Lenovo ThinkPad Z61m Review (pics, specs)

by ZaZ Reads (228,029)

by Ted Lynch

Overview

This is a review of the new 15.4″ widescreen ThinkPad Z61m with titanium cover.  The Z61m is the update to the newer widescreen Z series of ThinkPads.  It sports Intel’s latest and greatest CPU, the Core Duo amongst other upgrades, but that’s the big one.  The Z series is the more multimedia oriented notebook in the ThinkPad line with a widescreen display, built-in web cam, media card reader, FireWire connector and more.  The Z61m will start out relatively modestly with the Celeron M all the way to mucho dinero with all the do-dads.  For someone in need of an exceedingly well built notebook for around the house/office notebook with infrequent jaunts about town, I can’t think of a better choice.


The Z61M the first time it was turned on (view large image

Competition

The Z61m is a business class notebook with stellar build quality.  There are lots of choices in this sector.  Here are some other well built notebooks in this class.

Specs

Here are the specifications of the ThinkPad Z61m model under review:

  • Model: Z61m  9450-39U
  • CPU: Intel Core Duo 2.0GHz T2500
  • Chipset: Intel 945PM Express
  • Memory: 1GB DDR2 P5300 2 Slots, 0 Open
  • Hard Drive: 100GB Fujitsu(MHV2100BH) SATA
  • Screen: 15.4″ WSXGA+ 1680×1050 Matte 200 Nits
  • Modular Optical Drive: Matshita UJ-850 DVD+/-RW/-RAM
    o 8x DVD+/-R
    o 4x DVD+/-RW
    o 2.4x DVD+R DL
    o 5x DVD-RAM
    o 24x CD-R
    o 16x CD-RW
  • Graphics Card: 128MB ATI x1400
  • Networking: Intel Wireless 3945A/B/G, Broadcom NetXtreme Gigabit Ethernet, Modem and Verizion EV-DO Network Adapter
  • Inputs: 86 Key Keyboard, Two Button Touchpad with Scroll Bar, PointStick with Separate UltraNav Buttons, Fingerprint Reader
  • Buttons: Power, ThinkVantage, Power Up and Down, Mute, and WiFi/Bluetooth On/Off Switch.
  • Other
    o Bluetooth
    o Webcam
    o ThinkLight
    o Security Lock
  • Ports:
    o 3 USB 2.0 Ports – Two Left Side, One Rear
    o Four Pin Firewire Connector
    o Port Replicator/Dock
    o S-Video Out
    o VGA Out
    o 4-in-1 Card Reader
    o Line Out
    o Headphone
    o IR Port
  • Slots:
    o 1 PC Card Slot Type II
    o 1 ExpressCard Slot 54
  • Battery: Six Cell
  • Dimensions:
    o Width – 14.1″
    o Depth – 10.3″
    o Height – 1.6″
  • Weight: 6.7 Lbs.
  • Operating System: Windows XP Pro
  • Warranty: Three Year Warranty With One Year Battery

Build & Design

I wasn’t sure what to expect before I received the Z61m with the titanium lid.  I like the Johnny Cash look of ThinkPads a lot.  It says I mean business.


Top view of the Z61m.(view large image)

Let’s just say, “she had me at hello”.  I fancied the titanium lid from the get go.  It added some panache and toughness to the Z61m.  People asked me about it regularly when I took it around.  You can of course opt for the black cover if you are more of a traditionalist –though if you are why are you buying a Z series ThinkPad?  One thing I observed right away, no more fingerprints with the titanium lid or at least you could wipe them away.  I just look at my T42 and it gets three fingerprints.  It is a definite improvement.  I did however notice a few scratches on the lid after a few weeks of normal use.  The rest of the Z61m looked like a black ThinkPad which isn’t a bad idea.  The Z61m is the biggest ThinkPad now that the old G series of ThinkPads has gone away.  Although the Z61m has gone on a bit of a diet compared to the old one, it continues to be a smidgen too heavy in comparison to other notebooks in its class.  When you add in the adapter and all the other accessories one carries with a notebook, it probably works best as an occasional traveler and not a road warrior.  For those who need more portability, the 14″ Z61t will weigh under five pounds.  The Z61m is also still fairly thick at 1.6″ for my tastes anyway.


A Nokia 6170 mobile phone next to the Z61m (view large image)

To get an idea of the relative thickness of the Z61m, my cell is a thick phone and it is still less than half the height of the Z61m.

I know some have commented that ThinkPads have eroded in quality since Lenovo took the reigns of the company.  All I can say is this is most assuredly not true in this case with the Z61m.  I would describe the feel of the Z61m as substantial.  In addition to the sturdy titanium lid, the inside of the Z61m is made from rugged and elegant plastic.   The Z61m is unyielding, most likely due to its remarkably rigid roll cage.  Nowhere that I pressed on the Z61m could I make it give in any way; not the lid, the inside nor the underside.  I would have no problem strapping it to my arm and going outside to play Knights of the Round Table –which I do do from time to time.  It feels as though it has been carved from one stone.  The Z61m is significantly stiffer than my ThinkPad T42 which I thought was already fairly stout.

Screen


Adding a bit of color to the Z61m (view large image)

The Z61m, like all ThinkPads, comes with a matte screen.  This particular model has a higher resolution 15.4″ WSXGA+ screen.  Matte is my favored screen of choice for a notebook.  Needless to say, I was in screen heaven.  The screen is secured to the base using metal hinges.  At no time did I ever see the ever screen move or wiggle.  I had to open it with two hands every time.  I don’t think there is much of chance in three years it will have any problems with the hinges wearing out.  I liked the screen on the Z61m a lot.  It was clear and bright with none of the glare issues you get with glossy screens.   It had a scintilla of light leakage which was only slightly noticeable when the screen was completely dark.  I watched a few DVDs, surfed the web, and typed the bulk of my review on it.  It all looked good.  I myself am more of a one thing at a time person.  The whole widescreen vs. standard doesn’t bother me much.  I could see where the extra width would come in handy for those who like to multi-task, watch DVDs or do Excel.  WSXGA+ was the perfect resolution for its size in my opinion.  Like all matte screens, viewing angles were not particularly great especially horizontally, but as long as you remained relatively on center, it looked good.  There are seven brightness levels.  I felt anything three or above was workable.  Here is a shot of the Z61M next to my T42 with FlexView screen, the standard for notebook matte screens.


ThinkPad T42 on the left showing “Airplane”.  The ThinkPad Z61m is on the left showing “Dick Tracy” (view large image)

The Z61m on the right might look better in the picture because the shot is brighter, but the T42 screen looked better to my eyes.  It was one of the few areas where my T42 outclassed the Z61m.

Performance & Benchmarks

I don’t think I am breaking any new ground here telling you the Core Duo is the best notebook CPU at the moment. 


Screen cap of CPU-Z (view large image)

It will be interesting if the Intel Merom processor debuts in August, as has been rumored.  Just about the time people are getting their hands on these Yonah Core Duo processors in larger numbers; the CPU would already be overshadowed by the 64-bit dual core Merom.  The Core Duo, coupled with the faster 5400RPM drive and a generous 1GB of memory, had very good performance.  Everything I did on it from converting MP3s to Photoshop to internet usage to MS Office worked great and ran smoothly.  Conceivably a 7200RPM drive might have kicked up the performance a notch, but not hugely in my opinion.  While surfing the web or using Office, the performance bump wasn’t as big over the Pentium M in my T42, but using things like Photoshop or converting MP3 files were decidedly faster on the Core Duo over the Pentium M.  I may have to dump the T42 for a Core Duo machine even though it will hurt the wallet!

Super Pi

Super Pi is a useful tool for gauging relative CPU performance.  Right now the Core Duo is king of the hill.

Notebook Time
 Lenovo Z61m (2.0GHz Core Duo)  1m 16s
 Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Intel T2500)  1m 12s
 Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 53s
 IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s
 IBM ThinkPad Z60m (2.0 GHz Pentium M)  1m 36s
 Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)  1m 48s
 Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  1m 52s
 Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  2m 10s
 HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 39s
 Asus V6Va (Pentium M 1.86 GHz)  1m 46s
 Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)  1m 18s


PCMark04

Notebook  PCMark04 Results
Lenovo ThinkPad Z61m (2.0 Core Duo)   5,027 PCmarks
Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo)  6,033 PCMarks
Lenovo V100 (2.00 GHz Core Duo)  4,665 PCMarks 
Dell Inspiron XPS2 (2.0GHz Intel Pentium M)  4,082 PCMarks
Acer Aspire 5002 WLMi (AMD Turion 64 ML-30 1.6GHz)  2,392 PCmarks
Acer TravelMate 4400 (AMD Turion ML-30, 1.6GHz)  3,104 PCMarks
Toshiba Tecra A6 (1.66GHz Intel Core Duo)  2,653 PCMarks
PortableOne SR2 (Intel Pentium M Dothan 735 1.7GHz)  3,274 PCMarks

 

3DMark05

The Z61m has the 128MB ATI x1400 graphics card.  It is a good mid-level card.  If gaming is a primary interest there are probably better choices.

Notebook 3DMark 05 Results
Lenovo ThinkPad Z61m (2.0GHz Core Duo, 128MB ATI x1400 128MB)  2155 3DMarks
Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB  2866 3D Marks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60 Nvidia GeForce Go7800 GTX)  7,078 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Intel T2500, ATI X1400)  1,791 3D Marks
Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI Radeon Mobility x700 128 MB)  2,530 3D Marks
 Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)  2,273 3DMarks
 HP dv4000 (1.86GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)  2,536 3D Marks
 Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)  4,157 3DMarks


Here is a shot from The Chronicles of Riddick.  It is a bit of an older game, but since I used Half-Life 2 for my last three reviews, I thought change was good.  As you may be able to tell, Riddick does not support widescreen. 


Riddick captures his breath after a bit of action.– graphics look a little stretched width wise because this game does not support it (view large image)

HD Tune

HD Tune is a hard drive utility.  Here is a screen cap showing the Fujitsu’s performance:


(view large image)
 
Results seem fairly normal for a 5400RPM drive.

Drives & Storage

The Z61m comes equipped with the Matshita UJ-850 DVD+/-RW-RAM optical drive.  It is a modular drive.  There will be options for extra batteries and hard drives.


The Mashita UJ-850 unplugged (view large image)

Unlike the T series ThinkPads, the UJ-850 is a standard 12.7mm height drive (the T series uses a slimmer non-standard size optical drive to stay thin).  For those tinkerers at heart, you could probably replace the drive with something better if you can work out the bezel and fit issues.  The CDs I burned had no issues.  It took just under six minutes for a 24x burn.  I also burned a couple of DVDs.  For a full single layer disc, burn time was just under 14 minutes at 8x.  That’s a little slower than I would have liked.  As you can see from the picture below, while overall the quality was good, the error rate gets a little higher than we would have hoped at the end of the disc.


Nero CD-DVD Speed.  It is a useful tool measuring disc quality (view large image)
 
The drive also supports DVD-RAM and dual layer burning. 

The Z61m came with the 100GB Fujitsu SATA 5400RPM hard drive.  After deducting the recovery partition, there was 88GB left on the drive.  As you can see, the drive is conveniently accessed for upgrades through a panel located on the bottom of the notebook. 


Accessing the hard drive on the Z61m (view large image)

The drive comes with Lenovo’s hard drive protection utility called Active Protection System (APS).  Should you drop the notebook or otherwise run afoul of the notebook Gods, APS will park the hard drive to hopefully prevent damage.

The Z61m came with 1GB which is more than enough the typical user.  The slots are stacked on top of each other under the touchpad.  Both slots were utilized.  I followed the service manual located on Lenovo’s site, yes it is already up, and popped off the palm wrest.


The Z61m shown with the palm wrest off (view large image)
 
Perhaps the underside would have been a better spot to locate the at least one of the memory slots for the more technically faint of heart.  The palm wrest did require a little schmoozing to snap off, but not too bad.

Keyboard Area

What can I say?  It’s a ThinkPad.  I think people by now know what that means, the best laptop keyboard known to man.  The keyboard was very firm with no flex.  It felt as though each key was its own island.  Key travel was excellent and feel was top notch. 


The Z61m keyboard. Ooh-La-La! (view large image)

The ports are clearly marked along the edge of the keyboard.  A few of the keys on the bottom row had to be downsized to accommodate the Windows key, such as the Alt and FN keys.  I did find myself miss-hitting them a few times.  I think if this were your rig, you would adapt quickly.  The Z61m has dedicated keys for Home and End which pleases me greatly as I use them frequently.

The touchpad felt a wee bit smaller than I am used to. It seemed smaller than the one on my T42 by sight.   It certainly worked well enough.  They used a different kind of plastic for the buttons than on my T42.  Not worse, but they were just different.  The important part is the silky smooth action when using the buttons.  Unlike most other notebooks buttons I have used which make clicking noises when using them, these buttons make no such loud noise.  Loud and clicky notebook mouse buttons drive me to the brink of madness.

As with all ThinkPads, you get the little red nub in in the center of the keyboard with its own separate buttons, commonly called a pointing stick and ultra nav buttons.  I know some people will think I am loco (and that’s not far from the truth), but I hardly use my pointing stick.  I just never got used to it.  Nonetheless, the ThinkPad point stick is still the best in the business, despite my indifference to it.

The Z61m also comes with the integrated fingerprint reader which is integrated into the Trusted Platform Module (TPM).  I am not going to spend a lot of time here.  I hardly use the fingerprint on my T42.  I will say the reader on the Z61m seemed to be a lot fussier about swipes than the one on my T42.  It took about 20 swipes to enroll my first fingertip.  You need three good swipes to enroll a fingerprint.  For those who work in a data sensitive business and need that level of security, or for those who are just that anal, it’s there.

Battery & AC

The Z61m I have came with the six cell battery.  There are nine and modular cell battery options available as well for those who need more time away from the power grid.  With the screen turned down to three out of seven and had WiFi/Bluetooth on, I was able to get 3:20 minutes of battery life.  I went from 100% battery life down to 5% before I plugged the AC adapter in.  I consider this to be excellent battery life in light of the smaller battery and larger screen — though still not close to Lenovo’s 5.6 hour max estimate they list for this battery.  I mainly did normal things like surf the web, work on my review, install software, played a couple of hands of solitaire, etc.  I figure with the nine cell and modular batteries you could get close to a full days work out of it.  I did not use the optical drive while testing the battery, which probably helped.  The AC adapter seemed a little larger than normal, but I don’t think people will be too portable with the Z61m.  It’s not a huge issue.

Heat & Noise

The Z61m has three vent to help push out hot air; one on the back, one on the left and one on the bottom.  During normal use, it got warm, but never uncomfortable to use.  During gaming and running benchmarks it got even warmer, but again never too hot use.  It’s no MacBook, but it will do.  I don’t recall the fan ever turning on.  If it did it wasn’t for very long or loud for that matter.

Wireless & Networking

The Z61m has the Intel 3945 WiFi card and Broadcom NetXtreme Gigabit Ethernet card for networking purposes.  Both worked well.  I was able to use the WiFi card throughout the house and outside, but not from the neighbors house about 50-60 feet away.  I was also able to use it at the local library as well which has free WiFi access.  I did have issues with the Symantec firewall yet again as I did with it when I wrote the review for the Lenovo N100.  It would disconnect for seemingly no reason or not connect at all when I was five feet away from the router.  If I disabled it or shut it down it would then work fine.  After I dumped Symantec and installed NetVeda’s SafteyNet firewall, everything worked great.  I would think when one is paying this kind of money for a notebook; the WiFi should work out of the box.


Wireless connections available in my neighborhood as detected by the Z61m (all one of them) (view large image)
 
It is obviously not a hardware issue since it worked after disabling Symantec.  There is also a 56k modem for those still in the dark ages of internet connectivity.

The other important option on the Z61m, is the addition of the Verizion EV-DO wireless wan card option.  The antenna sticks off on the right side of the notebook.  It seems a bit odd to include this on notebook not very likely to travel much, but what do I know?  Unfortunately, I live in a small Midwest town of about 3,000 people, which is probably less than a typical block in NYC where this site’s other ThinkPad reviewer abaxter resides.  As such, Verizon doesn’t even offer cell phone service here.  I could not test this feature.  It had a nice little connection utility, but I couldn’t get past the “cannot acquire signal” error message.  So a note to small town or city dwellers, check Verizon offers service in your area before even considering this feature.

The Z61m also has Bluetooth 2.0.  Think of it as short range wireless USB.  I connected my Kensington Bluetooth pocket mouse without a hitch.  It also has support for Bluetooth Audio which I was unable to test due to my lack of having compatible headphones/speakers.

Ports & Connections

The Z61m has most of the ports the average user is going to use on a regular basis.  Since it is the most multi-media oriented of ThinkPads, perhaps a DVI connector would have been a nice enhancement. 

On the front of the Z61M are the 4-in-1 card reader, IR port, and WiFi/Bluetooth on/off switch.


Front of Z61m (view large image)
 
The left side of the Z61M has the VGA-out, Ethernet, modem, headphone, line-in, Firewire, PC card slot and ExpressCard Slot 54.


Left side of Z61m (view large image)
 
The right side has the S-Video out, two of the usb ports and security lock.


Right side view of the of Z61m (view large image)

The back has the other USB port and power connector.  The underside(not pictured) has the port replicator/dock connector.


The back of the Z61m (view large image)

Sound

The speakers on the ThinkPad Z61m are located on the sides of the keyboard.  For a notebook, the sound emanating from them was pretty decent — it was clear and crisp.  The speakers did not get very loud and could have used a little more bass, but hey it’s a notebook.  If you are an audiophile, a good pair of headphones is recommended.

Webcam

Owing to its multimedia ambitions, the Z61m came with an integrated webcam.  It sits a few inches to the right of the ThinkLight.  To be honest, I didn’t even know it was there until I saw the software on the desktop.  The camera was so well hidden it looked like just a screw hole prior to discovery and investigation.  I am not sure how many megapixels it has, but as long as you remained relatively still, it took good shots.  Here is a photo of me working on my review.


Using the built-in Z61m web cam to take this picture, you can see I am hard at work on the review you’re now reading (view large image)
 
The room was actually kind of dark when I snapped the web cam shots you see.  I was a bit surprised it turned out so well.  Perhaps the screen lit my face to provide a pseudo illumination / flash.  Here is another in a lighter moment.

 
You can call me a bit of a wunderkind (view large image)

Software

I am glad to report there is almost no bloatware on the Z61m, save for Google Desktop which is easily removed if you wish.  I guess it is hard to turn down that money Google is throwing around nowadays.  If it helps keep the cost down and is easily removed, I’m a happy camper.  Windows XP Pro and Home will be your two options for Operating Systems.  The important software on the machine is the ThinkVantage tools.  It is a suite of software that allows one to secure, recover, manage, protect, etc. all aspects of your notebook.  It is the industry leader in this regard.


The ThinkVantage and Windows start menus morphed together (view large image)

Just press the ThinkVantage button and you’ll learn more than you will ever need to know about your ThinkPad.  One odd thing is there is no word processing software, not even Microsoft Works.  It seems peculiar for a business class machine.  I guess they want you to pay for Office.

Warranty & Support

This particular model comes with a three year warranty with one year on the battery.  Depending on the machine type, the warranty will be one or three years unless it is refurbished.  I did not have to use support during the Z61ms stay with me.  But in the past, ThinkPad support has always been excellent for me.

Conclusion

Sadly, the ThinkPad Z61m’s stay with me is about to come to end.  To say I liked it would be an understatement.  What’s not to love about the Z61m?  It is built like a rock, performs like a champ, and with the titanium lid she’s a fetching lass.   Plus you get all the trimmings of a multimedia notebook like the widescreen, card reader, webcam, etc with the enhancements and quality of a business notebook. The benefits of the Z61m clearly outweigh any minor negatives associated with this machine.  For a business or individual with the disposable income to toss around who wants the best, the Z61m should be at or near the top of your list.

Pros

  • Exceptional Build Quality
  • Attractive Look
  • Exemplary Performance
  • Clear and Bright Screen
  • Phenomenal Keyboard
  • Silky Smooth Buttons
  • Respectable Sound
  • Lots of Connection Options
  • Minimal Bloatware
  • ThinkVantage Tools

Cons

  • Too Heavy & Thick for Mobility
  • Scratchable Lid
  • Symantec

Price & Availability


The 9450-39U machine type of the Z61m is available on Lenovo’s site for $2199 with a stated shipping time of three to six weeks.

 

Glamour Shots and More Pictures


For a few more pictures of the Z61m and its travails in a small Midwest town click here.


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