- Light yet sturdy
- compact but comfortable to use
- excellent battery life.
- Optical and floppy drives are charged as extras
- no spare memory slot for upgrades.
If notebooks in general present manufacturers with a design challenge, then sub-2kg ultraportables (or subnotebooks if you prefer) are the acid test. Durability, ergonomics, heat management, functionality -- it all gets marginal once you dip below the standard A4 footprint. Successful ultraportables are therefore rarer than you might think. IBM’s latest addition to its X20-series ThinkPad range has several advantages. It’s an evolved design rather than a new venture, and IBM is a good manufacturer of notebooks. Consequently, we were guardedly optimistic when the X24 arrived for testing.
Ultraportables -- which are specifically designed for travel -- need to be physically tough, and the X24 seems to fill the bill. Titanium alloy is used for the lid and base, creating a crush-resistant sandwich around the delicate internal components. The case body is tight and inflexible, without any of the worrying flimsiness that sometimes affects small portables, and nothing looks vulnerable or likely to get snapped off.
The X24 isn’t the smallest ultraportable we’ve ever seen, but it is an intelligent compromise between size and practicality. The case is 3cm thick with the lid shut, and has a 27.9cm by 22.7cm footprint, so it will fit inside most briefcases yet is still big enough for a usable keyboard and screen.
In fact, the keyboard is good by ultraportable standards, with enough room for a realistic main pad, and large keys where they are needed – notably for the spacebar, Enter and Backspace keys. The screen is also a success, with a wide horizontal viewing angle and sufficient brightness to cope with normal indoor conditions.
Some users may find the combination of the X24 screen’s 12.1in. diagonal and native 1,024 by 768 resolution a bit challenging since it results in rather small text. But, on balance, we feel IBM just about gets away with it, and the extra workspace compared to an SVGA-resolution display is undeniably useful.
Despite its solid build and medium-small footprint, the X24 is pleasantly light at just 1.6kg -- but, as usual, things have had to be ditched in order to get the weight down this low. ‘Things’ here meaning the optical and floppy drives, which IBM provides as options – costing £141 and £39 respectively -- rather than including them as part of the package.
On the other side of the coin, this model does come with integrated 802.11b (Wi-Fi) wireless networking alongside its conventional Intel PRO/100 VE 10/100BaseTX Ethernet adapter. As you’d expect, you also get an integrated 56Kbps modem and an infrared port for talking to handhelds and some printers.
The X24 isn’t over-burdened with ports, making do with twin USB connectors and a VGA port plus audio mini-jacks and a single Type II PC Card slot for expansion. There’s also a CompactFlash memory card slot, but some users are probably going to miss the parallel and PS/2 ports more than they value the memory card slot.
Still, there’s an expansion bus for a port replicator or docking base (both optional, naturally), so a wider range of ports -- and a convenient way of connecting to them all at once -- is there if you need it.
Ultraportables have a tendency to run slightly slower than equivalent full-scale notebooks, but the X24 bucked this trend nicely. Its Business Winstone 2001 score of 31.9 is sound for a 1.13GHz Mobile Pentium III-M system, the fast IBM Travelstar hard disk also helping things along. If you are running standard business applications under Windows 2000 or XP, you shouldn’t have any problems.
Apart from being small and portable, the ideal ultraportable also needs to deliver when it comes to battery life. Obvious, you might think, but it’s surprising how many systems fall down in this area. The problem is that the bigger and heavier the battery, the more charge it can hold, but in the quest to ditch weight the battery is a common target. IBM knows this, and has managed to balance the weight of the battery with the commendably light case, so you get a reasonably capacious (4,000mAh) battery which kept the notebook running under the BatteryMark 4.01 test for an impressive 3 hours 37 minutes.
Put this together with its relatively strong performance and you have a potential winner. We’d have been happier to see at least the optical drive included as standard, especially given the relatively steep £1,824 (ex. VAT) price tag. But the plus points outweigh the negatives, and the ThinkPad X24 is definitely worth considering if you want a lightweight system to take on your travels.