The T series, particularly the 14” model, has always been the super model of the ThinkPad line-up. It gets most of the love and attention. The T430 is the newest version of the 14” T series notebook. The T430 is designed chiefly for large institutional buyers who in turn dispatch them to their employees. Lenovo didn’t stray to far from the successful T420 blueprint. The biggest changes for the T430 are the it now offers the latest Ivy Bridge Core i5 and i7 CPUs, has been upgraded to USB 3.0 and switched to an island style keyboard. Yes, I can hear the groans from old-school ThinkPadders. Read one to find out if the T430 make a suitable choice for you.
Here are the specifications of the T430 model under review:
- Model: 2342-22U
- Operating System: Windows Seven Professional x64
- CPU: Intel 2.6GHz Core i5-3320M(3.3GHz Turbo) 35w
- Memory: 8GB DDR 1333MHz(16GB Max)
- Hard Drives: 500GB Hitachi Z7K500 (7200RPM)
- Screen: 14.0” 1366×768 Matte LED LCD
- Graphics: Intel HD 4000 Integrated
- Network: Intel Gigabit Ethernet and 6205 WiFi Card, Bluetooth, WWAN Upgradable
- Inputs: Six Row 84 Key Island Style Keyboard, Pointstick and Touchpad with Separate Buttons
- Buttons: Power, ThinkVantage, Volume Up and Down, Mute, Microphone Off and WiFi On/Off
- Ports: Four USB 3.0 – Two Left Side, One Right Side, One Rear (Powered), Ethernet, VGA/Mini DisplayPort, Combo Headphone/Microphone Jack, Dock Connector
- Slots: SD Card Reader, ExpressCard/34 Slot, Smart Card Reader
- Battery: Nine-Cell((94Whr)
- Dimensions w/ Nine-Cell: Width 13.4”, Depth 8.13” and Height 1.18”
- Weight: 5.1. Pounds
- Warranty: One Year
Design and Build
ThinkPads are the dinosaurs of notebooks. From the looks of them, you’d think they’d have gone extinct years ago. Yet, when you open them up and start to use them, you realize they’ve somehow got the latest and greatest goodies in there. If you like ThinkPads, which I do, there’s a certain comfort in getting the exact same thing every time, but the boxy black nature of them probably doesn’t endear to those want a dash of style with their notebook. I guess you’ll have to decide on that one.
What struck me when I first got the T430 was how thick and heavy it was, but then again, I’ve been mostly reviewing Ultrabooks of late. When I put the T430 on the scale, it was just over five pounds using the larger nine-cell battery. That should put it squarely in the center of the 14” notebook segment weight wise. The T430 is a little over an inch thick, about 1.2”. This would seem to go against the slimmer trend, but the extra thickness gives it a more muscular feel and inspires a confidence that an Ultrabook just can’t match.
The T430 is another in a long line of well built ThinkPads. No shortcuts were taken, the T430 feels like a tank. It somewhat reminded of the Lenovo Z61m I reviewed years ago, which could be used in a combat zone. The casing on the T430 is made from carbon fiber and is supported by a rigid sub frame. There’s no give on the base of the notebook at all. You can pick it up by the corner and it just goes about its business without making a sound. You can make the screen ripple a bit by applying some pressure, but it feels like it’s well protected. The screen is secured to the base using steel hinges. They’re very stiff and the screen doesn’t move at all. The fit and finish on the T430 is excellent.
Display and Audio
The T430 has a 14.0” 16:9 LCD, no surprise there. There are two resolutions offered on the T430 – HD (1366×768), which our review unit has, and an HD+ (1600×900) LCD that’s a $50 upgrade. Both are LED and matte, which means there’s no reflections if there’s a light source nearby. The brightness of the screens is 200 nits for the HD screen and 250 nits for the HD+ LCD, which means both are more than bright enough for indoor usage, but too dim to use outside. The contrast for both is rated at 300:1. There’s a small bit of leakage on the screen, but it’s mostly only noticeable when booting the T430 during which time the screen is all black.
From the way people bellyache about these screens, one might get the idea that you’ll go blind while using them, but I certainly did not find that to be the case. That’s not to say this is a good panel by any means either. The image is crisp, but the colors are average at best. The lower resolution means more scrolling. The screen has a bit of a blue hue to it, though this can probably corrected somewhat for those willing to calibrate the screen. Sadly, calibrating the screen will not transform it into Prince Charming. Being that the T430 uses a TN panel, the viewing angles were on the thin side, though I was able to find a decent enough sweet spot where it looked mostly good as long as I didn’t move too much.
When you want to find the limitations of the screen, start watching a movie. It just doesn’t have enough contrast to properly render the image. Particularly, dark areas look grayed out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as your employer, who just issued you a T430, doesn’t want you watching movies on the clock anyway. The bottom line for the screen is it’s fine for Office and Internet type tasks it’ll be mostly asked to do, but if screen quality is a priority for you, then you’d best move along.
On the plus side, the speakers on the T430 are at least located on the top side of the T430, but that may be the only plus. It always amazes me that my tiny iPhone manages to sound better than a lot of the notebooks I see. Being that this is a business notebook, quality sound is not a top requirement and the sound quality on the T430 reflects that fact. It’s not terrible, but definitely could be better. The sound is tinny and there’s not much bass to speak of, but it’s certainly adequate enough for a video or some music. If you’re an audiophile, investing in some good headphones or speakers wouldn’t be a bad idea.
CPU, Performance and Storage
The T430 offers a range of third generation Core i Ivy Bridge CPUs from the i5 to the i7. The i3 equipped T430 models use the Sandy Bridge platform CPUs. All T430 models can also support up to 16GB of DDR3 memory. Our review unit took the middle of the road approach. It has the 2.6GHz i5 CPU and 8GB of DDR3 memory. The T series, particularly the 14” models, are meant to be handed out to worker bees and as such performance isn’t a top priority. They’ll be tasked with non-processor intensive duties like Office and Internet. For those assignments any of the CPUs the T430 offers, along with the minimum of 4GB of memory, should preform more than capably. I was able to surf the web, run some Photoshop filters and listen to music. The T430 never squawked at all. We ran PCMark Vantage just to see how the T430 compared similar notebooks. Its 8,979 score bears out the fact it’s an efficient performer and if you need top performance, the T430 can deliver it.
PCMark Vantage Benchmark Results – Higher scores indicate better system performance
|Laptop||PCMark Vantage Score|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T430 – Intel Core i5-3320M 2.60GHz, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD, Intel HD 4000||8,979 PCMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad W530 – Intel Core i7-3520M 2.90GHz , Nvidia K1000M, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD||9,934 PCMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X230 – Intel Core i5-3320M 2.60GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD||7,603 PCMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X220 – Intel Core i5-2410M 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD||5,764 PCMarks|
|SONY VAIO SA – Intel Core i5-2430M, AMD 6750M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD||7,007 PCMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM||6,056 PCMarks|
|Dell Vostro 3450 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30Ghz, 4GB RAM||5,901 PCMarks|
|Dell Inspiron N411z – Intel Core i3-2330m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM||5,285 PCMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T420 – Intel Core i3-2310m 2.1GHz, 2GB RAM||3,204 PCMarks|
3DMark Vantage Results – Higher scores indicate better graphics performance
|Lenovo ThinkPad T430 – Intel Core i5-3320M 2.60GHz, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD, Intel HD 4000||3,948|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X230 – Intel Core i5-3320M 2.60GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD||3,165|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X220 – Intel Core i5-2410M 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD||1,611|
|Dell XPS 15 (Intel Core i7-2670QM, Nvidia GT 525M 1GB RAM, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD)||4,211|
|HP Envy 17-3000, Intel Core i7-2670QM, AMD 7690M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD||6,970|
|Dell XPS 17 (Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, Nvidia 550m, 6GB RAM, HD 7200RPM)||4,747|
|HP Pavilion dv6t Select Edition – Intel Core i5-2410m, Intel HD 3000 Graphics, 6GB RAM||1,845|
The T430 has the Intel HD 4000 integrated GPU. While the HD 4000 is a good integrated card, see the 3DMark 3948 score in the table above, it’s still an integrated card. This means you can play some older games and maybe some newer games on lower settings, but if gaming is a significant want, you’ll probably wish to look elsewhere. Do note that the T430 that comes with the Core i3 CPU will have the slower performing HD 3000 GPU. The Nvidia NVS 5400 is an option for those wanting a dedicated GPU option. It has Optimus technology, which will switch to the Intel GPU when the dedicated card is not needed.
Probably the biggest lag on the T430′s performance is the slower platter based hard drive. The review unit came with the Hitachi Z7K500 500GB 7200RPM hard drive. It booted in about about 40 seconds, which is twice as long as my SSD equipped X220i, and it just doesn’t have the same level of snappiness, which is not unexpected. Fortunately, unlike the screen, this is easily fixed. The T430 has three drive bays – the main bay, a miniPCI slot where you can put a mSATA SSD and the ultrabay where you can put another hard drive in place of the optical drive using the modular caddy. Any of the bays are bootable. Sticking a SSD in there should liven up performance quite a bit. One disappointment is that Lenovo switched the main bay to a 7mm drive like the X230. This means that 500GB is the largest drive you can put in the T430. If you had dreams of a T430 with a mSATA SSD and 1TB HDD, prepare to have them crushed.
Keyboard, Pointing Stick and TouchPad
I think we’ve all heard by now Lenovo switched the classic ThinkPad to the new six row island style keyboards. Doing this lets Lenovo add a keyboard backlight to the keyboard, which is often requested by ThinkPad users. Our review unit did not have keyboard backlight, though you still get the ThinkLight on all T430 models. The keys themselves have a bit more slippery feel to them than before, but I don’t think that affected my speed as it’s already sub 40WPM. Despite changing to an island style, the keyboard on the T430 is still spill resistant. A small amount of liquid hitting the keyboard shouldn’t cause any damage. The keys on the keyboard to my untrained eye appear to be slightly larger than the classic ThinkPad keyboard. Lenovo has removed a few keys and the keys have a new shape. The sides of the keys on the classic keyboard angle upward to the top of the key, but the sides on the new keys are perpendicular to the top of the key. That should make for easier cleaning of the keyboard. Lenovo has also changed the location for a number of keys and function keys, which will not make longtime ThinkPadders happy, but I don’t know what the answer is for them, other than getting used to the new keyboard. Nobody else is offering a traditional keyboard. Getting to the actual typing on the new keyboard, it’s quite good, just like the old ones. The keyboard is firm, no bounce to it all when typing on it. The pitch is exceptional. When you hit the bottom of a keystroke is just when you’d anticipate starting to bring your finger back up. Overall, the keyboard is excellent, just like the old keyboards.
The T430 gives you two options for controlling the mouse – an isometric joystick or pointstick in Lenovo lingo and a touch pad. The touch pad on the T430 is square like in shape, which seems an odd choice for a notebook with such a squat screen. It has tiny bumps covering the surface of the touch pad that give it a bit of a rough texture, but it actually feels quite nice when using it. The touch pad works well. There’s no lag. The finger gestures like scrolling and pinch to zoom work sufficiently, though are probably not up to Apple standards. The biggest issue with the touch pad is the buttons. They’re small, about 1/3 the size of the pointstick buttons and they sit on the edge. I found my finger would sometimes go too far and fall off the edge when I went to click a button.
Like all ThinkPads, you get the pointstick option for moving the mouse. When I get the settings to my liking, I find the stick to be superior to any touch pad. Your hands never stray far from the keyboard and you never have to pick your hand up to move from one side of the screen to the other. In particular, scrolling on the stick is phenomenal. It helps, in my opinion, to mitigate the pain of a lower resolution screen because it’s so easy to hold down the center button and push the stick in the direction you want to go. It’s been my experience the stick is one of things in life people either like or don’t, but I’ve found few people who do both. Whichever way you roll, the T430 has you covered.
There are three batteries options offered on the T430. There’s a six-cell (57Whr) and nine-cell (94Whr) standard batteries that plug into the rear of the T430. The six-cell sits flush with the back of the T430 while the nine-cell battery sticks out the back of the T430 about an inch or so. Both batteries help to raise the rear up a bit. In addition to those two batteries, Lenovo offers a slice battery (94Whr) for the T430, which plugs into the docking port on the underside of the T430. It’s a nine-cell battery, and adds about a pound and half weight to the T430. That would make the T430 around 6.5 pounds. Our T430 has the nine-cell battery. To test the battery I set the screen to half brightness with WiFi on and I parked the CPU in low power mode. I did typical tasks like surfing the web, listening to some music and working on the review. Using those settings, I was able to get 8:45 minutes from a fully charged battery until it went into sleep mode. That’s some serious battery life. Back in the day I remember being pretty happy with the 5.5 hours I got on my 14” ThinkPad R60 with the nine-cell battery. If you can double life with the slice battery, that’s getting close to 2.5 work days of usage away from the outlet. I can’t imagine using a notebook that long, but if you can, it’s there for you.
Heat & Noise
The T430 has two vents to help push hot air. Both are located on the left side, one on the side and one on the rear. It’s been fairly toasty this week while I’ve been working on the review, in the mid 90°s and humid too. It hasn’t been fun at all, but the T430 has been a cool customer the whole time It never got much above warm, even when running benchmarks. Most of the time I’ve had the T430 it’s been very quiet. If you put your hand by the vents you can feel the warm air being pushed out, but it’s still whisper quiet for everyday usage. Like any notebook when you start to push the processor, the fan kicks on to help keep the temps down, but even there, it’s pretty quiet. In a noise free room you’ll hear the fan, but if there’s any ambient noises at all, it will quickly drown out the fan. The Hitachi Z7K500 was also quiet, though the T430 is a bit thicker, which probably helps shield the noise more than a thinner notebook like the X230.
Ports and Networking
The T430 offers most of the ports users would want for typical usage. Perhaps HDMI would have been a nice addition, but the DisplayPort is easily converted to HDMI with a cable. Since the Intel chipset supports USB 3.0, the T430 now has USB 3.0 ports. The left side of the T430 has the VGA connector, mini-Displayplay port, a combo headphone/microphone jack and two USB 3.0 ports:
The right side of the T430 contains a USB 3.0 port, ExpressCard/34, Card Reader and above the optical drive is a smart card reader.
The back of the T430 offers a powered USB port, which is nice for charging the phone, an Ethernet port and the power jack.
The bottom of the T430 incorporates a docking port. Using the docking port you can plug into either of the Series 3 docks. The docks are a great idea for when using a ThinkPad at a desk. You don’t have to connect the monitor and other peripherals in every time. You can just attach the T430 to the dock and be ready to go.
The T430 gives buyers lots of options for connecting. If you’re like me, WLAN is all I need. The T430 comes with multiple WiFi card options. Being cheap, I usually take the least expensive ThinkPad card and it’s always worked out well for me , but we have the Intel 6205 N wireless card in the review unit. I’ve had no problems with the card. It functioned flawlessly, both at work and home. All T430 machines are WWAN upgradeable. You just need to put the WWAN card into the miniPCI slot on the underside of the T430 and attach the wires. You may also configure it with a WWAN card on Lenovo’s website at purchase. Our review unit did not have a WWAN card. Our unit also came with Bluetooth, which is a $30 upgrade for C-T-O machines. Pairing my iPhone to play music from it on the T430 was a painless process. Ethernet is standard on every T430. Needless to say, however you want to connect, the T430 gives you the option to do so.
There’s a lot to recommend about the ThinkPad T430. It’s very well built and should take the punishment mobile workers will inflict upon it with ease. While most of its users probably won’t push it much, for those who do, it’ll perform quite well. Despite some grumbling from veteran ThinkPadders, the keyboard is splendid. The red pointing stick and touchpad are pretty good too. The T430 is very easy to upgrade and it gives end users lots of choices to configure their machines. It offers just about every port and connection option one could reasonably ask to get. It should last a whole day plus on battery if that’s what you need, even more if you pick up the slice battery. Why am I not running out to buy this? The screen to me is the biggest flaw. While the screen is serviceable and the low cost will make large institutional buyers (who purchase these by the 1,000s) happy, if I’m spending my own pocket money I’d like a better option. It’s a judgment call. If you’re looking for a great all-around notebook and don’t mind the ordinary screen, then the T430 is an outstanding choice. If you’ve been spoiled by IPS screens on models like the ThinkPad X230 like me, then I’m going to at least look at other options. A T430 with a decent screen would be a killer notebook, it doesn’t even need to be IPS, but unfortunately, we don’t have that option today.
- Built to Last
- mSATA + HDD Setup and Ultrabay Options
- Easy Upgrades
- As Many Ports as You’ll Need
- Lots of Connection Options
- USB 3.0
- Long Battery life
- Fair Screen
- Changing of Function Key Locations, Removing Keys
- Looks Exactly Like the previous ThinkPad T420
Where to Buy