Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Vs. ThinkPad X230 Comparison

If you’re looking for an ultraportable business notebook from Lenovo then the X-series is the place to look, and amongst the X-series the two stand out offerings for serious users are the X230 and X1 Carbon (X1C).  The X230 is simply an evolution of a long line of past ThinkPad X notebooks stretching back over a decade while the X1 Carbon is a newer style offering that’s origins can be traced back to the ThinkPad X300 released in 2008.  The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is the thinnest and lightest 14-inch laptop on the market and at 3lbs actually weighs less than the 12.5” screen ThinkPad X230, a pretty amazing feat.  However, the X1 Carbon does give up some features to stay thin, but are those features important to you?  In this article we summarize the similarities and differences of each model.

Before going on, here are links to the two models being compared on Lenovo.com:

Screen Differences

ThinkPad X1 Carbon and ThinkPad X230

One major difference between the ThinkPad X230 and X1 Carbon is the screen size and resolution.  The X230 has a 12.5” 1366 x 768 screen while the X1C has a 14” 1600 x 900 resolution screen.  The higher resolution screen on the X1C means you can fit more on the screen, and given it is 14” in size the icons and text are still a comfortable size to read.  Aside from the size and resolution difference, the other notable variation is that the X230 can be had with a Premium IPS display that has 300-nits brightness, while the X1 Carbon does not offer an IPS display but has a brighter 400-nits display.  IPS is good for wide viewing angles and very accurate colors, the upgrade to IPS on the X230 is only $50 and is well worth it.  The brightness on the X1C is great and almost good enough for outdoor viewing and the viewing angles on the X1 Carbon screen are not bad, but it is not IPS quality like on the X230.  To see a demonstration of the ThinkPad X230 Vs. X1 Carbon screen I  posted the following video to YouTube (note, an X220 is actually used for demo purposes, but it uses the same panel as the current X230):

ThinkPad Carbon X1 Vs. ThinkPad X230 screen comparison

For some the higher resolution and larger size screen of the ThinkPad X1C will be preferential over the X230, but others that insist on IPS quality viewing angles and color reproduction will weight this in favor of the X230.  It really depends on your usage patterns and what your needs are as to which screen is more beneficial.  Those that do a lot of reading and like to fit more text on the screen could lean towards the X1 Carbon for its higher resolution and ability to fit two windows at once.  Those into photography and getting accurate colors will see the X230’s IPS screen as a major benefit.

Performance Differences

Many people assume that since the X230 is an ultraportable it uses an undervolted or a lower power processor.  This is not the case, it uses a fully fledged Intel Core i5 or i7 3rd Generation (Ivy Bridge) processor and can perform just as well as much larger sized 15” mainstream laptops.  Meanwhile, the X1 Carbon uses an undervolted Core i5 or i7 processor to keep temperatures down in its thin body, this will still perform well for any common business program but it is not as powerful as the regular processors in the X230.

The X230 can be configured with either a large capacity regular hard drive while the X1 Carbon comes standard with an internal SSD for high performance but limited capacity of up to 256GB.  The SSD on the X1 does make for snappy bootup and fast loading of applications, but if you’re a file hog with giant sized media files that storage capacity will fill up quickly – indeed with the 128GB SSD there’s only around 60GB of space remaining after the OS, recovery image and Lenovo applications have been put on there.  Meanwhile the X230 has the flexibility of offering use of an mSATA SSD (mini SSD) via the internal PCI Express slot and a regular HD at the same time, you can put the OS on the SSD for fast bootup and all your media files on the standard platter drive for the cheap and abundant storage.

Neither model has the option for dedicated graphics, but the Intel HD 4000 graphics should suffice for light gaming.  For most business users, gaming is an afterthought or non-consideration.  Overall, the X230 has the capability of being configured with faster specs and could outperform the X1 Carbon if an SSD is put on board the X230, otherwise the SSD on the X1 Carbon serves as a major performance advantage and one that comes standard.

I/O Port Selection Differences

The X230 and its thicker body housing allows for all the typical ports you’d want as a business user, meanwhile some compromises are made with the X1 Carbon to keep it thin.  Here’s a comparison of the ports you get on each laptop:

ThinkPad X230 Ports

  • Mini DisplayPort with audio
  • VGA monitor out
  • Ethernet RJ-45
  • (2) USB 3.0
  • (1) Always on USB 2.0
  • (1) 3.5mm Combo Jack Headphone/MIC
  • 4-in-1 SD Card Reader (SD/SDHC/SDXC/MMC slot)
  • Express Card 34mm
  • Smart Card Reader (Optional)
ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ports

  • (1) USB 3.0
  • (1) USB 2.0 (Powered)
  • Mini DisplayPort
  • Combo Headphone/Microphone Jack
  • SD Card Reader

If you want to expand the ports selection on the ThinkPad X230 you can get a proper docking station such as the Ultrabase Series 3.  The ThinkPad X1 Carbon does not offer a docking port connector, but you can use something like the Lenovo ThinkPad USB 3.0 Dock to help expand ports, it simply allows you to connect to the dock via USB 3.0 and expand the number of ports.  It does not offer benefits such as being able to power the laptop via the dock.

Weight Difference

This is where the X1 Carbon shines, its weight is only 3lbs while the X230 has a weight of 3.3lbs with the standard 6-cell battery.   This means the significantly larger screened X1C is lighter than the X230 by 0.3lbs.  For those that want the 14-inch form factor and feel that 12.5” is just too small a screen, this is a check in the plus column for the X1 Carbon when comparing it to the X230.  However, it’s only a 0.3lbs difference and must of us won’t feel that difference if you’re just adding it to a bag.

Size and Thickness Differences (Dimensions)

The X230 is smaller in terms of footprint size (less wide and deep) than the X1 Carbon, but it is thicker. Here are the exact dimensions for both models:

  • X230 – 12.0” x 8.13” x 0.75” – 1.36” (width x depth x height)
  • X1 Carbon – 13.0” x 8.9” x .31” – .74” (Rear) (width x depth x height)

The X1 Carbon at its thickest point (0.75”) is still thinner than the X230.  The X230 isn’t really all that thin, with a max thickness of 1.36” it’s somewhat chunky at the back relative to other laptops its size.  Still, both laptops will fit comfortably on an airplane tray and the thinness of the X1 Carbon is a benefit only if you like the look and are really tight on space in your bag.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Both the X230 and X1C use a chiclet style keyboard with six rows of keys that all ThinkPads have switched to.  The travel distance on the keys of the X1 Carbon does not quite match that seen on the X230, so the feel is different and not quite what ThinkPad users are used to.  It’s still the best keyboard in the Ultrabook market, but given the limited space Lenovo has to fit the keyboard in some compromises were made – it is also not a removable keyboard like all other ThinkPads are for instance.

Both laptops come with a backlit keyboard, it’s a standard feature on the X1 Carbon a $40 upgrade for the X230.  Both also have the red pointing stick, a popular feature in the business world of computing.

The touchpad on the X1 Carbon is huge, it measures 4” in width and 2.5” from top to bottom.  It is a clickpad style touchpad meaning you can push down anywhere to register a left click.  The touchpad is made of glass on the X1C so it is very easy to run your finger over.  Overall, it’s one of the best touchpads in the industry.  Meanwhile the touchpad on the X230 is rather small as there is limited space for it.  Those that favor the touchpad over a pointing stick for input might see this as an advantage for the X1 Carbon.

Ease of Upgrades

This is where the X1 Carbon just flubs the test, it’s not upgradeable really in any way.  After you purchase that’s it, there’s no adding more RAM or switching hard drives.  For many ThinkPad users this is hard to swallow because the brand has always been about ease of upgrades and the ability to tinker with and tweak your system.  The X1 Carbon keyboard is sealed and many components are soldered in, a necessary move to keep thinness down.  The battery is non-removable on the X1C.  The X230 meanwhile offers easy access to the hard drive, memory, PCI Express slot, battery and essentially any part of the machine you’d want to access.

Price

We can’t go without mentioning price as it’s a huge factor and probably the biggest one for most buyers.  The X1 Carbon starts at $1,329 at this time on Lenovo.com and the X230 starts at $679 with a low end configuration.  The gap in price is pretty huge, obviously more X230 models will sell just because of this fact alone.  Discriminating buyers and those that really crave thin, new and cool technology will shell out for the X1 Carbon.  Stick in the mud practical business users who calculate a price to feature ratio will probably choose the X230 almost every time.

Conclusion

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is obviously the halo product from Lenovo, one that they put out there to show their engineering prowess and what they can really do when they push the envelope.  It’s one of the best Ultrabooks on the market, and certainly the best business oriented Ultrabook.  However, with that said Lenovo did not overcome the common drawback of Ultrabooks – the impossibility of upgrades and no true docking station solution (the ThinkPad USB 3.0 dock is a port replicator, despite its name).  There’s a ton to like about the X1 Carbon, but the high price relative to the ThinkPad X230 and lack of standard ThinkPad features will ensure the X230 remains firmly at the top of the purchase popularity list for ThinkPads.

Interested in Purchasing this Lenovo ThinkPad Laptop?

Here are the country specific links to Lenovo.com with current deals!



3 Responses to Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Vs. ThinkPad X230 Comparison

  1. Jonathan September 12, 2012 at 5:25 am #

    I think the X1 Carbon actually has more color gamut than the X230’s IPS screen, making the X1C the better photo editor. [Bummer.]

    Two questions:

    First, I’ve read on the Lenovo forums that replacing the WWAN card is no longer allowed under warranty for the X230. Would adding an mSATA SSD void the warranty?

    Second, do the X230 and X1C run hot, when gaming or benchmarking? I’ve read that Ivy Bridge runs hotter than Sandy Bridge. The HD 4000 graphics are reasonably better than my i7-2620m, but my i7 runs hot enough to throttle itself if I leave it cranked up to high. It’s nice to know the power is there, but I want to be able to use my CPU at full speed for hours on end. Are the newer laptops capable of long-term stress, or are they the same as usual?

    • Andrew Baxter September 12, 2012 at 11:45 am #

      wow, I’d like to know the logic behind why a WWAN card user install would void the warranty if it’s simply an internal slot made for upgrades and user accessible. I had not heard it would void the warranty, maybe that’s if it involves a model that was not selected as WWAN upgradeable and you don’t have antennas in and need to install those? And if you put in an mSATA SSD and something goes wrong with other parts of the laptop, really, how hard is it to take out without leaving trace of the upgrade (unless you’re a clutz and busted the slot up on installation somehow)? Granted, the pia factor may be high if the OS is on there to restore and send back the machine, but doable. To access the mSATA slot you do need to remove the keyboard, but that’s not too hard, just involves removing six screws on the underside of the laptop and then popping off the keyboard and palmrests.

      The X1C does run hot when benchmarking, pretty uncomfortable in the lap at that time though I didn’t take exact temperature measurements of the surface it had to be over 100F. The X230 has more space and a larger copper vent and fan so the issue is not nearly as bad.

      As far as throttling, it didn’t happen to me during usage with either of these machines, but manufacturers might set the temperature throttle level to different levels. I know Asus has a low bar and some users are getting frustrated with a couple of models that seem to throttle at moderate temperatures, the G series in particular, and Asus won’t offer a BIOS update that remedies or makes an override.

  2. ZaZ September 18, 2012 at 6:01 am #

    I agree the X230 is a more versatile well-rounded notebook. The two main things the X1C has going for it are it’s thin, which is overrated for portability in my opinion, and the HD+ screen. The X230 and X1c are pretty close in weight, which is the biggest factor for portability. I think you could also argue as screen have become more squat, bumping up the screen resolution is not as valuable. Most of the space comes on the sides, but typical notebook usage like Office and Internet benefits more from vertical resolution. With a 125 pixel density, text will be actually larger on the X230 than the X1C, making it easier to read. When you factor in those slight advantages the X1C brings versus the multitude of features the X230 has and the X1C cannot match like the better battery life, dual hard drives, better screen and keyboard, replaceable, replaceable, much less expensive., etc., make it a better proposition for most buyers.

    Count me in as skeptic that replacing the WWAN card now void the warranty.

Leave a Reply