IBM ThinkPad T42 Review (pics, specs)

by Reads (47,999)

by Tim McNellie

IBM ThinkPad T42 Overview

The IBM ThinkPad T42 with Flexview is a damnably frustrating machine. It s not that it s a bad computer. Quite the opposite, it s easily one of the best thin-and-light business laptops on the market.

It s built like a tank, wrapped in IBM s rock-solid case that folds to a slim 1.2 inches. The screen is gorgeous, one of the best 15-inch displays you ll see on a notebook. The keyboard, long an IBM strong suit, is easily the best around. This T42 isn t the best performing laptop you ll find, but should be more than adequate for most users.

What s frustrating is that all that wonderfulness is contrasted by a mediocre battery life and the sometimes severe ghosting exhibited by the otherwise beautiful Flexview screen. A two-and-a-half hour battery combined with screen problems might not be major issues for lesser notebooks, but the T42 s strong suits along with its price make these flaws all the more noticeable.

IBM ThinkPad T42 Front View (click for larger image)

Buying An IBM ThinkPad T42

This review is based on the Think Express T-42 2378DXU configuration with the following specs:

  • Pentium M 735 1.7 GHz, 2MB L2 cache
  • 15-inch SXGA+ (1400×1050) TFT Flexview Display
  • 64MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9600
  • 512 MB RAM
  • 60 GB, 7200 RPM hard drive
  • CD-RW/DVD-ROM
  • Intel PRO Wireless 2200BG
  • Bluetooth
  • 6-cell lithium-ion battery
  • Windows XP
  • 5.4 pounds
  • One-year warranty

This package is listed at $2,299 on IBM.com, but taking advantage of a discount available to Mastercard users will bring that down to $2,184.05. (This discount, also good for Visa, Discover cards and certain banks, can also save you on accessories). Throw in a $270 three-year accidental damage warranty, shipping and tax (which IBM charges in all 50 states) and this notebooks costs $2635.57.

If you re going to buy a ThinkPad, it may be worth your time to find a friend or relative who owns IBM stock. The shareholder s discount can knock 10 to 15 percent off a computer s price. There are also numerous online resellers who can give you a better price than IBM, but in taking this route you forfeit IBM s 30-day no-questions-asked return policy and the ability to buy the company s accidental damage protection plan.

The Exterior (Lid Down)

Like IBM s other T40 series models, this laptop exudes physical quality from the first time you touch it. The screen cover is constructed of magnesium and prevents any screen flex. The computer s guts are housed in case of titanium-reinforced plastic. The whole thing is held together by a pair of sturdy metal hinges. The computer just looks like it could take a beating, though at these prices I wouldn t want to test that.

IBM ThinkPad T42 Angled View (click to view larger image)

The base contains two USB ports, an S-video output, parallel port, monitor output, PC card reader and modem and Ethernet ports. 


 
IBM ThinkPad T42 Right-Side View

IBM ThinkPad T42 Left-Side View

IBM ThinkPad T42 Back-Side View

Opened Up (Lid Up)
 
The inside of the machine is equally solid.  The IBM keyboard is easily the best I ve ever used. The full-size layout allows for fast, quiet and accurate typing with none of the buckling exhibited by some other setups (a major flaw for otherwise solid Toshibas). The keyboard feels like an integral part of the machine, not a string of keys slapped in as an afterthought. The only negative is the lack of a Windows key.

The palm rest is sturdy and doesn t get too hot, even with prolonged use. The bottom gets warm, but not to the point of discomfort, even while wearing shorts.  IBM s ThinkLight, which casts a blue glow over the keyboard, is handy for working in dark places. A touchpad and pointing stick are included.

Software

The ThinkPad T42 comes preloaded with Windows XP Pro and a handy but large suite of utilities. Included are Norton Anti-Virus, PC Doctor, Access Connections and IBM s Rescue and Recovery program, designed to allow users to get online help with the push of a button, even when the operating system won t boot. One clever feature shuts down the hard drive if shock or sudden movements are detected.

Not included are CD-ROM backups of these programs, though if you call IBM in the first 30 days after purchase they ll ship you a set.

The preload and recovery partition left about 50 GB free on the 60 GB hard drive.

ThinkPad T42 Performance

Performance-wise, the 1.7 MHz processor and 512MB of RAM proved more than acceptable for my uses. It takes between 90 and 120 seconds for the computer to boot Windows XP Pro, but once it gets going, it s plenty quick. The T-42 was just a second or two slower than my Athlon 1800-powered desktop when working with programs like Photoshop, Excel and Dreamweaver. With the processor set to the highest speed, there was never a lag when flipping between photo editing, word processing, web surfing, video playback and other tasks routinely performed at my office. The adaptive power setting occasionally resulted in slight delays when the computer resumed work after sitting dormant for a minute, presumably because the processor powered down and revved up as needed.

ThinkPad T42 Display

The 15-inch screen may or may not be in the same class as the best displays on Sony or Toshiba machines, but will still make most other notebooks look bad when comparing text, still images or even some animations. The screen is bright, the colors are vibrant, the matte screen does a good job filtering out reflections, and frankly, most other notebook displays just don t look right after using the Flexview.

The Flexview seems to have a slow pixel-refresh rate, however, which causes noticeable ghosting that occurs with some onscreen motion.

When characters on DVDs or in games move quickly, there is sometimes a trail left behind them. Too much motion and everything becomes blurry. Not indecipherably so, but enough to be annoying.

Dialogue scenes from the Lord of the Rings DVD were stunning in their clarity and detail, but once the action started, things got blurry quick. It was even worse in the restored The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. A black-and-white concert film from the Sixties left considerable streaks every time Sinatra took a step left or right. A moving white square in a monitor test looked like a comet with the tail it left behind.

I didn t test the screen with any action-oriented games, but watching the animated opening montage of Civilization III made me feel like I just ate a Vicodin sandwich chased with a bottle of Cuervo. Everything was a blur. The actual game, full of still images, looked fabulous, however.

Scrolling through documents looking for keywords can be a chore because the text becomes a blur once set in motion. There s also a touch of ghosting on a few web pages with sharply contrasting layout colors.

There s also a thin brown discoloration of the screen running down the right side of the screen that gets darker and more noticeable at the bottom, where the taskbar displays the time. This sounds worse than it is, but other Flexview users have reported the same problem.

Speakers
 
The ThinkPad T42 s speakers, situated beneath the palmrest, are just plain bad. Some reviewers claim the sound is acceptable but tinny. To me, the ThinkPad makes any kind of music sound like it s being played on a cheap transistor radio circa. 1930. There s no bottom, and the high notes sound thin. The only things that are halfway listenable through these speakers are clips of old radio broadcasts, which sound remarkably authentic given the poor sound. Headphones are a must.

Battery Life

The T42 is not a computer for long trips away from electrical outlets, in large part because of that power-guzzling Flexview screen. The six-cell battery lasts between two and three hours on most normal settings. This might be acceptable for a desktop replacement, or a cheaper mainstream notebook, but it s disappointing for an expensive machine ostensibly designed for mobility.

With the screen at its top setting and the processor set to adaptive, a full charge from the six-cell battery lasts barely two hours when web surfing.. Turn off the wireless or dim the screen and you might get an extra 20-30 minutes of light use. Plug in a set of headphones and that drops back to two hours.

With the processor at the very slow setting and the display turned down two notches to five (out of seven), the battery yields about 2 hours and 40 minutes of web surfing and word processing.

A DVD played less than two hours on power-saving settings ( very-slow processor speed, screen set to its middle brightness) before the machine shut off.

I suspect much of this is due to the Flexview s power consumption, which is significantly greater than a non-IPS display. Turning the screen down to zero with a minimal processor setting will allow greater computing time, but if you re going to do that, why bother buying the expensive display and fast processor?

IBM makes a nine-cell battery that adds up to 33 percent to a ThinkPad s life, but it s sold as an accessory that costs $160 from Big Blue, or about $110 from a reseller. It also adds about an inch to the back of the base, which could make it a tight fit for some computer bags.

Bottom Line
  
True to IBM s name, the Flexview T42 is a great machine for business applications word processing, number crunching, reading documents, creating spreadsheets, etc.  It s hard to say enough about the build quality and how wonderful it is to use the machine for many common tasks, provided you re near a power outlet.

The battery and ghosting should be addressed, but like an attractive woman in bad shoes, the T42 s flaws are glaring only because the rest of it is so damn great.  If IBM would ship a bigger battery or otherwise improve power management, this would be the ideal computer for many users. Improve the screen, and it s the perfect thin-and-light.

Pricing and Availability

The ThinkPad T42 can be purchased from IBM.com or various online retailers.  Use the NotebookReview.com price comparison database to find latest prices and links to merchants selling the T42.


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