Lenovo ThinkPad T61 14.1-inch Review

by Kevin O'Brien Reads (384,040)

by Kevin O’Brien

Standard aspect ratio business notebooks are becoming more difficult to purchase these days from different manufacturers, but Lenovo has pulled through for another generation with the ThinkPad T61. The 14" 4:3 T61 is one of the last models of its kind on the market, and it is still every bit as durable and refined as the models before it.

The Lenovo T61 4:3 14.1" notebook is offered with a wide array of options, with processors spanning from the Intel T7100 to the T7800, ram up to 4GB, hard drive up to 200GB, Intel turbo memory, Intel Wireless-N, and either the 128MB nVidia NVS 140M or Intel X3100 graphics cards.

The following are the features of the 14" T61 being reviewed:

  • Screen: 14.1-inch SXGA+ (1400 x 1050) TFT Display,150 NIT, 200:1 Contrast
  • Processor: 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 (4MB L2 Cache,800MHz FSB)
  • Hard Drive: 100GB hard drive (Hitatchi 7k100 7200RPM)
  • Memory: 1GB x2 2GB Total (PC5300, 667 MHz, DDR2 SDRAM) 4GB max memory
  • Optical Drive: DVD+-R Double layer / DVD+-RW Drive
  • External Ports and Slots: Three USB 2.0, one ExpressCard slot, VGA, headphone / line-out, microphone-in, modem, 1Gb Ethernet
  • Wireless: WiFi (Intel 4965AGN 802.11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth 2.0 w/ EDR
  • Graphics: nVidia NVS 140M (256MB)
  • Operating System: Windows Vista Ultimate
  • 9-cell Li-Ion battery (10.8V, 7.8AH)
  • Dimensions: (WxDxH): 12.3" x 10.0/10.9" w/battery x 1.2-1.4"
  • Weight: 4lbs 11.1oz, 5lbs 11.6oz w/9 cell battery (6lbs 10.3oz travel weight)


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Build and Design

Comparing the outside of the 14.1" T61 to the older T60, it’s hard to figure out what all has changed. One clue that may stand out depending on how familiar you are with the hinge setup, is the left hinge is wider than the right hinge. Another subtle change that many diehard Thinkpad users will notice is the sticker has changed from being the older multi-color IBM logo, to just "ThinkPad Tseries". Other than that no visible changes have been made. Internally the 14" T-Series has gained a new LCD roll cage, which helps significantly to reduce screen lid flex, and ripples from pressing hard behind the screen.

Opening up the T61 another subtle but slightly odd change is the LCD is off center. If you are really picky about that sort of thing it may drive you insane, but I didn’t even notice it after using the notebook for more than five minutes.


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Structure wise the notebook is as strong as ever. Just like the T61p, chassis flex is not present, body panels don’t squeak under hard pressure, and palm support is excellent for typing. The palm rest has been redesigned from the previous model, but it doesn’t look much different without closer inspection. The front lip overhang has increased, and tasks like upgrading ram are a bit easier, since the palm rest seemed easier to slide off and reinstall.

Performance and Benchmarks

The T61 was an excellent all around performer, without any lag or delay opening programs or switching between programs. Much of this can be attributed to the amount of ram and the 7200rm hard drive which was configured with this model. Even tasks such as light gaming were possible with its business grade nVidia NVS 140M, comparable to the consumer nVdia 8400 GT.

Listed below are the standard benchmarks we run on our laptops to make it easier to compare models head to head.

wPrime is a program that forces the processor to do recursive mathematical calculations, the advantage of this program is that it is multi-threaded and can use both processor cores at once, thereby giving more accurate benchmarking measurements than Super Pi.

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Lenovo T61 (Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2.0GHz) 42.025s
Dell Vostro 1500 (Intel Core 2 Duo T5470 @ 1.6GHz) 53.827s
HP Pavilion dv6500z (AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 40.759s
Systemax Assault Ruggedized (Core 2 Duo T7200 @2.0GHz) 41.982s
Toshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @2.2GHz) 37.299s
HP Compaq 6910p (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 40.965s
Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz) 76.240s
Zepto 6024W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 42.385s
Lenovo T61 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.705s
Alienware M5750 (Core 2 Duo T7600 @ 2.33GHz) 38.327s
Hewlett Packard DV6000z (Turion X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 38.720s
Samsung Q70 (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2.0GHz) 42.218s
Acer Travelmate 8204WLMi (Core Duo T2500 @ 2.0GHz) 42.947s
Samsung X60plus (Core 2 Duo T7200 @ 2.0GHz) 44.922s
Zepto Znote 6224W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2.0GHz) 45.788s
Samsung Q35 (Core 2 Duo T5600 @ 1.83GHz) 46.274s

PCMark05 comparison results:

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Lenovo T61 Standard Screen (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA NVS 140M 256MB) 4,839 PCMarks
Dell Vostro 1500 (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5470, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 3,585 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 4,925 PCMarks
Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,377 PCMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 4,591 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

 

3DMark06 comparison results:

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Lenovo T61 Standard Screen (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA NVS 140M 256MB) 1,441 3DMarks
Dell Vostro 1500 (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5470, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 1,269 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,329 3DMarks
Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 532 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,408 3DMarks
Samsung Q70 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and nVidia 8400M G GPU) 1,069 3DMarks
Asus F3sv-A1 (Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz, Nvidia 8600M GS 256MB) 2,344 3DMarks
Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB 2,183 3DMarks
Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi 1526 (1.66 Core Duo, nVidia 7600Go 256 MB) 2,144 3DMarks
Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200, ATI X1700 256MB) 1,831 3DMarks
Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB) 1,819 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks
Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 794 3DMarks
Samsung R20 (1.73GHz T2250 and ATI 1250M chipset / GPU) 476 3DMarks

 

Windows Vista Experience Index:
Vista Index 4.0
Processor 4.9
Memory (RAM) 4.8
Graphics 4.0
Gaming Graphics 4.6
Hard Disk 4.9

Screen

The only weakness of the 4:3 T61 is the screen in my opinion. The 200:1 contrast ratio really shows throughout normal use, with menus and other screen objects looking washed out. Some darker screens were difficult to view, with screen elements blending into the background. Brightness levels were acceptable for a 14.1" notebook, and I found my comfortable levels to be set at about 85%.


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Viewing angles were average, with the colors tending to invert quickly on its vertical axis. Horizontal angles were better, keeping colors true to more extreme angles. Refresh times were also about average, with items like the mouse cursor showing some faint trailing on quick movement.

Keyboard, Touchpad, and Fingerprint Reader

The keyboard hasn’t changed much, in fact it is the identical part number to the one found on the older T60. This is great news for those hoping that the trusted layout and feel stayed the same into the new model. Same goes for the touchpad and fingerprint sensor. With many keyboard reviews, you generally see that particular model being compared against the "ThinkPad Keyboard" and this really holds true. You can type comfortably for hours at this keyboard as if it was your desktop in front of you. The support under the keyboard is very sturdy, with absolutely no flex anywhere.


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The touchpad, while being on the small side compared to versions found on other laptops, is still easy to operate. I find the semi-rough texture to be preferable to a polished feel for better control, and it seems to hold up longer to oils on your finger without getting too slick. The Trackpoint hasn’t changed much over the years, and gives the same feel as it always has. The buttons for both the touchpad and trackpoint give a nice solid clunk when pressed, never needing to be forced to register the click. The fingerprint reader works great, although in general they take a while to get used to the swiping motion. If you have never used one before, it may be a few days before you get the single stroke login down pat.

Input and Output Ports


Front: Wireless on/off switch. (view large image)


Left Side: Heatsink Exhaust, VGA, modem, LAN, microphone, headphone/lineout, USB, PC-Card and Expresscard slots. (view large image)


Right Side: HD Bay, Optical bay, 2 USB, Kensington lock slot. (view large image)


Rear: Battery and AC power jack. (view large image)

Audio and Speakers

The speakers on the T61 (as with the previous ThinkPad models) are slightly below average. With the speakers pointing directly down on the lower edge of the palmrest, sounds were muted slightly. If you had the laptop on a soft surface like a bed, the speakers would be completely blocked. Peak volume levels were lacking for loud movie entertainment, but the headphone jack was an acceptable alternative. Sound output was clear and free of any hiss or other interference. A coax digital output is also available through the advanced or advanced mini dock for connecting to your home stereo.

Networking

This T61 was configured with the Intel 4965AGN wireless card, and in daily use it worked without any problems. Reception was always strong and clear if you were within reasonable range of the access point, and it never had any odd dropouts that would kill a long file download. Wired performance was also excellent with the onboard Intel gigabit interface, never giving any hiccups.

Heat and Noise

The T61 managed heat much better than the older T60 under normal use. In situations where the CPU and/or GPU would be close to an idle state, heat was dispersed passively through the chassis and keyboard with the fan turning on in small intervals. Under heavier loads the fans would come on more, but temperature levels stayed in acceptable ranges. Fan noise was minimal, with the 7200rpm drive almost always louder. Below are temperature overlays listed in degrees Fahrenheit:


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Battery

The 9-cell battery on the T61 got just over 4 hours and 30 minutes in testing, with screen brightness at 80%, CPU set to adaptive, and with light internet activity. This was a bit less battery life compared to my 15" T60 running XP, but the key difference seems to be that Vista is slightly more intensive in background activities. For in-flight entertainment, the T61 should be fine for getting through an entire DVD movie.

Conclusion

Being one of the last 4:3 notebooks on the market today, the Lenovo T61 is a clear winner for those who still haven’t adjusted to the widescreen format choices. It offers a ton of power for the demanding business user, and you are still able to get most of the features available to the widescreen T61 models. Overall it’s great to see Lenovo still notebook format as an option to its customers.

 

Pros:

  • Runs very cool
  • Fan doesn’t come on as much as previous models
  • Excellent performance
  • Great keyboard, touchpad, and touchpoint

Cons:

  • Screen has limited contrast


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