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ThinkPad R40 review: ThinkPad R40

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MSRP: $1,249.00

The Good Long battery life; reasonable price; includes both 802.11a and 802.11b wireless-networking support; wide keyboard.

The Bad Big footprint; mediocre speed in lower configurations.

The Bottom Line The ThinkPad R isn't a screamer, but its low price and awesome battery life make it a smart choice for bargain hunters.

Visit for details.

7.5 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Battery 9
  • Support 6

You need a new laptop, yet your wallet is full of moths. Don't stress--the IBM ThinkPad R series may just fit your challenged budget. This mainstream portable starts at a very low $849 with a mobile Celeron processor, 128MB of RAM, a 13.3-inch screen, and a 20GB hard drive. Depending on your cash flow, you can load up on more expensive options, such as a fast Pentium 4-M processor, a 15-inch display, and 802.11a or 802.11b wireless cards. Every configuration comes with a big, long-lived battery, and the whole package falls in the reasonable six-pound range, with weight varying according to screen and battery size. You'll sacrifice some performance to get that price, but the faster, high-end R-series ThinkPads aren't necessarily worth the price, despite their better speed. Overall, the ThinkPad R series is a solid choice for the average user who cares most about cost.

Editor's note: This page has changed from our original version. Please see the corrections page. The R series' mainstream looks won't take your breath away, but this generally well-apportioned laptop allows you to work comfortably for hours. IBM constructed the case from the traditional black plastic you'll find on almost every ThinkPad on the market. It ranges from 12.3 by 10 by 1.5 inches and 6 pounds to 13 by 10.5 by 1.6 inches and 6.8 pounds in size, depending largely on your choice of a screen: from 13.3 to 15 inches. While the R series' weight is moderate for a mainstream notebook, its slightly oversized dimensions make the laptop appear wide and somewhat awkward to handle.

These four buttons let you control volume and access preloaded Help software.

Customize IBM's new pointing stick with your choice of textured caps.

Every R-series case contains a mainstream trademark: a single swappable bay for optical drives and extra batteries. The bay opens out of the right edge of the notebook, and the remaining edges feature a modern assortment of ports and slots. The left edge includes one USB 2.0 slot, microphone and headphone ports, and two PC Card slots (one Type II and one Type III); a FireWire port comes with most models. The back edge includes parallel, VGA, 56K modem, Ethernet, S-Video-out, and one additional USB 2.0 port; the front edge features an IrDA port in the left corner. Should you order either 802.11a or 802.11b wireless, a Wi-Fi port will reside on the front edge alongside two mediocre-sounding speakers.

The R series unfortunately doesn't ship with a setup poster, but we had no problems finding our way around the system with help from the preloaded Access IBM software. Hit the Access IBM button in the upper-left corner to launch the program, which includes tips on topics such as wireless, security, and extending battery life. Next to the Access IBM control sit three extra buttons for turning sound up, down, or off. This quartet flanks the R series' comfortable, desktoplike keyboard, which has only one flaw: It lacks a Windows key to provide easy access to your Start menu.

The ThinkPad's wide dimensions make for a large footprint.

PC Card, USB, FireWire, and other slots on the left side.

High-end R-series models include both a touchpad and a pointing stick, each of which come with a convenient pair of corresponding mouse buttons. Low-end cases offer only a pointing stick with two standard mouse buttons and a third scroll button. In a new twist on its signature red pointing stick, IBM ships each R series with three easily removable "caps" for the stick, ranging from flat and rubbery to round and textured. None feel better than the others; it's really a matter of personal preference. Finally, a handy light above the screen illuminates the keyboard when you're working through all-night flights.

Set aside a good chunk of time to configure your R series because IBM's list of options is endless. You can choose either a Celeron or Pentium 4-M processor running anywhere from 1.6GHz to 2.2GHz, while main DDR SDRAM memory is available from 128MB to 1,024MB, and hard drives measure 20GB, 40GB, or 60GB. Active-matrix screens come in 13.3-, 14.1-, or 15-inch sizes, but they all operate with a cost-saving, native resolution of 1,024x768, which is fine for regular work but not high enough for extremely detailed graphics. Fortunately, the 15-inch option is also available in a finer, 1,450x1,050 resolution. You'll even get the unusual ability to choose your graphics chip from either an older 16MB ATI Mobility Radeon or a fresher 32MB ATI Mobility Radeon 7500.

You'll find various secondary storage options for the R series. The single, swappable bay supports a CD, DVD, DVD/CD-RW combo, floppy, LS-240 (SuperDisk), or Zip 250 drive. The bay will also house 20GB, 40GB, or 60GB second hard drives, but you'll need an optional adapter ($49). The bay in the new R-series cases accepts a second 10.8V, 3,200mAh battery--a nice improvement over older models that can accept secondary drives but not a second battery. Each of the aforementioned add-ons fits in the bays of the other ThinkPad A, T, and X notebooks, allowing companies to conserve cash by sharing modules among employees.

This swappable bay supports optical drives and extra batteries.

Two built-in wireless antennae sit on either side of the screen.

IBM offers wireless options aplenty with the R series. Every system comes with two built-in antennae on either side of the screen side, and they recognize frequencies from 802.11a or 802.11b (Wi-Fi) mini-PCI cards. If you don't choose a Wi-Fi card at the get-go, you can install a card yourself at a later date by flipping open the mini-PCI cover underneath the laptop, or you can simply install a wireless PC Card in the R series' single Type II PC Card slot. That wireless PC Card will come with its own antenna inside or one that, less conveniently, extends over the edge of the card. You can get Bluetooth via an optional PC Card only, but each R series comes with integrated 56K modem and Ethernet jacks. Unfortunately, despite all the wireless options, the R series doesn't sport a handy on/off button for wireless control; you must use onscreen and OS controls instead.

On the software side, you can choose just about any Microsoft operating system your heart desires: XP Professional, XP Home, 2000, 98 Gold, 98 Second Edition, and NT 4.0 (with Service Pack 6a). More expensive R-series models ship with Microsoft Office XP Small Business Edition. If you're willing to pay a bit more, IBM will preload a number of helpful application bundles from four categories: finance, education/entertainment, graphics/Web design, and utilities/security. All ThinkPads costing $2,499 and more include IBM's cool hardware- and software-based Embedded Security System, which provides a complex web of protection for the sensitive information involved in PKI (public key infrastructure), VPN (virtual private network), and other secure environments.

How do you pick the right configuration from so many options? If your only objectives are to send e-mail, surf the Web, and do a little word processing, low-end specs are fine. But if you're thinking of watching videos, rendering graphics, playing games, or performing other intensive tasks, go with the extra kick that a faster processor, more memory, and a high-end graphics chip will give you. We advise bargain hunters to stick with the R series, but it's not necessarily worth configuring this notebook to its highest levels; true speed seekers should check out IBM's pricier laptops, such as the ThinkPad T series.

Mobile application performance
We tested an IBM ThinkPad R40 with a 2.2GHz Pentium 4 and 256MB of DDR SDRAM. With these top-of-the-line (and more expensive) specs, the R40 turned in an impressive performance but dropped behind the 2.2GHz P4 Compaq Presario 2810T, which led by 11 points. The ThinkPad's slower hard drive and reduced RAM may explain the performance difference--and that's the high end of the spectrum. The low-end ThinkPad offers a solid value, but you'll probably have to compromise on performance.

MobileMark2002 mobile performance test
Longer bars indicate faster performance
Compaq Presario 2810T
IBM ThinkPad R40
Dell SmartStep 250N
Find out more about how we test notebook systems.

System configurations:

Compaq Presario 2810T
Windows XP Professional; 2.2GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 64MB; IBM Travelstar 60GN 60GB 5,400rpm

IBM ThinkPad R40
Windows XP Professional; 2.2GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 32MB; Hitachi DK23EA-60B 60GB 4,200rpm

Dell SmartStep 250N
Windows XP Home; 2.2GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility M6 32MB; IBM Travelstar 40GN 40GB 4,200rpm

The IBM ThinkPad R40 barely managed to pull ahead of the Dell SmartStep 250N to claim first place in battery life. Aided by its 14.4V, 4,000mAh battery, the R40 beat the 250N by just 1 minute. The IBM also beat out the Compaq Presario 2810T by more than 10 minutes. Overall, the ThinkPad boasted exceptional battery life.

MobileMark2002 battery-life test
Time is measured in minutes; longer bars indicate better performance
IBM ThinkPad R40
Dell SmartStep 250N
Compaq Presario 2810T
To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark2002. MobileMark measures both applications 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).

System configurations:

Compaq Presario 2810T
Windows XP Professional; 2.2GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 64MB; IBM Travelstar 60GN 60GB 5,400rpm

IBM ThinkPad R40
Windows XP Professional; 2.2GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 32MB; Hitachi DK23EA-60B 60GB 4,200rpm

Dell SmartStep 250N
Windows XP Home; 2.2GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility M6 32MB; IBM Travelstar 40GN 40GB 4,200rpm

The ThinkPad R series' base warranty includes the typical and stingy one year of free parts and labor with return-to-depot service. But IBM thankfully provides warranty extensions for as long as five years with onsite service for up to $549--not a bad price for the length of coverage but not worth the expense for an individual user who's likely to get a new notebook within that time (two or three years seems more reasonable). IBM also offers the industry-standard tech-support policy: toll-free, 24/7 telephone help for the length of the warranty you choose. The IBM support site is fairly easy to navigate, containing features such as an online assistant for self-diagnosis of your problems, as well as an extensive forum in which IBM support reps actively participate. The manual is a software affair that comes in the form of IBM's detailed Access IBM program. We'd prefer some paper documentation in case of a catastrophic crash.

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