Lenovo ThinkPad T410s (Nvidia Optimus) Review

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Editor's Choice

Pros: Super-fast performance; Nvidia Optimus graphics; Can power up to three external monitors simultaneously; Runs cool; Fantastic keyboard

Cons: Short endurance with standard battery; Tall design not ideal for frequent fliers

Verdict: The first business notebook with Nvidia Optimus graphics is the fastest laptop we've yet tested and can power three external displays at once.

It's so fast, it's almost obscene. And it's not just a top-of-the-line Core i5 processor that makes this sub 4-pound ultraportable such a beast. The latest version of the ThinkPad T410s (starting at $1,699, $1,779 as tested) is the first business notebook to feature Nvidia Optimus technology, which switches automatically between integrated graphics and a dedicated GPU and allows the T410s to power up to three external displays at once. And don't forget the blazing solid state drive, which opens applications before you can say "click." Plus, you get all the features that make a ThinkPad a ThinkPad, including a best-in-class keyboard. We just have one issue with this speedster, which can be addressed with an upgrade.

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Design

The T410s is remarkably light given its sheer horsepower. The notebook weighs just 3.8 pounds yet feels like it will last for years. The chassis features a lid made from ABS plastic and a strong carbon-fiber reinforced plastic bottom. A roll cage helps protect internal components from damage. The look of the system doesn't deviate much from the classic ThinkPad mold, but the angular sides and ridged touchpad are nice aesthetic touches.

You won't find many visual surprises on the deck of this notebook, but we appreciate the dedicated volume controls, mute, and mic mute buttons. You'll also find a dedicated launch button for ThinkVantage technologies, which presents a dashboard with shortcuts to system health, networking, diagnostics, and support.

The T410s houses a fair number of ports in the back, including DisplayPort, eSATA/USB, Ethernet, VGA, power, and a USB port that can charge gadgets when the notebook is sleeping or off. The left side houses the third USB port, the audio jack, and memory card slot. A DVD drive, Kensington lock slot, and wireless on/off switch line the right side. We wish all the USB ports were on either side of the machine, but having the display connectors in back makes sense.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The T410s sports the same keyboard that we fell in love with on the T400s. It features strong tactile feedback along with enlarged Esc and Delete keys. Typing is an absolute joy on this laptop, with the perfect amount of travel and spacing between keys. We're trying not to get too carried away with our praise here, but Lenovo is the only company that can make using a notebook feel as good as a desktop.

Like most ThinkPads, the T410s features both a TrackPoint pointing stick and a touchpad. We're big fans of the TrackPoint because it's highly accurate and allows you to navigate the desktop without lifting your fingers from the home row. However, if you prefer touchpads, you'll appreciate the extremely accurate, textured surface found on this machine. It also supports multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom. Unlike some touchpads we've used, zooming in and out is pretty smooth and accurate.

Heat

Throughout our testing, the T410s remained cool to the touch. After playing 15 minutes of Hulu video, it measured 89 degrees Fahrenheit at the bottom, 76 degrees on the touchpad, and 87 degrees between the G and H keys. All are well below the T410, which exceeded 90 degrees in every area.

Display, Sound, and Webcam

The ThinkPad T410s' 14.1-inch LED backlit screen is available in just one resolution: 1440 x 900. The matte panel offers sharp, bright images--so bright we had to dial it down on a bus ride so as not to annoy a neighboring passenger. The only bummer is that vertical viewing angles are somewhat limited. You'll need to tilt the screen back to get the best picture, which can be problematic on an airplane tray table because the 16:10 screen is already pretty tall. Nevertheless, horizontal viewing angles were relatively generous.

Audio from the T410s' speakers was good for a business system. While slightly soft, there was adequate bass, and higher tones were well defined. When streaming Phoenix's "1901" from Slacker, we could hear the laptop well from across a medium-size office.

When using the T410s' webcam, images were sharp and clear. The video over Skype was very smooth, and the other caller said the picture had good definition and color accuracy. They also said that our voice sounded good.

Performance

While this version of the T410s boasts 4GB of 1333-MHz RAM and a faster Core i5 processor than the last model we reviewed (2.66-GHz vs. 2.4-GHz), the biggest performance boost comes from its Toshiba 128GB solid state drive and Nvidia 3100M graphics. In PCMark Vantage, the T410s notched the highest score we've ever seen from a 14-inch laptop: 11,264. That's nearly double what the last T410s turned in (6,234) and almost 2.5 times the score for the average thin-and-light laptop. The only other lightweight notebook we've tested this year that approaches the speed of this machine is the Sony VAIO Z (9,475). Even the Origin Eon18, a huge gaming rig that has been our performance champ since December of last year, doesn't quite beat this system (11,039).

Having an SSD onboard has other benefits as well. This version of the T410s booted Windows 7 Professional in less than half the time of the older model (30 seconds versus 1:07). Plus, the drive completed the LAPTOP Transfer Test, in which we copy 4.97GB of mixed media, in just 1:11. That's more than four times faster than the earlier model and equals a transfer rate of 71.7 MBps, which blows away the category average of 25 MBps.

Using Oxelon Media Encoder, the T410s transcoded an 114MB MPEG-4 video to the AVI format in a quick 46 seconds, 12 seconds faster than the earlier T410s and 16 seconds faster than the typical thin-and-light notebook.

What does having this kind of speed feel like? Like your notebook does everything you want it to nearly as fast as you can think it. Most applications opened instantly, and programs that typically take a while to install took almost no time at all on this laptop. The T410s was also made for multitasking; the machine didn't flinch when we looked up something online while making a Skype video call.

Triple-Monitor Display Support

Who says graphics are just for gamers? Thanks to the Nvidia NVS 3100M GPU inside the T410s, the laptop can power up to three external monitors at the same time for serious multitasking power. We hooked up three ThinkVision 19-inch monitors to the optional docking station and had no trouble playing a 1080p video on one screen while surfing the web on another (although the LCDs max out at 1440 x 990). When we tried firing up World of Warcraft on yet another display, the trailer briefly stuttered when we loaded the game but recovered nicely when we started playing.

To get all of this to work, you'll want to spring for the ThinkPad Mini Dock Plus Series 3 ($249), which houses two DVI connections, two DisplayPorts, and a VGA output. Another option, the Mini Dock Series 3 ($219), is limited to a single DVI, DisplayPort, and VGA connection.

Graphics Performance

On 3DMark06, a benchmark that measures overall graphics prowess, the T410s scored 3,761, which is almost double what the earlier version turned in with just integrated graphics. Gaming frame rates were pretty decent, as the T410s achieved a frame rate of 55 in World of Warcraft at 1440 x 900, which dipped to a still playable 30 fps with the settings turned up. The business machine could even handle Far Cry 2, albeit only at the lower resolution of 1024 x 768. We saw 32 fps at that setting but a meager 11 fps at native resolution.

As you might expect, the T410s had no problem playing the 1080p trailer of Avatar, displaying crisp detail, even in shadow areas. And because this notebook uses Nvidia's Optimus technology, the discrete graphics card turns on and off automatically depending on the task, which can save battery life. It was pretty neat to see the GPU activity meter show the Windows Media Player icon in its window when we played the trailer, which disappeared when we closed the player.

Battery Life and Wi-Fi

Although this version of the T410s beats its Optimus-free cousin in almost every performance category, the automatic graphics switching doesn't help it last longer on a charge. The six-cell battery lasted just 3 hours and 47 minutes, which is below what the last T410s turned in with integrated graphics (4:08) and more than an hour shorter than the typical thin-and-light notebook (4:54). We highly recommend users upgrade to the three-cell ultrabay battery ($120), which replaces the DVD drive on the right side using an easy-to-activate switch.

The ThinkPad T410s' Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6200 802.11b/g/n wireless card managed excellent transfer rates of 50.4 and 23.7 Mbps from distances of 15 and 50 feet from the router. The first score nearly doubles the category average of 27.6 Mbps, while the 50-foot score exceeded the category average of 19.8 Mbps.

Configuration Options

Lenovo offers three different primary configurations of the T410s. Ours is the top-of-the-line model, which pairs Optimus graphics with a solid state drive starting at $1,699. Our configuration costs $1,779 because it comes with 4GB of 1333-MHz RAM instead of the standard 2GB running at 1067-MHz.

The entry-level T410s starts at $1,299; it sticks with integrated graphics and swaps the SSD for a 250GB hard drive. The mid-range T410s adds an SSD but keeps the integrated GPU. A multitouch display can be added for $400; the notebook can support up to 8GB of RAM ($240), and Gobi 2000 3G with GPS is a $126 add-on. As noted above, the three-cell ultrabay battery option costs $120.

Software, Security Features, and Warranty

The ThinkPad T410s comes with a standard suite of Lenovo ThinkVantage utilities, including Power Manager 3, Airbag Protection (for hard drive shock protection), and the Access Connections 5 Internet connection manager. The most useful of these programs might be Lenovo's Password Vault, which stores and encrypts all your usernames and passwords. In addition, the notebook comes with Corel DVD MovieFactory 7, a basic video editing program, and Burn.Now 4.5 SE, a DVD burning application.

In addition to its software, the T410s offers plenty of enterprise-level security features, including a fingerprint reader (included on this configuration) and Smart Card reader ($10). The fingerprint reader is particularly convenient; it stays powered on even when the system is off, and users can turn on the computer and log into Windows with just a swipe.

The ThinkPad T410s comes standard with a one-year warranty on parts and labor and 24/7 toll-free phone support. To see how Lenovo did in our latest Tech Support Showdown, click here.

Like all ThinkPads, the T410s' warranty can be upgraded to two or three years. Small businesses with limited IT budgets can also purchase additional services, such as priority support and accidental damage protection.

Verdict

With enough speed to be your primary computer for years to come, the ThinkPad T410s with Nvidia Optimus graphics and solid state drive raises the bar for mobile performance. And, if you can afford to attach three monitors simultaneously, this notebook can seriously boost your productivity. The 3.8-pound machine also boasts supreme comfort, plus the durability and security business users expect from a ThinkPad. Just make sure you invest in the three-cell battery, which adds a couple of hours of juice while bringing the price of this portable powerhouse to a steep but reasonable $1,899. While we prefer the Sony VAIO Z in this weight class because it offers an even higher resolution 1600 x 900 display (which sits lower for easier airline travel) and backlit keyboard, the T410s is a formidable business machine that will plow through your to-do list like nobody's business.

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Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief on
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 2.66-GHz Intel Core i5-560M
Operating System MS Windows 7 Professional (32-bit)
RAM 4GB
RAM Upgradable to 8GB
Hard Drive Size 128GB
Hard Drive Speed
Hard Drive Type SSD Drive
Display Size 14.1
Native Resolution 1440x900
Optical Drive DVD SuperMultiDrive
Optical Drive Speed 8X
Graphics Card Nvidia GeForce 3100M/Intel HD
Video Memory 512MB
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
Wi-Fi Model Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6200
Bluetooth Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size 3 x 1.75 inches
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Kensington Lock
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) eSATA/USB
Ports (excluding USB) DisplayPort
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
USB Ports 3
Card Slots 2-1 card reader
Warranty/Support One year/24/7 toll-free
Size 13.1 x 9.4 x 1.3 inches
Weight 3.8 pounds
Company Website http://www.lenovo.com/us