Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Excessive Gen 3: The Identical, Solely Sooner

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3: The same, just faster

"The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 is particularly fast because of its components and strikes against laptops with faster processors."

  • Gorgeous OLED display with the best HDR

  • Great keyboard and touchpad

  • Solid build quality

  • Excellent performance

  • Disappointing battery life

  • Expensive

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2 made my list of favorite laptops that I checked for digital trends – and for good reason. It was fast, well built, and featured an outstanding OLED display. Now Lenovo has released the third generation model of the laptop and increased the performance to 11.

Lenovo equips this new model with 45-watt CPUs of the 10th generation from Intel to replace the 9th generation options of the previous version. My ThinkPad x1 Extreme Gen 3 tester wasn't quite as well equipped as my Gen 2 model – it has a Core i7-10850H with vPro this time around compared to a Core i9-9880H – but it still had 32GB of RAM and so on beautiful OLED display.

Note that the Core i9-10885H is still an option and the GPU has been upgraded from an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q to a GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q. The price? A whopping $ 2,404, though this starts at a retail price of $ 4,007. That's a lot of money. Does Lenovo's Gen 3 design still deserve my recommendation?

design

My test device still has a carbon fiber lid, which is part of the optional 4K display. Not only does this add structural integrity, but it also looks more noticeable. The bottom of the case is made of aluminum, with the usual soft-coated ThinkPad plastic for the keyboard deck, making it extremely comfortable to use.

In other words, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 is outwardly identical to the Gen 2. There is nothing wrong with that. No need to mess around with a good thing as the ThinkPad X1 Extreme has the same ThinkPad aesthetic as always. It's all black with just a few red accents, including the iconic blinking LED above the “i” in ThinkPad on the lid, the TrackPoint nubbin, and the edges of the TrackPoint buttons.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

ThinkPad fans will be very satisfied. It's not as modern as the new Dell XPS 15, however, as the ThinkPad has fairly large bezels. The XPS 15 has tiny bezels that disappear around the 16:10 aspect ratio. The HP Specter x360 15 is at the other end of the aesthetic spectrum. Its gem-cut design calls for attention, while the ThinkPad likes to sit quietly in the shade.

The build quality of the laptop is consistently first class, with a lid that doesn't warp under pressure, very little keyboard flex and a lower case that doesn't bend or twist. It exudes strength and endurance and inspires confidence that it can withstand a blow. My only complaint is that the hinge is stiff and requires two hands to break it open. However, there is no premium laptop that feels more durable than the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 is 0.72 inches thin, almost identical to the 0.71 inch of the XPS 15 and slightly thinner than the 0.79 inch of the Specter x360 15. The ThinkPad weighs 4.0 with the touch display Pounds (3.75 pounds with a non-touch display) compared to the Dell's 4.5 pounds and the HP's 4.23 pounds.

Connectivity remains a strength: a proprietary power port (135 watts), two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3, and a full-size HDMI 2.0 port on the left. On the right side you'll find two USB-A 3.2 ports and a full-size SD card reader (a welcome touch for creative professionals). The wireless connection is provided via Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1.

I will also find that the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 is upgradeable. The back cover is relatively easy to remove. You can swap out the RAM and use a second SSD slot.

performance

I can't directly compare Gen 3 to Gen 2 due to the differences between the CPU and GPU, but the Dell XPS 15 and HP Specter x360 15 are good comparison devices. The XPS 15 we tested ran with a Core i7-10875H, an 8-core CPU compared to the 6-core Core i7-10850H in the ThinkPad X1 Extreme. The Specter x360 15 is equipped with a 6-core Core i7-10750H, which is clocked a little lower than the CPU of the ThinkPad.

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 ran as expected or better. In Geekbench 5, for example, 1,299 points were achieved in the single-core test and 6,372 points in the multi-core test. The XPS 15 scored 1,314 and 7,549 points, while the Specter x360 15 scored 1,237 and 5013 points, respectively.

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In our handbrake test, which encodes a 420 MB video in H.265, the ThinkPad took a little over two minutes. That was surprisingly close to the XPS 15, which ended up only nine seconds faster despite two more cores and four more threads. The Specter x360 15 was finished in just over 2.5 minutes, making the ThinkPad significantly faster than the difference in clock speed suggests.

In Cinebench 20, the ThinkPad achieved 486 points in the single-core test and 2,888 points in the multi-core test. The XPS 15 was much faster with 488 and 3582 respectively, while the Specter x360 15 held up against the ThinkPad with 469 and 2523 respectively. In this test, Dell's additional cores seem key.

It's worth noting that AMD's Ryzen 4000 chips also compete well with Intel's 45-watt CPUs. For example, the Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 with the Ryzen 7 4800U took just two seconds longer to complete the handbrake test than the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3, and it scored 482 and 3,255 in Cinebench 20 – it beat the ThinkPad and competed with that XPS 15.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Finally, I ran the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 through our Premiere Pro review, which rendered a two-minute 4K video. It took four minutes and 52 seconds to complete. The XPS 15 finished in five minutes and the Specter x360 15 took more than seven minutes to complete the test. The ThinkPad excelled here and beat the XPS 15 despite the slower CPU and GPU (the XPS 15 uses the non-Max-Q version of the GTX 1650 Ti). My working theory is that Lenovo outperformed Dell in developing a thermal design that can sustain the combined CPU and GPU performance over a long period of time.

In short, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 is a fast laptop that can meet the demands of the most demanding creative. If your needs lead to more mundane productivity tasks, this is excessive – but is it ever a bad thing to have too much power? I do not believe that.

Play

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 can also handle games and competes strongly with the XPS 15 and Specter x360 15. In the 3DMark Time Spy test, the ThinkPad scored 3572 points, compared to the XPS 15 with 3860 and the Specter x360 15 with 2963 Points.

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 achieved Civilization VI with an average of 124 frames per second (FPS) with 1080p and medium graphics and 68 FPS with ultra graphics. The XPS 15 managed 114 FPS and 64 FPS, respectively, while the Specter x360 15 ran at 89 FPS and 60 FPS. Again, the ThinkPad outperformed its weight class, beating a laptop with a faster CPU and GPU in a game that relies on both to get the best performance. The same goes for 4K, where the ThinkPad averaged 66 FPS with medium graphics and 36 FPS with ultra graphics, compared to the XPS 15 with 51 FPS and 30 FPS and the Specter x360 15 with 55 FPS and 30 FPS.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

In Fortnite, the ThinkPad averaged 83 FPS with 1080p and medium graphics and 60 FPS with epic graphics. The XPS 15 achieved 74 FPS and 60 FPS, respectively, and the Specter x360 15 achieved 67 FPS and 47 FPS. Each of these laptops fell below 30 FPS at 4K, so I don't need to report the results at that resolution. Fortnite stays best at 1080p on laptops with discrete GPUs in the mid-range.

Next up is Assassin's Creed Odyssey, where the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 reached 52 FPS at 1080p and medium graphics and 30 FPS at ultra-high graphics. The XPS 15 achieved 47 FPS and 26 FPS, respectively, while the Specter x360 15 achieved 40 FPS and 25 FPS. Again, none of the machines exceeded 30 FPS at 4K. It's noteworthy to see that the X1 Extreme Gen 3 averages 30 FPS at ultra high in this game as Odyssey is extremely demanding.

In Battlefield V, the XPS 15 took the lead at 60 FPS at 1080p and medium graphics and 50 FPS at ultra graphics, while the ThinkPad ran at 56 FPS and 44 FPS, respectively, and the Specter x360 15 managed 55 GPS and 44 FPS. Once again, 4K was south of at least 30 FPS that we consider playable.

Overall, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 offers very good performance for a laptop in this category. The fact that it outperformed the XPS 15 in all but one game is impressive. While 4K gaming is not recommended, you'll be happy to use modern 1080p titles with the right graphics settings. Those looking for better gaming performance must consider a gaming laptop.

display

I love OLED displays. They are bright, colorful and without contrast. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3's OLED is no different, although it isn't the best OLED display we've tested.

The display of this ThinkPad is not as bright as some OLED panels and reaches 369 nits compared to the 426 nits of the HP Specter x360 15. Both laptops have anti-reflective glass, so that the HP looks a bit brighter. Additionally, the contrast on the Specter was 426,180: 1 compared to 369,390: 1 on the ThinkPad – a meaningless difference in real world usage, but a significant numerical difference nonetheless.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Dell's XPS 15 doesn't use OLED and instead opts for a more traditional IPS display. The brightness was 442 nits, and the contrast ratio reached 1480: 1 (which is excellent for an IPS display). The contrast gap isn't as noticeable in real life as the numbers suggest. Still, the OLED panel in the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 is superior to the Dell XPS 15 when you are viewing movies or high quality photos in a dark room.

Note that according to the specs, Lenovo increases the brightness when running high dynamic range (HDR) content. I noticed this in my tests.

The color gamut is another area in which the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 fell short. It covered 100% of sRGB and 96% of AdobeRGB. This is comparable to the Specter at 100% and 98% and the XPS 15 at 100% of both color bars. It's not a huge difference, but for a creative professional looking for the best AdobeRGB support, these few percentage points might matter.

However, the ThinkPad's color turned out to be accurate with a DeltaE of 0.91 (lower is better in this benchmark). The XPS 15 was 0.65 and the Specter x360 15 was 1.21. All three displays work fine, but the XPS 15's excellent accuracy makes it instantly ready for color-critical work.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

None of this should detract from the ThinkPad's display. It's great in practice. Movies and pictures have a high-contrast, vivid look that slopes off the screen, and the darkest scenes in HDR are clear thanks to the panel's support for Dolby Vision. As with the Gen 2 model, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 is one of the best devices you can find for watching Netflix in HDR, and it's way better than the other laptops I didn't enable for Dolby Vision.

If OLED isn't your thing, Lenovo has three alternative display options. There are two full HD options with 300 or 500 nits and a 4K IPS panel with 600 nits to choose from. We generally assume they all perform well for their respective prices, but OLED is our favorite.

Audio was a strong point as two downward facing speakers pumped out lots of volume without distortion. The mids and highs were clear and there was even a hint of bass. You can watch Netflix and YouTube videos fine alone or with a few friends, but good headphones are recommended for music as usual.

Keyboard and touchpad

ThinkPad fans are picky about their keyboards, but the X1 Extreme Gen 3 should satisfy. It has nicely shaped keycaps that are just the right size with excellent clearance. Personally, I find the mechanism a bit stiff, but it gives a lot of feedback and a very precise ground effect. If, like me, you like a lighter touch, the HP Specter keyboard might be more your style. However, if you want more feedback while you type, the ThinkPad's keyboard is for you. Oh, and it's leak proof if that matters to you.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

The usual TrackPoint node is in the middle of the keyboard and works as expected. However, it forces a pair of buttons, which takes away some space from the touchpad. Speaking of which, the touchpad is a glass-covered Microsoft Precision touchpad that's great for swiping and using Windows 10's multi-touch gestures.

The display on this model is touch sensitive and precise and responsive. Fortunately, it has an anti-wipe coating that resists fingerprints. In this respect, this corresponds to the display of the HP Specter x360 15.

Windows 10 Hello support is provided by a fast and responsive fingerprint reader and an infrared camera with facial recognition support. There is a privacy lock that deactivates the latter. Therefore, you may want to configure both methods to log on without a password.

Battery life

Here you pay the price for all this performance and the power-hungry OLED display. Simply put, the battery life of this ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 configuration isn't a forte.

In our demanding Basemark Web benchmark test, the ThinkPad managed about 3.5 hours, which is not terrible for a 45 watt CPU. The XPS 15 lasted 16 minutes less, while the Specter x360 15 didn't even last three hours.

In our web browser test, which is the best indicator of overall productivity longevity, the ThinkPad just exceeded 5.5 hours, which is 80 minutes less than the XPS 15 and 32 minutes less than the Specter x360 15. And in our video test, which is repeated over a Full HD Avengers trailer, the ThinkPad was 6.5 hours, 50 minutes less than the XPS 15, and 11 minutes longer than the Specter x360 15.

These aren't great results, but they are expected. If you want longer battery life, go for one of the Full HD display options. Otherwise you should be prepared to carry the Power Brick around.

Our opinion

Lenovo kept the best of the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2 and made it faster. That makes the Gen 3 model an incremental, yet meaningful upgrade that simply improves on what was already an excellent 15-inch laptop.

Granted, it's most appealing to ThinkPad fans, and there's nothing wrong with that. If you are looking for a laptop that is as powerful as any other in its class, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 is a great choice.

Are there alternatives?

The Dell XPS 15 is the ThinkPad's most obvious competitor. They are both powerful, thin, and light, and well-built 15-inch machines that appeal to the same type of users. The XPS 15 gives you a 16:10 display and a more modern look and feel, but the ThinkPad has the better performance.

If you're a 2-in-1 gamer, the Specter x360 15 is an excellent choice. It's not that fast, but it has a sleeker look, a slightly better OLED display (unless you're watching Netflix in HDR), and the flexibility of a 2-in-1 device. The Specter is also hundreds of dollars cheaper, though it isn't as powerfully configurable as the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3.

Finally, you might consider the HP Envy 15, a 15-inch laptop that offers lots of power for little money. It can't quite compete with the ThinkPad, but it has a great OLED display of its own and costs hundreds of dollars less.

How long it will take?

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 is extremely durable, well configured and will provide many years of productive service. We'd like more than a year of warranty at these prices, but Lenovo offers a variety of warranty upgrade options.

Should you buy it?

Yes. Not only is the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 the most powerful ThinkPad you can buy, it's also one of the most powerful 15-inch consumer laptops out there.

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