Used ThinkPad Buyers Guide [ktgee.net]

Boy! The prices of the X220 and T420 had dropped like a rock.

This Buyers guide covers ThinkPads new enough to fully support Windows Hardware Acceleration and costs under $500.

There are 2 prices for each model in this guide.
The prices listed in BOLD are the outright buying price. This is what you should expect to pay if you want your ThinkPad Now.
The prices in NON-BOLD are the ideal Online Auction price. This is what you should expect to pay if you are willing to sit around on eBay for auctions and Craigslist, but if you’re a lucky one, you can get one well below the listen auction prices.

Quicklinks:
T-Series | X-series | X-series Tablet | W-series | Other Important Info | Alternatives

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Used ThinkPads are cheap because after businesses are done with them, which is 3-4 years after they’ve been released, they flood the market. New ThinkPads currently aren’t worth it because they usually cost a lot more than other laptops with similar specifications and sometimes even more than Apple laptops, which are known for being heavily overpriced.

Why ThinkPad?

  • They’re really cheap when you buy a used one
  • Splash-proof keyboard thanks to drainage holes.
  • Keyboards feel excellent while typing, yes even the new ones.
  • Great Durability, your data is what it protects most, if it happens to be thrown out of a tall building or run over by a truck. The casing will deal with daily wear and tear like it’s nothing.
  • Utilitarian design, stuff like indicator LEDs, great keyboard key layout (on X220, T420 models and earlier)
  • Docking solutions that easily turns your laptop into a desktop (not performance wise of course!) just sitting it down
  • Easy to repair, upgrade and maintain thanks to readily available Hardware Maintenance Manuals for almost every model and spare parts are easy and cheap to obtain
  • TrackPoint (that red thing on the middle of the keyboard), great for those who type a lot or hate swiping their fingers all over a touchpad. Works surprisingly well for first person games, if you’re into that.

The first thing you should do when you get your ThinkPad is to format it and install a fresh copy of Windows or your favourite flavour of Linux on it to make it run as efficient as possible. It gets rid of any risk of viruses and unneeded bloatware that some people left over or preinstalled for you.

T series (Medium sized laptop)

If you don’t know what size you want, just go for the T-Series

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Best Bang for your Buck
T400
 (14.1” Core 2 Duo G3) – ~$100, $115
T500 (15.4” Core 2 Duo G3) – ~$120, $140
T410 (14.1” Core i-series G1) – ~$135, $170
T510
 (15.6” Core i-series G1) – ~$200, $240

Relatively New
T420
 (14” Core i-series G2) – ~$200, $220
T520
 (15.6” Core i-series G2) – ~$350, $360
T430
 (14” Core i-series G3) – ~$310, $360
T530 (15.6” Core i-series G3) – ~$360

Current Models
T440 (14” Core i-series G4) – ~$450, $485

On their way out
T60
 (14.1”, 15” or 15.4” Core Duo/Core 2 Duo G1) – <$100
T60p
 (14.1”, 15” or 15.4” Core Duo/Core 2 Duo G1) – <$100
T61
 (14.1” or 15.4” Core 2 Duo G2) (non nvidia) – <$100
T61p
 (14.1” or 15.4” Core 2 Duo G2) (nvidia) – <$100

T series models with an ‘s’ suffix (eg. T410s) means they’re slimmer than the regular T series laptops but unlike the X series, they have worse battery life compared to the regular T laptops.
T series models with a ‘p’ suffix (eg. T61p) means they’re more powerful than the regular Tseries and come with stronger dedicated GPUs. These are replaced by the later W series.
T series models with an ‘i’ suffix (eg. T420i) are basically the same as the Regular T series but with lower specs. Avoid the ones with Celerons, they’re piss slow.
An aftermarket Quad Core i7 CPU will work in a T420, but they do not come as standard on any T420.
T520 prices vary depending on the configuration, the lower end price is listed here, but you may spend a bit more if the screen, CPU and GPU are excellent.
Caution, the T440 doesn’t have physical TrackPoint buttons, which might be a no-go for ThinkPad fans, but if you’re okay with Touchpads, then they’re fine. But it’s amazing that you already can get a current model ThinkPad for under $500.
T61 models with Nvidia GPUs are known to have higher than normal failure rates, avoid. Nvidia T61s made after 08/08 are safe but they are very rare.
If you are an unlucky owner of these older Nvidia T61 laptops, try to make it run as cool as possible by keeping the fans clean and using fresh thermal paste, this would extend its useful life quite a lot. Also, avoid sellers selling  reballed/reflowed T61s with the older Nvidia GPU, they’ll most likely die within months if not weeks.

 

X series (Small sized laptop)

Portable and great battery life

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Best Bang for your Buck
X200
 (12.1” Core 2 Duo G3) – ~$100, $130
X201 (12.1” Core i-series G1) – ~$150, $170

Relatively New
X220
 (12.5” Core i-series G2) – ~$230, $260
X230
 (12.5” Core i-series G3) – ~$400, $425

Current Models
X240
 (12.5” Core i-series G4) – ~$450

On their way out
X60
 (12.1” Core Duo/Core 2 Duo G1) – ~$100
X61
 (12.1” Core 2 Duo G2) – ~$100

Rare
X300 (13.3” Core 2 Duo G2) – ~$150, $190
X301
 (13.3” Core 2 Duo G3) – ~$160, $230

Note:
X
 series with an ‘s’ suffix (eg. X200s) means they’re slimmer than the normal X series and use Low Voltage CPUs compared to Full Voltage. This means they’re even more portable and last longer on battery at the expense of CPU power.
X series models with an ‘i’ suffix (eg. X220i) are basically the same as the Regular X series but with lower specs such as being equipped with Celerons, Pentiums and i3 CPU options. Avoid the ones with Celerons, they’re piss slow.

X series Tablet (Convertible PC)

A bit bigger than the X series. It has pen input thanks to a 256-level pressure sensitivity Wacom Digitizer and some models have finger multi-touch as well. And it twists! How cool is that?

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Best Bang for Your Buck
X200 Tablet
 (12.1” Core 2 Duo G3) – ~$120, $150
X201 Tablet
 (12.1” Core i-series G1) – ~$210, $265

Relatively New
X220 Tablet
 (12.5” Core i-series G2) – ~$320, $360
X230 Tablet
 (12.5” Core i-series G3) – $410, $470

On their way out
X60 Tablet
 (12.1” Core Duo/Core 2 Duo G1) – ~$100
X61 Tablet
 (12.1” Core 2 Duo G2) – ~$100

Rare
X60 Tablet/X61 Tablet 1400×1050 – ~$170, $280 (Rare)

There are some X60/X61 Tablet models that have a 1400×1050 display. They usually cost a lot more than a regular one, so if you see one selling for cheap, don’t pass up on that deal! Unfortunately the High resolution versions of the X61 Tablet also suffer from a very ugly bubble problem where the glue leaks out and creates bubbles inside the display as it ages. The X60 Tablet Hi Resolution display doesn’t have this problem.
X series Tablets; X41t, X60t, X61t, X200t and most X201t models use Low Voltage Intel CPUs. X220t, X230t and very few X201t models use Full Voltage Intel CPUs.
X series Tablet models with an ‘i’ suffix (eg. X220i Tablet) are basically the same as the Regular X series Tablets but with lower specs. Avoid the ones with Celerons, they’re piss slow.

W series (Desktop Replacement)

If you lift (heavy weights) or just like a desktop replacement, look no further than the W series.

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W500 (15.4” Core 2 Duo G3) – ~$140, $190+
W700
 (17” Core 2 Duo G3 Quad-capable) – $470+
W510
 (15.6” Core i-series G1) – ~$340, $360+

W-series prices vary greatly depending on the configuration, the lower end prices are listed here, but you may spend almost double if the screen, CPU and GPU are excellent.

Pictured is a W700ds, it costs $1700 as of 1 August 2014.
>tfw you will never have one. 
;___;

Other Important Info

Found an older model not in this guide?

For stuff like T42X41 or earlier, don’t bother, unless you’re collecting.

Other Series
Unless the deal is excellent, avoid:
R-series
L-series
SL-series
Z-series
Edge/E-series

These are cost-cut versions of ThinkPads which are thicker, are made of lower quality plastics and are less durable. Terrible hinges on the Edge series especially, some Edges have electrical shorting issues.

Where do you look for one this cheap?
eBay, Craigslist, Gumtree, your local newspaper, garage (yard) sale or flea market.
You may even be able to find newer models such as the T440, T540 and X240 on the lenovo US outlet for under $500 if you’re lucky.

If for some reason, you have the urge to start collecting ThinkPads, particularly the older 3-digit series (3xx, 5xx, 7xx), you can find many in Thrift Stores, Garage Sales and Flea Markets (car boot sale, Trash & Treasury, etc) for under $15 each, and in working condition as well, but may not include a charger. But please don’t go do that, I don’t need any more competitors snatching up all the precious collectible ThinkPads 😉

WARNING!
Never EVER buy ThinkPads with BIOS locked (Supervisor) passwords, you cannot reset it by taking out the CMOS battery. The Supervisor password is stored on a chip and requires special equipment to extract it or a complete motherboard replacement.
If you do know what you’re doing, there is a $100 tool which can be used to recover the BIOS/Supervisor password from almost any ThinkPad (except some SL models) available at www.ja.axxs.net.
This link shows BIOS Password Contact Points for each model.
There are a number of ways to check if the ThinkPad is safe to buy, make sure it can actually access the BIOS. Sellers selling parted out ThinkPads that “Boot to BIOS” are safe. For you collectors out there, if the old ThinkPad cannot advance past the 00161 and 00163 (Dry CMOS battery/No time set) errors, there’s a good chance that the BIOS is locked because the time couldn’t be set.

Computrace
If your laptop comes with Computrace enabled, there’s a chance that the laptop was stolen, or the previous owner forgot to disable it. You and your ThinkPad can still be tracked and be remotely disabled if Computrace is enabled.

There’s an empty WWAN/PCI-E slot in my ThinkPad, what can I use it for?
On models with Core i-Series G2 and newer (X220, T420, etc.), you can install a bootable mSATA SSD module (currently up to 1TB) in the empty slot. On older ThinkPads (X201, T410 or older), you cannot install mSATA SSDs, they will not work at all. hwtools.net has a lot of interesting things you can put in a regular WWAN/PCI-E slot such as SD card slots and connectors for external GPUs. In order to use these special PCI-E cards, you will need to remove the Wi-Fi whitelist, which involves flashing a custom BIOS.

Should you get a genuine lenovo battery or a cheap Generic battery?
It is tempting to cheap out on a battery for your ThinkPad. There are a few things to keep in mind if you’re thinking of getting a generic battery.

  • Generic batteries rarely have their advertised capacity.
  • The batteries usually come with 70-80% of the designed capacity of the Genuine battery
  • Can be a lot bulkier or have a different design
  • The battery meter isn’t very reliable but slowly gets better as you charge it more. For example; the battery will work fine till about 15% then instantly jumps to 0% and shut down.

So take your pick, a reliable, but costly (over $100) battery or a slightly annoying and shorter lasting battery for $30.

Can all of those ThinkPads listed play my high quality 10bit Chinese Cartoons Movies and TV Shows?
720p sure, very high bitrate 10bit 1080p playback not guaranteed on Core 2 Duo and ULV CPUs.

Can I play games on the ThinkPad?
See my Netbook Games list. The listed games will play on any ThinkPad listed in this guide.

Does CoreBoot work on a ThinkPad?
CoreBoot has been tested to work on the T60, T530, X60, X200, X201, X220 and X230 models.

Thinking about getting a Hard Drive upgrade?
Make sure you get the Correct size drive otherwise it won’t fit!
Regular Size 2.5” 9.5mm SATA Drive:
T60, T60p, T61, T61p, T400, T500, T410, T420, T510, T520, T530.
X60, X60s, X60 Tablet, X61, X61s, X61 Tablet, X200, X200s, X200 Tablet, X201, X201s, X201 Tablet.
W500, W510, W520, W530.

Slim Size 2.5” 7mm SATA Drive:
T420s, T430, T430s, T430u.
X220, X220 Tablet, X230, X230 Tablet.

1.8” µSATA Drive:
T400s, T410s.
X300, X301.

Intel Processor and Chipset Generations guide:
This section shows the limitations of each Intel chipset generation used in ThinkPads

  • Core Duo/Core 2 Duo G1 = Yonah/Merom Socket M (Napa Centrino Platform)
    Max 3GB DDR2 RAM
    Intel GMA 950
    SATAI 1.5Gbps
  • Core 2 Duo G2 = Merom Socket P/Penryn 800 (Santa Rosa Centrino Platform)
    Max 8GB DDR2 RAM
    Intel GMA X3100
    SATAI 1.5Gbps
    Middleton BIOS mod can unlock SATAII 3Gbps
  • Core 2 Duo G3 = Penryn 1066 (Montevina Centrino Platform)
    Max 8GB DDR3 RAM
    Intel GMA 4500MHD
    SATAII 3Gbps
  • Core i-series G1 = Arrandale (Capella Centrino Platform)
    Max 8GB DDR3 RAM
    Max 32GB DDR3 RAM on the W510 with 4 SODIMM slots
    Intel HD Graphics
    SATAII 3Gbps
  • Core i-series G2 = Sandy Bridge (Huron River Centrino Platform)
    Max 16GB DDR3 RAM
    Max 32GB DDR3 RAM on the W520 with 4 SODIMM slots
    Intel HD 3000 Graphics
    SATAII 3Gbps on mSATA SSD slot
    SATAIII 6Gbps in Main Drive Bay
  • Core i-series G3 = Ivy Bridge (Chief River Centrino Platform)
    Max 32GB DDR3 RAM
    Intel HD 4000 Graphics
    SATAII 3Gbps on mSATA SSD slot
    SATAIII 6Gbps in Main Drive Bay
  • Core i-series G4 = Haswell (Shark Bay Centrino Platform)
    Max 16GB DDR3L RAM on Haswell-U
    Max 32GB DDR3 RAM on Haswell-M
    Intel HD 4400 Graphics on Haswell-U
    Intel HD 4600 Graphics on Haswell-M
    SATAIII 6Gbps or M.2 4x PCI-E 3.0 SSD
  • Core i-series G5 = Broadwell
    Max 16GB DDR3L RAM on Broadwell-U
    Intel HD 5500 Graphics on Broadwell-U
    SATAIII 6gbps or M.2 4x PCI-E 3.0 SSD

Core 2 Duo Generations 1-3 refer to the Centrino chipset generation, not the CPU generation because some models such as the T61 offer both Merom 65nm and Penryn 45nm CPUs on the same chipset.

These are the current prices in the US.
Prices listed are in $USD

Thanks to ThinkWiki for the ThinkPad pictures.
Please visit ThinkWiki.org for more details such as specifications of each ThinkPad.

Alternatives

HP EliteBook
Dell Latitude / Precision / XPS
Apple MacBook Air / Pro

Please use the comment section if you want to ask questions about ThinkPads, I can’t easily respond to anonymous questions in the “ASK ME ANYTHING” section. Just use a throwaway email account if you don’t want to give your real email to Disqus.

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