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IBM ThinkPad X40

The sad truth about small notebooks is that shaving off size and weight typically means sacrificing performance and features. The IBM ThinkPad X40 is an exception. At a mere 1.24kg -- IBM's smallest laptop ever -- it combines true ultralight portability with all the right expansion, connectivity and battery options for the business traveller. It's much sleeker than IBM's other ultraportable, the ThinkPad X31. The ThinkPad X40 lacks an integrated optical drive, but its powered USB port makes it easy to add one, or you could add one via the media slice. Unfortunately, the X40 doesn't include a FireWire port. And despite its full-size keyboard, it may be cramped for some, especially if you have large hands. Nevertheless, the ThinkPad X40 is our top pick for a business ultraportable.


The ThinkPad X40 is a slim ultraportable that's easy to beef up with additional ports, expansion options and batteries. The base system weighs only 1.24kg and includes a four-cell battery that snaps in flush with the back of the system, giving the X40 a decidedly trim form factor. You can also get the ThinkPad X40 with an eight-cell battery, which protrudes about 2.5cm from the back of the system and more than doubles the battery life. For the truly power hungry, IBM offers an even bigger wedge shaped battery that snaps onto the bottom of the X40. This third battery adds 450g to the weight and an extra three hours of uptime, and works with either the four- or the eight-cell battery. Our review system came with the standard four-cell battery and the extended-life unit.

Although the ThinkPad X40's base configuration includes a nice array of ports and connectors for such a trim system, it doesn't include an integrated optical drive -- a typical exclusion for a tiny ultraportable. However, you can easily add an optical drive to the X40 by attaching IBM's optional UltraBase dock. The wedge-shaped dock attaches to the bottom of the system and adds a further kilogram to the weight. It moves most of the X40's ports to the rear and adds parallel and serial connectors. The dock also accommodates 9mm-high Ultrabay Slim drives, including a combo CD-RW/DVD drive (supplied with our review unit), a second hard drive or an additional battery. Our only disappointment with the UltraBase is that you can't use it and the extended-life battery simultaneously.

The ThinkPad X40 has an exceptionally small footprint, 26.8cm wide by 21.1cm deep -- small enough to fit on an airline food tray and still have room for your orange juice and peanuts. Despite these diminutive dimensions, the IBM ThinkPad X40 sports a spacious and responsive, full-size keyboard with a pointing stick and three cursor-control buttons. The downside to the X40's small footprint is that there's not enough space on the base to rest your palms while typing, especially if you have large hands. There's also no touchpad on the X40.

The 12.1in. XGA display is small but sufficient for business-related tasks and is attached to the base with thicker metal hinges than those of the older ThinkPad models. All this makes for one of the sleekest and sturdiest ultraportables on the market.


For such a dainty ultraportable, the IBM ThinkPad X40 packs a serious punch. The entry-level model comes with a 1GHz Pentium M processor and 256MB of DDR SDRAM. Workhorse models -- such as our review sample -- include a 1.2GHz Pentium M with 512MB of memory. The X40 also comes with a new smaller, quieter, and more shock-resistant hard drive, with a capacity of either 20GB or 40GB.

Even in its base configuration, the IBM ThinkPad X40 sports a useful array of ports and expansion options. The right side of the X40 harbours a 10/100/1000 Ethernet port, a modem port, an SD slot, an IR port, a USB port, a PC Card slot plus headphone and microphone jacks. The left side includes a standard VGA connector for an external display and a special powered USB port. Although the X40 lacks an integrated optical drive, its special USB port lets you connect an external optical drive without the need for an additional power source. IBM decided not to include FireWire on the X40, which will leave some video enthusiasts in the dark.

IBM has a reputation for selling bullet-proof notebooks that can withstand the trials of business travel, and the ThinkPad X40 is no exception. The X40 comes equipped with IBM's active protection system, which automatically detects sudden motions and parks your hard drive to protect your data. It also comes with IBM's Rescue and Recovery solution, a separate operating system that you can load when your primary OS refuses to boot. The Rescue and Recovery system even includes a browser that lets you use your Web mail account or tap into the X40's Access IBM resources.

The IBM ThinkPad X40 comes with Windows XP Professional as its default OS. Productivity software costs extra, but you have your choice of three flavours of Microsoft Office: Basic, Small Business and Professional. IBM's Client Security Software is also available for the X40. This free download lets you take advantage of a chip on the X40 that stores digital keys, usernames and passwords, and other confidential data on this chip, keeping it secure even if the operating system is compromised.

Performance & battery life

To measure mobile application performance and battery life, we use BAPCo's MobileMark 2002. MobileMark measures both application performance and battery life concurrently using a number of popular applications (Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Netscape Communicator 6.0, WinZip Computing WinZip 8.0, McAfee VirusScan 5.13, Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1 and Macromedia Flash 5.0).

With a MobileMark 2002 score of 134, the 1.2GHz Pentium M-powered ThinkPad X40 with 512MB of RAM is no speed demon (leading-edge systems score well over 200). However, so long as you restrict yourself to mainstream business applications, it should meet your ultraportable mobile performance needs.

When it comes to battery life, the ThinkPad X40 has a place at each end of the spectrum. Configured with its small 14.4V, 1,900mAh (27WHr) battery, the system lasts 2 hours and 11 minutes -- not too exciting, but you can't expect much from such a small battery. With the snap-on extended-life battery fitted as well, the X40 lasted for just over 5 hours, making it one of the longest-lasting notebooks we've seen.

Service & support

The ThinkPad X40 comes with IBM's standard three-year limited warranty. The three years applies to the system and its hardware components, with the exception of the ThinkPad X40's various batteries, which are covered for only one year. Offering shorter coverage for batteries, typically one year, is a standard practice among notebook vendors. The IBM ThinkPad X40 is also eligible for the company's International Warranty Service, which you can use to get technical support in a number of countries around the world, from Algeria to Zimbabwe.

IBM also helps you resolve troubleshooting issues yourself, with comprehensive documentation and online resources that you can garner with a simple press of the Access IBM button above the keyboard. The ThinkPad X40 also comes preloaded with IBM's new Rescue and Recovery platform, a secondary operating system that lets you recover data on your hard drive and access the Internet even when your primary operating system won't boot.

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