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The "Y.M.F.", Lenovo ThinkPad L420 - 3/3, Modern Times

To learn from the past is to… What was it? I wouldn’t try and act in hysteria that I refuse to accept new laptops, or have failed to realise anything good from these pieces of modern technical arts. Though it is in comparison that I find the current trend or direction of where laptops - especially ThinkPads - are going ridiculous.

The HMM is dead… Long live…?

ThinkPads, whether under IBM or the first years of Lenovo acquisition has maintained a sense of confidence that ThinkPads could be expected to last long, and when the inevitable happens, users could rely on their own skills to fix the laptop. This confidence however, could only be given by the fact that a ThinkPad is still modular and comes with clear lines for a parts belonging.

Recent trends, first introduced by Intel with their Ultrabook definition, has been undoubtedly twisted in the case of a ThinkPad. It is the inevitable and unquestionable fact that laptops should get thinner and lighter to ensure its portability - as defined in its name. Though I do believe that such trend should be backed up with sufficient engineering expertise, but not by the cut down of beneficial features and structures (in a literal sense).

Let’s take the X series for example… First let’s set things straight, the X series has never received a model that came with removable processor, and since the X240, fully discrete memory modules (meaning that there’s no soldered RAM on the motherboard) - and with the X280, no removable module.

It seems to me that the last X series model that succeeded to retain a reasonable performance output and relative thin-and-light-ness is the X230. Yes, the laptop is heavier than some of its competitors, and it runs quite hot with the Core i7 option, but it still is a functional and maintainable laptop. The laptop is equipped with a full-size keyboard the same size as the T430 and the W530 with full key travel, an easily accessible (and removable) HDD caddy, and a maintenance hatch on the bottom of the laptop. The HMM still details that the laptop could be taken apart mostly with just a correctly sized screw driver.

Its succesor X240 has forsaken much of the X230’s core characteristics - it comes with an Ultra Low Voltage processor family with performance inferior to that of the X230’s, a smaller and shorter-travel keyboard has been specifically introduced for the X series… Gone are the maintenance hatch and the removable HDD caddy, come the all-in-one bottom cover held in by numerous fragile plastic clips. The laptop has also dropped any trace of a metal structural frame, its bottom portion is now essentially a sandwich of…

  • The keyboard and palmrest.
  • The motherboard.
  • The bottom cover.

Where the motherboard is completely exposed along with its edges when the bottom cover is removed - not to mention that it is only held in with two screws and some plastic guides.

The X240 received some good features, however. For example, the introduction of a Full HD IPS screen option really lightened the days for X series owners, and the Power Bridge system made day-round work on the laptop possible. Overall, it is not a generation of all loss, but it still sacreficed considerably for the shaved thickness and weight.

The X280 then took it to the extreme. Gone is the Power Bridge system, RAM modules are now fully soldered and could not be upgraded after initial purchase. To rub salt into the wound, the batter could no longer be upgraded, and the smaller keyboard still found its way around to this new generation. This model however, is indeed lighter and thinner - and of course, there’s not much point to disassemble this laptop any more, as you could change nothing but the NVMe SSD.

The X280 then is now more of a smaller X1 Carbon, than an ultraportable with great performance, long battery life, and full-size keyboard - as the original X20 set out to be.

Identity crisis…

We then had a 300 series as a low cost option, a 500 series for ultraportables, a 600 series for portable performance laptops, and a 700 series to conquer it all; then we had the X/A/T/R family where every single series held different advantages and specific focuses… We still do have the X/T series, and P, and 13, and E, and L, …

Buying a ThinkPad is now more difficult than ever, as it stands for the *80 series…

  • X being a lower-performance ultraportable with mediocre battery life.
  • X1 being a premium, Lenovo-branded MacBook competitor with similarly hopeless serviceability and upgradability.
  • T being a larger X.
  • L being a worse T, and forgoes soldered RAM.
  • E being a even worse T.

Whatever you choose, you get an ULV Intel chip with soldered-on CPU, perhaps one or two DIMM slots, perhaps a 2.5’’ HDD bay, perhaps … You see, at this point, buying a T series is no longer about an expandable 14-inch laptop with workstation-like performance - but a larger thin-and-light laptop only suitable for the lightest of workloads.

Let’s set the past behind. Then there’s the T480/T480s/T470p question, as T480 stands as the canonical image of the T series - durable, thin, light, and power efficient. T480s being a slimed down T480 with even less upgradability and built-in battery. T470p, an odd-ball left over of the last generation as Intel delays in their shipment of standard voltage chips, built upon a L series chassis and fails to align with the quality of the rest of the T family (and indeed Lenovo calls it a “value” choice)… What is going on?

A lesson…

Here’s a quick and dirty assessment of the 701C…


And what I’d arrogantly venture to say… Had it not been a butterfly, it’s just a slow ThinkPad with bad material choices. It runs hot, it has horrible battery life, and the LCD has grid-like patterns for whatever reason.

Oh yeah, and it’s overpriced for a 486-class laptop in 1995. For a subnotebook it doesn’t compete with the Libretto which comes with a Pentium, and for a laptop it’s eclipsed by the 755 for its performance, and by the 360 for the poor material choices, and by everything that has a maintenance hatch that doesn’t break everytime you remove it.