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Travels with ThinkPads: T20, T30, T40, X31, Centrino: should you do mobile business IBM style?

I'M PERPETUALLY IN SEARCH of the perfect laptop. Perhaps my adventures will help you find the right set of features and mobility.

IBM (International Business Machines Corporation, Armonk, NY, The world's largest computer company. IBM's product lines include the S/390 mainframes (zSeries), AS/400 midrange business systems (iSeries), RS/6000 workstations and servers (pSeries), Intel-based servers (xSeries)  ThinkPad T30 vs. T20

I've been using IBM ThinkPads for years, usually two at a time. In recent years I've used a ThinkPad T20 and in recent months a ThinkPad T30. Why two laptops? I need to keep working even when one breaks down.

While IBM would note T Series differences, for my purposes the two model-Ts are equivalent: same size, same keyboard, same screen, same accessories. One difference: The T30 has a Mobile Intel Pentium 4-M, which improves battery life over the T20's Pentium III The successor to the Pentium II from Intel. Introduced in the spring of 1999 at 500 MHz, the Pentium III architecture was similar to the Pentium II with the addition of 70 new instructions optimized for multimedia (see SSE). . While laptop makers often push faster processor speed, what helps me most is more memory; my ThinkPads all have 512MB. (Since I bought my T20, IBM has evolved it to the very similar current model T23.)

IBM's support of ThinkPads has two strong points, frequent software updates and fast warranty repairs. It also has two weak points, online forums and telephone help. IBM's discussion forums can yield advice from IBM techs, but mostly I see ThinkPad users chatting and complaining among themselves.

Getting satisfaction from IBM telephone support depends on luck, and I rarely get lucky. When I called about lockups of a new IBM CD-RW (CD-ReWritable) The only rewritable CD technology. CD-RW disks look like other CD media, but with close inspection, they have a more polished surface with a very dark blue-gray cast.  drive in a T20, IBM support said they'd never seen the drive and couldn't help. A call to report Centrino Wi-Fi connection problems yielded advice to test my hard drive and possibly get a new one!

A nice feature for Windows 2000 and XP users is IBM Access ThinkPad software that hooks directly to an IBM Web site, locates updated drivers, utilities and firmware, then downloads and installs them.

However, it's annoying that even IBM's newest ThinkPad software misinterprets the working area of a Microsoft Windows See Windows.

(operating system) Microsoft Windows - Microsoft's proprietary window system and user interface software released in 1985 to run on top of MS-DOS. Widely criticised for being too slow (hence "Windoze", "Microsloth Windows") on the machines available then.
 screen. Windows lets users resize Verb 1. resize - change the size of; make the size more appropriate
size - make to a size; bring to a suitable size

rescale - establish on a new scale
 and/or reposition the "Start bar" program menu. Putting it at the top of the screen dramatically speeds up pointer movement between programs and menus, which reduces hand fatigue and improves user productivity. Top-of-the-screen is where Apple Macintosh Apple Macintosh - Macintosh  and other multi-tasking software put it; companies that value ergonomics make it the standard position for Windows installations. (Some say Microsoft moved the program menu to the bottom of Windows 95 due to a complaint from Apple, then made it movable to allow users to revert to the best position.) IBM's software doesn't recognize a resized/ repositioned Start bar, so it gets stuck underneath. The same problem exists with the dialer software for AT&T Global Network, a system originally owned by IBM.

Perhaps the most valuable benefits of IBM ThinkPad support are a three-year warranty and quick repair by air-freight. Over the years, I've sent many ThinkPads back to IBM for repair, sometimes when brand new, but usually when about two years old. Fortunately, many ThinkPads (including the T Series) are covered for three years. For machines with a one-year warranty I recommend buying the optional three-year coverage. Otherwise, the cost of repairing a laptop can exceed its value.

For instance, the video on a ThinkPad A21m failed right after the one-year warranty expired. Repairing the problem compared unfavorably with buying a new laptop, so it's been a desktop machine for a year, always plugged into a monitor. And just today its hard drive failed several times. With a three-year warranty the A21m's display long-ago would have been fixed, and today IBM would be ship ping me a new hard drive. (But we wouldn't be totally happy; both our A21m machines turned out to be unreliable.)

The ThinkPad T30 has two features not available in my T20, one good, one debatable. I like the T30's internal Wi-Fi system because there's no clunky card protruding pro·trude  
v. pro·trud·ed, pro·trud·ing, pro·trudes
To push or thrust outward.

To jut out; project. See Synonyms at bulge.
 from the PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association, San Jose, CA, An international standards body and trade association that was founded in 1989 to establish a standard for connecting peripherals to portable computers. PCMCIA created the PC Card. See PC Card.  slot. The antenna is built into the ThinkPad's display frame and gives solid coverage. The shortcoming short·com·ing  
A deficiency; a flaw.


a fault or weakness

Noun 1.
 of a built-in component is upgrading. The internal Wi-Fi radio is an Intel High Rate Wireless LAN A local area network that transmits over the air typically in the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz unlicensed frequency band. It does not require line of sight between sender and receiver. Wireless base stations (access points) are wired to an Ethernet network and transmit a radio frequency over an area  Mini-PCI Adapter with Modem II, an 802.11 b system. To move to faster 802.11g, I'll have to buy a replacement radio from IBM, if one becomes available, or disable the internal system, give up on the built-in antenna, and insert a PCMCIA card See PC Card. .

The debatable T30 feature is the optional touchpad A stationary pointing device that provides a small, flat surface that you slide your finger over using the same movements as you would a mouse. You can tap on the pad's surface as an alternate to pressing one of the touchpad keys. See mouse, trackball and pointing stick. . ThinkPads have always had the best pointing device An input device used to move the pointer (cursor) on screen. The major pointing device is the mouse for the desktop computer and the touchpad for the laptop, although many road warriors bring along a mouse. , the IBM-invented TrackPoint. Resembling an eraser head just above the B key, the TrackPoint lets me move the "mouse" pointer with either index finger (handy in itself), and without removing my hands from the keyboard--a huge benefit. The TrackPoint is also precise; I do software programming, image editing Changing or improving graphics images. It typically refers to bitmapped images rather than vector graphics drawings. Using an image editor, images can be modified by an artist using pen, brush, airbrush and other "painting" tools.  and other demanding tasks with less frustration and wasted movements than when I use a clumsy mouse. In fact, I can't recommend any laptop that doesn't have a TrackPoint. Fortunately, IBM licenses other companies so you'll find a TrackPoint on business-oriented laptops from Dell, HP/Compaq, Sony, Toshiba, and others.

TrackPoint is so good that I wonder why IBM added a touchpad to the T30. I tried it for a few days but didn't discover a single "mouse" task I couldn't do better with the TrackPoint. I tried activating both at once, to use whichever seemed best for the moment, but I kept bumping the touchpad with "oops" results. Fortunately, I can reconfigure the T30's touchpad to do other tasks, and switch it on/off, via a handy Start bar icon. I suppose some people find a TrackPoint hard to use, but is a mouse or touchpad easier to master? I say, work with a TrackPoint for a couple of days and you'll never go back.

Another avoidable weakness is Microsoft Windows XP. One reason to standardize on a laptop brand and model family is the ability to swap parts around as needed as needed prn. See prn order. . Many times I've moved hard drives between ThinkPads so users can keep working while machines are sent away for repair. I've also cloned drives when users get new machines or need larger or more reliable drives. These are common procedures in a business environment.

But, allegedly to avoid pirating of Windows XP The previous client version of Windows. XP was a major upgrade to the client version of Windows 2000 with numerous changes to the user interface. XP improved support for gaming, digital photography, instant messaging, wireless networking and sharing connections to the Internet. , Microsoft locks each copy to the computer's physical configuration. Certain hardware changes can cause XP to deactivate de·ac·ti·vate  
tr.v. de·ac·ti·vat·ed, de·ac·ti·vat·ing, de·ac·ti·vates
1. To render inactive or ineffective.

2. To inhibit, block, or disrupt the action of (an enzyme or other biological agent).

 itself, and only Microsoft can turn it back on. Imagine the fun of having a dead computer while trying to convince a Microsoft clerk that you aren't a crook (and knowing that true software pirates long-ago cracked the XP activation system). Fortunately, IBM offers many ThinkPads with customer-trusting Windows 2000 Professional.

All-in-all, the IBM ThinkPad T30 is a solid business laptop, I'm using it to write this article while on the road.

IBM ThinkPad T40

The T40 is a T20/T30 on a diet, reduced from 1.4 to just 1 inch thick, and about a pound lighter. The T40 builds on the T Series strengths, providing a wonderful keyboard, excellent 14-inch display, fast modem, internal 10/100 or even 1000 Mbps Ethernet, optional internal 802.11b or 802.11a/b radio, DVD/CD, or CD-RW optical drive, an optional touchpad, USB USB
 in full Universal Serial Bus

Type of serial bus that allows peripheral devices (disks, modems, printers, digitizers, data gloves, etc.) to be easily connected to a computer.
 2.0 ports, and more, in a slimmer, lighter chassis. Even the power adapter An external power supply for laptop computers and just about every portable or semi-portable electronic device on the market. Also called an "AC adapter," it contains a rectifier to convert AC current to DC and a transformer to convert voltage from 120 down to 9, 12, 15 or whatever is  has shrunk.

One change is important if you have multiple ThinkPads. Instead of having the common ThinkPad Ultrabay to hold an optical drive, extra battery, or other accessory, the T40 introduces the thinner Ultrabay Slim, which can't use Ultrabay devices.

The T40 is also slimmer because of its battery position. Echoing a design you might know from Sony camcorders Sony produces a number of camcorders. Sony HDR-HC1
The Sony HDR-HC1, introduced in Mid-2005 (MSRP 1999$ US), was the first HDV CMOS camcorder to support 1080i. The CMOS sensor has a resolution of 1920x1440 for digital still pictures and captures video at 1440x1080
, the T40's battery slips into the computer's rear panel, allowing different sizes, therefore power capacities. The standard battery fits flush with the rear panel, but an optional longer-life battery protrudes from the rear by less than an inch. This battery makes a T40 a tad larger and heavier, but IBM claims it provides 7.5 hours of use. With the extended battery, toting a T40 feels about like a T30 or T20, but I do less moving of furniture in search of a power outlet.

One reason the T40 runs longer than prior models is the new battery-friendly Intel Pentium M A family of CPUs from Intel that are part of its Centrino brand for mobile computing. Introduced in 2003 at speeds up to 1.6 GHz, it was formerly code named "Banias." Introduced in 2004, the second-generation Pentium M (code named "Dothan") uses the same chip package but is built with 90  processor. It is sometimes confusingly referred to as Centrino, which actually describes a machine that uses a particular Intel three-chip set that includes this processor. Don't confuse the new processor with the earlier Mobile Intel Pentium 4-M that's also commonly used in laptops. When comparing machines, take great care to determine the exact processor names and specs; don't just look for M or Mobile. And consider whether you really want a Centrino (see below).

I love the T40. I wouldn't dump an earlier T Series unless longer mobile power is essential and carrying a spare battery is unacceptable; but when I'm ready I'm Ready is the double platinum second release from R&B singer Tevin Campbell. I'm Ready yielded the biggest R&B hit of his career the #1 R&B smash "Can We Talk", and produce 3 more successful hits in "I'm Ready", "Always In My Heart" and "Don't Say Goodbye Girl". , a T40 is on my short list.

IBM ThinkPad X31

If your mobile lifestyle requires that you and your laptop never part (that's me!), check out the IBM ThinkPad X31. Smaller and lighter than a "regular" laptop, it lets you do computer-style work that's impossible on a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) A handheld computer for managing contacts, appointments and tasks. It typically includes a name and address database, calendar, to-do list and note taker, which are the functions in a personal information manager (see PIM).  or smartphone. My new X31 packs a lot of power, with a slightly-shrunken but otherwise standard IBM ThinkPad keyboard with TrackPoint, 1024x768 resolution on a 12.1-inch screen, 40GB drive, 512MB of RAM, Pentium M processor, 10/100 Ethernet, internal 802.11b radio and antenna, USB 2.0 ports, IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, New York, A membership organization that includes engineers, scientists and students in electronics and allied fields. 1394 port, 4Mbps infrared port, Compact Flash card slot, PCMCIA slot, and audio/video ports and features. If you need to use a true PC anyplace, anytime, this might be the perfect portable.

I also have the optional but clumsy extended battery. When snapped onto the bottom of the X31 it makes the computer unstable on a flat surface. IBM kludged a fix by giving the battery a flip down stand that I find awkward to lock/unlock--not the right solution for a use-anywhere laptop. Why can't the battery itself have a wider, flat bottom so the stand isn't needed?

In the first two weeks with the X31 I've already experienced several crashes. Some occurred unobserved, but I twice watched Windows XP blow up while IBM Lotus Notes Lotus Notes is a client-server, collaborative application owned by IBM Software Group. IBM defines the software as an "integrated desktop client option for accessing business e-mail, calendars and applications on [an] IBM Lotus Domino server."[1].  software was replicating data with a remote IBM Lotus Domino Lotus Domino is an IBM server product that provides enterprise-grade e-mail, collaboration capabilities, and custom application platform. Domino began life as Lotus Notes Server, the server component of Lotus Development Corporation's client-server messaging technology.  server. I use Lotus Notes on other ThinkPads with no trouble. So what's up?

Caveat emptor [Latin, Let the buyer beware.] A warning that notifies a buyer that the goods he or she is buying are "as is," or subject to all defects.

When a sale is subject to this warning the purchaser assumes the risk that the product might be either defective or

Intel has acknowledged a problem using a virtual private network (VPN (Virtual Private Network) A private network that is configured within a public network (a carrier's network or the Internet) in order to take advantage of the economies of scale and management facilities of large networks. ) with Centrino Wi-Fi, a common business situation. Lotus Notes and Domino communicate via a VPN-like "tunnel" across the Internet. I don't know Don't know (DK, DKed)

"Don't know the trade." A Street expression used whenever one party lacks knowledge of a trade or receives conflicting instructions from the other party.
 if this is what Intel means by VPN, but I can't live without IBM Lotus Notes, so if anything gets eliminated it will be the Centrino-based IBM ThinkPad. Or maybe the cause was unused Boingo VPN software, which I removed just in case. But the real solution must come from Intel, who hasn't said if or when it will fix the VPN problem on existing Centrino machines.

I'm unhappy with how Centrino Wi-Fi, Windows XP, and IBM Access Connections software interact. For instance, the Wi-Fi software keeps saying the radio is off and won't find access points, even after I force a connection using manual steps. Live connections suddenly get dropped. Grrrrr ... For updates on what I discover, and how eXciting the X31 really is, monitor the online version of this article at

I'm trying to be fair, but rye had bad experiences with Intel Wi-Fi gear. We bought some Intel 2011 access points that failed, as did warranty replacements. Our Intel 2011 laptop cards don't work with other access points.

When I cranked up two Centrino-based IBM ThinkPads (T40 and X31), their Intel Centrino 2100 Wi-Fi radios could not "see" a nearby Intel 2011B access point, though they quickly connected to an old D-Link access point way down the hall. A painfully complex firmware upgrade got the 2011B to work.

In contrast, we also use other brands of Wi-Fi gear that work reliably and cost less. (One old D-Link access point is shakey, but others are OK.) In fact, my quick fix to get the new Centrino laptops online was to try using a Belkin Wireless Cable/DSL Gateway Router as a LAN (Local Area Network) A communications network that serves users within a confined geographical area. The "clients" are the user's workstations typically running Windows, although Mac and Linux clients are also used.  access point; it worked right out of the box. I won't be rushing to buy another laptop that uses Intel Centrino Wi-Fi.

Balancing this are good Intel Wi-Fi experiences. My ThinkPad T30 has a non-Centrino Intel Wi-Fi radio that works fine with every brand of access point I've encountered. And the Intel 2011B and earlier 2011 access points, while user-unfriendly, provide better radio coverage than other units we've tried.

Another laptop caution is the display resolution. You can change a typical desktop CRT (1) (C RunTime) See runtime library.

(2) (Cathode Ray Tube) A vacuum tube used as a display screen in a computer monitor or TV. The viewing end of the tube is coated with phosphors, which emit light when struck by electrons.
 monitor to a wide range of useful resolutions. However, a laptop's LCD screen has exactly one fixed resolution, a locked in pixel structure. You might be able to set the video to different modes, but you won't like how it looks. With the 14.1-inch display on many IBM T Series, I find 1024x768 pixels to be just right. However, some ThinkPads have a 14.1-inch screen with 1400x1050. But putting 37 percent more pixels on the same size screen shrinks everything to 73 percent--too small for me.

To me, IBM makes odd assumptions about what business users need. I wanted a ThinkPad with the largest hard drive but it was offered only with the 1400x1050 display, as if storing more data somehow improves my eyesight. IBM tends to bundle its "max" specs as if they belong together--drive size, screen resolution, processor speed, memory, network speed, Wi-Fi speed, security--making it difficult to buy a ThinkPad optimized for business needs.

What are your laptop adventures, discoveries and questions? Drop me a note at
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Title Annotation:HawkTrek
Author:Hawkins, John L.
Publication:Mobile Business Advisor
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2003
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