Portable One MX vs. IBM ThinkPad T43 Review (pics, specs)

by Reads (79,571)

by Raymond Lee, New York USA

Portable One MX (left) IBM ThinkPad T43 (right) (view larger image)


My current laptop is a Dell Inspiron 4000, which I purchased in January 2001.  Nearly four years later, the Inspiron is still ticking along but I figured it was time to upgrade to something a little more substantial.  Just to give you a taste of what my Dell 4000 has, it features a Pentium III 600MHz processor, 384MB of RAM, a 20GB harddrive, and a whopping 1 USB port.  This USB port broke after about two years, and the battery lost all charge after about 3 years.  So I had to use a PCMCIA USB 2.0 card to plug peripherals in, and I used a docking station (which offered another 2 USB ports, but sadly at 1.0 speed).  For wireless, I had to use a PC Card.  Surprisingly the laptop ran Windows XP relatively fine, as I maintained the software very well (no spyware, etc).

I had been searching for a laptop for a long time – and I was thinking of the Dell Latitude D610 but the headphone static issue that has been talked about in revriews scared me away.  So with much research I puchased a Portable One (P1) MX laptop with the following specs:

Portable One MX Specs:

  • Base Model Price: $1799
  • Pentium M Dothan 1.8 ghz
  • 14.1 SXGA (1400×1050) Screen
  • Weight: 4.9lbs
  • 64mb Intel Extreme2 Integrated Graphics
  • Hard Drive: 60GB 7200 RPM
  • Optical Drive: DVD-Burner, dual layer 8x
  • RAM: upgraded from 512mb RAM to 1gb RAM (+$115)
  • Warranty: upgraded from 1 year to 3 year warranty (+$100)
  • Bluetooth: added 3COM Bluetooth PC Card (+$50)
  • Expansion: added port replicator (+$100)
  • Extra Accessories: added additional ac adapter (+$39), free laptop case (excellent quality), free laptop sleeve (excellent fit)

All of this came to a total of $2202, no tax (they are based in California), with free 2 day fedex shipping.

I had tremendous hopes for the MX laptop as I read a considerable amount of reviews/user feedback on forums that the MX was such a great laptop.  The people at Portable One (Ivan who runs the company, and Patrick a customer representative) assured me that the MX was of better build quality and performance than even the revered IBM T series.  To say the least, I was heavily anticipating the MX as I was hoping to have a laptop that would best the T series.

However, after a few days of testing the MX, a friend suggested that the T series could be had for a cheaper price than the MX.  I did some research on the T, and then decided to compare the MX with an actual T series, so I ordered an IBM T43 (2687D3U) with the following specs:

IBM ThinkPad T43 Specs

  • Intel Pentium M 1.86GHz (Sonoma platform)
  • 14.1 SXGA (1400×1050) Screen
  • 64mb ATI X300 video card
  • 512mb RAM
  • 60GB 5400RPM drive
  • Optical Drive: DVD-Burner, 4x
  • ExpressCard slot
  • Integrated fingerprint reader for biometric security and login
  • extended 9 cell battery
  • port replicator (+$139)
  • extra ac adapter (+$39)
  • 3 year warranty

This priced out to $1559 with IBM Employee Purchase Program (EPP) discount, and I added a docking station which includes an extra AC adapter for $139.  The total, including tax (free shipping) came out to $1846.  Right from the start, the IBM has a substantial price advantage compared to the $2202 I paid for the MX.  Even with the regular price of $1949, it would price to $2270 (including port replicator and tax), which puts it right in the range of a comparable MX.

This review will highlight my personal opinions on both laptops and compare the two on a variety of categories, as I’m sure the prospective IBM / P1 buyer will be cross-shopping the two.  I’ll also attempt to give you some feedback/suggestion on which laptop you might like.  So read on!

Image Gallery for T43 and MX

As usual we’re providing images of these laptops, since we’re dealing with two here there’s quite a few so to see them all please view comparison pictures of the T43 and MX laptops by clicking here.  Click on each image in the gallery to see the larger view!

Screen: The MX laptop has a very nice bright screen.  When I was ordering the T43, I figured the MX’s screen was going to be better than the T43.  They are both equally as bright and sharp.  Actually, for some reason, I was getting a headache from using the MX but with the T43 I didn’t get such a thing.  I would need to squint to see the MX’s screen — but with the T43, it was fine for my eyes (and I don’t have the best eyesight).  Both are 14.1″ SXGA (1400×1050) — after you get used to the resolution, you’ll probably never want to go back to XGA.

Do note that both screens are no match for the new wide glossy screens found on more consumer oriented laptops.  I put my T43 next to my friend’s Inspiron 700m, and the 700m’s screen almost made me want to return the T43 solely based on that one aspect.  Not to mention the price of the 700m…but I digress.

Screen Verdict: Even

Build Quality:   The lid of the MX is made of carbon fiber alloy, and the rest of the body is a reinforced ABS composite material.  The T43’s lid is magnesium alloy.  Both lids are very solid all around, you won’t get any screen flex unless you push very hard.  Both lids of the laptops are solidly built – it is the rest of the casing that is in question.  The MX does have a little more solid a feel, as the IBM has an almost “plastic” feel where the palmrests are, leading to a bit of flex on the palmrests if you press down on it.  The MX doesn’t have that, kudos to P1 for a well-built laptop.

However, the IBM offers the active protection harddrive system, and a spillproof keyboard.  If you do opt for the MX, do note that P1 has assured me that their harddrive is suspeneded in a harness and that they’ve yet to have a laptop returned for harddrive failure. 

Build Quality Verdict: Portable One MX

Weight:  The T43 weighs approximately the same as the MX – even with the extended 9 cell battery.  It feels like the weight of the T43 is distributed better, and this leads to the impression that the T43 is lighter than the MX (even with the extended battery).  The IBM site lists the T43 with the 9-cell as 5.2lbs, which is a very suitable weight to carry around.  The MX is listed at 4.9 lbs, but with the optical drive it’s roughly at 5.2 lbs as well.  However since the T43 is thinner than the MX and looks sleeker (subjective opinion), this adds to the feeling that the T43 is lighter.

ThinkPad T43 on the left, Portable One MX on the right

ThinkPad T43 (with extended life battery sticking out) on the left, Portable One MX on the right

Weight Verdict: Even

Speed:  It’s practically moot, since both computers are overkill for my computing needs (Excel, Word, Outlook, occasional Access and Powerpoint, Photoshop once in a while and basic surfing, DVD playing).  Both machines will not hiccup at all, no matter what you throw at it.  The MX has a 7200RPM drive, and I had upgraded it to 1GB of RAM so this will certainly give it an advantage over the IBM. 

The IBM does include an ATI Radeon X300 with a dedicated 64MB video card for it, rather than an integrated solution which is what the MX has.  Additionally the X300 will be able to support Longhorn with its discrete graphics card.

Speed Verdict: Even*

*Uneven test as T43 has Sonoma 1.86ghz, 5400rpm, 512mb RAM, while MX is Dothan 1.8ghz with 7200rpm and 1gb RAM

Heat:  I noticed the MX got incredibly warm on the upper left bottom of the laptop (Northwest bottom corner if you will).  It was hot enough that it was noticeably uncomfortable placing it on my lap.  Additionally, the MX’s fan would come on intermittently for a few seconds very loudly, and then turn off.  To the MX’s credit, the T43 also got warm, but was still cooler than the MX.  No problem placing it on my lap.  The T43’s fan would come on quite often, but I suppose it is from its higher processor (as others have mentioned).  Many times, the T43’s fan is just on, but on low-speed (which is a slight hum).  It’ll kick into high-speed if intensive CPU usage is going on.

ThinkPad T43 left, Portable One MX right

I based the heat verdict on usability on the lap area.  As I am a male, and wish to have offspring down the road, this was a pretty important category to me.  Since the IBM wasn’t too hot, and was definitely usable off the desk, I give the IBM the nod here.
Heat Verdict: IBM ThinkPad T43 (less heat)

Battery Life:  The MX has very good battery life, I would say between 4 to 5 hours on a charge.  Even with the screen at maximum brightness, the laptop would last 3.5 hours or so.  With the MX having an 8 cell, the IBM’s 9 cell offers only a slight advantage – probably going about 6 hours generally with the wi-fi on and the brightness to middle, and ramping down the CPU.  Both are plenty for my needs, but the IBM has the slight edge (and I can live with the battery sticking out so no problem).  IBM’s standard is a 6 cell, which I’ve heard lasts about 3.5 hours or so. 

Battery Life Verdict: IBM ThinkPadT43 (only with extended 9 cell battery)*

*MX has edge when comparing standard batteries (MX’s eight cell vs. T43’s six cell)

Keyboard:  This is what sealed the deal for me to pick the T43 over the MX.  The MX’s keyboard feels somewhat cheap, and the feel is not very good compared to the T43.  Initially, the MX felt great, but as I used it more, it didn’t grow on me.  In fact I started to dislike it.  While key feel is important, key placement is even more important.  The CTRL, ALT and arrow keys are much smaller on the MX than the IBM.  A very large annoyance to me.  In addition, the Insert/Home/PageUp/PageDown/End/Delete keys are in a row on the right side of the MX.  This is very annoying, as I prefer having those keys like a real keyboard, which the IBM has on its keyboard.

I personally love the IBM’s keyboard – no windows key doesn’t bother me.  What I especially like is the forward/back Internet browsing keys above the arrow keys on the IBM.  On most non-IBM keyboards, I am able to use ALT plus right/left arrow key to quickly go forward and backward on webpages.  However, with the MX’s smaller than normal arrow keys and smaller ALT key, it is much harder to do it smoothly.  Big annoyance for me, I like to use this feature (ALT + arrow key) even if I’m using my mouse.

Here the IBM is a clear winner (a perennial one it seems with their keyboard).
Keyboard Verdict: IBM ThinkPad T43

Touchpad:  I’m not a fan of the MX touchpad.  The material isn’t very smooth, and my finger often catches on it, causing it to not move.  However, the T43’s touchpad material is much better and seems to glide smoothly without any hiccups at all.  There are only two touchpad buttons at the bottom of the touchpad, and a middle scroll button.  The scroll works but is slow – meaning that each click moves the webpage up or down a few lines.  I prefer the scroll’s that can move faster or slower depending on the user (which the IBM’s can do when used in conjuction with the trackpoint).  If you do buy the MX and primarily use a plugged in USB mouse, then the touchpad shouldn’t really be a concern for you then.

I also prefer the trackpoint of the IBM – I’ve heard there is no better trackpoint in the world, and I found out that this is quite true.  IBM once again shows its superiority here to the MX.  To me, as a laptop user, the onboard mouse functions (touchpad/trackpoint) are very crucial as I may not want to plug in a mouse all the time.  For instance, those times when I’m on an airplane, or when I’m lounging on a sofa – there really isnt any surface area to use an optical mouse.  Sure you can use your jeans or shirt, but that just looks weird.  I need to have a very good trackpoint/touchpad, and the MX fails in this regard completely.  It’s barely useable in my opinion, as it doesn’t glide very smoothly.  The IBM works fantastically.
Touchpad Verdict: IBM ThinkPad T43

Ports:  The MX and IBM are close here.  The MX has 4 USB’s and a firewire, and the IBM has 2 USB’s and no firewire.  Neither has memory card slots, and the IBM doesn’t have keyboard/mouse ports (must use USB).

I will be using a docking station on both when plugged in at home, and the IBM Mini-Dock has 4 USB’s, plus a DVI out which is terrific.  The MX’s port replicator has 4 USB’s but nothing else that is not already on the laptop, and doesn’t come with DVI.  In the future I plan to purchase a LCD that has DVI, so the T43 is futureproof in that regard.  MX doesn’t have a S-video but the IBM does (I don’t use it, but just good to know).  Also the IBM has the new expresscard while the MX doesn’t. 

Also back to the USB thing, 2 is sufficient for the mobile warrior on the road – but if you need 4 USB slots like me, then it probably is a USB mouse, a pocketpc cradle, an external harddrive for backups, and perhaps a miscellaneous USB device.  In that case, you’ll probably want a docking station since you likely won’t take the cradle and external harddrive on trips.  So 2 USB ports is sufficient for travel, and if you need more, then just get IBM’s Mini-Dock when you’re at your desk. 

The MX is nice touch to have 4 USB’s, so you could possibly save money by not buying their port replicator.  Personally I like to just detach the laptop and slip it into my bag (already containing a mouse and ac adapter) and just go, rather than having to go through the hassle of unplugging multiple devices.  Hence the docking station/port replicator.
Ports Verdict: Even (depending on needs, firewire, DVI, USB)

Customer Service:  Portable One wins here.  I’ve found Ivan and Patrick and the rest of the support team at Portable One to be the most helpful, friendly and responsive team in the business.  Ivan responds to my emails within the half-hour, and is always helpful and informative about his products and how he thinks it compares to other manufacturers products.  He also runs Portable One (to my knowledge), so to have the owner of a company personally email you is a very nice feeling.  I’m sure Ivan would go to great lengths to help the customer and to make sure the customer is satisfied.

Also when you call P1 on the phone, it automatically goes to a live person, which is nice – never a wait time.  If customer service is a big deal, then one should look into P1.  I’m sure IBM’s is solid, but longer wait times on the phone and you probably won’t establish a relationship with that rep like you can with P1 (for instance you can call back and ask for the same guy and he’ll remember what happened in your last communication exchange).

Believe me, P1 is the best support and sales staff I’ve ever experienced (both in brick and mortar stores and online stores).  You won’t regret buying from them — if you live in California, an added bonus is that they are located right there.

As P1 is based in Cali, so as I’m in NYC, the time zone difference works out fantastically.  When they are getting in for a 8am-6pm day, it’s really 11am-9pm here in NY.  So I ordered it on a Monday morning (around noon here, and 9am there).  They built and tested it Monday and Tuesday, and shipped it Tuesday evening.  Sure enough, I got it 2day fedex on Thursday.  The ordering process was terrific, when you call them on the phone they answer with a live person immediately.  I generally like to speak with Ivan, as he is very knowledgeable and helpful all the time.  What other company can give you that kind of individual service?

Also, IBM is going to Lenovo, so who knows what will happen down the road?
Customer Service Verdict: Portable One MX

Wireless:  T43’s range is better, no doubt about it due to its positioning of the antenna in the upper right corner of the LCD.  From the same spot, I could get signal from my router with the T43 where the MX was dropping the signal.  On the MX, I had to use my DLink PCMCIA Card to pickup signal. Granted, I was 3 stories above my basement where my router/cable modem sits, but with the T43 signal was not an issue at all.  It said 56% connectivity on the T43, whereas the MX could not get signal.  Yes, without a doubt the T43 wins hands down here.
Wireless Verdict:  IBM ThinkPad T43

Fingerprint: See Miscellaneous section
Bluetooth: See Miscellaneous section

Miscellaneous:  The Thinkpad light is quite nice as it’s built right-in.  Not a deal breaker, but comes in handy in certain dark situations.  To Portable One’s credit, the MX does throw in a free USB flexible light, but IBM’s integrated light is just beautiful.  IBM’s fingerprint solution is integrated while Portable One’s is a PC Card solution.  Additionally, T series do come with the Bluetooth integrated (didn’t opt for it though), while Portable One doesn’t and is an option for a bluetooth 3Com PC Card.  I particularly don’t like the IBM’s biometric security where you need to swipe your finger.  I find that it doesn’t work many of the times for me – so I’m resigned to typing in my password.  It’s a novelty and not a necessity anyway.  P1 does throw in a beautiful nylon/leather case, and a sleeve that integrates into the case.  I’ve never seen any other laptop bag like this that is this stylish, functional, and not heavy at all.  Terrific decision to give the bag for free as it adds a little more value to the MX package.

Miscellaneous Verdict: IBM ThinkPad T43 (Bluetooth, light, fingerprint are all integrated and not 3rd party add-on options)

Conclusion:  IBM T43 is just better in functionality and usability (keyboard, touchpad) and even in price (even without EPP, as T series starts at $1300).  There is no compelling reason for me to keep the MX over the T43.  Like I’ve repeatedly said, I absolutely need to have a functional keyboard and touchpad/trackpoint for travel purposes – and the IBM is flawless in this area.  Not to take anything away from Portable One, as they are an excellent company with a very good product.  Perhaps on their MX part 2 they can make the necessary adjustments, but until then I’m more than happy with my T43 and the additional $350 savings.  Also, the ATI X300 64mb video card is just additional icing to a very well-made IBM laptop.

I would definitely explore future Portable One product offerings, as they also have a X series competitor in their UX laptop.  In the future, if they were to come out with a widescreen glossy screen, and perhaps upgrade their keyboard, I would certainly want to explore those systems further.

Pricing and Availability for Portable One MX

Pricing and Availability for IBM ThinkPad T43



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