Lenovo ThinkPad T60 with ATI X1300 Graphics Card Review (pics, specs)

by Kwisatch Reads (173,763)

by Dave, Canada

Overview and Introduction

The Lenovo Thinkpad T60 is the Core Duo successor to the popular T43. The T series is the flagship model in the Thinkpad series, and the T60 hopes to continue its tradition of durability and portability.

Whereas T60p is targeted towards corporate users (better OpenGL and CAD support), the T60 is targeted towards mainstream consumers. The T60 comes in two screen sizes: 14.1″ and 15″. The T60 under review is the 14.1″ version, which falls under the thin-and-light category. The full specs are outlined below:

Specs for the Thinkpad T60 under review:

  • Model: 2623D6U (Topseller Program)
  • Processor: Intel Core Duo processor T2400, 1.83GHz, 667MHz FSB, 2MB L2 cache (Mobile Intel 945PM Express chipset)
  • Screen: 14.1″ TFT, 1400×1050 (SXGA+), 16 millions colors, non-widescreen, non-glossy
  • Graphics: ATI Mobility Radeon X1300, 64MB DDR2 SDRAM, 16 million colors, max 2048×1536, simultaneous external display
  • Memory: 1x512MB SODIMM installed, 2 SODIMM slots total (3GB max), 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM PC2-5300
  • Hard drive: Hitachi 80GB 5400rpm SATA-150 (5GB hidden partition)
  • Optical drive: Ultrabay slim CD/DVD dual layer recorder
    • Read Speed 24x (CD) / 8x (DVD)
    • Write Speed 24x (CD) / 8x (DVD R) / 2x (DVD-R DL) / 2.4x (DVD+R DL)
    • Rewrite Speed 16x (CD) / 4x (DVD RW) / 3x (DVD-RAM)
  • Power: 6-cell 5200mAh Lithium-ion battery (non-protruding), international brick power supply
  • Communications: Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth, 802.11a/b/g, 56K modem, infrared
  • User inputs: full-size keyboard, touchpad, TrackPoint, fingerprint reader, integrated microphone
  • Ports: 3 USB 2.0, headphone, microphone, docking port replicator, external monitor VGA, RJ-11, and RJ-45
  • Card slots: 1 PCMCIA card slot, 1 ExpressCard 54 slot
  • Other: Active Protection for hard drive, ThinkLight
  • Dimensions: 12.4″ x 10″ x 1.2″
  • Weight: 5.3lbs
  • Warranty: Three years parts and labor (battery: one year)
  • Useful software included: Windows XP Professional, ThinkVantage suite, and WinDVD.
  • Price paid: $1450 (+$80 for additional RAM)

Tips for Buying a Thinkpad

T60 models have a large range in price. The price is greatly affected by CPU, screen size/resolution, graphics card, and RAM. The first three cannot be easily upgraded, but RAM can be easily upgraded by the user. So if possible, purchase RAM later (e.g. from Newegg.com) to save money. Also, for normal users, don’t select top-of-the-line CPU and 2GB RAM – save some $ for your next computer instead.

Also, you have the option of buying directly from Lenovo or buying from a third-party online store. The pros/cons are listed below:

Buying from Lenovo

Buying from third-party

Pros

  • Can return within 30 days, no questions asked (handy if have dead-pixels)
  • Can configure system
  • Can use EPP discounts
  • 10-15% cheaper than Lenovo
  • Usually free shipping and no tax
  • If in stock, will deliver quickly

Cons

  • 10-15% more expensive than third-party
  • Charges shipping, tax
  • May have to wait weeks for delivery
  • Varied return policy, usually cannot return without restocking fees
  • Cannot configure system
  • Less reputable

Also note that certain models (e.g. 2007xxx) have international warranty, whereas other models (e.g. 2623xxx) only have U.S. warranty and are therefore cheaper.

Reasons for Buying

I am going to attend grad school and my old Dell 866MHz desktop is just not up to the task anymore (but I have to give Dell credit, the desktop lasted for five years without a single hardware problem).

I was looking at a notebook that can be carried around (therefore 14″ max). The notebook must have enough performance for programs such as MATLAB, Photoshop, and Firefox even when they are open simultaneously (therefore Core Duo). Also, the notebook should be Vista-ready and be able to handle the occasional game (therefore dedicated graphics).

There were very few notebooks satisfying the above criteria (mostly because of my dedicated graphics requirement). My choices were Asus models, Dell D620, Lenovo T60, and Toshiba m100. I did not have any experience with Asus, Dell’s was as expensive as the Thinkpad, and Toshiba’s screen resolution was too low (1280×768). The T60 met all of my criteria and then some: fingerprint reader, ThinkLight, HD protection, and better durability. So T60 it was.

Where and How Purchased

Having considered the pros and cons I listed above, I chose to buy from an online third-party retailer called Costcentral.com. At time of writing, CostCentral sells the model for $1442, whereas Lenovo sells the model for $1599+tax+shipping.

I was very satisfied with CostCentral’s customer service. I talked to their customer representatives three times online and twice through email. Each time the response was quick and helpful. They also have real-time online inventory check (although some buyers question its accuracy). The return policy is very restrictive, but hey, you can’t have everything.

I read that people sometimes wait for weeks (even months) for Lenovo to deliver notebooks. With CostCentral, I ordered on a Wednesday afternoon, and the computer arrived on Friday of the same week(!). The fast (and free) shipping was definitely my best experience with them.


T60 meets the world (view large image)

Build

Thinkpads aren’t specifically known for performance. They are known for build quality. The screen (no rippling, wobbling, or twisting) is solidly connected via steel hinges, the base is protected by a magnesium alloy roll cage’, and the hard drive is protected by rubber linings. The notebook feels as one solid unit.

However, I do have a few minor complaints. First, the four rubber feet on the bottom aren’t level, so when I put the notebook on a table, only three feet actually touch the table. Fortunately, this doesn’t cause the notebook to wobble. Also, the wireless on/off slide switch in front of the notebook is a cheap piece of plastic that shifts around very loosely, yet it is really hard to toggle. Finally, the palm rest plastic is very flexible. You can push down on the plastic surface and it would sink in slightly.

Size

14.1″ T60 is not ultra-portable, but it is definitely thin-and-light. It is very easy to carry around. The lid and the chassis are thinner when compared to 15″ notebooks. The 1.5lbs difference between T60 (~5lb) and 15.4″ notebooks (~6.5lb) is apparent. In my opinion, 14″ is the sweet spot for students: 15″ is too big, and 12″/13″ has too low a screen resolution.

Here is a size comparison with a calculator and a mouse:


T60 and its new friends. (view large image)

Here are some size comparisons between 14″ T60 (12.4″ x 10″ x 1.2″) and 15″ R50p (approx 13″ x 10.5″ x 1.5″):


Hello cousin. Left = 15″ R50p. Right = 14″ T60. (view large image)


Left = 15″ R50p. Right = 14″ T60 (view large image)


Bottom = 15″ R50p. Top = 14″ T60 (view large image)


Bottom = 15″ R50p. Top = 14″ T60 (view large image)

Design


T60, reminds you of T43/42/41/40/…? (view large image)

Besides a few minor changes, the Thinkpad still looks the same as ever — like a black slab. It is nothing exciting, but it’s meant to be just that because Thinkpads are oriented towards business users. You don’t see silver business suits with white edges, do you (like say the Dell Inspiron)?

Lenovo took the liberty to subtly change the traditional Thinkpad styling:

  • The red and blue stripes on the mouse buttons are gone.
  • The function keys are now black instead of gray.
  • A new Windows key
  • Rectangular mouse buttons
  • Silver lid clasp slider
  • New volume and ThinkVantage buttons
  • Beveled edge instead of pointy edge

   

 Left = R50p touchpad area. Right = T60 touchpad area.

   

Left = R50p Access IBM. Right = T60 ThinkVantage

Far = R50p pointy edge. Near = T60 beveled edge.

In my opinion, the new look appears cheaper. The added Windows key is useful if you use M$ shortcuts, but it reduces the size of the Alt key. This sometimes makes you hit the Windows key instead.

One more change from previous T series notebooks is that to install additional RAM, you have to loosen four screws and pop open the entire palm rest. This is definitely a minus, because you can damage the palm rest flex cables if you are not careful. The lack of bottom RAM drawer is probably due to the new drain holes on the bottom (for keyboard spills).

Here is a 360 of T60:


Front.  Notice IR, wireless toggle switch, and speakers  (view large image)


Back.  Parallel port replaced by vent. (view large image)


Left.  VGA, modem, Ethernet, mic, headphone, USB, ExpressCard, and PCMCIA slot.(view large image)


Right.  DVD burner, USB, and lock slot.(view large image)

 

This T60 model does not have the Verizon WWAN antenna equipped.

Screen

The screen is my biggest complaint. I chose the 14.1″ 1400×1050 version (manufactured by Hydis). It has no dead/stuck pixels and is evenly-backlit. However, the viewing angles are just terrible. Among all the LCDs I have used recently, including Acer, IBM/Lenovo, and Sony, the T60 has the narrowest viewing angles.

There is a screen option for wide viewing angles called “Flexview.” However, Flexview is only available on the 15″ T60. As a comparison, I’ve included some pictures of T60 14.1″ non-Flexview versus R50p 15″ Flexview:


Left = R50p with Flexview. Right = T60 without Flexview.  The T60′s lower contrast is showing already (black is not as dark) (view large image)

Left = R50p with Flexview. Right = T60 without Flexview.  The narrow viewing angle of 14″ is showing. But it gets worse… (view large image)



Left = R50p with Flexview. Right = T60 without Flexview.  T60′s gets even worse as you view from below (view large image)

Another shortcoming is the screen’s brightness. I usually set the brightness to maximum. Among the eight brightness levels, anything below five is too dark to use. Compared with other LCDs I have used, the screen also has below-average contrast and response times. The screen is fine for typing and browsing, but don’t expect to use it for movies.

It is safe to say that Lenovo did some cost-saving in the screen department.

Speakers

There are two stereo speakers at the lower front of the notebook. As expected with notebook speakers, there is zero bass. However, the speakers are loud. I wouldn’t play a movie with these speakers, but they are definitely loud enough for a presentation in a small classroom.

Processors and Performance

Built for multitasking, Intel Core Duo feels noticeably snappier than a Pentium M of similar clock frequency. The T60 under review has a Duo 1.83GHz with 667MHz 512MB RAM (later increased to 1GB) and a 5400rpm hard drive (8MB cache).

The bottlenecks are always the hard drive or the RAM. I don’t think I have seen the CPUs’ usage stay above 90%, even when I am encoding audio files and playing a movie at the same time. Switching between applications is a breeze. Thanks to two processors, you can run a processor hogging application but still have a responsive system.

This T60 model comes with 512MB of RAM. Upgrading to 1GB of RAM is a must. One thing to note is the RAM requirements of Core Duo systems. Unless you use two sticks of DDR2 RAM with identical size and frequency, the system falls back to single data rate and the lowest frequency.

I purchased a 667MHz PC2 5300 512MB stick from Crucial for $80. Adding this additional 512MB made a noticeable improvement in speed. For most of the benchmarks I will provide two numbers, one using 1x512MB of RAM, and one using 2x512MB of RAM.

Finally, to put things into perspective, running a 1080p HD Quicktime file uses 60% of the CPUs, and encoding a two-hour movie at 600×300 with XVID (single-pass) and AAC takes about one hour.

Graphics

A graphics card is becoming increasingly important to a notebook purchase, so I will talk a bit about the T60′s ATI Radeon Mobility X1300 video card.

Replacing X300, X1300 is at the low-end of ATI’s new X1x00 line of video cards. Roughly speaking, it has about double the performance of Intel’s extreme(ly bad) integrated video, and half the performance of X1400. What is puzzling is that on ATI’s site, X1300 and X1400 have mostly the same specs except for a minor difference in clock speeds. However, from 3dmark05 tests, X1400 scores 1600-2100, while X1300 scores 900-1200.

New to the X1x00 line of cards is AVIVO (advanced imaging and video, contrived name?). The biggest advantage is accelerated MPEG4/H.264 playback and encoding (http://www.digit-life.com/articles2/video/avivo_1.html).

Another feature of X1300 is Hypermemory. The X1300 has 64MB of onboard memory, but when needed, it will use your RAM to achieve a total of 256MB of memory. In some respects, Hypermemory behaves similar to integrated graphics. So Hypermemory for graphics really means Hypomemory for your system…another reason to add more RAM.

As for deciding between X1300 and X1400, I would say go with X1400 if you play an averagely-unhealthy amount of games. But the X1300 definitely holds its own if you are a light gamer. I tried several contemporary’ games such as Doom 3, Quake 4, and Need for Speed Most Wanted. With X1300, all of the games had smooth frame rates when played at 800×600 with low to medium details.

I also tried some older games such as Quake 3 and NFS Porsche Unleashed. These games had graphic details maxed out at 1400×1050 and still had smooth frame rates. Therefore, I would say that the X1300 is comparable to a top-of-the-line video card from three years ago.

Benchmarks

All benchmarks were performed once with 512MB of RAM, and once with 1GB of RAM. The tests were run on the T60 in an out-of-box state (No clean install of Windows). The benchmark was the only active program in the taskbar.

SuperPi

Here are the results from SuperPi, which calculates Pi to two million digits (aren’t we spoiled…). T60 needed an average of 1m18s:

   

Left = with 512MB RAM. Right = with 1GB RAM.

Amount of RAM didn’t affect SuperPi because it is a CPU intensive benchmark.

PCMark05

PCMark doesn’t show the real-world improvement of increasing RAM to 1GB. But benchmarks don’t tell the whole story.

With 512MB RAM

With 1GB RAM

SCORE

3,197

3,185

HDD – XP Startup

5.72 MB/s

5.74 MB/s

Physics and 3D

108.23 FPS

108.26 FPS

Transparent Windows

95.81 Windows/s

96.02 Windows/s

3D – Pixel Shader

36.4 FPS

35.9 FPS

Web Page Rendering

2.58 Pages/s

2.55 Pages/s

File Decryption

45.55 MB/s

45.47 MB/s

Graphics Memory – 64 Lines

497.87 FPS

499.22 FPS

HDD – General Usage

4.03 MB/s

4.0 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 1 / Audio Compression

1777.79 KB/s

1866.06 KB/s

Multithreaded Test 1 / Video Encoding

283.23 KB/s

275.13 KB/s

Multithreaded Test 2 / Text Edit

100.06 Pages/s

99.08 Pages/s

Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Decompression

21.17 MPixels/s

21.53 MPixels/s

Multithreaded Test 3 / File Compression

4.08 MB/s

7.19 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 3 / File Encryption

21.92 MB/s

15.87 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 3 / HDD – Virus Scan

32.35 MB/s

24.83 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 3 / Memory Latency – Random 16 MB

7.01 MAccesses/s

6.73 MAccesses/s

3DMark05

Interestingly, adding RAM reduced performance. But this contradicts my own experience. Again, take the benchmark results with a grain of salt.

With 512MB RAM

With 1GB RAM

3DMark05 SCORE

1045

943

CPU SCORE

4577

4078

The above 3D score is average for a Mobility X1300. Dell has slightly higher-scoring X1300′s (but Lenovo has higher-scoring X1400′s).

Heat and Noise

I have used Thinkpad R50p and T43, and I have to say that T60 is the coolest and quietest. The T43 received complaints about heat and loud fan. With T60, the previous parallel port is replaced by an air vent, and the fan is quieter.

The palm rest is usually cool. It only gets lukewarm when there is high hard drive activity (the hard drive is under the right palm rest). The keyboard never even gets lukewarm. If you don’t do CPU or GPU intensive tasks, the underside of the notebook is less than body temperature, and the fan air is only slightly warm.

As for some numbers, I used Mobile Meter to find out the following:

CPU temp

HD temp

Battery, normal usage

41C

31C

AC Powered, normal usage

47C

35C

With gaming, the temperatures can get high. CPU temperature can be 50-60C, and the GPU temperature is probably even higher (I don’t have a way of measuring this). The underside and fan air become uncomfortably hot. However, this is expected of any notebook when gaming.

With normal web browsing, file transferring, and other non-gaming tasks, the fan turns on about 60% of the time. When it is on, it is barely audible. The Hitachi hard drive is also fairly quiet. The optical drive can be loud, but it has the BIOS option to operate in low noise mode. After enabling this option, the drive noise is down to a hum.

Overall, the T60 is a cool-running and quiet machine.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The best known part of a Thinkpad is probably its keyboard. My keyboard is manufactured by Alps. Every key moves individually. There is good travel, no flex, and great feedback. The only gripe that I have is the small sizes of the Windows and Alt keys. However, I would rather have the Windows key than not.


The legendary’ Thinkpad keyboard (view large image)

In the middle of the keyboard is the TrackPoint eraser-head.’ This is convenient in that you do not have to leave the keyboard to use the mouse. Also, you can press the middle mouse button and the TrackPoint at the same time to scroll up/down.

The touchpad is on the small side. You can scroll vertically and horizontally when sliding near the edge of the touchpad, but the jumpy response makes this function almost useless. It appears that the only purpose of the touchpad is to encourage you to use the TrackPoint.

Lastly, the whole keyboard area can be illuminated by the white “ThinkLight.” This is a useful feature when working at night.

Input and Output Ports

Continuing the tradition, the T60 is rather scarce on ports. There are three USB 2.0 ports, a VGA port, a modem port, and an Ethernet port — that’s it. T60 is even worse than T43 in that there is no S-Video and parallel port. This is a disappointment because you can no longer output to TV or connect to old printers. And of course, there are no card readers.

There is a bottom dock connector to connect to a docking station to add DVI, VGA, serial, parallel, PS/2, card reader, USB, and digital audio ports. This docking station will set you back an additional $200-$300.

While typing this, I realized that the reason why T notebooks have so few ports is nothing other than a ploy to have you spend more money to buy a dock…

Expandability

T60 comes with a PC card slot and an ExpressCard slot, which you can use to add peripherals, e.g. a TV tuner.

The Ultrabay slim CD/DVD drive can be swapped for a second hard drive or battery. This bay is useful in the future if Lenovo decides to make Blue-ray or HD-DVD Ultrabay drives.

Wireless

The T60 comes standard with Intel Pro/Wireless 3945ABG 802.11a/b/g, Bluetooth, and infrared port (front of notebook). Linking with my Linksys 802.11g network is very easy. I don’t use Bluetooth and infrared, so I have disabled them in the BIOS.

The ThinkVantage suite comes with software to handle wireless networks. Fn+F5 allows you to quickly turn the radio on and off:


ThinkVantage Access Connections gives a graphical view of available networks to connect to:


(view large image)

Battery

The included battery is a Sony 6-cell 5200mAh battery. I did not choose the 9-cell due to its weight and size (protrudes out of the back).

For a real-world’ battery test, I had screen brightness maximized, 802.11g wireless turned on, a 500mW mouse connected, 60 processes running, several applications (Word, Firefox, Winamp) active, and no optical drive access. In this scenario, the battery lasted 3.5 hours. Charging the battery back to 80% (while the notebook was being used) took one hour.

You can probably squeeze four hours out of the six cell battery if you are careful. With the nine cell, assuming a linear improvement, you can probably get more than five hours of battery life.

Operating System and Software

Lenovo puts its share of bloatware on the T60. Out of the box experience greets you with nearly 70 running processes. This slows down the boot time to two minutes. After removing about 20 of these processes and defragmenting the hard drive, boot time can be reduced to one minute. I wouldn’t be surprised if a clean Windows install will shorten the time further.

T60 comes standard with Windows XP Professional. Among the few useful software are WinDVD for DVD playback, and the ThinkVantage Suite (shown below):


(view large image)

Although the ThinkVantage suite takes more disk space and RAM than it should, some function are actually useful.

For example, Active Protection uses the onboard accelerometer to park the hard drive when a possible fall is detected:

   

Access Connections is useful for connecting to a network via a Wizard (see Wireless section).

I also find the fingerprint reader software to be very convenient. You can have it remember 21 fingerprints (ten fingers + ten toes + one for those who have an extra finger/toe?). These fingerprints can be used for power-on password, login password, or e.g. webmail password:

   

 

With fingerprint scanner, you can grant others access to your computer without sharing passwords. Also, I heard that the reader requires a live finger too, but this is slightly difficult to verify.

Lastly, there is the Rescue and Recovery software. Lenovo doesn’t include any backup disks. Everything is in a hidden partition on the hard drive. You can go directly into R&R when booting up. It can be useful in a worst case scenario, but it takes up substantial disk space (5GB).

Customer Support

From what I hear, Thinkpad customer support is one of the better ones out there. Fortunately, I have not had a reason to contact them yet. But there is no hurry as the machine comes standard with three years warranty on parts and labor, and one year on the battery. The school I will be attending has on-site Lenovo service, which will prove to be convenient should the need ever arise.

Conclusion

Altogether, the T60 is a great notebook that will continue the T series’ reputation. I would highly recommend it to a student or a professional who needs a notebook that is durable, portable, and does not sacrifice on performance. If you don’t need to purchase a notebook until early 2007, I would suggest wait for the next T notebook, which will use Merom CPUs (second generation Core). Otherwise, T60 is certainly one of the best notebooks on the market.

Pros

  • Core Duo = multitask.
  • Dedicated graphics in a 14.1″ form factor.
  • High resolution screen.
  • Great keyboard.
  • Good battery life.
  • Cool and quiet.
  • Fingerprint security and hard drive protection.
  • Thinkpad quality.

Cons

  • Narrow screen viewing angles (non-Flexview).
  • Lacks multimedia ports such as S-Video, card reader, and Firewire.
  • Need to remove palm rest for RAM installation.
  • Loaded with bloatware.
  • Model comes with only 512MB of RAM.
  • Video card is on the low-end, and will steal RAM.


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