Design and features
Lenovo has been a business mainstay for many years due to a design that rarely makes big changes -- rather only tiny improvements to a proven success. It also builds laptops that have the structural integrity of a tank, making it a favourite among sysadmins since it's likely to last longer than any other laptop out in the field short of say, a Panasonic Toughbook.
The T400 continues this trend, with the same familiar keyboard, red trackpoint and touchpad navigation (each with its own mouse buttons, although the trackpoint gets a middle mouse button whereas the touchpad is limited to left and right), magnesium alloy roll cage to protect against drops, and a spill resistant keyboard. It's also got ThinkLight Illumination -- a white LED mounted at the top of the 14.1-inch, 1280x800 screen which points down to light up the keyboard in dark situations. It's not as good as a backlit keyboard and can be a little distracting, but it's better than nothing at all.
There's even small touches like symbols to the left of the keyboard, so you know what ports are on the side without having to turn your head or lift the laptop up. Shortcut buttons are minimal, with mute, volume up and volume down being pretty much it, apart from Lenovo's ThinkVantage button which loads its Productivity Software while in Windows, or if you hold it down when powering up starts the rescue and recovery process.
On the left are two USB ports, gigabit Ethernet, 56Kbps modem jack, VGA out, ExpressCard 54 slot and a seven-in-one card reader. The right-hand side features an extra USB port and the DVD+-RW drive, the front a rare 1394 port, headphone and microphone jacks. Inside it's run off a Core 2 Duo P8400 at 2.26GHz, with 2GB RAM, a 250GB hard drive, ATI Mobility Radeon 3470 and for networking the usual 802.11n. Bluetooth is not included unless you add AU$15.40.
Software-wise, Lenovo bundles InterVideo's WinDVD for watching DVDs, a trial of McAfee SecurityCenter, Microsoft Office 2007 trial, PC Doctor 5, Roxio Creator Business Edition for disc burning, and a giant swathe of its own software for doing such things as connecting to wireless, managing battery usage, data protection and updating the system. By default, and what allowed it to fall under the price, it comes with Windows Vista Basic -- the upgrade to Vista Business costing AU$132. There's also no webcam, costing another AU$27.50 to have one included.
The Radeon gives the Lenovo a leg up over its Intel-integrated graphics competitors, giving a 3DMark06 score of 1065. It's not as powerful as the Dell E6400's Quadro NVS 160m, but it still means decent video acceleration and basic 3D capability. More importantly, its PCMark05 score of 4636 shows it has more than enough grunt to handle most office tasks.
Turning off all power-saving features, turning screen brightness and volume to maximum and playing back an XviD file drained the battery in one hour, 31 minutes and 36 seconds. It's a disappointingly short result, although to be expected for a four-cell battery -- you'll want to be springing for a larger six- or eight-cell battery pack for this one.
Lenovo's ThinkPad T400 is an attractive proposition for any laptop buyer, but you buy into Lenovo for a price. Dell offers more for less, but in terms of lifespan, you can guarantee the Lenovo will survive more catastrophic accidents simply due to its exceptional build quality. Wait for a sale, then buy, buy, buy.