Mon, 04 Sep 2000

IBM's T20s, latest notebook in store

By Zatni Arbi

JAKARTA (JP): While other leading notebookmakers such as Acer, Compaq, Fujitsu, Sony and Toshiba have been coming up with ultra- sleek designs and distinctive color tones, we have seen only the black and boxy ThinkPads from IBM. In fact, we will continue to see them for the foreseeable future.

During the ThinkPad Advisory Council meeting in Singapore earlier this year, panelists were unanimous in suggesting IBM not change the ThinkPad. The black and boxy design has become ThinkPad's insignia, and changing it would give Big Blue the undesirable me-too image.

Beyond the design of the casing, however, ThinkPads have continued their tradition of being innovative products. But there has been a change in the naming system for the different models. The thin and lightweight notebooks, previously the 600 Series, now are known as the ThinkPad T Series. The other models that come with everything, such as the ThinkPad 770 Series and the 390 Series, now are the ThinkPad A Series. The 570 and 240 Series are still available.

Courtesy of PT IBM Indonesia, I had the chance to play around with the high-end ThinkPad T20. It really felt like two very short weeks, as I enjoyed using the machine so much. It was a fast, Pentium III 700 MHz SpeedStep machine with 128 MB of RAM, a 12 GB hard disk, a 14.1-inch pleasing TFT screen and a DVD-ROM drive. Installing new software was lightning fast. The speakers were thoughtfully placed on the side that faces the user, just underneath the palm rest, and they sounded good enough for watching multimedia programs.


Among the other important improvements is the use of titanium for the outer casing. Finally IBM has adopted the use of metal to strengthen the protection of the LCDs, although for so long they stubbornly said their reinforced carbon fiber was strong enough for this purpose. When I opened the large cover of the T20, I immediately noticed that it was significantly sturdier than the covers of the previous ThinkPads, thanks to the use of titanium composite carbon fiber reinforced plastic.

The TrackPoint is still there, naturally. However, over the years I have also grown to like it, as it has been continually improved. IBM has finally succeeded in convincing me that it is at least a viable alternative to the touch pad, which I have so fanatically defended.

And now it also has lighting for the keyboard. Being a ten- finger typist, I first regarded ThinkLight as a somewhat ludicrous idea. I never look at the keyboard when I type, so I questioned the use of this battery-draining feature. However, one night I took the notebook to bed and started working in the dark. I curiously turned the light on, and I had to admit that there could be some real use for it, especially when we need to press the F-keys or the combination of the Fn- and F-keys, which the light from the LCD monitor does not illuminate. The tiny lamp is bright enough to let us see the marking on the keycaps. The keyboard itself does not need to be described. It is simply the best keyboard on any notebook, period!

There was one small thing about the DVD-ROM drive, though. I found placing CD ROMs on the spindle rather difficult. I always had to use a little more force than normal to push the CD-ROM down the shaft. It was a rather frightening chore, actually, as the DVD-ROM tray was basically hanging out of the casing.


Also considered as a desktop replacement, the notebook has a complete arsenal. It has an S-Video port that will allow you to use it as a DVD player and watch the movie on your TV set. It has both the RJ-11 port for the phone line and the RJ-45 for Ethernet connection. The 56K V.90 modem is already built-in.

The UltraBay 2000 has a new mechanism for taking out and locking in drives or the battery, and it can accommodate a CD-ROM drive, an extra hard disk or an extra battery pack. The battery ran for more than three and a half hours -- amazing for such a powerful machine with such a large screen.

A new button has been added next to the ones that control the audio volume. This button, called the ThinkPad Button, will take the users to a predefined site on the Web. IBM has provided the ThinkPad portal, but this button can be programmed to access a different site -- including the corporate help desk.

IBM is working on peripherals such as video cameras, Bluetooth wireless connection, card readers and a biometrics security checking device. All these devices can be attached to the notebook via the new UltraPort. Other connections such as the serial, parallel, infrared and USB are available, of course.

No matter what they say, IBM has never been known as a vendor of low-cost notebooks. In fact, the ThinkPads generally tend to be pricey. The unit that I tested carried a price tag of US$3,800. Even the price of the low-end Think Pad i Series is not the lowest in its class. Yet people -- especially corporate users -- have been buying a lot of ThinkPads. In fact, they bought so many ThinkPads lately that, as reported by CNET, IBM sold more than twice the number of notebooks that Toshiba sold to the corporate segment last July.

Earlier this year IBM suffered a parts shortage, particularly the CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives. Analysts believe the company would have made a lot more money after the introduction of the new A and T Series if they had not had the problem. This ThinkPad T20 was in short supply. There have also been reports that IBM customers have had to wait until the middle of this month to get their A Series.

If the dotcom you're thinking of joining offers to buy you a new notebook, you might as well insist on this one. The black and boxy look will disguise its age a couple of years down the road. And, by the way, it will give you far more power than you need to run Office applications today. (