IBM ThinkPad T43 First Thoughts Review (pics, specs)

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The IBM ThinkPad T43 carries on the torch of fantastic performance, design and usability that the T-series of notebooks from IBM has always offered.  Flashy consumer notebook with glossy wide-screen display this is not, but rather get down to business and get your stuff done is what the T-series has been, and with the new T43, still is all about.  Following are some first thoughts on the new ThinkPad T43.

A view of what you get in the box with a new ThinkPad T43 (view larger image)

The configuration process for the ThinkPad T43 brings a different set of options to what we were able to select with the ThinkPad T42. 

  • For one, we now have the ability to include a PCI Express compatible graphics card in the form of the ATI X300 graphics card.  If given enough video RAM the X300 is good but would likely struggle with demanding 3D games.
  • Furthermore we can also now configure the ThinkPad T43 with integrated graphics, something that could not be done with the T42.  IBM’s thinking with this option is that the new Intel processors and Intel Integrated Multimedia Accelerator can provide decent graphics performance for those that are less demanding on graphics needs of a notebook, and the improved graphics abilities of the Intel Sonoma chipset (which Intel claims 90% improved graphics performance with) is enough to consider integrated graphics a worthy and more cost effective option for the T-series.
  • The new line of Pentium M chips from Intel, being referred to as the Sonoma chipset (915GM Express) is now a standard option with varying processor speeds available.  2MB of L2 cache, 533MHz Front Side Bus speed, support for the PCI Express platform and an overall improved architecture are some of the advantages of this latest Mobile processor family from Intel.
  • An ExpressCard Slot and PCMCIA slot are now standard on the T43, the ExpressCard slot will eventually replace PCMCIA as the preferred style of accessory expansion on notebooks.  But for now wise manufacturers such as IBM are including the “legacy” PCMCIA slot and new ExpressCard slot as there are few ExpressCard accessories on the market right now.
  • The fingerprint reader is now available on the 14.0″ screen and 15.0″ screen sized ThinkPad T43.  The fingerprint reader was first included in the T42 series about six months ago and due to its popularity has pushed its way into being a standard option for the T43.
  • New and faster DDR2 SDRAM now replaces the DDR SDRAM that was available with the T42, the DDR2 support comes about due to the new Intel Penium M chip providing support for such type memory.

IBM ThinkPad T43 Specs as Delivered

  • Intel Pentium M 750 (1.86GHz, 2MB L2 Cache, 533MHz FSB)
  • 14.0″ SXGA (1400 x 1050) display
  • 60GB Hard Drive
  • 512MB DDR2 SDRAM
  • CD-RW/DVD-RW (CD 24x Read, 16x Write) (DVD 3x Read, 2x Write)
  • Standard 6-cell battery and optional 9-cell extended life battery
  • Ports: 2 USB 2.0, 1 ExpressCard slot, 1 PCMCIA card slot, 56K Modem, Ethernet LAN port, PS2 port, headphone jack, microphone jack, parallel port, VGA out port
  • Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2
  • ATI X300 Graphics Card with 64MB RAM
  • Intel PRO/Wireless 2915 802.11 a/b/g internal wireless card
  • Fingerprint scanner for security

Looking across the landscape of the keyboard we see a rather beautiful number after the T, a 43! (view larger image)

Design and Build

The design of the ThinkPad T43 in regards to looks is the same as ever.  Upon a quick glance the only thing that would differentiate the T42 from the T43 is the model number engraving on the lower right hand side of the screen.  Since the ThinkPad T43 is intended for and targeted at business buyers, this look is just perfect and the black professional look of the ThinkPad T-series long ago became an icon of the ThinkPad brand — so don’t expect the look to change, possibly ever!

Below are some pictures of each side of the ThinkPad T43, note that I have the optional 9-cell extended life battery installed so the battery sticks out, the regular 6-cell battery is flushed with the back of the T43:

ThinkPad T43 right-side (view larger image)

ThinkPad T43 left-side (view larger image)

ThinkPad T43 back-side (view larger image)

The ThinkPad T43 falls squarely into the thin-and-light style of notebook category.  The travel weight of the 14.0″ screen with fingerprint reader T43 is about 4.8 lbs and thickness is about 1.0″.  So this notebook is easy to tote around with you and can certainly be used on flights and during travel.  In fact, this notebook was designed to be a mobile workstation.  The built in hard drive protection system (called Active Protection System by IBM) is designed to protect the hard drive data for those times when you’re running about with the notebook and it accidentally slips and hits the ground.  So although this notebook is thin-and-light, it is also rugged.  The build is 100% solid, with metal hinges holding the screen so there’s absolutely no wobble and a case that will absorb any drop of up to 3 feet, the ThinkPad T43 is fit for a Mobile Warrior in every sense of the word!  This machine is simply solid.  No part flexes, every keyboard key feels individual and every moving part gives you just that right amount of resistance that lets you know it’s put together well.

For the sake of amusement, a side by side of the brand new ThinkPad T43 Pentium M (left) alongside a 5-year old Intel Celeron i-Series ThinkPad (right) (view larger image)

Screen

ThinkPad T43 front view and screen (view larger image)

The ThinkPad T43 is available with a 14.0″ or 15.0″ screen, the 14.0″ version lends itself well to the folks that need to travel a lot and desire a light style notebook, while the 15.0″ version, although being light for its size, could also serve as a desktop replacement style notebook if configured with higher end specs.  The screen is availabe in XGA resolution, SXGA or UXGA.  The finish is matte, not glossy like so many of the consumer oriented notebooks we’re seeing come onto the market now.  There is no widescreen option with the ThinkPad T43 either.  For some that are becoming tired of seeing a steady march of glossy widescreen display style notebooks released they will be relieved to see the T43 sticking to the tried and true screen it has used in the past.  The screen is decently bright, certainly not the brightest out there, but absolutely bright enough and with enough contrast to provide a pleasurable viewing experience.

Keyboard

There’s not much to say here other than the fact the IBM ThinkPad T43 keyboard is better than any other notebook out there, hands down.  It hasn’t changed from the T42, so I suppose we have to say it’s on par with its former self, but you know IBM isn’t going to change something such as the keyboard that’s so well loved.  The keyboard is simply a joy to type on, the keys provide great feedback, each key feels individual and there is no flexing of the keyboard (flexing is when you push in one key and others around it depress down, a sign of bad build), and the full-size keyboard just feels plain solid and invites your fingers to glide over it with the only limitation to typing speed being you, the person using the keyboard!

ThinkPad T43 keyboard (view larger image)

TouchPad and Pointing Stick

Toss out that mouse.  A trained ThinkPad user is obsessed with keeping their fingers on the keyboard, raising your hand to get to a mouse is a waste of time.  With the trackpoint stick built into the keyboard I never lift my hands to navigate a mouse, the pointing stick allows me to quickly move the cursor to where I want it to be on the screen.  The mouse buttons that are part of what IBM calls the UltraNav package are simple to push in and a joy to use.  The scroll bar button (in between the left and right mouse buttons) makes it easy to simply hold in and then use the pointing stick to scroll up and down on web pages or spreadsheets.  There is a TouchPad and more typically laid out mouse buttons for those who prefer such a style of input interface, so IBM is really trying to appeal to everybody here and it goes to show that they’re highly concerned about usability and making it easy for everybody to get things done.

Performance

The performance and snappiness of the T43 with the newest Intel Pentium M 750 1.86 GHz processor and dedicated graphics card is fantastic.  I have the ATI X300 graphics card with 64MB of RAM in my T43, and while that won’t suffice for playing games such as Doom 3 in their highest graphics mode, it will allow you to play most games and give you a real edge in graphics performance as opposed to an integrated graphics solution.  I have not run any benchmarks on this laptop yet but will do so for the upcoming full review.  The perceived performance so far leads me to believe the T43 is seriously faster than the T42 as the bootup and handling of typical applications I use is seamless.

More to Come

I’ll have a full review in the next few weeks for the ThinkPad T43 in which I will cover many more of its features.  After all, with the T43 it’s not just the big things that make it great but all the little extra hardware and software features that don’t usually get talked about that make this such a great notebook.  We will also have benchmarks and more pictures in the final review.

Pricing and Availability

You can select from various models of the IBM ThinkPad T43 so that the T43 meets you specifications and price! 


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