ThinkPad X40 review: ThinkPad X40

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CNET Editors' Rating

2.5 stars OK
  • Overall: 5.2
  • Design: 6.0
  • Features: 6.0
  • Performance: 4.0
  • Battery life: 4.0
  • Service and support: 6.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Light; modular design; excellent performance; long battery life.

The Bad Pricey; no FireWire; no integrated optical drive; no touchpad.

The Bottom Line Business travelers who like to travel light should definitely consider IBM's sleek, new, full-featured powerhouse: the ThinkPad X40.

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summary

Editor's note: We have changed the ratings in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Find out more here.

The sad truth about small laptops is that shaving off size and weight typically means sacrificing performance and features. The IBM ThinkPad X40 is an exception. At a mere 2.7 pounds--IBM's smallest laptop ever--it combines true ultralight portability with all the right expansion, connectivity, and battery options for the business traveler. It's much sleeker than IBM's other ultraportable, the ThinkPad X31. The ThinkPad X40 lacks an integrated optical drive, but its powered USB port makes it easy to add one, or you could add one via the media slice. Unfortunately, the X40 doesn't include a FireWire port. And despite its full-size keyboard, it may be cramped for some, especially if you have large hands. The ThinkPad X40 is our top pick for a business ultralight. The IBM ThinkPad X40 is a slim ultraportable that is easy to beef up with additional ports, expansion options, and batteries. The base system weighs only 2.7 pounds and includes a four-cell battery that snaps in flush with the back of the system, giving the X40 a decidedly trim form factor. You can also get the ThinkPad X40 with an eight-cell battery, which protrudes about an inch from the back of the laptop and more than doubles the battery life. For the truly power hungry, IBM offers an even bigger battery that is wedge shaped and snaps on to the bottom of the X40. This third battery adds another three hours of uptime and works with either the four- or the eight-cell battery.

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The X40's modular design gives you a supersleek ultraportable or a compact powerhouse.

Although the ThinkPad X40's base configuration includes a nice array of ports and connectors for such a trim system, it doesn't include an integrated disk drive, and that's a typical exclusion for a tiny ultraportable. However, you can easily add an optical drive to the X40 by attaching IBM's optional UltraBase dock. The wedge-shape dock weighs a portable 1.3 pounds and attaches to the bottom of the laptop. It moves most of the X40's ports to the rear and adds parallel and serial connectors. The dock also includes an Ultrabay slim drive that can house a combo CD-RW/DVD drive, a second hard drive, or an additional battery. Our only disappointment with the Ultrabay is that you can't use it and the extended-life battery simultaneously.

The ThinkPad X40 has an exceptionally small footprint, 10.59 by 8.31 inches, small enough to fit on a food tray in coach and still have room for your orange juice and peanuts. Despite these diminutive dimensions, the IBM ThinkPad X40 sports a spacious, responsive, full-size keyboard with a pointing stick and three cursor-control buttons. The downside to the X40's small footprint is that there's not enough real estate on the base to rest your palms while typing, especially if you have large hands. There's also no touchpad on the X40.

The 12.1-inch XGA display is small but sufficient for business-related tasks and is attached to the base with thicker metal hinges than those of the older ThinkPad models. All this makes for one of the sleekest and sturdiest ultraportables on the market.

For such a dainty ultraportable, the IBM ThinkPad X40 packs a serious punch. The entry model comes equipped with a Pentium M 1GHz processor and 256MB of DDR SDRAM. Workhorse models include a 1.2GHz Pentium M with 512MB of memory. The X40 also comes with a new smaller, quieter, and more shock-resistant hard drive, with a capacity of either 20GB or 40GB.
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The X40's powered USB port makes it easy to attach an external optical drive.

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Gigabit Ethernet and an SD slot add fast connectivity and sleek expandability to the X40.

Even in its base configuration, the IBM ThinkPad X40 sports a useful array of ports and expansion options. The right side of the X40 harbors a 10/100/1000 Ethernet port, a modem port, an SD slot, an IR port, a USB port, a PC Card slot, and earphone and microphone jacks. The left side of the laptop includes a standard VGA connector for an external display and a special powered USB port. Although the X40 lacks an integrated optical drive, its special USB port lets you connect an external optical drive without the need for an additional power source. IBM decided not to include FireWire on the X40, which will leave some video enthusiasts in the dark.

IBM has a reputation for selling bulletproof notebooks that can withstand the trials of business travel, and the ThinkPad X40 is no exception. The X40 comes equipped with IBM's active protection system, which automatically detects sudden motions and parks your hard drive to protect your data. It also comes with IBM's Rescue and Recovery solution, a separate operating system that you can load when your primary OS refuses to boot. The Rescue and Recovery system even includes a browser that lets you use your Web mail account or tap into the X40's Access IBM resources.

The IBM ThinkPad X40 comes with Windows XP Professional as its default OS. Productivity software costs extra, but you have your choice of three flavors of Microsoft Office: Basic, Small Business, and Professional. IBM's Client Security Software is also available for the X40. This free download lets you take advantage of a chip on the X40 that stores digital keys, usernames and passwords, and other confidential data on this chip, keeping it secure even if the operating system is compromised.

The IBM ThinkPad X40 takes first place in our roundup of ultraportable laptops. The ThinkPad X40 barely beat the heavier HP Compaq Tablet PC TC1100 in mobile performance, coming in just a hair above it. Compared to the Sony VAIO TR2A, however, the IBM ThinkPad X40 is a clear winner, scoring more than 20 points higher. The X40 is the highest-scoring Pentium M 1GHz-based system we've tested, so rest assured that it will satisfy your ultraportable mobile performance needs.

Performance analysis written by CNET Labs assistant lab manager Eric Franklin.

Mobile application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark 2002 performance rating  

To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark 2002. 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.

System configurations:

HP Compaq Tablet PC TC1100
Windows XP Tablet; 1GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 420 Go 32MB; Fujitsu MHT2040AT 40GB 4,200rpm

IBM ThinkPad X40
Windows XP Professional; 1GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Intel 82852/82855GM/GME Extreme Graphics (up to 64MB); Hitachi DK13FA-40 60GB 4,200rpm

Sony VAIO TR2A
Windows XP Home; 1GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel 82852/82855 GM/GME Extreme Graphics (up to 64MB); Toshiba MK4004GAH 40GB 4,200rpm

In battery life, the IBM ThinkPad X40 has a place at each end of the spectrum. Configured with its small 14.4V, 1,900mAh (27WHr) battery, the IBM ThinkPad X40 lasts more than two and a half hours. Not too exciting, but you can't expect much from such a small battery. That said, two and a half hours is still great for a 27WHr battery. When we configured the IBM ThinkPad X40 with its large 14.4V, 4,300mAh (62WHr) battery, the laptop cranked for much more than five hours. There are no surprises with the comparison systems; the HP Compaq Tablet PC TC1100m, with its average-size 11.1V, 3,600mAh (40WHr) battery, comes in third place, with nearly four hours of life. Also, the Sony VAIO TR2A comes in second, utilizing its more powerful 11.1V, 4,300mAh (48WHr) battery to get over the four-hour hump. With its battery score, the IBM ThinkPad X40 is one of the longest-lasting systems we've seen and should satisfy even the most demanding on-the-go user.

Battery life analysis written by CNET Labs assistant lab manager Eric Franklin.

Battery life  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark 2002 battery life in minutes  

To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark 2002. 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.

System configurations:

HP Compaq Tablet PC TC1100
Windows XP Tablet; 1GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 420 Go 32MB; Fujitsu MHT2040AT 40GB 4,200rpm

IBM ThinkPad X40
Windows XP Professional; 1GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Intel 82852/82855GM/GME Extreme Graphics (up to 64MB); Hitachi DK13FA-40 60GB 4,200rpm

Sony VAIO TR2A
Windows XP Home; 1GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel 82852/82855 GM/GME Extreme Graphics (up to 64MB); Toshiba MK4004GAH 40GB 4,200rpm

IBM's industry-standard service and support numbers among the ThinkPad X40's many accoutrements, including the company's standard three-year warranty. The three years applies to the system and its hardware components, with the exception of the ThinkPad X40's various batteries, which are covered for only one year. Offering shorter coverage for batteries, typically one year, is a standard practice among laptop vendors. You can upgrade the three-year system warranty to include either onsite or depot repair for up to a maximum of five years. The onsite-repair option is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. next business day and is reasonably priced, starting at $49.95 for one year. During your warranty period, you get 24/7, toll-free technical support. After that, support calls cost $35 dollars per incident. The IBM ThinkPad X40 is also eligible for the company's International Warranty Service, which you can use to get technical support in a number of countries around the world, from Algeria to Zimbabwe.

IBM also helps you resolve troubleshooting issues yourself, with comprehensive documentation and online resources that you can garner with a simple press of the Access IBM button above the keyboard. The ThinkPad X40 also comes preloaded with IBM's new Rescue and Recovery platform, a secondary operating system that lets you recover data on your hard drive and access the Internet even when your primary operating system won't boot.

To find out more about how this product's warranty really stacks up and what you should look for in terms of service and support, take a look at CNET's hardware warranty explainer.

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Where to Buy See all prices

Lenovo ThinkPad X40 2382 (Pentium M 1 GHz, 256 MB RAM, 40 GB HDD)

Part Number: 23821GU Released: Feb. 1, 2004
MSRP: $1,649.00 Low Price: $128.99 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Feb. 1, 2004
  • Installed Size 256 MB
  • CPU Intel Pentium M 1 GHz
  • Resolution 1024 x 768 ( XGA )
  • Operating System Microsoft Windows XP Professional
  • Color black
  • Weight 2.7 lbs
  • Graphics Processor Intel Extreme Graphics 2