The Thinkpad T450s is Lenovo’s latest addition to the legendary Thinkpad T series. This update brings Broadwell and several other refinements, but most notably a much needed trackpad redesign. An ultrabook aimed squarely at professionals, the T450s carefully balances portability, power and features in a semi-rugged 3.5 pound package. It’s an earnest refinement to the T440s and I believe the best Thinkpad in recent years. Let’s take a look at how it stacks up.

First, a little background. Since IBM Thinkpads first debuted in the early 90s, the series has been synonymous with business. For the past decade however, Lenovo has been the brand’s steward. Even so, Thinkpads have remained wildly popular amongst enterprise and government customers for its continued blend of durability, performance and business-centric features.

Enter the Thinkpad T series. Nearly 15 years ago (wow, really?) I bought my first Thinkpad. As one of the earliest of its kind, my newly acquired T21 was seriously high-tech machinery in 2000. Since then, the Thinkpad lineup has expanded but the T remains Lenovo’s best selling laptop. It’s clear the company has a winning formula and they are very careful not to deviate from it.

The T450s succeeds the T440s which debuted in Q3 2013. This latest model brings Broadwell and a small footprint reduction. Perhaps the most important update though is a redesigned trackpad, but more on that in a bit. The best qualities from its prior model endure, namely dual batteries, CFP (carbon fiber reinforced plastic) lid and IPS display. Any and all changes made since the last model seem only positive.

Hardware Overview and CPU Performance

Lenovo ThinkPad T450s
Starts at $953.10, $1,350 as tested

  • Intel Core i7-5600-U
  • 8GB DDR3L (4GB removable, 4GB non-removeable)
  • 128GB Toshiba SSD
  • 14-inch 1920x1080 IPS anti-glare display
  • 3 x USB 3.0 ports
  • 1 x VGA port, mini DisplayPort, rectangular charging port, Kensington lock, 3.5mm headset jack
  • Smartcard reader
  • Backlit keyboard
  • 3.5 pounds, 0.83 inches thick
  • 45Wh battery (2 x 3-cell 27.5Wh)

At the time of this review, our review unit (i7-5600U, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, 1080p IPS display, 3-year warranty) was priced at $1350. For reference, the T450s base model (i5-5200U, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD, 1600x900 LCD) runs about $900. Fully decked out (i7-5600U, 20GB RAM, 500GB SSD, 1080p IPS touchscreen), the T450s reaches north of $2100.

Design

Love or hate the aesthetic, there’s no question this is a Thinkpad. Don’t let its black plastic looks fool you: the bottom case and internal rollcage are made of magnesium alloy which eliminates flex but keeps things light. The carbon fiber lid allows stable lid opening/closing with a single hand. The Thinkpad T’s customary mil-spec design, tight tolerances and spill-proof keyboard are all here. All in all, our T450s gives me every indication it plans on sticking around.

The body measures 0.83 inches thick and stands about 1-inch tall at rest thanks to its rubber feet. At 3.5 pounds, this 14-inch ultrabook is particularly light for being semi-rugged. By comparison, it weighs about the same as a 13-inch 2014 Macbook Pro. A touchscreen upgrade though will bump it to about 3.7 pounds.

Performing upgrades to the T450s is as simple as popping off the bottom half of the case. It just takes a few screws, but removal is slightly more challenging than opening the typical small compartment door on most laptops. Upgradeable items include storage drive, RAM and M.2 slots.

Connectivity

The Thinkpad T450s is well-equipped for connecting to a variety of devices. Dual video outputs (VGA, Mini DisplayPort), 3 x USB 3.0 ports, 3.5mm headset jack (TRRS 4-conductor) and an optional smartcard reader will have the needs of most covered.

Gigabit ethernet is standard while various WLAN and WWLAN options are available. Our unit shipped with a slightly upgraded 2x2 Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265 WLAN + Bluetooth 4.0 module.

There’s also a docking interface to connect an optional port replicator (e.g. Ultradock Series 3) which makes floating between mobile and workstation modes seamless. The dock adds tons of ports as well.

Speakers, software and webcam

Our T450s shipped with Windows 8. And yes, Windows 7 is still an option. Regardless of your choice, everyone qualifies for free upgrade to Windows 10. If you can forgive Lenovo for included a trial version of McAfee and various links to Lenovo services, our Thinkpad was effectively junkware free. Historically, Thinkpads have featured Thinkvantage, a strong suite of software tools for managing power, wireless, hotkeys and system features. These are still available for Windows 7. However, Lenovo has essentially replaced this suite with its own self-branded, appified management utilities for Windows 8 users.

As an ultrabook, the integrated speakers actually exceeded my expectations for loudness and fidelity. Don’t get the wrong impression: your guests won’t be dancing to these at your next house party. But they’re above average for similarly sized ultrabooks. The speakers themselves are tucked away underneath the laptop. Rubber feet elevate the laptop, so this actually works pretty well.

The included Dolby audio control panel gives users a surprising amount fine-tuning capability with features like volume normalization and an equalizer. No matter the laptop however, headphones and external speakers will always provide superior audio.

The T450s’ unimpressive 720p webcam is pretty much standard-issue for all laptops: low resolution and grainy low light performance. It’s not inspiring but you’ll be glad you have it when you need it.

CPU/Processor

There are three Intel Core processors to choose from: i7-5600U, i5-5300U and i5-5200U. While the i7-5600U, commands a $300 premium over the base model, it’s roughly 10 percent faster than the i5-5300U which costs $200 less. If you need extra power, the i5-5300U is probably the smart buy here. Otherwise, the i5-5200U should meet most users’ needs.

Our review unit shipped with a i7-5600U. This CPU is a 15-watt ULV (ultra low voltage) part based on Intel’s Broadwell architecture. Broadwell is essentially Haswell with a die shrink (22nm to 14nm), updated graphics and some added optimizations. Like the Haswell i7-4600U, the i7-5600U is dual-core and quad-threaded. However, Broadwell’s advantage is significant power savings, updated graphics (HD 4400 to 5500) and a tiny bump in performance (roughly 5%).