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The overall design doesn't stray too far from the IBM norm, but that's no bad thing. The matt black finish is stylishly understated and picks up less marks and scratches than the currently fashionably silver and white. As always there are nice design touches, like the keyboard light fitted into the top of the lid. This is ideal for working in low light conditions, allowing you to see the keyboard. Pressing the Fn and PgUp keys together will activate the amber light, while pressing it again will switch it off. There are also shortcut buttons just below the screen which control the audio volume with a quick mute button also present.
On the right of the chassis is the DVD/CD-RW combo drive as well as a D-SUB output. The latter will allow you to display an image on an external monitor, with the Mobility Radeon chipset managing a maximum external resolution of 2,048 x 1,536. Unlike many notebooks on the market, IBM has chosen not to position any controls or ports on the front of the case.
The left hand side is pretty well stacked with two Type II PC Card slots (it will also accept one Type III device), a four-pin FireWire port, two USB 2.0 ports, an S-Video output, an Ethernet port, a modem socket and finally headphone and mic sockets. Rounding things off at the rear are a parallel port and the power socket.
The R50 ships with Windows XP Professional pre-installed, while IBM has thoughtfully also included a copy of Norton Anti Virus 2003. I use Norton myself and I find it alarming how many email viruses it spots on a daily basis, so it's good to see it included with a new machine. ThinkPads also ship with a few special features like the hard disk Active Protection System. This basically stops the hard disk from damaging itself if the notebook is bumped or moved during operation.
Another neat feature is the Rapid Restore application which can be configured to automatically backup your data to an external device, a network device, or even your primary hard disk. Amazingly, rapid restore will let you reload a system image stored on your primary partition. But the best thing about Rapid Restore is that it gives you access to very basic system even if your copy of Windows is corrupt. From here you can actually access the Internet, and could theoretically download an image of your notebook from an FTP site and repair your computer. Of course you'd need a pretty fast Internet connection for this, and the truly paranoid user is more likely to carry a system image around on optical disc or even a removable hard disk.
Performance is fairly close to the Dell Inspiron 510m that we looked at last week, although the 3D performance is far superior on the R50. Mobile Mark reported a battery life of three hours 42 minutes, which is good, but not spectacular. At least you'll be able to squeeze half a day's work out of the battery.
But for me, the most impressive feature of the IBM ThinkPad R50 is the price. With a street price of £1,298.37 it's a very reasonably priced notebook even before you factor in the brand name.
To be honest I wasn't sure about the R50 when I first saw it, but I've been using it for a few weeks now and during that time I've grown to like it more and more. As well as coming with me to CeBIT, it also accompanied me to Canada recently for a few days, where I used it to work on, to play music and even watch movies - all of which the R50 took in its stride. Yes it's a bit big and it's not the lightest machine on the market, but you are getting a well specified notebook at a good price. And let's not forget, it's still an IBM.
With the ThinkPad R50, IBM has proved that it can make affordable notebooks without compromising on quality. This may not be the slimmest or lightest mobile solution, but it's well featured, beautifully built and doesn't cost the earth.