The Perfect Computer for Zwift
The weather in Portland has taken a fast, hard turn towards the end of the road riding season. There will be time for pretending to be tough and riding in the cold and rain. But at the moment, I’m working through the review of the Stages L50 cycling computer and the Stages-Link website with Today’s Plan integration. Instead of getting out in the cold, and rain, I’m plugging away on Zwift to raise my FTP. As the hours tick away in front of the computer, a question emerged for me. What would be the perfect Zwift computer, and does it even matter?
Ever wonder if there’s a computer that could make your Zwift experience better?
I used to be on the forefront of computer tech. I built my own desktops and always looked for the latest and greatest. Around the time that Apple moved to Intel processors, I decided I’d had enough, and I wanted a computer that worked. I bought a Macbook Pro, and I upgraded it every few years. At some point I stopped upgrading it. More recently, I even stopped downloading the latest software updates. I remember when people used to tell me that they were nervous of software updates because everything worked. At the time I laughed at those people, and now I’m one of them.
I decided to reach out to the folks at lenovo and see if they could help answer the question. I’m old enough to remember Thinkpads being an IBM product, and back then, they were always known as solid workhorse machines. When lenovo took over the brand, there was worry, but it soon faded away. Over the years lenovo continued to be solid, workhorse computers. That made them one of the first in my mind when I started looking at windows based laptops. I reached out and told them what I was using the computer for.
Zwift recommends an Intel i7 and discrete graphics.
I wasn’t specific in my request other than it should have an i7 processor with discrete graphics and a great screen. It needed to be portable, but did not need to be an ultralight system. What they recommended was the lenovo Thinkpad X1 Extreme. It has 32GB of RAM, the Core i7-9850H processor, a 1TB SSD drive, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 4GB GDDR5, and a 15.6″ HDR 400 UHD (3840×2160) screen. It’s also small and light, but not in the ultralight class. Ports available are two USB 3.1, two USB-C Thunderbolt™ 3, a 4-in-1 card reader, HDMI 2.0, Network extension, and a combo audio / mic.
The reality is that the perfect Zwift computer is tough to exactly pin down, but this would be a good candidate. It’s probably specced higher than is necessary, but the excellent screen makes it a joy. The other thing that makes this a candidate for the ideal zwift computer is that it has Bluetooth 5.0. When coupled with a Wahoo trainer and sensors, there is no need to connect an ANT dongle. Everything will connect to Zwift via bluetooth.
Bluetooth 5.0 and a 4k screen aren’t necessary but they are nice.
I ride almost every day, so as soon as I got it, I downloaded zwift and got ready to ride. With the graphics set to maximum, I jumped into a workout session to see what I was missing. There’s subtly to the added graphics that initially makes it seem like it’s not that big of a deal. As you spend a bit more time looking at it, though, the lighting effects really start to catch your eye. After countless hours using my 2012 Macbook Pro and a Dell Ultrasharp monitor, I never noticed that my Zwift bike has a headlight. With the lenovo X1, it’s not just visible, it’s beautiful! Then there are the shadows of the rider on the road and the pop of color from all the reflections of the bikes. There is also way more detail in the background, and it seems to stretch out much farther.
More important than how beautiful everything looks is how smooth everything runs. There’s never any dropped frames, no matter what is going on in the background, or how many people you are on the screen with. One of the most annoying things about my current setup is the dropped frames in large group rides or races. Even with a large group of around 80 riders, nothing ever slows down. Every rider retains detail in the jerseys and on the bikes. Even with that many lighting effects happening on screen at the same time, it’s completely smooth. Oh! And that Dell screen I use? It’s a 24” screen, but the built in screen on the Thinkpad X1 is better in about every way I can think of comparing it, other than size. I never bothered connecting it because the built in screen is so gorgeous.
My first question was what would be the perfect Zwift computer, and the Thinkpad X1 Extreme is a contender for the title. The gorgeous screen and up to date Bluetooth mean nothing needs a direct connection to the computer. It’s the perfect balance of speed and portability, so that if you need to move things around regularly, it’s easy. The next question was if it was worth it. On that front, I will say that it’s a beautiful experience that helped me ease the pain of intervals. It also made racing, and group riding, a much better experience. So, I’d say if you can make it happen, you should.