Used ThinkPad Buyer's Guide

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I would like to thank KTGee.net for creating the original guide, which is now offline. I was able to contact them, and they merely no longer desired to maintain it. I would credit the person themselves - but they stated they wished to remain anonymous.

Updated often!

Prices shouldn't be off more than $50 USD.

Adding ThinkPad Yoga, xx60, xx70, L,P, and Carbon Series currently.

Why ThinkPad?

  • They’re incredibly 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.
  • On older models - Utilitarian design, indicator LEDs, great keyboard key layout. (That's why some older models are actually worth more, for those used to the older keyboard, build, and aspect ratio. )
  • Docking solutions that easily turns your laptop into a desktop (some models, old and new, can even use external GPUs!) just by setting 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 and other tasks requiring fine movement, such as artwork/design.

Recommendations

  • The first thing you should do when you get your ThinkPad is to format it and install a fresh copy of Windows or your favorite flavor of Linux on it to make it run as efficiently as possible. It gets rid of any risk of viruses and unneeded bloatware that some people left over or preinstalled for you.
  • If it has a traditional hard drive, replace it with a solid state drive asap. This goes for all computers - not just ThinkPads. Check out this guide on how to do a clean Windows install. To install drivers and firmware updates quickly (In Windows), use Lenovo System Update.
  • If there's one thing ThinkPads have variance of quality on, it is the screen. Some models practically guarantee a 'good' screen - others are a mixed bag. If you care in particular about screen quality, get either an IPS or a touchscreen model. Even better, install an IPS screen after purchase. They are typically not difficult to install, but you should see if you are comfortable with the process by looking up '<model> screen replacement' in YouTube. Note, when looking for a model with IPS or touchscreen - you can expect to pay $100+ more than the prices listed in this guide. This is normal, and in my opinion, often worth the expense.
  • Click on the 'x Series' headings for specs on models in that series.
  • With the findings regarding Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities, we still don't know which processors will be patched. It's possible that none of those in this list will be. I doubt that however, as the world essentially runs on legacy hardware - but something to keep in mind. Spectre and Meltdown in 2 minutes here.
  • Scroll to the end for benchmark comparisons and other buying tips.

Overview

Partially updated June 2018

This Buyers Guide covers ThinkPads new enough to fully support Windows 10 with all updates - with options available from $50 on up!

Used ThinkPads are cheap because they are business-grade computers - and business-grade equipment is purchased new typically every 3-4 years. This is fantastic for the smart or thrifty, as software requirements haven't changed much since mid 2011. Even better, business-grade PC's tend to last far longer, and function far more consistently than consumer or even 'prosumer'-grade technology.

This is a freely offered guide on technology that I, and many others, consider to be the best of the best. That said, your mileage may vary - I can't promise how much you will like it. :)


There are 2 prices for each model in this guide: The prices listed in BOLD are the outright buying price. This is what you can expect to pay if you want to buy a ThinkPad immediately. Prices do vary for higher-spec models however.

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 lucky, you can get one well below the listed auction prices.

Questions?

Please use the subreddit if you want to ask questions about ThinkPads, but please read this guide carefully before asking questions, or use the subreddit search feature. No one likes to answer something that has already been answered.

Also, sauceyjames has put together extended eBay and Local buying guides at www.dankpads.com.


Need to find the best software to run on your new ThinkPad? I've compiled a Free Resource Directory here.

T Series (Medium sized laptop)

If you don’t know what size you want, just go for this series.

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. They also usually cost more than a regular T series.

T series models with a ‘p’ suffix (eg. T61p) means they’re more powerful than the regular Tseries and some come with stronger dedicated GPUs. These are similar to the 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 too slow. i3 models are serviceable.



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.

Notice:

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... okayish? You can transplant the T450 TrackPad into the T440.

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.

Extremely Affordable / Slower (Comparable to low-end new)

Expected specs: 2-4GB RAM, an HDD or SSD of any size.

  • T60 (14.1", 15" or 15.4" Core Duo/Core 2 Duo G1) - $75, $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
  • T400 (14.1" Core 2 Duo G3) - $100
  • T500 (15.4" Core 2 Duo G3) - $100


Good Value / Faster (Comparable to mid-range new)

Expected specs: 2 - 4GB + RAM, an HDD or SSD of any size.

  • T410 (14.1" Core i-series G1) - $60, $130
  • T510 (15.6" Core i-series G1) - ~$100, $150
  • T420 (14" Core i-series G2) - ~$100, $130
  • T520 (15.6" Core i-series G2) - ~$100, $140

Relatively New / Very Fast (Comparable to high-end new)

14" inch screens.

Expected specs: 4GB + RAM, an HDD or SSD of any size.

  • T430 (14" Core i-series G3) - ~$120, $160
  • T440 (14" Core i-series G4) - ~$140, $160
  • T450 (14" Core i-series G5) - $150, $290
  • T460 (14" Core i-series G6) - $320, $460

Relatively New / Very Fast (Comparable to high-end new)

15.6" inch screens.

Expected specs: 4GB + RAM, an HDD or SSD of any size.

  • T530 (15.6" Core i-series G3) - ~$100, $150
  • T540 (15.6" Core i-series G4) - ~$130, $200
  • T550 (15.6" Core i-series G5) - $300, $450
  • T560 (15.6" Core i-series G6) - $400, $550

X Series (Small sized laptop)

Portable and great battery life.

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.


Notice:

The X240 doesn’t have physical TrackPoint buttons, which might be a no-go for TrackPoint fans, but if you’re okay with Touchpads, then they’re...okayish?

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 and Pentiums - stick with i3 as the minimum configuration for a reasonable experience.

Extremely Affordable / Slower (Comparable to low-end new)

Expected specs: 2GB + RAM, an HDD or SSD of any size.

  • X60 (12.1" Core Duo/Core 2 Duo G1) - ~$100
  • X61 (12.1" Core 2 Duo G2) - ~$100
  • X200 (12.1" Core 2 Duo G3) - $100
  • X201 (12.1" Core i-series G1) - ~$100, $125


Good Value / Faster (Comparable to mid-range new)

Expected specs: 4GB + RAM, an HDD or SSD of any size.

  • X220 (12.5" Core i-series G2) - ~$145, $175

Relatively New / Very Fast (Comparable to high-end new)

Expected specs: 4GB + RAM, an HDD or SSD of any size.

  • X230 (12.5" Core i-series G3) - ~$1 75, $200
  • X240 (12.5" Core i-series G4) - ~$190, $225
  • X250 (12.5" Core i-series G5) - ~$250, $350


Rare/Oddities

Expected specs: 4GB + RAM, an HDD or SSD of any size.

X300 (13.3" Core 2 Duo G2) - ~$150, $190

X301 (13.3" Core 2 Duo G3) - ~$160, $230

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?

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 far too slow.


There are some X60/X61 Tablet models that have a 1400x1050 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.

Extremely Affordable / Slower (Comparable to low-end new)

Expected specs: 2GB + RAM, an HDD or SSD of any size.

  • X60 Tablet (12.1" Core Duo/Core 2 Duo G1) - <$100
  • X61 Tablet (12.1" Core 2 Duo G2) - <$100
  • X200 Tablet (12.1" Core 2 Duo G3) - ~$120, $140
  • X201 Tablet (12.1" Core i-series G1) - ~$150, $210


Good Value / Faster (Comparable to mid-range new)

Expected specs: 4GB + RAM, an HDD or SSD of any size.

  • X220 Tablet (12.5" Core i-series G2) - ~$200, $270
  • X230 Tablet (12.5" Core i-series G3) - $240, $300


Rare

Expected specs: 2GB + RAM, an HDD or SSD of any size.

X60 Tablet/X61 Tablet 1400x1050 - ~$170, $280

W Series (Desktop Replacement)

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


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, -ds stands for dual screen! - it costs $1700 as of 1 August 2014.

(All of these I would consider fast)

  • 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 Quad-Capable) - <$340, $360+
  • W520 (15.6" Core i-series G2 Quad-Capable) - <$450+

X1 Carbon (Exceptionally Thin and Light)

Like the MacBook Air size, but want something even lighter - yet more powerful? AND more durable? You found it.


X1 Carbon models are, in my opinion, the best and most featureful thin-and-light computers available.

The X1 Yoga will be covered in the next section.

Notice:

The X1 Carbon G2 doesn’t have physical TrackPoint buttons, which might be a no-go for TrackPoint fans, but if you’re okay with Touchpads, then they’re...okayish? It also has an odd keyboard layout and a TouchBar top row. Yes, it was released years before the MacBook TouchBar.

(All of these I would consider fast)

  • X1 Carbon G1 (14" Core i-series G3) - <$220, $300+
  • X1 Carbon G2 (14" Core i-series G4) - <$250, $350+
  • X1 Carbon G3 (14" Core i-series G5) - <$450, $550+
  • X1 Carbon G4 (14" Core i-series G6) - <$500, $750+

Coverage of more models in progress.

Other Important Info

Found an older model not in this guide?

For stuff like T42, X41 or earlier, don’t bother, unless you’re collecting.


'Other' Series

Unless the deal is excellent, avoid:

  • R-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, Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree, your local newspaper, garage/yard sale or flea market.

You may even be able to find newer ThinkPads such as the xx70 models on the Lenovo US Outlet for under $500 if you’re lucky.


Here are a few tips for buying a ThinkPad in-person.

  1. Check for physical damage. Make sure you’re happy with the physical condition of the ThinkPad that you’re buying.
  2. Make sure there’s a charger and it works
  3. Turn on the laptop, make sure everything lights up. While it’s in the boot screen, press the Blue ThinkVantage button. It should go into the BIOS with no password.
  4. Navigate the BIOS menus, in Security, make sure no other password is set and Intel AMT and Computrace is Inactive or Disabled. (Check the right side of the BIOS screen for current status.)
  5. If the hard drive is working, it should boot into an existing OS unless the listing states, NO OS INCLUDED.

BIOS LOCK 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.

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.

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 movies and TV shows?

720p sure, very high bitrate 10bit 1080p playback not guaranteed on Core 2 Duo and ULV CPUs. 3rd gen core I series such as present in the T430, X230, etc, have more graphics-capable CPU's.


Can I play games on a ThinkPad?

With an eGPU (provided it's supported by your model) or a dedicated GPU model, your results should be pretty good. Integrated graphics means don't expect much beyond emulators and indie retro stuff.


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 / Solid State 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.

CPU Performance is measured by Geekbench 4, Single Core/Multi Core.

GPU Performance is measured by 3DMark06. (No dedicated graphics benches)

PS: These performance numbers have been obtained from Notebookcheck.net for GPU scores and Geekbench 4 for CPU scores. I did not run these benchmarks myself.

  • Core Duo/Core 2 Duo G1 = Yonah/Merom Socket M (Napa Centrino Platform)
  • Max 3GB DDR2 RAM
  • Intel GMA 950
  • SATAI 1.5Gbps
  • DDR2 RAM is currently more expensive than DDR3 RAM
  • CPU Score (T5600): 1000sc/1600mc
  • LV CPU Score (L2400): 750sc/1350mc
  • Intel GPU Score: 130
  • Core 2 Duo G2 = Merom Socket P/Penryn 800 (Santa Rosa Centrino Platform)
  • Max 4GB DDR2 RAM (8GB unofficially)
  • Intel GMA X3100
  • SATAI 1.5Gbps
  • Middleton BIOS mod can unlock SATAII 3Gbps
  • DDR2 RAM is currently more expensive than DDR3 RAM
  • CPU Score (T7300): 1100sc/1950mc
  • LV CPU Score (L7500): 800sc/1500mc
  • Intel GPU Score: 400
  • Core 2 Duo G3 = Penryn 1066 (Montevina Centrino Platform)
  • Max 8GB DDR3 RAM
  • Intel GMA 4500MHD
  • SATAII 3Gbps
  • These are picky on which DDR3 modules would work, 1066MHz speed modules are your best bet, but they are more expensive than newer, faster DDR3 modules.
  • CPU Score (P8400): 1280sc/2250mc
  • LV CPU Score (L9400): 1000sc/1800mc
  • Intel GPU Score: 740
  • 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
  • CPU Score (i5-540M): 1970sc/3700mc
  • LV CPU Score (i7-620LM): 1700sc/3200mc
  • Intel GPU Score: 1500
  • 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
  • CPU Score (i5-2520M): 2400sc/5000mc
  • Intel GPU Score: 3400
  • 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
  • CPU Score (i5-3320M): 2800sc/5700mc
  • LV CPU Score (i5-3317U): 2200sc/4300mc
  • Intel GPU Score: 4500
  • 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
  • CPU Score (i5-4200M): 2800sc/6000mc
  • LV CPU Score (i5-4200U): 2500sc/4700mc
  • Intel M GPU Score: 6300
  • Intel U GPU Score: 5100
  • Core i-series G5 = Broadwell
  • Max 16GB DDR3L RAM (32GB unofficially) on Broadwell-U
  • Intel HD 5500 Graphics on Broadwell-U
  • SATAIII 6gbps or M.2 4x PCI-E 3.0 SSD
  • LV CPU Score (i5-5200U): 2600sc/5300mc
  • Intel U GPU Score: 7000
  • Core i-series G6 = Skylake
  • Max 32GB DDR3L/DDR4 RAM on Skylake-U
  • Intel HD 520 Graphics on Skylake-U
  • SATAIII 6gbps or M.2 4x PCI-E 3.0 SSD
  • LV CPU Score (i5-6200U): 3000sc/5600mc
  • Intel U GPU Score: 8600
  • Core i-series G7 = Kaby Lake
  • Max 32GB DDR3L/DDR4 RAM on Kaby Lake-U
  • Intel HD 620 Graphics on Kaby Lake-U
  • SATAIII 6gbps or M.2 4x PCI-E 3.0 SSD
  • LV CPU Score (i5-7200U): 3500sc/6700mc
  • Intel U GPU Score: 9600

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 www.ThinkWiki.org for more details such as specifications of each ThinkPad.