$1,799, http://www.ibm.com, 800/426-7235
Specifications: 12.1-inch active-matrix display, 366 MHz Intel Celeron processor, 128 kb L2 cache, 32 mb memory, 2.5 mb video memory, 4.47 gb hard drive, 24x CD-ROM drive, 56-kbps modem, two Type II (or one Type III) PC Card slots.
Support: One-year warranty; 24-hour, toll-free hardware and bundled-software support for the life of the product.
The IBM ThinkPad i Series 1412 is about what you would expect from Big Blue: a solid performer with all the features you really need at a reasonable, if not quite cheap, price. No real flash, innovation or excitement here, but this laptop offers a reliable bang for your computer buck. The Fujitsu we reviewed, however, offers many of the same features for $300 less. Is the IBM name, reputation and support worth the difference? It's your call.
The ThinkPad carries a 366 MHz Celeron processor, but its skimpy 32 megabytes of RAM will leave you wanting a little more oomph. Our test unit was on the heavy side (just a shade under eight pounds traveling weight), but that extra bulk includes a 24X CD-ROM drive, nice built-in speakers, a sharp 12.1-inch active-matrix screen and a comfy, full-size keyboard. For an extra $500, you can upgrade to DVD-ROM and an extra 32 megs of RAM, adding another third of a pound in the process.
IBM says this unit is supposed to come with Lotus SmartSuite Millennium -- including 1-2-3, Word Pro, Organizer, Freelance Graphics, Approach and ScreenCam -- but not all of that was included on our test unit. The ThinkPad also includes PC Doctor, which quickly helped us resolve a modem conflict, and the spiffy-looking AudioRack 32 sound system. True, IBM didn't go overboard with the freebies, but how many people really have found their lives enriched by bundled software?
The ThinkPad, like all of IBM's laptops, uses a Track Point "nub" as a pointing device; some folks like this kind of thing, but I found myself plugging in a mouse. Our test unit had a tendency to heat up while charging, but not to the point of causing serious injury.
Aside from those few annoyances, the ThinkPad was a joy. It certainly seems to be a bargain compared to other ThinkPads. Battery life was most impressive. In our field tests, it ran from two to four hours between charges, even while we were Web surfing with a few programs running and the CD player cranking music.
If nothing else catches your attention, consider the ThinkPad for its support. IBM's customer service for this unit was especially quick and helpful and, unlike some companies, didn't require a credit card, proof of citizenship and firstborn child before forking over information.