pentium M (1.5 GHz) LV 758
(1.50GHz, 90nm technology, 2MB L2 Cache, 400MHz FSB)

RAM installed– 512 MB DDR SDRAM
Hard drive– 40 GB @ 4200RPM
Input device– Keyboard, Touchpad
Weight– 3.5 lbs
Dimensions (W x D x H)– 10.5 in x 8.3 in x 0.8 in
Display– 12.1 in TFT active matrix
Max resolution– 1024 x 768
Audio output– Sound card
Modem– 56 Kbps Fax / modem
Battery installed– 1 Lithium ion
OS provided– Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005
Service & support type– 3 years warranty
Ports: 2 USB 2.0 (1 IBM Powered USB 2.0), Infrared, expansion bus (for optional ThinkPad X4 Ultra Base Doc); external display; AC adapter; RJ-11 modem port; RJ-45 ethernet port; audio: headphone/line-out, external microphone.
Slots: 1 PCMCIA card slot, 1 Secure Digital card slotIBM X41


Close Up with the X41 Tablet PC


underside (battery, docking port, RAM access, pen compartment)


front (display latch to the lower right)


right (ac in, VGA out, USB/Mini USB ports, heat vent)


left (Kensington lock, modem port, LAN port, USB, SD rard reader, headphone jack,
mic jack, PCMCIA slot)


back (swivel hinge, battery edge)


Build Quality and Design

The ThinkPad X41 is built in the same rugged manner as any other X or T series notebook from IBM.  Don’t let the size of the X41 fool you, it may look cute and small, but once you pick it up and feel the highly sturdy and reinforced plastic case you’ll understand this is a device that’s been designed to take a beating and not just to look suave. There’s just nothing chintzy about this machine; the hinges, keyboard, screen cover, case and trackpoint buttons all exude physical quality.

One way we know of to keep weight down in a mobile product is by utilizing plastic as the build material for the case. The problem with plastic is that it’s just not all that rugged and if you bash your notebook or drop it then you’d better cross your fingers and hope that nothing breaks or cracks.  The ThinkPad X41 does use plastic for the case, but the kicker is that it’s a reinforced plastic composite.  The case material provides for a very rugged and durable build, but still keeps the weight down. The screen lid is constructed of a magnesium alloy so there’s no flexing of the screen, if you push in on the back of the lid you don’t get any of the disconcerting ripple effect on the front of the LCD. When this rugged build is combined with the IBM Active Protection System for the hard drive (this built-in software/hardware feature shuts down the hard drive if the notebook is dropped in order to protect data), you can be fairly sure both your data and the physical hardware will survive a decent sized drop. 

 

One thing that is common in ultraportables, but that must be pointed out, is that there is no built in optical drive for the X41, nor has there ever been for the X-series. That’s part of the formula for keeping the weight down and the overall package thin. So what happens when you need to load software from a DVD or CD? That’s when you’ll need an expansion base such as the ThinkPad X4 UltraBase Dock. This dock has a built-in optical drive and various ports at the back. The UltraBase X4 allows you to have an external monitor, power and all your favorite accessories hooked up to it so that when you slide the X41 into the base you can start working right away, no hassle of arriving at the office and plugging in all the various accessories to the notebook.  However, when on the road travelling or in a coffee shop you can have the X41 in it’s raw thin and light form so that it lives up to the ultraportable namesake.

 

ThinkPad X4 Dock/USB 2.0 CD-RW/DVD-ROM Drive

 

When purchasing the X41 the ThinkPad X4 Dock is an optional add-on. The most notable benifit of the ThinkPad X4 Dock is that it can give the X41 Tablet PC “desktop-esque” functionality.


the ThinkPad X4 Dock

Features included in the X4 Dock:

DVD-ROM, CD-RW/DVD-ROM combination, and Multi-Burner Plus drives. It can also be used with the ThinkPad Second Hard Drive Adapter to house an additional HDD.

Standard ports:  
Three USB  2.0, Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45), modem (RJ-11), serial, parallel, one PS/2 for mouse or keyboard, VGA out for an external monitor.

Built-in stereo speakers.

 


USB 2.0 CD-RW/DVD-ROM Drive 

The USB 2.0 CD-RW/DVD-ROM Drive makes a nice lightweight travel companion for those users that need an optical drive on the road. This drive is also a nice low-cost alternative to the X41 Dock for users who don’t need all the extra functionality of an entire docking station.

Processor and System Performance

The X41 provides much better performance than your average ultraportable due to the fact it has a low-voltage 1.50 GHz Pentium M that uses the latest Intel 915 chipset.  According to Intel there’s about a 10% performance gain from the older 855 chipset.

We use the program Super Pi to get a benchmark of processor speed.  The Super Pi program simply forces the processor to calculate Pi to a selected number of digits of accuracy.  Calculating to 2 million digits is our benchmark.  Below is a comparison chart of how the ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC with it’s 1.5 GHz processor stacked up to other notebooks (including its sibling X41 notebook) when running this calculation:

 Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
IBM ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC 
(1.50 GHz Alviso Pentium M)
2m 03s
Fujitsu ST5000 Tablet PC
(1.1 GHz Dothan Pentium M)
2m 37s
HP TC4200 Tablet PC 
(1.73 GHz Alviso Pentium M)
1m 51s
Toshiba R15 Tablet PC 
(1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M)
2m 8s

So we can see from the numbers above that, even though it’s low voltage, the processor is able to perform significantly better than processors in its competing class and also outpace much larger laptops from just last year.  Not bad.

Now let’s look at some more benchmarks pitting the X41 against the Fujitsu ST5000 Tablet PC.  The X41 has a low-voltage 1.5GHz processor and the ST5000 has an ultra-low-voltage 1.1GHz processor. The comparison between the two models which both weigh in at less than 4lbs. illustrates the difference in performance between the “low” and “ultra-low” voltage processors.

 Futuremark PCMark04 Scores
  Fujitsu ST5000
Tablet PC (ULV 1.1 GHz)
IBM X41 (LV 1.50 GHz)
Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression 1.98 MB/s 2.66 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption 16.04 MB/s 21.88 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression 13.91 MB/s 19.1 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing 6.42 MPixels/s 8.65 MPixels/s
Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning 1374.1 MB/s 1465.13 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check 1.67 KB/s 2.18 KB/s
File Decryption 31.92 MB/s 43.24 MB/s
Audio Conversion 1465.44 KB/s 2005.5 KB/s
Web Page Rendering 3.28 Pages/s 4.28 Pages/s
DivX Video Compression 31.65 FPS 40.44 FPS
Physics Calculation and 3D 58.13 FPS 78.77 FPS
Graphics Memory – 64 Lines 240.95 FPS 420.72 FPS

So by looking above we see that the PCMark04 numbers show overall performance of the X41 is better than the ST5000.

 

Perceived performance for using Office applications, browsing the web and using such programs as Visual Studio for programming is very good.  I can have multiple programs and browser windows open at the same time and they all work fine whenever I switch to the program to use its specific utilities.  No lag whatsoever.  The X41 most certainly is an ultraportable that will enable you to get work done.  It will not do well with anything graphically demanding though.

 

The hard drive speed of 4200RPM is often pointed to as being too slow. And the problem with the hard drive size on the X41 (1.8″) is that there is no upgrading to a faster hard drive.  With extra RAM that will provide less need to hit the hard drive, you’ll be able to overcome performance issues, and with the included processor you’ll be humming a happy tune anyway.  To me the 4200RPM limitation hard drive isn’t a big deal.

On our preproduction review unit, we found what appears to be bad sectors and were unable to benchmark the X41 Tablet PC hard drive. We did however benchmark the same 4200RPM hard drive on the IBM X41 regular notebook edition.

Using HD Tune 2.10, we found that the X41 drive offers an average 14.1 MB/second transfer rate and an access time of 24.0 milliseconds. These results are not exactly outstanding in comparison with many of today’s Tablet PC’s and notebooks that have 5400RPM or 7200RPM drives, however with IBM’s proprietary 1.8″ drive, there is currently no other option to upgrade at this time.

Keyboard and Input

The X41, despite its size, comes with a keyboard that is amazingly comfortable to use and fantastic for typing on. Keys are slightly smaller to fit everything on there, but no space is spared as the keys are pushed right out to the edge so you know IBM has done everything they can to make the keyboard usable. Feedback from the keys is great, there is not an ounce of flex to this keyboard. The trackpoint navigation is fantastic, the pointing stick makes it easy to navigate the cursor to the area on the screen you wish. Some complain about lack of a touchpad, but I’ve never come across a touchpad I’ve loved or used a whole lot so for me this is no loss. 

IBM ThinkPad keyboards are sealed and sit inside of a tray so that spills do not get to the electronics underneath. Now this doesn’t mean the X41 is waterproof and 100% spill proof by any means (liquid can still get in the vents if your aim is really bad), what it does mean is that if you spill some water onto the keyboard then you’ll have time to tip up the notebook and pour the liquid out before it seeps down into the internal components of the notebook.

One thing I should note regarding any ThinkPad keyboard is that IBM has always been stubborn about not putting a “Windows” key on the bottom left-side that nearly every other notebook has. Pushing this key by default pops up the start menu in Windows. Some people like having this and find it annoying when it’s not there, personally I don’t care, and I’m sure some Linux fans are just plain chuffed that IBM chooses to leave this Windows friendly button out!

Above the main keyboard are a few hardware buttons: the power button, volume up and down buttons, a mute button and the blue “Access IBM” button. The Access IBM button will launch an IBM software application called Access IBM that will guide you in using, protecting, configuring and updating software on your X41. 


Electromagnetic Touchscreen/Tablet PC Functionality

The 12.1″ screen on the X41 is XGA (1024×768) resolution.  It has a matte finish with a somewhat smooth writing surface. Some particular users may wish to add a screen overlay/protector that adds a bit more traction. The pen is manufactured by Wacom and thankfully does not require batteries. The silo on the front left side of the palmrests offers convenient access to the pen in both “notebook” and “tablet” modes.

The hardware controls along the side of the X41 include all the necessary quick functions that one could expect for a top of the line convertible Tablet PC. Below is a photo illustrating the largest cluster of controls. The scroll buttons and biometric fingerprint scanner (not included in the photo) are opposite and to the right of the controls illustrated here:


“tablet mode” controls

The X41 is both lightweight and compact. The Low Voltage Pentium M runs very cool – even over long runtimes. Ulike many larger Tablet PC models, the X41 is very comfortable to hold in tablet mode for extended periods of time. This machine is perfect for users who will be standing and/or walking while writing notes or navigating through application via the touchscreen.

Audio

The speakers on the actual X41 are on the bottom. Needless to say, this doesn’t provide for very good audio. Using headphones is a very wise idea, it’s hard to even understand spoken dialogue because the volume is low and sound is tinny. If you put the X41 into it’s UltraBase you get much louder audio, but even then the quality isn’t very good so a set of external speakers or headphones will serve you well.

Heat and Noise

The X41 uses a fan and smart design to keep the insides cool with its 1.5GHz processor. The fan is used to blow hot air out and cool the insides, however it runs quiet enough that it is virtually inaudible. The fan doesn’t need to run very often and when it does it’s just a gentle push of air.

Battery

We tested the X41 with the high-capacity ThinkPad X41 Tablet 8 Cell Li-Ion Battery. We recommend this battery over the standard 4 cell battery for users who need to be away from an  AC outlet for more than 2-3 hours. The 8 cell battery does stick out a bit towards the rear direction of the unit, so if size is more important than battery life, stick with the standard 4 cell option.


Notice the round extension of the 8 cell battery which extends past the rotating hinge.

We tested the 8 Cell battery using the Battery Eater Pro benchmark utility. IBM/Lenovo claims a battery runtime of over 7 hours with this battery. The battery faired moderately well with just over 3 hours of performance on one charge. Keep in mind that the “classic mode” that we tested under stresses all the components of the machine to a significantly high level. It would not be out of the question to see 5-6 hours of  runtime when the X41 is used for basic tasks such as word processing or internet browsing (via the built-in wi-fi).


The table below illustrates the restults of the 8 Cell battery using the Battery Eater Pro benchmark utility in “Classic Mode” stressing all of the X41 hardware components.

Manufacturer SANYO
Serial #
Unique ID 1014SANYOIBM-92P1085
Chemistry Lithium Ion
Temperature Termal Control Not Present
Designed Capacity 64800mWh
Full Charged Capacity 66400mWh
Designed Voltage 14.4V
Current Voltage 16.669V
Manufacture Date 0/0/0
Cycles Count 0
Cells count 4
Force charge support Not Supported
Force discharge support Not Supported
Benchmark results
CPU BEmarks 0
GPU BEmarks 0
RAM BEmarks 0
HDD BEmarks 0
Work Done
Pi calculations 19693 Cycles
HDD readwrite 15994 Mb
Fames Rendered 740811 Frames
Benchmark Options
Resolution 800x600x32
FullScreen Disabled
Mode Classic
Results
Total time 3:05:56
Result Graph

Wireless Connectivity

The ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC comes with an Intel PRO/Wireless 802.11 a/b/g internal wi-fi card. Using the built-in IBM Access Connections application makes it very easy to find networks and manage various wireless connection profiles.  IBM places what it calls the UltraConnect Wireless Antenna in the upper part of the screen. You can’t see it of course as it’s enclosed in the casing, but it really helps to extend your wireless range. Most manufacturers take the cheap route and put the antenna in the base part of the system where it’s susceptible to interference from all the other components there.

The X41 has an antenna in the screen area for better reception

The X41 Tablet PC also includes an internal Bluetooth radio. We connected the X41 to a Belkin Bluetooth mouse and a Palm Zire 72 PDA without any problems. The Bluetooth Setup Wizard software included in the X41 drive image makes the process of connecting to BT devices relatively easy. 

Fingerprint Reader Security and Software

The X41 includes a built-in fingerprint reader to provide biometric security. The fingerprint reader is unobtrusive in nature and won’t get in the way of any of your actions, but is easy enough to access and use when needed. The reader is cleverly located on the bottom right corner of the display frame making it easy to use in both “tablet” and “notebook” mode.

The first time you start using the X41 with biometric security you’ll get the following screen that prompts you to “enroll” at least two fingers for the ability to scan and use as your Windows logon.

As soon as you start using the X41 a wizard pops-up to guide you through setting up biometric security (view larger image)

You can pick any two fingers of your ten to enroll (view larger image)

You have to do three successful finger swipes, using the same finger, over the reader and then the software will record your fingerprint and converge the three successful swipe images (view larger image)

Once you’ve successfully enrolled two fingers you will be prompted by the software as to whether you’d like to now use finger swipes to logon to Windows. In addition to substituting a fingerswipe for Windows logon you can also use the fingerscan for what IBM calls “Power Up” security. This means that when you turn your computer on it will sit and wait for you to scan your finger before it will even start to boot. So for the ultimate security use both the Power Up and Windows logon passwords/fingerscan.

Actually using the finger reader is relatively easy. Just slide the end of your finger over the reader, and if it does not read right the software will actually coach you to move your finger to the right or left. It does take a little bit of training to use the reader properly, you can move your finger too fast or too slow and you do need to line the finger up right, I can basically get the read right in one or two tries, but I won’t say it’s sure fire to work every time on the first try.

For a white paper resource that covers all the advantages of biometric security check out this link: http://www.research.ibm.com/journal/sj/403/ratha.html

Conclusion

We are often asked to rate a convertible Tablet PC as two seperate entities; one being a notebook computer and the other a Tablet PC. The IBM/Lenovo X41 exceeds our expectations in both departments. The notebook is a durable, compact and lightweight mobile computer. The solid keyboard and extra IBM features make the X41 a pleasure to use as a notebook. As a Tablet PC, the X41 is easy to hold in one’s arm – even for long periods of time. The writing functionality is as good as it gets with today’s technology. The screen sensitivity is just right. As we mentioned earlier, the screen surface is somewhat smooth, so our preference is to go with a textured screen overlay which doubles as a functional sheild to protect the display from wear and unwelcomed scratches. 

With respect to a long history of ThinkPad models, you just can’t go wrong with a Tablet PC that bares the outstanding quality and trust expected from the highly regarded brand name. This first Tablet PC in the ThinkPad line continues to hold up the tradition of business class, top quality machines. We would recommend the X41 Tablet PC to the choosiest of consumers.

Pros

  • 1.5GHz Intel Pentium M is the fastest processor available for this sized notebook
  • Highly usable keyboard and TrackPoint navigation, even with the limited area
  • Excellent rugged build, Active Protection System and biometric security combine to make a notebook with great data protection and security
  • Thin and light,only 1.14″ at its thickest point and 3.5lbs if the 4-cell battery is used
  • Good docking solution in the form of the ThinkPad X4 Dock that provides nice expansion capabilities
  • Includes PCMCIA slot for easy accessory upgrade — many ultraportables do not have this slot
  • Very good wireless performance and software

Cons

  • No built-in optical drive
  • Secure digital is the only available flash memory reader, competitors offer multi-card readers
  • Some users might miss having a touchpad and Windows shortcut key
  • 1.8″ hard drive is proprietary in design and cannot be upgraded past 4,200RPM of speed.

Availability and Pricing


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