capsule review

IBM ThinkPad R50

At a Glance
  • IBM ThinkPad R50

IBM ThinkPad R50
Artwork: Rick Rizner, John Goddard

If Goldilocks had been in the market for a notebook computer, she probably would have picked the IBM ThinkPad R50. Not too heavy, yet not so lean that it lacks key features--it even includes some deluxe ones. For a modestly priced portable, it's just right.

This is a classic ThinkPad, dressed in matte black, offering a rugged feeling, and equipped with a keyboard that feels both firm and quietly responsive. For users who can't make up their mind about pointing devices, the R50 gives both--a touchpad and a pointing stick. IBM includes three swappable caps for the eraserhead to suit different fingertips.

The touchpad's mouse buttons sit a little too close to the front of the notebook--our thumbs sometimes thwacked the case--but we can live with that minor flaw because their deep-travel touch still seems superior to that of the stiff buttons we encounter on other notebooks. Some users might appreciate the spacebar magnifier, which enlarges the current window to fill the screen when you use the Fn-Space keystroke combination. The R50 also has IBM's unique ThinkLight, a small LED in the lid that shines a faint light on the keyboard for working in dark rooms.

The R50 has a nearly full complement of ports, including FireWire and S-Video. It has a standard parallel port, but no serial. The headphone jack is located on the left side of the unit, putting it within easy reach. The battery takes up the entire rear except for an end spot left open for a parallel port. Our R50 unit included 802.11b on a Mini-PCI card; you can upgrade to 802.11g for about $90.

IBM's right-mounted modular bay accommodates any one of a multitude of optional, hot-swappable devices. Our unit came with a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combination drive. Other options include a secondary 40GB hard drive, a floppy drive, a secondary battery, a Zip drive, and a cradle for a numeric keypad or the IBM-branded PDA, the WorkPad C500 Series. A release located on the side (instead of the notebook's bottom) lets you easily pop devices out with one hand.

Upgrading the R50's storage and memory is easy. Removing one bottom screw lets you tug the hard drive out the right side; removing another screw on the bottom lets you pop the cover off the memory compartment. One slot remained open in our unit (256MB of RAM is built in to the motherboard).

Like most ThinkPad notebooks, the R50 is not a music machine, despite its smoothly designed, press-and-hold volume controls. Sound quality is fine, with no distortion or extreme tinniness, but ultimately the audio emitted is too low for more than occasional listening.

The Intel 1.4-GHz/600-MHz Pentium M-equipped R50 bagged fine performance numbers in our tests (we did not test the Celeron-based model). Its PC WorldBench 4 score of 117 is at par for a notebook equipped with that CPU and 256MB of RAM. Battery life is also good: On one battery charge, it lasted a few minutes over 4 hours in our test.

IBM sells more than one docking option for most of its notebooks, and the R50 is no exception. It works with the basic $179 Port Replicator II, which adds legacy ports and gigabit ethernet, or the $229 Mini Dock, which also adds a four-port USB 2.0 hub.

Wrapping it all up is the excellent electronic user manual, by far the best we've seen. The manual's dedicated launch button and step-by-step animated tutorials almost make up for the lack of a print manual.

Neither too bulky nor too skinny, the R50 strikes just the right chord for individuals and businesses in need of a fully equipped but relatively lightweight portable.

Carla Thornton

To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
At a Glance
  • IBM ThinkPad R50

Shop Tech Products at Amazon