IBM ThinkPad X24

Verdict: Latest ultralight from Big Blue features titanium skin. It also features a hefty price tag. StaffSeptember 1, 2002
IBM ThinkPad X24

Bang for Buck: 6

Street Price: $2,873
Inside: 1.13 GHz Pentium 3, 256 MB RAM, 30GB HD, 8MB ATI Mobility Radeon graphics card; 3.5 inch floppy drive, 8X DVD/CD-RW (docking unit)
Outside: 12.1 inch XGA display, TrackPoint pointing device, fullsize keyboard
Ports: 2 USB, VGA; serial, parallel, PS/2 (docking unit)
Communications: Integrated V.90 56K modem, integrated 10/100 Ethernet, integrated wireless networking
Dimensions: 11 inches (W) x 8.9 inches (D) .98 inches (H), 3.6 lbs.

Skinny: While ThinkPad has long been considered industry standard for portables, we’ve never been a huge fan. Our reservation? ThinkPad line has always been essence of functionality — but rarely elegant. Moreover, IBM’s tended to charge premium for many of their mobile offerings, even when a few of those offerings didn’t warrant high price tag. X24 a perfect example: fine portable, but at nearly $2,900, we’ll take a pass. By our lights, comparable — and cheaper — offerings from Dell and Gateway offer better bang for back.

That’s not to say there’s not plenty to like about X24. At 1.13 gigahertz, this is one fast ultralight. Titanium-composite upper shell lends ThinkPad some toughness. X24 not as thin as some in our roundup, but at 3.6 pounds, still pleasure to tote up and down the boulevard.

No problem on Metro North test. When we attached X24 to rather thick docking station, however, display did bump up slightly against seat in front of us. A minor complaint… Keyboard has that classic IBM feel, although Big Blue’s engineers could stand to simplify the layout. A bit cluttered.

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Got to hand IBM credit: they’ve stuck with TrackPoint pointing device while the rest of the portable world has jumped to touchpads. We know one user who swears he can only use Trackpad pointer. We know another who insists he can only use touchpad. Truth is, use any pointing device long enough and you get used to it — with the possible exception of Compaq Armada’s trackball back in 1993. It was on the lid. We’re still losing sleep over that one.

Battery life is rated at whopping four hours. But unplug ThinkPad and clock speed slows to 722 megahertz. Also, four-hour figure based on absolute maximum battery savings, which can be annoying. With power management set at “Portable/Laptop” our test unit ran for just under three hours on one battery charge — still good.

ThinkPad did less good when hooked up to UltraBase X2 docking station, which also brings carrying weight of X24 up to about seven pounds. Nevertheless, we advise using docking unit when traveling. Why? Because IBM portable gets awfully hot on its underside. Docking station not only expands multimedia capability of machine, it serves as trivet…

UltraBase adds VGA, parallel, and PS/2 ports to complement of connections. Other docking stations in roundup feature more ports. Also: could not conduct MD audio test nor DVD playback test. IBM indicated they sent 8X DVD/CD-RW player with UltraBase X2 docking unit. But when we opened the door on the optical drive, nothing but emptiness… By our lights, X24 display could stand some more lights. Somewhat dim screen. On the other hand, screen rendered text better than any portable in roundup — better than any portable we’ve ever reviewed. We’re not sure why, although we think it may tied in with those crop circles.

ThinkPad X24 comes with dual antennas for 802.11b networking… So what’s with all the Xs? Must have been a run on other letters in Armonk… IBM provides nifty three-year warranty for its portables. Now, if they’d just drop the price on X24. Without the X2 docking unit, X24 computers costs $200 less. You’ll probably want to invest that in heat-retardant bloomers, however.

If you need fastest portable on block, this is probably the machine for you.

(Editor’s Note: Thin is in for notebook computers, but how about the computer makers themselves — how much cash do they keep on hand? See for yourself with the CFO PeerMetrix interactive scorecards.)