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IBM/Lenovo ThinkPad X41 Tablet
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Date: Jun 30, 2005
Section:Mobile
Author: Andrew Ku
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Introduction

It has taken quite sometime for ultra-portables to be fully accepted by the notebook community. This really has more to do with their price tags, than any specific design or aesthetic issue. Considering that ultra-portables are usually more expensive than traditional notebooks, it isn't hard to see why most people would choose the cheaper option. And because ultra-portables have traditionally been low power options, and battery life was lacking, they were usually relegated to the low end. Add that to the fact that any previous practical use of an ultra-portable still required a main system to compliment it, either a desktop machine or a more traditional notebook; an ultra-portable asked a lot of any prospective notebook buyer. However, its benefits are clear, and most of the time undervalued. For any one on the move, ultra-portables are a godsend.  Microsoft's particular interest with this segment of the mobile PC market is in regard to Tablet PCs. Tablet PC's obviously have their own set of problems that have prevented full market adoption (again mainly due to price), but we're going to look at one that may change many people's minds, the IBM X41 Tablet.

IBM ThinkPad X41 Tablet
Specifications
Processor
_Designed for Intel 90nm Dothan Pentium-M with 2MB On-Die L2 Cache
_Supports 533MHz FSB

Chipset
_Intel 915GM (with Intel IGP)/ICH6-M
_Supports maximum memory capacity up to 2GB

Memory
_Two 200-pin SODIMM sockets
_Supports DDR2 400/533 Unbuffered Non-ECC memory
_Supports maximum memory capacity up to 2GB

Graphic
_Intel Graphic Media Accelerator 900

ATA
Intel ICH6-M South Bridge:
- 1 x ATA 100/66
- 2 x SATA 100/66
- 20GB/30GB/40GB/60GB Ultra ATA HDD 4200RPM


Communications
_Broadcom Gigabit Mbps Ethernet
_Intel Wireless 2200BG (802.11 b/g)  or 2915ABG (802.11a/b/g)
_Bluetooth (optional)
_56K v.92 Fax/modem

Display
_12.1" Super-Wide Angle FFS XGA TFT LCD (native 1024 x 768), 180 nit

Audio
_Compatible with AC'97 2.3
_Built in speaker

Dimension and Weight
_~ 10.79" x 9.53" x 1.1~1.3" (our sample)
_Starts at 3.5 lbs.

External I/O Connectors
_1 x Power port
_1 x IR port
_1 x Lock jack
_1 x PCMCIA slot (1 x Type I/Type II)
_1 x Modem jack
_1 x Ethernet jack
_1 x microphone jack
_1 x headphone jack
_1 x SD card reader
_1 x VGA-out port
_3 x USB 2.0/1.1

Included Software - preloaded
_Access IBM
_Access Connections
_Adobe Reader
_IBM RecordNOW and IBM DLA power by Sonic products (DVD-RW or CD-RW/DVD models only)
_IBM Rescue and Recovery
_InterVideo WinDVD (CD-RW/DVD, DVD-RW or DVD models only)
_InterVideo WinDVD Creator (DVD-RW model only)
_IBM Client Security Software
_IBM fingerprint reader software (fingerprint reader systems only)
_Norton AntiVirus 2005 with 90 days of virus definitions
_PC-Doctor
_ThinkPad Utilities
_Update Connector

Included Software - downloadable
_IBM Client Security Software
_IBM Director Agent
_IBM System Migration Assistant
_Software Delivery Assistant

Included Software - Trial
_Alias Sketchbook Pro
_Franklin Covey PlanPlus
_Zinio Magazine Reader

 

 


Measuring in at 10.8" x 9.5" x 1.1~1.3" and with a weight starting at 3.5 pounds (our X41 sample weighed at 3.5 lbs. with a 4 cell battery), the IBM ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC is the first Tablet design to emerge from IBM. From the name, you can already deduce that this X Tablet series is an offshoot from the ultra-portable X series of ThinkPads. For those highly mobile (~70%+ of the time) and those needing the notebook like qualities of a Tablet PC, the X41 Tablet PC fits the bill. Remember that this mobile PC falls into the Convertible Tablet PC category. Unlike Slates, Convertibles can function as both a notebook or a Slate. The downside of Convertibles is that they will generally be heavier because they include a keyboard, and some sort of cursor tracking device, which a Slate will leave out.

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Construction: Building, Appearance, Size
Construction: Building, Appearance, Size
The new X41 Tablet...

The top portion of the X41 Tablet is cased in a magnesium composite, while the bottom is cased in titanium reinforced carbon fiber. Compared to the R52, this is going to be more shock and damage resistant, due to the stronger material used in its manufacture. As a by product of using carbon fiber, the bottom of the notebook should be less thermally conductive. The top of the notebook has a finer grain texture compared to the R52, but you can defiantly tell it is made of sturdier material, which means that it will be more able to shrug off minor scratches over time. As is the case with any notebook, major scratches will be harder to hide (i.e. the slip of a screwdriver).

Opening the notebook is as simple as sliding a single security clip to the right, which disengages the single hook holding the lid down.

The layout of the ports is unique compared to the T and R series, as there is less design space available.

Front (left to right):

Left (left to right):

  • power port
  • VGA-out port
  • 2 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports (lower is powered USB 2.0 port)
  • Exhaust vent
  • Tablet PC pen (push to release, push to lock)

Back (left to right):

Right (left to right):

  • 1 x PCMCIA (Type I/II)
  • microphone (denoted by slot)
  • microphone port
  • headphone port
  • SD card reader
  • IR window
  • 1 x USB 2.0/1.1
  • Ethernet jack
  • modem jack
  • lock jack

 

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Construction: Field Tested
Construction: Field Tested
So, How Does it Work in the Real World?

Charger – For years, IBM has stuck with the same power brick. Like the Dell model, it remains to be 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 brink, because it doesn't use a right angle design like Dell. Note that this power brick differs from the T and R series power brick by being about 10%~15% smaller (X41 Tablet - 56W charger, T and R series - 72W).

Display – IBM offers one display option for the X41 Tablet: 12.1" Super-Wide Angle FFS XGA (native 1024 x 768) - 180 nit.

For the Tablet PC form factor, this size is the optimal choice. Any larger and you get a mobile PC that becomes harder to be mobile with, while smaller sized displays may be a possible way to go in the future.

With 8 brightness settings, the display has a fairly good range from bright to dim. Our display even seems about as bright as the 14.1" SXGA+ display on the T43 notebook. 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 is one of the brighter 12.1" screens we have seen on notebooks, both from the consumer and business lines. In a dark room, you are better off at level 2, if you don't want to strain your eyes. AC and battery brightness levels are not the same (battery is skewed about 1/2 lower).

As far as any multimedia use goes, watching a DVD obviously is not optimal on this display. The dark scenes are too dark, and the light scenes are not bright enough. This is to be expected of a business class notebook, though.

Fan - Like the T43, the fan was on the majority of the time while we were using the notebook. In general, the notebook is quiet, other than the almost inaudible click of the hard drive write/read head, which is louder than the fan at mid speed. If the system is idle, the fan just stops spinning. In our field tests, we were constantly using the X41 Tablet, so for the majority of the time the fan was active.

At mid speed ("normal speed"), it is definitely not loud, as it is less noticeable than the fans on the R52 and T43. Just sitting in normal typing posture should allow you just make out the CPU fan, but it is certainly what we would consider to be one of the quietest heat dissipation designs. On a flight, the person next to you probably won't notice it. In a dead quiet library, you should be able to make out the fan, while the person next to you will probably just barely be able to make it out. From a distance of about 2 feet (in a reasonably quiet room), you shouldn't be able to make out the noise unless you really concentrate.

When the fan went to max speed, it had we would describe as a soft whirling sound. It isn't loud, but nor is it completely unnoticeable. Compared to its "normal speed," it is about 25% louder. If you are sitting in normal typing posture (in a quiet room), you should be able to clearly hear the noise, but it is not what we would consider to be loud.

Generally, the notebook's fan only went to max speed once we were getting into CPU intensive loads, and only for around 10 seconds at a time when it did. If you are just milling through your "run of the day" computer routine: email, word processing, browsing, etc. the fan will only speed up occasionally.

Heat – After about three hours of use, the notebook was still relatively cool to the touch. The only places that got warm were the bottom right side of the notebook where the CPU and hard drive are located and the area of the access panel, which gives way to reveal the Bluetooth module, SODIMM slot, and WiFi card. For CPU intensive operations, you will certainly find it to be somewhat warm, but not an intolerable heat. Basically, you should still feel comfortable and should not feel the need to shuffle or flinch while the notebook sits in your lap.

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Construction: Field Tested (cont.)
Construction: Field Tested (cont.)
More Usage Characteristics...

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 a 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 the spacing of the keyboard, which IBM has done just right; rather this is something you even need to do on desktop keyboards for the most part. Either way, this is technically the correct placement, and better/more intuitive than the aligning these keys on the right side in a single column.

IBM is one of the best when it comes to tactile feedback in notebook keyboards. For example, there is no give when pressing the keyboard without hitting the key.

Its good to see that IBM uses the X41's full sized keyboard, in the sense that all the letter and number keys are not compromised in size (that can be technically considered full sized). If you are comparing it to the keyboard on the T and R series, you will find that CTRL, ALT, Enter, backslash, backspace, tab, caps lock, shift, and ESC keys are slightly smaller.

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 for those used to using it. While IBM keyboards lack this key, you will find the ALT and CTRL keys slightly larger than those on other notebooks and a forward and backward button 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 include LEDs for (left to right): WiFi status (green when enabled, blinking 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 that unlike the T and R series there is no illuminator light.

The LED strip on the back of the notebook is the same LEDs as the ones above the keyboard, 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 – So its obvious, there is no touchpad. This is an ultra-portable after all, and with space at a premium, IBM is forgoing the touchpad in favor of TrackPoint. To begin with, the TrackPoint is a love it or hate it feature even when it is in included in addition to the touchpad. Thus, when it comes to tracking, this is going to be either a good experience or a horribly frustrating one depending on your tastes.

Instead of a scroll space or toggle, IBM uses a scroll button, which allows you to scroll with the TrackPoint pointing device. 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).

You can customize the TrackPoint cap to your liking with the different covers: "soft dome," "soft rim," "classic dome."

Speakers & Microphone – The integrated microphone is located directly below the right arrow key. The two angled slots in the casing do not designate the exact location of the microphone, but instead, it is the spot where you should be directing your speech. 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. However, you might find yourself covering the microphone "zone" with your right hand during typing.

There is only a single speaker located on the bottom side of the X41 Tablet. As far as we can tell, it is a smaller version of the speaker(s) used on the T43 and R52. We normally test at 20% but that volume level on the X41 is just slightly louder than a whisper, which would be equal to about a 10% volume level with the majority of consumer notebooks we have used. This is not a multimedia notebook by any stretch of the word, so when we listened to Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know, the audio clarity is shy of what we normally see on consumer class notebooks, i.e. the instrumentals and voice inflections get slightly distorted above 50%. For all intents and purposes, the business user and occasional DVD watcher won't complain. Max volume on this notebook is about 50% to 60% as loud as other consumer notebooks.

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Construction: Upgrading and Maintenance
Construction: Upgrading and Maintenance
A Look Inside...

The display swings backwards on a 180 degree plane. It goes a few degrees lower if you use a 4 cell primary battery.

 

The X41 Tablet follows a simple layout. Removing the single bottom access pale gives way to reveal the unpopulated DDR2 SODIMM memory bank, miniPCI slot populated by the WiFi card, and the Bluetooth module. The sample we have here came populated with one embedded Hynix 512MB DDR2 533/PC4200 memory module, so the maximum memory capacity of the system is 1.5GB, even though the chipset supports 2GB.

The hard drive doesn't use a swing door design, so you can only remove the hard drive by tugging the enclosure door open. Unlike the T and R series, the display lid doesn't need to be opened to the hard drive in order to avoid damage to the casing. However, you must remove the digitizer pen before you remove the hard drive.

Like the previous IBM designs, you can easily access the keyboard by first removing the four keyboard screws marked by the "keyboard icon" on the bottom of the notebook. Since the keyboard uses a 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 disengage the keyboard. The keyboard connector should just pop out on its own.

    

There is really nothing located below the keyboard to be worth any mention. The only reason to remove the keyboard is for cleaning.

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The Tablet PC Experience
The Tablet PC Experience
Tablet PC Usage Characteristics...

Conversion to Tablet Mode –To convert into Slate mode, the display simply needs to be swiveled clockwise 180 degrees and clipped down. The security clip can be pushed to be locked in on the opposite side so that the security mechanism on the base can hold the display down.

  

Once you swivel and push the display down to lock it in place, at about 30 degrees the screen will automatically rotate the image 90 degree clockwise.

I don't think that IBM intended to design this with right handed people in mind. However, the standard web configuration for the X41 Tablet comes with an 8 cell battery, which has a built in rubberized grip that favors right handers. While the 4 cell battery doesn't have a rubberized grip strip, it still extends far enough out from the system to have a lip to grip. Left handed people can simply manipulate the settings in the OS so that they can grip the rubber strip without having an upside down desktop. They can also just use the opposite right handed orientation, but they forego the gripping and comfortability which is provided. The problem flipping the screen so that lefties can use the grip then becomes the fact that all the lettering and orientation of buttons/fingerprint scanner are upside down. Personally, I would like to see IBM provide the option to rotate counterclockwise; this would solve all of the issues. This way southpaws don't have to screw around with the software, have to deal with upside down labels, or sacrifice the grip designed for right-handers.

Tablet Digitizer Pen – The digitizer pen is located on the front left corner of the system. If you are in Tablet Mode, the pen will be located on the top left side. The pen is spring locked with a push lock/release mechanism. It pops out when you push in the pen. The pen is locked in place if you push it in.

 

Left to Right: Buttons in Tablet mode, screenshot with the Tablet Shortcut Menu

Tablet Buttons –All of the buttons are situated to the right of the digitized screen (top to bottom): up arrow,  down arrow, backspace, ESC, Tablet Shortcut Menu, rotate screen 90 degrees clockwise, task manager button (combination command = CTRL + ALT + DEL), lock power button (disables ability to use power button near display), power button.

Writing - Using the digitizer pen is comparable to other Tablet PCs we have used. However, IBM can make some improvements in the Pen design. For most people, slightly larger buttons would make this feel more comfortable. As it is, the buttons are small and hard to work with. Clicking the bottom enables the pen to write, while the upper button enables the pen to function as an eraser.

As far as tracking goes, basically all of the Tablet PC's use Wacom's digitizer, so tracking is extremely similar from Tablet PC to Tablet PC. Stuff like digitizer pens, therefore, are interchangeable between different systems, for the most part ( - we used a TC4200 pen on the X41, and vice versa).

   

Software – Like other Tablet PCs, the X41 Tablet relies on Microsoft's Windows XP Tablet PC Edition OS. The OS has an overall natural feel to it, with sufficient information for the person new to Tablet PCs. In any window that requires writing, there is a small icon that allows you to select the way you want to input information, similar to Microsoft's Pocket PC OS.

   

Left to Right: FranklinCovey PlanPlus, Alias SketchBook, Microsoft's Windows Journal, Microsoft's Sticky Notes

IBM includes trial versions of FranklinCovey PlanPlus 4.1 (30 days) and Alias SketchBook Pro 1.1.1 (15 days). The SketchBook program is particularly helpful if you can actually make decent sketches, which is why Tablets are great for the artist. The digitizer pen uses sensitivity tracking to determine the weight of an stroke. FrankinCovey PlanPlus is a organizer/planner that provides an unique interface for writing notes.

LEDs –The front LED strip is visible in Slate mode. All LEDs are visible (except the cluster behind the display).

Heat - After using the X41 for over a few hours and doing a lot of multitasking, the bottom of the X41 Tablet gets warm, but not uncomfortable enough for anyone to flinch or complain. If you are only using it the way we suspect most people will, the bottom will only seem warm as you cradle it like a sketchpad.

Speaker(s) and Microphone – If you are holding the Tablet PC, you are going to find it hard to use the built in microphone. The small slot that denotes the microphone will be pointed away from you. This means that you'll need to point the side of the notebook toward you for it to clearly pick-up your voice. This will make it hard to simultaneously type and speak at the same time.

The speaker has the same audio characteristics we mentioned earlier. The difference is that it the audio is going to be a bit more muffled because it is placed directly in the path where you would wrap your arm around the Tablet PC.

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Features: Software & Hardware
Features: Software & Hardware
Software & Hardware features...

 

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:

  • Access IBM - This is the program that pops up when you hit the blue "Access IBM" key when you are in the OS. It gives you a main menu of just about all the enhancements that IBM provides.

  

 

  • IBM Active Protection System (APS) - This is perhaps one of the best features that has come from IBM in the past few years. Basically, IBM uses a motherboard-mounted motion detector (also called the "accelerometer" by IBM) that continuously monitors any motion or movement of the notebook. This data is collected by IBM's APS software, which decides if there is any action needed. If there is major movement, the APS software will temporarily park the hard drive head so data on the hard drive has a significantly reduced chance of being lost, i.e. free fall will cause it to be parked. Where prediction is used, it is done so both by hardware and software portions of APS. Note that the program shows the real time status of the notebook. If the notebook is upside down, you will see the notebook upside down in the monitor window.

  • IBM Rescue and Recovery - Basically, this feature is like those that you see on other notebooks but with a more developed UI. You can save an image of the hard drive in its current state or revert back to the factory installation. If you do a clean wipe of the OS, this program will not be able to be accessed unless you install it again (can be downloaded from IBM's website - roughly 400MB). In order to recover, you need to hit the "Access IBM" button during boot up or go through the "IBM Access" main menu within the OS.

  

  

  • IBM Power Management - Unlike the majority all other notebooks, the IBM X41 uses a much more hearty power management program that gives more features in order to optimize battery life to the fullest extent possible.

  • IBM Access Connections - This is the connection program used to connect to WiFi access points.

There are various other enhancements that are less significant. You can go over them at 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 is a breeze, as IBM includes a single program that does all the work for you. If you do a clean OS wipe, all you need is to keep a copy of Intel's chipset INF and Broadcom LAN driver on a CD-R/CD-RW, install them, and then run the 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.

As far as DVD/CD discs go, you will need an external optical drive. The X series platform follows the traditional ultra-portable design, wherein there is no built in optical drive. While some may complain, this is necessary to maintain an "ultra portable" form factor. In practical use, those that are on the go often do not typically need access to material on DVD/CD discs. Our sample came with an 8x DVD-ROM/24x CD-R external combo drive, and we recommend that you go the extra distance to buy an external drive matching the X41 Tablet, if you are on the go often. IBM's solution is one of a few that doesn't require you to route a separate power cable. Instead, the external drive just pulls power from the USB interface. Of course, this will drain the battery faster.

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Features: Security
Features: Security
Security Features...

We already went over the majority of IBM software enhancements in our R52 review, but the T41 adds one piece of hardware that we can't overlook: the fingerprint scanner. Since Microsoft doesn't offer built in support for biometric scanners in their Windows OS family, IBM is customizing the supplemental software solution. With their usual flare, IBM has basically completely integrated their fingerprint scanner to replace or supplement Microsoft's built in text password based user system.

The fingerprint scanner is located on the right hand side, which may prove to be a bit awkward for those that are left-handed. As it is, there are no T4X notebooks that situate the fingerprint scanner on the left side.

  

  

A lot of the fingerprint scanners out there are called "contact scanners." They are basically the size of postage stamps and require you to lay your finger down to get a read. The scanner used in ThinkPad notebooks are called "slide scanners." Fingerprints are read once you slide your finger of the sensor. IBM's software takes a few snapshots of each finger being inputted and "stitches" the snapshots together to form a fingerprint identity. This is to compensate for the variations in swiping the same finger. IBM has three reasons for choosing this approach:

  • ability to scan more data from a finger
  • no "latent" print problem
  • smaller design footprint requirement compared to a contact scanner

You can read more on IBM's fingerprint scanner in their white papers.

The fingerprint identity can be stored, pulled, and authenticated via a corporate server or done on the client side, it depends on how your notebook is configured. For the purposes of this review, we are doing everything on the client side. The T series has multiple sub-series and in many cases share different features, click for chart comparison.

 

You can still type in the password, but swiping one of the "enrolled" fingers is a whole lot easier. Aside from getting into all the "James Bond" like ways to possibly circumvent this security feature, it is an overall convenient, easy, and secure way to protect your data and notebook. IBM extends functionally with options like replacing power-on/hard drive lockout with fingerprints and fast user switching support.

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Systems Tested and General Performance
HotHardware's Mobile Test Systems
A Sampling of Notebooks...
IBM ThinkPad X41 Tablet
  • 1.5GHz Dothan Pentium-M LV 758
  • Intel 915GM
  • Graphics Driver: 6.14.10.4317
  • 1 x 512MB Hynix DDR2 PC4200
  • 8x DVD-ROM/24xCD-RW combo (external)
  • 40GB Hitachi 4200RPM Hard Drive (ATA100)
  • 12.1" XGA display (native 1024 x 768)
  • Intel's 2200BG 802.11 b/g WiFi card
  • Broadcom Gigabit Ethernet
  • 4 cell battery (14.4V, 1.9AH, 27WH)
  • 8 cell battery (14.4V, 4.5AH, 65WH)\
  • 4 cell ELB battery (14.4V, 1.9AH, 27WH)

 

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 email us.

General Performance: The Winstones
"Real World" Application Performance

Business Winstone 2004 from Veritest uses scripts to tests the performance level of a computer in business related applications:

  • Microsoft Access 2002
  • Microsoft Excel 2002
  • Microsoft Frontpage 2002
  • Microsoft Outlook 2002
  • Microsoft PowerPoint 2002
  • Microsoft Project 2002
  • Microsoft Word 2002
  • Norton AntiVirus Professional Edition 2003
  • Winzip 8.1

Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 from Veritest uses scripts to tests the performance level of a computer in multimedia rich environment:

  • Adobe Photoshop 7.0.1
  • Adobe Premiere 6.50
  • Macromedia Director MX 9.0
  • Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 6.1
  • Microsoft Windows Media™ Encoder 9 Version 9.00.00.2980
  • NewTek's LightWave 3D 7.5b
  • Steinberg™ WaveLab™ 4.0f

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.

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. This means that two SODIMM memory modules will increase the performance scores, but only a slight increase will be apparent. IBM does ship X41 Tablets with a memory configuration of 1 x 512MB, so we tested with the default setup.

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Battery Info & Performance
Battery Info & Performance
How Long Does She Last?

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:

  • Microsoft Word 2002
  • Microsoft Excel 2002
  • Microsoft PowerPoint 2002
  • Microsoft Outlook 2002
  • Netscape Communicator6.0
  • McAfee VirusScan 5.13
  • Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1
  • Macromedia Flash 5
  • WinZip 8.0

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 X41 has 3 battery options (outside of docking bay options): 4 cell primary battery, 8 cell primary battery, and a 4 cell Extended Life Battery. The 8 cell battery is the standard battery if you make a web purchase. It has the advantage of providing a rubberized grip strip, However, its longer battery life comes with a large size, compared to the 4 cell primary battery, which doesn't have any rubberized grip strip.

  

Left to Right: 4 cell battery, 8 cell primary battery, 4 cell primary battery with EL battery

The Extended Life (EL) Battery provides additional battery life outside of a primary battery by using the docking bay interface to supply additional battery life. The downside is that it increases the thickness and places the system on an incline.

Charge time for the batteries from 0% to 100% is as follows (real world numbers, not estimates):

  • 4 cell primary - 2 hours and 5 minutes
  • 8 cell primary - 3 hours and 55 minutes

 

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Startup Performance
Startup Performance
Powering Up...

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.

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Final Words

The X41 Tablet is the latest notebook to be released by IBM. It is perhaps the last that will come from the IBM side of the business, as pure Lenovo introduced notebooks will have some visible changes ("Access IBM" button will be instead labeled "ThinkVantage").

It makes a lot of sense that IBM would chose to introduce a Tablet PC at this time. The OS is more mature, Tablet PCs are coming to a place where they are at least more attractive with regard to their price point, and prospective notebook buyers are becoming more educated. It makes even more sense that IBM would chose the X platform to base their Tablet PCs on. After all, the Tablet PC is suppose to be the electronic equivalent of a notebook (of the paper kind) and more. It requires a measure of high portability, which IBM provides in the X series platform. This means that this mobile PC will be much better suited for those that are constantly on the go.

We have made note of this in the past, but we feel the need to do so again. Thinkpad notebooks should be expected to be priced at a premium when compared to the notebooks in Dell's Latitude or HP's business series. In terms of TCO (total cost of ownership), the benefit  to a ThinkPad are a wider array of features that may reduce the chance that an RMA or servicing is needed in the future. The higher cost should be considered an investment, and will hold particular benefit for those that have data critical projects, as features like fingerprint security and APS provide a level of data protection not found on competing products.

Priced at $1,899, our X41 Tablet system is actually one of the mid priced configurations (there are some that are not available directly through the website). Like the T series, the X series doesn't really have a "budget" conscience option, as all systems use either the 1.5GHz (LV 758) or 1.2GHz (ULV 753) Dothan Pentium-M processors. There are no systems based on a Celeron-M CPU. Likewise, the X series platform doesn't provide other display options, but this only makes sense for an ultra-portable. Larger displays won't help when it comes to mobility; regardless how thin they are (if the current batch of TFT LCD is any indicator).

As for battery life, we recommend choosing the 8 cell battery and or the Extended Life Battery if you plan to go on the road for more than a couple hours. The down side of the Extended Life Battery is that it slightly increases the width of the machine (the combined weight of the EL battery and 4 cell is pretty close to just using an 8 cell battery, which along with the system weighs 4 lbs.) Considering this is a much more mobile design compared to the R or T series, the likelihood you may need another battery pack is going to be high, especially if you are a student going to classes requiring a notebook, or are a business professional needing constant connectivity to your company's infrastructure. The 8 cell battery is a good choice if you are going to choose just one battery option. It alone provides a little over 6 hours of battery life, while maintaining a reasonably low profile for the X41 Tablet.

This notebook is suited well for day to day computer operations, especially if you are more concerned about general mobility than its price tag. Its adept for other scenarios, as well, due to its well developed integrated security [hardware and software] solution, which means this notebook is ready for corporate deployment. The advantage that this notebook has is that you can replace the paper notebook, notepad, etc., in favor of a completely e-office or e-otherwise experience. For some, this is a necessity for their lifestyle, while many others may find it a bit harder to let go of the "exquisite tactile" feel of a paper writing apparatus. We have, after all, grown up with the latter. Nevertheless, while I group myself somewhere between the two groups (you can't deny that there is something about writing on a notebook that is hard to reproduce), the ability to do everything digitally when it comes to office, school, communication, documentation, etc. has undeniable advantages. No longer do you need to archive a whole shelf or box full of notepads from the previous 6 months or perhaps longer. The ability to store written notes offers the ability to properly archive text and content for fast retrieval in the future. Let's face it, scanning isn't quite the same. Scanning documents for storage doesn't turn text on a page into an e-document. It is basically becomes a stored picture.

Other than price, another problem that Tablet PCs and ultra-portables have faced was performance. The lack of performance in the past meant that these types of PCs were reliant on a main system; be it a desktop or a larger notebook. However, performance is up to the point where an ultra-portable can now conceivably be used as the only personal computer, ergo a better buy for those on the go. Though, those planning to make this their only personal computer would be wise to look into the X4 Dock.

In the end, we are giving the IBM ThinkPad X41 Tablet a high 9.0 on the HotHardware Heat Meter. The only major thing that would make this mobile PC more attractive would be the ability to rotate the screen counterclockwise to better accommodate left handed users. This simple change opens up the possibility for the X41 Tablet to be a truly honed mobile PC, and it is a point I hope others (even right handers) campaign for in the future. After all, roughly 10% of the U.S. population is left handed, and even southpaws need to feel comfortable holding their Tablet PCs.

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