By Dan Littman
IBM's thin-and-light notebooks, the versatile ThinkPad T series, share a sturdy, well-designed case and come in so many configurations that you can find one that's right for just about any use. They also range in price from $2,199 to a hefty $3,499. But excellent performance, a long list of standard and optional features, and some nice touches—all in a package that fits easily in a briefcase—make the ThinkPad T series a business success story. Click here to configure and price a T series laptop for yourself.
Comparing the T23 and the T30
The ThinkPad T23 and T30 look virtually identical. They share the classic, matte-black, titanium-and-plastic composite case measuring 12 inches wide by 9.8 inches deep. The T30 is 1.6 inches thick and weighs 5.7 pounds with a combo CD-RW/DVD drive in addition to another .8 pounds for an AC power supply. The T23 is slightly thinner and weighs a little less. Both have a distinctive, beveled front edge that snuggles into IBM's optional docking station, as well as a lip around the lid that seals the system tight when closed. The T30 models (Figure A) are distinguished by thick, exposed metal hinges that give the system's design a little flair.
|CNET Editors rated the IBM T30 series an 8 out of 10 and gave the overall line an Editors' Choice award.|
The good:The T30 is very fast and is now available with both pointing stick and touch pad. It also offers a great keyboard, solid support, and extra security features.
The bad: T30 series laptops have a short battery life and offer a no-frills design.
IBM offers only mobile Pentium processors in the T series. The T23 uses older Pentium III-M processors ranging in speeds from 1 GHz to 1.2 GHz, while the T30s use P4-M processors rated at 1.6 GHz to 1.8 GHz. The T30 comes with 256 MB of DDR SDRAM on a 266 MHz bus, which you can boost to 512 MB by filling the one empty slot with a $146 module; the notebook can take a maximum of 1 GB. The T23 comes with 256 MB of 133-MHz SDRAM, which you can bump up to 512 MB for an extra $49. Drive sizes vary from 20 GB to 60 GB, while all models have a 14.1-inch display mated with one of two graphics controllers: ATI's Mobility Radeon 7500 with 16 MB of memory on the T30 and S3's Graphics SuperSavage/IXC with 16 MB of memory on the T23.
CNET tested two of the many T configurations: a fully loaded $3,499 T30 with a 1.8-GHz P4-M and a $3,149 T23 with a 1.2-GHz PIII-M processor. The ThinkPad T series competes with other business-oriented thin-and-lights, such as the Compaq Evo N600c, the Dell Latitude C610, the Gateway 450, and the Toshiba Tecra 9100.
Though the screens are all the same size, your configuration determines how much you'll see on the display. Most models operate with a resolution of 1,024 x 768 pixels, but several T23s and two top-end T30s offer a native setting of 1,400 x 1,050. In our opinion, the text looked too crowded on a 14.1-inch screen at this higher reading, though you can always dial it back to 1,024 x 768. Either way, the top-end T30 with its Radeon controller displayed stunning color graphics and photos, while DVD movies looked crisp and smooth. The T23's S3 controller doesn't match the T30's intensity and color saturation, but it provides sharp and easy-to-read text.
Like nearly all thin-and-lights, the T series offers only one drive bay. But this Ultrabay accepts a wide range of options, such as removable storage drives (floppy, DVD, CD-RW, combo DVD/CD-RW, Iomega Zip, and LS-240), a second hard drive, or a second battery. You can also plug an optional numeric keypad ($69) or a cradle ($59) for the Palm m500-series handhelds into the same slot. IBM expands on these options with a separate UltraPort that can accommodate a camera, a microphone, or a receiver for either Bluetooth—already integrated on some models—or infrared. In addition to Bluetooth, some T30 models and one T23 have a Wi-Fi receiver with dual antennae for better reception, and a utility, Access Connections, that stores the settings for multiple wired and wireless networks so that you can more easily switch between them.
In touch with business users
For loyal ThinkPad users, one of the biggest changes in the T30 is the addition of a touch pad, which now joins the ThinkPad's signature pointing stick. This feature has been part of competing business notebooks from the likes of Dell and HP for some time, but IBM's version was worth the wait. The pad, called UltraNav (are you starting to sense a pattern?), can also be used to scroll, zoom, launch applications, and even run macros. A few T30s and all T23s come without the touch pad as well. We also really like the keyboard, which has big, responsive, and quiet keys; only the spacebar is a bit loose and noisy.
The T series offers some unique security features. An embedded security chip in the T30 that CNET tested manages passwords and data encryption. You can also equip your system with a biometric device that stores this data. Because the security chip is isolated from the system's main memory, it's less vulnerable to attacks, according to IBM, but it doesn't come with all T23 and T30 models. For a different sort of protection, a rubber, air-bubble shock absorber is located directly beneath the hard drive to cushion it during rough landings and prevent possible data loss.
The tortoise and the hare
We clocked the T30 and T23 against thin-and-lights such as the Gateway 450X and the Tecra 9100, both of which come with comparable specifications. In overall performance, the T30 bested the similarly configured Gateway 450X (1.6-GHz P4-M; Windows XP Home) by 21 percent and the Toshiba Tecra 9100 (1.7-GHz P4-M; Windows XP Professional) by 6 percent. Both ThinkPads were running Windows XP Professional, though Windows 2000 is available for the same price. To give you an idea of the T series' performance range, the T30 was about 27 percent faster than the T23.
Battery life tells a different tale. The ThinkPad T23 lasted 2 hours, 50 minutes. But the T30's 4,400 mAh battery ran out of steam only 6 minutes past the 2-hour mark; you'll probably want an extra battery if you choose the T30.
One thumb up, one down
IBM backs all T30s and T23s with a commendable three-year warranty that includes 24/7, toll-free tech support, as well as free pickup and return for repairs. An onscreen manual, called Access ThinkPad, provides great information for beginners and veterans alike. In terms of software, T23s come with PC Doctor, Veritas RecordNow (on models with CD-RW drives), Mediamatics DVD (on units with DVDs), and a license for Lotus SmartSuite Millennium—though the suite is not installed or provided on the media. With the T30s, you'll instead find InterVideo's WinDVD on models with DVD drives. All notebooks in the line have a hidden Restore partition.
Both the T23 and T30 are top contenders in the thin-and-light category, but once you add Wi-Fi to the T23, it costs $3,149—or only $350 less than the top-of-the-line T30. A well-equipped ThinkPad T30 costs a pretty penny, but you really get your money's worth. If you travel a lot and make heavy demands on your notebook, the ThinkPad T30 is an excellent investment.
The 1.8-GHz, P4-M-based ThinkPad T30 performed better than comparable systems. Its faster chip and speedy hard drive took it to the front on all of CNET Labs' performance tests. The slower T23 did not fare as well, although it redeemed itself in the battery competition.
|Longer bars indicate better performance. A score of 100 equals the performance of a test machine with a PIII-800, 128 MB of PC133 CL2 SDRAM, Creative Labs GeForce Annihilator 2 32 MB, and Windows 2000 (Service Pack 1).|
|Longer bars indicate better performance. Time is measured in minutes.|
Compaq Evo N800c: Windows XP Home; Pentium 4-M-1.6 GHz; 256-MB PC2100 DDR SDRAM; ATI Mobility Radeon M6 32 MB; Toshiba MK2018GAP 30 GB 4,200rpm
IBM ThinkPad T23: Windows XP Pro; Pentium III-M-1.2 GHz; 256-MB RAM; S3 Graphics SuperSavage/IXC IBM 16 MB; IBM Travelstar 48 GB 5,400rpm
IBM ThinkPad T30: Windows XP Pro; Pentium 4-M-1.8 GHz; 256-MB DDR SDRAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 16 MB; Toshiba MK4019GAX 40 GB 5,400rpm
Toshiba Tecra 9100: Windows XP Pro; Pentium 4-M-1.7 GHz; 256-MB DDR (PC2100) SDRAM; S3 Graphics SuperSavage/IXC 1179 16 MB, Toshiba MK4019GAX 40 GB 5,400rpm
Click here to configure and price a T series laptop for yourself. Table C lists the complete product specifications.
This review was originally published by CNET on July 9, 2002.