IBM ThinkPad T42p mobile workstation
Review IBM's ThinkPad T42p is the high-end, workstation model of the T42 range and as such, it doesn't come cheap. But it's also a quality product with a look and feel that most other notebooks can only aspire to, writes Riyad Emeran.
After opening the tactile, but very tough black-coated titanium alloy lid, you find the 15in screen. Notebook displays are becoming larger and larger, but big isn't always better. The first ThinkPad T42 that I reviewed also had a 15in screen, but the low desktop resolution of 1024 x 768 made such a large screen seem pointless. In fact, if I was going to have to put up with such a low resolution, I'd rather have a smaller screen and a consequently smaller notebook.
IBM hasn't made the same mistake with the T42p. Its panel can be put to much better use thanks to a native resolution of 1600 x 1200. With so much more desktop real estate on offer, it's easier to have many windows open simultaneously, making copying and pasting between documents the simplest of procedures. Some notebook users may complain that this resolution is too high, and it makes everything too small to see, but for me it's perfect. There is a quick zoom option, if you want to make things larger temporarily - pressing the Fn key and the Spacebar will drop the resolution down to 800 x 600, while pressing it again will return things to 1600 x 1200.
But it's not just the high resolution that makes this screen a good one, it's also evenly lit across the whole surface and the viewing angle is very wide in both the vertical and horizontal planes. This makes the T42p ideal for presenting data or showing demos in meetings - with the latter likely to be a regular occurrence for a mobile graphics workstation such as this.
The T42p sports ATI's Mobility Fire GL T2 workstation graphics chip. What sets a workstation chip apart from standard graphics chips is its certification for use with certain high-end graphical design packages. So if you want a notebook to run a CAD package, or a 3D rendering application, you'll want one that has a graphics chip approved by the software vendor. That way, when you run a preview of that complicated scene that you've been working on for days, you know it will work.
A year ago, the Mobility Fire GL T2 had the advantage of being based on ATI's latest 3D technology. However, things have moved on, and from a performance point of view it's probably time for IBM to update it's workstation graphics. That said, with the Intel 'Sonoma' Centrino update released only a few weeks ago, I imagine IBM has been holding off in order to make the jump to PCI Express graphics. Hopefully the next workstation ThinkPad will be sporting the newer Mobility Fire GL V5000 chip instead.
IBM ThinkPads are famous for the quality of their keyboards, and typing on the T42p is an absolute joy. No other notebook manufacturer has managed to emulate the feel of a ThinkPad keyboard - every single key feels individual and there isn't the slightest hint of keyboard flex, no matter how hard or fast you're typing. The layout is perfect too, with the Shift, Caps, Tab, Return and Backspace keys all large and easy to reach at full speed. The cursor keys are dropped slightly from the main keyboard, and the casing has three cut-outs leading down to them, so it's easy to slide your fingers into position without having to take your eyes off the screen.
The trackpoints on ThinkPads seem to feel better than those on other notebooks. Beneath the Spacebar are three buttons: the left and right buttons emulate the left and right buttons on a mouse, while the centre button is a scroll lock. If you prefer touchpads to trackpoints, the T42p has one of those too. Directly below the trackpoint buttons is a black touchpad with two selector buttons beneath it.
The T42p is a Centrino machine, so there's an Intel Pentium M CPU inside. This particular model has a 1.8GHz chip, backed up by 1GB of RAM, which definitely reinforces this machine's workstation aspirations. What's particularly impressive is that IBM has fitted a 1GB SO-DIMM inside the T42p, leaving the end-user a free slot to increase the memory without having to discard any.
Storage is taken care of by a 60GB hard disk, which is capacious enough for most uses, but it wouldn't hurt to have more capacity given the market the T42p is aimed at. If you want to free up some hard disk space, you can make use of the integrated DVD writer.
The T42p is well endowed with connectivity options. There's an Intel Pro/Wireless 802.11b/g Wi-Fi adaptor inside and Bluetooth, so you can connect to the Internet via your mobile phone as well. There's no physical switch to activate and deactivate the wireless networking, but pressing Fn and F5 brings up a menu that allows you to turn Bluetooth on and off, Wi-Fi on and off, or both.
Looking around the chassis, you'll find the DVD writer on the right, along with a D-SUB port. The front is Spartan apart from the IrDA port. On the left are two stacked Type II PC Card slots, microphone and headphone sockets, two USB 2.0 ports, an S-Video port, a modem socket and an Ethernet port. True to the market segment that the T42p is addressing, there's a Gigabit Ethernet controller inside.
Just below the cursor keys you'll find the fingerprint reader, a swipe scanner rather than a touch scanner. The pre-installed software lets you enrol the finger of your choice, and replace all your system passwords with biometric security - this includes the BIOS password, so the notebook won't even boot into Windows without a fingerprint match. You can still choose to use a password as well as fingerprint security, and there is also a password failsafe if your finger isn't recognised.
IBM also provides the opportunity to encrypt all your data, so that even if someone removes the hard drive from the notebook, they won't be able to retrieve anything from it.
Performance wise the T42p turns in a pretty good SYSmark score of 222 overall, while the 3D performance is pretty much on a par with a notebook sporting the old ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 chipset - which is, after all, what the Mobility Fire GL T2 is based on. Running Mobile Mark produced a battery life of three hours and 17 minutes - not the best I've seen, but reasonable enough.
The T42p doesn't come cheap. Bizarrely I couldn't find this exact spec on sale anywhere - the only T42p I could find with a 1.8GHz CPU only had 512MB of RAM, and all the models with 1GB of RAM only had a 1.7GHz processor. Consequently, I'll have to base this review on IBM's retail pricing, which pitches the T42p at £2538. That's clearly a lot of money for a notebook. The T42p may be a mobile workstation, but its price does seem a little high considering that its graphics chip isn't one of the fastest available.
The IBM ThinkPad T42p is a fantastic notebook to use; the screen is superb and the keyboard is up to IBM's usual high standards. Add to this the biometric security, the data encryption and IBM's standard Rapid Restore and Recovery low level utilities. The price is high, but this notebook is aimed at high-end users that need a mobile workstation, but with this in mind I'd like to see the latest workstation graphics chipset and perhaps a larger hard drive.
|IBM ThinkPad T42p|
|More info||The IBM site|
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