ThinkPad T420

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Having recently jumped in with both feet to Ubuntu on ThinkPads, my final laptop acquisition of the year is a nearly new ThinkPad T420.  It is a solid laptop that I’m sure I’ll use for years.  The ThinkPad T420 is the epitome of the mainstream business laptop.  For what it is, you won’t find better.  Read on

As I have previously written, my two main machines are a 12″ Lenovo ThinkPad X200s and a 15″ ThinkPad T500.  The ThinkPad T420 is a generation newer and, at 14″, sits between the two for size and weight.  (Though it’s far closer to the T500.)

The T420 is a decent machine and is an excellent, well-rounded laptop.  If I was going to deploy hundreds of laptops, I would probably use the T420.  It isn’t super-light or super-high-end, but it is a solid balance.  At about 4.84 lbs, it’s mid-weight.  It’s noticeably lighter than the T500 but is also much heavier than the 3lb X200s.

The screen is a decent 14″ 1600×900 display.  Colour representation after calibration is good.  It is a better quality screen than the X200s but doesn’t touch the T500 for viewing angles.  The speakers are also mediocre.  Like the screen, they are better than the X200s and worse than the T500.  Stereo works well and they are quite loud but offer very little bass response.

The model I bought has a webcam next to the ThinkPad light.  This is only the second ThinkPad I’ve owned to sport a webcam.  I’m generally not a fan, but it would be handy on travel.

The keyboard, a real sticking point for me, is just perfect.  It’s virtually identical to the X200s and is certainly better than the keyboard on the T500.  There’s a good chance that this will be the last classic ThinkPad keyboard I own.  it is the culmination of decades of research.  It is just fantastic.

Battery life is good but falls well short of the advertised 6 hours.  Under average load, Ubuntu reports 3 hours.  This is better than the T500 but worse than the X200s with a six cell battery.

I bought this laptop for a couple of reasons.  The first was to have a newer Core iX machine.  Other than my low-power 2011 i7 MacBook Air at work, I haven’t moved to Intel’s latest CPUs.  There’s no doubt that this i5 is a fast machine.  More importantly for my running of VMs, it can take up to 16GB of RAM.

The ThinkPad T420 runs Ubuntu perfectly.  The T500 and X200s both run Ubuntu 12.04 flawlessly but stumble with 12.10.  The newer T420 runs 12.10 without missing a beat.  The newer Intel GPU keeps up with the latest Unity and Xorg without a hint of hesitation.

Overall, there are thinner and lighter machines. In particular, the ThinkPad T40s is almost identical but is thinner, lighter, a little slower, and more expensive.  I’d have much preferred a T420s, but managed to get this one for $500 shipping in.  The T420s’ that have crossed my desk at work have all been between $1200 and $2000.  That’s quite a range.  Also, the T420s uses low-profile drives, which makes them a bit more difficult to upgrade.

It’s not an exciting choice, but you just can’t go wrong with the ThinkPad T420.  It has a perfect keyboard, top-notch build quality, a good 1600×900 matte screen, decent sound, a DVD burner, and good battery life.  There are faster, slimmer, lighter, longer lasting machines, but this one is pretty much unmatched for the balance it strikes.  It is comparable to my wife’s HP EliteBook 8440p but has a much better screen and keyboard.  If you can find one on sale like I did, or if you’re weighing it against other similar business-class machines, I can’t imagine doing better.

GoSaBe Blog - Dec 2, 2012 | Hardware