IBM ThinkPad A20p: Linux To Go

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IBM Corp. ThinkPad A20p



In a Nutshell

Rating: 5 Penguins


  • Huge, beautiful 1400×1050 display
  • No problems with Red Hat 7 out of the box
  • Affordable compared to other “desktop replacement” notebooks


  • IBM doesn’t mention or support Linux on this model
  • Too large and heavy to use on an airplane




  • 700 MHz Intel Pentium III processor


  • 384 MB RAM

Hard Drive Space

  • 18 GB hard disk


  • 6x DVD-ROM drive
  • Three-year warranty

Additional Resources

IBM’s high-powered ThinkPad A20p notebook blurs the lines between portable computers and desktop PCs. Based on a 700 MHz Intel Pentium III processor with an 18 GB hard disk, complete with a huge 15-inch 1400×1050-pixel screen, this notebook can hold its own against most desktop systems.

However, at nearly eight pounds, it’s too heavy a notebook to carry around and too large to fit on an airplane tray table or balance on your lap. Think of the ThinkPad A20p notebook as a desktop system with the ability to be hauled home, carried to a field office, or lugged to a hotel room whenever it is necessary.

Running Linux

The system reviewed came equipped with a 6x DVD-ROM drive, 384 MB RAM, and Windows 2000 Professional (go figure). IBM’s support Web site for this ThinkPad provided no information about upgrading to Linux; Linux isn’t even mentioned in a separate “compatibility matrix” document on the IBM site. Thus, we thought Linux wouldn’t support all of the notebook’s special hardware. We also expected the SVGA+ display panel and Crystal Semiconductor sound chip to give us problems.

Fortunately, none of these technologies provided a challenge for Red Hat Linux 7.0. Our only problem was a crash when Xconfigurator attempted to probe the 16 MB ATI Rage Mobility-M3 graphics chip; however, it installed fine on a second try without the probe, the GNOME desktop appearing automatically in an expanded, somewhat fuzzy 800×600 mode. Surprisingly, re-running Xconfigurator and searching through the screen types revealed a 1400×1050 display option. When we tried it, the screen lit up in full resolution, which is excellent for Web surfing or having multiple windows open at once.

Our initial concerns about the audio system were also unjustified; the sound coming from the two stereo speakers was tinny but clear, even when playing a CD-Audio disk. Red Hat 7′s drivers also detected and correctly installed the DVD player, built-in 10/100 Ethernet card, and V.90 modem. GNOME’s battery meter worked with the ThinkPad’s battery management and accurately reported the percentage of charge in the Li-Ion battery and predicted how much runtime remained.

Power and Speed

Once up and running, the ThinkPad was a joy to operate. Not only does its screen best most 17-inch monitors in brightness and resolution, but the computer’s blinding speed, storage capacity, and full array of ports makes it the equal of all but the latest GHz desktops. In addition, having an on-board Ethernet connector is preferable to having to add a separate PCMCIA- or USB-based NIC. We also found the eraser-shaped “TrackPoint” mouse and smooth keyboard perfect for professional writers.

No Respect

Still, considering how much work the open-source community has done to provide drivers for ThinkPad hardware, it would be nice if IBM acknowledged their effort and provided some technical notes or at least listed Linux on its “compatibility matrix” for this computer. But forget about IBM’s obligatory “Built for Windows” stickers — this is one classy notebook that runs Linux with style.

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