Saturday, December 31, 2011
Lenovo ThinkPad T420s
The T420s retains the same beloved ThinkPad design that has graced all its predecessor. Much like a Porsche 911, the design is tweaked subtly with each new model, but always retain the same design language that makes it instantly recognisable: that is the rectangular boxy black bento-inspired shapre that every ThinkPad fan likes about it. It is understated, classy and does not shout 'look at me'. The T420s is all about function, before form and yet the classic design means that it will never age. My only complaint about the T420s, design wise, is it isn't quite as beautiful to look at as the X220-series.
The 14" LCD display with LED backlighting isn't the best display out there, but at least it is anti-glare one. The move from 4:3 to 16:9 aspect ratio annoys me, but at least the 1600x900 resolution meant I did not lose any vertical resolution. The widescreen aspect ratio also means that while this is technically a 14" laptop, the footprint of the T420s is equal that of an older 15" laptop with 4:3 aspect ratio. The bezels are quite thick, but no more than what you will find on a Macbook Air (yes I measured!). Personally I would welcome a move back to 4:3, if only so the full size keyboard would not look so awkward sandwiched by the stereo speakers.
Powering the display is a nVidia Quadro NVS 4200M Optimus GPU with 1GB VRAM. This is a power hungry discrete GPU, optimised for CAD rather than gaming. Despite the high power requirements, it is only just slightly better than the Intel GMA HD3000 integrated GPU, which can be found lurking inside the T420s. While the NVS 4200M GPU isn't capable of playing many modern games, it is more than capable of powering some great DirectX 9 titles like Half-Life with the settings set to maximum.
Storage comes courtesy of a 320GB harddrive that spins at 5400rpm. The best bit? The T420s has three storage bays. Three! The mSATA slot that is normally used for integrated WWAN mobile broadband can also be used to run a mSATA SSD drive. For example one could get an Intel 310 mSATA SSD and use it as their primary storage. In addition to that the DVD-RW drive can be removed and used with an Ultrabay HDD caddy. Actually, thinking about it, you could add yet another storage solution via the ExpressCard 34 PCI-express slot. So make that four storage bays.
Nestled conveniently in the middle of the keyboard is the famous TrackPoint mouse. The hate it or love it pointing stick is a huge favourite of mine, and is the single biggest reason why I buy ThinkPad notebooks rather than more glamorous brand. This mouse allows me to move the mouse pointer around, with great precision, without having to move my palms aways from the home row of the keyboard. There is a regular touchpad on the bottom, but I disabled it almost immediately after I bought this. If there is an option to remove the touchpad physically altogether I would have gone for that.
Running on default mode, the T420s remains cool at all times. Even cooler than my X61, and that was running on a low-power chip. The single owl-inspired fan can be found on the top left and back of the notebook, remaining ever so quiet when the laptop is idle or in normal use. The fan does get noisy, and the laptop warm, when the i7's Turbo Boost kicks in or when the nVidia GPU is in use.
Best laptop yet? No, of course not. Admittedly the design isn't suited for everyone, and while it does ship with a screaming fast processor, the nVidia GPU is slightly underwhelming when compared to the HD3000, and it may take a driver update or two before it reaches its potential. It would have been better if this shipped with a 4:3 display - a far more usable aspect ratio for web browsing. After all I would rather watch a film on my HDTV than on a 14" screen. Unfortunately it isn't Lenovo's position to decide on screen aspect ratios as most LCD makers have switched production to the dreadful 16:9 aspect ratio.
Still a top notebook the T420s is. If you are looking for a light business-class notebook with 14" display and a great keyboard, this is the notebook to get. The regular T420 might suit others who are looking for additional battery options, though do keep in mind that it is quite a bit heavier. And don't forget the venerable X-series. The new X220 has been lauded as one of the best ultraportable ever made.