Lenovo Thinkpad T400 and T500
Best retro purpose
Late Windows XP era gaming (DirectX 10 for ATI chipsets, DirectX 9 for Intel chipset) or as a very good office computer. High resolution display models are a good choice particularly for more modern games or operating systems such as Windows 7 and Vista that make good use of it. Even if the Intel videocard is not powerful enough for 3D accelerated games in native resolution, performance is decent. All screens are of the TFT type so contrast and response time is very good even if colour reproduction is not that great.
As always, Intel graphics models are cooler running than ATI ones but noticeably slower in 3D games. While LED backlight screens are longer lived, CCFL backlight ones render colours much better, particularly the blues and reds, so they are recommended, if available and with low or no wear on the lamps. Due to lacking performance of Intel graphics chipsets, the 15 inch models that have higher that 1680x1050 resolution screens are not recommended and, even so, their performance would have been better on lower resolutions.
The capability of running with 8GB RAM and SSD drives make these laptops very fast for office work and web browsing, although the graphics chipset may not be great for serious gaming or other demanding applications. Windows Vista or 7 runs fast enough, even with the Intel graphics chipset. Although it is possible to run Windows 8 and Windows 10, the last one is particularly demanding on the CPU and graphics even if the laptop may have a SSD and 8GB of RAM. Updates are going to run extremely slow.
Durability and Repair-ability
During production, Lenovo made subsequent changes in construction. The first runs of the laptop had CCFL-backlights and a sturdier internal construction. The later LED-backlight screen models have some cost reductions applied and are slightly less sturdier although the LEDs themselves outlast the CCFL one. Overall, despite all hopes of retro enthusiasts, neither the T61 nor the T400 have the same sturdier chassis of the T4x series laptops. Although palmrests can crack quite easily on all these models, the T400 series, and particularly the 15 inch T500, are even more likely to develop microcracks.
The screen quality is debatable. Lenovo chose types not much improved in contrast or colour gamut from the T6x series. Even worse, due to cost savings, LED-backlight models released late in the product life have very poor colour reproduction despite much better durability and brightness. The LEDs where sub-par. However, the same issue was exhibited also on Apple MacBook Pros, so Lenovo is not the only one to blame. Apple lied back then that colour reproduction was not affected. In time, LED backlights got much better. Economy LED backlight screens are still below the capability of the last CCFL equipped ones.
Removable and the fixed drive bay are easy to access and the case itself is easy to disassemble due to obvious markings on the laptop's underside as well as masking black tape placed on screws. Compared with the previous T6x series, the T400 series uses less screws to secure parts, so disassembly is easier. Some components are interchangeable with the 15-inch screen T400 models.
The LCD screen's fluorescent backlight is easier to replace since there is plenty of space and a good design on the screen's casing and light dispersion system to accommodate newer and thinner lamps or thicker classic ones. LCD screens can be inter-changed to suit a specific native resolution requirement if the proper original cabling is available. Note that replacing the LED array on LED-backlight LCD screens is extremely difficult and swapping CCFL and LED backlight screens is impossible without using the proper length cable specific to each of them. Fans and the fan blades can be easily cleaned and bearings can be easily greased, providing long service life since fan casing stud mountings can be pried open and placed back again.
Greatest features & flaws
|Good colour gamut on CCFL-backlight screens||Bad colour gamut on LED-backlight screens|
|Good speaker placement||Poor chassis design prone to cracks on 15 inch models|
|Durable, comfortable trackpad and buttons, decent keyboard||No DVI/HDMI output except on docking station|
|Very good, somewhat quiet cooling system||Annoying Lenovo BIOS limitation of approved Wifi cards|
A mainstream, quite slim, moderately powerful, business laptop, released in 2008. It had an average mix of performance parts, with a better than average CPU (when using the top of the line Core 2 Duo models) but a somewhat lacking graphics module, as the ATI graphics was particularly rarely specified. Cost savings start to affect the laptop's durability despite some welcome innovations. The keyboard, although good for typing, does have an unpleasant flex to it.
The platform is centered on Windows Vista compatibility, with DDR3 RAM and SATA support with even the first SSDs possible to specify. However, the laptop still lacks some standard features that have become mass available by that time, such as no DVI/HDMI port on the chassis. This is even less understandable on the 15 inch models. The trackpad is strongly the same as on the T6x models. Cooling is significantly improved compared with the previous laptop series, being quite well suited for the task.
The LCD screen, unfortunately, is still the biggest letdown. The only saving grace compared with the T6x series is that poor contrast and response time IPS were not available. The TFT screens do not shine in contrast or colour capabilities, being a bland standard option. The more durable LED-backlight screen has an unpleasant purplish white tinge to it and poor colour reproduction, despite having the same panel as older CCFL backlight screens.
It has a high performance CPU, even if Intel made no major improvements on this last Core 2 Duo offering. There are some models featuring a 6MB L2 cache that have slightly higher performance than standard ones, but the performance is nowhere near the later Core i-5 series. The CPU cooling is adequate for all CPU options. Higher performing models with ATI graphics require are only slightly noisier and warmer. The keyboard is quite durable but not stiff and with a noticeable poorer quality feel than previous generation Thinkpads. The slow decline in build quality becomes obvious since the T61 series.
The wireless networking performance starts to be competitive on this laptop lineup, particularly for the Wifi 5300 models with their 3x3 configuration. Although performance pales compared with modern Wifi ac and ax standards, the T400 laptops were very good for their time and are still decent performers today. The removable drive bay can house an optical drive or a hard drive, if you can find a compatible caddy. The rechargeable battery can be easily removed or replaced. The BIOS and timekeeping battery is a standard CR2032 3V button cell.
The chassis was a mixed bag, as it was not sturdier than on the T61 models and significantly less for the longer 15-inch models. In fact, Lenovo did not improve in any significant way the chassis of the T400 models and reused the previous T61 widescreen laptops chassis, resulting in a very poor result. Palmrest are particularly notorious for cracking since there are not enough supports and chassis rigidity below. On some laptops there is even a visible curving of the under chassis, on quite pristine models, due to poor manufacturing. The display hinges are overly engineered, with great durability. The integrated speakers are quite good, although their position, size and technology is not the best.
The standard HDDs supplied by Western Digital are reasonably fast and quite silent. The SATA drives offer a similar performance to the previous T6x lineup, as SSDs were not available with high enough capacities to become truly competitive. However very fast, modern SSDs could be retrofitted for massive storage performance increases. No restriction is placed on HDD types. The only compatibility drawback is that only IBM branded or accepted wireless cards can be used.
Software support is good on Windows XP but the real advantages of the platform come in to play in the more polished Windows Seven. However, Windows XP compatibility is also good enough, making a proper choice for dual-boot systems.