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IBM ThinkPad X20

URL: http://www.pc.ibm.com/us/thinkpad/index.html

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Rating: Excellent!

Review:


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While notebooks are still more expensive than desktop machines, they have become much more affordable for the average user as prices have dropped drastically. Unfortunately the old adage "you get what you pay for" still holds true. A lot of the cheap notebooks are either of poor quality or lack features, while on the other end of the scale you still put down a pretty penny. Another decision to make when purchasing a notebook is features vs. size and weight. How many features do you want and how many pounds are you willing to haul around? After evaluating your budget and making a list of your requirements you'll probably find either that you want a desktop replacement-type feature-packed brick, or a slimmed down lightweight portable.

Whichever category your needs fall into, the first brand of notebooks to check out is definitely IBM. Their ThinkPad series notebooks have built quite a reputation over the last few years for quality and reliability. We took a closer look at the features and performance of the ThinkPad X20, a slim but powerful notebook.

Specs

CPU Intel Pentium III 600 MHz
RAM 128 MB SDRAM
Video ATI Rage Mobility-M AGP
Display 12.1" Active Matrix LCD (TFT) 1024 x 768 (XGA)
Hard Drive 20 GB
Operating System Microsoft Windows 2000
Modem Lucent 56Kbps WinModem
Sound Crystal SoundFusion CS4281
Battery Life 3.8 Hours
Pointing Device TrackPoint
Height 1.2 in
Width 11 in
Depth 8.9 in
Weight 3.5 lbs

Weight and Size

The X20 is a very compact notebook. Look at the picture below to get an idea how much. It is about the same size as 4 issues of MaximumPC stacked on top of each other. Its small size and light weight is one of the first things you'll notice when taking it out of the box. It is easily carried around with one hand, and does not make your legs go numb after an extended period of "laptop time".

Features

Looking at the image below, you'll see that the X20 comes with plenty of ports and plugs. It offers (from right to left) one PCMCIA type II slot, one CompactFlash slot, a microphone jack, a headphone jack, an RJ-11 modem jack, an RJ-45 Ethernet jack, video out, two USB ports, and the port replicator/docking station connector at the bottom.

The X20 does not come with a built-in floppy drive or CD-ROM drive, nor does it have any modular drive bays to accommodate swappable drives or batteries. It is also missing a serial, parallel, and external mouse/keyboard port. This is one of the trade-offs you make for getting a light-weight notebook. However, you can get these items and other functionality via a port replicator or docking station.

The 12.1" TFT display offers a very crisp and clear picture at a maximum resolution of 1024x768, which is not enough to comfortably run Visual Studio, but plenty to do everything else. The screen is pretty easy on the eyes and its good viewing angle allows you to read over someone's shoulder at an angle and still being able to see everything.

The keyboard is also good-sized, not as tiny as what some other compact notebooks offer. It is comfortable to use for certain periods of time, but if you plan to type a master thesis on it, you might want to consider an external regular-sized keyboard. At the top of the keyboard are a few custom keys. Two buttons in-/decrease the volume, a third one mutes the sound. A fourth button brings up a cute Access ThinkPad menu where you can read up on important topics such as how to use the "pointing stick" and "click buttons", get info with animated demos on how to upgrade the hard drive and add memory, as well as run diagnostics via PC-Doctor, and get access to support tools and resources.

Personally I would have not wasted the space on those buttons, since the notebook was never meant to be a multimedia machine, and the Access ThinkPad program can be easily accessed from within Windows. Instead, I would have loved to see a Windows button, which I sorely missed for easy access to Windows Explorer, the Run dialog, the Search window, system properties, and more.

The TrackPoint pointing device, standard on IBM ThinkPads, is a matter of personal preference. Some people love it, some don't care one way or the other, some people hate it so much they buy something else instead. Either way, it works well. The middle button offers additional options for easy scrolling (kinda like the scroll wheel on the Intellimouse) or magnifying glass feature for visually impaired. I couldn't get used to the Press-to-Select feature, though. It was either way too touchy and resulted in random uncontrolled clicks and drags, or too hard to press, taking several attempts to get it to react.

Battery life is pretty impressive, you'll get easily 3.5 hours of average use time out of it. Of course this varies depending on disk activity, screen brightness, etc. Preconfigured/-installed software helps you optimize battery use and customize the power options for your needs. Multiple battery meters with Voltage and Wattage indicators as well as numerous power schemes will assist you in squeezing the last drop of juice out of the battery. The Intel Pentium mobile processor's built-in SpeedStep technology contributes to power savings by lowering the CPU speed from 600 MHz to 500 MHz in battery mode and therefore reducing its power consumption.