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Thinkpad 240 Celeron 300MHz review

by Marcio Watanabe. Posted to comp.sys.laptops on March 15, 2000.

Usagi and Thinkpad 240 Since I bought this IBM Thinkpad 240 sight unseen just based on reviews I read on Usenet, I feel I should contribute as well.

About 3 weeks ago, I purchased my Thinkpad 240 new for $1,100, including Fedex Next Day delivery. This is a bargain price as this model is being (has been) phased out. It has a Celeron 300MHz CPU, 64MB RAM, a 6.4GB hard drive, and a 10.4" SVGA TFT screen. I also bought a 128MB RAM module from Crucial for $125.

I'm pleased with the look of this notebook. It's very small and light. Smaller I think than the Sony Vaio N505VE which I was considering, but not as thin. It seems to be very well built and it has a professional look, typical of IBM Thinkpads.

But so much for reliability: within 2 hours of arriving the hard drive died. This was incredibly annoying, considering that I paid for Fedex Next Day shipment to have the notebook soon. After considering having to wait to return this to the store and have them ship me another one or using IBM's warranty, I chose the later cause I thought it would be faster. I called IBM, and the representative walked me through a series of tests, including removing and resetting the hard drive, to find out if the hard drive was really dead. He arranged to have the notebook picked up next day. 3 business days later, Airborne delivered it to my door. Very good service.

After getting it back, I installed the 128MB RAM module. It was a very simple task that went exactly as described in the user's manual. However when trying to create the hybernation file, something got messed up, and I couldn't get it to work.

One of the main reasons I chose the Thinkpad over the Sony N505VE was the keyboard. I feel that the N505VE's keyboard is awful. The 240's keyboard is adequate but way better than the Sony's. Key placement could've been better though IMHO. I would switch the ctrl and Fn keys on the left side. The space bar could've been made smaller and the alt and ctrl keys larger. I still can't find the ~ and tab keys when typing since they are lower than where they usually are. The caps lock is on a different location (fn+right shift) which takes a while to get used to. Otherwise, I could touch type comfortably within a very short period of adjustment.

The svga screen is very good. It's bright and crisp. Not as bright as the new Sharps I've seen, but very legible. The 800x600 resolution is fine as I don't think I would be as happy with a 10.4" 1024x768. Things would be just too small. Resizing fonts do not solve this problem, as many suggest. Many web sites, for example, have fonts that you can't resize. 10.4" is too small of a screen in any sense anyway. It seems that a slightly bigger screen could fit in this form factor. My unit has no bad pixels, but sometimes I get a bright white pixel on the top right corner. I hope it doesn't become permanent. When powered by battery, the screen dims and it becomes rather dark. I could disable the dimming feature, but that will give me less battery time which is already short.

And short it is. The main disadvantage of this Thinkpad is its battery. I'm getting no more than 1hr45min with the standard battery. This is just with light tasks, like word processing. With the network card attached now, normally I'm getting 1hr30min. Run cpu/disk intensive applications and I get 1 hour. The battery meter does not seem to be accurate either. During my normal use, the battery goes down about 1% for every minute of use. At about 8%, the system starts to beep indicating low battery, and enters suspend mode every 2 minutes or so. If I keep pressing the fn key to resume every time after suspend, the notebook still runs for at least an extra 20 minutes (10 minutes at 0%), until the battery no longer allows a resume. If there was a way to disable the constant beeping and the automatic suspending, I would do that and take the additional 20-30 minutes of extra time, with all the risks involved of running out of battery. The same goes for recharging. It takes about 2 hours to charge from 0% to 99%. Then it takes an additional 30 minutes for the light to indicate fully charged. I knew about the short battery usage before I bought the thinkpad, but I don't intend to use the system unplugged most of the time. If you do, the extended battery is a necessity if you intend to use this system battery powered for more than an hour.

At home, having the built-in ports is very convenient, especially the mouse and video port. I always connect an external mouse and an external monitor can very easily be plugged in. I'm planning to get an Y-cable so that I can have an external keyboard too.

I would've given up one of the built-in ports to relocate the PC card bay. Being on the left front side, when I plug my network cable in, it gets in my way. I'm thinking about buying the WebGear wireless pc card, and since this card has an antenna that sticks out, I can already foresee the annoyance.

For a Celeron 300Mhz, this system is faster than I thought. Hard drive accesses are rather slow though. I should've tested the computer before adding the extra RAM but I forgot, but FYI PC Magazine reported a Winstone of 15 on its July 16, 1999 review of the Thinkpad 240. My ZDnet's Winstone 99 v1.2 and Content Creation 2000 scores for the factory installed Windows 98 with 192MB RAM were:
Winstone 99 w/AC: 14.5
w/battery only: 13.7
CC 2000 w/AC: 14.2
w/battery only: 14.3 (higher score?!)

These are decent scores for a 300MHz Celeron CPU with a notebook hard drive. During the Winstone 99 tests, the CPU reduced speed twice, first to about 260MHz, then to a bit over 200MHz. My guess is that the scores would've been higher with not for that.

After installing and configuring NT, installing Microsoft Office 97, and some other applications so that I would have a similar amount of software as the original Windows 98 installation had, I benchmarked the system:
Winstone 99 w/AC: 20.4
w/battery only: 20.3
CC 2000 w/AC: 16.5
w/battery only: 16.4
Wow! This is a great NT system! These are outstanding scores for a for a 300MHz Celeron subnotebook. As a reference, on the same issue of PC magazine mentioned above, the Thinkpad 600e with a PII-400MHz received a Winstone 99 score of 20.6, proving to me again that CPU power is not everything.

NT 4 installation BTW was uneventful, except for the 3Com 10/100 CardBus card that I bought. NT doesn't have native CardBus support, but the IBM support tech guaranteed it should work without any additional drivers (but the manufacturer's). It took me two days to find out that I was just trying to use the wrong IRQ and i/o port.

I also installed Mandrake Linux. Surprisingly, installation was even less eventful. In fact, installation was easier than the Windows 98 and NT installations cause every hardware component got detected correctly and the correct drivers installed, except for the Winmodem (for obvious reasons). Even my 3com card got detected and installed correctly. Another surprise, after downloading the correct driver, the winmodem works too! And I'm getting 50,666bps initial connects (I don't have a dial-up account to really test this). Power management works too. I tried standby, suspend, and shutdown. Oh, the PC Card can be hot plugged. I can't say enough. If you need a light subnotebook that can run Linux, get this one! It's perfect!

In summary, I'm very satisfied with this notebook. Given the right expectations, you will be too. Some previous reviewers reported as one of the main disadvantages of this notebook the external cd-rom and floppy drive. This IMO is incorrect. This is one of the "advantages" of this notebook. True, the external cd-rom and floppy drives are very inconvenient to use. However, if you usually need to use them, you shouldn't buy this class of notebooks. This to me is the same as complaining that you can't carry all your friends or your moving furniture in the two-seat convertible car you just bought.

I didn't even buy a cd-rom drive. While it is convenient to have one, it's not strictly required. I bought a 3com 10/100 network card with xjack to network with my desktop computer which I used with the floppy drive to do the initial installation. I fdisk'ed the hard drive and started completely from scratch, installing Windows 98, NT, and Linux. A network card is much more portable than a cd-rom drive, and this notebook should come with a built-in 10/100 network card IMO. My card doesn't even has a dongle and always stay inside the pc card bay. If you need maximum portability, this is it.

This subnotebook is tailor made for people like me who have another computer at home or at work, and need a light notebook that you can carry around. As the two seat convertible car, it is very inconvenient as your only computer, but great as a second (or third) one.

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Copyright © 2000 Marcio Watanabe