Tools Of The Trade: IBM Thinkpad X40 laptop

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The Independent Online

Laptop computers are fast becoming "must have" consumer gadgets, sold alongside DVD players, sound systems and big-screen TVs. Visit any high-street retailer and there will be shelf upon shelf of "home user" laptops, with cases in a range of garish colours. They come equipped with large screens, DVD players and an assortment of flashing lights that wouldn't disgrace a teenager's bedroom.

Laptop computers are fast becoming "must have" consumer gadgets, sold alongside DVD players, sound systems and big-screen TVs. Visit any high-street retailer and there will be shelf upon shelf of "home user" laptops, with cases in a range of garish colours. They come equipped with large screens, DVD players and an assortment of flashing lights that wouldn't disgrace a teenager's bedroom.

But one manufacturer's laptops are not in the high-street stores. And it has so far eschewed fashion statements in favour of that old staple, black. Yet it continues to make some of the best business portables out there. That company is IBM and its latest laptop, the X40, is as dependable and versatile as a dark suit.

Buy a Thinkpad and it will stand up to the rough and tumble of life on the road. IBM's laptops have a reputation for durability with their scuff-resistant casing and industrial design, and so it is with the X40, an ultra-portable. Even the hinges connecting the screen to the main unit look over-engineered: you can see the metal bits that reinforce them.

The layout of the X40 is more or less standard for an ultra-portable: it is equipped with the usual USB and PC card connectors, built-in Ethernet and wireless networking and, perhaps less usual, a Secure Digital (SD) memory card slot. This, along with the built-in analogue modem, covers pretty much all the connection options anyone will need on the road.

The compromise is that, as on most ultra-portables, it is "single spindle" - it has a built-in hard drive but no floppy or CD/DVD unit. Anyone who wants to use the X40 as their main machine will need at least a CD drive to load software.

IBM's solution to this is to have a module in the docking station for the optional drive. In fact, even with the drive attached, the X40 - which weighs just 1.3kg in its basic configuration - is still portable.

Docking the laptop takes just seconds and the action is reassuringly firm. IBM has even added a key-operated lock, presumably for users who want to screw their docking stations to the desk, although losing a key would be a nightmare. Helpfully, IBM supplies two.

In use, the X40 performs on a par with other Intel Centrino (low power consumption) laptops. Running the supplied Windows XP Professional, it has power enough for standard productivity software. The bonus is a potential battery life of more than 10 hours, with an optional extended-life battery.

The only niggle, and it is a small one, is that the X40's screen feels boxy, especially after using wide-screen laptops. But the excellent display quality makes up for this.

If you want a machine that is unfussy, not flashy and gets the job done, the X40 should be on your shortlist.

THE VERDICT

IBM X40

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Pros: solid, reliable, unfussy

Cons: needs a docking station to have a full system.

Price: from £1,400 (estimated retail price) depending on configuration.

Available from: www.ibm.co.uk

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