Review IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad T61 Notebook
Thinkpad - Next Generation. Lenovo continues the IBM Thinkpad's success story with the T61. The Santa Rosa chip set provides brilliant performance and is the only proper equipment for well-known business notebooks. Not only the inner parts where improved, also the case was further advanced. Especially the also formerly very good robustness scores very high again.
In anticipation of the following comprehensive review, we provide a short video of the first impression we received of the Thinkpad T61.
An important part of the Thinkpad identity is its black case with cheap looking plastics flavour. This might sound bitter, but handling this notebook quickly puts this impression into perspective.
Generally this 14 inch notebook's robustness is excellent. A waste of time to try to deform the Thinkpad T61 under pressure. However, if you, legitimately for a notebook of this class, scrutinize the case, you'll still find some parts with smaller weaknesses.
E.g., the plastic cover next to the Thinkvantage buttons yields and silently creaks somewhat under pressure. Similarly, the same can be observed for the region of the optical drive at the bottom side of the notebook. Especially, the weakness at the UltraBay slot is one, which already exists since some Thinkpad generations.
Let's finally stop complaining. The T61's workmanship is as expected very good and also the stability of the case is first class. This is supported by a metal frame inside the notebook and magnesium parts at its surfaces.
The display of the T61 is especially strengthened, and so, it scores better now than the also very robust T60. A special comb construction under the displays cover further increases flexural rigidity and pressure resistance.
The display stands out because of the strengthened molding at its edges, known as ClamShell design was further reduced. While it exceeded the display frame by about 1 centimeter at the top part of the R50, now only a gentle rise is apparent. So, the look was clearly improved and while it is still sufficient to guarantee a nearly seamlessly closed display. So, dust and dirt particles cannot accumulate in the interspace.
Also the look of the hinges were slightly adapted. Their height got smaller, but in turn their width increased. The edgy and massive form still stayed the same. Still the metal hinges are capable to absolutely securely keep the display's posistion.
The same is true for the ramshorn hook, which secures the closed display and is easy to handle by a switch placed at the front edge of the display.
The provided interfaces and their order is typical Thinkpad. In order to be able to also use especially huge high-capacity batteries with this notebook, the battery was again located at the T61's backside. So, batteries with higher capacity can exceed the case and so provide more cells. This is a special aspect for the T61, but we'll discuss this later.
Back to the ports. A main difference to the T60 series is that the audio ports and the Firewire port were located at the front edge. So, a permanent use of these ports especially at a fixed place is difficult and using a docking station is recommended. So, also the missed out DVI ports can be overcome.
Some more words to the security aspect, which is a special consideration of the Thinkpad series: The T61 provides comprehensive security features, e.g., a shock protection for the hard disk, a fingerprint reader and a TPM chip including compatible software.
Among the input devices you'll detect a well-known Thinkpad friend - a spacious, red trackpoint in the middle of a jet-black keyboard. Themed: "Red trackpoint outside, quality inside", all the input devices can be assessed.
The keyboard is clearly structured and, so, very user-friendly. The only exception is the FN pad, which is located left besides the Ctrl key, a somewhat unusual place for those unfamiliar with Thinkpad keyboards.
Typing has a soft stop, yet a clear action point, and a sufficient travel. Furthermore, the keyboard stays quiet, even during fast and forceful typing. Speaking from my own experience, I can conform that this persists even over years of intensive use, if the quality of the parts stayed the same.
Because of the slim wide-screen format of this notebook, the touch pad had to be placed relatively near the front edge, which somewhat complicated using the pad and its buttons on the lap. Although, the pad is very user-friendly, besides its small dimensions, we would recommend to use the trackpoint instead, in this situation (actually always ... ;-)).
Even, if there is some time of adaption needed, in the long term there is no doubt that the trackpoint clearly is the better mouse replacement, because it makes quick navigation without repositioning possible. It's even possible to play games with the trackpoint...
Following hotkeys are provided by the Thinkpad T61: above the keyboard some small buttons for controlling the volume and deactivating the sound, furthermore, the blue ThinkVantage button, which can be used to invoke a menu with a variety of Lenovo specific tools. This menu, e.g., provides help with networking, data protection and a number of configuration options. If you press this button during the boot process, the recovery system, which can be used to backup and restore data, will be launched.
The Lenovo Thinkpad T61 is equipped with a 14 inch WXGA+ display with a maximum resolution of 1440x900 pixels. This ensures clarity, even if the display is small and even under Windows Vista.
Typical Thinkpad, you can also choose among a number of display version for the T61. At the time of writing these are: 1024x768 XGA, the reviewed 1440x900 WXGA+ version for 14 inch displays, and a 1280x800 WXGA or a 1920x1200 WUXGA version for 15.4 inch displays.
The test of the 1440x900 WXGA+ panel resulted in very good brightness values. In the center of the bottom region, we measured a maximum of excellent 221.2 cd/m². Although the illumination of only 77.3% does not convince at the first glance, a minimum brightness of still 170.9 cd/m² puts this first impression into perspective.
The measurement diagram for display calibration depicts a nearly ideal red and green color curve, and a slightly lowered blue color curve. Even subjectively the display calibrated with factory settings appears rather cold.
The measured minimum brightness of the reviewed display (black value) is 1.1 cd/m², together with a maximum brightness of 221.2 cd/m², this leads to a calculated maximum contrast of 201:1. This is acceptable. Furthermore, regarding speed of reaction, nothing requiring any remarks could be detected by any of the performed scroll tests.
Very good brightness together with a non-reflecting display qualifies the Lenovo Thinkpad T61 also for outdoor operation. Probably, the automatic dimming during battery operation, will cause troubles, but, you can deactivate it by changing bios settings. So, the total brightness is also available during outdoor battery operation.
While the display seems to be horizontally very stable to the vantage point and you'll hardly face any changes to the displayed images, clear weaknesses can be detected vertically. Especially, looking from bottom up leads to a heavy darkening. Looking from top down, the displayed image whitens.
Alike the display, also here different configurations of the T61 are possible. At the time of writing you can choose the CPU out of a T7100, T7300, or T7500 processor, the currently most powerful choice.
Also the video card can be chosen out of a number of models. An integrated GMA X3100, a NVidia NVS 140M, which our reviewed notebook was equipped with, up to a NVidias Quadro FX 570M 1920x1200 high-end video solution can be chosen for the T61. Furthermore, you can count on a broadening of the range of offered video solutions in the near future.
The configuration of the reviewed notebook with T7300 CPU at 2.00 GHz and NVidia Quadro NVS 140M video card can be called a compromise between performance and mobility. This CPU is sufficiently powerful for all current demands and also the video card could score high in the benchmark tests and rates currently at a performance level of about a Geforce 8400M, or a Geforce Go 7400, which is already available for a longer time, or an ATI Mobility Radeon X1400.
So, the T61 has a very good equipment for an office notebook. Although it has some reserve capacities for 3D, the NVS 140M is not recommended for intensive 3D applications, and similarly also not for 3D intensive games.
Our test sample was furthermore equipped with 3GB main memory. 4GB are possible in total. The reviewed notebook came with a 250 Gigabyte hard disk with very good transfer rates and slightly above-average access times.
|PCMark 05 Standard||4989 points|
|3DMark 2001SE Standard||13747 points|
|3DMark 03 Standard||3185 points|
|3DMark 05 Standard||3142 points|
|3DMark 06 Score Unknown Setting||1640 points|
Further benchmark results:
1024x768 - high - 40-60fps - completely playable
1024x768 high - 15-60 fps - playable, but flickering (possibly turn down configuration)
During idle mode the notebook stays relatively quiet. The measured noise level of 35.3dB is caused by a whirring which can sometimes be heard next to the fan. This got especially evident during battery operation. The hard disk deserves special mentioning, because it could even hardly be heard, if accessed.
Under load we measured a maximum noise level of 40.3 dB, which subjectively did not overly annoy.
32.4 / 41.3 / 41.3 dB(A)
||36.5 / dB(A)|
||0 / 41.3 dB(A)|
min: , med: , max: (15 cm distance)
35.3 / 40.3 / 37.3 dB(A)
||42 / dB(A)|
||0 / 40.3 dB(A)|
min: , med: , max: (15 cm distance)
32.3 / 35.7 / 34.5 dB(A)
||38.7 / dB(A)|
||0 / 35.7 dB(A)|
min: , med: , max: (15 cm distance)
The Lenovo T60's top side stays comfortably cool with a maximum of up to 34.8°C. Even at the bottom side the temperature only moderately increases. The measured maximum was about 41.5°C.
So, in total the fan control and the ventilation system of the Thinkpad T61 are mature.
palmwrist: 33.1°C max: 34.8°C avg: 33.7°C
max: 41.5°C avg: 37.6°C
Both of the Thinkpad T61's provided stereo speakers, located left and right beside the keyboard, sound clear, and are adequately loud for playing music, but basses are hardly evident. For background music they are by all means sufficient.
During DVD playback (reviewed: Scrubs Season 1 in English) the maximum volume was just sufficient. So, there is little scope here.
Even the technical specification of the provided standard 2600 mAh battery did not allow to expect too much. In practice our assumptions were verified.
With optimized energy settings the T61 reached a maximum of 2.5 hours runtime. At maximum performance only 45 minutes runtime were possible. Even results of practice near tests, like WLan operation, could not really convince with only about 1.5 hours runtime.
Anyhow a bigger main battery with 5200 mAh is available for the T61, which is able to approximately double the runtime. Furthermore, an Ultrabay battery is available, which can further increase the maximum runtime.
|Off / Standby||0 / 0 Watt|
|Idle|| 24 / 26.5 / 27.6 Watt|
58 / 56 Watt|
|Off / Standby||0 / 0 Watt|
|Idle|| 8.6 / 12.7 / 13.4 Watt|
23.6 / 20.7 Watt|
|Off / Standby||0 / 0 Watt|
|Idle|| 19.4 / 26.3 / 28.1 Watt|
58.3 / 55.4 Watt|
We were very curious on the Lenovo Thinkpad T61 and how it rates during our tests. Eventually, a condign successor of the already very dignified T60 series had to be found. To summarize it: Yes, the T61 could absolutely convince.
First of all the robust, nearly indestructible case should be able to stand even though requirements and protect your data securely against loss. Also a number of other integrated security mechanisms should help protecting your sensible data.
All the input devices provide the qualities already known of its predecessors'. They are very user-friendly and comfortable in use. We especially want to mention the track point regarding this aspect again. Its qualities are still unmatched by all of its competitors.
The performance of the T61 is also very passable. The combination of the new Intel Core 2 Duo processor with an NVIDIA Quadro video card ensures excellent benchmark results. In the fields of office operation you can definitely work without any problems and there are is also some reserve capacity for 3D applications.
The temperature emissions are low. Despite the fan often ran during our tests, in total it is not really evident and hardly disturbing.
Basically, the weakness of the Lenovo Thinkpad T61 is the battery runtime in base equipment. A battery runtime of less than one hour up to a maximum of 2.5 hours is hardly satisfying. This is the main reason, why the T61 with possible 90% for the total rating, did not reach the new high score.
However, the 5200 mAh battery, which is also available, can help here by approximately doubling the battery runtime. An estimated battery runtime of about 5 hours, which can be reached with this battery solution, is worth a Thinkpad.