IBM Thinkpad: Speed and graphics savvy

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IBM Thinkpad A31p

IBM's Thinkpad A31p features the latest Pentium 4-M processor and a meaty graphics subsystem to go with it.

IBM's ThinkPad A31p is more than just another fully loaded Pentium 4-M screamer. Its 64MB ATI Mobility Fire GL 7800 GPU turns it into a portable graphics workstation, ready to tackle the complex vector drawings that CAD users live on as well as the mainstream apps and games that the rest of us play. Already certified by major workstation-software vendors, this notebook is a natural for globe-trotting CAD users--and they can probably handle its price, as well. For the rest of us, this supercharged mobile workstation/desktop replacement is not something you need, but if you're the sort who likes to drive a Testarossa to the dry cleaners, you'll want it anyway.

Living large
At AU$7,499, the ThinkPad A31p is hardly an impulse purchase, but in addition to its graphics processor, this notebook harbors a host of high-performance components: a 1.7GHz mobile Pentium 4-M; 256MB of memory; and a massive, 60GB, 5,400rpm hard drive. These undoubtedly had a lot to do with the system's outstanding SysMark2001 score of 159. But speed is only part of the workstation puzzle; graphics pros also need a superior display. The ThinkPad A31p's crisp, 15-inch, 1,600x1,200-pixel screen delivers; it has a large range of usable brightness and is viewable from wide angles.

In addition, an 8X/8X/24X+8X DVD/CD-RW combo drive provides plenty of removable storage. The drive resides in one of the ThinkPad A31p's two modular bays. The first UltraBay accepts a number of other storage options or a second battery. The second UltraBay also accepts input devices such as a numeric keypad or a WorkPad (Palm) docking cradle.

Wired with a vengeance
If there's a way to network or attach a peripheral, it's on this notebook (with one exception). Bluetooth, 802.11b, 10/100 Ethernet, IEEE 1394 (mini 4-pin), USB (including IBM's screen-mounted UltraPort camera port)--they're all here. Legacy ports are also well represented with S-Video-in and -out, serial, parallel, VGA, and RJ-11 modem plugs, plus the usual audio-in, -out, and headphone jacks. The only thing missing is a PS/2 port. With all these ways to access the ThinkPad A31p, you might worry about the security of your data. Don't; IBM's embedded security chip adds hardware encryption and password security that's harder to crack than software-only solutions.

As you might surmise from its impressive list of components and features, the black ThinkPad A31p is hefty, measuring 33cm wide by 27cm deep by 4.8cm high and weighing 3.5kg with AC adapter. However, the extra size reflects sturdy construction and allows IBM to fit a column of six program-launch keys to the left of the comfortable, full-sized keyboard. IBM's TrackPoint pointing stick facilitates cursor movement, but graphics pros will almost certainly turn to some sort of mouse.

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Speed and stamina
Because CNET Labs' test suite isn't designed to measure workstation performance, we couldn't watch this baby rip in its native habitat. But on mainstream apps, the ThinkPad A31p still did very well. Most notably, the ThinkPad A31p's 10.8v, 4,000mAh battery lasted 2 hours--impressive for a machine with this kind of performance.

Workstation or status symbol?
The ThinkPad A31p may really be for the workstation crowd, but it's equally adept as a desktop replacement. If you have the bucks, you'll get a notebook that's also something of a status symbol. If not, take look at cheaper configurations of its ThinkPad A30 cousins.

IBM ThinkPad A31p
Company: IBM Australia
Price: AU$7,499
Phone: 1800 289 426