IBM ThinkPad T43 – IBM’s last business flagship

Let’s take an extended look at the last ThinkPad from IBM. The T4x line was light and powerful – Ultrabooks before the name. The T43p with p for performance was the last flagship of the IBM business laptop line. Seeing is believing, so check out my video review!

This is the slightly adjusted script of the video above:

Fun fact: it says manufactured for Lenovo on the underside and the board was made by Foxconn in China, so we can see that transition towards Lenovo and some people might dispute the IBM heritage.

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An ultracompact IBM X40 12″ sitting on top of an IBM T43p 15″ behemoth

Let’s take an overview: this notebook is from 2005 with a single-core CPU and 2GB RAM maxed out. It still works today but is not a giant of performance anymore.

Design follows traditional ThinkPad aesthetics: simple, robust… and square. The 15″ model is a bit larger, so let’s compare it to a more modern 14″ T430s which is wider because of its 16:9 form factor. Display hinges are still solid after all these years of usage.

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IBM T43p 15″ and Lenovo T430s 14″ compared

The T43/p introduced some important new features compared to the earlier T42:

  • New chipset but still using single-cores, last generation without dual-cores
  • DDR2 memory instead of DDR
  • Intel GPU as an option (Intel GMA 900)
  • Expresscard

The dock connector on the underside allows for a docking station that supports digital video DVI but without official support for FHD resolution. However, there are some hacks on the internet that might enable that feature. The Intel GPU does not support DVI at all.

Let’s tack a look at ports. The left side has Kensington lock, only 2 USB ports stacked, S-video, modem & Ethernet, audio & mic, fan exhaust, Cardbus and Expresscard marked by an X on top, so you could add USB3 ports here for example. The back side has the battery and a power connector, last model with the slimmer 16V connector and last model with a parallel port on the chassis. The right side has a hard disk cover, VGA and UltraBay Slim with an eject button which comes with an optional DVD, second battery or a disk drive adapter. The front has an infrared port, a single display latch but no Wifi switch.

Fingerprint reader and Bluetooth are both optional and we do have a Bluetooth combo card installed. Webcams do not exist at all in this generation. Fun feature: there is a sticker with the correct length of screws on the underside.

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Holes with labeled screws

Everything has an indicator light. We have 8 lights on the display bezel, 3 more on top plus Ethernet, UltraBay, infrared and ThinkLight, so you end with up to 17 lights in total.

What about the specs? All CPUs are all single-core Pentium-M and replaceable. We have a Pentium-M 780 (Dothan) with 2.26 GHz. You can still run most apps but things can be slow at times including sluggish internet browsing in particular with high-resolution displays. You can also undervolt the CPU using the RMClock software and it runs like an ultra-low-voltage now. Tip: use Tpfancontrol software to reduce fan noise.

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IBM T43p opened with the latest triple-cooler model

There is a small flap on the underside for one RAM module and you have to remove the keyboard for the second module. Maximum are 2 GB dual-channel DDR2 PC2-4200 RAM.

A mini-PCI slot comes with a Wifi card installed. We have an additional small proprietary connector for a modem card or an optional Bluetooth/modem combo card.

There are three graphic cards available and the T43p model has the fastest ATI FireGL and that name is right about being on fire. We will come back to that topic. Our GPU options are:

  • INTEL GMA 900 (SHARED RAM, NO DVI)
  • ATI MOBILTY RADEON X300 (64MB)
  • ATI MOBILTY FIREGL V3200 (128MB ONLY T43p)

There is also a single drain hole on the underside if you have some water spillage on your keyboard – I believe the first primitive implementation of that feature. I have made a video about it, so you can check it out.

There are some choices of displays available here, all have 4:3 aspect ratio. We have TN on the 14″ model and an option for IPS on the 15″ model. Our screen is a highlight and quite unique: an IPS 1600×1200 screen called Flexview, amazing for its time. We have great viewing angles even when compared to a newer TN panel. Our available display options are:

  • 14″ 1024×768 (XGA)
  • 14″ 1400×1050 (SXGA+)
  • 15″ 1024×768 (XGA)
  • 15″ 1400×1050 (SXGA+ IPS)
  • 15″ 1600×1200 (UXGA IPS ONLY T43p)
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IBM T43p 15″ IPS and Lenovo T430s 14″ TN

Speakers are quite good actually, loud and clear. Let’s listen to a music sample (video).

I bought this laptop without a hard drive or an operating system and we have two problems here. First challenge is the old PATA connector, but fortunately I still had a functional drive here. Interestingly enough, the board actually has a SATA controller, but IBM added a PATA converter for the old school business market. There are slim adapters (IDE to mSATA or SATA) that might work and UltraBay SATA adapters can be found as well.

The second problem is ‘Error 2010’ for hard drives that are not whitelisted in the BIOS. Every startup you have to wait and press F1 to continue. Fortunately I did find a BIOS patch at thinkwiki.org and it worked, so every hard drive can be booted including this one.

The T43/p works fine with Windows XP, 7 and even 10 because the Pentium-M supports the necessary XD bit feature (update: it might not work anymore after some recent Win10 updates). I tried Windows 7 and all drivers are available here, the ATI GPU as a legacy version. Windows 7 remains my best recommendation for the T43/p.

You can also run Linux from a USB stick. I installed the latest version of Mint and it seemed to run just fine, no problems here.

The keyboard is quite traditional and has very nice tactile feedback and long key travel that fans love about the older machines. We have dedicated volume and speaker mute buttons as well. Of course it has the iconic TrackPoint with accentuated buttons. The trackpad is quite small but works okay, still an afterthought. Keyboard and TrackPoint are king here. Compare the old layout to a modern ThinkPad here (video).

Let’s play some games and we try the native 1600×1200. Some older games like Battlefield 2 or Call of Duty are actually playable at this high resolution.

ThinkPad T43p gaming
Gaming at native 1600×1200

The main battery is removable and there is a smaller, optional UltraBay battery available which is hard to find nowadays. Battery life is not great of course and you have to buy aftermarket batteries.

Unfortunately the T4x line has one major problem called flexing. The solder for the chips will eventually break under extended thermal and mechanical stress and you have to replace your board if it got too hot for too long. Later models like the T60 introduced an internal structure frame to prevent this scenario. Flexing affects ATI GPUs and all southbridges so ultimately all T4x models. IBM created an extended triple cooler to compensate for some of the heat to extend the lifespan a bit longer. What can we do? Clean the fan, remove the old paste and pads and replace it with high quality paste or pads. This procedure reduced GPU temperatures by about 20° Celsius for me.

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Lenovo T410 with internal structure frame to prevent flexing that troubled the T4x line

By the way, this ThinkPad was cleaned with Magic Eraser melamine foam and I made a video about it, so check it out.

In conclusion, the T40 line were high-powered IBM business machines with some outstanding features but had some major flaws as well. If you want an old ThinkPad for actual work, get a T60 instead. They offer dual-core CPUs, modern SATA drives and no flexing – a much improved laptop. I still use one for work every day.

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

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