Lenovo ThinkPad R61 Review

by YSMao Reads (374,138)

by Y. S. Mao

The Thinkpad R61 was released by Lenovo earlier in 2007 as a ?thin-and-light? model of the ?R-series? line-up. New features in the R61 include a redesigned roll cage for extra reinforcement in the lid, the new Intel ?Santa Rosa? platform for mobile computers and built in wireless WAN antenna on the left side of the lid (built in).


(view large image)

The Lenovo Thinkpad R61 14.1? widescreen follows the traditional Thinkpad design while not sacrificing performance or reliability. The R61 is available at a slightly lower price than the T61. While lacking only in a high-end graphics card selection (T61p), the R61 remains a very strong competitor that I recommend as a less expensive alternative.

 

Specifications

The particular unit I purchased was through ?Visaperks? available in Canada and was equipped with the following specifications [Thinkpad R61 7738-11U]:

  • Processor: Intel T7300 Core 2 Duo (2.0GHz, 800MHz FSB, 4MB Cache)
  • Chipset: Intel Mobile 965 Express chipset (Crestline)
  • Graphics: Intel X3100 (Integrated graphics card)
  • Operating System: Windows Vista Business 64-bit
  • Display: 14.1? WXGA+ 1440 x 900
  • Hard Drive: 120GB 5400RPM
  • Memory: 1GB (1 x 1GB, 1 slot open), up to 4GB max
  • Ports: 3 USB 2.0, Ethernet, Modem, Monitor out, Headphone OUT, Microphone IN
  • Slots: 1 PC Card Slot, 1 Express Card slot
  • Optical Drive: Ultra-bay DVD Recordable DL (8x)
  • Interfaces: Bluetooth, Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG LAN, Fingerprint scanner, Thinkpad light
  • Dimensions: 13.2″ x 9.3″ x 1.20 – 1.37″ (335mm x 237mm x 30.0 – 34.9mm)
  • Weight: 5.2 lbs

Reason for Purchase

This notebook is my first notebook and will be used mostly for university studies, casual gaming, office work, web surfing and some mathematics programming. I was not looking for a gaming notebook so I chose the Intel X3100 graphics card as it provides more than enough power to satisfy Vista?s graphics requirements. Furthermore, the integrated graphics allows the notebook to remain much cooler than my friend?s T60p (ATI FireGL 5200) and last much longer on battery despite its mere 4-cell battery (compared to the T60p?s 9-cell).

I considered the Dell Inspiron 6400, HP Pavilion dv6500t, Thinkpad T60 and of course the popular Thinkpad T61 before purchasing this notebook. After researching each candidate, I ruled out the Inspiron 6400 (no Santa Rosa platform), Pavilion dv6500t (not available yet in Canada) and was left with three Thinkpad choices.

I heard great things about the Thinkpad lines, mostly their reputation as rugged companions with reliable performance. The T60 and T61 proved to be similar in price. Actually, the T61 was cheaper (with comparable specifications) in Canada compared to the T60. However, further comparison of the T61 and R61 showed the T61 had little to offer me over the R61. The price difference was $200 CAD before tax and I figured that the extra 0.2 lb of weight and 0.2 inches thickness was well worth saving the money for upgrades and accessories. I ended up purchasing this particular model for $1,299 CAD before tax through Visaperks.ca and consider it a very good deal.

Build and Design

The design of the Thinkpad R61 is built for punishment. The clamshell enclosure and reinforced lid allows the notebook to be carried with one hand without fear of damaging the screen. There is absolutely no flex in any part of the case. Pressure exerted in the center of the LCD screen yielded merely tiny specks of distortion. The colour is of course all black as seen in the photos while the design remains consistent with traditional Thinkpad designs. Attempting to wobble the LCD lid back and forth resulted in the movement of the whole notebook and the thick metal hinges provide ample protection from even severe torture.

Despite all these design features, there is one flaw that I must point out. The orientation of the USB ports seems rather impractical. All three USB ports are aligned vertically with one beside the ultra-bay and two between the modem and express card slots. I have used some wider USB sticks with the notebook and the two USB slots on the left side do not allow the wider USB keys to be inserted since the notebook is neither high enough off the ground nor were the USB ports placed high enough on the notebook. I question Lenovo?s reason for aligning these two USB ports vertically. Personally, I?d suggest that the one on the right (ultra-bay) can be aligned vertically for mouse connections and to not disrupt ultra-bay ejection, but the two on the left should be oriented horizontally (taking pretty much the same amount of space) and providing a much more convenient acceptance of USB keys.


Vertical USB ports do not allow wider USB keys to be inserted. The “Fn” key is located left of the “Ctrl” key. (view large image)

Screen

The screen is very clear in my opinion and more than bright enough. Since my eyes are very sensitive to light and see very well in the dark, I keep my screen brightness to the second lowest increment even on A/C (lowest setting on battery). There are no dead pixels (nor should there be as the notebook is a mere 20 days old) and has fairly even backlighting. The viewing angles are decent at around 135 degrees in each direction.

Speakers

The speakers are decent but not exceptional. They are loud enough for a medium sized (10 m x 10 m) room if there are no other sounds. The speakers do crackle occasionally when they are pushed to their limit in both volume and frequency. I would recommend external speakers for long term music playing or a larger audience. For personal use, headphones would be fine and the ports are conveniently located at the front to reduce torque if pulled out.

Processor and Performance

The actual benchmarks show slight improvement over the previous generation of Core2Duo processors. The processor is definitely fast enough for everyday usage and ran MatLAB benchmarks very well. However, the performance of the hard drive is questionable. Since the notebook has a 5400 rpm hard drive, its access and seek times are relatively slow and this seems to be the bottleneck for the current setup. This conclusion is drawn from loading certain applications once (stored in RAM), then the second time the application is loaded or calculations are made, the processor hits much higher speeds and results in better performance. The time it takes to reach the logon screen for Windows Vista is roughly 58 seconds from a full shutdown, 36 seconds from hibernate and 12 seconds from standby.

For anyone picking a Core2Duo, I highly recommend getting the T7300 over the T7100 because of the 2 MB increase in L2 cache (double that of the T7100). The processor clock speeds may not make an enormous difference, but the cache space usually gives far better performance. Any of the higher end processors only differ in maximum clock speed, so unless the user requires high processor usage, going beyond the T7300 is not economical.

Besides raw performance tests and benchmarks, the notebook is otherwise very quick for all applications even memory and processor intensive ones such as Photoshop CS and is sufficient for non-gamers. As for games, I can run Warcraft III Frozen Throne on max settings beautifully. Medieval Total War II struggles slightly on medium-high settings but plays well on lower settings. I believe that as of the date of this review, Intel has yet to announce its final X3100 drivers, thus graphical performance still has room for improvement from software upgrades alone.

 

Benchmarks

SuperPI:

Notebook Time
Lenovo ThinkPad R61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300) 1m 01s
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300) 1m 01s
Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300) 0m 59s
HP dv2500t (1.80GHz Intel 7100) 1m 09s
Lenovo ThinkPad T61 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T7300) 0m 59s
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo T7200) 1m 03s
Toshiba Satellite P205-S6287 (1.73 GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T5300) 1m 24s
Toshiba Satellite A205 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo) 1m 34s
HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52) 2m 05s
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T2400) 0m 59s
Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo) 1m 02s

 

PCMark05:

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Lenovo ThinkPad R61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,800 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 4,153 PCMarks
Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,987 PCMarks
Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB) 4,189 PCMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks
Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 3,487 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 5,597 PCMarks
Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400) 3,646 PCMarks

 

3DMark05:

Notebook 3D Mark 05 Results
Lenovo ThinkPad R61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 728 3DMarks
HP Compaq 6510b (2.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, Intel X3100) 916 3DMarks
HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52, ATI x1270) 871 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 2,013 3D Marks
Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 1,791 3D Marks
Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB) 4,236 3DMarks
Alienware Aurora M-7700(AMD Dual Core FX-60, ATI X1600 256MB) 7,078 3D Marks
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB) 2,092 3D Marks
Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI x700 128 MB) 2,530 3D Marks
Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB) 2,273 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7400 256MB) 2,090 3D Marks

 

Windows Experience Index:

Heat and Noise

Lenovo claims the new T/R61s are the coolest and quietest Thinkpads ever. I would agree since this notebook barely even heats up under normal usage and remains almost inaudible until heavy gaming or processor intensive applications. The right palm rest becomes slightly warm during gaming because of hard drive usage while the left palm rest remains fairly cool. The fan seems to be on most of the time, but the fan control is fantastic and during idling or medium usage the noise is so low that it is barely noticeable.


Bottom: The many vents and air ducts allow the Thinkpad to remain quite cool even under medium processor/graphics intensive tasks. (view large image)

The optical drive becomes fairly loud when reading or writing a disc. Therefore when playing DVDs, it is highly recommended that an image be copied onto the hard drive as the noise can get quite annoying.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard is fantastic in terms of response and feel. The keys are quite sturdy and depress into the notebook respectably far for a notebook. One thing to mention for Thinkpads is their ?Fn? key position. The ?Ctrl? key (usually the left most key) is replaced by the ?Fn? key and placed on the right (see pictures). Due to my transition from a regular keyboard I have to adjust to the ?Ctrl? placement.


The legendary Thinkpad keyboard has lived up to its name in the R61 and is both comfortable and responsive to type on. (view large image)

The touchpad does seem quite small since much space is left on either side for the possibility of a ?widescreen touchpad?. The scroll bars along the bottom and side of the touchpad respond reliably and the extra middle click button with the UltraNav pointer (eraser head) becomes invaluable when web surfing with Firefox.


The touchpad is slightly small, but quite responsive. The extra middle click button and the ?eraser head? stick above the touchpad are very helpful additions rarely seen on other notebooks. (view large image)

Input/Output Ports

The input/output ports on the R61 are conveniently placed and work well simultaneously. The lack of a DVI port on the notebook itself may be bothersome for some gamers, but the option of using a mini/advanced docking system with a DVI pass-through may satisfy some demands. As for the monitor out, I can drive my friend?s 22? LCD monitor at its native (max) resolution of 1680 x 1050 and have no equipment to test it at higher resolutions. The ports around the laptop can be seen in the pictures below:


Front: From left to right, a firewire port exists as an option, a hard switch for wireless control and the headphones/speakers out and microphone in. (view large image)


Left: From back to front are the air vent out, monitor out, modem, Ethernet, two vertical USB ports and the Express Card and PC card slots. (view large image)


Back: The thick hinges can be clearly seen from the back while the 4-cell battery stays flush with the rear of the notebook. The fan intake vent is seen towards the right with the adapter connection in between. (view large image)


Right: The hard drive sits under the right palm rest with the side plate towards the left of the ultra-bay. The ultra-bay is hot swappable and can be replaced with an extra hard drive or 3-cell battery. There is one vertical USB port for mouse connection. (view large image)

Wireless

The wireless card seems to pick up signals without issue and has served me well these few weeks of use with home wireless internet. Since I have no Bluetooth devices, I am unable to test Bluetooth device effectiveness. However, transferring files through Bluetooth was successfully done from my friend?s Thinkpad T60p. There is no Infrared port.

Battery

The 4-cell battery lasts about three and a half hours from a full charge down to 5% with lowest screen brightness and minimal use (office work and internet, therefore wireless on). Watching a DVD drained the battery in around two hours. The times seem respectable since it is only the 4-cell battery. Therefore, I considered the possibility of purchasing another 7-cell battery to use in conjunction with the 4-cell. This combination should last the whole day when needed for a day of lectures or certain events.

Operating System and Software

I would consider Windows Vista quite slow compared to Windows XP. There are various extra features (some useful, some not), but mostly eye candy that lengthens response time and drains battery life.

I removed all software that came with the system with a fresh install and number of processes went from 89 down to 60 during idling. The original configuration included numerous amounts of trial and free software that I was not interested in. I would have appreciated Lenovo?s effort if all extra software came on a CD or DVD with the user having the option of installing them. However, since Lenovo profits only from manufacturer?s installations, this option seems unlikely.

No system restore discs were included, but a set can be made with the included software and recovery partition. I highly suggest that any buyers make a set of recovery CD/DVDs as soon as the notebook is up and running, simply because of possible accidents.

 

Conclusion

Overall, I would highly recommend the Thinkpad R61 to anyone looking for a lower price notebook (compared to T61) with a very durable build and excellent performance.

Pros

  • Superior build quality with magnesium roll cage and extra hard drive protection
  • One of the best keyboards in notebooks
  • Fairly good battery life (only 4-cells) with a much high run time when upgraded to a 7-cell battery
  • Cool and quiet under normal usage and idling
  • Great performance on an integrated graphics chip
  • Less expensive than the T61

Cons

  • Lots of trial and free software with little use (highly recommend clean/fresh install of the OS)
  • Slightly thicker and heavier than the T61
  • USB ports are all vertical




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