The Lenovo ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition ($1,899) packs the technology and features of a modern business laptop built on the class-leading Lenovo ThinkPad T470, but with subtle touches of ThinkPads past including a non-chiclet keyboard, a choice of three TrackPoint caps, and red, green, and blue accents on its logo. This unique laptop celebrates the past 25 years of Lenovo’s flagship brand, but with modern components like a seventh-generation Intel Core i7 processor, Windows 10 Pro, and a Thunderbolt 3 port.
ThinkPad Through the Years
Lenovo (formerly IBM) includes a short book about the history of ThinkPad line in the system’s packaging. The ThinkPad 300, 700, and 700c were IBM’s first set of ThinkPad laptops introduced in 1992. While the new ThinkPads are thinner and much lighter, the family resemblance continues, from the soft-touch black exterior to the red accent from the TrackPoint cap in the center of the comfy keyboard.
PC Magazine reviewed the ThinkPad 700c in the December 22, 1992 issue, and we called the $4,350 configuration “a workhorse” thanks to its 25MHz 486SLC processor, 8MB of RAM, and a 120MB hard drive. This was a 10.4-inch color laptop that lasted weighed 7.6 pounds and lasted two to three hours on battery power. We’ve certainly come a long way since then.
Design and Aesthetics
The 25th anniversary edition chassis matches the ThinkPad T470 in both physical dimensions at 0.79 by 13.25 by 9.15 inches (HWD) and weight (3.73 pounds). The retro touches start on the top lid, with multi-colored (red, blue, and green) letters on the ThinkPad logo, and continue when you open the lid and expose the old-school non-chiclet keyboard with its signature blue Enter key. It looks very similar to the keyboard on the 2011 ThinkPad T420s, but the feel of the key strokes and the switches underneath are more modern and as sturdy as today’s laptops. Also, the one-piece touchpad is wide like the one on the T470, and not narrow like the T420’s. The keyboard is backlit, fitting current aesthetics better than the screen-mounted “ThinkLight” used on ThinkPads from 2011 and earlier that simply threw a beam of light on top of the keyboard. A fingerprint reader to the right of the keyboard works with Windows Hello for a one-touch login, and the system also features an IR camera for logging in with a glance.
A 720p HD webcam is in its usual place above the screen. It is optimized for Skype for Business, and is perfectly suited to web conferences. Likewise, the built-in speakers produce excellent speech audio, though audio from movie trailers and action videos was a bit muddled in our testing.
The keyboard has the “seven-row” layout common to pre-2012 ThinkPads, including an enlarged ESC key, function keys that act as F1 to F12 by default (you can of course change this), the PrtScn key and other auxiliary keys above the function keys instead of in the bottom row, etc. The keycaps are traditionally shaped, that is to say they’re curved, but not as scalloped as modern ones. I’d rather type on this keyboard than a laptop with slippery and flat chiclet-style keys, like the 15-inch Samsung Notebook 9 Pro. Again, it’s a nostalgia trip for ’90s users, but it may take a bit of time to relearn this keyboard layout.
While you read about the ThinkPad’s past, you can relive some of that experience with an included set of three TrackPoint caps. Lenovo includes the mushroom-shaped (Soft Dome) cap that comes with every current ThinkPad, but there is also a convex cup-shaped one (the Soft Rim), and two eraser-shaped (Classic Dome) caps in case you want the tactile experience from the late 1990s to mid-2000s. All three types of caps work well, though we are partial to the Soft Rim cap. Folks raised on touchpads likely won’t care, but pointing stick comfort was an important differentiator before touch screens, touchpads, and multitouch support for both became commonplace.
The 14-inch touch screen has a full HD resolution and a matte finish. The latter helps quell reflections, especially compared with the glossy screens on the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch and the Dell XPS 13 Touch. However, the downside to the matte finish is that colors appear slightly duller. That said, both text and graphics look sharp on the display.
Excellent Connectivity (but No DVD or Floppy)
The anniversary edition doesn’t go overboard with the nostalgia and include a floppy or optical drive. Instead, its side panels match the ThinkPad T470, which has an excellent set of I/O ports. On the left side, there’s a USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port for SSDs or 4k monitors. You can also use the port with a USB-C charger or Thunderbolt 3 docking station. Also on the left, there is a traditional USB 3.0 port and the ThinkPad AC adapter connector. On the right, you’ll find an Ethernet port, an HDMI jack, a headset jack, a Kensington lock port, an SD card reader, and two more USB 3.0 ports. This wide selection matches other mainstream laptops like the Dell Latitude 14 7000 (7480). This array of ports is a lot more convenient than those on the MacBook Pro, which only has USB-C connectors that require clunky adapters for USB Type-A, HDMI, or Ethernet connectivity. 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4 handle wireless connections.
The system comes with a seventh-generation Intel Core i7-7500U CPU, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. The CPU choice, memory, and the SSD capacity are all a bit above average, giving you quite a bit of future proofing. Other business PCs like the Apple MacBook Pro come with Core i5 processors and smaller 128GB or 256GB SSDs. The Dell Latitude 7480 has a Core i7 processor too, but includes only 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD for about the same price ($1,849).
Good Battery Life, Discrete Graphics
Back in the day, many ThinkPads came with discrete graphics. Integrated graphics performance was subpar in the early part of this century, and barely existent in the 1990s. Most modern ThinkPads (and business PCs in general) eschew discrete graphics to save money and curtail power usage. However, the ThinkPad anniversary edition comes with Nvidia GeForce 940MX discrete graphics. On our 3D testing, it was the only business PC able to produce smoothly playable frame rates on the Heaven (38fps, or frames per second) and Valley (48fps) tests at medium quality settings. Predictably, frame rates dropped at Ultra quality settings, but they were still tops in this group. The system also topped the 3DMark Cloud Gate and Fire Strike Extreme tests. You should be able to easily play games like Minecraft and Diablo III during work breaks, but newer games like Destiny 2 will be a bit beyond its means.
Thanks to its Core i7 processor, this ThinkPad made short work of the PCMark 8 Work Conventional test (3,207 points) and multimedia tests like Handbrake (1:57), Cinebench (375 points), and Photoshop (3:40). Its scores lagged the Apple MacBook Pro on Handbrake and Cinebench, and the Dell Latitude 7480 on PCMark 8 and Photoshop, but were competitive with systems like the HP EliteBook 1040 G3, the ThinkPad T470, and the Toshiba Tecra X40-D.
Battery life was good, lasting 11 hours, 48 minutes on our rundown test. We don’t say very good because, though it lasted this long on its included slim removable battery and built-in secondary battery, the ThinkPad T470 managed 17:39 using a combination of its internal battery and an extended removable battery. The system lasted 5 hours, 34 minutes on the internal battery alone, a safety net that gives the ThinkPad the ability to hot-swap the removable battery for a fresh one. The Apple MacBook Pro lasted longer on its internal battery (16:26), but both ThinkPads lasted many hours longer than the HP EliteBook 1030 G3 (6:55).
A Solid Laptop With a Side of Nostalgia
A quarter century is a long time, and in that span, many PC makers have started up, and countless others have shuttered. But for those 25 years, the ThinkPad brand has remained near the top of the charts, and has influenced the “must-have” features and laptop design. The top PC makers still put pointing stick controllers on their mainstream business laptops to this day because so many businesses bought ThinkPads in the 1990s and the 2000s. Overall, the Lenovo ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition provides a nice walk down memory lane, but is perfectly useable in 2017. If you like the single configuration offered, it adds the nostalgia of the 1990s to a modern business laptop that will please ThinkPad fans and folks who miss the laptops of yore. It’s been fun putting this limited-edition laptop through its paces. For your mainstream business-user needs, we still recommend the Lenovo ThinkPad T470 for its flexible configurations.