IBM's products are the time tested gold standard when it comes to the computing needs of business professionals or corporations as a whole. "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM," many say. There is a reason for this reputation; most of it relating specifically to quality and technological features that have been incorporated cleverly into the personal computers offered by IBM.
You've probably already heard of the buyout plan of this part of IBM's business to a China based system vendor called Lenovo, and the gripes and forecasting made by some "industry insiders." For us, that is all just sideline chit-chat. Because, regardless of the sale, as consumers we are a bit more concerned about the products themselves. And regardless of what falls out from the Lenovo deal, IBM branded personal computers will still be here for the next few years, which includes the well known ThinkPad line of notebooks. With that in mind, IBM and or Lenovo are still going to have to woo us (business and general consumers alike) with what people have come to expect from the IBM name. So with that said, HotHardware will start down the road with IBM's ThinkPad R52.
Measuring in at 12.4" x 10.4" x 1.35", with a weight starting at 5.8 pounds (our R52 sample weighed at 6.12 lbs), the IBM ThinkPad R series is a budget solution from IBM for the mainstream market. But keep in mind, this doesn't mean that it is a value solution. Rather the R series has been centered around a good "all-purpose" profile, with the typical flair for the business user. IBM doesn't do multimedia oriented designs in the same way Dell or HP do, so if you are looking for something of that nature; you should probably look elsewhere. The R series is better suited for the professional or general consumer that needs a well rounded notebook for occasional to frequent mobility. If you are constantly on the go though, look at the T or X series. And the G series is better left to those who need more power.
|Construction: Building, Appearance, Size|
The top and bottom parts of the R series notebook are cased in 2mm thick ABS plastic. Generally speaking, this isn't going to be as shock or damage resistant as a good composite fiber chassis, but it will still hold up pretty well. Actually, since IBM gave the casing's surface a slightly micro-texture (like touchpads), minor scratches that develop over time will be less apparent. As it is with any notebook, major scratches won't be something you can hide (i.e. the slip of a screwdriver).
Opening the notebook is simple; sliding a single security clip to the right disengages the two hooks holding the lid down.
Front (left to right):
Left (left to right):
Back (left to right):
Right (left to right):
|Construction: Field Tested|
Charger –For years, IBM has stuck with the same power brick. Like Dell's, it remains one of the better charger designs on the market, particularly with the strap design that allows you to tie up extra cabling and the straight power plug that has thus far always been plugged in the back of the notebook. The only down side is that it is pretty hard to tie up extra cabling on the AC end of the power brick, because it doesn't use a right angle design like Dell.
Display –IBM offers three display options for the R52: 14.1" XGA (native 1024 x 768), 15.0" XGA (native 1024 x 768), 15.0" SXGA+ (native 1400 x 1050). Of the four R52 Express models there is only one that uses a 14.1" display. The rest come with a 15.0" XGA display. Personally, we feel that a 15.0" XGA screen just looks awkward, so we recommend the 14.1" display model (you cannot chose between display sizes for those Express models at the moment). If you prefer the larger 15.0" display size, however, we recommend the SXGA+ (1400 x 1050) model. All of the displays have a fairly good viewing angle, so the person sitting next to you can probably see what you are looking at with the brightness setting at max (8).
With 8 brightness settings, the display has a fairly good range from bright to dim. The dimmest setting is a bit too dark for us to be comfortable to use in a dark room, but it would do just fine if you aren't interacting but need to conserve battery life while monitoring what is going on. The brightest setting isn't super bright, but it bright, sharp, and generally better than the 14.1" or 15.0" XGA display panels we've see on some other notebooks. In a dark room, you are better off at level 2 or 3 if you don't want to strain your eyes.
On a side note, this display is one of a few that allows for a wide range of virtual display resolutions. Normally, we only see the max resolution of 1600 x 1200 or 1920 x 1600, and that is only on the rare occasion when we see displays that are capable of virtual resolutions, by comparison, our R52 sample came with the max virtual resolution of 2048 x 1536.
Fan - For the majority of time we were running through our benchmarks, the notebook was fairly quiet, other than the almost inaudible hum of the hard drive. The fan comes on intermittently, but it is just as inaudible as the hard drive; kind of like a whispery whirl. In a typically computer room, you would have to put your ear within an inch or so of the keyboard in order to hear the fan. In dead quiet library, the person next to you should be able to barely hear the fan at min speed. In our field testing, we tried to watch a Divx encoded movie off our 802.11g network (CPU load - 15% to 20%). About 15 minutes into the movie, the fan immediately came on and went to max speed. In the next 3 to 6 seconds, the fan slowed down to min speed. Keep in mind that we don't just do performance testing, we also do a lot of field and usability testing.
When the fan went to max speed, it was louder than the hum from the hard drive but it was not as loud as the optical drive when accessing a DVD. The maximum volume of the R52's fan is quieter than most other notebooks. Generally, it only went to max speed when the notebook was getting into CPU intensive loads, and only for short periods of time when it did. If you are just milling through your "run of the day" computer routines: e-mail, word processing, browsing, etc, you will likely find this to be a very quiet notebook. IBM got this design right, of course the increased real estate space of the R series platform helps displace heat efficiently.
Heat – After about three plus hours of use, the notebook was still relatively cool to the touch. The only place that got warm was the bottom of the notebook where the CPU (roughly below the "c" key), northbridge (right of CPU), and WiFi card were situated (below touchpad). Compared to other notebooks, this stays cooler than most of them. But keep in mind that constant full-load CPU operations will increase temperatures.
|Construction: Field Tested (cont.)|
Keyboard –This is one of the better keyboard layout designs out there, as the function and page up/page down/home/end are all located in logical and ergonomically sound places. Of course, we should note that while the home/end/page up/page down keys are situated well, like using a desktop keyboard you will have to stretch your fingers to use them. This has nothing to do with spacing the keyboard, which IBM has done just right; rather this is something you also need to do on desktop keyboards for the most part. Either way, this is technically the correct placement, and better/more intuitive than aligning these keys on the right side in a single column. And the tactile feedback was very good. IBM has always ranked highly in this category in our book.
Note that IBM doesn't include a Windows key on their keyboard. According to IBM, the absence of a Windows key is due to internal ergonomic and usability studies, which have concluded that putting one on their keyboards alters the normal typing pattern and makes the system less ambidextrous. It isn't frustrating for us, but it may be for those that are used to having a Windows key available. While IBM keyboards lack this key, you will find the ALT and CTRL keys slightly larger than those on other notebooks, and there are also forward and backward buttons near the arrow keys, which are very helpful if you are a browser junkie. Unfortunately, we get the Fn key in the lower left hand corner. Technically, we find that correct placement is for the Fn key to be to the right of left CTRL key. For some people, this may not be a problem; for others it will be.
LEDs –There are two LED strips: one above the keyboard and one on the backside of the display. The LED strip above the keyboard includes LEDs for (left to right): WiFi status (green when enabled, blinking green when active), Bluetooth status (green when active), num lock (green when active), caps lock (green when active), hard drive activity (blinking blue when active), power status (green if system on), battery status (green when plugged in and fully charged, green when discharging between 100% and 5%, blinking green when charging at roughly above 90%, orange when charging between 0% and 90%, blinking orange when discharging roughly below 5% + audible warning), and standby status (green when in standby mode).
Note the small orange light at the top of the display lid in the picture to the above right. The R series of IBM's Thinkpad line uses a orange illuminator light to help users maneuver and interact with their notebook in the dark.
The LED strip on the back of the notebook has the same LEDs as those above the keyboard, minus the Bluetooth status, except they are exposed on the backside of the monitor (left to right): standby mode (same color scheme), battery status (same color scheme), and Bluetooth status (same color scheme).
TouchPad & Buttons –Like the keyboard, the touchpad is spaced appropriately, enough so that switching between the two is about the same as any other average notebook. The touchpad doesn't have a grainy or smooth texture, rather it is somewhere in the middle. Instead of a scroll space or toggle, IBM uses a scroll button, which allows you to scroll with the TrackPoint pointing device or the touchpad. The scroll button just simply enables or disables the scroll function. Personally, we like either the scroll button or touchpad scroll zone over a scroll toggle (vertical or vertical and horizontal).
IBM, of course, is also know for their TrackPoint pointing devices, usually marked by that distinct red "button" roughly in the center of the keyboard. For those not familiar, this is like a mini joystick that controls cursor movement. This is a love it or hate it feature, but we personally like it. You can even customize it to your liking with the different covers: "soft dome," "soft rim," "classic dome."
Speakers & Microphone - The integrated microphone is denoted by two small angled slots in the casing above the ESC key. This is somewhat out of the way, but we found we didn't have to lean over for a voice over IP (VOIP) conversation to go smoothly.
The speakers on the R52 at max are reasonably loud, but it will just be slightly audible in the next room. We normally test at 20% but that volume level on the R52 is just slightly loud than a whisper, which would be equal to about a 12% volume level with the majority of consumer notebooks we have used. This is not a multimedia notebook by any means, so when we listened to Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know, the audio clarity is shy of what we normally hear on some other consumer end notebooks, i.e. the instrumentals and voice inflections get slightly distorted. Of course, if you aren't a multimedia buff or aren't good at picking up the finer points between audio quality, you likely won't tell the difference other than volume level. For all intents and purposes, the business user and occasional DVD watcher won't complain.
Whether you buy from Dell, HP, Compaq, IBM, or any other well known notebook manufacturer, each company usually has software pre-installed that is branded in their name to make the notebook experience just that much sweeter. By that we mean easier, simpler, more feature laden, enabling user fixable solutions, etc.
IBM includes OS indicators for brightness (meter increase/decrease) and volume (meter increase/decrease, mute).
Of the various software enhancements that IBM includes, we want to particularly note:
There are various other enhancements that are less significant. You can go over them at the IBM ThinkVantage Technology website; "ThinkVantage" is the name IBM has given to the overall group of all technology related to IBM's personal computing business. For the most part, most of the technology pertains to the ThinkPad notebooks, and it is suppose to address the "TCO" (total cost of ownership - life time cost of owning computer including repair and maintenance costs) factor. The R series has multiple sub-series and in many cases share different features, click for chart comparison.
Reinstallation of Drivers - This process is a breeze, as IBM includes a single program that does all the work. If you do a clean OS wipe, all you need to keep is a copy of Intel's chipset INF and Broadcom LAN driver on a CD-R/CD-RW, install them, and then run the IBM program that will take care of the rest. The need to download multiple drivers and apps is gone. This is something we have yet to see on other notebooks, and yet have been waiting to see from others. IBM got this down right, and we cannot help but emphasis how much easier this makes things.
|Construction: Upgrading and Maintenance|
Removing the bottom access panels gives way to reveal the unpopulated DDR2 SODIMM memory bank and hard drive. The R52 sample we have here came populated with 1 x Micron/Crucial 512MB DDR2 533/PC4200. The hard drive can be accessed by removing the single screw holding the hard drive enclosure in place and then by swinging the enclosure door open. The lid cannot be closed when you remove the hard drive, other wise you are going to damage the casing.
Like the previous IBM designs, you can easily access the keyboard by first unscrewing the four keyboard screws marked by the "keyboard icon" on the bottom of the notebook. Since the keyboard uses an simple interlocking mechanism to hold it in place, you just need to "scoot" the keyboard forward away from the touchpad and lift it out with a flat-head screwdriver. You can also do this with your fingers if you are careful or carefully hold the notebook upside down and unsecure the keyboard. The keyboard connector should just pop out on its own.
Under the keyboard, you can see the other DDR2 SODIMM slot, CPU cooler atop CPU, and the 915GM northbridge. You won't be able to remove the CPU cooler for cleaning unless you hook the entire top casing of the notebook (you also won't have to monkey around with the display in the process).
|Systems Tested and General Performance|
In order to keep the list of notebook from getting exceedingly long and turning this page into a scrolling race, we are going to archive past notebook specs in a Excel file (XLS format), which will be updated with every notebook review (click here). If you have questions, please feel free to e-mail us.
Business Winstone 2004 from Veritest uses scripts to tests the performance level of a computer in business related applications:
Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 from Veritest uses scripts to tests the performance level of a computer in multimedia rich environment:
Higher scores here indicate better performance. You can read more about Business Winstone 2004 on Veritest's FAQ page. And you can read more about Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 on Veritest's FAQ page.
The scores are pretty consistent with results we have seen from similarly equipped 915XM based systems on the market. The fact that the R52 surpasses the V6800V is a nice surprise, but the small performance difference should be narrowed slightly due to the standard deviation in testing, which was about .5% greater for our V6800V testing when compared to the rest of the notebooks we tested.
We left IBM APS, IBM Power Management, and other default enhancements on because that is the way most people are going to use the notebook. When we disabled all of these, we found a minor increase in performance.
We should note that our system came with a single SODIMM module, which means that dual channel technology was not being taken advantage of. While this means that two SODIMM memory modules will increase the performance scores, only a slight increase will be apparent. IBM does ship R52s with a memory configuration of 1 x 512MB.
|Battery Info & Performance|
We are using the standard benchmark settings from Bapco, along with a few other minor system tweaks. The screensaver was disabled and volume was set at approximately 20%.
MobileMark 2002 utilizes the following applications:
The white papers for MobileMark are available on Bapco's website should you want to read up on how this benchmark works. In the graph above, higher scores equal better performance.
The R52 isn't necessarily meant for a lot of road time, but it can do the job, when it comes to battery life. The standard 6 cell battery racks up about 4 hours of use, while the 9 cell can keep you away for just under 6 hours.
The down side of choosing a 9 cell battery is that it is a heftier battery pack and sticks out the backside of the notebook. Our personal choice, and other alternative to the larger 9 cell, is to chose a modular battery back for the notebook's Ultrabay, but this will mean you can't access CDs/DVDs.
Charge time for the batteries from 0% to 100% is as follows (real world numbers, not estimates):
The times listed below reflect the time it took for the system to power up until the cursor appeared with no busy indicator on the desktop background.
Given that the IBM notebooks have more software to load during boot up, the long boot time can be reduced if you disable a few of software enhancements that IBM provides. We left it on to get a real world read.
The R52 is the latest notebook from IBM's ThinkPad R series. It isn't meant for the highly mobile or even those that are on the move the majority of the time. But if you plan to be occasionally on the go, this is a good choice for a notebook. It's not completely performance driven like the G series, but the R uses Centrino components that make it more travel friendly.
Also keep in mind that the ThinkPad R52 is not targeted at multimedia buffs, other audio/video enthusiasts, or gamers. Granted, if you get one with the MRX300 GPU, you may be able to get in some light gaming, but this notebook is better suited for students, business professionals, the IT guy, and those looking for an all-purpose notebook without an extremely high price. Given that competing notebooks may be cheaper, why go with IBM? Well, IBM is banking on the TCO (total cost of ownership) factor of owning a notebook, basically all the costs not counted in the initial purchase, i.e. the cost of repair is reduced, with IBM's APS technology, for example, reducing the chance of having to RMA a damaged hard drive. For someone that wants to avoid possible hassles in the future with downtime for repairs, servicing, replacement, and otherwise, IBM is the way to go. And with thorough software enhancements, IBM notebooks are that much more tempting, which is something that other companies can take a cue from, especially in their OS reinstallation tools.
Priced at $1,749, our system and other R52 submodels tend to run in the mid to high end price range of the entire R series. Though, there are R52 notebooks that use Celeron-M processors that are in the $1,000 range. Personally, we recommend sticking with a 14.1" display with an XGA resolution. Going to 15.0" should be done with a native SXGA+ resolution, but we tend to avoid the 15.0" display sizes because they increase the profile of the notebook and make it less mobile. As for battery life, we recommend the 9 cell battery or Ultrabay Slim Li-Polymer if you plan to be on the road beyond 4 hours. The down side of the Ultrabay battery option is that you obviously can't access optical media since the Ultrabay is occupied, but you don't get a portion of the battery sticking out the back side of the notebook like you do with the 9-cell battery.
For normal day to day computing, the R52 is a good choice. It's ideal for e-mailing, word processing, work related projects, browsing, presentations, light mobility, etc. Given all this, the R52 is a well rounded notebook suited for everything that the mainstream user needs in a semi-mobile notebook. In the end, we are giving the IBM ThinkPad R52 a solid 9 on the HotHardware Heat Meter.