Hands-on with Mobile WiMAX-Enabled ThinkPad X301: Better Than a Connection Card?

It’s already one of our favorite ultraportables, but what’s it like with WiMAX inside? Today we were handed a ThinkPad X301 with Intel’s combo Wi-Fi/WiMAX adapter built in, and we had an opportunity to play with it for a few hours before we had to hop back on the train out of Baltimore. Bottom line: The speeds are good, but we found them to be slower than the Samsung XOHM ExpressCard. Check out the video for our hands-on with the X301 by the harbor and in a moving cab. Bandwidth Testing In terms of raw numbers, we saw significantly faster downlink speeds from the Samsung XOHM ExpressCard, but keep in mind that this was from a single location–inside Baltimore’s Penn Station. For this test we used speedtest.net three times and averaged the results. Also keep in mind that the Samsung card was inside a different notebook, the Sony VAIO TT series. Both the X301 and VAIO TT we tested have 1.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 processors with 4GB of RAM, but the ThinkPad has a 64GB SSD, compared to a whopping 256GB of SSD storage in the Sony’s RAID array. Surfing What does this mean in terms of the actual surfing experience? When we tried loading CNN.com, the VAIO TT with the Samsung XOHM card took 9 seconds, versus 12 seconds for the X301. However, the X301 trailed the connection card by only one second when loading nytimes.com. In our Hulu test, the Samsung card took 14 seconds to start playing an SNL video, versus 17 seconds for the X301. Bloggers will be happy to know that we got a consistent 2.7 Mbps upload speed on the X301 while near the harbor, which is very good and close to the results we saw with the Samsung card at Penn Station. Connection Time and Software One area where the X301 had the advantage is time to connect. It took us an average of 8 seconds to connect to the XOHM network on the ThinkPad X301 with embedded WiMAX, compared to an average of 12 seconds for the Samsung connection card. We also like how the X301’s connection manager combines WiMAX and Wi-Fi in a single dialog box. All you have to do is click a radio button to toggle between them. And if you outfit your X301 with cellular broadband, too, you’ll be able to manage all three connections under one window. Unfortunately, at least in our early tests, the Access Connections software wasn’t very stable. Sometimes the utility would stop working and we would have to restart it. Moving Vehicle Test To test the X301 in a moving vehicle, we tried streaming the SNL Palin-Biden debate skit. We didn’t have the bandwidth (pun intended) to do an A/B comparison between the X301 and connection card here but the X301 definitely struggled at times. We noticed several pauses during a cab ride from the Baltimore harbor to the train station. However, we saw faster download and upload speeds than at the train station, with peek speeds of 4.5 Mbps down and 2.7 up. Pretty sweet. Early Verdict Since we’ll have the X301 for 30 days, we’ll be coming back down to Baltimore to test battery life and do more extensive tests in more locations. For now though we say paying the extra $60 is worth the investment on the X301. Although the speed difference between this system and an external WiMAX connection card were dramatic in one location, the X301 performed well both by the harbor and in a moving vehicle when surfing (not so much when streaming video). Plus, it’s just more convenient to have the technology built-in, as there’s no card to lose. The only downside of an embedded WiMAX card is that you can’t move it from one device to another. X301 with WiMAX by the harbor [flq:f4e204740e004363ba3e82b8e8001240] X301 with WiMAX in a cab [flq:d39f59c214564ed39029689ad9ab0871]

Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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