Lenovo ThinkPad T420 Review: Kickin' It Old School
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Now that we’ve looked at the synthetic tests, let’s see how the T420 handles actual games.
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.
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.