Should You Buy a ThinkPad X250?

The ThinkPad X250 was the second mainline X-series laptop from Lenovo that sported the “true” Ultrabook form factor (the first being the previous X240). It and it’s older twin are usually overlooked for more popular models, meaning you can potentially find a well-specced X250 for cheap! But should you buy one? Let’s talk a bit about the X250 itself, and then I’ll decide whether or not to give it the Yutaka Channel Seal of Approval.

This is my personal X250. It may look a bit rough right now, but the inside looks much better than this.

System Specs

What’s With All the U’s?

X250’s with higher specifications will be equipped with an Intel Core i7-5600U, though most will have a Core i5-5200U in it’s place. With Lenovo’s switch to ULV (ultra-low voltage) CPUs, battery life improved dramatically, but at the cost of performance. PassMark, a benchmark that aggregates various user scores, rates the i7-5600U over the i5-3320M, the default CPU used in the X230. However, the X250’s default i5-5200U is left behind quite a bit in Lenovo’s move from 35W to 15W by default. Keep this in mind when choosing your laptop.

i7-5600U: 4323 CPU points, 1660 single-threaded points
i5-5200U: 3499 CPU points, 1397 single-threaded points
i5-3520M: 4134 CPU points, 1642 single-threaded points
The i7-5600U pulls far ahead of it’s i5 brother and exceeds even a full-wattage Ivy Bridge i5.

Picking Your Panel

The X250 comes equipped with a variety of panel options. There are officially five in total, three of them have a resolution of 1366×768, while the other two have a resolution of 1920×1080:

  • 12.5″ 1366×768 (“HD”), LED-Backlight, 200 cd/m², 300:1
  • 12.5″ 1366×768 (“HD”), LED-Backlight, 300 cd/m², 700:1, IPS
  • 12.5″ 1366×768 (“HD”), LED-Backlight, 270 cd/m², IPS, Multitouch
  • 12.5″ 1920×1080 (“Full HD”), LED-Backlight, 400 cd/m², 700:1, IPS
  • 12.5″ 1920×1080 (“Full HD”), LED-Backlight, 360 cd/m², IPS, Multitouch

Data from ThinkWiki

The first panel is a 1366×768 TN panel, and will likely be the one you most commonly see. However, the last two panels have a much higher 1080p resolution and are the ones you should go for. Aside from being much brighter, you’re guaranteed an IPS panel and a usable working resolution. A multitouch panel, while allowing 10-finger touch functionality, will reduce brightness slightly and make the top of the X250 thicker.

Looking to upgrade your LCD panel? Keep in mind the Broadwell ThinkPads have a panel whitelist that will keep you from upgrading to a generic panel. You will have to reflash either the ThinkPad or panel controller to use brightness controls.
The X250’s 1080p Touch panel in it’s full glory.

How Much RAM?

Like the older X240, the X250 has a single DDR3 RAM slot. Like most other similarly-specced laptops, X250 configurations shipped with either 4 or 8GB of RAM. However, with BIOS update 1.12, the ability to “officially” add 16GB of RAM was added. This is actually a Broadwell chipset feature; Intel improved the memory controller with the Broadwell die shrink, allowing single-DIMM 16GB modules to be used.

Battery Life

Battery life on the X250 isn’t anything to write home about compared to modern laptops, but still fairly impressive for it’s time. Power Bridge functionality, first introduced with the X240, allows nearly infinite battery life, depending on your budget and carrying capacity. The Intel Broadwell-U chip gives 4 hours of battery with the internal and external 23.2Wh batteries. An optional 6-cell battery, along with the internal battery can provide 6 hours of battery life under normal use.

Build Quality

It’s solid. There’s little flex in the body, and it feels sturdy overall. What else can I say?

Real-Life Usage

While on paper, the ThinkPad X250 might seem weaker than a brand-new laptop, in real-life usage the difference is almost unnoticeable. In a Linux distribution where every other CPU cycle isn’t wasted on telemetry, even an i3-equipped X250 can fly. This section will go through various everyday tasks that one would normally do with a laptop.

Office Work

Almost any computer that can run a modern operating system can be an office worker. However, if you’re looking to infiltrate an office space and look like you work there, this is the laptop for you. While I still prefer the T440p’s keyboard for typing long paragraphs of text, the X250 still does a very good job. In fact, I typed this entire article on it’s keyboard!

Gaming

While lacking a dedicated graphics card, the X250 can still play a respectable amount of games. Any game released before 2012 will likely run well. On the emulation front, anything up to a PlayStation 2 can be emulated with no issues.

Video Editing

Likely the most processor intensive task on this list. An i7-equipped X250 will no doubt handle this well, but an i5 might struggle with 1080p content. Rendering is fairly fast, but watch your temperatures.

CAD

Please buy a W530 for this. No integrated GPU, except those from the newest Intel families, will ever be able to keep up with even the cheapest of dedicated graphics cards. You might be able to get away with simple objects, but for more advanced projects, just get a different laptop.

Closing Thoughts

While commonly overlooked for other X series laptops, the X250 is a great machine. While not quite suited to heavy processing tasks, the X250, especially equipped with a 1080p touchscreen and i7, is a portable dream machine. For that, it rightly deserves the Yutaka Channel Seal of Approval.

One thought on “Should You Buy a ThinkPad X250?

  1. I recently have my hands on a base i5-5200U, 4GB RAM, 500 HDD and a 1366×768 panel. I immediately put Debian on it and it flies as expected. Will definitely do an SSD, RAM upgrade, and FHD screen is really nice for those 1080p anime. Some tweaks for CAD can be done to run it fine, removing those details and activating hardware acceleration can be useful.

    How’s you’re current experience with x250? Great review by the way.

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