Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 Review: Fast but not flawless

Lenovo’s most potent non-workstation ThinkPad is the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, formerly a 15-inch laptop that served as a formidable competitor to the Dell XPS 15 and other powerful laptops in the class. You’ll find the fastest components and the most aggressive thermal designs in the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, something that Lenovo has taken to the max with the fourth generation.

In addition to adding power, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 has joined the taller display movement, incorporating a slightly larger 16-inch 16:10 display while managing to fit it into roughly the same size chassis as the previous generation.

I reviewed a ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 with the Intel Core i7-11800H and Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060, which costs $2,095. You can also choose up to a Core i9-11950H with vPro and an RTX 3080, further improving the laptop’s theoretical performance and pushing it beyond even the formidable Dell XPS 17 in terms of sheer power. As I discovered in this review, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 is a fast, premium laptop — but according to my tests, it has some performance weaknesses that steal some of its clout.

Jump to: Design | Performance | Display | Keyboard and touchpad | Battery life | Our take

Design

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 was 14.24 inches by 9.67 inches by .72 inches and weighed 3.75 pounds. The new Gen 4 model is 14.13 inches by 9.99 inches by 0.70 inches and weighs 3.99 pounds. Other than adding a tiny bit of depth thanks to the taller display and a quarter of a pound in weight, Lenovo did what it set out to do: pack a 16:10 16-inch display into the same size chassis as the previous 15.6-inch generation.

The thing is, that still makes it much larger than the Dell XPS 15, which comes in at 13.57 inches by 9.06 inches by 0.71 inches and a slightly heavier 4.22 pounds. Put the two side-by-side, and the ThinkPad seems huge by comparison. It’s mainly because of the larger bezels on the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4, which lend an old-school appearance even with the modern taller display. A new competitor, the MSI Creator Z16, also sports a 16:10 16-inch display, and it’s 14.13 inches by 10.08 inches by 0.64 inches and a much heavier 5.07 pounds. Its bezels are a bit smaller than the ThinkPad’s, but it’s still deeper — go figure.

All in all, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 looks like a large laptop but doesn’t feel like one thanks to its light weight. It’s constructed of aluminum alloy on the bottom chassis (with some plastic parts) and incorporates four layers of reinforced carbon fiber in the lid. I’m not sure how Lenovo kept the weight down without using magnesium alloy, but they managed to do so, and the laptop feels great in hand. It incorporates the ThinkPad’s usual soft-touch coating and is extremely comfortable to hold.

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 looks like, well, a ThinkPad.

It’s also quite rigid, with just the slightest bend in the lid if you try hard enough and with no give in the keyboard deck or chassis bottom. The Dell XPS 15 is rigid all around and so feels more solid, but there’s not a significant difference. The Gen 4 model is at least as robust as the Gen 3 was, landing it among the class leaders in build quality — and it offers the usual MIL-STD 810g certification for robustness.

Aesthetically, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 looks like, well, a ThinkPad. It’s all-black with just a few red accents in the X1 logo on the lid, the red LED dot on the “i” in the ThinkPad logo, the red TrackPoint nubbin in the center of the keyboard, and accents along the edges of the TrackPoint buttons. My review unit came with the WQXGA (2,560 x 1,600) resolution display and so its lid was plain black.

Choose one of the 4K+ WQUXGA (3,840 x 2,400) displays, and you get a carbon fiber weave to add some panache to the lid. Overall, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 has an attractive and bold look, and if you like the ThinkPad aesthetic then you’ll like this one. The XPS 15 appears more modern and streamlined and more attractive overall, especially with the white glass fiber keyboard deck, but the ThinkPad aims for its own look and feel, and achieves it.

The MSI Creator Z16 has a more straightforward aesthetic in the chassis. Still, it incorporates RGB lighting in the keyboard, making it the polar opposite of the conservative ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4, at least when you open the lid and the keyboard lighting turns on.

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Charging plugin, 2 micro USB ports, HDMI port, and headphone jack on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4.Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Hinges on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 aptop.Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 ports: SD card slot and 2 USB ports.Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Connectivity remains a strength, with a proprietary power connector (supporting a 230-watt power adapter), two USB-C with Thunderbolt 4 ports, a full-size HDMI 2.0 or 2.1 (depending on the model) port, and a 3.5mm audio jack on the left side, and two USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports and a full-size SD card reader on the right side. Wireless connectivity is provided by the latest and fastest Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2, and you can configure WWAN support via an optional nano-SIM slot.

Performance

Lenovo wasn’t messing around when it designed the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4’s performance profile. You can configure up to a Core i9-11950H with vPro in the CPU department and up to an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Max-Q in the GPU department. There’s not another 15- or 16-inch laptop that I’m aware of that’s as powerful outside of gaming machines.

My review unit equipped a Core i7-11800H and an RTX 3060, making it more potent than the Dell XPS 15 and identical to the MSI Creator Z16. Unfortunately, Lenovo sent me a machine with just one 16GB RAM stick installed, limiting the memory to single-channel performance. As we’ll see, that had an impact that wasn’t immediately obvious.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4.

In Geekbench 5, the ThinkPad performed well enough, just slightly behind the MSI Creator Z16 and the Dell XPS 15. It beat the MSI and the Dell in our Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video as H.265 by a few seconds. And it also came out ahead of the XPS 15 and the Z16 in Cinebench R23 by a more significant margin. So far, so good. Only the Lenovo Legion 5 Pro with its Ryzen 7 5800H — a speedy processor for CPU-intensive tasks — stood out in our comparison group.

In PCMark 10, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 was in the middle, faster than the XPS 15 but slower than the Z16. It kept up in the Essentials and Productivity portions of the test but fell behind the MSI Creator Z16 in the Content Creation portion (but ahead of the Dell XPS 15). Again, there were no red flags in terms of performance according to the benchmarks reported so far.

If you buy this laptop, make sure you check off dual-channel RAM in the configurator.

However, when I switched to the Pugetbench benchmark that runs in Adobe Premiere Pro, things got a little weird. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 scored an extremely low 432 in this test, which uses both the CPU and GPU. The Dell XPS 15 with its Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti scored 509 in its standard mode (and 590 in its performance mode), and the MSI Creator Z16 was faster yet at 732. The ThinkPad scored particularly poorly in the Live Playback section of the test, hitting just 54.5 compared to the MSI’s 119.1 and the Dell’s 74.8.

It turned out that the single-channel RAM caused such a low score in this benchmark. Lenovo tested an identical machine with two 16GB RAM sticks and dual-channel memory, and it scored 642. Frankly, that’s still low for the CPU and GPU, especially with 32GB of RAM, well under the MSI Creator Z16 (also with 32GB) and just a little bit better than the XPS 15 in performance mode. But it’s better than my review unit performed. If you buy this laptop, make sure you check off dual-channel RAM in the configurator.

I was happy with the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4’s performance until I hit the Pugetbench results. This laptop is made for creators who will run CPU- and GPU-intensive applications like Premiere Pro, and the ThinkPad didn’t do as well as I expected even when configured with faster RAM performance. I have no idea how well the Core i9 version might perform, and you can up the overall performance in these apps by opting for an RTX 3070 or 3080. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 will likely be the fastest laptop among this comparison group when maxed out. But be aware that it’s not the fastest laptop compared to its competition when similarly configured. Note that you can add a second solid-state drive (SSD) to the machine for extra storage or redundancy if you opt for mirroring.

Laptop3DMark Time SpyCinebench R23Geekbench 5Handbrake(seconds)PCMark 10Fortnite
(1080p Epic)
Civilization VI (1080p Ultra)
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 (Core i7-11800H)66911519 / 104971520 / 735399625185 fps (1920 x 1200)Would not run
Dell XPS 15 OLED 2021 (Core i7-11800H)45401513 / 99791544 / 7692101602450 fps73 fps
MSI Creator Z16 (Core i7-11800H)63221444 / 96151540 / 7625103648659 fps (1920 x 1200)92 fps
Dell XPS 17 (Core i7-11800H)70391525 / 101451568 / 8801n/a620978 fps104 fps
LG Gram 16 (Core i7-1165G7)13901394 / 41371573 / 5454213482713 fpsn/a
Lenovo Legion 5 Pro (Ryzen 7 5800H)91751430 / 111951460 / 722799n/a101 fps114 fps

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 should be a good entry-level gaming machine given the RTX 3060 and fast CPU. For the most part, that’s how my testing played out. Unfortunately, the ThinkPad wouldn’t run Civilization VI without crashing, so I can’t report any results for that game. In Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 hit 53 frames per second (fps) in 1080p and high graphics, much slower than the MSI Creator Z16’s 82 fps, but that gap narrowed as I moved up in resolution and graphics. At 1600p and ultra-high graphics, the ThinkPad managed 39 fps compared to the Z16’s 45 fps.

I saw similar results with Battlefield V, where the ThinkPad achieved 69 fps at 1080p and medium graphics compared to the MSI at 81 fps, and then the ThinkPad was faster at 1600p and ultra graphics at 56 fps versus 43 fps. Finally, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 massacred the MSI Creator Z16 in Fortnite, hitting 85 fps at 1200p and epic graphics compared to 59 fps. The same disparity held for the rest of the tested resolutions and graphics settings.

You’ll find the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 to be a competent but not class-leading gaming laptop for modern titles at reasonable resolutions and graphics settings. You can probably play most games at 1600p and medium to high graphics as long as you’re willing to put up with lower frame rates or turn things down a notch, and you’ll get very playable performance. You might find some inconsistency, as I did, but overall, you’ll be able to play along with your work.

Display

The display on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 laptop.

Lenovo offers several 16:10 16-inch displays for the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4, WQXGA (2,560 x 1,600) IPS, WQUXGA (3,840 x 2,400) with Dolby Vision, and WQUXGA touch display with Dolby Vision. My review unit equipped the entry-level WQXGA display, which is better for battery life but not as sharp. As I was using the laptop during the review, I found the display a pleasure, with plenty of brightness and contrast and colors that popped but didn’t seem inaccurate. It’s not OLED, but for an IPS display, it was excellent.

My colorimeter agreed with me. It’s incredibly bright at 468 nits, well above our 300-nit threshold, which is better than the MSI Creator Z16’s IPS WQUXGA panel’s 385 nits and the Dell XPS 15’s 3.5K OLED display’s 381 nits. The ThinkPad’s contrast was very good for an IPS display at 1,240:1 (above our preferred 1000:1 contrast ratio), where the MSI was disappointing at 800:1, and the Dell was spectacular at 381,130:1 (typical OLED).

The ThinkPad also stood out among “entry-level” IPS displays in its color width at 82% of AdobeRGB and 100% of sRGB. You’ll likely get better colors with the WQUXGA options, but these numbers are good enough that creators could use this display. The MSI was better at 91% of AdobeRGB and 100% of sRGB, and the Dell was again excellent at 99% of AdobeRGB and 100% of sRGB thanks to its OLED technology. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4’s colors were also very accurate at a DeltaE of 0.81 (less than 1.0 is excellent), where the MSI came in at 0.76 and the Dell at 0.46.

Speaker on the right of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4.

The ThinkPad’s dual upward-firing speakers on each side of the keyboard put out plenty of volume when turned all the way up, and there was zero distortion. Mids and highs were clear, and there was a touch of bass. The Dell XPS 15’s quad speakers are better, but the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4’s audio system is fine for binging Netflix alone. You’ll want headphones for the best music quality, though.

Keyboard and touchpad

Pop open the lid, and you’ll find the typical ThinkPad keyboard. It has plenty of travel at 1.8mm, sculpted keys with large keycaps and good key spacing, and switches that are snappy and precise. It feels like most ThinkPad keyboards, and my one complaint is that the keys require more pressure than I like to depress. I find it more fatiguing over long typing sessions than the lighter keyboard on HP’s Spectre line or the Dell XPS 15, and I found the keyboard on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 to also have a lighter touch than I preferred. If you don’t mind — or maybe even prefer — a stiffer mechanism, then you’ll like this keyboard.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4's keyboard.

The TrackPoint nubbin in the middle of the keyboard works well, as usual, but the buttons take up the same space on the touchpad. You’ll be happy if you like that cursor control method, but I’d rather skip it and have a larger touchpad. Speaking of that, the touchpad is decently sized but nowhere near the massive version on the Dell XPS 15. It was smooth and responsive, with Microsoft Precision Touchpad support, but I wish it were larger given all that space on the palm rest.

Windows 10 Hello password-less login support is provided by a fingerprint reader embedded in the power button, which works quickly and logs you in immediately when you power up the machine. There’s an optional infrared camera for facial recognition that my review unit didn’t equip. There’s also the Lenovo ThinkShutter physical slider for webcam privacy that’s old-school compared to some electronic versions you’ll find on some other laptops like the HP Spectre, but it works.

Closeup on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 webcam.

Battery life

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 has a 90 watt-hour battery, which is a lot. The 16-inch WQXGA display should get better battery life than the UHD+ version, but the components aren’t terribly energy-efficient. Add in that other than the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9, ThinkPad battery life has been disappointing, and I wasn’t expecting too much.

In our web browsing test, the ThinkPad managed right around 7.5 hours, well under the 10 hours we like to see. Even so, that beat out the MSI Creator Z16 (also with a WQXGA display and 90 watt-hour battery) that hit just 5.3 hours. The Dell XPS 15, with its 3.5K OLED display and 84 watt-hours, was stronger at nine hours. In our video looping test that plays a local Full HD movie trailer, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 lasted for just over nine hours, again better than the MSI’s eight hours but behind the XPS 15’s 11 hours.

If you keep your workload light, you might make it to the evening, but I wouldn’t count on it.

I also ran the PCMark 10 Applications battery test, the best indication of productivity battery life. The ThinkPad went for 8.75 hours, a low score compared to the average laptop that lasts 10 hours or more on this test. The XPS 15 was worse at eight hours, and we didn’t run the MSI through this test. In the PCMark 10 Gaming battery test, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 made it to just under 90 minutes, compared to the XPS 15 at three minutes less (again, we didn’t run this test on the MSI Creator Z16). In my experience, this test demonstrates how hard a laptop works on battery rather than absolute longevity, and the ThinkPad is among those laptops that seem to keep up the speed while unplugged.

Overall, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 wasn’t a terrible battery performer, given the 16-inch WQXGA display and high-end components. It’s not likely to get you through a full day’s work on a single charge, and the power brick is rather large to carry around, but that’s the price you pay for so much power. If you keep your workload light, you might make it to the evening, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Our take

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 lives up to its title. It’s the most powerful ThinkPad you can buy and in a different class entirely than most ThinkPads intended for standard productivity performance. Given that you can configure it with a Core i9 and an RTX 3080 Max-Q, there’s not another non-gaming laptop in the same class that can compete on sheer specs along.

At the same time, performance is less than it should be, at least in the one benchmark that gives the best real-world example of the laptop’s performance in creative apps. And its gaming performance is inconsistent. If you can live with those limitations, then you’ll love the look and feel and the build quality, probably love the keyboard and touchpad, and even the entry-level display is excellent. You’ll just be a bit uncertain how the laptop will perform in your given workflow.

Are there any alternatives?

The Dell XPS 15 is a solid alternative in terms of its aesthetic and build quality, and it provides good performance and a stunning 3.5K OLED display option. It’s around the same price as configured, and so you’re giving up some performance for the XPS 15’s excellent design.

The MSI Creator Z16 is another option, offering better performance in most tests (other than a few games) but not as good battery life. It’s more expensive at $2,549 when similarly configured, but you’re getting better Premiere Pro performance that will please creators.

Finally, the Apple MacBook Pro 16 has been a solid choice in the 16-inch class, but the Intel version won’t be able to keep up with the ThinkPad, especially if you configure the Lenovo to its max. The rumored M1X MacBook Pro might be better worth consideration, though.

How long will it last?

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 is built well and should last for years of service. The components are up to date and should keep Windows 10 (and 11) humming along. The 1-year warranty is very disappointing for this class of laptop, however.

The one-year warranty is disappointing for such an expensive laptop, but at least it provides on-site service.

Should you buy it?

Yes. If you’re a ThinkPad fan and want the fastest one you can buy, then the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 won’t disappoint. If you’re not a ThinkPad fan, then your decision is a little more challenging — but in the end, this is a serviceable option compared to the competition.