First 700-MHz Notebook: IBM's New ThinkPad

SAN FRANCISCO (05/01/2000) - Clear the passing lane, there's a new speed demon on the road--IBM Corp.'s new ThinkPad T20, a lean, mean computing machine with Intel's latest mobile CPU, the 700-MHz Pentium III SpeedStep. Set to replace IBM's ThinkPad 600 series, the T20 line sports a new case and more features for busy travelers.

The 700-MHz SpeedStep CPU led a preproduction T20 to a PC WorldBench 2000 score of 138, the best ever for a Windows 98 laptop and nearly 7 percent higher than the average of five PIII-650 notebooks we've tested in the past. Like Intel's other SpeedStep CPUs, the new chip will step down to a battery-saving clock speed (550 MHz) when it's not plugged in. Unless you do CPU-intensive tasks, however, disable this option and enjoy the performance--you won't lose more than a few minutes of battery life. With SpeedStep enabled, the unit lasted a respectable 3 hours, 21 minutes on our battery test.

Right off the bat, you'll see a new Bluetooth-ready UltraPort connector on the T20's screen lid. Bluetooth is a wireless protocol that lets PCs and cell phones, for example, talk to each other; you'll need a card (the PC Card version is due out in July) to use the functionality. Currently, you can use the port to attach a $106 digital camera that takes stills and video. (The camera also connects via the USB port.) With the bundled software, you can take snapshots and send video e-mail. I found the package intuitive and had the camera running in minutes.

Other advances include a built-in ethernet port and a new place for the on-switch: It's above the keyboard rather than on the side, so it's less likely to get switched by accident. You also get a programmable ThinkPad button. By default, it launches an easy-to-use program called Access ThinkPad, which holds system information and links to a quartet of IBM portals, including one with a small-business focus. S3's Savage IX8 AGP graphics chip set with 8MB of RAM drives the brilliant 14.1-inch LCD. Our unit also had a good-size 12GB hard disk and 128MB of RAM.

Though not backward-compatible, the media bay modules (including a second battery, a hard disk, and CD-RW and LS-120 drives) are interchangeable with those in the new ThinkPad A20 series of portables (which replaces the ThinkPad 700 and 390 lines). Most modules are also hot-swappable. Our system didn't come with DVD player software, so we didn't test DVD playback. Unlike the 600 series, the T20 needs a $47 cable with a parallel connection to use the floppy drive externally.

The $3699 T20 is pricier than many high-end units, but it offers a richer feature set in a 6.5-pound package--right on target for a performance-hungry business traveler.


A Powerful punch in a portable ThinkPad package.

IBM ThinkPad T20 (model 41U)

PRO: Fast; brilliant screen; good battery life.

CON: User must buy adapter cable to use floppy externally; not all media modules are hot-swappable.

VALUE: Great for power-hungry salespeople and execs.

Street price: $3699


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