Lenovo ThinkPad X61 User Review

by philfna Reads (133,910)

Overview and Introduction

The Lenovo ThinkPad X61 12.1” ultraportable notebook was released by Lenovo this year as a replacement for the X60.  The X61 provides a nice chipset, processor, and graphics refresh to the X60 with the adoption of Intel’s GM965 Express chipset which features the X3100 integrated graphics adapter.  In addition, optional features such as integrated Wireless WAN connectivity, turbo memory, and fingerprint security enhance the X61’s functionality.


Lenovo ThinkPad X61s on the left, X61 on the right (view large image)

There are a few models in the X61 family, and this review covers the plain vanilla X61 12.1” notebook model.  The X61 family also features a tablet pc convertible notebook and an “ultimate battery life” X61s ThinkPad.  The laptop that being reviewed is equipped as follows:

Specs

  • Processor: Intel T7300 Core 2 Duo (2.0Ghz, 800 MHz FSB, 4MB cache)
  • Graphics: Intel GMAX3100
  • Operating System: Vista Business
  • Display: XGA TFT 1024 x 768
  • Hard Drive: 120 GB 5400 RPM Hitachi Travelstar
  • Memory: 2GB (1GB x 1GB) up to 4 GB max PC5300 (667 MHz)
  • Ports: 3 USB, 1 FireWire, 1 Monitor out, modem, Ethernet 10/100/1000, headphone out, microphone in
  • Slots: 1 PC Card Slot, 1 media card reader
  • Optical Drive: None (ultra base with optical drive is optional)
  • Wireless Network Adapter: Intel 3945ABG
  • Dimensions: 10.6” x 8.3” x 1.4”
  • Weight: 3.1 lbs
  • Battery: 4 cell 2600 mAh  (runtime 3.9 hours)
  • TPM chip with fingerprint security
  • Bluetooth 2.0+EDR
  • Price as configured $1299.00 (plus $69 for 2 gigs of memory from third party)

Reasons for Buying

I was looking for a full featured laptop that had the power of a desktop in an ultra portable form factor to allow for less strain when traveling; also there was a certain amount of “wow” factor being looked for when considering which unit to get.  Toshiba’s Portege was also considered as well as a Macbook Pro, but the ThinkPad’s classic design, power, and reputation for quality build convinced me to get the X61.

Design & Build


ThinkPad X61 (view large image)

The first thing noticed when opening up the box for the X61 was the absence of the IBM logo, it is now replaced with the ThinkPad X series badge on the outside and inside.  The ThinkPad pointing stick buttons are still missing the red and blue lines present in previous iterations of the X-series.  The X-series has always been designed for people on the go, and sacrifices an optical drive to drop carrying weight.  At 3.1 pounds it meets portability need exceedingly well.  The X61 has an optional ultrabase docking station for when you’re at your desk and need more ports.


Thickness of X61 compared to Blackberry Pearl (view large image)

The case is made of tough and rugged plastic, and presents no flex.  The brushed metal hinges are sturdy and don’t have a cheap feel that other laptops have. 

The X61 has the ThinkPad’s legendary solid keyboard that has a nice response to the fingers; other laptop keyboards can often feel cheap relative to this.  It is of course a bit cramped for those used to a larger desktop keyboard.


Keyboard view of X61s and X61 (view large image)

The X61’s form factor makes it ideal for being a light weight companion in a briefcase, and with its solid construction it feels safe throwing it in with other files and books.  There is a sort of understated grace to the X61.  The ultra thin lid with the tiny, but strong hinges gives a feeling of elegance that run of the mill notebooks don’t have.  The X61 doesn’t feel cheap at all, which in itself is a powerful feature of the notebook.

Upgrades and Optional Features

The number one recommended upgrade would be the addition of more memory beyond the stock 1 GB provided in the base configuration.  Choosing to save I did the memory upgrade after purchasing the unit.  The memory slots are easily accessible underneath the unit.  The X61 takes PC-5300 memory, and will allow up to a maximum of 4 GB of memory although 32-bit OS’s may report lesser amounts due to addressing limitations.


(view large image)

The second obvious upgrade would be either a faster and / or larger hard drive.  In this case the 120 GB offered in the base configuration at 5400 rpm was large enough for my current needs.  I opted not to get the optional “Turbo Memory” for this unit.  Turbo Memory is a first attempt at a hybrid drive like technology for Intel, and tests report minimal increases in battery life and performance.   Some users have reported blue screen of death issues and conflicts due to Turbo Memory – although with the T61 I have that’s equipped with Turbo Memory this problem has not occurred.

Lenovo also offers WWAN connectivity for both Cingular and Verizon.  Other users have reported that these units perform well, but might generate excess heat when not in use.  Since I don’t have a wireless plan with either Cingular or Verizon I chose not to purchase this feature.  I have successfully paired a BlackBerry 8830 from Sprint as a WWAN connection which offers acceptable performance when necessary. 

The optional Bluetooth module performed flawlessly in Vista, and I had no problem pairing a headset to the X61.

The X61’s optional fingerprint security reader does an admirable job of enabling fingerprint based security identification and password management.  Enrollment was easy, and logging in and enabling the password manager is both fast and accurate.  There were very few errors with the scanner once you got used to the speed necessary to avoid an error swipe.

The one item I wish I had upgraded to was the 8 cell battery.  For such an ultraportable it seemed odd to ship the unit with only a 4 cell battery.  The battery when inserted into the unit over time began to give a little, and made it seem a bit cheap; perhaps the only non premium feel in the design of the unit.

The X6 ultrabase offers an optical drive, and docking station like functionality – I chose not to purchase this item as I have several portable USB drives around; although for those who wish to have a desktop experience at work with full keyboard, mouse, monitor, and optical drive this would seem to be a must have add-on.

The final piece is the warranty – unlike the T61 my X61 came with a base 1 year warranty.  I spent the money and upgraded to the 3 year NBD onsite warranty.  For such a premium product the one year warranty felt a bit cheap.

Screen

If there is an Achilles heel to the X61 it has to be the screen.  Compared to the T61 the screen on the X61 is just plain disappointing.  The contrast and viewing angle in comparison to the T-series is just dismal.  Although most users will be quite close to the screen for viewing, this is not the unit to get if a lot of collaboration without the use of an external monitor is required.  The X61 under review does not suffer from any backlight or dead pixel issues.

Sound

The sound on the X61 is not great – it isn’t horrible, but it often sounds quiet. When trying  to use this as a portable DVD player the sound was too quiet  to hear without being in an absolutely dead silent room.  A great add-on would be noise cancellation headphones to really make the sound experience quite a bit more enjoyable with the unit.

Ports

The X61 has the standard array of 3 USB 2.0 ports, 1 firewire, and a media card reader.  The media card reader came in handy for ReadyBoost, but the other ports are plain vanilla.  One port missing many users seem to need is an S-video out port.  I also wonder when DVI ports will begin replacing the VGA ports found on today’s units.

Left Side


Left side view of X61 on top of X61s (view large image)


Right side view of X61 on top of X61s (view large image)

Processor and Performance

In terms of performance the X61 really shines with the Intel Santa Rosa chipset. The 4MB cache 2.0 GHz T7300 Intel processor gives full desktop performance in an ultraportable notebook.  How much of a difference is this really?  Well, Office 2007 applications probably won’t see a huge difference given that they run just so fast, but math intensive applications like stats packages, video encoding, etc. should see a significant boost.   We were happy to report that the X61 handled everything we threw at it with ease.  The X3100 integrated graphics are a big step up from the last iteration.

Benchmarks

There are two X61’s in my household, both with the same baseline configuration, but they differ in that the stock one has 2 GB’s of memory, and the other unit has 3 GB’s of memory plus 2 GB’s of ReadyBoost memory.  There are also two T61’s in my household, including one with the same processor, chipset, and graphics adapter as the X61’s.  I was surprised to see the X61 with identical specs as the T61 underperform its cousin by so much on the PCMark05 and 3DMark05 tests.  This is not to say it isn’t a fast machine, but I would have expected it to match the performance of its T-series cousin.

Here are the results of the X61, the results were the same for both the stock X61 configuration (2GB memory and no Turbo Boost Memory) and enhanced (3GB of memory with Turbo Boost Memory):

Windows Experience Index

HDTune for X61


(view large image)

 

PCMark05 System Results

Strangely the overall system results for the X61 showed that the configuration with less overall memory performed better — go figure:

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100, 2GB Memory) 3,648 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100, 3GB Memory, 2GB Turbo Memory) 3,592 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

 

Battery Life

Battery life with the 4 cell battery has not been great with real world tests being between 1 hour 40 minutes and 2 hours 22 minutes depending on the power setting; the X61’s power manager is great at selecting which profile to use to lengthen battery life.  A curious problem involves the use of the machine when it is hibernating.  Power seems to be draining even when it is supposed to be completely off.  After putting the X61 into hibernate mode overnight we’d wake to find that the battery had been almost completely drained.  I’m still investigating this issue, but in the meantime I just leave the unit plugged in.  I still regret not getting the 8 cell battery instead of the 4 cell battery from the beginning.

Hibernation consistently seems be a problem.  I’ll hibernate the machine with it plugged in, and get a warning message when resuming in the morning saying the battery is extremely low do you want to continue.  After selecting  “yes”  the unit boots – Vista opens with a low battery, and a couple of minutes later it shows a 100 percent charge; very odd.

Heat and Noise

The unit really doesn’t generate a lot of heat or noise for that matter.  Unlike other notebooks I’ve had the X61 is incredibly quiet and cool.  It is nice to work hours on end without the noise of the fan going on and off.

Wireless

The X61 under review has the older 3945abg card, and the performance seems to be better than the newer Intel card in the T61 I have, at least in terms of finding new connections.

Software

This is the one area I believe most manufacturers could work on.  The X61 is loaded with tons of “free offers” (bloatware).  While many espouse a clean install – I simply uninstalled the offending apps, and am happy with the performance of the unit.  The one piece of software the X61 does not ship with is Recovery Disks instead one needs to burn their own, or pay a fee to get them shipped to you. 

Conclusion

The ThinkPad X61 is an excellent ultraportable worth the premium charged for its light weight, and ultra strong build.  I’d recommend upgrading to 2 GB of memory, the 8 cell battery, and perhaps the X6 ultrabase.  These additional costs should be factored in your purchasing decision.  The processor and chipset refreshes insure that the user will be able to handle any office applications with ease.

Pros

  • Full desktop performance in an ultraportable form factor
  • Elegant design coupled with excellent rugged construction
  • ThinkPad’s legendary keyboard
  • Availability of optional features such as Turbo Memory, WWAN connectivity, and Ultrabase

Cons

  • Screen is inherently difficult to view at different angles
  • Sounds is a bit low
  • Battery tends to give a little over time, and hibernation software not 100 percent perfect
  • System comes full of bloatware




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