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Lenovo ThinkPad T420 Review: Kickin' It Old School

Author: Matt Smith
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Lenovo

Performance, Verdict

 Performance

The ThinkPad T420 is, from a hardware perspective, a standard 14-inch laptop. It has a Core i5-2520M processor running at 2.5 GHz, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. The only somewhat unusual option is the inclusion of Nvidia NVS 4200M discrete graphics with Optimus, but this is only unusual because it’s part of the Nvidia NVS brand, rather than the consumer-oriented line we typically encounter. 

To provide a comparison we’re going to introduce a few other fairly standard laptops. These include the Dell Inspiron 14z, the ASUS U36S, the ASUS K53T and the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E220s. You’ll find the specifications for them below. 

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Now, let’s get on with the show.

Synthetic CPU Benchmarks

As usual, we will begin with SiSoft Sandra’s Processor Arithmetic and Multimedia benchmarks. Let’s see how the T420 stands up.

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These results are about what we’d expect. Our T420 has a Core i5 dual-core like the Dell Inspiron 14z and ASUS U36S, but it’s clocked at a higher speed, resulting in higher scores. The Edge E220s with its battery-sipping Intel processor scores much lower than the standard Core i5s. 

Now let’s look at 7-Zip and Peacekeeper.

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In 7-Zip the T420 about matches the Core i5 competition, but doesn’t exceed it as you might expect. In Peacekeeper, however, the T420 demonstrates a definite lead. Part of this may be due to the fact we tested it with an updated version of Firefox, as we will be doing with all of our Peacekeeper tests from this point forward. But the faster clock speed no doubt has an impact as well.

Now let’s dive in to a few real-world benchmarks.

Real-World Benchmarks

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Because we just added Windows Live Movie Maker and Sunlit Green BatchBlitz to our suite we can’t draw much of a conclusion from these benchmarks at this time. We’ll reference these numbers in future reviews.

The boot and resume times of the T420 are average. The 45 second boot time and 23 second resume time put this laptop right in the middle of the pack.

Hard Drive Benchmarks

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We will soon be including ATTO disk benchmark, but at the moment don't have data for comparison. We do have data for laptops running HDTune, however - and it appears the Lenovo ThinkPad T420 is a bit better overall thanks to higher average transfer rates, lower access times and a higher burst rate. Overall, the T420’s hard drive performance appears to be solid, but not exceptional.

Synthetic 3D Benchmarks

Though certainly not built to be a gaming powerhouse, the T420 does include Nvidia NVS 4200M graphics. Optimus switchable graphics is included, which means that 3D performance can be offered without eating away at the battery. 

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Not bad. The T420 outperforms the ASUS U36S, which came equipped with the GeForce 520M. It also easily outperform the Dell Inspiron 14z, which can’t even make a showing in 3DMark 11 because Intel HD 3000 graphics don’t support DirectX 11.

However, the ASUS K53T is nearly three times as quick in 3DMark 11. It’s nice that this laptop can handle some gaming when you’re done with work, but don’t raise your expectations too high. This is low-end mobile GPU and it performs accordingly. 

Game Benchmarks

Now that we’ve looked at the synthetic tests, let’s see how the T420 handles actual games.

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These results are about what I expected after running the synthetic benchmarks. Dawn of War 2: Retribution is playable at 1366x768 at medium detail, but both Just Cause 2 and Battlefield 3 are difficult to enjoy. You’ll have to turn the detail settings and resolution way down if you want to play demanding 3D titles on this laptop. 

One upset must be noted, as well - the T420 managed to perform better in Dawn of War 2: Retribution than the ASUS K53T. The reason for this comes down to the processor. This game is more reliant on the processor than others, and despite graphics power of the AMD Fusion APU in the K53T, the CPU can't keep up.

Verdict

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The Lenovo ThinkPad T420 is an interesting beast. It goes against the grain of today’s laptops in many ways. It’s not stylish, it’s not thin, and it’s not light. The touchpad is a bit of an afterthought, functional but obviously playing second-fiddle to the trackpointer. The keyboard still looks and feels similar to the one offered by my T42 about five years ago.

You might think that these would be unforgivable sins, but you’d be wrong. In fact, the T420 is perfect for its intended use. This is a work laptop, and that means functionality comes before style. Yes, this laptop is thick and heavy. And no, it’s not pretty. But none of that matters because it’s not part of what the T420 is built for. This is a laptop for people who type for hours every day. It’s a laptop for people who need tons of connectivity. It’s a laptop for people who empathize with George Clooney’s character from Up in the Air because they’ve been there. 

What about the competition? The HP Elitebooks are equally powerful and have excellent build quality, but the user interface comes up short due to keyboards that are merely average. Dell’s Latitude products are inexpensive, yet can’t match the ThinkPad’s build quality. The Dell Precision line almost looks like an alternative until you consider the price, which starts high and only goes up from there. 

This is not a laptop for everyone. But if you need a portable laptop that can also handle serious productivity, the T series is still the best you can buy.

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February 21, 2012 | 10:13 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 | 10:36 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 28, 2012 | 12:19 AM - 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 | 12:29 PM - 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 | 12:38 PM - 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 | 12:22 PM - 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 | 02:45 PM - 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 | 07:36 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

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

February 21, 2012 | 05:08 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 | 02:16 PM - Posted by Falik (not verified)

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

December 20, 2012 | 02:17 PM - 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 | 02:09 PM - 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 | 11:06 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 | 11:08 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 | 11:17 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 | 11:17 PM - Posted by Brad (not verified)

Bah- should have been T410s.

February 27, 2012 | 12:42 PM - 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 14, 2012 | 01:26 AM - 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 | 10:21 AM - Posted by ghanshyam (not verified)

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August 8, 2012 | 11:31 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 | 05:36 AM - Posted by Amon (not verified)

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

October 11, 2012 | 04:57 AM - Posted by pickmeservices (not verified)

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May 26, 2013 | 12:51 AM - 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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