Update: 10/10/2019 — added more bugs/instability notes
As an ultraportable 15-inch notebook with Intel’s 9th generation Coffee Lake hexa-core CPUs and Nvidia’s GTX 1650 graphics, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 1 review here, P1 Review here) is one of the most in-demand premium notebooks on the market.
As such, it is competing head-to-head against Dell’s XPS 15, and for that reason I will be frequently comparing the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2 against the Dell XPS 15 as well as the first-gen X1 Extreme and P1 (the P1 being essentially the same laptop as the X1 Extreme only with Quadro Graphics instead of GTX). As this is the second generation of this laptop series, we invite you to read the above-linked reviews of the first generation of the X1E and P1 for a more complete look at this series.
The X1 Extreme Gen 2 under review was purchased with my own funds and has been my own personal laptop for the past two months.
Specs as reviewed
|Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2|
|Screen||15.6 inch, 1920 x 1080 px, IPS, non-touch, matte, 500-nits|
|Processor||Intel Coffee Lake-H Core i7-9750H CPU|
|Video||Intel HD 630 + Nvidia GTX 1650 4 GB GDDR5 (35 W Max-Q config)|
|Memory||16GB DDR4 2666 MHz (2x DIMMs)|
|Storage||Intel 660p M.2 2280 2TB x 2 (4TB custom-configuration; shipped with 256GB M.2 2280 NVMe TLC OPAL)|
|Connectivity||Intel AX200 2x2AX+BT vPro WW, Gigabit LAN (with adapter)|
|Ports||2x USB-A 3.1, 2x USB-C Thunderbolt 3, HDMI, SD card, mic/earphone, network extension port, Kensington Lock, optional SmartCard reader|
|Battery||80 Wh 4-cell Li-Ion, 135 W power adapter|
|OS||Windows 10 Professional|
|Size||362 mm or 14.2” (w) x 246 mm or 9.7 (d) x 18.7 mm or .72” (h)|
|Weight||4.05 lbs (1.83 kg) + 0.99 lbs (450 g) power brick, US model|
|Extras||Backlit keyboard, fingerprint sensor (standalone), HD and Windows Hello IR cameras, stereo speakers, self-healing BIOS|
Appearance and feature-changes in Gen 2
The X1 Extreme Gen 2 makes use of the same soft-touch-coated carbon fiber and magnesium chassis from the previous generation. This means that smudges and fingerprints will remain the bane of your existence if you’re a perfectionist. The coating seems exactly the same between Gen 1 and Gen 2, but superior to the somewhat flaky coating I observed on the X1 Carbon Gen 6.
The ThinkPad P1 Gen 1 w/ 300-nit FHD screen (left) vs. ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2 w/ 500-nit FHD screen (right).
Looking at the X1E Gen 2 side-by-side by my P1 Gen 1, there were only two tells that these were different generations of the devices to me. The first and most obvious change is the IR camera option on the Gen 2, which also has a slightly better design and feel on the hardware switch.
- The P1 Gen 1’s standard HD camera w/ shutter.
- The IR and regular camera for the Gen 2.
The second change is very subtle: the ThinkPad logo on the right palm rest now has a slightly slimmed-down debossed area around the “ThinkPad” text. You won’t notice it unless you happen to have the two generations of devices next to each other, but it’s an aesthetically pleasing improvement, in my opinion.
A key difference between Gen 1 and Gen 2’s logos. What am I doing with my life?
You’ll need to get used to seeing smudges on the exterior of the X1 Extreme.
The 500-nit FHD screen on the X1E Gen 2 is a clear upgrade over the 300-nit base panel.
My first-generation P1 came with a 300-nit FHD matte display with quite a bit of bleed, not to mention that neither the backlight nor the installation were even. I had the screen replaced by a technician on-site, and I was quite happy with the replacement. My initial impression of the 500-nit panel on the X1E Gen 2, however, is that it’s a clear and straightforward upgrade in every way. Backlight bleed is minimal and the panel uniformity is outstanding. Beyond the fact that there is no FHD/touch option, black levels/contrast are the one weakness of this panel; the IPS glow visible on dark backgrounds does make me miss the OLED panel I had on my XPS 15 7590 a bit.
If you’re thinking of which of the 3 panels to pick from (300-nit FHD, 500-nit FHD, or glossy 4K OLED w/ touch), I’d say avoid the 300-nit panel unless you are trying to save every penny. I would avoid the OLED panel personally unless you’re going to be plugged-in all the time and most will use it for multimedia: The 80 Wh battery is not cut-out for such a power-hungry screen, and as someone who works with text for a living, I don’t like how light images on an OLED panel bother my eyes after long periods.
Keyboard and trackpad
The last and biggest upgrade I’ve noticed right off the bat isn’t the competent Nvidia GTX 1650, it’s the fingerprint sensor. I complained about the sensor in the X1 Carbon (6th gen) and the P1 (1st gen) in their respective reviews and on YouTube, and I’m overjoyed to see that the new fingerprint sensors are now just as fast and accurate as any competition in the laptop world. The slow and (effectively) useless fingerprint scanner on my X1 Carbon Gen 6 and P1 Gen 1 annoyed and frustrated me daily and was probably my biggest bug-bear with the laptops.
The fingerprint sensor (right) on the X1E Gen 2 is much improved.
As usual, the keyboard on the ThinkPad X1E Gen 2 is just what you should expect from a modern ThinkPad, and I am able to hit my usual range of 95-115 WPM typing on it. It’s not a 7-row classic keyboard, but it’s still just about the nicest keyboard you can get on a modern ultrabook. The keys have a good throw, the Synaptics touchpad works as a great alternative to the trackpoint on occasion, and I just don’t have much to complain about.
As far as ports go, nothing has changed here since Gen 1. We have a full house, including 2 TB3 (4x PCIe), Gigabit Ethernet (w/ adapter), 3.5mm audio, HDMI, and AC-in on the left of the chassis. On the right side, there are 2 USB 3.1 (Type-A), lock port, and SDcard slot. I personally might have liked to have just one more USB-C A port for peripherals (given that I always have two wireless dongles in), but I think it will be plenty for most people.
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
I’ve noticed a couple of things comparing the 1st and 2nd-gen back-to-back: Firstly, the buck converters in the voltage regulator module (VRM) seem a big larger this time. I hoped this would translate to less throttling in the Gen 2, but we’ll get to that in the upcoming benchmarks section.
Internals of the X1E Gen 2. Note the larger buck converters in the VRM (above the CPU portion of the heatsink).
Internals of the P1 Gen 1.
Upgradability is excellent for a modern laptop in this class. The two PCIe NVMe bays give the X1E a clear advantage over competition such as the XPS 15 or Razer Blade 15, and the RAM and Wi-Fi are still thankfully socketed.
Benchmarks and thermals
Cinebench R15 loop
We ran a 10-loop set of Cinebench R15 64-bit multi benchmarks and plotted the results versus the XPS 15 7590. Undervolted, the X1E Gen 2 performs more consistently, but at a lower average. The X1E was set to “performance mode” for cooling policy. Performance is fairly standard for a thin-and-light ultrabook with a 6-core Coffee-Lake CPU.
I believe performance could be improved significantly with a more aggressive fan profile — something I’d like to see the option for added to Lenovo’s Vantage software.
Update: benchmarks with BIOS update 1.26 confirm that Lenovo has removed the throttling limits. Performance is increased significantly as a result for the CPU. GPU performance remains the same.
X1E G2 with BIOS update 1.26 now outperform the XPS 15 in CPU tasks.
Firestrike scores vs the XPS 15 7590 (same i7-9750H, 16GB DDR4 RAM, GTX 1650 Max-Q
| ||Fire Strike (standard)|
|Fire Strike (Graphics)|
|Unigine Heaven 4.0 (basic)|
|ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2 (i7, GTX 1650 Max-Q) w/ UV||7295||8138||3503|
|ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2 (i7, GTX 1650 Max-Q)||7298|| 8175||3455|
|XPS 15 7590 (i7/GTX 1650)||8068||9018||x|
|XPS 15 7590 (i7/GTX 1650) w/ UV||8121||9102||3718|
No discernible difference between UV and non-UV results on the X1E Gen 2. Temperatures maxed out at 80 on the CPU and GPU, suggesting that Lenovo is restricting the performance of the X1E Gen 2 with a rather conservative thermal ceiling of roughly 80C. More on this under the “bugs/miscellaneous issues” section.
The X1E Gen 2 and its GTX 1650 lag a bit behind the XPS 15 7590’s GTX 1650 Max-Q, interesting enough. Again, this may be down to more conservative fan/cooling profiles on the X1E Gen 2.
The CPU and GPU stay quite cool (relatively) on the firestrike benchmark until the “combined” test, where the GPU and CPU both hit their throttle points (78C for GPU, 80C for CPU).
During a combined load stress test, we can see the CPU has been throttled by a reduced PL1 power limit of only 20W.
Overall, performance of the X1E Gen 2 is solid, though not at the topic of its class. Interesting, the Dell XPS 15 7590 with its Max-Q variant of the GTX 1650 performs faster than the X1E by a wide (~10%) margin, as one should expect the opposite. I believe this is down to Lenovo forcing a more quiet and conservative fan profile even on “max performance” settings. I would much prefer the option to have fans hit their maximum speeds and maintain higher clocks and lower temperatures.
Unfortunately, latency does not seem to be good enough at the moment for reliable DAW work. I attempted multiple runs, each returning poor results within 5 minutes.
X1E Gen 2 latencymon results.
There isn’t much to write here as I’m sure little of it will come as a surprise to those familiar with the stereotypical traits of ThinkPads: somehow it seems actually worse on the X1E Gen 2 than my P1 Gen 1. The drivers installed for it are actually Synaptics Audio whereas my older P1 uses RealTek drivers. I haven’t tried different driver versions yet, but the X1E Gen 2 sounds significantly quieter and flatter than my P1 Gen 1. Not exactly the kind of improvement I’m sure many of us were hoping for.
While the X1C Gen 7 got a nice upgrade via its array of 4 speakers (including 2 upwards facing), that didn’t happen to the X1E this year. Hopefully this is something that Lenovo could add to the 3rd iteration of the series moving forward.
Battery life with the 80 Wh battery and FHD screen is generally quite good, with an average of 8 hours achieved quite easily, assuming you aren’t running CPU or dedicated-GPU-intensive processes.
The X1E should have no trouble lasting for a full day of work with this configuration, however, I have significant reservations about the same being true for the 4K touch-enabled OLED display that is also an option with this laptop.
I’d like to note a few relatively minor issues I’ve run into with the X1 Extreme Gen 2 over the past 2 months. The HDMI bug and the 80C bug both have been reported with the P1 and X1E first-gen models, so they are due for some attention by Lenovo, IMO:
- Video over external monitor seems to stutter until the integrated Intel graphics are disabled then re-enabled. Alternatively, one can have the desktop extended rather than only on the external monitor. This problem existed on the G1 as well.
- Plugging HDMI into output and then unplugging it from both mains and HDMI will cause the CPU to get stuck in C3 (can’t make use of deeper C-states), resulting in higher average idle power drain (~2.5W vs 0.8W). This can be clearly observed using ThrottleStop and clicking the “C10” button. Disabling the Nvidia GTX 1650 in device manager and re-enabling it fixes this bug, but it’s annoying to have to do this every time you unplug from HDMI to avoid extra battery drain. I suspect this may have something to do with video-out being handled by the dedicated GPU.
- TB3 eGPU behavior is a bit finicky with my Aorus Gaming Box. This is likely a combination of Lenovo’s BIOSes in general not working that well with TB3 docks in my experience (compared to say, Dells, which may be because Dell had their Alienware Graphics Amp as an option for many years before TB3 came about) as well as Gigabyte’s driver support not being great on their eGPUs. For example, the X1E cannot boot with the TB3 cable plugged-in as it will not POST and keep boot-looping until the cable is removed.
- As noted, I am experiencing a bug that many others have reported with the first generation of P1 and X1 Extreme notebooks where the CPU seems to throttle at 80C. This happened both with and without Virtualization enabled in BIOS. I have contacted Lenovo about this and they are looking into it. Update: seems to be fixed with BIOS 1.26
- The battery has occasional incorrectly read as “100%” charge after being put to sleep and woken at what was around 40%. I’m not sure if this is an issue with the battery in my unit or perhaps a BIOS bug, but I have observed it twice now. The problem is resolved by sleeping and waking the notebook once more.
Pricing and availability
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme is available direct from Lenovo in the US with prices starting at $1,531.58. I should mention that Lenovo’s pricing and sales seems to be changing all the time lately, and you may be surprised by either significantly higher or lower prices when you check.
Pricing is a bit more consistent on Amazon, and that may be one of your better bets to buy this laptop, as Lenovo does not ship to known forwarding addresses.
Comparison to XPS 15
I’m going to do a very quick comparison between these two machines for those of you who are stuck deciding between them:
If you will be doing more gaming than work and you don’t mind tweaking, go for the XPS 15 as it has better performance. This is due to the thermal approaches each company has taken. The X1E seems to throttle performance at 80C on the CPU to keep temperatures low, while the XPS 15 is happy to hit the high 90’s. The result is that the XPS 15 is faster, but will be less consistent if you are not careful with your thermal management. Update: see here.
If you will be doing more work than gaming, the X1 Extreme will treat you right with its keyboard, trackpoint, and dedicated buttons.
If you want to dock one to a TB3 setup and have it mostly stationary and be relatively simple, go for the XPS 15 as well. The TB3 implementation just seems to work more stably on the XPS 15 with eGPUs than on the X1 Extreme Gen 2, and I had similar experiences with the Gen 1 of the X1E and P1 as well. I very rarely had wake-up connectivity issues with my eGPU on the XPS 15 and it’s very much plug-and-play. The X1E/P1 works, but you’ll need to unplug/wait/re-plug things on occasion. Given the XPS 15 is heavier, performant, and a bit more compatible with docks, I think it’s a good choice for a laptop you plan to keep at home plugged-in most of the time for gaming and professional work.
If you want maximum storage (I have 4TB of SSDs in my X1E right now) plan to take your laptop with you every day, however, definitely go with the X1 Extreme FHD. At 3.7 lbs, it’s (I believe) the lightest hexa-core laptop around.
The X1 Extreme Gen 2 improves meaningfully upon the first in GPU performance, stability, and QC/build quality. Minor issues like smudging, ease of eGPU connection, HDMI + C-state bugs, and the lower performance of the CPU and GPU due to quieter fan profiles aside, the X1 Extreme Gen 2 is a damn good laptop for either work and play.
If you have the money, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better all-around notebook you can buy right now. My personal recommendation for configuration would be the i7/FHD 500/GTX 1650 with the smallest SSD possible. Upgrade the SSD on your own to save money and make use of both those NVMe bays, and feel content knowing there’s no reason to go with a CPU more powerful than an i7-9750H in a chassis this thin.
The X1 Extreme Gen 2 is a laptop that should keep your happy with work and even moderate gaming for at least a couple of years.
If there’s anything you’d like me to check for you, please comment below and I’ll make my best effort to get to it in my testing. Thanks for reading!