Why I won’t be buying a Lenovo X41 Tablet PC

Those of you that have been reading this blog for a while know that Lenovo generously loaned me one of their hot new X41 Tablet PC notebook computers to try out for a few months, and that my experiences have been mixed. I really like the form factor (what’s not to like about a 3lb computer?) and I am highly impressed with Windows for Tablet PC, but after spending a few months with the X41 system, I’m ready to send it back to Lenovo.
There are a number of problems I’ve encountered with the unit, but none greater than the performance issue. My expectations of an ultralight are obviously less than a full-size PC laptop, but the performance of the Lenovo X41 is really quite terrible, and the battery performance is even worse. Some of these issues might well be to do with the settings of the computer, but I’m quite a savvy technologist and have spent hours tweaking and tuning the system for the best possible results.
And yet…

Here are just a few examples of the problems I’ve seen with the Lenovo X41 Tablet PC:
Last night I was using the system and put it into “standby mode” when I was done. I checked the battery meter on the Taskbar and it indicated that it had a 76% charge. This morning, no more than 12 hours later, I woke the X41 up and was surprised and distressed to see that it had dropped down to 53% charge. That’s right, having the system sleep had consumed almost 25% of the battery charge overnight. And yes, I checked, it was definitely asleep when I put it down last night (there are status lights that make it obvious if it’s in standby mode or not).
I was also at the Consumer Electronics Show last week and left the X41 on my desk for a week. When I returned and tried to restart it, the battery was completely drained, as I would expect, but unlike other laptops, plugging it into the wall was insufficient for me to be able to restart the computer. I had to let it charge for at least 30 minutes before it would actually start up.
Oh, and while I’m talking about power issues, I have never had a laptop that had an alarm klaxon to warn you when the battery is about to die. The first time I heard it I thought the fire alarm in my office had been triggered (it’s that loud). A weird design feature, if you ask me.
While the battery may not be ideal, the key thing that’s driven me batty with the Lenovo X41 Tablet PC is the overall performance of the system. Once the system is all running properly it’s not too bad, but waking up from it being in standby is out and out painful. I have woken up the system and watched as it took ten to fifteen minutes before the applications were responsive to events. Even when the stars are all aligned just so, the fastest wake from standby is still a few minutes long on the unit.
I thought that perhaps there were issues with viruses or spyware, since I didn’t recall it being so slow when I first got the unit from Lenovo, but after having run a raft of different troubleshooting utilities, I couldn’t find anything that’s wrong with the unit. Sure the X41 checks in with IBM, Norton checks in for updates, Spy Sweeper checks in for updates and even Windows XP for Tablet PC checks in to see if there’s anything new, but really, how long should that take and why would that leave the computer disabled until they’d all completed?
In the end, I am not impressed with the usability of the X41 Tablet PC and am not going to buy a unit for my office after all. I am quite impressed with Windows for Tablet PC, however, and will try to find another ultralightweight unit that has better battery life and higher performance, but until then, I’ll have to go back to my trusty Apple PowerBook. And dream of when the MacBook Pro has a Tablet option.
Background reading on my experiences with the Lenovo X41 Tablet PC:
  • Lenovo X41 Tablet PC: One Month Later
  • Tablet PC Handwriting Recognition is Superb
  • Lenovo X41 Tablet PC: I’m Not Impressed

27 comments on “Why I won’t be buying a Lenovo X41 Tablet PC

  1. Dave:
    I’m using an X41 tablet pc and I have not experienced any of the problems you are. In fact, I’m quite pleased with the peformance. It is not an 2.0ghz M200, but I can tell you it is quite zippy.
    two things I have found that helps – make sure that your battery settings set to either adaptive or highest. When running on battery, the x41 defaults to low. You can change it though. The other thing I’ve found is defrags. For some reason, I’ve noticed that the harddrive gets fragmented much quicker.
    Rob Bushway
    Tablet MVP
    Colorado Springs

  2. Thanks for the tips, Rob, but I have to say, I’ve been using computers for years and I just can’t believe that I need to defrag this laptop after only a few months of use. It was, as far as I know, a pristine install when Lenovo sent it to me.

  3. Whew! Thank goodness! I was beginning to think I was the lone voice of sanity. I too have been using the media darling Thinkpad X41 for a few months and quickly found myself underwhelmed. Yet everywhere I look, there’s nothing but the highest of praises being sung for the X41.
    The X41 simply has far too many tradeoffs to make it a good bang-for-the-buck value either as a notebook or a tablet PC. The X41 is sluggish even with the RAM bumped to a gig and the keyboard – the entire reason for buying a ‘vert – is no marvel either. I consider the lack of a Windows key on any post-circa-1995 keyboard to be a dealbreaker. Additionally, the Function key is exactly where the Control key should be – another big problem if you particularly keyboard-centric – and again, why else would you be spending the extra money on a convertible tablet if not for the keyboard?
    Then there’s that silly TrackPoint nub instead of the standard touchpad interface that nearly all notebooks offer. I know that this is just a personal preference niggle, but even the greenest of PC users have at least a cursory familiarity with notebook touchpads, whereas the TrackPoint feels quite foreign. Most newcomers – and even some veteran users – seem to have a tough time getting comfortable with the TrackPoint interface.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of tablet PCs. But I advise that if you need a notebook PC, get a notebook PC. If your intent is to get a tablet, you should go with a “slate” (I’d encourage you to try a Motion Computing model.) and embrace the tablet UI.
    You can always hook up a compact USB keyboard and even a nice optical mouse if you’re in a pinch to do some hardcore data entry.

  4. You’re not the only one who is underwhelmed by the X4. I’e commented about it in numerous other places, I support five or six of these and all of them are darn slow, esp when compared to a 1.1 GHZ TC1100. Unfortunately, it appears that Rob’s experience is the exception, not the rule. I consider the X41 to be a version one product and look forward to the next version to be a much better performer.

  5. I’ll weigh in on the positive side. I’ve been using mine for six months and love it. I’ve fiddled plenty with sleep vs. hybernate vs. shut down and found that I can put it in the right mode depending on the situation. I had a weird “slow wake up from sleep” problem for a few weeks – it magically went away. Today when it looks like it’s in a “deep sleep”, I press the on button (not long enough to reset) and it wakes right up.
    Quirky – yes – but most laptops that I’ve used are in and around sleep mode.

  6. Dave,
    Whew. Saved me. I have been an ardent user of the x series (x20,30) and now my x40 which performs great- I do have the extended battery and it’s fully loaded. I love the light weight (especially compared to my Alienware monster gaming thing) but was considering going to the x41. I think I’ll wait.
    -Wayne Porter

  7. I like mine. I added some ram and took off most of the IBM stuff that is preloaded. I find that sometimes the windows updates create problems but IBM is quick to generate updates that solve those problems. I dont think anyone else has a product on the market that is close (features and weight) so, I am personally willing to tweak it a bit to make it work. I give the x41 a strong recommendation and suggest you remove as much of the preloaded stuff off as possible.
    good luck

  8. i’ve almost the exact problems you have been encountering. even though i have purchased the longer life battery, (that claimed it had up to 5 hours of energy,)with nothing running, the battery runs out in less than 2 and a half hours. and i’ve the EXACT problem when up the system, it takes MORE than 15 minutes. and many more similar problems. is there any way to fix it, or do i just have to buy a better and experienced laptop?

  9. I just got a used Thinkpad X41 Tablet for my research project, and I have exactly the same problems. I am not sure adding RAM will solve the issue. My old X22 with 256MB was way more smooth than this one. Mouse is showing choppy behavior nearly 30% of the times. Startup time is about 5-10minutes. I am not sure if it is because of 1.8 harddisk drive since the difference between 15ms and 12ms shouldn’t be that much… I cleaned the fresh recovery system from lots of IBM software, reduced the process number by 10, but still it is way slower than a usable machine should be… 🙁 I was expecting a lot from this machine… Sad story.

  10. I added 1GB RAM to my system and it works a lot faster now.I reconfigured the system to utilize RAM for cache so it doesn’t get stuck because of hard disk access. Another thing I noticed is that the CPU speed was stuck at about 300MHz -you see there is a big difference between 300MHz and 1.5GHz! You should all check this out, too. Now my system is doing great!

  11. I have had a terrible experience with the X41 tablet until I reformatted and installed Ubuntu on here. Not only was I able to retain nearly every feature (barring handwriting recognition, which was pretty bad under windows anyway), but everything runs really smoothly! I’m amazed how much more this processor and the minuscule amounts of ram can do under linux.

  12. I would never go to a powerbook from the x41 tablet, mainly because of the weight with either battery (especially the four cell), battery performance has been great for me even after upgrading to vista and also upgrading RAM to 1.5 GB, and overall satisfaction with the system. Granted, the hard drive is slow and start up time pales in comparison to many models, if you disable many of the startup and useless IBM bloat software you should be able to speed up the system considerably. In fact, my brother just received his x61 tablet and I was trying to improve the performance for him before he left to med school because it came with all IBM’s preinstalled software which he really doesn’t need. The system was possibly as slow initially as my x41 tablet, even though he has 3GB RAM, on a 1.8Ghz core 2 duo, 7200 rpm hard drive. Ok that’s an exaggeration, but performance can be tweaked. But the problems of battery life I’d have to assume are defective units. If only I could justify buying a new tablet…

  13. If you are such a “savvy technologist” you should have known that your x41 could be used without the battery. If your battery is completely dead, remove the battery and plug the power cord into the x41. The x41 functions perfectly WITHOUT a battery using the provided power cord and brick transformer. If your X41 didn’t function properly using direct power, then you had a bad computer. Furthermore, it’s redundant to be running both Norton’s Security Suit and Spy Sweeper because Norton’s provides spy ware monitoring and removing capability just like Spy Sweeper and having two scanners running on your tablet will cause a performance hit. Last, a “savvy technologist” would have used a Linux operating system on the X41 instead of windows! The X41 is lightening fast under Ubuntu or Debian! However, that solution might be out of your “tech savvy” comfort zone.

  14. You do realize, “Ubuntu Warrior”, that comments like yours are why so many people don’t want to try out a new operating system like Linux, whether it’s the Ubuntu flavor or something else, right? Hostility and sarcasm are the lowest form of discussion, in my opinion.
    Tell me again the point of having a laptop where you pull out the battery? I don’t want to learn about battery subsystems, I just want electronics that work and meet my needs as a user.
    And in terms of my OS comfort zone, really, you have no idea what I’ve used and how long I’ve been around in the Unix/Linux space. I’ll just point out that I’m one of the contributors to BSD 4.4 Unix, an important precursor to the entire Linux world, and used to hang out with Dennis Ritchie, Brian Kernighan, Eric Allman and Kirk McKusick, among many others.
    Please, blogs work a lot better when people leave constructive, positive comments that help improve the discourse and explain subtle, confusing or omitted points to everyone else who reads the entry.
    Snarky criticism just doesn’t really contribute much, does it?

  15. I know that this isn’t a constructive comment either, but man. ‘Ubuntu Warrior’, you have just been destroyed. How do you come to “The Dave Taylor”‘s website and tell him he isn’t tech savvy. Really? That is just embarrassing for you and funny for the rest of us.
    Read up on some of your UNIX history. “Ubuntu Warrior”….. Hahahha

  16. I am here in the middle of nowhere, a writer for a travel website, using a lenovo x41 graciously donated to the emergency of my Macbook’s untimely and devastating death resulting in the presumed loss of 6 month’s work. I googled lenovo x41 problems to see if it might be an appropriate choice to replace my hated, evil Mac. I love the tiny size- and light weight (hey, MAC, lose some weight). but it is slow, I hate the mouse, and I agree about the battery. However, it seems like I should look elsewhere, as a more tech savvy person once referred to me as a Dementor when it comes to computers. I think I am not up to all the fiddling and tweaking you are all talking about.
    But, please, you guys seem to be the kings-
    which computer should I get?
    small size, light weight, good battery life, reliable operating system, good support, Not vista- and no need to rely on “geniuses” that, simply aren’t.

  17. I have owned the X41t for 3 years now, and have lived with its quirks. Most of its issues are the really slow hard disk. I just upgraded it to a solid state disk (SSD) from KingSpec, and it is a completely different machine. I had been thinking about replacing it, but now I think I’ll get another couple of years usage out of it. I bought it from the seller ventures_cn1 on ebay. Just search ebay for X41t SSD, and you will find it.

  18. I must say that I’ve stuck with my X41 Tablet (by IBM) for about 5 years now and do really love it. I really don’t use the tablet side that much (if at all anymore). I did find that purchasing the larger battery was MUCH better than the small battery (which claimed to have about 3+ hours of use). The larger battey gives me about 5-6+ hours of use. I also upgraded the RAM to it’s limit of 1.5 GB which did help (from its’ initial 512 MB).
    I did install (and still running) Windows 7 about 5 months ago. That definitly breathed new life into the X41. The only other thing I’m researching is replacing the hard drive with an SSD drive (64 or 128 GB). I and researching the motherboard throughput to the PATA connection to see if it’s worth it. I may see improved boot times and access times by about 1/2 (which is really good for a 5 year old laptop). That should allow this laptop to keep humming along for another few years.
    All in all – I love this little laptop – it’s been the most relialble laptop I’ve ever worked with.

  19. I have had a terrible experience with the X41 tablet until I reformatted and installed Ubuntu on here. Not only was I able to retain nearly every feature (barring handwriting recognition, which was pretty bad under windows anyway), but everything runs really smoothly! I’m amazed how much more this processor and the minuscule amounts of ram can do under linux.

  20. X41 accepts a 2GB DDR2 stick. So, the maximum RAM size is 2GB (the 512mb onboard will not be accessible).
    The is a very fast and reliable machine but sadly the hard drive is the real bottle neck. Once, you replace it with an SSD, it will become a different machine (faster than any netbooks available in the market). RAM is also important. In your case, the ram of 512mb is not enough. So, the system simulates virtual ram on the slow hard drive. That even made things worse. Its a great machine even comparing with today (2010) ultraportables.

  21. The real secret that many people do not know is that the X41 Tablet has an “IPS” lcd panel (same as what Apple uses in their high-end monitors). Its viewable on all angles and the contrast is unbelievably great. Its totally different than the lcd used in the regulat x40 and x41(non-tablet).

  22. Rob
    I will be polite and direct.
    I don’t know how you work on your computers as you only mentioned that you work in the field.
    I however i live quite aggressively and travel alot in to unpredictable environments, homeless shelters,mountains,bridges, friends houses, and odd structures.
    You bought this laptop for an office .
    Is your office accountable to government agencies such as the FAA ?
    Do your Fellow employees Travel a lot and require a reliable laptop and extra security features .
    Is your Apple product qualified for running The international space stations oxygen system ?
    The reason behind buying a thinkpad is the lack of flash and the added benefit of rugged technology for hard core users such as my self.
    I need that hardware based Klaxon horn blaring at me to warn me .
    my battery is dying when im running a experimental os.
    What if i had critical things running and i fell asleep ?
    I need the track point and the touch pad and as many inputs as possible in case one breaks .
    Have you ever tried to use a laptop with a broken touch pad ?
    In my honest opinion I belive Thinkpads are 3rd in worlds best laptops.
    1 General Dynamics
    2 Panasonic toughbooks
    3 IBM thinkpads
    So your conclusion is valid for your office.
    Not so good for my office and people of my like.

  23. I’ve been using this laptop for 1.5yrs now after I bought one off ebay for a measly $220. I spent $20 to upgrade the ram to 2GB and $90 for a 64GB SSD after selling the old 40GB that goes for a good amount on ebay due to its unique form factor.
    I have a Core2Quad desktop running at 3.4GHz with 4GB DDR3 at home and this laptop actually runs FASTER than my home desktop for everything short of 3D gaming and HD videos due to the snappy SSD.
    I think your issue maybe with the bloated stock install with all of the IBM software. When I first got my tablet, it chugged along. Soon after, I formatted and did a clean install of Win7. The thing flew afterwards, even before my SSD upgrade. As long as you have enough RAM, there really isn’t too many daily usage programs out there that can cap a 1.5GHz Pentium-M’s power. It’s still a heck of a lot more powerful than a netbook. Then the only performance hinderance would be the turtle 4200RPM drive which you can easily swap out for a SSD nowadays.
    And there is definitely something wrong with your computer if you weren’t able to start it up with the power plugged in directly to the wall regardless of what charge level your battery is at.
    “Tech savvy” or not, I find your blog post a clear PEBKAC error.

  24. Thanks for your note, Mike. It’s good to hear that you went through rather a lot of effort to turn the stock X41 into a functional device for you but that you did indeed succeed and have been a happy owner for over a year.
    Why you end by insulting me, however, is unclear. I suggest to you that your sarcastic attitude ultimately colors your comment and is an obstacle in the way of a discussion of how vendors should ship clean installs of operating systems instead of systems bogged down with bloatware.

  25. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of tablet PCs. But I advise that if you need a notebook PC, get a notebook PC. If your intent is to get a tablet, you should go with a slate.

  26. Hi Mike,
    Would you like please to give me more information about SSD you’ve used. I’m still use this tablet for outdoor work. But, It look get a problem with the unique hard disk.

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