ThinkPad T500 Review

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With my recent shift back to Linux, I have found reason to expand my laptop line.  I am essentially replacing a 2007 15″ MacBook Pro and 2010 11″ MacBook Air with a Lenovo ThinkPad X200s and now a ThinkPad T500.

Like my MacBook Pro, the ThinkPad T500 is a 15″ laptop weighing over 5lbs.  However, where my MacBook Pro has a 1440×900 screen, the ThinkPad T500 features a stunning 1680×1050 16×10 screen.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let me start at the beginning:

The ThinkPad T500 was originally released in 2010 as a replacement to the venerable ThinkPad T6x line.  The T500 did away with the 4:3 screen found in earlier models, instead opting for either a 1280×800 or 1680×1050 display.  The last T6x machine I owned was a T60 with a 1400×1050 display.  While I appreciated the resolution, the viewing angles were awful.  I’m very pleased to report that the T500 1680×1050 display is the second best ThinkPad display I’ve ued.  The best was a 1600×1200 15″ display in an old IBM ThinkPad R51p.  This display is very close quality-wise.

I’m also happy to report that the speakers in the T500 are the best that I’ve heard in a ThinkPad.  (Which makes them roughly equivalent to the excellent speakers found in the 15″ MacBook Pro.)

Another major improvement with the T500 is the use of DDR3 RAM.  As with the X200s and T400, the T500 accepts up to 8GB of DDR3 RAM.  DDR3 RAM is now so inexpensive that it is a brilliant upgrade to move to 8GB.

Also like the X200s, the T500 is a virtually silent machine.

Build-quality wise, the T500 is pure ThinkPad.  It has a rollcage, a top-notch keyboard, and makes excellent use of the space allowed.  This T500 features a switchable GPU.  I am using only the ATI 3650, because of an annoying bug with the Intel driver in Ubuntu 12.04.  Suspend and resume work perfectly and the ATI GPU seems to work well for light gaming.

As negatives, there isn’t much to say.  Of course, the T500 is heavier and thicker than the X200s.  I suppose there could be more USB ports.  In general, the T500 isn’t as thin, light, or elegant as the MacBook Pro, but this isn’t really news.

In day-to-day use, my biggest complaint about the T500 is that the keyboard is ever so slightly different than the X200s keyboard.  Specifically, the trackpoint’s mouse buttons don’t have the red lines that I’ve grown used to at the base of the buttons.  Let me tell you, when someone as fussy as me finds the paint on the mouse buttons to be the biggest drawback, you know it’s a good laptop.

If you’re a Linux user looking for an inexpensive mid-weight laptop, this is a great choice.  I snagged mine for $275 on eBay.  The price seems to fluctuate somewhat between $250-$500.  Anywhere in that range is a bargain for this great machine.  After it, Lenovo moved to 16:9 displays of lower quality.  I believe that this is the best T-series screen that you will find that is newer than the T60p.

Pros:
+ Brilliant Build Quality
+ Great keyboard
+ DDR3 RAM up to 8GB
+ DisplayPort and VGA
+ Accepts T60 batteries, power, and docks
+ Virtually silent under light load
+ Beautiful 1680×1050 screen with great viewing angles
+ FireWire, PCMCIA, SD card
+ Switchable GPU: Intel and ATI
+ Works great in Ubuntu 12.04, smokes with an SSD
+ Speakers are great for a ThinkPad

Cons:
– No webcam
– ATI 3650 is good but not great
– Smallish trackpad.  I prefer the keyboard and trackpoint on the X200s.
– Battery could be a bit better
– Fingerprint reader doesn’t work in Linux
– Not as thin and elegant as a Mac
– Only 3 USB ports
– Heavy

GoSaBe Blog - Sep 24, 2012 | Hardware, Linux