Saturday, June 18, 2011

Lenovo ThinkPad T420s

If you're looking for a thin and light 14-inch business notebook, what better person to ask about it than someone who owns several? Keep reading to find out what one of our regular contributors has to say about the ThinkPad T420s.

The specifications of my ThinkPad T420s (model 4171CTO) are:

* Processor: Intel i5-2520M CPU (2.5GHz with TurboBoost to 3.2GHz, 3MB cache)
* Chipset: Intel QM67
* Screen: 14.0" anti-glare 1600 x 900 WXGA+ LED Backlit
* Memory: 1 x 2GB DDR3-1333 PC-10600 RAM (Samsung, 9-9-9-20) (to be upgraded)
* Storage: 7mm thick 320GB 7200rpm HDD (Seagate Momentus Thin)
* Optical Drive: 9.5mm thick SATA (Panasonic UJ8A2 )
* Wireless: Intel 6300 802.11a/g/n (an extra cost option)
* Graphics: Intel HD3000 (an extra cost option)
* UK keyboard
* Lenovo Trackpoint + Synaptics touchpad (77mm x 45mm / 3” x 1¾ ”)
* 34mm ExpressCard slot with SD card reader (an extra cost option)
* Web camera and microphone
* Battery: 44Wh 6-cell + optional 33Wh Ultrabay battery
* Standard 65W PSU
* Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
* Dimensions: 343 x 230 x 24-27mm (excluding feet 2mm to 4mm long) or 13.5" x 9.1" x 0.95-1.05"
* Advertised weight: Lenovo’s T420s datasheet states “3.94 lbs (1.78 kg) with optical drive”
* Actual weight: 1.83kg / 4.03 lbs (with Intel graphics, 6 cell battery, 2.5” HDD and optical drive)
* Travel weight: 2.18kg / 4.8 lbs (with standard 65W PSU and 1m mains cable)
* Weight with main and Ultrabay batteries: 1.94kg / 4.28lbs

Build and Design
The T420s has a very similar appearance and layout to its predecessor, the T410s. It is slightly wider with a reduced front-to-back depth in order to better accommodate the wider display. The internal hardware has been upgraded to use Intel’s Sandy Bridge platform , the main storage bay uses the recently introduced 7mm thick 2.5” drives instead of 1.8-inch devices and a USB 3.0 port replaces the USB 2.0 / eSATA combo port. Two notable design features of the T420s are that the battery is at the front (under the right palm rest) and most of the ports are on the back. The keyboard is located as near the screen as possible which provides space for generous palm rests and a large touchpad.

The T420s comes in what appears to be black or dark grey matte paint depending on the lighting, with a few hints of colour (red trackpoint stick and highlights on trackpoint buttons plus blue ThinkVantage and enter keys) to provide a little contrast. There are no shiny surfaces to show every fingerprint.

The T420s almost meets my preconception of the ThinkPad build quality. The notebook is built from a combination of metal alloy and carbon fibre to provide a suitable balance between strength and weight. However, there is some flex on the base under the optical drive; one can squeeze the bottom of the display between the hinges when the notebook is closed (that’s where I hold the computer when carrying it), there’s some looseness of the battery and the optical drive rattles in the bay (a side effect of the extra height so that a 9.5mm HDD in a caddy can also fit). The hinges have just the right amount of stiffness to hold the display securely without needing much force to adjust it and the keyboard has a positive action without any bounce. The display does flex a little and it is possible to apply enough pressure on the back to cause some ripples on the screen.

The main hard disk / SSD sits in a cage with rubber runners that provide both shock and vibration isolation. This is a different arrangement to on the Dell E6410 where the HDD is fixed directly into the chassis. Below is a photo of the HDD / SSD caddy with rubber runners.

The T420s is slightly wider than the Dell E6410 but has less front-to-back depth. When placed side-by-side with the Dell E6410 the difference in thickness is not very noticeable. One reason for this is that the T420s has longer feet that raise it above the table but don’t affect the travel thickness.

I haven’t tried removing the base of the T420s. It doesn’t have the convenient one piece removable base of the Dell. There is a cover for the memory, WiFi and WWAN or mSATA while the main storage device comes out at one side.
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