Best-performing netbooks

These top 10 netbooks offer users a range of choices in screen quality, battery life, speed -- and price

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Lenovo ThinkPad X100e
ThinkPad X100e Review, by Edward N. Albro April 7, 2010



High-resolution display
Good performance

Relatively expensive
Short battery life for a netbook

Bottom Line: AMD's Neo processor makes this a speedy netbook, but forget about working all day on one charge.

Is the Lenovo ThinkPad X100e a netbook or an ultraportable? The answer seems to be: a little of both. It's faster than most netbooks, with a larger, higher-resolution screen; a spacious keyboard; and a bigger hard drive than you'll usually find in lilliputian laptops. You pay for those extras, though. It's a little heavier than run-of-the-mill netbooks and has limited battery life. The price is nearly in ultraportable territory, too: The machines start at $499, and the configuration we reviewed costs $599. That's a lot for a netbook.

Here's the first thing that'll strike you about this ThinkPad, though--it's red! (If you find that color shocking, you can also order the standard ThinkPad black.) If you associate red with speedy sports cars, the X100e won't disappoint. With its Athlon Neo MV-40 processor and 2GB of RAM, this ThinkPad scored a 52 on WorldBench 6, a screaming speed for netbooks. I didn't notice any drag in opening and switching between applications, fiddling with Windows controls, or browsing the Web.

Don't expect powerful video performance, though. The X100e turned high-def, full-screen video into something more like a slideshow. And even at 480p, video stuttered and jerked. Lenovo is mostly marketing the X100e to corporate types and must think that they should be working instead of watching YouTube.

And this laptop is indeed useful for getting work done. The 11.6-inch display has a native resolution of 1366 by 768, significantly more than the typical 10.1-inch, 1024-by-600-resolution netbook screen. And the display is relatively easy to read even from an angle. But I found the on-screen colors a little washed out.

The keyboard is full-size, with large Shift and Tab keys. The keys give the kind of solid feedback touch typists need. Lenovo gives you two options for pointing devices--and that's probably one too many. ThinkPad traditionalists can use the company's signature eraserhead pointing stick, which has its own mouse and scroll buttons. That system works well for those who are comfortable with it. But Lenovo also jammed in a touchpad for all the people who aren't accustomed to the eraserhead. And there just isn't enough room for the touchpad--the surface is small, and the buttons are tiny. They're about a quarter-inch deep and right at the edge of the laptop. If you miss the buttons (not hard to do), your thumb slips off the laptop entirely. The trackpad does feature multitouch, but the response is inconsistent--sometimes a two-fingered scroll works just fine, sometimes the trackpad doesn't notice it at all.

The X100e comes nicely equipped, and you can add more features. Our test model had a 320GB hard drive (you can also save some money with a 250GB disk). The laptop comes standard with gigabit ethernet and 802.11n wireless networking. A built-in 3G wireless broadband card is available at an extra cost. Beyond that, the features are pretty standard--two USB ports on the left, one on the right, plus a multicard reader on the right and a VGA port in the back.

For a small machine, the X100e's sound is impressive. Lenovo has nestled the speakers on the underside of the wrist rest, which slopes up off the surface of the table the laptop's resting on. That design seems to let more of the sound escape, giving the laptop decent volume. And for small speakers, the sound was relatively clean and precise, though understandably light on bass.

At 3.3 pounds (3.9 pounds with the power brick), the X100e is a little heavier than other netbooks, but I hardly noticed the extra weight. With the standard battery, the X100e lasted for only 5 hours and 28 minutes. That's anemic for netbooks, but not unexpected given the X100e's more powerful processor.

Our test unit came with Windows 7 Professional, a nice upgrade from the Windows 7 Starter Edition on many netbooks. Don't look for much else in the Programs folder, though. Adobe Reader is the only piece of third-party software. Lenovo has also loaded its proprietary utilities, including a password manager and power management app. I find Lenovo's utilities more useful than the bloatware that comes on many machines, but that doesn't make them exciting.

At 600 bucks, the X100e we tested isn't the kind of disposable computer that many netbooks amount to. For the price, you'll get sprightly performance, a larger display, and a comfortable keyboard. But if you're looking for great video performance or all-day battery life, look elsewhere.

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