capsule review

IBM ThinkPad T41

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Lenovo ThinkPad T41 Notebook

IBM ThinkPad T41
Artwork: Rick Rizner, John Goddard

The IBM ThinkPad T series of notebooks are thin and light without sacrificing typing comfort, a big screen, or important connections. This edition, the T41, has a slim black case and weighs just over 5 pounds, including a removable optical drive (a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combination model in our unit) and a 14.1-inch screen. It also has most of the common ports, with the exception of FireWire. In addition, the T41 has dual pointing devices and IBM's quirky ThinkLight, an LED that shines a pale light on the keyboard for typing in the dark.

This is the first ThinkPad we've reviewed with IBM's new Hard Drive Active Protection System, touted as the industry's first automatic hard-drive protection utility. According to IBM, it's based on a technology similar to that used in automobiles to deploy airbags on contact: A microchip on the motherboard detects physical acceleration--such as when the notebook falls--and in response the system temporarily parks the hard drive's read/write head until stability returns. But we found that the utility leaps into action every time you even nudge the notebook, popping up an animated alert dialog box. Nevertheless, you can disable the alert, and the drive spin-down didn't seem to slow our work, so the feature is harmless--and possibly helpful when you really need it.

The heads of the case screws are a combination of slotted and Phillips, so you can remove the screws securing the panels over the hard drive and RAM compartments no matter what kind of tool you have.

Overall, the keyboard is classic ThinkPad--a cut above the crowd with its smooth typing action, good layout, and wells beneath the arrow keys to guide fingers. The eraserhead comes with a selection of caps for easy steering and works well with a center button for scrolling through documents.

However, other parts of the notebook's design seem uncharacteristically inferior to other ThinkPads we've reviewed. The hard drive was sticky, and the battery's dual releases made it awkward to remove as well. The strangest flaw: The mouse buttons for our unit's eraserhead creaked like loose boards and partially sank into the case when they were pressed.

The T41 earned scores of Very Good on our performance tests, turning in a battery life of 4.3 hours and a PC WorldBench 4 score of 123; these results were right on target for a notebook with a 1.6-GHz/600-MHz Pentium M processor and 512MB of RAM.

The single memory slot limits your RAM upgrade options somewhat (256MB is built in to the motherboard), and having most of the connections on the sides (the battery takes up the back) may be inconvenient in tight spaces. Two front-mounted speakers, controlled with a nice set of volume buttons, emit standard ThinkPad sound--just so-so quality.

Plenty of expansion options are available for the T41, starting with the modular bay, which accommodates several types of devices aside from the optical drive, such as a Zip drive, a secondary battery, and a secondary hard drive. Removing a device from the bay is easy with the side pull tab. For using the T41 on a desk, you have a choice of three different docking stations ranging from a simple $179 port replicator to the $529 ThinkPad Dock II with dual bays.

Documentation for the T41 centers around IBM's outstanding electronic manual. The only animated reference guide we know of, it walks you step by step through operations such as upgrading the hard drive.

The T41 combines light weight, strong performance, and a breadth of features into a fairly slim package, but various aspects of our unit's workmanship were uncharacteristically subpar for IBM.

Carla Thornton

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Lenovo ThinkPad T41 Notebook

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