|Introduction and Specifications|
|If you’ve ever worked in a professional environment for an extended period of time, chances are you’ve used an IBM-come-Lenovo ThinkPad at some point. Their simple black rectangle designs with the little red dot on the keyboard are downright iconic, but although Lenovo has made smaller refinements on the exterior design of some models, they have been evolving the guts and feature set of these machines to true ultrabook-level hardware.
To that end, the latest notebook in the T-series, the Lenovo ThinkPad T440s, is one of the company’s slimmest and lightest to date (save for the X1 Carbon series). It weighs in at 3.5lbs (without the extra battery) and is under 0.8 inches at its thickest point. Lenovo also asserts that this machine is tougher than past models in the family, with a new open/close mechanism, hinges that allow a 180-degree swing, and the removal of latches. The entire touchpad area has been redesigned, too.
So is the ThinkPad T440s the same old business laptop with a slimmer profile and a couple of chassis tweaks, or is it a true evolution of the T-series?
The Lenovo Thinkpad T440s we tested runs Windows 8 Pro and has an Intel Core i5-4200U (up to 2.6GHz) inside with Intel HD Graphics 4400 and 4GB of system memory (although it's worth noting that there's only one DIMM, so that 4GB is single-channel). Lenovo opted for a snappy 128GB SSD for storage, which is ideal for performance although a bit lean in terms of capacity (larger SSDs can be chosen on the model at a price point). However, being that this is a business-oriented notebook, many customers may have access to files and data stored on company servers, thus alleviating some of the burden of local storage.
The 14-inch display offers 1920x1080 resolution and touchscreen capabilities, and there’s a 720p HD webcam with low-light sensitivity, as well. As far as ports go, there are three USB 3.0 (two on the left side, one on the right), a 4-in-1 SD card reader, Ethernet, lock port, and headphone/mic combo jack. Video ports include VGA and mini-DisplayPort (with audio), and for connectivity Lenovo included 802.11ac/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0.
You have several battery options with the T440s; there’s a 3-cell battery built into the notebook itself, but Lenovo also included removable 3-cell and 6-cell batteries, too, which allows you to tailor how much battery life you can rely on from your machine depending on you’re requirements.
And now, let’s talk about the design of this thing and what software options come pre-loaded.
|In terms of its look, the Lenovo Thinkpad T440s ultrabook is exactly what you’d expect from one of the company’s business-facing laptops: a black somewhat boxy design with a red dot in the middle of the keyboard. There’s that classic soft matte black finish all around as well as the Thinkpad logo on the keyboard area of course.
However, Lenovo has done a bit of work tweaking the overall design, most notably as it pertains to the glass touchpad. For starters, it’s twice the size of the old trackpad, and the five clickable buttons are all integrated. The result is a smooth, clean look without losing any of the old functionality. For example, the middle scroll button is gone, but it’s been replaced by subtle bumps so you can find it by feel alone, and the TrackPoint buttons are indicated by red stripes.
The spill-resistant keyboard has optional backlighting (with three brightness settings) and offers the same keyboard we’ve come to know and love on previous generation Lenovo Thinkpads. The blocky keys have a nice indentation for better tactility and plenty of travel. Across the top are numerous dedicated keys, including volume and mic controls, brightness, WiFi toggle on/off, settings, search, and more. One key brings up options for projecting, extending, duplicating, or adding a second screen to a connected display.
There are also two Alt keys (one on either side of the spacebar), PrtSc, and directional keys. The circular power button is up and off to the right all by itself, and the fingerprint scanner is several inches below that.
Despite the same-old, same-old first impression the Thinkpad T440s might make, it’s thinner than you might expect at 0.8 inches, and lighter, too. It's a ThinkPad but on the Atkins diet, so to speak, lean and muscular.
The 1920x1080 IPS display offers 10-point touchscreen capabilities, and although the viewing angles are impressive, we’re not so sure this machine delivers on the promise of “nearly” 180-degrees. We do like that the screen isn’t so glossy that reflectiveness is a problem, though.
Lenovo’s approach to the battery life situation is to give users options. There’s an internal 3-cell (23.5Wh) battery, and you can augment the system’s battery life with an external 3-cell (23.5Wh) or 6-cell (72Wh) battery with the Power Bridge feature. Thus, you can optimize the system’s weight and battery life depending on your needs at a given time. Even better, the external batteries are hot-swappable, so if you need extra juice while you’re in the middle of something, you can pop one in without powering down the system. Nice, very nice actually.
There are more features that lend themselves to the business life, too. The ThinkPad T440s has a docking connector on the bottom to make it as easy as possible to use the ultrabook as both a desktop and a portable computer, and the all-black ports help the machine keep a low, professional profile.
Lenovo designed this machine to offer strong durability, as lifecycle management is a huge expense for businesses, and to that end the company has introduced new cover paint, more robust hinges for the lid, and carbon fiber construction. It’s a good thing Lenovo went with the more protective carbon fiber on the lid, because T-series notebook have historically shown a bit too much in the dirt, dust, and wear-and-tear department, and you don’t want your company’s fleet of machines looking rough.
The interior components are all protected by a roll cage, and Lenovo boasts that the ThinkPad T440s is built to MIL-SPEC standards, which presumably will help the ultrabook survive longer in the business wild through bumps, drops, humidity, and extreme temperatures.
Being a laptop, it’s no surprise that the ThinkPad T440s doesn’t produce audio with very much bass response--or mids, for that matter--but the higher frequencies are crisp and clear, and there’s little to no distortion even at the highest volume settings. Further, it’s worth noting that when you crank it up to the proverbial “11”, this machine can produce a lot of sound--enough to fill a room.
We should also mention that the ThinkPad T440s was remarkably quiet during our testing. Less power consumption and therefore less generated heat was a goal of Intel’s Haswell platform, and between the Haswell chip, integrated Intel graphics, and Lenovo’s chassis design, the machine’s fans essentially never kicked on during our benchmark runs. This system is extremely quiet; the ambient noise from fluorescent lights are louder.
|When systems come loaded with software, sometimes it’s good stuff that you’re glad to see, and sometimes it’s bloatware that you can’t wait to remove. The Lenovo Thinkpad T440s has a little of both.
You can decide for yourself which apps you think are bloatware and which aren’t, but in any case the total list of apps is fairly long. There are items you frequently see such as a 30-day free trial of Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium, Kindle Reader, Evernote Touch, and Norton, as well as AccuWeather, Nitro Pro 8 PDF software, Absolute Data Protect, and cloud storage powered by SugarSync.
Lenovo also loaded a whole spate of branded software, including Companion (which gives you tips and resources on using the machine), QuickCast (for easily transferring data between devices), LenovoToast, support and settings, and ThinkVantage tools. From the toolbar in the desktop environment, you can access the Lenovo Solution Center to check and update your system’s health, and there’s also a direct link to the dedicated Lenovo section of Control Panel.
Dolby Profile, rara music with Lenovo, Zinio Reader, and a PC App store round out the list. When you launch Internet Explorer, you’ll be greeted by both an MSN start page and a special Lenovo start page that offers news; a tab for casual games; local radio streaming; and links to Lenovo products, services, support, and more.
Our review unit shipped with Windows 8 instead of Windows 8.1, and although the 8.1 upgrade is available, we opted to skip it and test as delivered. This system came heavily configured from Lenovo, and we didn’t want to affect any of the custom settings that the company created for it.
|Cinebench and SiSoft SANDRA|
|In order to get a feel for how the ThinkPad T440s compares to other ultrabooks on the market, we ran a few established benchmarks. We began our benchmark testing with Cinebench and SiSoft SANDRA.
Cinebench R11.5 is a 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation suite used by animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others. It's very demanding of processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput.
The CPU score was as expected in Cinebench, if for no other reason than the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro that we recently reviewed has the same processor. However, there was an odd discrepancy in the OpenGL score; it’s possible that Windows 8.1 on the Yoga 2 Pro did a better job of handling the OpenGL than the T440s’ Windows 8, and the single-channel memory setup on our system certainly had something to do with it, too.
We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, File System).
We’re still compiling numbers for our SANDRA 2013 database, but the ThinkPad T440s posted solid scores in all four tests. It came in behind the Yoga 2 Pro in all but the memory test, where it posted 10.7GB/s to the Yoga 2 Pro’s 13.26GB/s, again, due to the single channel configuration that was configured in our test system.
|PCmark 7 and PCMark 8|
|Futuremark’s PCMark 7 is a well-known benchmark tool that runs the system through ordinary tasks, including word processing and multimedia playback and editing. Graphics and processor power figure prominently in this benchmark, but graphics power doesn’t play as big a role here as it does in another Futuremark benchmark, 3DMark (which is designed for testing the system’s gaming capabilities). This test also weights heavily on the storage subsystem of a given device.
The ThinkPad T440s delivered a solid score in PCMark 7, weighing in at number three in our test bank but just a hair behind the similarly-spec’d Yoga 2 Pro.
Futuremark recently launched PCMark 8, which has several built-in benchmark tests. The Home test measures a system's ability to handle basic tasks such as web browsing, writing, gaming, photo editing, and video chat. The Creative test offers similar types of tasks, but has more demanding requirements than the Home benchmark and is meant for mid-range and higher-end PCs. The Work test measures the performance of typical office PC systems that lack media capabilities. Finally, the Storage benchmark tests the performance of SSDs, HDDs and hybrid drives with traces recorded from Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office and a selection of popular games.
As you can see, the T440s handled the Storage test with aplomb thanks to its 128GB SSD, and its Work score was also quite strong. Its Home score was solid, although it was the lowest one in our test bank.
|Ultrabooks such as the Lenovo ThinkPad T440s aren’t designed to be serious gaming machines. However, even though these machines don’t have discrete graphics cards, they can still handle casual gaming. To see how the T440s fares, we fired up 3DMark11, Cloud Gate, and Far Cry 2.
As a synthetic gaming benchmark, 3DMark 11 puts extra emphasis on your system’s handling of DirectX 11. However, 3DMark 11 measures more than just the graphics card’s performance; the processor has a definite influence on the score. As a result, this benchmark is a good way to get a feel for how well the system can handle gaming and general computing tasks.
In 3DMark 11, the ThinkPad T440s bested the vast majority of the systems in our test bank, and two of those are notebooks with discrete NVIDIA graphics. That Yoga 2 Pro beat it again, though, and this time by a good step or two; again lower overall system memory bandwidth we feel is what's at play here, since integrated graphics rely on this heavily.
3DMark is the flagship benchmark in Futuremark’s catalog. As a result, it is a popular choice for testing all types of computers. Recognizing the technology differences between different types of PCs are significant, 3DMark has a separate test suite for each device category. The Cloud Gate test is aimed at entry-level PCs and laptops. It has two subtests: a processor-intensive physics test and two graphics tests. Cloud Gate uses a DirectX 11 engine but the graphics are designed to be compatible with DirectX 10 systems. We ran the test suite at its default 1280 x 720 resolution and at default rendering quality settings. It’s important to remember that 3DMark Cloud Gate scores aren’t comparable to scores from other categories such as 3DMark Fire Strike (gaming PCs) or Ice Storm (smartphones and tablets).
The T440s outpaced the two non-Haswell systems, and it scored within striking distance of the leader of the pack, the Yoga 2 Pro.
Far Cry 2 uses high-quality texture, complex shaders, and dynamic lighting to create a realistic environment. Using the game’s built-in benchmark, we can get a better look at a system’s performance with DirectX 10 level gaming graphics.
You’ll not be enjoying any particularly intensive games on this system, as even at a lower resolution and with no AA enabled, the T440s couldn’t quite produce playable framerates on this older title. Still, it did well compared to the other test systems. But hey, this is a business laptop; you wouldn't be playing games on your work machine, would you? Of course not, you wouldn't dream of such a thing. In reality, however, the integrated graphics engine in Intel's latest Haswell 4th generation Core processors has come a long way.
|One of the features of the ThinkPad T440s is its multiple battery options: There’s a 3-cell internal battery, an external 3-cell battery, and an external 6-cell battery. We tested the system with all three configurations to see how much work time the T440s would offer before the various batteries gave out.
In an attempt to quantitatively measure the ThinkPad T440s' battery life in a controlled benchmark environment, we ran Battery Eater Pro. This test is designed to tax a laptop’s resources to give a feel for how long the laptop’s battery will last under heavy use. For the test, we set the T440s' display to 50% brightness and enabled Wi-Fi.
Lenovo didn’t promise any specific time frame for battery life so we didn’t go in with any set expectations, but we found that the ThinkPad T440s performed superbly in our Battery Eater Pro test, topping the field with the slim-profile external 3-cell battery and completely obliterating the group with the external 6-cell battery.
Again, we will underscore that the ThinkPad T440s has an internal 3-cell battery built-in to the chassis, as well as the 3 or 6-cell batteries that you can snap into the underside of the machine, as you traditionally would with any notebook. This gives the machine a notable advantage over most standard notebook designs.
In the web browsing-only test, the T440s also beat out the field, hanging on for over 8 hours before conking out.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
|Performance Summary: The Lenovo ThinkPad T440s’ performance could be described as solid but unspectacular in certain areas. Solid, yes, because it hung with or exceeded the competition in virtually all of our benchmarks, but unspectacular because it was constantly beaten out by Lenovo’s own Yoga 2 Pro, which has strikingly similar specs. More on that shortly.
It can be hard to get juiced up over a business-ish ThinkPad that looks an awful lot like ThinkPads of times past, but Lenovo did a good job of maintaining the series’ classic looks without bowing to them. The company completely redesigned the touchpad area, and it’s a much smoother-looking and cleaner user experience. The chassis is still a black, boxy design, but it takes on a slimmer, minimalistic profile, with detail finishes like blacked-out ports and hidden speakers. Even the keyboard is notable, with large keys that offer a subtle yet satisfying click and decent travel. Further, this ThinkPad has a touchscreen (an impressively crisp and vibrant one), which is a fairly new development for business machines. Finally, in operation, it’s also worth noting that the T440s was extremely quiet.
One item to be aware of is the fact that Lenovo, for whatever reason, put a single 4GB DIMM in the T440s, which somewhat hamstrings the memory performance. There's an open DIMM slot inside the chassis, and for next to nothing you can opt for another 2GB to 4GB module to significantly boost the system's performance. We'd strongly advise this, as you're leaving performance on the table beyond just that of the extra memory, if you run in single channel mode.
The system comes loaded with software, and some of it is potentially useful while other items could be considered just bloat. That said, a lot of it is Lenovo-branded, and thus there are many dedicated tools and utilities to use.
One nagging aspect of this system stems from its price compared to the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro that we recently reviewed. This ThinkPad T440s costs $1,309 as configured, but the Yoga 2 Pro is about $300 cheaper--yet the less expensive product offers a higher-res (although physically smaller) display, an attractive convertible design, and mostly better benchmark scores to boot. It just depends on your use case. ThinkPads are designed with the work and enterprise environment in mind. The keyboard area on the ThinkPad T440S is more spacious as well.
Still, overall we’d have to give the Lenovo ThinkPad T440s a thumbs up for solid all-around performance, a clean redesign, and its sturdy, resilient, industrial-strength construction.