Back in October last year I looked at a pre-production sample of the ThinkPad T42 with fingerprint scanner. The model I looked at was pretty close to a full retail sample, but I wasn't allowed to benchmark or test the machine. Now I have a full retail version of the ThinkPad T42p in front of me, complete with fingerprint scanner. The T42p is the high-end, workstation model of the T42 range and as such, it doesn't come cheap. That said, the T42p is also a quality product with a look and feel that most other notebooks can only aspire to.
Some notebook users criticise IBM for not moving with the times and keeping its all-black finish. Personally I disagree with this completely and feel that IBM has done the right thing by differentiating itself, instead of going down the "me too" route and turning all its notebooks silver. The matt black finish of the ThinkPad range carries the kind of image that true style aficionados will be able to appreciate - fashion comes and goes, but black will always be stylish.
After opening the tactile, but very tough titanium alloy lid, you find that almost the entire inside of the lid is populated with the 15in screen. Now, it's a common trend at the moment for notebook screens to become larger and larger, but big isn't always better. The first ThinkPad T42 that I reviewed also had a 15in screen, but the low desktop resolution of 1,024 x 768 made that large screen seem somewhat pointless. In fact, if I was going to have to put up with such a low resolution, I'd rather have a smaller screen and a consequently smaller notebook.
But IBM hasn't made the same mistake with this T42p. This time the 15in TFT panel has been put to good use with a desktop resolution of 1,600 x 1,200. Having such a high desktop resolution makes working on a notebook, or even a desktop for that matter, a far more streamlined procedure. With so much more desktop real estate on offer, it's easier to have multiple windows open simultaneously, making copying and pasting between documents the simplest of procedures. Of course there will be some notebook users out there who will complain that this resolution is too high, and it makes everything too small to see, but for me it's the perfect working environment. There is a quick zoom option, if you want to make things larger temporarily - pressing the Fn key and the Spacebar will drop the resolution down to 800 x 600, while pressing it again will return things to the native 1,600 x 1,200.
But it's not just the high resolution that makes this screen a good one, it's also evenly lit across the whole surface and the viewing angle is very wide in both the vertical and horizontal planes. The latter feature makes the T42p ideal for presenting data or showing demos in meetings - with the latter likely to be a regular occurrence for a mobile graphics workstation such as this.
That brings me neatly onto the other half of the display equation, the graphics chipset. Like the ThinkPad T41p that I reviewed about a year ago, the T42p also sports the ATI Mobility Fire GL T2 workstation graphics chipset. What sets a workstation chipset apart from the standard graphics chipsets available is that it is certified for certain high-end graphical design packages. This means that if you want a notebook to run a CAD package, or a 3D rendering application, you'll want one that has a graphics chipset certified by the software vendor. That way, when you run a preview of that complicated scene that you've been working on for days, you know that it will work.
A year ago, the Mobility Fire GL T2 chipset had the advantage of being based on the latest 3D chipset in ATI's stable, so as well as being certified for all the major software packages, it was also a very fast 3D accelerator. However, things have moved on now, and from a performance point of view it's probably time for IBM to update it's workstation chipset. That said, with the Intel Sonoma platform released only a few weeks ago, I imagine that IBM has been holding off in order to make the jump to PCI Express graphics. So hopefully the next workstation ThinkPad will be sporting the newer Mobility Fire GL V5000 chip instead.