IBM ThinkPad T41

8 Jan 2004

Product: Notebook PC
Price: €3,156

Choosing a portable computer these days is possibly the most bewildering task any PC user will encounter. There are now so many brands and variations, options and extras that the inner vagaries of Windows or WiFi will probably be a doddle by comparison. Choosing by manufacturer is not the worst way to start, either for individuals or organisations.

Because portables will be used in so many possible real life situations there are aspects like size or weight and ruggedness that may be as important to some users as the internal technical specs – which in any event are always competitive from the leading vendors. So IBM and its long-established ThinkPad pedigree will be high on any list, and the latest ThinkPad T40 series combines slimline good looks with toughness because in addition to a magnesium shell (matt-coated for grip) it incorporates IBM’s new patent-pending hard drive protection technology.

The IBM Active Protection System, similar to the technology used to deploy airbags on impact, uses a microchip on the system board to detect system acceleration such as in a fall. It instantly ‘parks’ the drive’s read/write head until the system is stabilised, helping to prevent hard drive crashes and consequent data loss from any falls.

Our review model was the ThinkPad T41, which is based on an Intel Centrino 1.4Mhz chip (designed to optimise performance and energy consumption in mobile PCs) with a standard 256MB RAM. Unscientifically, the T41 was thoroughly equal to a desktop of twice its rated processor speed using Windows XP Professional and standard Office applications plus some large graphics files. The 14.1 inch TFT screen is simply excellent – and comfortably passed the ‘DVD movie in full’ test, although the sound quality (as with most notebooks) does not match.

Equipped with all current flavours of WiFi as standard, the T41 picked up both in-house and public wireless LANs automatically and flawlessly. The in-built wireless security is state of the art and also features Cisco compatibility. Bluetooth and infrared connectivity to other devices are also standard. There is a definite price premium in choosing the ThinkPad T41 over alternative brands but for the true road warrior it will be well worth paying – and could repay itself through the anti-knock technology.

There are few negatives about this PC, but worth mentioning are the absence of a Windows key (a habit and convenience surprisingly hard to shake off) and a serial port. Most users would probably not miss the latter, but I use a vintage label printer that only speaks serial. Battery life was good, but that expected four hours from the standard battery did not materialise. It did not complete playing a 2 hour 20 mins DVD with headphones, although admittedly the WiFi connection was live, if unused, throughout. As with all portable devices, it is always worth paying the extra (at time of initial purchase) for the longest life battery option and/or a spare battery. It’s also one area where dealers can squeeze out a small extra discount.

On the other hand, there are two USB 2.0 ports, a network interface and phone socket, PC card slot, parallel port and connections for external screen (and you can run both screens, eg for presentations) and mouse or other pointing device.

All in all, this ThinkPad is thoroughly well specced in all the conventional ways and it’s a matter for individual judgement whether this or the IBM label warrant the premium price. But for users such as architects, engineers or field inspectors who need sturdiness but do not want a clunky ‘ruggedised’ portable the T41 is a first-class combination of design and functionality.

By Leslie Faughnan