If you've read our 2010 Awards or, more recently, the Christmas Netbook Buyers' Guide, you might remember that one of our winning choices was Dell's M101z (thanks in large part to its AMD Athlon Neo processor, which makes for a great, and usually more powerful, alternative to Intel's Atom). Thus we're quite excited to be looking at Lenovo's 11.6in ThinkPad X100e, which uses the same platform but costs far less - despite including a copy of Windows 7 Professional! Combined with the ThinkPad line's generally legendary build quality, premium finish and attention to detail (check out the ThinkPad X200t review for an example of what we mean), is this the ultimate budget ultraportable?
Going by build, the answer is a resounding yes. The X100e certainly doesn't put the ThinkPad reputation to shame in this regard: finished in smooth semi-matt black plastic (aside from the screen's bezel, which is slightly textured) that doesn't mark or scratch easily, it's brick-like in its solidity. There is simply not a hint of flex or creak anywhere in its chassis, and it's been a very long time since we dealt with an affordable ultraportable (or indeed any laptop) we could say that of. About the only sub £400 competitor that springs to mind in this regard is Dell's rugged Latitude 2100, which is vastly inferior in every other regard. Another welcome ThinkPad feature is that the screen will fold so far back as to be almost flat.
Visually, the X100e's semi-matte black design (it's also available in "heatwave red" when buying direct from Lenovo) is almost identical to its siblings and predecessors, so if you're a fan you won't need convincing. Newcomers might find the red track-stick in the middle of the keyboard and rather prominent logo on the palm-rest slightly off-putting, but overall this Lenovo exudes understated class. It's a machine that means business and isn't afraid to show it.
Specifications-wise our 2876 configuration of the X100e is also excellent for the price (you can get other models with better specifications, but naturally these cost more). Starting off on the CPU front, we have a single-core Neo running at 1.6GHz. It's backed by 2GB of DDR2 RAM, keeping the 32-bit version of Windows 7 Professional running fairly smoothly.
Not only is this double the memory of most netbooks, but the OS is also a significant improvement over the Starter edition you'll find on the majority of rivals. Professional will handle up to 4GB of RAM (should you upgrade in the future) as well as allowing you to change the desktop background, and with an added 'XP mode' over Home Premium it maintains better backward compatibility. The hard drive is a fairly standard 250GB, 5,400rpm model.
When it comes to graphics, the X100e relies on the same integrated Radeon 3200 found in most Neo machines. While not exactly a powerful solution, it's a sight better than Intel's alternatives, and intense Full HD video playback is certainly no problem for this ThinkPad – a good thing considering it 1,366 x 768 screen gives you more detail than you get from most netbooks. However, 3D gaming won't be on the cards, with frame rates for our standard TrackMania Nations Forever test in the single digits.