Buyers Guide

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This page is dedicated to hints about buying used or new ThinkPad models. You can find notes about typical weaknesses of used ThinkPads here and other things you should care about when choosing a ThinkPad and where to buy it.

Build it yourself and save money

Lenovo offers more flexibility than any other major manufacturer of laptop computers, at least that I know of. Their "configure-to-order" (CTO) offerings let you build the computer you want, without paying for anything you don't want. The basic CTO includes the mainboard and CPU, but no RAM, disk, mini-PCI cards, software, or other add-ons. You can even get a laptop in a CTO configuration.

I built my X32 notebook with 1GB RAM, 60GB 5400RPM hard drive, USB DVD-ROM CD-RW drive, and 802.11a/b/g mini-PCI for a grand total of US$1,206, including tax and shipping.

Start with the complete list of products. Look for items that end with "CTO" or "Custom." Choose the chassis you want. Then add whatever upgrades you need that only Lenovo offers (such as WiFi). Fill in the rest of the components from other, less expensive vendors.

Update: you can't do this these days. They will not sell you a CTO barebone. At least you can't do it online. You might have to 'con' a sales agent.

Response to update: I did not need to con anyone. I just ordered the CTO chassis and the parts I needed from their website. I placed the order on August 18, 2005 and received all the shipments by August 26, 2005.

Comment from visitor: Try this page. You can at least get a Z60 with the titanium cover in a more stripped down model than is otherwise available.

Various deals

Special prices: You can get a laptop from Lenovo for special price if you are a student, alumni, researcher or something like that. You need to go to education -> computers for home -> students (or such), and now click on "My Account" to create a new account. Perhaps there is another way, but you must end up with a student account. Then you get around 5% off the web price.

You can also buy a Lenovo thinkpad pre-configured with Linux from here

The Lenovo USA sales web site offers some attractive deals in its surplus outlet.

IBM sells refurbished ThinkPads.

Special deals for certain customer groups

IBM makes huge discounts to students and teachers:

country shops & target groups
Austria
  • Studentline.at (students, university staff, pupils and teachers)
  • notebook4u.at (students, university staff, pupils and teachers)
  • ABAX (students, university staff, pupils and teachers)
  • Computer Bostelmann (students, university staff, pupils and teachers)
France
Germany
Switzerland
United States
  • Education (K-12 and Higher Education)
  • Comparison shop at DealMine.com to find Thinkpad and membership discounts AFL-CIO/AFT matched up at various stores
  • IBM Employee Purchase Program (EPP) for IBM employees and their family and friends: IBM store / Lenovo store
  • Corporate Perks program for corporate employees (e.g., accessible through the Microsoft Alumni Network)

Buying FRUs

You can buy single components, called, FRU (Field Replacement Unit), directly from Lenovo.

To find the right FRU, you can look up your model's part lists here:

Official list of linux certified computers

Where to buy Linux preinstalled thinkpad

  • Lenovo now preloads SuSE Linux on some reasonably current models! They don't really talk about it, but search their site for Linux and it is currently (2008-04-21) their first hit. Not sure if the link is generally useful nor permanent, but see Lenovo Preloaded Linux Models

Buying on eBay

  • Many sellers do not know exactly what they have. Get the full 7-digit machine type if at all possible. Compare it to the specifications in the *book.pdf series: twbook.pdf, tabook.pdf, tawbook.pdf, etc, to determine actual screen size, original CPU speed, original hard disk, etc.
  • You can try getting the serial number as well to check the warranty status at IBMs support pages.
  • Check completed auctions carefully to determine going prices for comparable machines.
  • Be aware if any port covers are missing. If they are, see if any current auctions are running to check availability.
  • If the unit doesn't come with a hard drive, know whether it has the caddy and cover. Make sure that the three passwords are NOT set or that you know the right passwords before you install your hard drive! If you don't: A password can be set into your hard disk automatically, making it a brick - useful for door stopping only!
  • Anything with a PIII or later most likely came with a Windows Certificate of Authenticity. Find out whether the listed machine does. Even if you don't want it, it may help resale value when you sell the machine.
  • Read the feedback of the seller on items he has sold, especially electronics, computers and laptops and check out any customer reviews when deciding on a model. If meangranny is suddenly selling T43's after three years of lace, stay away.
  • If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. There's a reason no one else is bidding on it.

Common Long-time Weaknesses of Some Thinkpad Models

Model Issues
390X *models with 15" display are said to have weak display cables that tend to break.
600X Battery problems.
A20p, R50, R50e, R40, R40e, 390, 390E, 390X *Base cover and its corners are prone to crack, root cause stiff display hinges that tend to weaken those area over time.
A31 Several reports of Problem with garbled screen independent on Operating System
A30, A30p, A31, A31p *seem to have a mechanical design that can cause the motherboard to break. At least there are a significant number of reports of broken motherboards on these models.
T30 *had a problem with memory sockets detaching from the system board. IBM replaced these free of charge even after warranties expired.
T20, T21, T22 Many models have a problem of gradually dying. Attempting to turn on will only cause a blinking light, and many attempts must be made in order to start the machine. Eventually, the machine is no longer bootable. This problem is also known as Blink-Of-Death caused by failing ATMEL power regulator chip.
X40, X41 Your 1.8" hard drive will die after about a year. Talk:Harddisk_Drives
T40, T41, T42, GPU failure on some models that have ATI Graphic Controller due to board flexing.
X61 Tablet The screen bezel unglues away the LCD screen, leaving an ugly gap. See the forum discussion.
T43 A number of laptops from the T-line are very thin (everything since T40?), which was to some degree possible by using the newer UltraBay Slim, which is used in almost all Thinkpads now, instead of the old UltraBay Plus. This limits the available alternatives for optical drives, as they are not compatible with the industrial standard slimline drives, which are to thick. Some T43s have Matshita UJ-822S drives, and Matshita is infamous for striving extra to enforce the DVD regional codes. Purchasing such a laptop would effectively mean being locked to one DVD region, unless you can buy a compatible replacement DVD drive. The T43 family is also notorious for its problem with fan noise and has a problem with non-ThinkPad hard disks; its predecessor, the T42 family, had none of these problems and offered better battery life.

Perceived Weaknesses of Newer Models

The original keyboards, large ThinkPad screens and some other things have been phased out. If using these features is worth a performance hit, a used ThinkPad from eBay is probably the best option. Old ThinkPad Niches has a list of features that are missed today.

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