Lenovo ThinkPad T61p Review

by Kevin O'Brien Reads (471,500)

by Kevin O’Brien

The T61p is the first widescreen ThinkPad mobile workstation, and the latest high-end offering from Lenovo. It comes with almost every feature a demanding business user could want, and is starting at a very reasonable price point below 1400 for the 14.1” model. This model has also gone under a number of changes from the previous generation, and in this ThinkPad T61p review you will find out how it stacks up.


Lenovo ThinkPad T61p (view large image)

The ThinkPad T61p comes in two sizes, one being 14.1” and the model being reviewed at 15.4”. The key difference between both these lines, besides screen size, is the memory size of the NVIDIA Quadro FX 570M video card included with the system. You receive a 128MB card in the smaller 14.1” model, and double the memory at 256MB in the 15.4” model. The processor selection is the same, spanning from the Intel T7100 to T7700, memory from 1GB to 4GB, and hard drives from 60GB to 160GB in 5400 or 7200rpm flavors.  Other options include a fingerprint reader, Bluetooth, Intel Turbo Memory, N-wireless, and an extended battery version.

The following are the features of the 15.4” T61p being reviewed:

  • Screen: 15.4-inch WUXGA (1920 x 1200) TFT Display,175 NIT, 500:1 Contrast
  • Processor: 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7700 (4MB L2 Cache,800MHz FSB)
  • Hard Drive: 100 GB hard drive (Seagate 7200.1 7200RPM)
  • Memory: 2GB x 1 RAM (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, Firewire 400, one ExpressCard slot, one SmartCard Reader, one VGA, one 4-in-1 card reader, headphone / line-out, microphone-in, modem, 1Gb Ethernet
  • Wireless: WiFi (Intel 4965AGN 802.11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth 2.0 w/ EDR
  • Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro FX 570M (256MB)
  • Operating System: Windows Vista Ultimate
  • 9-cell Li-Ion battery (10.8V, 7.8AH)
  • Dimensions: (WxDxH): 14.1" x 10.0" x 1.2–1.4"; 358.4mm x 255mm x 29.8–34.5mm
  • Weight: 6.77 pounds (w/ 9 cell battery, 5.67lbs w/o)

Link to detailed specs for T61p

Build and Design

I’ll have to admit, as a current owner of a ThinkPad T60, I was quite eager to see what had been updated and changed with the T61. The items that gained the most attention out of the box were system operating temperatures, as well as the new LCD cover construction. Lenovo had advertised both items on how they were improved across the board, and I wanted to see just how much.


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Starting off with cooling system changes, I turned on the laptop and opened up tpfancontrol to watch the internal temperatures. CPU temps were very similar, but compared to my T60, GPU temps were 15-20C lower at idle! Obviously something changed under the hood of the laptop besides the wider heatsink grills. To take a closer look, I removed the keyboard from both machines, and compared the heatsinks side by side. The fan structure and CPU pad are quite similar, but the GPU/Northbridge side changed quite a bit.


A look at the GPU and cooling system (view large image)

Key parts changed:

  1. Larger heat absorption block above the GPU chip

  2. Thermal pad connecting GPU heatsink to keyboard base structure as additional passive heatsink.
  3. Redesigned plate that rests above GPU/Northbridge

All these changes account for the dramatically lower GPU temps at idle, even with the higher-end GPU that T61p has in comparison to the T60. Below are some figures clearly showing the differences in temperatures across the board.

When the GPU was put under load, the playing field evened out. Both laptops have roughly the same size heatsink/fan meaning they will dissipate energy just at roughly the same speed. Both laptops had GPU temps peaked around the 80-81C range, with the T61p slightly higher (though it’s a much better card than the old X1400 in my T60). Another aspect some might notice is how quiet the new T61 series is under load. At first I was thinking it was a new fan design, but playing with tpfancontrol I noticed you only have 3 fan speeds instead of 7 on the T60. It is quieter under high load because the fan is limited to ~3300rpm, whereas the T60 can go upwards of ~4300rpm. Less noise yes, but also less peak airflow. Speeds 1-3 are roughly the same noise level, but the T61 (with its newer heatsink design) spends more time without the fans on at all.

The LCD cover was also changed on the T61, going from the stamped magnesium piece, to plastic. I am happy to say that not only is the plastic lid just as sturdy, but it has much less flex than the older cover.  New on this model was an internal magnesium framework behind the screen for support, and this has obviously helped out a lot. With the old design, although it protected the screen just fine, you could still flex it in if you pressed hard enough with your thumb. On the new design, the internal framework supports the lid completely, preventing almost all flex.

For those curious about items that didn’t change, the AC adapter, battery, and keyboard are the exact same parts found on the previous 15” T60 and Z60m/Z61m. Keyboard is tried and true, and you don’t have to worry about replacing your spare power cords, batteries, or even the docking station.

Performance and Benchmarks

With the broad range of Core 2 Duo processors available, combined with the NVIDIA Quadro FX 570M graphics, the T61p doesn’t fall short on performance. Even with its being targeted towards business applications, it has more than enough raw power for the latest games. Another fun fact for those curious about the video ram configuration, you will be happy to know this laptop has GDDR3 modules, Hynix hy5rs123235b to be exact. To keep system lag to a minimum, this particular configuration also had a 7200rpm Seagate hard drive. The following benchmarks are a testament to this business laptop’s shear power.

3DMark06 comparison results:

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Lenovo ThinkPad T61p (2.4GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T7700, Nvidia Quadro FX 570M) 3,757 3DMarks
Asus W7S (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce 8400M G 128MB RAM) 1,082 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


PCMark05 comparison results

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Lenovo ThinkPad T61p (2.4GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T7700, Nvidia Quadro FX 570M) 5,500 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad T61 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T7300) 4,084 PCMarks
Toshiba Satellite P205-S6287 (Intel 1.73GHz T5300 + GMA 950) 2,981 PCMarks
HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52, ATI x1270) 2,420 PCMarks
Toshiba Satellite A135 (Core Duo T2250, Intel GMA 950) 3,027 PCMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook A6010 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA 950) 2,994 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
Toshiba Tecra M6 (1.66GHz Intel T2300E, Intel GMA 950) 2,732 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400) 3,646 PCMarks
Sony VAIO FE590 (1.83GHz Core Duo) 3,427 PCMarks


Super Pi comparison results:

Notebook Time
Lenovo ThinkPad T61p (2.4GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T7700) 0m 51s
Asus W7S (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500) 0m 56s
Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500) 0m 54s
Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300) 0m 59s
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300) 0m 58s
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
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 dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T2400) 0m 59s
Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo) 1m 02s

 

Windows Vista Experience Index:

  • Vista index 4.8
  • Processor 5.3
  • Memory (RAM) 4.8
  • Graphics 5.9
  • Gaming Graphics 5.5
  • Hard Disk 5.0

Screen

The WUXGA high resolution screen that comes standard on the 15.4” T61p has a very good contrast, and plenty of backlighting. I found the screen to be very easy to read in bright rooms and even outside. Direct sunlight does wash out the screen, but short of a perfect reflection off the screen it is quite readable outside. On higher backlight settings some mild backlight bleed was visible on a completely black screen. Viewing angles I felt were lacking, as colors washed out with vertical movement up or down. Horizontal angles were better, with little color distortion as you moved towards a steeper angle. Those who are worried about the off center screen causing viewing problems; I didn’t notice it once I started concentrating on what was on the screen. If that type of thing bugged you, the matte black finish, squared edges, and industrial looks would have turned you off well before that wider bexel on one edge. Overall the screen was fine for normal use sitting in front of the laptop, but deep down inside I wish some screen manufacturer offered a Flexview screen in this format.

One problem that wasn’t directly related to the screen itself was my eyes viewing the extremely fine resolution. This is a more personal preference than anything, and I would highly suggest that you find a 15” WUXGA screen to play with in person before you make the purchase. My preference is the lower SXGA+ (1400×1050), or SWXGA+ (1680×1050) resolution range for the 15” screen size for ease of viewing.

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. The semi-rough texture I find to be preferable to 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 and center you find the firewire 400 connector, master wireless on/off switch, and 4 in 1 card reader:


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Left Side we see the VGA port, modem, LAN, microphone/speaker, USB, and Smartcard/PC Card slot:


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On the Right side we have the SATA HD Bay, Optical Drive Bay, USB Ports, and Kensington lock slot:


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The rear side has the battery, and AC connector:


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Audio and Speakers

The onboard audio on the T61p is more than adequate for mild entertainment while traveling, or listening to music in a smaller room. Don’t expect much in terms of bass and midrange from the speakers, and you won’t be disappointed. They provide more than enough volume for most tasks, but don’t compare to the speakers found on some of the media center laptops. The external headphone/speaker jack gave clear and hiss free sound, and had plenty of power to drive a larger set of headphones.

Networking

The T61p comes with Intel gigabit wired networking, as well as your choice of 3 wireless card offerings and a Bluetooth option. This configuration had the Intel 4965AGN card, but an Atheros based 11a/b/g card, as well as the Intel 3945ABG were also options. I had no problems connecting onto networks promptly, and configuration was easily controlled through Windows Vista. I had no problems connecting with “Very Good” signal strength anywhere around my 2500 sq ft brick house, with the Linksys WRT54g located in a central point. The Bluetooth transceiver was plug n play with all accessories I had laying around, although a few items were strict about using the MS Bluetooth stack or the Widcomm stack.

Heat and Noise

The T61p 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 heat would still stay in acceptable ranges. Fan noise was minimal, with the 7200rpm drive almost always louder. Specific idle and load temperatures are listed in the “Build and Design” section above.

Battery

Off the grid users would be strongly recommended to look into the 9 cell battery for the T61p. With its beefier configuration, it has a tendency to suck down power at a greater rate compared the standard T61 or T60. While my old 15” t60 w/ t7400, x1400, 2gb, and 120gb 7200.2 can string out more than 5 hours on the 9 cell, the T61p comes in below 4 hours running in balanced mode with 50% backlight. It hit 5% on the battery gauge after running for 3 hours and 33 minutes.

Conclusion

Starting at around 1500 for the 15.4” version, the ThinkPad T61p is a great value. With many configurations possible depending on processor speed, ram, hard drive size, operating system, security features, and battery sizes you are bound to find a setup perfect for your needs. This machine offers high performance for both business and leisure (gaming) uses, without sacrificing any of the build quality of previous ThinkPad models. Platform updates from the T60 series seem to all be for the better, with other trusted components staying the same. Overall I find the T61p to be an excellent choice for almost any situation given its midrange price point.

Pros:

  • Runs much cooler at idle than previous T60
  • Stronger lid construction and a bit stiffer chassis
  • Lots of power for anything you can throw at it
  • Still shares accessories with the T60 so less items to upgrade

Cons:

  • Temps under load are on par with older T60
  • T61p goes through juice at a faster rate than more modest configurations


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