The term “desktop replacement” is a bit out of fashion as a descriptor for laptops these days, if only because fewer people have desktop computers they’re trying to replace. But I struggle to think of a better term for something like Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Extreme, currently in its 4th generation.
Where other workstation-y laptops like Dell’s XPS 15 have dropped ports and offer only limited GPU options in an effort to slim down and become more mobile, the X1 Extreme still comes with a healthy selection of ports (both in number and variety) and offers GPUs all the way up to Nvidia’s RTX 3080. Its 16-inch screen is also subtly but noticeably larger than the 15.6-inch panels you’ll find in other laptops with similar speeds and weights.
(If you’re buying an X1 Extreme Gen 4, you could also check out the Lenovo P1 Gen 4, which is a workstation-branded version of an essentially identical laptop with Nvidia A- and T-series workstation GPUs in most models rather than RTX-series consumer GPUs. If you can get a P1 for cheaper than a comparable X1 Extreme, it’s a safe trade to make.)
The problem with the X1 Extreme, if you can stomach its price tag, is that it runs hot—in practice, this means you can either get good temperatures and give up some performance or get the laptop’s full performance and put up with occasionally uncomfortable temperatures. Other high-end laptops we’ve tested don’t require this trade-off. But if you can look past that detail, there’s a lot to like here.
Look, feel, screen, and ports
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 4)
Most ThinkPads use the same basic template: plain black body, comfortable scissor-switch keyboard, and a squared-off design (with varying levels of boxiness—cheaper models are boxier, and pricey models are slimmer and sleeker). The X1 Extreme mostly looks like a stretched-out X1 Carbon in the same way that the XPS 15 looks like the XPS 13 and the 16-inch MacBook Pro looks like the 14-inch version. It’s not flashy, but I’ll take nondescript-but-inoffensive over a laptop that prints non-removable logos all over itself.
Keyboard experience is subjective, but ThinkPads keyboards are some of the best in the business, with just the right combination of key travel, key firmness, and tactile feedback. It’s not the main reason to pick the X1 Extreme over the XPS 15 or MacBook Pro, but it’s a strong selling point. Whether the TrackPoint nub is something you require or something you mostly ignore will depend on you, but the large multi-touch trackpad is responsive and accurate.
If you were looking for a reason to prefer the ThinkPad to the XPS 15, though, Lenovo’s port selection might seal the deal. The X1 Extreme gives you two Thunderbolt 4 ports, a dedicated power jack, a full-size HDMI port, a pair of USB Type-A ports, and a full-size card reader. If you need to use lots of external accessories at once, the port selection is a big step up from the XPS 15, which has a card reader plus two Thunderbolt 4 ports and a USB-C port (one of which will need to be used by the laptop’s charger). It’s also a shade better than the 16-inch MacBook Pro, though trading those two USB-A ports for an additional Thunderbolt 4 port might actually be desirable depending on what you need; a Thunderbolt 4 port can become a USB-A port when it needs to, but USB-A ports can only be USB-A ports.
The ThinkPad’s 16-inch screen is also excellent—and appreciably larger-feeling than the XPS 15 9510’s 15.6-inch screen, despite how close together those numbers are. Our review unit came with the basic 2560×1600 non-touch screen, though 3840×2400 4K touch and non-touch display upgrades are also available. Even the lower-resolution screen was impressive for an IPS panel, with a 443 nit peak brightness and 1,391:1 contrast ratio (as measured by our i1 Display Studio colorimeter).
This screen also covers 100% of the sRGB color gamut, though its 81.5% DCI-P3 gamut coverage is nothing special. The OLED version of the XPS 15 we tested has superior contrast and 98.7% DCI-P3 gamut support, but given the OLED screen’s slightly grainy look and super-saturated color, we would still recommend a high-quality IPS panel for most photo and video editors.
The downside of the larger screen is that even with slim bezels, the X1 Extreme has an appreciably larger footprint than the XPS 15, about half an inch wider and nearly a full inch deeper (though both laptops start at the same 4-pound weight and are each lighter than Apple’s latest 16-inch MacBook Pro). While the XPS 15 can, with some effort, be tucked into many bags designed to hold 13-inch laptops, the X1 Extreme is long and deep enough that it won’t fit.