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Lenovo ThinkPad T420 Review: Kickin' It Old School

Author: Matt Smith
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Lenovo

Display and Audio Quality, Cooling, Portability, Software

Display and Audio Quality

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As mentioned earlier, our review unit arrived with a resolution of 1600x900. That’s outstanding for a 14” display - only a handful of laptops of similar size offers as many pixels. All T420 displays are of the anti-glare variety, which makes them relatively easy to use in bright rooms or outdoors. 

Anti-glare has a reputation for diminishing image quality, but Lenovo appears to have worked some magic here. Though the visual “punch” of colors is still far short of what you’d find on a great glossy laptop display, contrast and black levels are acceptable. 

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The superior display quality is clear when watching video or playing games. Though not able to compete with the best I’ve ever used, the T420’s display is robust for a laptop and is capable of providing an enjoyable media experience. Most laptops with an anti-glare coat can’t claim this.

Audio quality doesn’t disappoint, either. Complex music, particularly music with significant bass, can cause distortion. Otherwise the speakers are clear, crisp and loud. They’re more than adequate for anyone stuck in a hotel room who wants to play a movie or game. 

Cooling 

A common benefit of a large laptop is cooling that is both effective and quiet. The T420 does not seem to be an exception to this rule. At idle fan noise is virtually inaudible so long as there’s any amount of ambient noise and external temperatures are just slightly above room temperature on both the top and bottom of the laptop.

Stress testing the laptop with Furmark and OCCT of course caused the fan to ramp up, making it easy to notice. However, the volume was still low relative to most laptops and the tone of the fan lacks any annoying whir or metallic quality. 

The laptop remained cool throughout the stress tests. The highest temperature recorded was 92.7 degrees Fahrenheit at the rear left bottom of the laptop. The forward right bottom warmed no more than 82.1 degrees. These figures are low, and they translate to a laptop that’s comfortable to use in most situations.

Portability

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At 1.2 inches thick, the ThinkPad T420 is a beefy laptop by today’s standards. Having reviewed many laptops that were thinner, we can say the extra bulk is certainly felt, though not overly troublesome. This laptop will fit into the same bags you could fit any other 14” laptop - but you may need to do a little more pushing and shoving with some smaller messenger bags.

Weight comes in at 4.84 pounds, which isn’t terrible for a 14-inch laptop (though not low, either). You will certainly feel the bulk of this laptop when you travel with it, but it shouldn’t become an annoyance unless you’re backpacking to your destination.

As mentioned earlier, our review unit came with both 6-cell and 9-cell batteries. We tested both of them. Let’s look at the results.

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With the six-cell battery the T420 manages almost six hours in the Battery Eater reader’s test. That’s not an astounding result, but it’s not terrible, either - considering the hardware offered, I’d say it’s about average.

Install the nine-cell and the picture changes. The Reader’s Test now offers almost ten hours of endurance, and even the extreme Battery Eater Standard test eats through the battery in two hours and thirty minutes. This puts the T420 in nearly the same league as the phenomenally portable ASUS U36S. 

The larger battery does stick out from the rear of the laptop, but this laptop is already far from the easiest to tote around, so the additional bulk isn’t hard to live with. If battery life is important to you, spending an extra $50 for the nine-cell option is a great idea.

Software

Lenovo’s suite of ThinkVantage apps came pre-installed on the T420. Usually we are not a fan of bloatware, but the ThinkVantage suite is well thought out. It’s designed to provide added value to enterprise users by adding tools such as a more detailed Wi-Fi manager and controls for features like the active hard drive protection system. There’s software for the fingerprint reader, as well.

Not all of the functionality of ThinkVantage is outstanding, however. For example, pressing the ThinkVantage button brings up a grid of laptop settings icons in an odd, tablet-esqe interface. If you page over, you’ll also find a big tile of apps, just like you’d find on a tablet. And that would be cool if this were a tablet, but it’s not - so I don’t know why this interface has been included.

February 21, 2012 | 07:13 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I love thinkpads, not flashy, solid, reliable, with awesome keyboards. The 14 inch t42 with sxga+ (1440x1050) is my favorite so far.

Thanks for the review. I might try to convince my employer to pony up the dough to replace my t61.

I hope they continue the good work, and not go down the shiny plastic route(nauseated shudder...). But Im A little bummed about the 16x9. 16x10 is better for getting stuff done.

February 21, 2012 | 07:36 AM - Posted by amythompson (not verified)

Thanks for the review. Im going to try to get my boss to upgrade me for free. :D

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004U5MV2G/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=...

February 27, 2012 | 09:19 PM - Posted by JL (not verified)

Just FYI, you can get this same thing on the Lenovo site for less right now... I just ordered a T420, but I went for the one without the graphics card.

February 21, 2012 | 09:29 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I like the review!

For actually working, traveling, and working while traveling, this laptop is hard to beat.

Typing this comment on a T520, which I work 6 to 10 hours a day on and what a relief compared to working on chicklet keyboards (looking at you HP, and most of the others!)

I will add the docking station may be small, but is well angled, also feels rock solid, and very sturdy.

Suggestion : When reviewing business class laptops, please include a section for their docks, useful for those working with their laptops instead of just sipping low fat mokachinos or something...

February 21, 2012 | 09:38 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

It is apparent that you don't work with this computer on a daily basis as we do. Lenovo T420 is a notebook that I wouldn't give to my worst enemy.

We have done over forty RMA's for the defective NIC's on this computer in the last 6 months. This is just a plain stupid design defect. The rentention clip on the NIC is plastic and breaks in matter days. Most times it ships broken.

The placement of the USB cables on this model is terrible. One USB cable on the back, one on the left and one the right side. What a bone-head devised this setup.

The driver support is terrible. We have had countless tickets for the audio on this model. We call this the "Summer Sound" problem. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

Lenovo support is a joke. Call about any non-warranty issues and the standard response is "that will be a $700 charge".

The worst part of the last Transformers Movie for me was all the Lenovo product placement. Seeing Lenovo's name in that so-so movie just ruined it for me.

Stay away from this noteboo. You have been warned.

January 25, 2014 | 09:22 AM - Posted by MCP21 (not verified)

You seem to have phobia based on seeing a movie.

NIC clips don't ship broken as you state. The T420 machine here is fine. If you claim it isn't you should supply evidence.

Where do you want the USB ports. On the lid?

Driver support is automatic from the pre-installed Lenovo app. There are no issues with audio drivers, even in Win 7 64 bit.

You need to define what non-warranty support issues cost $700. Perhaps you exaggerate.

The T420 is as solid as they come. Unlike your comment.

February 21, 2012 | 11:45 AM - Posted by Annoyingmouse (not verified)

[quote]92.7 degrees Celsius at the rear left bottom of the laptop. The forward right bottom warmed no more than 82.1 degrees Celsius. These figures are low, and they translate to a laptop that’s comfortable to use in most situations.[/quote]Did you mean F? 92 and 82C would burn.

Nice review, I strongly considered a Thinkpad T last time I was notebook shopping.

February 21, 2012 | 04:36 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

Yes. 92 degrees Celsius would be a bit too toasty. I'll correct that...

February 21, 2012 | 02:08 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Typing this from a T420, and I love it.

My only complaints are that whatever is powering the audio seems to lose faith in itself when you plug in an extra monitor. It can be perfectly loud, and then you plug in a monitor and in a few minutes you'll notice the sound output has gotten significantly quieter.

The other is that the Intel graphics driver loves to crash when you have multiple monitors connected. I routinely hook up a monitor by DisplayPort, and another by VGA, but if I lock the computer and come back 5 minutes later, after it blanks out the screen, the Intel driver manages to crash and flashes the screens every few seconds. The only way I've found to get it to reset is to unplug the monitors wait for Windows to realize it only has the single laptop monitor, log back in, and then hook the monitors back up. Very annoying.

February 26, 2012 | 11:16 AM - Posted by Falik (not verified)

Since I work in IT... Flashing your BIOS would definenetly help...

December 20, 2012 | 11:17 AM - Posted by S2k (not verified)

nope, there's no BIOS update for me. Just the Windows 8 BIOS update. But I'm running Win7, so it's of no use. bummer.

December 20, 2012 | 11:09 AM - Posted by S2k (not verified)

I'm glad to know I'm not the only one with the crashing Intel driver problem. I'll have to try the BIOS flash the other commenter suggested.

February 26, 2012 | 08:06 AM - Posted by Falik (not verified)

We just received T420 at work with i5 processor ofcourse which was a deal breaker cause currently i am using a Dell E6420 with a i7 processor. Dell is a little bulky and never disapoints me over performance. I was thinking about switching my Dell E6420 with this Lenovo T420 but never had the guts to trade in my i7 processor with LED display for this Lenovo i5 processor. Only if it had a i7 with Led display, till than I am not trading in my E6420 for T420 or anythig with i7 processor.

February 26, 2012 | 08:08 AM - Posted by Falik (not verified)

meant to say "not trading in my E6420 for T420 or anything with an i5 processor because that would be downgrading for me.

February 26, 2012 | 08:17 PM - Posted by Brad (not verified)

Been using Thinkpads for more than 10 years. They are unbeatable for business. I use them at home as well. Present crop is x220s and T210s, they play older games fine but really are business machines. Lenovo often does 30% discounts so sign up to their mailing lists. The Lenovo software to keep the machines up to date is flawless as well. We have 15 in our office ranging from 12-28 months old. None have needed repairs of any kind to date.

February 26, 2012 | 08:17 PM - Posted by Brad (not verified)

Bah- should have been T410s.

February 27, 2012 | 09:42 AM - Posted by J (not verified)

I had a T410 and the noise from the fan was very annoying. Supposedly the new sandybridge based T520 and T420 have the same problem. Google Fan noise for Thinkpad T520 & T420.
Lenovo have released a few BIOS updates that so far have been very unsuccessful in rectifying the problem.

March 13, 2012 | 10:26 PM - Posted by Arpan (not verified)

I Bought this model recently. Absolutely love it. So far so good. No complains. i placed review on my blog as well.
Lenovo T420

July 7, 2012 | 07:21 AM - Posted by ghanshyam (not verified)

rate

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August 8, 2012 | 08:31 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I met one problem, my laptop can not show battery life, it show blank , the color is gray , no the green one.

So plea have solution please help to sent me by this email.

thanks

September 29, 2012 | 02:36 AM - Posted by Amon (not verified)

What is the language definition for the keyboard on Lenovo T420 Laptop?

October 11, 2012 | 01:57 AM - Posted by pickmeservices (not verified)

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May 25, 2013 | 09:51 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

At least, Lenovo kept some IBM tradition in terms of quality. In return IBM supplies China in state of the art super computer.

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