Netbooks might be all the rage these days, but there is nothing like the power and feel of a fully featured, slim-profile laptop such as Lenovo's ThinkPad T400s. Sure, it costs over $3000, but that's because it is immaculately built and has some of the most advanced features available on any notebook today. We're talking about built-in 3G connectivity, Wi-Fi with PAN, DisplayPort, eSATA, a solid-state drive and Always On USB.
The Lenovo ThinkPad T400s weighs approximately 1.75kg and is about as thick as a 290-page novel when its lid is closed (2.6cm). It has a 14.1in screen with an LED backlight and a 6-cell battery. Most importantly, it has a modern configuration that's sure to give it a lifespan of at least five years. It's driven by an Intel Core 2 Duo P9600 CPU, which runs at 2.53GHz; it has 2GB of RAM (upgradeable to 4GB); and it uses a 128GB solid-state drive. Not only that, the connectivity options include DisplayPort, for driving a super-high resolution external monitor, and eSATA, for connecting fast external hard drives.
The only area in which the ThinkPad T400s can be perceived as weak is video. It only has an integrated Intel 4 Series Express Chipset graphics adapter, which does not have its own RAM and borrows 32MB from the main system RAM. Nevertheless, the graphics performance of the ThinkPad T400s was good enough to record almost 1000 in 3DMark06, but it's not designed to run real-time 3D graphics. Instead it's designed to have enough grunt to drive the 1440x900 resolution of the 14.1in screen or a higher resolution monitor attached to the notebook's DisplayPort.
In our WorldBench 6 productivity benchmark the ThinkPad T400s recorded 103, which is a fast result for a laptop. It means that you can use it not only for running typical office applications and creating presentations, but also for multitasking, photo editing, some video editing and even 3D rendering. A big reason for the notebook's impressive performance is the Toshiba solid-state drive (model number THNS128GG4BAAA-N), which recorded a speed of 70.6 megabytes per second in our file transfer tests. This is a stunning result for a laptop storage device and it means that disk-intensive tasks, such as file compression, decompression and file searches, will be quicker than average. (The average transfer rate for a laptop storage device is 20-30MBps.) The Blender 3D and iTunes MP3 encoding tests returned times of 1min 11sec and 1min 7sec, respectively, which are very quick results for a laptop.
For networking, the ThinkPad T400s ships with an Intel WiFi Link 5300 wireless networking adapter, which supports 802.11a/g/n dual-band operation and PAN (personal area networking). It connected to our Belkin N+ Wireless Storage router at 144 megabits per second, and at 115Mbps to our Edimax 802.11n wireless router; these are slower results than we expected. PAN is a feature of the wireless adapter that lets it simultaneously connect to a wireless router for Internet connectivity and to a wireless-capable device such as a printer (in ad-hoc mode). It means that you don't have to disconnect from your main network if you want to quickly connect to a wireless-capable peripheral. Because of the PAN capability, the wireless adapter has three entries in the Windows Vista Control Panel: one is for the adapter, and the other two are for two modes of the adapter. The notebook also has a Gigabit Ethernet connection
To connect to the Internet while you're on the go, the Lenovo ThinkPad T400s ships with a built-in 3G module (Ericsson F3507g Mobile Broadband Minicard Network Adapter) that can be used with a Vodafone plan of your choice. There is a SIM card reader in the battery compartment, and a nifty utility (Access Connections 5) for managing your connections. We had no problems running the 3G module with a Vodafone account.
Another useful feature of the ThinkPad T400s notebook is its Always On USB Mode. This is available on the rear USB 2.0 port, and can be enabled through the BIOS. It allows the T400s to charge USB devices (such as a BlackBerry, iPod or iPhone) even while the laptop is switched off. There is one caveat: the notebook needs to be plugged in to a power outlet. That means it's not as good as Toshiba's Sleep-and-Charge USB ports, as it can't charge a USB device while you are on the road.
While the specifications and capabilities of the ThinkPad T400s are impressive, its build quality and design are even better. The laptop's shell is made from carbon fibre and the hinges are metal, making the entire unit feel very solid. You can pick it up from any corner without worrying if the structure will bend — even the right-hand side, which houses the DVD burner. The optical drive in this unit is actually slightly thicker than the drive found on the ThinkPad T300, which Lenovo says helps reduce the cost of the machine and improves its expandability; you can opt for a Blu-ray drive instead of a DVD burner, for example.
The keyboard is an absolute joy to use. It doesn't bounce at all; the keys have plenty of travel and feel soft to the touch, and they are full sized (18.5mm wide). The only problems are the delete and control keys, which aren't located at the absolute corners of the board (they are two and one keys in, respectively). But this is something that you can get used to the more you use the laptop.
Following the tradition of ThinkPads over the last 16 years, the T400s has a TrackPoint pointing device, which sits in the middle of the keyboard and complements the touchpad. It's great to have the ability to switch between the two pointing devices, especially while typing — you can disable the touchpad and still move the cursor whenever you need to by using the TrackPoint device. That's not to say the touchpad is no good. On the contrary, it feels great. It is very responsive and it supports gestures. You can use two fingers to zoom in and out of photos and to rotate photos (although the latter can be a little tricky to master). Typing at night is aided by a keyboard light, which sits at the top of the screen next to the webcam and does a great job of illuminating the whole keyboard. It's a feature we've grown to love over the years.
Perhaps the best part about the Lenovo ThinkPad T400s' construction is its almost completely silent operation. It has a cooling fan for the CPU, and this is the only audible component. It's the quietest laptop we've used to date. Not only that, but it's a cool-running laptop. This means you can use it for hours on end on your lap without feeling any heat. If you plan to use the ThinkPad T400s away from an outlet, its 6-cell battery should give you a running time of over 2 hrs 30min. That's how long it lasted in our video rundown test, with screen brightness set at full and the wireless radio enabled. By using a sensible power management plan and lowering the screen's brightness you should be able to get more life out of it.
The ThinkPad T400s lacks an ExpressCard slot for expansion, but with eSATA, a built-in 3G module and a DisplayPort, there is really no need for one. The lack of an ExpressCard slot makes the unit feel and look so much slicker. It's replaced by an SD card reader, and an ExpressCard/34 slot is an option if you really want it.
Despite the slow wireless networking and the lack of a dedicated graphics card, the 14.1in size, light weight, thin frame and advanced features combine to make the ThinkPad T400s the perfect laptop for corporate high-flyers. We give it 5 stars and heartily recommend it to anyone who is in the market for a well-performing and solidly constructed slim-profile notebook.
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