As already mentioned, you can go either the AMD or Intel routes with Lenovo’s ThinkPad X121e. For AMD you get the choice between a dual-core Fusion 1GHz C-50 or 1.6GHz E-350 CPU. Both will give you netbook-like performance, meaning they’re adequate if you don’t plan on doing heavy multi-tasking or running intensive applications. They’ll manage general productivity and HD video just fine though. For an indication of the kind of performance you can expect, have a read of our Toshiba NB550D review, which at under £300 also makes for an interesting alternative if you don’t mind the smaller, lower-rez screen.
Back to our Intel version, the only choice is a Core i3-2357M running at a fixed 1.3GHz, which lacks the Turbo Clocking or HyperThreading of its Core i5 and i7 brethren. While this will be adequate for many users, those who regularly run demanding software or like to keep several apps open at once might find performance rather sluggish. The lower CPU performance also tells in games, with Intel’s integrated graphics only managing 27fps in our standard TrackMania Nations Forever test at 720p and Medium detail.
At least you don’t have to worry about memory as the X121e comes with the standard complement of 4GB and can be upgraded to a whopping 8 GB when buying direct from Lenovo. The 320GB hard drive isn't the most capacious available but it’s of the fast 7,200rpm variety rather than the more common 5,400rpm drives you’ll find in most budget laptops. It's also a standard drive so can be swapped out with either a larger drive or an SSD, and again Lenovo do offer the option - if you have £240 to spare for a 128GB SSD, which you could buy for £140 yourself.
It’s also worth mentioning that the included software is Windows Professional rather than the usual Home Premium, yet another value-add to what is already an excellent machine for the money.
Last but not least there’s battery life to consider, and here the X121e passes without mishap, as its 5,160mAh battery lasted over five and a half hours. And remember that the battery here is easily interchangeable, so you can bring a spare to effectively double your time away from a socket.
Frankly, for everything Lenovo manages to pack into its 11.6in ThinkPad, the starting price of £330 is ridiculously cheap, and the £510 for our sample config is still truly excellent value considering that upgrades you not only to Core i3 but also 3G. Admittedly that’s just £50 short of getting a Core i3 version of a sleek and sexy 13in number like the Toshiba Satellite R830, but the X121e offers a far nicer typing experience, more rugged chassis, better screen and 3G. There’s far less choice in the affordable 11.6in segment than 13.3in, and as such this Lenovo is one of the better bargains going.
The 11.6in X121e preserves the ThinkPad brand’s reputation for rock-solid build quality and excellent ergonomics, and throws in a decent screen, well-placed connectivity and good battery life to boot. Frankly, it’s difficult to see how Lenovo achieved all this in a machine starting at £330, though we’d probably go for the 3G-sporting Core i3 version at just £510. Regardless, whether you’re looking for a large netbook or a versatile budget ultraportable, the X121e should be near the top of your list.