16 May
2018

Lenovo Thinkpad X270 – Dipping my toes in

The battery life of my previous work laptop, the T460s (first impressions -review here) had become abysmal after about two years of use. I tried to find a solution, but since the batteries are non-replaceable without surgical procedures, the only option would have been to get something like an external battery to keep using it. I spend quite a lot of time in data centers or at customers, and power isn’t always available or convenient.

I started on my quest to find a replacement. The final duo was the Dell XPS 13, and a Thinkpad X-series laptop. The Dell looks and feels great; a colleague has been a happy user of an XPS for many months now. From the Thinkpad camp, I didn’t want to get stuck with another non-replaceable battery, the model narrowed down to the x270. Basically the choice between Dell and Lenovo came down to the following Pro’s and Con’s:

Thinkpad X-series (model 20HN)

+ Replaceable battery
+ Actual real Ethernet port without dongling
+ Familiarity with the Thinkpad way of doing things since way back
+ (Fits the “old” Thinkpad dock (later models in the x and t-series have USB type c connectors to a new type of dock. See here.)

– Not the latest model (that would have been the x280, released early this year)
– Could have used a bigger NVMe drive (512 was the largest factory option available)

Dell XPS 13 (model 9370)

+ Slightly larger screen (at 13.3″ vs. 12.5″ for the Thinkpad), also the option of an insane 3840×2160 resolution (276 ppi)
+ Newer 4 core (8 thread) 8th generation 14 nm CPU (yes, there is at least one model available in China with the even newer i3 Cannon Lake 10nm processor; very early days though. See: https://www.computerbase.de/2018-05/cannon-lake-notebook-lenovo-ideapad330/)

– No ethernet port (dongles don’t count)
– No 4G built in
– (No  Docking, but it does support various port replicators (boxes with connectors that hook up using usb type c or thunderbolt usually)

I was disappointed with the poor performance of the T460s’ battery after just two years of use, so a replaceable battery was a must. This took the technically newer XPS 13 out of the running. Granted, I have the benefit of working for someone who makes sure we always have proper tools to work with (I don’t have to suffer with broken or lacking laptops), but the fact that I can have a more powerful battery with me and switch out is an awesome thing to have.

Note about the prices: Both were similarly priced, but since our company buys from a distributor direct, and there are various agreements at play, I won’t list the exact prices here. The retail prices for the approximate models I looked at are: 1860€ for the Thinkpad, and 1790€ for the Dell. Prices including 24% sales tax. For the Thinkpad I ordered, I added the 6-cell extended battery, which is ~78€ incl. sales tax.

Note about weight and other features: I’ve only selected features that are important to me. The weight difference between the two is negligible (1400 vs 1210, grams respectively), ports (other than Ethernet) are similar enough, and coming from a 14-15 inch laptop, the measurements are irrelevant for me. Both are small. The Dell is thinner. The Dell has the superior screen, but I think 12.5″ and 1080p sounds fine. I actually switched out a 4K screen I had at work because it was uncomfortable for me. And that was 27″. That said: For other specs, see: Lenovo x270 20HN002U++ and http://www.dell.com/fi/p/xps-13-9370-laptop/pd

What’s in the box

The laptop consists of the built-in, non-removable 3-cell battery, and a removable 3-cell battery. It’s not plugged in by default, and I replaced it with the 6-cell one right from the get-go. You’ve got your manuals, warnings and other papery stuff,  and the included 45W Power Supply (part number 0B47030), using the “Slim Tip” connector, which has been used since the [x]20 series, up until this [x]70 series. From here on out (i.e. x280 and onwards), it’s the USB Type C connector. Prior to the [x]20 series, it was the round “barrel”-type connector (the big 20 volt thing). Prior to that it was the small barrel, 16 volts.

Other than that, it’s a very plain box. Probably very eco-friendly.

Starting up & Hardware drive-by

Here we can see the BIOS overview screen. Settings are no frills, include everything you’d usually need. Note the now-one-generation-old i7-7500U, which is still a dual core SKU, but with Hyperthreading. It’s a socket 1356 FCBGA packaged Kaby Lake-U processor, with a max TDP of 15 W, manufactured on the 14 nm process. Max Operating frequency is 2.7 GHz.

16 GB RAM out of the box, which is apparently as a single SO-DIMM (will verify this), and the max supported is 16GB so no upgrades either. A bit disappointing, but 16GB “should be enough for everyone”. The memory is a DDR4-2400 type SO-DIMM, operating at 1200 MHz, 1.2 volts.

The graphics card is the built in Intel HD 620. You can set the amount of RAM it allocates for the graphics card, up to 512 MB.

The hard drive is a gem: An NVMe by Samsung, the uhm.. aptly named MZVLB512HAJQ-000L7, with the 4L2QEXA7 firmware out of the box. Crystal Disk Info (version 7.6.0) tells us it supports PCIe 3.0 x2 and x4, and uses the NVMe 1.2 standard.

You can compare to the T460s which had a SATA M.2 SSD here. Please note that the rows / tests are not the same in version 5.1.2 and 6.0.0. The first and last are the same, but the middle lines are not. So look at the labels. Or here.

Battery life and Other things of note

I’ve installed Windows 10 Spring 2018 Creator’s Update (build 1803 + patches), which seems to work fine. 1803 GA was a steaming pile, but then isn’t all GA code? It would crash at random times, but that’s not hardware specific, so I won’t get into that here. The May 8th patches fixed all those issues, as far as I can tell.

The battery life: Well, I haven’t done any formal tests, you can find such over here and here. I can just say it’s very very good.  I can use it for a day of my normal work without breaking a sweat. That’s with the “extended” 6-cell battery, which doesn’t come in the box but has to be purchased separately. If battery life is of any concern, and you’re not a mighty hipster who has to fit their laptop on a manila folder, the size isn’t really a concern. Look how snugly it fits into the dock for instance:

Look at that glorious bastard. The T460s was very wobbly in the dock. This fits like a glove, and does not move around at all. Also finding the “right” position to slam it down in, is very easy with the extended battery providing some boundaries. Also of note is the SD card slot (white SD card showing in the picture). They’ve indented it ever so slightly from the T460s, so it doesn’t come out if the laptop happens to be in your bag with that side down. It’s the standard spring-loading mechanism, so if you pushed the card, it’d come out. This one now has a small indentation for your finger instead, so it doesn’t pop  out if it just brushes against something. Small things, but I noticed it anyway.

I’ll get back once I’ve had this one around the block a few times. These are just quick and dirty reactions until then.

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