Boosting ThinkPad X40 with SSD

by on Sep.02, 2009, under hardware

Some time ago I was able to obtain a beautiful piece of hardware – IBM ThinkPad X40. Long ago I attended a presentation of this ultra portable notebook when the speaker after mentioning the magnesium alloy cover and the active protection system for the hard drive simply took the demo machine, dropped it (while it was still running) on the ground and jumped on it with both feet. Then he placed it back on the table, connected the projector and continued in the presentation like nothing happened. Awesome!

The notebook comes with low voltage version of Pentium M at 1.2GHz with 1MB L2 cache (TDP 12W), 1.5GB RAM, 12″ TFT display @ 1024×768, 40GB hard drive, Gigabit Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth, InfraRed, 56k modem, two USB ports, SD slot (although it should work only with simple SD cards, I’m using a 16GB SanDisk class 6 SDHC card without problems) and a Windows XP Professional licence. The standard battery has capacity of only 2600mAh but thanks to the low power components it gives about 3.5 hours of normal work. High capacity 8-cell battery is available that can provide up to 8 hours.  This all comes in a package less than 1 inch thick and 1.3 kilos light.

I got it together with Ultrabase X4 Dock which has integrated CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive (can be replaced by second hard drive or battery) and more ports (serial, parallel, USB).

The only fault I found so far is the hard drive. The capacity is more than enough but IBM had to make a sacrifice and used 1.8″ 4.2krpm drive that is anything but fast. Another thing is the scary clicking sound it makes periodically – at first I thought it is about to die soon but using it for a while I realized it is feature…

This is a screenshot from HDTach with the original Hitachi DK13FA drive:

Hitachi DK13FA-40B benchmark

Maximum transfer about 21MB/s, random access 21.7ms – nothing but a disaster.

The only HDD replacement I found in regular computer stores here was 80GB drive from Toshiba (kinda expensive at about 250 USD for a new one). I didn’t find any reviews of this drive but I can guess that it won’t be much better than the original.

Yet again I was saved by eBay – I found 1.8″ PATA SSD drive made by KingSpec especially for X40/X41 notebooks. It comes in 32 and 64GB capacity and now costs about 140 / 240 USD including worlwide shipping. I ordered the 32GB version, got it in 2 weeks, replaced the original drive in less than 2 minutes, installed operating system and ran the benchmark:

Stable transfer speed almost 70MB/s and access time 0.2ms – that is more than 100 times faster than the original drive.

By the way – I paid more for the SSD drive than for the notebook with the docking station, but still the whole thing was cheaper than the new Atom-based netbooks that are so hot today. So if you are thinking about buying Asus EEE or the Acer Aspire One,  my advice would be to think again – just check eBay for refurbished ThinkPad X31/X40, replace the hard drive with SSD and you get much better and nicer notebook!

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