IBM ThinkPad T42 Review (pics, specs)

by ZaZ Reads (603,464)

Usage:

I mainly use my laptop around the house to do such things as surf the web, use MS Office and burn a few discs.  I get outside jobs, mainly fixing PC/Laptops hardware and software, doing upgrades, tutoring, internet setups and de-spywaring PC/Laptops.  I find it is usually a good idea to have one PC at home that I know works.  It does make it out of the house occasionally at other times.

IBM ThinkPad T42 15.0″ Sized Screen Notebook (view larger image)

Requirements:

  • Sturdy – Good build quality was a must for me.  I have seen a lot of laptops lately that aren’t that old seeming ready to fall apart.  You could hear my old Compaq creek under it’s own weight when you picked it up by the side.  Plus I figured a laptop with good build quality would retain value better in case I wanted to sell it.
  • Service – I wanted a laptop that was backed by good service.  If I ever have an issue, I want it resolved quickly.  I wanted the white glove treatment.  I didn’t want to have to call a service center in another country where language can be an issue.
  • Good Performance – I wanted good performance.  I don’t consider myself to be a power user, but I like it to be snappy.  I also wanted a 7200RPM hard drive.  It did not have to be large since I have an external drive in a case.  My other laptops have had this and I didn’t want to go without.  I didn’t care if I had to upgrade it myself.
  • Screen – It had to be a high resolution screen.  I had recently upgraded my desktop to an LCD right before I got my T41, so I found its XGA resolution to be too small.  I also wanted a matte screen since I find them much easier to use for extended periods.
  • Battery Life – I wanted at least four hours.  I also wanted a modular battery.  I’ve had older laptops where you had to reach for the cord every few hours, which is a drag.
  • Dedicated Video Memory – I wanted dedicated memory not because I game, but I did not want it to draw off the system memory.
  • Light – I wanted my notebook to be light for its screen size class.  I realized that if I got a 15″ screen, six pounds was probably the minimum, but I didn’t want an eight pound behemoth.
  • DVD Burner – I wanted a DVD burner.  I didn’t care if it was internal or external as long as I could use a modular battery.

Buying Decision:

I have owned Compaq, Dell and ThinkPad notebooks before my T42 and have worked on many others.  After doing lots of research, I had narrowed it down to the Asus Z71v, the Fujitsu s6231 and ThinkPad T42/T43.  None of the laptops were perfect.  The Asus case was plastic which I did not like and it was a bit of an unknown to me.  I had seen a few Asus laptops and generally had a favorable impression of them, but in the end was not a leap of faith I was willing to make.  I really liked the Fujitsu s6231.  I have recommended them to a few people I know and have heard nothing but good things about them.  I do not like the glossy screens, but if I was going to get one, it would be a Fujitsu.  I was also concerned the Fujitsu would be too small.  At the time I was considering getting rid of my desktop and a 13″ screen seemed too small.  I have since decided to keep my desktop, which in some ways makes me regret not getting the Fujitsu.  In the end I decided on the ThinkPad.  I decided to get the T42 instead of the T43.  At the time T43s could only be had with integrated graphics cards.  I had heard about fan noise issues with the T43s.  I have also heard those issues have been solved with the newer T43s.  The T42 uses the older Dothan Pentium Ms which run at lower voltages than the newer T43.  I was hoping for better battery life on the T42.

Buying:

I purchased my laptop in May.  After deciding to go with the T42, I set about to find the best price. After looking at many models and prices, I decided that ebay was the best place to buy.  I had bought my previous laptop on ebay as well and had a good experience for that purchase.  My seller had over 10,000 feedbacks with 99% positive.  My laptop was retailing on IBM’s site for about $2300 and the cheapest I could find on the internet for a similar model was $1850.  I managed to get mine, the 2379-R9U, for $1600 which was a very good price.  The notebook also came with a free printer which I was able to sell at a later date.  Prices on T43s have come down recently.  I think I can get one now with a DVD burner for around the same price.  I won my auction on a Wednesday and it was delivered the following Monday.  I had requested a tracking number from the seller which actually was emailed to me after the notebook arrived.  Shortly after buying my laptop, I added a 1GB memory module.  I also purchased a NEC ND-6500A hard drive and a case for it.  The case is usb powered so I don’t have to lug around an adapter.

Specs:

  • 1.8Ghz Pentium M/2MB L2 Cache/400Mhz FSB
  • Windows XP Pro
  • 1.5GB DDR PC2700 Memory
  • 60GB Hitachi 7200RPM Hard Drive
  • 15″ SXGA+ FlexView Screen
  • Hitachi-LG CDRW/DVD Combo Drive/External NEC ND-6500A DVD Burner
  • Nine Cell Lithium-Ion Battery/ Modular Bay Battery
  • 64MB ATI Radeon 9600
  • Intel 2200BG Wireless/Bluetooth/56k Modem
  • 2 USB 2.0/2 PCMCIA Slots/Parallel Port/Serial Port//VGA Out/PS2 Port
  • Headphone Jack/Line-Out/Volume & Mute Buttons
  • Fingerprint Reader
  • ThinkLight
  • Three year warranty until April of 2008
  • 6.2lbs./Width 13″/Depth 10.6″/Height 1.3″

Arrival:

My laptop arrived on a Monday.  I had a few hours to play with it before I had to leave.  After opening the box and quickly setting the free printer aside, I turned it on.  One of the few things concerns I had about buying on the internet and not from IBM with there 30 day return policy, was having a dead pixel or two which IBM would not fix cause there not enough dead ones.  Returns on the internet can be problematic.  Much to my delight, there were no dead pixels.  Included in the box was the service manual, a Quick-Start guide on how to install memory, a few different heads for TrackPoint, and an advertisement for some Targus bags.  After burning off the recovery discs and the drivers folder, I proceeded to wipe out the hard drive and do a fresh install.

Above and Below view of the T42 (view larger image)

Build & Design:

Like all ThinkPads, the build quality is outstanding.  It just feels solid.  It does not creak when I pick it up.  The case is made of magnesium and titanium with metal hinges for the screen.  It has high quality plastic on the inside.  I can push on the lid and get no ripples.  The screen never moves unless I adjust it.  My T42 has a 15″ screen and weighs a little over six pounds which is very light for its screen size class.  It still feels heavy when compared to my old T41, but I carry it in a backpack with a bunch of other tools.  Even if I had gotten a smaller one, my backpack would have only gone from 15 pounds to 14 pounds.  Some people have commented that they don’t care for the boring ThinkPad design.  Personally I like the black.  It says I don’t mess around.  I sort of think of it as the Volvo of laptops – Boxy but good.

ThinkPad T42 Right side

ThinkPad T42 Left side

Performance:

The T42 came with a 1.8Ghz Dothan Pentium M.  It is fast CPU.  I am not a power user so 1.8 Ghz is probably overkill for me.  It is at least the equal of my desktop PC which has an Athlon XP 2600+ CPU.  CPU performance is just one of many things that determines overall system speed.  Second on my list would be hard drive speed.  Mine came with the 7200RPM Hitachi 7k60 hard drive.  It is the best notebook hard drive in my opinion.  It boots in about 20-25 second from when I push the power button to the log on screen.  When I click on an application it opens right up.  It does run a little warmer than the 5400RPM hard drive, but the speed is oh so good.  The 15″ T series is a little thicker than the 14″, so the heat was a little more noticeable on my T41.  It is fairly quiet.  You can hear it if you are in a very quiet room, but otherwise I don’t notice it.  I added a 1GB module of memory shortly after.  Having that much memory is probably overkill, but I got a good price on it making it only slightly more expensive than the 512MB stick.  The performance was a little better after, but nothing great.  I usually say my fan never comes on which isn’t exactly true.  If you place your hand by one of the vents you can feel the hot air flowing out, but I only hear the fan when I turn it on.

Keyboard Area:

IBM T42 keyboard / TouchPad / TrackPoint view (view larger image)

What can I say about the keyboard, it is the best I have used.  I like it better than my desktop keyboard.  The keys are perfectly spaced and sized, keeping errors to a minimum.  There is the right amount of travel when pressing the keys.  Each key seems independent of one another and there is no flex.  The keyboard does not have many extra buttons, only volume controls, mute and the Access IBM button.  ThinkPads do not have a Windows key.  I think they are still mad at Microsoft for stealing the OS market from them.  Every now and again I wish I had this key.  The touchpad works fine.  Sometimes it is a little imprecise.  I personally have never liked TrackPoint like devices all that much.  I think this dates to the first ones which where very stiff and hard to use compared to a mouse.  I like the stick on my T42 better than the old ones.  There are two other heads for the stick included if you do not like the eraser head style one.  I use the larger slightly concave one, but it still feels funny.  I finally rigged it up so I could use it to scroll.  If I pull down on it, it scrolls down and vice versa.  Next to the touchpad is a fingerprint reader.  You can use the fingerprint reader to login and in place of passwords for websites, and while is nice to not have to type my password, I don’t think I would pay extra for it if it weren’t included.  My ThinkPad came with the ThinkLight.  It is a little light you can turn off/on using keyboard controls.  It illuminates the keyboard in dimly lit environments.  I can see where it would come in handy.

Screen:

Front view of T42 with external drive attached

It is a little hard to tell from the picture, but of all the features on my ThinkPad, this is the one I like the best.  I am one of those who does not prefer glossy screens.  I find them hard to use for extended periods.  The FlexView is amazing.  It is only offered on 15″ ThinkPad models and only in SXGA+ resolution.  It is clear and bright from one corner to another.  I had the good fortune of getting one with no dead pixels, the bane of the LCD industry.  It has excellent contrast.  It also offers wide viewing angles.  On a regular matte screen, as you turn it off center the screen darkens.  The FlexView does this too, but not nearly as much.  If I am sitting up with it in my lap, I can turn it down so the lid is parallel to my legs and the screen is completely readable.  I really like the SXGA+ screen.  I found XGA+ to be too small.  I had to increase the DPI a hair to make it more usable for me.

Front view of matte finish screen (view larger image)

Connectivity:

My ThinkPad came with the Intel 2200BG wireless card.  There is no off/on button but can be switched using keyboard controls.  When I first got it, I still had an 802.11b router.  It worked well with that.  I have since upgraded to an 802.11g router and it works well with that too.  I really only use it co share my internet connection so the 802.11b standard is more than enough for my 400k DSL line.  My ThinkPad also came with Bluetooth.  I purchased a Bluetooth enabled Kensington Pilot Mouse to use with it.  It works well and finds it right away when I turn it on.  One of the few faults I can find with my ThinkPad is the lack of connection options.  It has two USB ports and that is it.  It has no firewire or card reader.  Not that I use those all that much, but they would have been nice on such an expensive laptop.  They could have gotten rid of the parallel port to add them because they are rarely used anymore.

Optical Drive:

Most ThinkPads come with a CDRW/DVD combo drives even though DVD burners are common on a lot of other laptops.  Newer T43s are more likely to have a DVD burner.  Mine came with a Hitachi-LG 24x/8x drive combo drive.  ThinkPads have a super slim modular bay.  There are only a few drives that will fit in there.  I decided not to get one with a DVD burner because IBM burners are slow and expensive.  The burn quality on the drive is not very good either.  I have the modular battery and like to keep it the bay, so an external seemed like a good choice.  I purchased a NEC ND-6500A from NewEgg and a case for it from Centrix Intl.  The burn quality on the NEC is the best I have seen on a laptop drive and it is much faster than the 2x Panasonic drives offered by IBM.  The case it a little cheap and platicky, but seem to work as described.  It is USB powered so thankfully I do not have to carry an adapter.

Audio:

It is a laptop so using it’s speakers to listen to audio will do in a pinch, but a good pair of headphones is a must.  I use the ones that came with my Creative Labs Muvo2.  It uses a SoundMax chip.

Battery:

I have the larger nine cell and the modular bay battery.  I haven’t done any scientific testing, but with both batteries full charged it goes between six and seven hours on medium settings with wireless on which is excellent considering the larger screen.  More often than not, I stop using it before the battery runs out.

Software:

All ThinkPad T series laptops come with Windows XP Pro.  It comes with quite a bit of additional software.  For the burner there was Sonic Record Now and WinDVD 4 to view DVDs.  Microsoft Works and a 90 day Norton Trial were on there.  It also has numerous utilities installed like battery MaxiMiser, hard drive protection software, and the UltraNav.  There is the Access IBM button as well.  You can think of it as your notebook’s assistant.  Push it and you can find out everything you wanted to know about your ThinkPad and more.  You can use it to recover your ThinkPad in case it ever gets corrupted.  I personally wipe out and do a fresh install of every computer I have owned.  That way I can get rid of all the extra stuff I don’t like.  Then after I finish installing it just the way I like, I use Arconis True Image to make an image of the hard drive.  That way if I ever want to re-install, True Image can re-install a blank hard drive in about five minutes.  I have also had Unbuntu Linux and Windows 2000 installed on it.  Both worked very nicely.  ThinkPads are known to be Linux friendly.  T42s also support Windows NT, Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows ME.

Service & Support:

I have only had to use support a few times since owning my ThinkPads.  They always have picked up in the first few rings and I have never been put on hold.  The reps have been friendly and competent.  It would be nice if there was chat or an email offered as support.  Sometimes I want to ask a question, but I do not feel it rises to the level of making a phone call.  When I installed Windows 2000 I was having an issue with the wireless driver.  I called support and they declined to help me since my notebook came with XP.  I thought that was a little shabby.  I could understand if they never supported Windows 2000, but they support Windows back to Windows 95.

Conclusion:

Overall the T42 is a great notebook.  When I am using it in my lap it is a dream.  The performance is very good and the FlexView screen is astounding.  A great choice for people like me who do not like coated screens.  It is very well constructed.  I can see why for me it is the perfect blend of size and performance.  Not too big and not too small.  Anyone looking for a well constructed and versatile notebook, business user or otherwise, would do well to consider it.

Pros & Cons:

Pros:

  • Well Built
  • Great Screen
  • Good Performance
  • Long Battery Life
  • Cool and Quiet

 Cons:

  • A Little Heavy
  • No Good DVD Burners

Pricing and Availability

Other Thinkpad T42 Reviews on NotebookReview.com




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