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7/96 Reviews What's Hot: IBM ThinkPad 560

Listing of July 1996 Reviews

Pad Pares Pounds, Ups Power

By Jim Forbes, Silicon Valley Bureau Editor

There's a big red-brick IBM building in upstate New York with the word "Think" chiseled into its front wall. With the popularity of the company's notebooks-and impressive new ones on the way-it wouldn't be surprising if the word "Pad" were added to the old building's facade.

I got a sneak peek at an engineering model of the ThinkPad 560, the latest addition to the ThinkPad line. There's a lot to like about this notebook. Elegant yet simple, this well-designed unit is slightly larger than a piece of 8.5-by-11-inch paper yet only 1.2 inches high. The 560's total travel weight of about 5 pounds-including its power supply and cords and external drive-puts it in the featherweight division, but when it comes to components and performance, this machine is definitely a heavyweight.

The unit I tested was based on an Intel 120MHz Pentium processor, but other models will be available with 100MHz and 133MHz Pentiums. The 100MHz and 120MHz models should be available by the time you read this; the 133MHz ThinkPad 560 is expected a little later this summer. The test machine was equipped with an 810MB hard disk (a 1GB hard disk is an option) and 8MB of EDO RAM (expandable to 40MB). The system's floppy drive is an external unit.

The 560 has a full complement of external connections, including a port replicator socket mounted on its underside and a 115Kb-per-second infrared transceiver in the back. The IRDA-compliant infrared port can be used with similarly equipped peripherals and systems for file transfers and printing. The ThinkPad's PCMCIA slots can handle two Type II cards or a single Type III.

This ultra-thin, ultra-portable notebook doesn't stint when it comes to its display. The model I tested had the top-of-the-line 12.1-inch active-matrix SVGA screen. At 800x600 pixels, the big display produced bright, readable images with excellent contrast. A smaller (11.3-inch) DSTN screen is also available.

The 560 has a full-size, 85-key Lexmark keyboard. The company's keyboards are among the best around, with superior touch and impressive reliability. The layout of the keyboard is a little different from those on other notebooks, but not so different that you won't get used to it in short order. Nestled in the center of the keyboard is an IBM TrackPoint III, one of the industry's premier pointing devices. The cursor control buttons are located in the middle of a palm rest that's about three inches deep. A security slot in the ThinkPad's case allows you to safeguard it using a cable lock system.

Screen brightness and other system settings are controlled via function keys. A set of small colored lights above the left side of the keyboard provides status indications for hard disk access, power state and other attributes. The power control is a slide switch mounted on the left side of the case, next to the connector for the external floppy drive. Volume control for the 560's 16-bit Sound Blaster Pro stereo sound system is on the right side. There are also jacks to hook external speakers or a microphone into the audio system. The notebook's AC adapter has a long enough power cord and connector cable that you can attach it to an AC outlet up to 10 feet away.

The preproduction unit that IBM supplied came with Windows 3.1 and OS/2, although the shipping versions of the 560s will have Windows 95 preloaded. I replaced these operating systems with Windows 95 to check the compatibility of the BIOS and its PCMCIA and parallel ports. Even though the BIOS was a pre-release version, I didn't run into any compatibility problems.

With Win95 in place, I was also able to run WINDOWS Magazine's Wintune performance tests. Engineering models of forthcoming notebooks generally yield low performance results, but the 120MHz ThinkPad 560 turned in some surprisingly good scores. It averaged 217.33MIPS on the Wintune processor test and achieved an uncached hard disk throughput of 1.37MB per second. Video speed was clocked at 3.03Mpixels per second. These scores are all commendable for a prototype unit, and the shipping version of the ThinkPad 560 is likely to earn even better performance marks.

Because of the size of the 560's case, the keyboard doesn't have to fold out to achieve its full dimensions, as does the keyboard on the ThinkPad 701, or "Butterfly," which this unit replaces. The case size also makes it possible to include a larger screen with the 560. In fact, little if any functionality was sacrificed to slim down the ThinkPad 560 to its svelte traveling weight. Of course, to maintain the notebook's low profile and weight, IBM couldn't include an integrated CD-ROM drive. But if you don't need to tote along a CD-ROM, you can easily hook up a desktop drive to the 560 using a PCMCIA interface. As with most other high-performance notebooks, you'll probably want to up the ThinkPad 560's standard configuration of 8MB of RAM by another 8MB.

In addition to Windows 95, IBM will bundle application software with the ThinkPad 560. Included are Lotus SmartSuite-with Word Pro, 1-2-3, Freelance, Approach and Organizer-and IBM Internet Connection services, with Netscape Navigator. Preloaded remote control software allows IBM's technical support to log on to a ThinkPad to diagnose problems. The notebook's one-year warranty includes seven-day, 24-hour tech support.

At a time when product differentiation for both desktop and portable systems is an issue that plagues the industry, the ThinkPad 560 should have no difficulty distinguishing itself. It's the frequent traveler's dream-Pentium performance, light weight and a screen that's positively Cinemascopic compared with what you'll find on other ultralight portables. And with prices starting at around $2,700, the electrifying ThinkPad 560 won't give you sticker shock.

--Info File--
ThinkPad 560
From $2,699 (street)
Pros: Weight; screen; Pentium performance; low profile
Cons: Limited expandability
IBM Corp.
800-772-2227, 914-766-1900
WinMag Box Score: 4.0

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