IBM's new ThinkPad R50 series sheds its more restrained past and emerges as a faster, long-lasting desktop replacement. No longer a budget notebook, this machine is an excellent choice for business or personal use, although depending on how you configure it, it may be more expensive than some competing notebooks. (Our test model cost more than $2,100.)
Featuring IBM's classic black case, the R50 series has grown by fractions of inches from the size of the previous generation, the ThinkPad R40. At 13 by 10.4 by 1.7 inches (W, D, H), the R50 series, at its thickest point, is thinner than HP's Compaq Presario X1000, which has a larger screen, but it's bigger and thicker than Dell's Inspiron 500m, which has a smaller screen. The ThinkPad R50 series weighs a fairly light 6.6 pounds, and even with its 10-ounce AC adapter, the system has a tolerable travel weight of 7.1 pounds.
Inside, the machine is loaded with up-to-date but modest components, including a 1.5GHz Pentium M processor, 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, and a DVD/CD-RW combo drive. Powered by an ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 with 32MB of video memory, the 15-inch XGA screen is sharp, rich, and more than bright enough.
Configuration choices abound, including a Pentium M processor between 1.4GHz and 1.7GHz, a hard drive from 30GB to 80GB, and a 14.1-inch or 15-inch screen. The system's $2,199 price tag is steep compared to that of a similarly configured Fujitsu LifeBook E4000, which sells for $350 less.
This is the notebook for the clumsy among us, thanks to patent-pending technology from IBM. If you drop the ThinkPad R50, an integrated motion sensor detects rapid acceleration, then temporarily "parks" the read/write head of the disk drive before the notebook hits the ground. The technology, called the IBM Hard Drive Active Protection System, is a unique way to prevent data loss, a problem for notebook users who take their systems on the road a lot.
As with earlier ThinkPads, the R50 series' keyboard is second to none, thanks to comfortable, firm keys. An excellent assortment of ports, old and new, line the notebook's edges, too: not only do you get the expected pair of USB 2.0 slots, but also FireWire, audio, S-Video, parallel, and external monitor connections. There's no flash-memory card slot, however, which may disappoint some digital camera shutterbugs.
Our test system did well on our MobileMark 2002 benchmark with a score of 156--just 1 point behind Compaq's Presario X1000. And the ThinkPad R50 series' excellent 4-hour, 50-minute battery life surpassed the competition. Should something go wrong, the notebook comes with an excellent three-year warranty on parts and labor.
Mobile application performance (Longer bars indicate faster performance)
Battery life (Longer bars indicate longer battery life)