Lenovo ThinkPad T430s – best value old ThinkPad?

You are looking for a good laptop but don’t have enough coins to spare? Check out the review of the Lenovo ThinkPad T430s  an attractive compromise of performance, reliability and price!

This is the slightly adjusted script of the video above:

Let’s take an extended look at the Lenovo T430s, maybe best value used ThinkPad on the market?

The T-s line is slimmer and lighter than the main T-line but has fewer ports in exchange. It offers some better features and is the flagship business model. The chassis feels very nice and sturdy with a magnesium-base and an inner roll cage and a carbon fiber top to protect all sides. A dock connector on the underside allows to connect to a mini dock or port replicator.

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Compare an older IBM T43p 15″ to a Lenovo T430s 14″

The T430/s introduced new features compared to the earlier T420/s:

  • Ivy-bridge CPUs and GPUS over Sandy bridge
  • Chiclet keyboard coming from the X1
  • MiniDisplayPort instead of DisplayPort
  • Carbon fiber display top
  • Rapid-charge battery
  • Optional Thunderbolt but only on Core i7 models without Nvidia GPU
  • LTE but US market only
  • USB3 (the T420 lacks USB3, but the T420s has it)

On the flip side we lost some important features forever in the main T-model line. It all ended here. Press F to pay respect. Last model to have:

  • ThinkLight
  • Optical drives (except T440p)
  • ExpressCard
  • Display latches
  • 35W TDP CPUs (expect T-p line)

The T430s has a decent selection of modern and legacy ports. The back side has power, Ethernet, USB3, mini-DisplayPort, USB2 powered, VGA and fan exhaust. The left side has  a second fan exhaust, USB3, headphone/mic, ExpressCard 34 and an optional Smart Card Reader. The ExpressCard slot came with a multi-SD card reader preinstalled. The right side has a WiFi-switch, Kensington lock and the Serial UltraBay Slim with an optional DVD drive, second battery or hard disk drive adapter. The corresponding eject button is at the bottom. You can reduce weight by using an empty cover. Front side has a screen latch and nothing more. The regular T430 has a removable battery at the back side and one additional USB2 port.

The SIM card slot for WWAN is behind the removable battery on the underside next to the Windows 7 product key sticker. Webcam and fingerprint reader are both optional and we don’t have them installed here, so watch out if you need a webcam.

There are four lights, a reduction from the bling of the earlier models. We still have WiFi, disk, power and battery lights. The keyboard includes dedicated microphone and speaker mute buttons with status lights.

By the way, did you know that your laptop has a Universally Unique Identifier (UUID) number assigned?

Lenovo had a confusing number of models on the market during that generation. The T430u and T431s were early Ultrabooks with slimmer cases but some reduced features and I would not recommend these models anymore. My T430s was balanced more towards performance as a flagship model  slim and light but not an Ultrabook. The regular T430 was a heavy performance machine and you could put a quad-core CPU with 34W, 45W or 55W TDP into it to create a mobile workstation.

Thinkpad T430 T430u T431s
Overview of ThinkPad models in that generation

The T430s offers only two CPUs unlike the regular T430 with its wider section of CPUs. We have a 3rd generation Ivy-bridge Core i5-3320M, based on a 22 nm fabrication process. CPUs are dual-core and hyper-threaded but non-removable on the T-s models.

  • Core i5-3320M (2.60 GHz, 3MB L3, 1600MHz FSB, 35W TDP)
  • Core i7-3520M (2.90 GHz, 4MB L3, 1600MHz FSB, 35W TDP)

The T430s is still a powerful laptop today because of the high-power 35W TDP CPUs. Later T-models like the T440 went down to low-power 15W CPUs with reduced performance but increased battery life. Ivy-bridge is also the last Intel CPU generation with official Windows XP driver support. My applications run just fine including editing this video. Tip: use Tpfancontrol software to reduce fan noise.

My T430s came originally with a 320 GB hard disk drive which was replaced with a Toshiba SSD and you should do the same with old spinning disks. Maximum height is 7mm but you might be able to squeeze in a 9mm SSD if you remove the rubber bumpers.

T430s flap
Under the hood: two RAM banks and two mPICe slots with WiFi and WWAN

The T430s came originally with 4 GB of DDR3 RAM that were upgraded to the maximum of 16 GB dual-channel PC3-12800. This can give you a great increase in gaming performance if you have the Intel GPU with shared VRAM.

There are two mini-PCIe slots. The half-size slot has a WiFi card installed. The full-size slot is empty or has a mobile broadband WWAN card. You could install an mSATA SSD here, but speed is limited to SATA2.

The display options are a weakness in this generation. Both panels are 16:9, no FHD and no IPS available. We are left with low contrast and limited viewing angels. Compare it to a much older and superior T43p IPS screen here (video). Displays are still good enough for office use, but I prefer to use an external monitor most of the time. The available options are:

  • HD+ (1600 x 900) (250 NITS) TN
  • HD (1366 x 768) (200 NITS) TN
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IBM T43p 15″ IPS and T430s 14″ TN compared

Well, can we change displays? Yes, there are solutions available, but they are complicated and expensive like converter boards. Considering the cost of upgrading you could look at the T450 generation or later if you want native IPS panels. Potential display mods include:

  • X1 CARBON 1600×900 TN & CABLE MOD – DECENT PANEL
  • ALIENWARE 1600×900 TN, DIFFICULT TO BUY – GOOD PANEL
  • eDP CONVERTER BOARD & FHD/WQHD IPS PANELS – VERY GOOD PANELS

The hinges were quite loose on my machine and I did make a video about how to replace them for 12$.

T430sthumb
You can replace old hinges

The inbuilt speakers are quite generic and they sound a bit like a small radio. Let’s hear some music samples (video).

First time we see the new chiclet keyboard called ‘Precision Keyboard’ in the T-line introduced earlier in the X1. Compare it to a T410 traditional keyboard (vido). Key travel was reduced from 2.5 to 2mm. Still having good tactile feedback but only 6 lines and some flexing in the corners. The backlight is optional with two brightness levels. Non-backlight keyboards have a less shiny surface which is better against fingerprints. Colored keys have disappeared and the F1-F12 keys are floating for some reason. You could replace the keyboard with the older style keyboard if you have enough tech skills.

T43 chiclet keyboard
Backlight keyboard is optional

The trackpad is slightly textured and feels pretty okay, but I prefer the TrackPoint. We have five dedicated flat buttons, but I like the older accentuated buttons more because they are easier to press down from a flat angle.

The main battery is removable and there is a smaller, optional battery for the UltraBay. Online reviews say that battery life ranges from 3 to 8 hours plus 60% with the second battery. Rapid charge allows to fill 80% in one hour.

The T430s came originally with Windows 7, but driver support includes Windows XP and Windows 10 as well. You can also run Linux from a USB stick. I installed the latest version of Mint and it worked fine for me.

Gaming from the PS3/XB360 era is quite possible with the Intel GPU. The optional Nvidia GPU is about twice as powerful and allows for much better frame rates. Fun fact, an external GPU over ExpressCard or Thunderbolt is possible as well. Available GPU options are:

  • INTEL HD4000
  • NVIDIA NVS 5200M 1GB VRAM OPTIMUS

How do you clean that surface and remove scratches? I have made a video about restoring the T430s so check it out!

th162
Cleaning and removing scratches from the T430s

Overall, I got this ThinkPad T430s for the low price of 130€/150$ and that makes it a very good value to consider. The slimmer profile of the T430s will make it a better choice for most users compared to the bulkier T430 unless you want a quad-core CPU as a mobile workstation.

I would advise to skip the T440 generation unless you know what you are doing and consider the T450 generation as a more expensive alternative if you need more battery life or native IPS screens.

Thanks for reading! You can check out more of this blog or my YouTube channel.

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