Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3: The same, only faster
“The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 is particularly fast given its components, beating up on laptops with faster processors.”
- Delightful OLED display with the best HDR
- Great keyboard and touchpad
- Solid build quality
- Excellent performance
- Disappointing battery life
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2 made my list of favorite laptops that I’ve reviewed for Digital Trends — and for good reason. It was fast, well-built, and included a standout OLED display. Now, Lenovo has released the laptop’s third-generation model, and it’s turning the performance up to 11.
Lenovo equips this new model with Intel’s 10th-gen 45-watt CPUs to replace the previous version’s 9th-gen options. My ThinkPad x1 Extreme Gen 3 review unit wasn’t quite as well-equipped as my Gen 2 model — it has a Core i7-10850H with vPro this time around versus a Core i9-9880H — but it still featured 32GB of RAM and that lovely OLED display.
Note that the Core i9-10885H is still an option, and the GPU was upgraded, from an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q to a GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q. The price? A whopping $2,404, though that’s on sale from a retail price of $4,007. That’s a lot of money. Does Lenovo’s Gen 3 design still earn my recommendation?
As before, my review unit features a carbon fiber lid, which is part of the optional 4K display. That adds not just some structural integrity, but a more striking look. The bottom of the chassis is aluminum, with the usual ThinkPad soft-coated plastic for the keyboard deck, which makes it extremely comfortable to use.
In other words, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 is identical on the outside to the Gen 2. There’s nothing wrong with that. No reason to mess around with a good thing, as the ThinkPad X1 Extreme enjoys the same ThinkPad aesthetic as always. It’s all-black with just a few red accents, including the iconic blinking LED over the “i” in ThinkPad on the lid, the TrackPoint nubbin, and the edges of the TrackPoint buttons.
ThinkPad fans will be quite satisfied. However, it’s not as modern as the new Dell XPS 15, given the ThinkPad’s rather large bezels. The XPS 15 has tiny bezels that disappear around its 16:10 aspect ratio display. The HP Spectre x360 15 is at the opposite end of the aesthetic spectrum, with its gem-cut design crying out for attention, while the ThinkPad is happy to sit quietly in the shadows.
The laptop’s build quality is top-notch all the way through, with a lid that doesn’t distort under pressure, very little keyboard flex, and a bottom chassis that resists bending or twisting. It exudes strength and endurance, and evokes confidence that it can stand up to a beating. My only complaint is that the hinge is stiff, requiring two hands to pry open. Still, there isn’t a premium laptop that feels more durable than the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3.
The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 is thin at 0.72 inches, almost identical to the XPS 15’s 0.71 inches, and a bit thinner than the Spectre x360 15’s 0.79 inches. The ThinkPad weighs 4.0 pounds with the touch display (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, with a proprietary power connector (supplying 135 watts), two USB-C with Thunderbolt 3, and a full-size HDMI 2.0 port along the left-hand side. You’ll find two USB-A 3.2 ports and a full-size SD card reader (a welcome touch for creative pros) along the right-hand side. Wireless connectivity is provided by Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1.
I’ll also note that the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 is upgradeable. The back cover is relatively easy to remove. You can swap out the RAM and take advantage of a second SSD slot.
I can’t compare the Gen 3 directly to the Gen 2 because of the CPU and GPU differences, but the Dell XPS 15 and the HP Spectre x360 15 make for good comparison machines. The XPS 15 we reviewed ran with a Core i7-10875H, which is an eight-core CPU compared to the ThinkPad X1 Extreme’s six-core Core i7-10850H. The Spectre x360 15 is equipped with a six-core Core i7-10750H that’s clocked slightly lower than the ThinkPad’s CPU.
The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 performed as well as expected, or better. In Geekbench 5, for example, it scored 1,299 in the single-core test and 6,372 in the multi-core test. The XPS 15 scored 1,314 and 7,549, respectively, while the Spectre x360 15 scored 1,237 and 5,013.
Looking at our Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video to H.265, the ThinkPad took just over two minutes. That was surprisingly close to the XPS 15, which finished just nine seconds faster despite having two more cores and four more threads. The Spectre x360 15 finished in just over 2.5 minutes, making the ThinkPad quite a bit faster than the difference in clock speeds would indicate.
In Cinebench 20, the ThinkPad scored 486 in the single-core test and 2,888 in the multi-core test. The XPS 15 was much quicker at 488 and 3,582, respectively, while the Spectre x360 15 held its own against the ThinkPad at 469 and 2,523. In this test, it seems Dell’s extra cores were key.
It’s worth noting that AMD’s Ryzen 4000 chips compete nicely even against Intel’s 45-watt CPUs. As an example, the Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 with the Ryzen 7 4800U took just two seconds longer to finish the Handbrake test than the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3, and it scored 482 and 3,255 in Cinebench 20 — beating out the ThinkPad, and competing with the XPS 15.
Finally, I ran the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 through our Premiere Pro test that renders a two-minute 4K video, and it took four minutes and 52 seconds to finish. The XPS 15 finished right at five minutes, and the Spectre x360 15 took over seven minutes to complete the test. The ThinkPad excelled here, beating out the XPS 15 despite having a slower CPU and GPU (the XPS 15 uses the non-Max-Q version of the GTX 1650 Ti). My working theory is that Lenovo bested Dell in creating a thermal design that can maintain combined CPU and GPU performance over a long period.
In short, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 is a fast laptop that can meet the needs of demanding creative professionals. If your needs run to more mundane productivity tasks, then it’s overkill — but is it ever a bad thing to have too much performance? I don’t think so.
The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 can handle gaming as well, competing strongly against the XPS 15 and Spectre x360 15. In the 3DMark Time Spy test, the ThinkPad scored 3,572, compared to the XPS 15 at 3,860 and the Spectre x360 15 at 2,963.
Moving on to real-world gaming, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 aced Civilization VI, where it averaged 124 frames per second (FPS) at 1080p and medium graphics, and 68 FPS at ultra graphics. The XPS 15 managed 114 FPS and 64 FPS, respectively, while the Spectre x360 15 ran at 89 FPS and 60 FPS. Again, the ThinkPad punched above its weight class, beating out a laptop with a faster CPU and GPU in a game that relies on both for best performance. The same held true at 4K, where the ThinkPad averaged 66 FPS in medium graphics and 36 FPS at ultra graphics, compared to the XPS 15 at 51 FPS and 30 FPS, respectively, and the Spectre x360 15 at 55 FPS and 30 FPS.
In Fortnite, the ThinkPad averaged 83 FPS at 1080p and medium graphics, and 60 FPS at epic graphics. The XPS 15 scored 74 FPS and 60 FPS, respectively, and the Spectre x360 15 managed 67 FPS and 47 FPS. Each of these laptops dropped below 30 FPS at 4K, so I won’t bother reporting the results at that resolution. Fortnite remains best at 1080p on laptops with midrange discrete GPUs.
Next up is Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, where the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 managed 52 FPS at 1080p and medium graphics, and 30 FPS at ultra high. The XPS 15 was at 47 FPS and 26 FPS, respectively, while the Spectre x360 15 hit 40 FPS and 25 FPS. Again, none of the machines exceeded 30 FPS at 4K. It’s remarkable to see the X1 Extreme Gen 3 average 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 was at 56 FPS and 44 FPS, respectively, and the Spectre x360 15 managed 55 GPS and 44 FPS. Once again, 4K was south of the minimum 30 FPS that we consider playable.
Overall, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 performs very well for a laptop in this category. The fact that it bested the XPS 15 in all but one game is impressive, and while 4K gaming isn’t advised, you’ll be happy running modern titles at 1080p and the proper graphical settings. Anyone seeking better game performance will need to consider a gaming laptop.
I love OLED displays. They’re bright, colorful, and unparalleled in contrast. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3’s OLED is no different, although it’s not the best OLED display we’ve tested.
This ThinkPad’s display is not as bright as some OLED panels, coming in at 369 nits compared to the HP Spectre x360 15’s 426 nits. Both laptops have anti-reflective glass, so the HP comes across as quite a bit brighter. In addition, the Spectre’s contrast was 426,180:1 compared to the ThinkPad’s 369,390:1 — a meaningless difference in real-life use, but a significant difference numerically, nonetheless.
Dell’s XPS 15 doesn’t use OLED and instead opts for a more traditional IPS display. Its brightness came in at 442 nits, and the contrast ratio reached 1480:1 (which is outstanding for an IPS display). The contrast gap is not 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 viewing movies or high-quality photos in a dark room.
Note that according to the specs, Lenovo cranks up the brightness when running high dynamic range (HDR) content. I noticed this in my testing.
Color gamut is another area the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 fell a bit short. It covered 100% of sRGB and 96% of AdobeRGB. That compares to the Spectre at 100% and 98%, and the XPS 15 at 100% of both gamuts. It’s not a huge difference, but for a creative professional looking for the best AdobeRGB support, those few percentage points might matter.
The ThinkPad’s color proved accurate, though, at a DeltaE of 0.91 (lower is better in this benchmark). The XPS 15 was at 0.65, and the Spectre x360 15 at 1.21. All three displays perform well, but the XPS 15’s excellent accuracy makes it ready for color-critical work out of the box.
None of this is meant to disparage the ThinkPad’s display. It’s gorgeous in real-world use. Movies and images have a high-contrast, vibrant look that pops 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 among the best devices you’ll find for watching Netflix in HDR, and it’s much better than the other, non-Dolby Vision-enabled laptops I’ve reviewed.
If OLED isn’t your thing, Lenovo does offer three alternative display options. There are two Full HD options at 300 or 500 nits, as well as a 600-nit 4K IPS panel, to choose from. We generally expect they’ll all perform well for their respective pricing, but OLED is our favorite.
Audio was a strength, with two downward-firing speakers pumping out plenty of volume without distortion. Mids and highs were clear, and there was even a touch of bass. You’ll be fine watching Netflix and YouTube videos by yourself or with a few friends, but for music, as usual, a good set of headphones is suggested.
Keyboard and touchpad
ThinkPad fans are picky about their keyboards, but the X1 Extreme Gen 3 should satisfy. It has nicely sculpted keycaps that are just the right size, with excellent spacing. Personally, I find the mechanism a little stiff, but it does provide tons of feedback and a very precise bottoming action. If you like a lighter touch, as I do, HP’s Spectre keyboard might be more your style. But if you like more feedback while typing, the ThinkPad’s keyboard will fit the bill. Oh, and it’s spill-resistant, if that matters to you.
The usual TrackPoint nub is in the middle of the keyboard, and it works well, as expected It does force a pair of buttons, though, taking some space away from the touchpad. Speaking of which, the touchpad is a glass-covered Microsoft Precision touchpad that works well for swiping and using Windows 10’s multitouch gestures.
The display is touch-enabled on this model, and it’s precise and responsive. Thankfully, it has an anti-smudge coating that resists fingerprints. It’s equal to the display on the HP Spectre x360 15 in this regard.
Windows 10 Hello support is provided by a fast and responsive fingerprint reader and an infrared camera with facial recognition support. There’s a privacy shutter that will disable the latter, so you might want to configure both methods for logging in without a password.
Here’s where you pay the price for all that performance and the power-hungry OLED display. Simply put, this ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 configuration’s battery life isn’t a strength.
In our demanding Basemark web benchmark test, the ThinkPad managed about 3.5 hours, which isn’t terrible for a 45-watt CPU. The XPS 15 lasted 16 minutes less, while the Spectre x360 15 didn’t even make it to three hours.
In our web-browsing test, which gives the best indication of general productivity longevity, the ThinkPad just exceeded 5.5 hours, which is 80 minutes less than the XPS 15 and 32 minutes less than the Spectre x360 15. And in our video test that loops through a Full HD Avengers trailer, the ThinkPad was at 6.5 hours, 50 minutes less than the XPS 15 and 11 minutes more than the Spectre x360 15.
Those aren’t great results, but they’re expected. If you want better battery life, then you’ll want to opt for one of the Full HD display options. Otherwise, be prepared to carry the power brick around.
Lenovo kept what was best about the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2, and made it faster. That makes the Gen 3 model an incremental, but still meaningful, upgrade that simply improves what was already an excellent 15-inch laptop.
Admittedly, it’s most attractive to ThinkPad fans, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If that’s you, and you want a laptop that’s as powerful as any other in its class, then the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 is a great choice.
Are there any alternatives?
The Dell XPS 15 is the ThinkPad’s most obvious competitor. They’re both powerful, thin and light, and well-built 15-inch machines that appeal to the same kind of users. You’ll get a 16:10 display and a more modern look with the XPS 15, but the ThinkPad is the better performer.
If you’re into 2-in-1s, the Spectre x360 15 is an excellent choice. It’s not as fast, but it offers a more elegant look, a slightly better OLED display (unless you’re watching Netflix in HDR), and the flexibility of a 2-in-1. The Spectre is also several hundred dollars cheaper, although it can’t be configured as powerfully as the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3.
Finally, you could consider HP’s Envy 15, a 15-inch laptop that offers a lot of power for not a lot of money. It doesn’t quite keep up with the ThinkPad, but it has a great OLED display of its own and costs hundreds of dollars less.
How long will it last?
The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 is extremely durable, well-configured, and will last for many years of productive service. We’d like more than a one-year warranty at these prices, but Lenovo does offer a plethora of warranty upgrade options.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 is not only the most powerful ThinkPad you can buy, it’s one of the most powerful 15-inch consumer laptops, period.
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