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Lenovo ThinkPad T410 Review
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Date: Mar 10, 2010
Section:Mobile
Author: Shawn Oliver
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Introduction and Specifications

Lenovo proved at the Consumer Electronics Show in January that it wasn't messing around when it comes to latest generation of notebook technologies. The company has a vast array of options, from tiny to huge, and they span the gamut from casual road warriors to hardcore business users. There's also a machine or two in there for the gaming and multimedia crowd, though you probably wouldn't guess that the ThinkPad T410 was in that category at first glance. This machine, along with the T410s, T510 and W510, received notable upgrades just last month, with Intel's latest Core i5 and Core i7 processors hopping on board to give the classically tough and plain ThinkPad line a much-needed breath of life.



The T410 that we're reviewing today is a ThinkPad through and through. From top to bottom, side to side, there's no mistaking that this is a member of the iconic ThinkPad family. It's matte black, has somewhat bland stylings and is built like a tank. Sounds like a ThinkPad, right? It's the same exterior that loyal Lenovo users have come to know and love, but the choice internal component selection is what really has our interest. Can the ThinkPad T410 maintain its all-business stature while performing at a level acceptable to the multi-media enthusiasts out there?

Those expecting vast changes on the T410 compared to the T400 and T400s that we reviewed will be sorely disappointed. From the external enclosure to the keyboard to the trackpad, almost everything here is stereotypical ThinkPad gear, but the Core i5 CPU (Core i5-540M to be specific) is a definite departure from last year's ThinkPad options. New insides, old outsides--will it be enough to sway existing ThinkPad users to upgrade? And more importantly, will it bring in any new customers to the fold who have thus far resisted the urge to pick up a machine with a blue "Enter" key?  Read on for our entire review to find out.

Lenovo ThinkPad T410 Notebook
Specifications and Features (as tested)
  • Intel Core i5-540M  @ 2.53GHz, 1066MHz FSB; 3MB Cache
  • 4GB of DDR3 RAM (1066MHz)
  • 14.1" LCD (1440x900); LED backlight
  • NVIDIA NVS 3100m (512MB) graphics
  • 320GB (7200RPM) Seagate Momentus 7200.4 Hard Drive
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • 8x DVD dual-layer Optical Drive (CD-R Combo)
  • 2.0 megapixel webcam
  • VGA and DisplayPort
  • USB 2.0 x 4 and eSATA
  • 56k Modem
  • Mini FireWire
  • 34mm ExpressCard Slot
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • Integrated Gobi 2000 3G with GPS (VZW or AT&T)
  • RJ-45 (Ethernet 10/100/1000)
  • Headphone / Mic Input Jacks
  • SD / MMC / MSPro Multimedia Card Reader
  • Stereo Speakers
  • Gesture-Enabled Multi-Touch Trackpad
  • 5.0 Pounds (with 6-cell battery installed)
  • Removable 6-Cell or 9-Cell Li-ion Battery (Up To 7.8 Claimed Hours of Computing)
  • 13.13" x 9.41" x 1.09"-1.26" (Dimensions)
  • Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)
  • Price (as tested): $1464
  • Price (starting): $999

 




For under $1500, this is one souped-up business machine. The 14.1" form factor keeps it nimble enough for coach class warriors, while the 1440x900 resolution is perfect for playing back movies. It's not exactly the thinnest machine on the block, but the body armor that ThinkPads are known for has to be stuffed somewhere, right?

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Design and Build Quality

There isn't much to say here that we didn't already say in our review of the ThinkPad T400s last year. It's a classic ThinkPad in every single regard, from the matte black color to its overhung LCD lid/latch. There's also the traditional textured trackpad and the heralded "nub" in the middle of the keyboard for those that prefer it. The blue "Enter" key is there, and the Fn and Ctrl keys have been "reversed" in typical Lenovo fashion.

    
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The overall build quality here is something to rave about. It's tough as nails without being a "ruggedized" machine. It won't take the beating of a Panasonic Toughbook, but aside from field users who take their notebooks into construction sites or jungle environments, the rigidity here should be plenty to withstand normal bumps and bruises.

    
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It's not the thinnest 14" machine on the planet, but at just over 1" thick, it's not awful. There's enough room for an 8X dual-layer DVD writer, a 34mm ExpressCard slot, eSATA port, four USB 2.0 sockets, a Mini FireWire port, 56k modem, VGA/DisplayPort video outputs, an Ethernet jack and an SD/SDHC card slot.


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The frame is all-business. There's hardly any styling cues to speak of, but that's intentional. This is a business machine on the outside with the heart of a performance rig. That's half of the intrigue, in our minds. It's built like a tank, and as far as tough rigs go, this is as "beautiful" as they come.

    
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Software and Accessories

As with the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13", the T410 arrives with very little. You'll get the machine itself, an AC power adapter and an AC power cord. Our test unit also shipped with a small instruction guide. No extras are tossed in (mice, covers, cases, etc.), which is a little unsettling for a machine at this price point and of this caliber. With the bargain priced Edge, we cut Lenovo some slack. Clearly they were trying to save on accessory costs. But when a machine costs upwards of $1000 and is targeting business users who appreciate the little extras, we would think that something minor in here aside from the bare essentials would've made for a better experience right out of the box.


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On the software front, Windows 7 Professional is installed, which is expected, given that professionals are the target market. Very little bloatware is included on top of the stock install of Windows 7, which is smart given that most business users prefer efficiency and would rather install their own (potentially company-mandated) anti-virus and e-mail software. Lenovo's connection suite is here to manage the Wi-Fi and 3G connections, and a simple overlay on the bottom taskbar is included, but otherwise you won't notice any extra software from random third party vendors that you were never interested in from the start.

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User Experience

You probably won't be shocked with what we have to say here. Using the ThinkPad T410 is exactly like using the T400, except everything moves along a bit faster. There is little or no keyboard flex, the trackpad is the same (brilliant to use), the nub is still there in the middle, the display still reclines all the way back, and the all-business approach is still in effect.

So, what's different about the T410? The insides, and in turn, the speed at which a ThinkPad can be enjoyed. This is also one of the few ThinkPads that can actually be used for serious gaming. We know it's odd to think about a machine catering to high-ranking corporate suits in a LAN party, but trust us, the Core i5 + NVIDIA GPU combo is a real winner in the gaming department.  More on this shortly.


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Windows 7 handles exceptionally well in all areas with the build-out that we had to test; applications were remarkably quick to load, and multitasking was never an issue. Multimedia clips played back without a hiccup (even 1080p trailers never made CPU utilization rise above 15%), and in reality, there was nothing we could throw at this machine that it couldn't handle with ease. Serious video editors would probably be able to tax it, but the internals should be plenty potent for 99% of the target audience.


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Would we consider using this machine as a business-centric notebook? Definitely. It's rugged, not flashy and it can be used for non-work activities like gaming and 1080p movie playback when you're out of the office off of the clock or perhaps on that long flight back home. It's a beautiful marriage of power and poise, and if you've been searching for a business machine that can handle a little extra on the side, the Core i5-equipped T410 is a good place to start looking seriously.
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Test Setup and 3DMark 06 CPU


 
  
HotHardware's Mobile / Test Systems
Covering the bases
Lenovo ThinkPad T410

Intel Core i5-540M
(2.53GHz)

4GB DDR3

512B NVIDIA NVS 3100M

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x320GB Hard Drive
7,200 RPM SATA

Windows 7
Professional (64-bit)

14.1" LED backlit Display
(native 1440x900)


Asus G51J-A1

Intel Core i7-720QM
(1.6GHz)

4GB DDR3

1GB NVIDIA GTX 260M

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

2x320GB Hard Drives
7,200 RPM SATA

Windows 7 Home
Premium (64-bit)

15.6" Full HD Display
(native 1920x1080)
Dell Studio XPS 16

Intel Core 2 Duo P8600
(2.4GHz)

4GB DDR3

1GB ATI Mobility Radeon 4670

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x500GB Hard Drive            
7,200 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Home
Premium SP1 (64-bit)

16.0" Full HD RGBLED Display

(native 1920x1080)


 Performance Comparisons with 3DMark06
 Details: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/

The Futuremark 3DMark06 CPU benchmark consists of tests that use the CPU to render 3D scenes, rather than the GPU. It runs several threads simultaneously and is designed to utilize multiple processor cores.



It's sort of hard to believe that we're able to compare a classic ThinkPad to the Studio XPS 16 and G51J-A1. Both of those are dedicated multimedia and gaming machines, and probably wouldn't even be on the shopping list of a dedicated professional. The T410 does an astounding job of competing with these two on gaming-centric benchmarks, proving that Lenovo's decision to add in cutting-edge hardware within a tried-and-true enclosure is indeed a great way to market to two sectors at the same time. Here's a look at the full scorecard:


Lenovo ThinkPad T410 3DMark 06 CPU Score

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SiSoftware Sandra Benchmarks and Multimedia


Testing with SiSoft SANDRA 2009
Synthetic Benchmarks

We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2009, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant.  We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks). All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running with Turbo33 enabled along with 4GB of DDR3-1066 RAM running in dual-channel mode.

 
CPU Arithmetic Test; Click To Enlarge


CPU Multimedia Test; Click To Enlarge


Memory Bandwidth Test; Click To Enlarge


Physical Disc Test; Click To Enlarge

The ThinkPad T410 wasn't the strongest performer here in terms of raw benchmarks, but that's to be expected on a business machine. What's notable is just how well it stacked up actually. Still, these scores prove that there's some power underneath the all-business hood, and in real-world use, it felt plenty fast for the average end user.



To test multimedia capabilities, we attempt to play back a 720p WMVHD clip, a 720p H.264 clip and a 1080p clip. We've also included two screenshots of the 1080p clip from prior test rigs to give you a better idea of CPU utilization from rival systems.


Click To Enlarge; 720 H.264


Click To Enlarge; 720p WMVHD


Click To Enlarge; 1080p


Click To Enlarge; 1080p on HP Mini 311 w/ Ion


Click To Enlarge; 1080p on Asus Eee PC 1201N w/ Ion


This machine isn't cut out for hardcore gaming, but it's perfectly capable of dealing with your multimedia collection. Both 720p and 1080p movie clips played back without issue, and in most cases, the CPU utilization hovered at or near 10% - 20%. A few intense scenes pushed that up to around 35%, but never did the clip stutter or pause. We even had a few things going on in the background, and never once did the video stall. In short, you shouldn't worry about this notebook not being able to play back whatever content you've got laying around on the hard drive or streaming in; even up to 1080p, it'll play back perfectly smooth.
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Futuremark PCMark Vantage

We ran the Lenovo ThinkPad T410 through Futuremark‚Äôs latest system performance metric built especially for Windows 7, PCMark Vantage. This benchmark suite creates a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including HD TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. We like the fact that most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, in order to exploit the additional resources offered by multi-core processors.



Well, would you look at this? A business machine beating some of the more potent gaming machines that have been released over the past few months. Of course, it doesn't win in all departments, but it really screams through some of them. All in all, this isn't a bad showing, particularly when you consider that it's build for business users (who aren't necessarily grasping for bleeding-edge technology). A ThinkPad that can stand toe-to-toe with gaming notebooks? That's a solid selling point.



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Gaming Benchmarks
 Performance with Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Gaming Performance

To touch on gaming performance, we chose two games that draw moderately on system resources, Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. We then ran a pre-recorded demo of each at a resolution of 1280x800. The resulting performance achieved is indicated in frames per second in the graph below, and for comparison with machines that are able to play at higher resolutions with larger screens, we'll provide you with a link to our chart from the Asus G51J review.



The NVX 3100M isn't exactly a gaming-centric GPU. It's more of a workstation card than anything else, but that's not to say it won't pump the pixels when called upon. The T410 performed admirably in our gaming tests, and we should note that we were able to play both of these titles smoothly at the native 1440x900 resolution with details set to medium. Those frame rates hovered around 30, which is just enough to have a perfectly smooth and enjoyable game. We get the feeling that newer, high-end titles would be overwhelming at the native resolution, but there's enough power here to play at lower resolutions for sure. The moral of the story is that this machine has enough gaming horsepower to handle the needs of the moderate gamer, so it should be more than adequate for the average business user.

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Power Consumption and Battery Life

Battery life is a big concern for business users, and that's one area where this power + business approach seems to fall a bit short. Lenovo's ThinkPad T410 performs like a champion thanks to the discrete GPU and Core i5 CPU within, but both of those are real energy hogs. Our unit was equipped with the optional 9-cell extended battery (it adds a short bulge out of the rear), and during our real-world testing, we were only able to get around 3 hours of life from it. Granted, the screen was on the entire time at 60% brightness, Wi-Fi was switched on and a simulation was running to simulate light load on the system, but still, that's usually a great representation of how a business notebook is used.



If you expected a machine with a Core i5 CPU and a discrete GPU to get great battery life, you were probably having unrealistic expectations from the start.  However, Lenovo would do well to think about enabling NVIDIA's Optimus hyrbrid graphics switching technology on this machine.  It would definitely extend battery life a bit further.  Regardless, if you need fantastic battery life, you should probably consider a CULV-based notebook or a netbook, both of which can easily last nearly twice as long as the T410. If you used this machine lightly, we could envision stretching the life on a single charge to 4 or 4.5 hours, but beyond that you'd be pressing your luck.


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Still, we don't think this is a show stopper for the T410. Performance is a big part of a machine's attractiveness, and it's far easier to buy a spare battery, rather than feeling the need to upgrade sooner than later. Just be aware that this business notebook will be thirstier than most when it comes to power consumption.
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Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary:  In our SiSoftware Sandra tests, the ThinkPad T410 didn't overly impress us though it held its own. But in the gaming tests and PCMark/3DMark 06 tests, the machine definitely performed better than expected. Keeping in mind that this is a business machine first and foremost, it's tough to knock just how well it kept up with recently released multimedia and gaming notebooks that should have outpaced it easily. Intel's Core i5 and NVIDIA's discrete NVS 3100M GPU are largely to thank, both of which are unusual finds in a notebook that's tailored to corporate buyers. 1080p multimedia playback was flawless, and even modern first-person shooters performed well at the notebook's native 1440x900 resolution. Multitasking within Windows 7 Professional was a breeze, and the lack of bloatware enabled it to remain extremely nimble.


In some regards, this is the same notebook as the T400 that we reviewed last year. The chassis is largely unchanged, and all of the typical ThinkPad points are there: the blue "Enter" key, the mousing nub in the middle of the keyboard, the textured multi-touch trackpad and the rigid frame that makes it so popular amongst road warriors who treat their notebooks less than gently sometimes. Using this machine was a real joy thanks to those points combined with a killer upgraded internal platform of Intel's latest technologies. It's not often that you get a ThinkPad keyboard (the best in the business, pretty much) with a Core i5 CPU and a discrete NVIDIA GPU. If you've been dreaming of the perfect mix of business and pleasure, this may be your machine.


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Our test unit rang up at just under $1500, with the base unit listing for $999. For business users, these prices are reasonable given the sturdiness and performance available. The only real downside is the lackluster battery life, which is to be expected when you're using a performance-oriented CPU and GPU combination (it would be so nice if Lenovo build an option for this machine that NVIDIA Optimus enabled). The display was crisp, multimedia playback was no chore and overall usability was stellar. ThinkPads tend to be "love 'em or hate 'em" type machines for some folks, but with the extra horsepower beneath the hood of this one, we're guessing more folks will fall into the "love" camp than ever before.


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  • Typical ThinkPad Rigdity
  • Plenty of Ports
  • Excellent Keyboard
  • Fantastic Tracpad
  • Ultra Quiet And Cool
  • Great Blend of Power and Class
  • Wi-Fi, 3G and Optical Drives Are Integrated

 

  • Glossy Display
  • Aging Design
  • Lackluster Battery Life
  • Thicker Than Most 14" Rivals
  • No HDMI Output
  • No USB 3.0 Ports

 



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