Lenovo ThinkPad R61 User Review

by Reads (37,784)

by Nam Pham

Like many NotebookReview.com readers, I bought my notebook with college in mind. I needed something that will last me four years or more, and I also wanted something moderately powerful. Having experienced a 15.4” Toshiba Satellite with glossy screen in the family, I was deterred from getting anything 15.4” or larger. And while the glossy LCD was really nice for movies and pictures, it was too reflective for my taste.

Once I had my criteria set up, choosing the notebook was easy, since my preference of non-glossy LCDs left me with only Thinkpads and business models from HP/Compaq and Dell. After researching extensively on many of these notebooks, I was leaning more and more toward the Thinkpad R61 because of the price, build quality, and legendary keyboard. After I tried out one at a local computer store, I was sold.

I bought my R61 straight from Lenovo.com with a 10% off coupon for a total of $923 after tax. I even received $34 back from fatwallet.com.

Specs:

  • Screen: 14.1 inch wide screen WXGA(1280 x 800)
  • Processor: 2.0GHz 4MBL2 Intel Core 2 Duo T7300
  • Hard drive: 80GB 5400rpm; in this review however, I have switched to a Seagate 120GB 7200rpm hard drive.
  • Memory: 1GB RAM 677MHz DDR2 (1x1GB), expandable to 4GB
  • Optical Drive: DVD Recordable 8x Max Dual Layer
  • Interface: Three USB, mini-Firewire, PC Card& Express Card slots, LAN and phone jack, headphone and mic jacks, VGA, and fingerprint reader
  • Wireless: ThinkPad 11a/b/g Wi-Fi wireless LAN
  • Graphics: Intel GMA X3100 GM965
  • Battery: 4-cell (sits flush in the battery bay)
  • OS: Window Vista home premium
  • Weight: 5lb
  • Dimensions: 13.14 x 9.25 x 1.18-1.33 inches (W-D-H)


(view large image)

Design

The overall design of all Thinkpads never goes far from a black, squarish box. You can still see many similarities from the very first Thinkpad model made by IBM in 1992 in this R61. It’s black inside and out, though the outside is a bit more like dark gray. There are absolutely no shiny bells and whistles on this notebook: It’s pure business. Depending on your taste, you might call it dull or extremely sexy. I’m with the latter.

The only thing on the outside lid is the IBM Thinkpad logo. Yes, although many received their Thinkpads with the new Lenovo logo, I got mine with the old IBM logo. I would have preferred either one.


(view large image)

On the inside, there is the classic Thinkpad keyboard, the touchpad and the red trackpoint. Then there is the fingerprint reader that did not exist when I got the notebook. How it got there, you will find out later on. Under the screen, there are the green status lights, showing you the status of wireless, numlock, caplock, accessing hard drive, power, battery indicator, external power, and sleep/hibernate. An interesting feature is that some of the lights shine through to the other side, so even when you close the lid, you can still tell if your notebook is on, sleeping, charging, etc.

Left and right of the keyboard are the speakers. In some photos, they might look big (at least that’s what I thought), but in reality, they are still tiny, so don’t expect much from them.

On the inside, there is the much touted rollcage and top-cover rollcage, and shock-mounted hard drive. Basically these are strong structures that protect the notebook’s LCD screen, and all internal components. As for the hard drive, besides the protective rollcage shell, there is also an accelerometer that detects a fall and freezes the hard drive to protect your data.

All in all, the design seems good, if not great. Although the T61 is thinner and lighter, I find the extra weight and thickness very reasonable.

Build

After reading so many reviews of the Thinkpad series, I was quite a bit disappointed with my notebook. Whether it was a budget R model or a ultralight X model, they all received great praise for their "tankishness." Not so with my R61.

After only minutes of playing with the notebook out of the box, I discovered the first fault, and it wasn’t small. The screen is off to the right, but that is not the problem. The problem is the left side of the screen when held with just a bit of force makes a loud click, almost a crack, sound. I froze dead for half a minute before I dared to examine it closely. It seems that the two halves of the frame that hold the LCD wasn’t assembled properly, or that they weren’t made properly and therefore didn’t fit in place.

On the second day, I found yet another part that was incorrectly manufactured. This time it was the palm rest. Every time my wrists applied pressure, the palm rest hit the frame underneath and made a soft click. Knowing that it was removable, I removed it to see if reinstalling the part solved the problem, but it did not help.

I called Lenovo immediately. After a bit of talking, they decided to ship me a replacement palm rest. Though the great support is much appreciated, the problems are still there. The new palm rest that they sent overnight did not solve the problem. It seems the defect lies in the framework beneath.


(view large image)

Also, the screen doesn’t close tight all the way. The lid has two latches that hook onto the base, but you only need to operate one switch on the right to open. That, unfortunately, leaves the left side a bit loose. It’s not a big deal for me though.

I never thought I would say this about a Thinkpad, but the lid on this notebook is very easily scratched. It wasn’t the hard plastic I expected, but rather a soft rubber-matte material. Even the lightest of scratches show up. The lid and palm rest also attract lots of finger and palm prints. You can rub them off easily, but they are still a nuisance.

All that said, the notebook still has a solid feel. I imagine that it can last the next few years without further complications. The LCD top rollcage works well enough. I have accidentally put a stack of really heavy books on top and didn’t see any marks on the screen, which would have been left by the trackpoint or the keyboard.


(view large image)

The metal hinges are great. There is no wobble, and when you push the screen into position it stays there.

Performance & Benchmarks:

This notebook isn’t blazing fast or powerful like most workstations or gaming laptops, but it handles all normal applications really well. It does not lag at all with the 80GB 5400rpm stock hard drive. Once I put the Seagate 7200rpm hard drive in, it just got faster.

I don’t do much gaming. My typical use usually revolves around web surfing, music listening, audio editing, a bit of Photoshop, instant messaging, and of course watching movies. This R61 accomplishs all tasks with ease. I also tried out Counterstrike Source at maximum settings (I’m a caveman when it comes to gaming), and it ran without a hitch.

Here are some numbers:

PCMark05: 3810

3DMark05: 719

With the integrated graphic, the 3DMark result isn’t surprising.

Hd tune:


(view large image)

Super PI:


(view large image)

Keyboard & Touchpad

I love this keyboard. Although it turns out my keyboard is made by Chicony, which is said by many to be the worst of the three Thinkpad keyboard suppliers, I still enjoy this keyboard so much. I have less typos here than on any desktop keyboard. I also love the useful page forward/backward buttons on top of the arrow keys.

Thinkpads aren’t made for media playing, so you will only get dedicated volume up/down buttons and a mute button. However, you can still control basic play functions with a combination of the Fn key and one of the four arrow keys.


(view large image)

The keyboard is spill resistant. I accidentally tested this once and was impressed. All the water from my cup drained away quickly leaving me with a wet pair of pants but a dry keyboard.

The touchpad works well, although it’s a bit small. There is also the trackpoint. It is absolutely great for typing because you do not have to move away from the keyboard and then reposition your hands. However, every now and then, the trackpoint drifts. Thankfully, Thinkpad’s trackpoint has a automatic recalibration mechanism built in so when it detects a drift, it fixes the problem immediately. That said, the occasional drifting can still drive me nuts.


(view large image)

Also, I have been experiencing some squeakiness from the trackpoint mouse button. Not a whole lot, but worth mentioning for those who regularly use the trackpoint.

Screen

The non-glossy screen doesn’t reflect like its glossy cousin. However, not being glossy means picture quality is not as good as those that are glossy. Viewing angles are narrow vertically and better horizontally. Brightness levels are acceptable. You cannot get full brightness without plugging in though. The screen is much brighter once you plug in to an AC outlet. Overall, the screen is okay: not the best for viewing pictures or watching movies but fairs fine for everything else.


(view large image)

(view large image)

(view large image)

(view large image)


Wireless

When I tested its wireless capability in a public library, the signal was perfect. Where I am however, I can’t get anything above 70 percent. I would not blame the R61 though, since I live in a building built in the war time with thick reinforced steel and concrete walls designed to take on a bomb or two.

Battery Life

The R61 lasted for 3 hours and 5 minutes using the the "battery stretch" feature before it went to sleep and I had to plug it in.

Heat and Noise

This thing is very quiet, that is unless you are running on battery at high performance. Once you run high performance on battery, a high pitch sound will emit from around the upper left corner. If you run "balanced" or "power saver" mode though, the noise will drop to an almost inaudible level. I have not examined this problem so I am not sure what is causing this noise. That said, I do not often wander far from a wall plug so the noise has not bugged me that much.

Another noise maker is the optical drive. Every time I push in a CD or DVD, I almost have to cover my ears. It sounds like a jet engine winding up. Once it gets up to speed the noise is not so bad. You might want to think about getting an external optical drive if you use discs a lot or if you just can’t stand noisy drives.


(view large image)

Heat is acceptable. The palm rests do get warm … especially on the right side, under which lies the hard drive. I have sweaty hands so it is a bit uncomfortable for me, but that goes for all the notebooks I have tried.

Ports

All the USB ports are vertical and are not very well spaced. I usually have trouble pulling out a cable or any USB device if both ports on the left are occupied. Another issue is that the ports are incredible tight. I only needed to plug in my iPod cable twice to make four grooves on the connector (see picture).


(view large image)

The PC card and ExpressCard slots have a built-in, spring-loaded flap to prevent dust, not the cheap dummy cards that are easy to lose.


(view large image)

There is a firewire port in the front. I have no firewire device but it should be handy for the occasional camcorder sync or external hard drive back up.


(view large image)

Fingerprint reader: When I got my new palm rest, there was a fingerprint reader built in. Great!! After I installed the proper driver, the reader was operational.

Thinklight is an LED white light on top of the LCD that illuminates the keyboard in dark situations. I’m using it right now, typing at 3:00 AM under a blanket. It works well, but only if you set your screen’s brightness level to minimum to match your dim keyboard.

The wireless switch in the front is quite a pain to use, literally. It is too hard to get a hold of the sliding switch and it also has too much resistance. I have many times shredded my finger on the grooves of the switch (maybe not that dramatic … but it hurts, nonetheless). Now I just leave it at the on position and turn wireless on or off via software.

Upgrading is a piece of cake. A few screws and you are done. Lenovo has provided easy access to the hard drive, optical drive, RAM slots, and keyboard. All this is doable by the user, so you do not have to worry about voiding warranty.

Software

The R61 did not come with any recovery discs. You are supposed to burn your own. Bloatware wasn’t nonexistent, but less than that of other manufacturers.

Thinkvantage has lots of features such as backing up, power management, advanced security and recover features. They are great for business users, but I rarely use them.

However, password manager is a complete mess. It is supposed to let me sign into websites with the fingerprint reader, but every time I swipe, the computer freezes. I can still login to Windows though.

I’m not sure how beneficial the active protection system actually is, but I find it quite annoying, shutting down the hard drive whenever I move the notebook slightly, and in turn freezing my movie or music. That said, you can reset the sensitivity so it doesn’t do this as often. I have it at 50% now.

I tried once to do a clean install of Vista, but afterward, I could not install all of the R61’s drivers. Namely, the driver that lets you use the volume and mute buttons didn’t work. I then had to do the factory recovery to get my Thinkpad back to its previous state.

Customer support

Here’s a bit more about my "talk" with Lenovo’s customer support. When I called for help, they were very helpful and offered to take the R61 back and have a look. However, I told them I had to leave in a couple of days so they offered to ship a brand new palm rest to me to replace myself. Next morning, the palm rest was already at my doorstep. After a few days, they even sent me an email to check to see if the problem is solved (I was lazy and didn’t reply).

As for the screen bezel problem, since I was actually going to be in another country for a long time, they sent a notice to the service center there to take care of me. I’m at my destination now, but have neither the time nor the language skills to call their support center, so I can’t say how things will turn out.

Overall, I am satisfied with the support Lenovo offered.

Conclusion

Well, there isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said. I know it’s hard to tell, but I’ve had a good user experience with the machine. I can ignore many of the problems of this R61. Here is an overview with the pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Good design

  • Great keyboard

  • Trackpoint very useful

  • Relatively fast system

  • Quiet and cool

  • Easy maintenance and upgrade

  • Low price

  • Good customer service

Cons:

  • Poor build quality: parts don’t fit properly

  • Lid and palm rest attract fingerprints

  • High pitch noise occurs when using battery

  • Tight USB ports

  • Ports are placed too close together

  • Battery could be better

  • Thinkvantage software can be buggy

  • Might be considered unattractive or just plain ugly by some


LEAVE A COMMENT

0 Comments

|
All content posted on TechnologyGuide is granted to TechnologyGuide with electronic publishing rights in perpetuity, as all content posted on this site becomes a part of the community.