IBM ThinkPad T40
Next in my ongoing quest for an outstanding Linux laptop, we have
the IBM ThinkPad T40. One of the last IBM ThinkPads, the T4x series is
well-known for their build quality and Linuxability. I originally
purchased a Lenovo ThinkPad T60 at work with the thought of eventually
running Linux on it but decided to go back a revision to the T40 after
fighting repeatedly with Sleep, Suspend and the horrible ATI X1300
video card that it uses.
The machine was an off-lease laptop purchased through a local retailer
for $560CDN. The machine originally sold for upwards of $2500CDN. At
the time of writing, similar machines can be found on eBay for about
$500CDN plus shipping. Having used many Linux laptops, both older and
newer, it is my opinion that this machine is one of the better bets.
Let's see how well the ThinkPad T40 works for me...
The ThinkPad T40 is a Pentium M-based machine. My specific model is a 2373 with the following specifications:
- Pentium M 1.5GHz
- 768MB RAM (2GB Max)
- ATI Radeon 9000 with 32MB RAM
- 40GB HD (Upgraded to 60GB)
- 14" 1024x768 LCD
- Combo DVD/CDRW drive
- 2xUSB 2.0
- Intel 802.11b WiFi
- Intel 1GB ethernet
- A 56k software modem
- S-Video and VGA out
- Mic in, headphone out
you can see, this is by no means a lacking PC. The system, while not a
dual-core CPU, is very fast. I've tested all hardware except for
S-Video out and the software modem under Linux (Ubuntu Dapper and
Edgy.) All of the above hardware works well, the machine reliably
suspends to RAM.
This ThinkPad is certainly not my first. My
wife has been using this line of laptops for about four years now and I
have owned and managed about three generations of ThinkPads in that
time. The build quality of each revisions seems to actually improve,
though all were extremely well engineered for their respective times.
Like the PowerBook, this laptop is very solidly
built with a high-quality keyboard with no Windows keys, both a
trackpad and a nib, and the
brilliantly-executed ThinkPad light.
After using laptops of
such quality for a while, I find myself thumbing my nose at lower-end
options such as Acers, Compaqs or even some Toshibas. Yes, those
laptops are cheaper and/or offer more options for the dollar, but a
well-built, high-quality laptop is a joy to use well after the novelty
of the purchase has worn off. I would rather own an off-lease ThinkPad
than a brand new, dual-core Acer. Period.
The last three
generations of T series ThinkPads that I've used, T23s, T40s and T60s,
have all seen ports drop off. The T23 has a serial, S-Video and
parallel port, the T40 drops the serial and the T60 drops both parallel
and S-Video. In my opinion, the T60 has gone a little too far in the
port reduction category. This might have been acceptable if Lenovo had
added FireWire, a glaring omission in my opinion, but they did not.
These reductions have certainly happened to both cut costs and allow
for better thermal management, needed with hotter processors like the
The ThinkPad T40 (and T41, 42 and 43) seem to strike
the perfect balance of ports. With USB 2.0, video out and parallel,
you can plug into pretty much anything: Old printers, TVs, projectors,
you name it. While I occasionally miss the second core of the T60 when
running VMWare, the Pentium M processor is certainly quite fast.
Certainly a step up from a Pentium 4 or G4 processor.
video card in this laptop is an ATI Radeon 9000. This is probably one
of the better cards to have on a laptop under Linux. While I can't
stand ATI's software, their hardware always impresses me. Thankfully,
this card has good Open Source Linux drivers, so OpenGL/DRI works as
well with this machine as it does with the Intel Mini I use at work.
The video card probably can't handle the latest 3D games, but it's been
more than adequate for playing DVDs and and of the OpenGL Linux games
that I own. I haven't tried Quake 4, but I doubt it will be pretty
given that the X1300 in the T60 wasn't able to handle it with anything
other than lowest graphics settings. However, if, in 2007, you're
thinking of buying a laptop released in 2003, gaming likely isn't your
This machine was purchased
primarily to be a solid Linux laptop for me to test/work with. In this
regard, it's pretty much perfect. While still not as seamless as the
PowerBook under Mac OSX, Ubuntu Edgy (6.10) works perfectly on this
machine, though the details took a bit of doing. One strangeness was
that between suspending to RAM, the ethernet devices (wired and
wireless) would be loaded and unloaded. Suddenly, the wifi would come
back as eth1, eth2 or eth0 at what seemed to be random. I've
sidestepped this problem by dropping Ubuntu/Debian's standard way of
dealing with NICs and replacing it with NetworkManager. NetworkManager
"Just Works" and has mostly alleviated that concern.
ThinkPad should get up to seven hours of battery life depending on the
battery. Unfortunately, being off-lease, I had to take what I got and
the laptop battery seems a slightly damaged. It only displayed 1:20 of
battery life and as I write this, the battery has been "dead" to Linux
for about 30minutes. We shall see. I expect to get at least 3 hours
from a decent battery.
As mentioned, Suspend To RAM works well
under Edgy, though I did follow a couple of tips linked below, the most
important of which was to disable/uninstall powernowd and move to using
the speedstep centrino kernel modules. It's working well now. This is
in great contrast to the T60, which seems to have nearly endless
problems mostly surrounding ATI's fglrx drivers. Until there are solid
OSS drivers, I wouldn't trust the fglrx drivers and would avoid buying
a new ThinkPad with an ATI card. Thankfully, some models can be
ordered with an Intel GMA950. In any event, the power management for
the T40 in Ubuntu seems to work very well.
The laptop is also
quite cool and runs virtually silently most of the time. When running
CPU or disk intensive tasks, one can hear a small fan turn on.
Overall, it runs at least as cool and quite as my 12" G4 PowerBook
under Mac OSX. This is no small feet for Linux and an Intel laptop, I
commend both Canonical and IBM.
This machine features a 1024x768
display. This is a drop from the T60's native 1400x1050, though it was
intentional. While the higher resolution looks great, I find 1024x768
strains my eyes much less on the 14" display. Perhaps this is a sign
that I'm aging, but I'd say that 1024x768 is the right mode for
anything smaller than a 15" display.
The laptop weighs just over
five pounds. This is an ideal weight for the machine. Any more
becomes a chore to carry, any less tends to come at the expense of
either build quality or features such as the optical drive. IBM/Lenovo
make an X-series ThinkPad that weighs about four pounds but needs a
much larger and heavier dock for using the optical drive. On the topic
of optical drives, I wish more companies would follow Apple's lead and
use slot-loading drives. They are much quieter and, in my experience,
more reliable. Such is life. As is the case with most ThinkPads, the
optical drive is easily removed and can be replaced with either an
extra battery or an additional hard drive.
IBM ThinkPad T40 is a fantastic Linux laptop. Suspend works, 3D works,
it has working WiFi and USB 2.0 and is a good size and weight with a
fantastic keyboard lacking those annoying Windows keys. In Ubuntu
Edgy, even the special keys work as expected. The laptop is very
solidly built and would offer years of excellent performance yet.
These machines were widely used in business, so finding off-lease
ThinkPads for a good price is relatively easy. if you're looking for a
modern, well supported and inexpensive Linux laptop, look no further.