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IBM ThinkPad T40

  • Editors' rating
    8.3 Excellent

Pros

  • Very good battery life
  • slim case
  • very thin media modules
  • excellent choice of options.

Cons

  • Not the fastest Pentium M system
  • relatively expensive.

IBM's long-lasting ThinkPad T40 series combines a svelte, thin-and-light chassis with Intel's Pentium M processor, the 855PM chipset and a choice of wireless adapters. Choosing Intel's PRO/Wireless adapter (as fitted in our review sample) makes your T40 a true Centrino notebook. The ThinkPad T40 also offers a dual-band, 802.11a/b antenna; an excellent keyboard; and wafer-thin swappable modules. It's not the fastest Pentium M notebook we've tested, but it's a business traveller's dream nonetheless: an extra-thin system with superb battery life if you buy the bigger of the two batteries. Those who crave more speed should consider another Pentium M notebook, the Acer TravelMate 800, but businesses who add the ThinkPad T40 to their lineup can rest assured that they're getting an exceptional notebook. It's an Editors' Choice winner, despite its relatively steep price.

Design
Other thin-and-light manufacturers would do well to mimic the ThinkPad T40 series' exceptionally solid design. At 31.1cm by 25.5cm by 2.66cm and 2.27kg, the T40 is svelte by thin-and-light standards -- most of its rivals weigh more than 2.5kg. If you choose the £157 (ex. VAT) high-capacity battery, the 6,600mAh unit extends almost 2.5cm off the back. Until the end of summer, IBM will also continue to offer the older T-series systems, which are thicker and heavier. The ThinkPad T40's case contains an internal, swappable bay for very thin, 9.5mm-tall drives and modules including DVD and DVD/CD-RW. Fortunately, you can use these drives in the bays of other ThinkPads, such as the R40, but you'll also have to buy an adapter for the bay. The smooth, black-rubber coating on the ThinkPad T40's lid makes it easy to get a grip on the system. The T40 series also includes another ThinkPad staple: a great keyboard with a familiar desktop-like layout and springy keys -- but, unfortunately, no handy Windows key. IBM's signature red pointing stick sits above the B key, with corresponding mouse buttons and a third scroll button under the spacebar. You can put one of three texturised caps on the pointing stick depending on the feel you prefer, or you can skip the stick altogether and use the touchpad; some less-expensive models in the T40 series include the pointing stick only, however. Unfortunately, the touchpad's own set of mouse buttons might be a little too thin for some people. Additional buttons include three volume-adjustment buttons -- up, down, and mute -- above the keyboard, plus an Access IBM button, which takes you directly to the company's support software. A tiny light above the screen beams down on the keyboard when you need it. The ThinkPad T40 features a fairly standard selection of ports and slots. You'll find two Type II PC Card slots; headphone and microphone jacks; 56Kbps modem and 10/100 Ethernet; S-Video out; and two USB 2.0 ports on the left edge. The battery bay and a parallel port occupy the back edge. The VGA port and a swappable media bay sit on the right, while an IrDA port and two hollow-sounding speakers lie embedded in the front edge.

Features
In true IBM style, the ThinkPad T40 series comes with a dizzying array of choices when you buy it online. Whether you go with a preset system or a customised one, you get a decent variety of component choices, including Intel's new Pentium M processor in 1.3GHz, 1.5GHz and 1.6GHz speeds; the Intel 855PM chipset; anywhere from 256MB to a generous 2GB of speedy 266MHz DDR SDRAM; hard drives ranging from 30GB to 80GB; 32MB of dedicated video RAM attached to an ATI Mobility 7500 or Mobility 9000 graphics chip; a swappable DVD or DVD/CD-RW combo drive; and a choice of batteries. The bigger of the two batteries costs an extra £157 (ex. VAT), although our 1.3GHz/256MB review system included only the standard battery. The only display choice is 14.1in., but it comes in two native resolutions: the cheaper 1,024 by 768 or 1,400 by 1,050, which captures fine graphics detail but makes text extremely small. For especially intense mobile users, IBM offers a version of the T40 with a workstation-class, 64MB ATI Mobility FireGL graphics chip and a giant 80GB, 4,200rpm hard drive. The company will also sell older T-series systems with Pentium 4-M processors through this summer. Whether the T40 is an official Centrino depends on your choice of wireless hardware. If you opt for an Intel PRO/Wireless 2100 802.11b Mini-PCI card, you can count yourself among the Centrino crowd. But it's not a Centrino if you choose one of the other Mini-PCI options (Philips Agere 802.11a/b or Cisco Aironet 802.11b). What to choose depends on a couple of factors -- namely, if you want to use the faster (though currently less pervasive) 802.11a Wi-Fi standard; so far, the Intel wireless radio is 802.11b-only. Want 802.11a in an Intel Wi-Fi chip? You'll have to wait until later this year. Whichever wireless solution you choose, the built-in, dual-band antenna on the side of the ThinkPad T40's display will help you maintain your wireless connection. In addition to an Intel PRO/Wireless 2100 802.11b Mini-PCI card, our evaluation unit included a 1.3GHz Pentium M processor, 256MB of memory, a 32MB ATI Mobility 7500 graphics chip and a 14.1in. display at 1,024 by 768 pixels. The ThinkPad T40's corporate bent comes through in its software. A host of operating systems serves businesses that use both old and new OSs: you'll get your choice of Windows XP Professional or Home, 2000, 98 Gold, 98 SE or NT 4.0 (with Service Pack 6a). Microsoft Office XP Professional and Small Business Edition are options for smaller companies that don't already own software licenses; licenses for Lotus SmartSuite Millennium and Notes are also available. Optional titles in finance, education/entertainment, graphics/Web design and utilities/security can be bought at varying prices. IBM's hardware- and software-based Embedded Security System comes with all but a few of the lowest-priced T40s; the notebook offers an extra layer of security to prevent the pilfering of important info in PKI (public key infrastructure), VPN (virtual private network) and other secure environments. Finally, the T40 ships with InterVideo WinDVD for DVD play, as well as Norton AntiVirus 2003 and PC-Doctor for anti-viral duties.

Performance & battery life
Our 1.3GHz ThinkPad T40 review system turned out to be a little slower than most of the other Pentium M notebooks we've tested – but that's not surprising, since most of the latter have been 1.6GHz or 1.5GHz machines. Even so, a Business Winstone 2001 score of 48.7 and a Content Creation 2002 score of 29.6 represents a pretty good overall performance level for a system with 256MB of RAM. Equipped with ATI's 32MB Mobility Radeon 7500 graphics chip, the T40 delivers reasonable but by no means startling 3D acceleration. A score of 3,996 under 3DMark 2001 would have been impressive 6 months ago, but is now a long way behind the leading edge (Dell's Inspiron 8500 with its Nvidia GeForce4 4200 Go and a score of 9,346). Battery life is where the ThinkPad T40 scores well. Even with the standard 10.8V, 4,400mAh Li-ion battery, it delivered just under four hours' life in desktop mode. Tweaking the power management settings with this battery should push battery life well over four hours; with the optional high-capacity 6,600mAh battery fitted, you can expect to get nearly seven hours.

Service & support
The ThinkPad T40 is expensive, but as usual, you get what you pay for. Whereas cheaper notebooks ship with a one-year parts-and-labour warranty, the T40 comes standard with a three-year warranty on everything but the battery, which is covered for one year. You can increase the coverage with a range of options lasting up to five years with on-site service. Around-the-clock, free phone support endures throughout the warranty. IBM offers one of the better support sites among notebook makers, too. The extensive site includes reasonably intuitive navigation through helpful sections, such as an online troubleshooting assistant and a user forum for chatting with other customers and IBM support representatives. Like Dell, IBM preloads its own help application, called Access IBM, which provides tips and tricks, as well as links to online support.

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Hello, I'm the Reviews Editor at ZDNet UK. My experience with computers started at London's Imperial College, where I studied Zoology and then Environmental Technology. This was sufficiently long ago (mid-1970s) that Fortran, IBM punched-card machines and mainframes were involved, followed by green-screen terminals and eventually the pers... Full Bio