Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme vs X1 Carbon: Which one is right for you?

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme vs X1 Carbon: Which one is right for you?

Lenovo is one of the most popular PC manufacturers in the world, and the company makes some of the best laptops you can buy. The ThinkPad family specifically is iconic among business users. The classic subdued design, the red pointing stick, it’s all part of why it’s so popular. But every ThinkPad has its own specific purpose, and so they’re all different in one way or another. If you’re stuck trying to choose between the ThinkPad X1 Extreme and X1 Carbon, we’re here to help.

We’re going to be comparing Lenovo’s most powerful business laptop, the X1 Extreme, to its most classic ThinkPad, the X1 Carbon. Like we said, every ThinkPad is distinct, and the choice should become very clear as we go over the differences between them.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme vs Carbon: Specs

As usual, we’ll start by taking a look at the specs for these two laptops. This alone reveals some major differences between the X1 Extreme and the X1 Carbon.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 ExtremeLenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
Operating system
  • Windows 10 Home (upgradeable to Windows 11)
  • Windows 10 Pro (upgradeable to Windows 11)
  • Windows 10 Home (upgradeable to Windows 11)
  • Windows 10 Pro (upgradeable to Windows 11)
  • Fedora 33 Workstation edition
  • Ubuntu 20.04
Processor
  • Intel Core i7-11800H (up to 4.6GHz, 8-core)
  • Intel Core i7-11850H vPro (up to 4.8GHz, 8-core)
  • Intel Core i9-11950H vPro (up to 5GHz, 8-core)
  • Intel Core i5-1135G7 (up to 4.2GHz, 4-core)
  • Intel Core i5-1145G7 vPro (up to 4.4GHz, 4-core)
  • Intel Core i7-1165G7 (up to 4.7GHz, 4-core)
  • Intel Core i7-1185G7 (up to 4.8GHz, 4-core)
Graphics
  • Intel UHD Graphics
  • NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti 4GB GDDR6
  • NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 6GB GDDR6
  • NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 8GB GDDR6
  • NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 16GB GDDR6
  •  Intel Iris Xe graphics
RAM
  • 8GB
  • 16GB
  • 16GB (2x8GB)
  • 32GB
  • 32GB (2x16GB)
  • 64GB
  • 8GB
  • 16GB
  • 32GB
Storage
  • Slot 1 (PCIe Gen 4):
    • 256GB (PCIe Gen 3)
    • 512GB (PCIe Gen 3)
    • 512GB (PCIe Gen 4)
    • 1TB (PCI3 Gen 3)
    • 1TB (PCIe Gen 4)
    • 2TB (PCIe Gen 4)
  • Slot 2 (PCIe Gen 3, optional):
    • 256GB (PCIe Gen 3)
    • 512GB (PCIe Gen 3)
    • 1TB (PCIe Gen 3)
    • 2TB (PCIe Gen 4)
  • 256GB
  • 512GB
  • 1TB
Display
  • 16-inch WQXGA (2560 x 1600) IPS, anti-glare, 400 nits
  • 16-inch Ultra HD+ (3840 x 2400) IPS, anti-glare, Dolby Vision, HDR 400, 600 nits
  • 16-inch Ultra HD+ (3840 x 2400) IPS, touch, anti-reflective, Dolby Vision, HDR 400, 600 nits
  • 14-inch Full HD+ (1920 x 1200) IPS, anti-glare, low power, 400 nits
  • 14-inch Full HD+ (1920 x 1200) IPS, touch, anti-glare, low power, 400 nits
  • 14-inch Full HD+ (1920 x 1200) IPS, touch, anti-glare, low power, Privacy Guard, 500 nits
  • 14-inch Ultra HD+ (3840 x 2400) IPS, HDT, 500 nits
Audio
  • Dual stereo speakers (2 x 2W)
  • Quad stereo speakers (2 x 2W + 2 x 0.8W)
Webcam
  • 1080p Full HD camera
  • 720p HD camera
Biometric authentication
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Optional: IR camera
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Optional: IR camera
    • Optional: Human presence detection
Battery
  • 4-Cell 90Whr battery
    • Up to 10 hours (MobileMark 18)
  • 4-cell 57Whr battery
    • Up to 16.7 hours (MobileMark 18)
Ports
  • 2 Thunderbolt 4 (USB Type-C) ports
  • 2 USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports
  • HDMI 2.1 (2.0 for Intel UHD Graphics)
  • SD card reader
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Optional: SIM card slot
  • 2 Thunderbolt 4 (USB Type-C) ports
  • 2 USB 3,2 Gen 1 Type-A ports
  • HDMI 2.0
  • 3.5mm headphone jacks
  • Optional: nano SIM slot
Connectivity
  • Intel Wi-Fi 6/6E AX210 (2×2), Bluetooth 5.2
  • Optional: 5G (Qualcomm Snapdragon X55, not currently available)
  • Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201, Bluetooth 5.2
  • Optional: 4G LTE (Quectel EM120R-GL, Cat 12)
  • Optional: 5G (Qualcomm Snapdragon X55)
Colors
  • Black
  • Black with woven carbon fiber cover
  • Black
  • Black with carbon fiber lid cover
Size (WxDxH)14.13 x 9.99 x 0.7 in (359.5 x 253.8 x 17.7 mm)12.38 x 8.72 x 0.59 in (314.5 x 221.6 x 14.9 mm)
WeightStarting at 3.99 lbs (1.81 kg)Starting at 2.49 lbs (1.13 kg)
Starting price$1,639.20 (varies)$1,401.60 (varies)

Operating system

Right off the bat, a notable difference between the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme and the X1 Carbon is that the Carbon can be configured with Linux out of the box. Since Linux distributions are usually free, there’s nothing stopping you from installing it yourself on the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, but with the X1 Carbon you get official support from Lenovo and you don’t have to go through the hassle of installing it yourself.

If you prefer the Windows version, both models will support the upgrade to Windows 11 after it launches on October 5th.

Performance: The ThinkPad X1 Extreme is a powerhouse

Another thing that should be obvious from the spec list above is that the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme is easily the most powerful of the two laptops. The name doesn’t lie, and the ThinkPad X1 Extreme packs incredibly powerful specs into its slim chassis. That starts with Intel’s 45W Tiger Lake processors, up to an Intel Core i9-11950H. All the processors inside the ThinkPad X1 Extreme have more cores than then X1 Carbon, and they clock faster, too.

To give you an idea, here’s how the best CPU on the X1 Carbon compares to the weakest one on the X1 Extreme:

Intel Core i7-1185G7Intel Core i7-11800H
Geekbench score(single/multi-core)1,419 / 4,8571,492 / 8,053

And of course, that difference grows even larger when you consider that the ThinkPad X1 Extreme also has dedicated graphics. And not just any dedicated graphics, you can get it with up to an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080, which is incredible considering its size. This combination of specs means the ThinkPad X1 Extreme can handle anything from video editing to gaming, in addition to breezing through day-to-day tasks. If you just need to browse the web, write documents, and send e-mails, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon works just fine, too.

This combination of specs means the ThinkPad X1 Extreme can handle anything from video editing to gaming, in addition to breezing through day-to-day tasks.

Unsurprisingly, RAM and storage are two more areas where the ThinkPad X1 Extreme takes the lead. You can configure this laptop with up to a whopping 64GB of RAM, and since it uses SODIMM slots, you can upgrade the RAM yourself later. Similarly, you can configure it with up to two SSDs for a maximum total of 4TB of storage — or you can upgrade it later. What’s more, one of those slots supports PCIe Gen 4, so you can get an ultra-fast SSD for it.

However, there’s a big caveat here — you can’t get two SSD slots if you get an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 or higher. NVIDIA’s latest GPUs require a lot of power and a lot of cooling, so the space for the SSD is taken up if you upgrade to more powerful models. Still, you can get up to 2TB of storage this way.

By comparison, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon can be configured with up to 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. That RAM is soldered on too, so you can’t upgrade it later. Now, this is far from a weak configuration, but if you need lots of RAM for specific tasks or you store a lot of large files, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is a better option.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme with bottom panel removed

Inside of a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme

Where the ThinkPad X1 Carbon pulls ahead of the X1 Extreme is battery life. Even with a much smaller battery, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon lasts up to 16.7 hours on a charge, based on MobileMark 18 tests. That’s a big advantage over the maximum of 10 hours promised by the X1 Extreme. It’s no mystery why this happens. With a 45W processor and dedicated graphics, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme uses a lot more power, and it’s meant to be a bit more stationary than the X1 Carbon.

Display and sound

Moving on to the display, the first major difference is in the size. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon has a 14 inch display, while the X1 Extreme has a larger 16 inch panel. The additional screen real estate is something some users will appreciate, but others might prefer the portability of a smaller device. One thing the two laptops have in common is a 16:10 aspect ratio, which means you get a bigger surface area compared to typical 16:9 displays. Tall aspect ratios like this give you more space for viewing content like text or more UI elements in apps.

Front view of ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9

ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Another big difference is in the resolution, at least in the base models. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme has a WQXGA (or Quad HD+), as opposed to the Full HD+ resolution of the X1 Carbon. Quad HD+ is arguably the sweet spot for resolution on a laptop display. It’s significantly sharper than Full HD+, and it doesn’t increase power consumption nearly as much as a 4K panel.

However, if you want 4K, you do have the option for an Ultra HD+ display, and both the X1 Extreme and X1 Carbon offer it as an upgrade. But that brings in yet another difference — the Ultra HD+ display doesn’t include touch support on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, while you can get it as an option on the X1 Extreme. Conversely, the X1 Extreme doesn’t support touch in the Quad HD+ models, but you can get touch support of the Full HD+ versions of the X1 Carbon.

(…)the X1 Extreme also doesn’t offer a Privacy Guard option, which is a feature some business users might appreciate.

Both laptops offer 400 nits of brightness in the base configuration, but you can upgrade to 500 nits on the X1 Carbon if you add a Privacy Guard option or if you opt for the Ultra HD+ model. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme goes a bit further, upgrading to 600 nits of brightness if you get the Ultra HD+ panel. Finally, it’s worth noting the X1 Extreme also doesn’t offer a Privacy Guard option, which is a feature some business users might appreciate.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme angled view on beige couch

ThinkPad X1 Extreme

There’s also the matter of sound, and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon actually has an advantage here despite its smaller size. It comes with a quad-speaker stereo setup, including two bottom-firing woofers and two top-firing tweeters. That should help you get more detailed and immersive sound compared to the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, which only has two top-firing speakers. Still, both laptops support Dolby Atmos for surround sound.

As for the webcam, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is a bit better since you get a Full HD 1080p camera compared to the 720p camera on the X1 Carbon. Both laptops include privacy shutters and offer optional Windows Hello support, although the X1 Carbon also offers the option for human presence detection, which the X1 Extreme doesn’t have. Additionally, the X1 Carbon has four microphones for audio recording and calls, while the X1 Extreme has two.

Design and ports: The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is more portable

Finally, we come to one of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s biggest advantages, and that’s portability. As you’d probably expect from a smaller display and low-power components, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is smaller, thinner, and lighter than the X1 Extreme. Starting at 2.49 lbs, the X1 Carbon is light enough that you can carry it on your back or in your hand much more easily, and being smaller it can more easily fit into a backpack too.

Side view of Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Ports on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon

It doesn’t miss out much in terms of ports either. Both laptops have two Thunderbolt 4 ports, two USB Type-A ports, HDMI, and a headphone jack. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme adds a full-size SD card reader, plus it has a proprietary charging port since it requires more power than USB can deliver. Aside from that, there aren’t any big differences in terms of ports.

(…) the X1 Carbon not only includes the option for 5G, but you can also go with 4G LTE if you don’t think 5G is worth the investment yet.

As for wireless connectivity, both laptops support Wi-Fi 6, with the X1 Extreme also support Wi-Fi 6E and its 6GHz band, as well as Bluetooth 5.2. And if you need cellular connectivity, both laptops also include options for 5G, at least on the spec list. A 5G add-on doesn’t seem to be available on the ThinkPad X1 Extreme’s configuration page, but that should change in the near future. However, you won’t be able to add 5G if you get an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 GPU or higher. Meanwhile, the X1 Carbon not only includes the option for 5G, but you can also go with 4G LTE if you don’t think 5G is worth the investment yet.

Finally, we come around to looks, but both laptops are very faithful to the ThinkPad lineup’s iconic design. They’re both available in black with a carbon fiber lid, and you can also get them both a carbon fiber weave cover if you want something more unique. To do that, you’ll have to upgrade to the Ultra HD+ display — and that too applies to both laptops.

ThinkPad X1 Extreme vs X1 Carbon: Bottom line

As should be evident by now, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme and X1 Carbon are very different laptops. They’re both business laptops with business features like a classic subdued design, a pointing stick for those who don’t like touchpads, and a webcam with a privacy shutter. But they’re meant for fundamentally different types of users.

Carrying the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is more cumbersome since it’s heavier, and it won’t last you as long as on a charge.

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme has 45W processors, discrete graphics, and other powerful configuration options, which make it ideal for demanding tasks. If you work on content creation, large coding projects, or you want to do some gaming on your free time, it can handle all of it just fine. It also has a sharper display by default. But that all comes at the cost of portability. Carrying the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is more cumbersome since it’s heavier, and it won’t last you as long as on a charge. If you take a day trip for work, you’ll probably need to take your charger too.

On the other hand, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon uses low-power 15W processors, has no dedicated graphics, and its configurations aren’t as impressive. But you can more easily take it anywhere, and you can stay connected with either 4G LTE or 5G. Plus, the battery will last you a lot longer, and you can spend a workday away from an outlet without as much concern. With the Privacy Guard option, you don’t have to worry about other people looking over your shoulder. And while it’s not great for demanding tasks, it can still write up reports or emails and browse the web just fine.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme front view on beige couch

That’s ultimately what it comes down to — do you need the powerful hardware for your office workstation, which you can take home with you? Or do you need something you can use all the time while traveling? If it’s the former, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is for you, but if it’s the latter, you might prefer the X1 Carbon. If you’ve made your decision, you can buy your preferred laptop using the links below.

    Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme
    The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme is an incredibly powerful 16 inch laptop with high-end Intel CPUs and NVIDIA GeForce RTX graphics. It can be had with up to 64GB of RAM and 4TB of storage, plus an Ultra HD+ display.
    Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9
    The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon comes with Intel Tiger Lake CPUs , up to 32GB of RAM, and optional cellular connectivity, making it a powerful laptop you can take with you anywhere.

About author

João Carrasqueira
João Carrasqueira

Writer at XDA Computing. I've been covering the world of technology since 2018, but I've loved the field for a lot longer. And I have a weird affinity for Nintendo videogames, which I'm always happy to talk about.