It was only a couple of weeks ago that I reviewed the IBM ThinkPad T41p and proclaimed it the best notebook that I've ever used. This week that statement still stands although this ThinkPad X31 is still a fine mobile companion.
The ThinkPad X31 is part of IBM's ultra portable range and it's certainly slim and light. With dimensions of 273 x 223 x 30.2mm (WxDxH) and a weight of only 1.64kg the X31 will be an unobtrusive companion. Being an ultra portable notebook there's no integrated optical drive, so you're going to have to be sure that you won't need one when you're on the move. That said, this type of notebook is aimed at the user who is most concerned with a small and light mobile computer and will forego some of the features that other notebook users insist on.
Despite the X31's undeniably small dimensions, IBM has still managed to squeeze in a superb keyboard. Just like the T41p, the X31's keyboard has a fantastic action that makes typing long documents a breeze. Obviously the size of the keys are slightly smaller and the Return and Backspace keys aren't as large as some may like, but this is still a superior keyboard to those seen on most other notebooks. Due to space constraints you only get a Trackpoint so if you prefer using a touchpad you're out of luck. Personally I prefer a good Trackpoint and the space saved is paramount in an ultra portable notebook. As always seems to be the case with ThinkPads, the Trackpoint is superb and pointer manipulation is simple and efficient. Another neat feature that's evident on ThinkPads is the keyboard light. This is a little light embedded in the lid above the screen that illuminates the keyboard when you're working in dark conditions.
The screen is a 12.1in TFT model with a resolution of 1,024 x 768. Although 1,024 x 768 is pretty conservative by modern notebook standards, it's still acceptable on a slim line model like this. The screen itself is excellent with a bright, vibrant image and even backlighting across the whole surface. The viewing angle is wide enough for the odd huddle around a desk and there's no sign of any dead pixels.
Amazingly IBM has still managed to squeeze a decent amount of ports into the X31's diminutive chassis. On the left hand side you'll find a single PC Card slot, a CompactFlash slot, a USB 2.0 port and a FireWire port. There are also headphone, mic and lineout ports. At the rear is a D-SUB connector to link the X31 up to an external monitor and a parallel port. Connectivity is also catered for at the rear with a 56k modem socket and an Ethernet port for the 10/100 network adapter.
Inside the chassis you'll find a 1.4GHz Pentium M CPU backed up by 256MB of RAM. Personally I think that 256MB of RAM is not sufficient these days, but of course memory capacity can be augmented at purchase. There's a 40GB hard disk which is pretty generous in a device this small, but the somewhat dated 16MB ATI Mobility Radeon graphics chipset won't satisfy any potential mobile gamers. That said, this notebook is most definitely not aimed at the mobile gaming market.