Lenovo ThinkPad T61: A Modern Classic Notebook

Though it may not please lovers of the classic style, the modern notebook market is ruled by quite different trends now. Even such ultra-conservative products as ThinkPad have to change with the times. Read more in our detailed review!

by Alexey Drozzin
09/24/2007 | 11:42 AM

The legendary ThinkPad has undergone the most significant change in this century so far – it now comes with widescreen displays. This is not the only innovation brought about by the new ThinkPad 61 series, and all of them will be described below.

Exterior Design

 

The overall design concept of the ThinkPad series hasn’t changed much in the last few years. You can see the same jet black color, the shape of the case and lid, and the red dot of a TrackPoint, just as on earlier ThinkPad products.

The only thing you may find missing on brief inspection is red-blue-green IBM logos. They have been replaced with inconspicuous ThinkPad emblems, not with Lenovo’s own logotypes.



At first glance the exterior design remained almost the same

The material of the case is as practical as before. It is coarse plastic, resistant to scratches and wear. Practicality is the main priority here. The plastic might have been thicker, though. It sags unpleasantly above cavities in the case (the modular bay, the PCMCIA and ExpressCard slots). I don’t think it’s something serious, yet the notebook feels somewhat fragile in your hands, which is not the kind of feeling you expect from an expensive business machine.


The red-blue-green IBM logo is no longer on the top

The exterior of the lid has a rubberized coating from the so-called soft plastic. It is indeed soft and agreeable to the touch. It is also practical because the notebook is less likely to slip out of your hands. This surface is more resistant to small damage than the ascetic plastic the rest of the ThinkPad case is made from.


The massive top lid catches your eye

One could even wish to return to the good old times when the entire case of the ThinkPad would be covered with that miraculous material.

Lenovo ThinkPad T61: Specifications

Form-factor

Dual-spindle notebook

Platform

Intel Centrino Duo (Santa Rosa)

CPU

Intel Core 2 Duo T7300:
- Two cores
- 2000MHz clock speed
- 4096KB L2 cache
- FSB 800MHz

Chipset

Intel PM965 North Bridge
ICH8-M South Bridge

Memory

2048MB DDR2-667
Two expansion slots on the mainboard

Video subsystem

NVIDIA Quadro NVS 140M
128MB of proprietary DDR3 memory

Display

14” diagomal
16:10 format
WXGA+ (1440x900) resolution
200 nit brightness
Matt screen surface

HDD

Serial ATA 100GB HDD with 7200rpm spindle rotation speed
1GB Intel Turbo Memory module

Optical drive

DVD-Supermulti Dual Layer
Modular design: the optical drive can be replaced
with a second hard disk drive or additional battery

Communications

10/100/1000Mbit/s Local network adapter
802.11a/b/g/draft-n wireless network adapter
Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR module
56Kbit/s modem

I/O ports

3 x USB 2.0
1 x IEEE 1394 (i.LINK, FireWire)
1 x PCMCIA
1 x ExpressCard|54
1 x VGA (external monitor output)
1 x RJ-11 (modem)
1 x RJ-45 (network)
1 x mic In
1 x headset Out
1 x doc-station connector

Audio

Intel High Definition Audio system
Two built-in speakers
Built-in mono mic

Input devices

Keyboard
Touchpad
TrackPoint
Dactyloscopic sensor

Power

Li-Ion, 6 elements: up to 3.8 hours of battery life
65W PSU

Dimensions

335.5 x 237 x 27.6-31.9 mm

Weight

2.27kg with 4-element battery
2.37kg with 6-element battery

Warranty

1 year warranty
Can be extended to 5 years for additional charge

Price
at the time of review

$964 in base configuration
$1469 as the one tested today

Accessories

We’ve got an engineering sample of the notebook, so I can’t tell you about the accessories you’ll find included with the off-the-shelf product. Our sample came with such necessities as power adapter and documentation as well as with two spare tips for the TrackPoint. Of course, Lenovo targets its products at the corporate user in the first place. Besides everything else, this targeting implies a broad range of various options and accessories available for purchase. You can order several types of docking stations, devices for the modular bay, additional batteries, bags and what not for using together with the notebook. The list is very long – I’ve enumerated only the most interesting and useful accessories.

Ergonomics

Input Devices

The keyboard hasn’t changed at all since the previous generations of the ThinkPad series. Its mechanical properties are good and its layout hasn’t changed a bit. I’ve got a few complaints about the layout, by the way. Long-time ThinkPad users should have got used to them already, but you may want to know them if you are planning to buy your first ThinkPad.


Keyboard

First, the Fn button occupies the place of the left Control. Second, the Esc button is shifted up while the functional buttons (F1 to F12) are shifted leftwards by one button. As a result, you often hit F2 instead of F1, F3 instead of F2, etc. It’s not good as these buttons are assigned frequently used functions in Windows.

Third, the integration of the Back and Forward buttons into the block of Arrow keys doesn’t seem right to me. An accidental press on one of them during the process of editing an email letter in a web-interface or at a forum can be most annoying.

The touchpad is quite handy, sensitive and as large as necessary, but its buttons are too close to the edge of the case, which is not very convenient.


Touchpad and trackpoint

As before, ThinkPad notebooks come not only with a touchpad, but also with a mini-joystick called TrackPoint. The latter is optional, though. Don’t forget to order it if you need one.


Additional buttons

The additional buttons are scanty: three of them control the sound volume of the integrated speakers and the fourth evokes the ThinkVantage control center that provides access to various system features and to a Help system.


Indicators

System indicators are placed in the right part of the case. They are green and amber, but one is blue. Logically enough, this LED reports the status of the Bluetooth interface. What other color should it be?


Dactyloscopic sensor

The last thing I want to mention is the fingerprint scanner. Note that this useful feature is optional. It is not available on all the configurations.

Interfaces

Although the set of interfaces typical of the ThinkPad series is steadily changing, there are still omissions in it. For example, the card-reader is only an optional accessory for the ThinkPad T61. Moreover, you have to sacrifice the ExpressCard/54 slot for it because you can’t use both simultaneously. The same goes for the smart card reader. In other words, you have to choose between ExpressCard or SD/MMC/MS or Smart Card. Not a good choice at all. It is especially strange as there is quite a lot of free space on the sides of the case.

A card-reader could have been fitted into the right side because there’s nothing else here besides an optical drive and one USB port.

There are more connectors on the left: PCMCIA and ExpressCard/54 slots, two USB ports (for a total of three), an analog output for an external monitor, LAN and modem connectors. The rest of the right panel is a vent hole.

There’s almost nothing useful at the back: most of it is occupied by the battery. Besides the battery, there is a second vent hole and a power connector here.

The front panel offers audio connectors and an IEEE1394 port. A WLAN switch is also placed here, which is logical. Besides wired interfaces the notebook offers two wireless ones, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. It also supports docking stations for more interfaces.

Cooling System

There is no centralized air intake in the ThinkPad T61. Air comes into the case through numerous small holes scattered on the bottom panel – you can’t block all of them at once, even if you try to intentionally, unless you put the notebook down on a flat soft surface (on a sofa, for example). In the latter case it can indeed overheat. But you can use the notebook on your laps without fearing to harm it.

The cooling system is quiet. The noise of its fan can barely be heard when you are running typical office applications. You can only hear it normally when you launch a heavy application that loads both the CPU and graphics card at once, e.g. 3DMark06.

Sound

The ThinkPad T61 has an average sound system. Its integrated speakers are average in terms of sound quality and volume. This quality won’t satisfy an audiophile, of course, and it is better to connect an external speaker system to listen to music or watch movies. You’ll have to connect it via a standard mini-jack because the ThinkPad T61 is not equipped with more advanced audio interfaces. It is an office, not multimedia, notebook, after all.

Screen

We’ve got a configuration with a more interesting display than usual. Ordinary 14” displays have a native resolution of 1280x800 but this one has a resolution of 1440x900 pixels. This may not seem much, yet the extra 25% of workspace will come in handy, especially for people who process large amounts of information.

The matrix is good quality. It is not IPS, which was employed in some older ThinkPad models, but its contrast ratio and brightness and rather high, and the image look good overall. The viewing angles aren’t wide, which is the typical drawback of TN technology, but this drawback isn’t critical for a business notebook. It may even come in handy when someone is trying to look at the screen from behind your shoulder.

It is also important that the ThinkPad T61 doesn’t use a glossy coating of the display which is so popular among many notebook makers. There are no flares and other light noise on the screen.

Configuration

Processor

The notebook is based on the latest revision of the Intel Centrino Duo platform codenamed Santa Rosa. It also utilizes a new Core 2 Duo processor, the T7300 model.

The CPU has a default clock rate of 2.0GHz and is equipped with 4MB of L2 cache. The FSB frequency is 800MHz. This Core 2 Duo model is the reasonable maximum for today’s office and home tasks.

Chipset and Memory

The platform is based on the Intel PM965 chipset. It is a discrete chipset and the Lenovo ThinkPad T61 uses a standalone graphics core. The rest of the chipset’s features are listed in the diagram.

Here is a list of differences between Intel’s new mobile chipset and its precursor i945PM:

So, the changes are considerable, making this chipset an appealing choice. The developer has taken care of everything – performance, power consumption and functionality. As for memory, the Intel PM965 supports the same maximum amount and frequency as the Intel 945PM, namely 4 gigabytes and DDR2-667 in single- or dual-channel mode.

Our sample comes with two DDR2-667 modules, 1GB each. This is the most optimal solution for a modern mobile system. A larger amount of memory is expensive and requires a 64-bit OS.

Graphics subsystem

Our sample of the ThinkPad T61 comes with a discrete graphics core – a Quadro NVS series solution from Nvidia. You shouldn’t confuse this business series with the professional Quadro FX – the two are quite different and meant for different applications.

The Quadro NVS 140M model installed in the ThinkPad T61 is similar to the Nvidia GeForce 8400M GS. Its characteristics are far from impressive. For example, it has 8 times less streamed processors than top-end GeForce 8800 have. Thus, notwithstanding the formal support of DirectX 10, this graphics solution won’t allow you to enjoy the beauties of new-generation games. It can hardly do well in modern games even.


NVIDIA Quadro NVS 140M graphics adapter

Anyway, this is a not a gaming notebook, and the discrete graphics core is only necessary to reduce CPU load when displaying the Windows Vista interface or reproducing video files, especially HD content.

Other Features

The notebook features the newest wireless adapter Intel PRO/Wireless 4965AGN that supports 802.11a/b/g/draft-n wireless networks.

Also important is the Intel Turbo Memory module with 1GB capacity. It boosts disk subsystem performance and saves power by reducing HDD load.

Performance

As a matter of fact, sheer performance is not a vitally important factor for a business notebook like the Lenovo ThinkPad T61 because a majority of office applications run quickly enough on any modern system (except on notebooks with Intel’s ULV processors whose frequency is set low to save power).

So, the results of the performance tests are published only to provide a fuller picture of the product. I took three notebooks for the comparison’s sake. Like the Lenovo ThinkPad T61, they are all based on the Santa Rosa latform.

And here you can take a look at the results of some of the tests.

PCMark05

Score

CPU

Memory

GPU

HDD

Sony CR11ZR

3941

4629

4048

1970

3558

Lenovo T61

4845

5087

4314

3105

5406

Acer Aspire 5920

5195

5111

4312

4521

5281

ASUS W7S

4562

5335

4436

2057

3700

3DMark06

Score

SM 2.0

SM 3.0

CPU

Sony CR11ZR

828

224

358

1543

Lenovo T61

1618

578

588

1726

Acer Aspire 5920

3565

1435

1328

1748

ASUS W7S

1138

409

394

1920

Doom3 , Medium Quality

 

640x480

800x600

1024x768

Sony CR11ZR

52.0

40.7

27.6

Lenovo T61

99.6

74.2

50.5

Acer Aspire 5920

135.2

112.2

85.2

ASUS W7S

57.7

41.0

27.3

Everything is just as you could expect. The CPU, chipset and memory deliver high enough performance while the graphics subsystem isn’t very fast.

Battery Life

The Lenovo ThinkPad T61 we’ve got for our tests is equipped with a standard battery (5200mAh, 10.8V). It uses 2600mAh power elements, which are the best the market offers today.

The battery doesn’t fit entirely into the battery bay – about half of it protrudes from the back of the notebook. This would be normal for a sub-notebook, but not quite for a 14” model. A 14” notebook usually has enough of space inside the case to accommodate a battery. Slim batteries, which fit entirely into the case, are available for the ThinkPad T61 as well, but their capacity is smaller, and the battery life shortens with them accordingly.

The power adapter is a very nice thing. It is small, much smaller than regular 14” notebooks with discrete graphics come with. The adapter has a special brace for neatly fastening the coil of cable for transportation.

Model

Battery

Battery life, min

mA*h

V

W*h

BE Reader's

DVD

Sony VAIO CR11ZR

4800

11.1

53.28

273

159

Lenovo ThinkPad T61

5200

10.8

56.16

258

147

Acer Aspire 5920

4800

14.8

71.04

284

201

ASUS W7S

7800

11.1

86.58

284

205

The battery life isn’t impressive in comparison with the opponents, yet it is good by itself. The notebook can last over 4 hours in minimum consumption mode. Two hours and a half when playing a DVD should be quite enough for watching a regular movie.

Conclusion

Lacking any extraordinary features, the ThinkPad T61 is a good office-oriented solution. The ThinkPad series has always put a stress on ergonomics, reliability and an abundance of accessories. All of this is still typical of the ThinkPad brand as is exemplified by the T61 model.

Highs:

Lows: