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Lenovo ThinkPad T61p Review

DT Editor's Choice

Highs

  • Will out-perform most desktops; super high-res display; decent battery life

Rating

Our Score 8.5
User Score 7

Lows

  • Largely useless software; 5400rpm hard drive
The T61p is a very capable and powerful notebook that should be on any cubicle jockey or road warrior

Summary

Lenovo’s ThinkPad T60 model has been widely recognized as one of the best business notebook’s ever made, and has consistently won recommendations from business users and media alike. In the off season Lenovo took the T60 to the gym, and now it’s back with more muscle than ever before along with an amazingly high-res widescreen display.

Features and Design

Lenovo’s ThinkPad T61p is the company’s top-of-the-line desktop replacement notebook. It’s not ultra-portable, nor is it necessarily for mom and dad. This is a hardcore, power-user notebook with extremely high-end specifications, making it a bleeding edge notebook that’s as future proof as notebooks get. We reviewed the T60p back in April of this year, and now that it’s been revamped and up-armored, it’s time to take another look.

Under the hood

Remember what we said about this being a desktop replacement? Nowhere is that more obvious than in the CPU department, as this rig is running the vaunted T7700 Core 2 Duo processor, which is the fastest mobile processor money can buy. It runs at 2.4GHz and features two CPU cores for extra performance in applications that are multi-threaded.

It also features the latest-and-greatest Intel 965 “Santa Rosa” chipset, which has a faster front side bus speed than the previous version, and also includes faster wireless (covered later), and dynamic bus-clocking for improved battery life.

Our test system came with 2GB of 667MHz DDR2 memory, which is totally sufficient and makes Vista run like the Dickens. You can opt for more memory, but with a 32-bit OS it’s a waste of money since it will not all be recognized.

Ports and Connectors

The right-side of the T61p offers an 8X DVD-R and CD-RW multi-reader, along with two USB ports.

Lenovo T61
The right side of the T61p

The left side is much more busy, sporting a PC card and an Express Card expansion ports. There’s another USB port, headphone and microphone jacks, and Ethernet and dial-up ports.

Lenovo T61p
The left side of the Lenovo T61p

The rear of the T61p is home to the AC power jack, and since this unit shipped with the optional nine-cell battery, we see it poking out the back of the unit about an inch. The six-cell battery lies flush with the back of the notebook.

Lenovo T61p Battery
The 9-cell battery pokes its head out the back just a smidge

Widescreen Wonder

In keeping with the “top-of-the-line” theme of the T61p, its widescreen display is a marvel to behold. It is only 15.4” diagonally, but it sports the absolute highest resolution possible for a display of this size, which is an incredible 1920×1200. It should be noted that this is the same resolution common on most 24” displays, but on a 15.4” display. The downside to this insane resolution is that icons and text are very small, though incredibly fine. The display is not glossy, and has a matte finish to reduce glare.

Video Power

No desktop replacement desktop would be worthy of such a title if it had onboard graphics, and true to form the T61p has discrete graphics care of NVIDIA’S QuadroFX 570M with 256MB of memory. It’s not the best mobile graphics around, but then again this is not billed as a gaming notebook.

Battery Life

We have always advocated getting a big battery when buying a notebook, even if it’s your desktop replacement. You might not unplug it often, but when you do these supercharged notebooks are like gas guzzlers when it comes to battery life, so it pays to go big. Lenovo included a nine-cell battery in this unit, instead of the standard six-cell model, and though it sticks out the back a little bit it was not a problem. For the impatient types, we performed a battery test by playing music on the notebook while connected to the Internet (running the wireless radio helps drain battery life) and were surprised to find that it lasted three hours and 20 minutes. Though this number is most likely well under whatever Lenovo claims for this model, that’s damn good for a desktop replacement notebook. Anything over two hours is generally good for a notebook with this much horsepower.

OS Situation

Since this is a notebook targeted at business users, it should come as no surprise that it ships with Windows Vista Business. Having sampled every flavor of business, we honestly can’t say what makes the Business version different than Home Premium, as it includes the Aero Glass interface.

Touchpad and Nub

Whether you like a touchpad or the fabled ThinkPad TrackPoint, the T61p has them both so nobody can complain. The touchpad requires a very light touch to activate and felt very natural and accurate to our fingertip. It also allows you to scroll pages by clicking on the page and then rubbing your finger on the right-side edge of the touchpad. If you don’t like one or the other, you can disable either, or both.

Lenovo T61p Touchpad
Both a touchpad and TrackPoint are available

Biometric Security

Like all ThinkPads, the T61p includes an optional biometric security feature that uses a fingerprint scanner for logging into Windows and protecting passwords. We’ve enjoyed this feature in previous Thinkpad reviews, and have found it works exactly as one would expect. We think the Password Manager, however, is buggy. For example, it’ll ask you if you want to use the manager for a password on some sites every time you go to them, regardless of whether you click yes or no.

Lenovo T61p finger scanner
Swipe your finger to log into Windows

Wireless

Like the Lenovo 3000 V200, the T61p ships with the latest Intel 956 chipset, which includes the latest in wireless technology. The included adapter can connect to A, G, and N routers for speeds of 11Mbps, 54Mbps, or 140+Mbps if you have an N router. Even though the N spec hasn’t been ratified, routers are already flooding the market, and for a notebook to be truly future proof today it would have to have an N adapter inside. In our testing, N is over three times faster than G, so it’s definitely something to consider if you transfer files across a network on a regular basis (once again, if you have an N router). The T61p also offers Bluetooth support as an option, though our review unit did not have it.

Storage

The T61p comes with a 160GB, 5400rpm hard drive, which is rather large but not the biggest drive money can buy. It’s also a shame that the drive is just a 5400rpm model, rather than a faster 7200rpm drive. The notebook does ship with Lenovo’s drive shock protection software, which can trace the movement of the notebook in real-time and move the heads off the platters if it senses the notebook is in a freefall or being knocked around. It’s a slick feature, and since notebook hard drives move around a lot it’s useful in the event of an inadvertent bump off a desk.

Shock protection system
Move the T61p a bit and it’ll stop the hard drive to protect your data

ThinkVantage

We’ve covered the ThinkVantage suite of utilities before, and generally given it high marks for usefulness and functionality, albeit with a few grips. The suite has not changed at all recently, so we won’t rehash those remarks here, but a summary would be it is very useful to have everything in one place. You touch the blue ThinkVantage button (or click on the desktop shortcut) and a menu pops up on the left-side of the screen allowing you to perform a variety of tasks ranging from finding wireless networks to backing up your data to chatting with a Lenovo tech. It’s very handy, as we said, to have all these tools in one spot. We take issue with the backup and restore mechanisms however, as they are confusing to use. We also don’t like how the “run a virus scan” link only works with Norton.

Software Bundle

Like any notebook, the T61p comes with a software bundle. The majority of the pre-installed software is the ThinkVantage tools, which are mostly useful. There are also a few third-party trialware apps installed too, including Microsoft Office 2007, Diskeeper 9, and Norton Internet Security. We like Office, but have no need for Diskeeper and would never in a million years install Norton. Lenovo also installed PC Doctor 5, which can reportedly help fix your PC, but we’ve always been wary of these types of applications since we have never seen them actually fix any problems.

Use and Testing

When we first lifted the T61p out of the box, it felt a bit heavy given its thin dimensions. We’ve handled hundreds, if not thousands, of notebooks in our day, and this one feels very solid, thin, and a bit heavy. The ThinkPad line has always been considered one of the most sturdy, if not the most sturdy, line of notebooks, and it’s not by accident. The T61p feels like it’s made of very solid materials and would last through years of use and abuse. The claimed weight of the notebook is 6.4lbs, which takes it out of the ultra-portable class naturally, but is light for a desktop replacement in our opinion.

We tested the T61p by using it as our home desktop for a few weeks, and came away impressed. Compared to our hand-built gaming rig, the T61p felt just as fast in everyday usage. The amount of desktop real estate is impressive due to the super-fine resolution. In fact, even though it’s a 15.4” display, it’s fine enough to run two web browser windows side-by-side—try that on your laptop!

Obviously, a 2.4GHz dual-core processor is going to run circles around office apps, email and web browsing, so it comes as no surprise that the T61p is up to these simple tasks. And since it has discrete graphics care of an NVIDIA QuadroFX 5700 chip (not the top-of-the-line, but respectable) we even played a few games. To give you an idea of its OpenGL performance, we were able to get 42.6fps in Doom 3 at 1600×1200, which is impressive for sure.

We were able to squeeze three hours and 20 minutes out of the included nine-cell battery by running the display at half illumination, which is very good. We’re sure that if the CPU were under load, or if we were playing Bioshock on an airplane it would be considerably less, however.

The T61p booted to Windows in a respectable one minute and eight seconds, which is fast enough. It’s Windows Experience Index score is a decent 4.4. Ironically, it gave a score of 5.9 for the graphics, which is the highest you can get, but only 4.4 for the CPU, despite the fact that the T7700 is the fastest mobile processor available.

Conclusion

The T61p is a very capable and powerful notebook that should be on any cubicle jockey or road warrior’s wish list. It packs all the latest and greatest technology into a relatively thin, yet sturdy, chassis that feels incredibly solid and reeks of high-quality craftsmanship. We take issue with some of the ThinkVantage tools, and wish it had a 7200rpm hard drive, however, but these are minor annoyances.

If you’re looking for a future-proof notebook that can actually replace, and outperform, your current desktop, the T61p is a very safe bet.

Pros:

• Will out-perform most desktops
• High-res display
• Decent battery life

Cons:

• Largely useless software
• 5400rpm hard drive