Lenovo ThinkPad T500 First Look

by Reads (174,165)

by Kevin O’Brien

The T500 Thinkpad is the latest 15.4" refresh of the longstanding T-series out of Lenovo. Combining the latest generation of Intel goodies, ATI Hybrid graphics, and DisplayPort connection this notebook has many new things to offer over the previous ThinkPads. With all these changes taking place, is Lenovo keeping the ThinkPad as well built as we have come to expect, or has some quality slipped through the cracks? Read on to see what we think of the new T500, and how this new model stacks up to the older ThinkPads.

Our ThinkPad T500 specifications:

  • Screen: 15.4" 1680 x 1050 WSXGA+ LCD (Matte finish)
  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 (2.80GHz, 1066MHz FSB, 6MB Cache)
  • Memory: 2GB DDR3 RAM
  • Storage: 160GB HDD (7200rpm)
  • Optical Drive: DVD+/-RW
  • Wireless: 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.0
  • Graphics: ATI Mobility Radeon 3650 w/ 256MB (hybrid switching)
  • Built-in web camera
  • Battery: 9-cell (84Wh)
  • Dimensions: 14.1" x 10/10.9" x 1.8"
  • Weight: 6lbs 7.2oz (w/ 9 cell battery)
  • Retail Price: $2,223


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Build and Design

The design of the T500 has changed a bit. The changes are subtle to the untrained eye, but they are there. The right side is now gently sloped similar to what can be found on the older T4x series, where the sides angle inward instead of dropping off flat. First clue about this is the optical drive bezel which sports a nice beveled edge. The rubber feet have also been slightly tweaked, now feeling softer than before, meaning less sliding on your desk surface. Moving past the minor case design changes, the ThinkPad is every bit as conservative (boring) as all of those preceding it. We have the same paint, same durable rubbery texture, and we still have our ThinkPad logo.


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Build quality is very similar to the previous generation T61, with all of its strengths and weaknesses. Fit and finish are great with most parts, but you still have a good amount of battery wiggle in the back, as well as the cheaper feeling plastic LCD lid. The molded plastic panels throughout the notebook feel sturdy, overall feeling much like the previous generation of notebooks. Compared to the pre-Lenovo Thinkpads, the T500 feels leaps and bounds better. Now the T500 is not without its flaws, and the new keyboard definitely falls into the flaws category.


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Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard layout has stayed the same, with only very minor changes in the feel of the key presses. Some of this may be attributed to the differences in keyboard suppliers (NMB, ALPS, and Chicony) though, as my T60 came with the "clickier" Chicony keyboard, whereas the T500 is much quieter. The keyboard strength seems to have changed, with more flex present on the right side of the keyboard. To find the culprit of this flex, I took apart the notebook and inspected the keyboard area.


The T60 keyboard base (left) versus the
T500 keyboard base (right) (view large image)

To my great surprise, I found Lenovo had completely redesigned the keyboard, with weight savings as the primary goal. The old design has a much stronger back-plate, which is removed on the new revision. This cuts weight by 25 percent from the old model, but at the huge disadvantage of tarnishing the long-standing ThinkPad keyboard reputation. As with older models, the liquid drains are still in place, ready to get your notebook out of harm’s way if a stray coffee or soda spills all over it.


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The touchpad has grown compared to the T61, expanding to the width of the lower touchpad buttons. With the ThinkPad touchpads always being the runts compared to other notebook designs, this change was very welcomed (even if they did paint scroll arrows on it). The texture is identical to the older touchpad, and sensitivity is just as good.

What still works and what doesn’t

Those who have older ThinkPad accessories from the T6x/R6x generation will be happy to know all of the older docking stations are still fully compatible with the new notebooks. I can’t say for certain that the older equipment won’t be replaced with newer revisions that offer different connections, but at least you won’t need to upgrade.


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The optical bay connections have changed from the previous generation, moving more towards a SATA style connector, rendering older drive incompatible. The power connection for use with the UltraBay battery remained the same though.


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Display

The CCFL-backlit display on our T500 looked nearly identical to the display currently shipping with the older 15.4" T61 models. Brightness is much less than the LED-backlit panel found in the new T400, but still good when compared to other notebooks on the market. Backlit evenness is very consistent throughout the display, with no excessive bright or dark areas. Contrast appears to be very nice, and the colors are bright and vivid without looking washed out. Viewing angles rate better than average, but not excellent. Vertical viewing has a nice sweet spot before colors start to wash our or invert, and the horizontal range is better still.

One defect or feature which was thankfully not present in our review model screen panel was a shimmering or dirty white texture. Some of the older matte ThinkPad screens had this problem that annoyed many users, and from what I can tell this screen had none of this in the slightest.

Performance

Our Lenovo ThinkPad T500 came with the Intel T9600 processor, clocking in at 2.8GHz, and jammed packed with 6MB of cache. For graphics, Lenovo included an ATI Radeon 3650 video card with 256MB of GDDR3 memory. This combination proved to be exceptionally fast in the Windows Vista environment, getting very high synthetic benchmark scores. The T500 came through with an impressively low wPrime result of 27 seconds, more than 7,000 in PCMark05, and more than 4,000 in 3DMark06.


A screenshot for the game Portal running
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Gaming was not a problem with the T500, handling games such as BioShock at native 1680×1050 resolution at 15-20FPS. If you scaled the resolution back to 1280×800 20-30FPS. Slightly less intensive games like Portal or Half-Life 2 were more manageable with higher frame rates, but this was quite impressive for anon-workstation-class business notebook.

Battery Life

Unlike the T400 which saw a massive jump in battery life over the previous generation 14" notebook as a result of the LED-backlit screen, the T500′s battery life was in line with the 15.4" T61. While the 9-cell battery in the T400 gave 7-8 hours of battery life, the same capacity in the T500 barely manages 6 hours. The key differences between each notebook are the screen size, backlit technology, and graphics card model, as all of the other options are identical.

 

More To Come

That’s all for this first look at the new ThinkPad T500. Be sure to keep your eyes open for our full, in-depth review of the T500 in a few days.

 

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