Finding a Zen 3U series chip from AMD is still like a treasure hunt in different regions, despite their incredible performance and power efficiency. On the other hand, you can easily walk into any retail store and pick up a Tiger Lake laptop from Intel. It’s an unfortunate situation where Intel clearly has an advantage.
Today, we’re looking at the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The ThinkPad series holds a special place in my heart, as I remember using the chunky ThinkPad laptop to access the web through dial-up internet. I would even use the trackpoint and dedicated buttons when the trackpad didn’t work, navigating the Windows 95 UI. The evolution of the ThinkPad series is remarkable, as they continue to get thinner and lighter while offering better performance and durability. We’re focusing on the ninth-generation X1 Carbon, which brings several improvements compared to its predecessor.
Having used the XPS 13, Razer Book 13, ZenBook 13 OLED, and other thin and light laptops, does the X1 Carbon compete with these options?
ThinkPad X1 Carbon Price and Specs
The base model starts at a little over $1400, and for that, you get a Core i5-1135G7 with four cores and eight threads, eight gigabytes of soldered RAM, 256 gigabytes of storage, Intel Iris Xe graphics, and a 1200p IPS display.
The next tier comes with an i7-1165G7, double the memory and storage, priced at around $1865. The sample I have here comes with the upgraded display option, a 4K panel that is brighter, costing $2000. If you want to further customize this laptop, you can opt for the i7-1185G7 with 32 gigabytes of RAM and a terabyte of storage for an additional $400.
Now, considering that this is a Lenovo laptop, pricing is not the most consistent factor due to frequent sales and significant discounts on a month-to-month basis. So, you might be able to find a really good deal if you’re lucky. However, when comparing their retail values, I’ve noticed that the X1 Carbon is actually more expensive than the XPS 13, Razer Book 13, and especially the ZenBook 13 OLED.
Design and Build Quality
To start with the exterior design and the build quality improvements compared to the competition, first off, this entire chassis is made out of a combination of carbon fiber and magnesium alloy to enhance durability. The ThinkPad series goes through numerous tests, allowing it to withstand extreme temperatures, mechanical shocks, vibrations, and much more. In fact, there’s a whole explainer series by Lenovo discussing the durability aspect of the ThinkPad series, which is definitely worth reading up on.
The laptop is built really well, and you can feel that the moment you unbox it. The only thing to watch out for is wear and tear over time, especially with the palm rest and the carbon fiber finish, as they tend to pick up finger oil easily. Therefore, you’ll have to make sure to clean it regularly to maintain its aesthetics.
Speaking of aesthetics, I really like the all-black chassis with the ThinkPad logo discreetly placed in the corner, accompanied by the red LED that indicates the power state. The hinge of the laptop is exceptionally smooth, allowing you to open it with just one hand. It features a new single hinge design, which is an upgrade from previous years, and it barely exhibits any wobbles. This is great news for anyone who enjoys typing with the laptop on their laps.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon Size and Weight
As for size, it’s important to note that this laptop has a 14-inch display, making it slightly larger than my XPS 13 and even the Razer Book 13. However, it remains very thin at just 0.59 inches or 14.9 millimeters. Thanks to the carbon fiber and magnesium alloy construction, it weighs only around 2.5 pounds, making it the lightest thin and light laptop I have come across, at least here in the studio. Well done, Lenovo!
The power adapter is also extremely compact, serving as a watt charger that charges the laptop via USB Type-C. Interestingly, this laptop also features rapid charge technology, which can recharge the battery from zero to 80% in just about an hour. That’s truly impressive, especially for frequent travelers and professionals who spend most of their time away from their workstations. I genuinely hope that other laptop manufacturers implement similar fast charging capabilities in their devices.
Keyboard and Trackpad
Moving forward, the interior space is very similar compared to the previous generation. You get the standard layout with the well-known TrackPoint right at the center, accompanied by its dedicated primary left and right buttons. If you pay close attention to the function keys, you’ll notice that they have implemented communication commands that can be linked up to Skype and Microsoft Teams. The function and control keys are positioned differently, but that’s a hallmark of ThinkPads. If you find it annoying, you can easily go into Vantage and customize the layout, which is a nice option they offer.
The power button also doubles as a fingerprint reader, and it works really well. There’s a separate chip inside that securely stores the data. Additionally, there’s an IR camera with Windows Hello support, providing a simplified and secure login experience. Now, let’s talk about the keys themselves. They are truly amazing. I’ve been wanting to try them for a while because they have been the gold standard for years. The key travel distance is great, and typing on them gives a very satisfying feel when composing sentences. Moreover, they are spill-resistant, which is a huge bonus.
I’d like to let Mike chime in on his experience compared to his older 6th generation X1 Carbon because he noticed a few interesting observations. It’s definitely worth mentioning or watching. They made the trackpad slightly wider, and with its glass surface, navigating within Windows is a breeze. It provides a very similar experience to the XPS 13. I also have to mention that the integrated left and right buttons on the trackpad are excellent. They are tactile yet also have a slightly mushy feel, which is one of the best things I’ve experienced on a laptop. I think I’ll do a quick sound test to give you a rough idea of how it feels.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ports
the ThinkPad offers, considering its low-profile design. On the left-hand side, you have a few Thunderbolt 4 ports, a USB Type-A 3.2 Gen 1 port, and an HDMI 2.0 port. Switching over to the right-hand side, there’s a Kensington lock, another USB Type-A 3.2 Gen 1 port, and a headphone jack.
I’m a little disappointed that they didn’t include USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports, as they have twice the bandwidth compared to Gen 1. It could be a design limitation, but it’s still strange to see on a laptop that costs a significant amount of money.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon 4K Screen
One of the most significant upgrades from Gen 8 to Gen 9 is the inclusion of a 16:10 screen, providing more vertical screen real estate. This allows for more content to fill up your screen. I have the UHD Plus 60Hz non-touch variant, and it features an excellent panel with beautiful color reproduction. It’s an IPS panel that covers 100% sRGB, 91% Adobe RGB, and 99% DCI-P3. This level of color accuracy is on par with OLED displays, which is truly amazing. Furthermore, it gets super bright, reaching up to 514 nits on our sample. Whether you’re a professional photographer or someone who works on presentations for your company, you’re in for a treat.
However, my only issue is that it has a glossy finish, and Lenovo hasn’t added any anti-reflective coating to reduce reflections. Additionally, this panel doesn’t have the privacy guard feature that disables the view angle from both the left and right sides to protect the on-screen content. You can only get that feature with the 1200p matte display option, which has a brightness of 500 nits. So, keep that in mind. Another thing to note is that those matte panels slightly compromise the color gamut.
Webcam and Speakers
The webcam test on the sixth-generation X1 Carbon, a three-year-old laptop, is quite disappointing. The image appears as if there’s vaseline smeared over my face, with a lot of noise and flickering on the screen despite turning off auto exposure. Now, let’s switch over to the new X1 Carbon and hope for a better result.
Welcome to the ninth-generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon, and in some ways, it has actually gotten worse compared to three years ago. Firstly, there’s this odd sharpening effect, and while it’s an improvement over the smeared appearance, it now makes my face look like it has craters all over. Not only that, but the colors appear so subdued that it almost looks black and white, even on this screen. I’m concerned if the recorded video will turn out the same. Apart from that, the auto exposure turns itself off completely now, allowing for better adjustment. But overall, I’m disappointed. This is a professional device, and yet, the webcam quality is lacking. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. To me, it’s a letdown. When you’re seen on Zoom calls and other video conferences, having such poor image quality is a significant drawback.
On the positive side, though, they’ve implemented dual front-facing speakers with this generation, and they sound amazing. There’s good clarity in the high-end frequencies, and the bass response is respectable. To be honest, I didn’t expect this level of audio quality from a ThinkPad.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon Upgrade Options
Upgradability is quite limited on the X1 Carbon. The memory is soldered onto the PCB, so it cannot be easily upgraded. The primary NVMe SSD is located here, and its read speeds are impressive. However, the write performance is average. There is a WLAN slot that uses the M.2 interface, but it is intended only for networking cards. I attempted to install my Toshiba RC100 SSD, but the BIOS rejected it. I’m aware that some sixth-generation laptops can accommodate secondary drives, but I’m uncertain about this generation.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon Battery Life
Let’s talk about battery life because this thing has a 4K screen, which, to be honest, is pointless in a 14-inch form factor. But we were just interested to see how it stacks up with other thin and light laptops that we’ve tested.
|Asus Zenbook 13
|Lenovo X1 Carbon
|Razer Book 13 (i7)
First of all, if you prioritize battery life, it’s best to avoid the 4K screen and maybe even consider grabbing the i5 instead of the i7 like our sample has. However, even with those two factors working against it, the X1 Carbon actually delivers some reasonable numbers, lasting almost 13 hours in the light load test.
It’s worth noting that, except for the Dell XPS 13, all the other competitors here have either smaller screens or lower resolutions. Considering that, the X1 Carbon’s battery life performance is quite impressive, and it makes me wonder if the 1200p model would come closer to the battery life numbers of the ZenBook under heavier load.
And there’s nothing to complain about here either, with the X1 posting the longest battery life of any thin and light Tiger Lake laptop we’ve seen so far. I mean, look, this class of ThinkPad isn’t meant for running multi-core loads while being unplugged. But if the need arises, at least you won’t have to find an outlet every hour.
Performance Profiles Walkthrough
Something pretty interesting about this laptop is its performance mode. Lenovo has always targeted the Carbon series at professionals who simply want to plug in their laptop and start using it day in and day out with minimal fuss. That means no fiddling around with settings or dealing with bloatware, and most importantly, nothing that takes away from productivity time.
To address these needs, Lenovo has created a straightforward power plan where the modes are switched through the standard Windows power manager in your taskbar. There are two auto modes that enable the system to manage surface temperatures, CPU speeds, and noise while favoring either a balanced approach or a more performance-oriented setting. Additionally, there’s a manual performance mode that allows the processor to run at higher speeds for extended periods of time.
CPU Power, Temperatures AND Frequencies Over Time
You can actually see this quite well with both the performance and auto performance modes delivering similar power input until the four-minute mark of our test. At that point, the algorithm Lenovo uses in auto mode dials things back to between 12 and 15 watts until surface temperatures are reduced, and then it kicks things up again. Meanwhile, the performance mode simply runs at 23 watts consistently.
Auto balance, on the other hand, may not be suitable for intensive tasks as it limits the processor to just 7 watts. While this is perfect for most people considering the X1, it’s inadequate for anything beyond a light workload. You can observe the impact on clock speeds when these three modes are used: balanced mode barely exceeds one gigahertz, while the other two performance modes offer more than double the speed.
If you’re engaged in tasks like rendering files or transcoding, abandoning the out-of-the-box balance mode is the way to go. In terms of temperatures, both auto performance and performance modes reach just above 95 degrees for shorter durations before the fans ramp up to bring them down to more reasonable levels. However, the automatic setting tends to be quite aggressive for a few minutes before easing off, allowing temperatures to spike again. On the other hand, the balance mode behaves as expected, staying cool and well-behaved throughout, with temperatures barely exceeding 50 degrees.
Noise Levels and Surface Temperatures
The good news is that regardless of the mode you’re in, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is one of the quietest machines available for professionals and even students who purchase these devices. This is crucial because the last thing anyone wants is for a meeting to be interrupted by a loud laptop. Even when running at full capacity, surface temperatures are well controlled, which means using it on your lap, in an airport, or in a classroom setting shouldn’t pose any issues. There is a small hotspot on the back, but it’s located in an area that doesn’t usually come into contact with your body.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon Performance
(1440p Scene Render)
|GIMP Photo Editing
|Asus Zenbook 13 OLED
(Ryzen 7-5800U -25W)
|Razer Book 13
|ThinkPad X1 Carbon
Now let’s move on to real-world benchmarks in the auto performance mode, and the results are consistent with what we typically expect from the i7 1165 G7 in a thin and light laptop. It may not outperform the AMD CPUs in multi-threaded benchmarks due to their higher number of processing threads. One of the challenges here is that auto performance mode doesn’t maintain a constant speed, leading to varied results. However, it delivers excellent performance in situations where the X1 Carbon is likely to be used most of the time, such as word processing, spreadsheet work, exports, and PDF creation. The results in Premiere need some explanation because they appear almost too good to be true. In this case, Lenovo’s app detection in the auto performance mode kicks in. The Xe graphics receives a bit more power and operates at around 225 megahertz. Since Premiere is GPU-bound, this extra performance boost makes a significant difference in longer renders like the one we tested.
(1080P – Highest, M5AA, Ott)
(1080P – High Preset)
(1080P – High Preset,
|Asus Zenbook 13 OLED
(Radeon Veg 8-25W)
|Razer Book 13
|ThinkPad X1 Carbon
(Iris XE 22W)
Now, let’s discuss gaming performance, although it’s not something that people typically use the X1 Carbon for. However, I do know from personal experience that during longer flights, playing Civilization on the Carbon can be a great way to pass the time. With the Iris Xe graphics in this generation, the X1 Carbon is actually capable of running most basic titles at decent frame rates. Of course, there are situations where Intel’s drivers may cause crashes, but overall, it performs well in this regard. On the other hand, this is an area where AMD needs to step up because their Vega architecture is starting to show its age, especially when it comes to gaming on laptops.
Conclusion – The Best Thin and Light Laptop?
So, here are my final thoughts on the Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 9, and I must say, I am seriously impressed with this laptop. The first thing that stands out is its lightweight design coupled with exceptional durability. The 16:10 screen aspect ratio is stunning, offering a vibrant and bright display. The keyboard remains best-in-class, providing a comfortable typing experience. Battery life is also commendable, although opting for the 1200p option would extend it further. Performance-wise, the X1 Carbon delivers satisfying results, and importantly, it remains one of the quietest laptops we’ve tested even under heavy workloads.
Now, let’s talk about the price. Yes, it is on the expensive side, but you are paying for a device that will last you for years to come. Moreover, it comes with enhanced security features, including a privacy switch, an IR camera, Lenovo’s self-healing BIOS, and a DTPM chip for data encryption. While these security features may not matter much to the average consumer, they are crucial for professionals and those who handle classified information. It’s worth noting that you might end up acquiring this laptop through your workplace rather than purchasing it personally.
Personally, I would choose the X1 Carbon over the XPS 13 due to its additional ports and sleek matte black design, which resonates with my preferences. If you come across a sale or if it fits your budget, I would highly recommend picking up the X1 Carbon without hesitation. So, on that note, the X1 Carbon Gen 9 is an exceptional laptop that ticks all the right boxes.
The first thing that stands out is its lightweight design coupled with exceptional durability. The 16:10 screen aspect ratio is stunning, offering a vibrant and bright display. The keyboard remains best-in-class, providing a comfortable typing experience. Battery life is also commendable, although opting for the 1200p option would extend it further. Performance-wise, the X1 Carbon delivers satisfying results, and importantly, it remains one of the quietest laptops we've tested even under heavy workloads.
Web Cam and Audio8.5