IBM has put its midpriced, mainstream ThinkPad R40 series through a major revamp. The blast of high-tech steroids stretches its battery life immensely and expands its configuration options to include Intel's Centrino triad. CNET tested a modest ThinkPad R40 configuration, equipped with the slowest of the three Pentium M choices and the smaller of two screen-size options. But it performed 17 percent faster than the ThinkPad R40 that , and its battery kept chugging along for 5.5 hours, the longest we've seen for a standard battery. With a pedigree like that, the ThinkPad R40 makes a good fit for the business traveler or the desk jockey.
IBM's slablike, all-black, matte-plastic shell gives the ThinkPad R40 series a stern, sober look that hides its practical, friendly design. All ThinkPad R40 models are now the same size (the previous batch had a larger size to accommodate a 15-inch display), and they seem slightly stocky at 1.75 inches thick but only 12.25 inches wide by 10 deep. The R40 weighs 5.8 pounds--6.8 with the AC power supply--which is reasonable for a mainstream notebook.
Sturdiness is the watchword with the ThinkPad R40 series. A lip extends from the edge of the lid and seals snugly against the base when closed. Heavy steel hinges attach the lid to the base. Two clasps, instead of one, keep the lid closed. All of this, plus an unusually rigid case, makes the ThinkPad R40 feel especially reliable.
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|Right- and left-click mouse buttons reside above and below the touchpad.|
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|The keyboard has no cramped keys, nor does it sag.|
Hands-on elements of the design also made a strong impression. The optical drive in the media bay can be removed by tugging a latch on the side of the notebook; you don't have to turn it upside down to find the release latch, as is required with most laptops with swappable bays. A row of status lights embedded in the lid near the hinges is visible whether the notebook is open or closed; they're not buried under the lid, which is more common. When working, you have the choice of two sets of mouse buttons for left- and right-clicking, and both a touchpad and a pointing stick for moving around onscreen.
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IBM includes three different rubber tips for the pointing stick.
IBM's keyboard and other data-entry components deserve mention. The keyboard has no cramped keys, nor does it sag, and the keys provide good feedback without any wiggle, though they do clatter some and there is no Start menu key. There are actually five buttons for mousing around; one, embedded between the upper set of left- and right-click buttons, is really for scrolling. IBM provides software to set up the touchpad for special functions, such as jumping to certain places on the screen. As with other recent pointing-stick-equipped ThinkPads, IBM includes three differently shaped rubber tips, which we've nicknamed the Mushroom, the Sandpaper, and the Sunken Chest. Finally, the stereo speakers on the front edge sound fairly lively.
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The 14.1-inch screen we tested was a minor disappointment.
Though our test unit came with the slower 1.3GHz Pentium M and the smaller 14.1-inch (diagonal) 1,024x768 screen, the system was well equipped in most other ways. It ran Windows XP Pro and had a DVD/CD-RW drive in the bay; a 40GB hard drive; a single Type II PC card slot; a four-pin FireWire port; two USB 2.0 ports; and S-Video, modem, infrared, and Ethernet, along with the usual parallel and monitor ports.
IBM builds Wi-Fi and Bluetooth antennas into the ThinkPad R40 series, but our test unit lacked the radio components. For $99, you can request Intel's 802.11b Wi-Fi transceiver, which makes the notebook a full-on Intel Centrino. Our unit came with a comfortable 512MB of memory; you can order 1GB for an extra $250. Plunk down $2,249 ($550 more than our test unit) to get a 1.5GHz Pentium M, a 60GB hard drive, the Centrino Wi-Fi transceiver, and a 15-inch (diagonal) screen displaying 1,400x1,050 resolution. (CNET did not test the 15-inch 1,400x1,050 screen, but we think it might look very crowded, and unfortunately, no 1,280x1,024 resolution is available.) All ThinkPad R40 configurations come with IBM's embedded security chip, but you probably won't put that to use unless your company's IS department sets it up for you.
The only disappointment--and it's a minor one--was our test unit's screen. Most of the configurations bearing 15-inch screens include ATI's Mobility Radeon 7500 graphics controller with 32MB of its own memory; but with 14.1-inch screens, including that of the unit we tested, you get the more basic, unnumbered Mobility Radeon with 16MB of memory. The screen provides such narrow viewing angles that we felt compelled to stay directly in front of the notebook. It doesn't produce strong colors, and its focus seems a bit soft. It's still good enough for everyday use, though.
The ThinkPad R40, with its 1.3GHz Pentium M processor, came in first place in this small test group, scoring 153 in the MobileMark2002 tests. Because all systems in the roundup house a 1.3GHz Pentium M, their mobile performance scores, not surprisingly, varied little. That said, the ThinkPad R40 is one of the fastest 1.3GHz Pentium M-based systems we've yet seen.
Mobile application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark2002. MobileMark measures both application performance and battery life concurrently using a number of popular applications (Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Netscape Communicator 6.0, WinZip Computing WinZip 8.0, McAfee VirusScan 5.13, Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1, and Macromedia Flash 5.0).
Find out more about how we test notebooks.