When you're the gold standard for business notebooks, you have to do everything in your power to stay on top. And Lenovo is doing just that with the ThinkPad T430 ($1,124 as tested), which adds a new Precision Keyboard and enhanced Dolby audio. Plus, the 9-cell battery inside this workhorse promises epic endurance to go along with Ivy Bridge muscle. Is the ThinkPad still the king?
Taking a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach, the Thinkpad T430's lid is outfitted in the durable, yet extremely comfortable, black soft-touch finish. Other mainstays include strong chrome hinges and the Lenovo and Thinkpad insignias in the top left and right corners.
Opening the lid via the sliding latch along the front lip of the notebook continues to be a breeze. Inside, you'll see the familiar bright red trackpoint in the center of the new island-style keyboard. Volume controls and a royal blue ThinkVantage button sit atop the keyboard along with a black power button. Just below the keyboard rests a touchpad flanked by discrete mouse buttons. A fingerprint reader sits to the right of the touchpad.
With its 9-cell battery, the 5.2-pound, 13.1 x 9.1 x 1.2 inch T430 is on the heavy side of the thin-and-light notebook category. It easily outweighs the 4.8-pound, 13.2 x 9.2 x 0.81 inch Dell XPS 14, though this ThinkPad weighs the same as its predecessor. Nevertheless, the T430 can still slip in and out of a messenger bag or backpack with relative ease.
Like previous ThinkPad T Series notebooks, the T420 is designed to last. The rubberized ABS plastic lid, carbon-reinforced bottom and internal roll cage help protect against shocks and drops. In addition, 2012 models are reinforced with carbon fiber for enhanced strength and stiffness. The ThinkVantage Active Protection stops the hard drive when it senses a change in motion.
Display and Audio
The 14-inch, 1366 x 768p, 147 lux display isn't very bright, 40 lux short of the 187 thin-and-light category average. This is somewhat disappointing, given that the previous model, the T420, had a much brighter 230-lux screen, and a higher resolution of 1600 x 900. Fortunately, that screen is also available on the T430, a $50 option we highly recommend.
Still, the matte display on the T430 delivered sharp, crisp text on CNN.com and Washingtonpost.com. Viewing angles were decent, with clear images from 45 degrees to the left or right of the display.
Thanks to Dolby Advanced Audio technology, the speakers flanking the keyboard delivered fairly loud, rich audio. On George Michael's "Freedom," warm piano chords and a crisp drumline cascaded gently over Michael's rebellious tenor. Of the four presets in the control panel (Movies, Music, Gaming) we found that Movies was slightly louder, but Music delivered a richer sound. When we switched to the Gaming preset, the vocals sounded a little hollow and muffled.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Instead of the classic keyboard we've come to know and love on the ThinkPad, the T430 features an island-style Precision Keyboard. Our concerns were immediately allayed, as the matte black, smile-shaped keys had plenty of space and provided firm, springy feedback. The keyboard on this notebook feels better than the AccuType layout on the IdeaPad series as well as other ThinkPads we've tested with island-style keyboards, such as the Lenovo ThinkPad X230.
The only thing preventing the T430 from offering a perfect typing experience is the plastic palm rest. We'd prefer a soft-touch surface. Like the X230, Lenovo offers an optional backlit keyboard. It doesn't cost anything extra.
The 2.75 x 1.5-inch touchpad is small, but pleasant to use. We liked the feel of the small raised dots of the touchpad against our fingers. Multi-touch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, two-finger scroll, rotate and press were swift and responsive as were three-finger press and flicks.
The four discrete mouse buttons provided nice tactile feedback, even the smaller two buttons that sit on the angled front lip of the machine. The bright red pointing stick made for accurate, zippy movement. Almost too zippy--we had to dial down the speed in settings so as not to over-shoot our target. The rough texture of the nub firmly grabbed our finger, eliminating worries about slippage.
After watching a full-screen video on Hulu for 15 minutes, the T430's touchpad measured 76 degrees Fahrenheit. That's well below the 95-degree comfort threshold of what we consider uncomfortable. The space between the G and H keys and the bottom of the notebook were also fairly mild at 78 and 83 degrees, respectively.
Under fluorescent light, images and video captured via the T430's 720p webcam were a touch grainy, and colors were a bit washed out. Color accuracy improved under natural lighting, but the graininess persisted.
The left side of the T430 houses a pair of USB 3.0 ports (new for this model), a DisplayPort, VGA and a combination headphone/microphone jack. A USB 2.0 port, an ExpressCard/34 slot, a 4-in-1 card reader, a wireless switch, Smart Card reader and a tray-loading DVD burner and a security lock line are on the right side. A USB 2.0 port, the AC adapter and a Gigabit Ethernet jack sit in the rear.
Powered by a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i5-3320M CPU with 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive and an Intel HD Graphics 4000, the Lenovo ThinkPad T430 turned in solid performance. During our real-world testing, we streamed video from Netflix with 12 open tabs in Google Chrome and six open tabs in Internet Explorer while running a virus scan.
On PCMark 07, which measures overall performance in Windows 7, the ThinkPad T430 scored 2,907. That's 664 points above the thin-and-light category average, and much higher than the 2,107 turned in by the T420.
The ThinkPad T430's 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive booted the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Professional in 49 seconds, faster than the 0:59 category average but on a par with the T420. The T430 duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 1 minute and 57 seconds for a speedy transfer rate of 48.5 MBps, much faster than the 29.6 MBps category average.
During the OfficeOffice spreadsheet macro test, the T430 took 4 minutes and 36 seconds to match 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses, well ahead of the 6:05 average. The XPS 14 completed the task in 5:26.
As with most business notebooks, you won't be going on any hard-core fragging missions on the ThinkPad T430. However, thanks to the Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU, you will be able to watch HD video and play "World of Warcraft" when the mood strikes.
During 3DMark11, the T430 notched a score of 624, fairly below the 757 category average. The XPS 14 and its Nvidia GT 630M GPU scored 1,161. On the "World of Warcraft" benchmark, the ThinkPad T430 averaged 45 fps on auto-detect at 1366 x 768p. That's certainly playable, but this frame rate falls below the 51 fps thin-and-light average. When we cranked the settings to maximum, the T430 dropped to an unplayable 19 fps, below the 26 fps average.
Those looking for more graphics power will want to spring for Nvidia's NVS 5400M GPU with 1GB of RAM and Optimus Technology, but it's a steep $250.
During the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the Lenovo ThinkPad T430's 9-cell battery lasted a whopping 13 hours and 25 minutes. That's more than twice the 6:18 thin-and-light average and much longer than the older ThinkPad T420 with a 9-cell (10:36).
Software and Warranty
Lenovo doesn't bog the T430 down with bloatware, choosing to outfit the notebook with a modest suite of helpful business-friendly apps and utilities. The majority of the utilities, such as Password Manager and Enhanced Backup and Restore, handle maintenance and security and can be found under ThinkVantage Tools.
The ThinkVantage Fingerprint software was one of the more helpful programs, allowing us to quickly scan our fingerprints to unlock the notebook. However, it would have been nice to have the ability to assign different fingers to access different online accounts similar to HP's SimplePass software.
Lenovo SimpleTap 3.0 is another favorite. Launching SimpleTap opened a new display populated by apps represented by tiles, similar to a smartphone interface. With a swift tap of the touchpad or mouse click we could move or launch apps, including shortcuts for Netflix and TV.com or YouTube. Here we were also able to control the volume and launch the webcam.
Other Lenovo-branded software includes Lenovo Cloud Storage powered by SugarSync and the Lenovo App Store.
Third-party software includes Adobe Reader X, Skype, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Splashtop, Evernote, Windows Live and a free 30-day trial of Norton Internet Security 2012.
Our $1,124 review unit features a 2.6GHz Intel Core i5-3320M CPU with 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive and an Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU. However, an additional $50 will snag you the 9-cell battery for those marathon sessions.
The $849 base model comes equipped with a second-generation (Sandy Bridge) 2.4GHz Intel Core i3-2370M CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB 7,200-rpm hard drive and an Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU. A $929 model offers a third-generation (Ivy Bridge) 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-3210M processor, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB 7,200-rpm hard drive and an Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU.
Those looking for more graphics oomph can select an Nvidia NVS 5400M GPU with Optimus technology for $250. We also suggest springing for the 1600 x 900-pixel display, a $50 option.
The Lenovo ThinkPad T430 has everything a business user could want--durability, performance, longevity and security in a well-designed package. The new Precision Keyboard is superb, making this notebook comfortable to use for long stretches. And, thanks to the 9-cell battery, you get more than 13 hours of endurance. While the matte screen on our configuration didn't wow, you can upgrade to a sharper and brighter 1600 x 900 display for $50. Overall, the ThinkPad T430 is a top-notch business notebook.