Lenovo ThinkPad Z61t Review (pics, specs)

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Lenovo ThinkPad Z61t Review

This is a review for the new 14.1 widescreen ThinkPad Z61t with titanium cover. The Z61t is the update to the newer widescreen Z series of ThinkPads. It sports Intel’s Core Duo processor. 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. It combines the convenience and mobility of a notebook with the performance and functionality of a desktop.

Reason for Buying

I used to have a Dell Inspiron 1100, bought 3 years ago just because I thought it was a good deal. It used a 2 GHz Celeron processor. I soon realized what a mistake it was. I used to curse it every other day. It was nothing but a brick and after 1 year of it would mysteriously shutdown after using it for more than 2 hours. It was producing enough heat to keep my house warm in winter. I ditched it after just 1 years of use. I was somehow managing with my office supplied Pentium III 900 MHz desktop.

Then along came my daughter, who is 4 months old now. My wife started complaining that I was spending too much time at the home-office with my desktop, not spending enough time with my daughter. She couldn’t find time to use the desktop as well, as the baby needed constant attention. So I decided I needed to get a laptop so that I could watch TV, watch my daughter and browse all at the same time. I also wanted something light so that I can easily carry it around the house with one hand. Another requirement was to have all the data to be in one secure place. I have an external USB hard disk /printer/ DVD burner, LCD monitor etc. Also I make it a point to backup my computer frequently with the external hard disk. I couldn’t afford to connect all these accessories and disconnect them one by one when I needed to carry the laptop. So, a mature and easy docking solution was a must.

How and Where Purchased

My initial budget was around $1000. I started with Sony but didn’t really like their pricing and lack of core duo in a 14-inch laptop. My friend had a Fujitsu notebook and I was impressed with its quality. But I couldn’t configure a Fujitsu notebook for less than $2000 with a core duo processor. I spent some time looking at an HP dv2000t, but their docking solution is a joke. Plus, the build quality wasn’t enough for me. Next was the Dell latitude D620. The build quality looked good. I’m not sure why I looked at Dell again given my first experience, but either way I decided against the D620 at the last moment because of lack of S-video and previous Dell nightmares. I then found NotebookReview.com and took my friend’s suggestion to take a look at ThinkPads. I didn’t know Lenovo had widescreen consumer oriented notebooks. After researching for 2-days I was hooked. I needed a ThinkPad at any cost. I raised my budget to $1,400 but still couldn’t configure one with Bluetooth and a DVD writer for under $1,600 with tax. Then I figured out that IBM has EPP pricing which really makes sense. Dell has 12% EPP, but after researching I found Dell EPP was more expensive than non-EPP if you use certain Dell coupons. HP just gives you 10% for EPP. After raising my budget to $1,800, I found an IBM consultant at work and got access to EPP pricing. I had to ship the notebook to Delaware to save $110 tax.

The total cost was, $1,599 ( laptop ) + $265 ( Advanced Dock) + $92 ( 3 year warranty) – $200 ( Discount) = $1,756. The web price will be around $2,600 with tax. I will talk about the additional $200 discount in the support section!

ThinkPad Z61t specs as reviewed:

  • 2.0 GHz Intel T2500 Core Duo
  • 14.1″ WXGA+, 1440X900 LCD display
  • 100GB hard drive (5400rpms)
  • CD-RW/ 8X DVD-RW Multi-burner
  • 1GB SDRAM (1 DIMM)
  • Bluetooth
  • Modem
  • Built-in Camera and microphone
  • Sudden motion sensor
  • Fingerprint Reader
  • 802.11 a/b/g wireless built-in
  • Verizon EVDO built-in
  • 3-in-one card reader
  • 3-year international depot warranty
  • 4.3 lbs Plus
  • Z61 advanced Dock
  • Model# 94402CU

Build & Design


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The Z61t is built solidly but not rock solid like T series. It was a little thicker than I imagined. The titanium cover is a plus and looks decent unlike those shiny HP laptops. As soon as you open the screen, you will notice that this laptop feels solid. The inside is made from rugged and elegant high quality plastic.

Two metal hinges of same size support the display. There is no wobbling when opening and closing the lid. You will need both the hands to open the screen. Also, if you try to open it with just one hand, you don’t see the screen bend like other laptops. The look and feel of the area around the screen might even make you think it’s made of metal not plastic. The only thing that looks plastic is the shiny EVDO antenna cover which is attached to the screen.

To get an idea of the relative thickness of the Z61t, I placed 2 miniDV tapes next to the laptop. The laptop is around 1 inch thick.


Thickness size comparison to Sony Mini DV(view large image)


Above view size comparison to Sony Mini DV(view large image)

Screen

My z61t came with 1440X900 WXGA+ screen with 200 nits of brightness. The screen is nice but nothing to brag about. It had no dead pixels. A 1440 X 900 resolution is not for everyone. The text is very small. Your eyes will get tired if you use it for a couple of hours. Trying to set it to lower resolution will result in blurry text. A ThinkPad T43 screen I viewed seemed a little brighter and caused less stress on my eyes. Using this screen outdoors might be an issue. Overall I would rate this screen at 8 out of 10.


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Performance & Benchmarks

Super Pi

Notebook

Time

Lenovo ThinkPad Z61t (2.0GHz Core Duo)

1m 16s

Asus W3H760DD (2.0 GHz Pentium M)

1m 33s

Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.0GHz Core Duo)

1m 16s

Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)

1m 18s

Toshiba Satellite M100 (2.00GHz Core Duo)

1m 18s

Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo)

1m 29s

Dell XPS M140 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)

1m 41s

Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)

1m 53s

IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)

1m 45s


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3DMark05

Notebook 3DMark 05 Results
Lenovo ThinkPad Z61t (2.0GHz Core Duo, Intel Integrated graphics) 582 3D Marks
Lenovo ThinkPad Z61t (2.0GHz Core Duo, Geforce Nvidia 6600 256 MB PCI Express Card) 1,332 3D Marks
Lenovo ThinkPad Z60m (2.0GHz Pentium M, ATI X600 128MB) 1,659 3DMarks
ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz, ATI X300 64MB graphics) 727 3DMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB) 2,092 3D Marks
Quanta KN1 (1.86 GHz Pentium M, NVIDIA GeForce Go 6600 128mb) 2,486 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


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HD Tune

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


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PCMARK05 scores

In detail, the PCMark 05 score looked like this:

PCMark05

HDD — XP Startup

5.77 MB/s

Physics and 3D

123.33 FPS

Transparent Windows

-

3D — Pixel Shader

40.19 FPS

Web Page Rendering

3.15 Pages/s

File Decryption

49.56 MB/s

Graphics Memory — 64 Lines

231.25 FPS

HDD — General Usage

4.34 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 1 / Audio Compression

N/A

Multithreaded Test 1 / Video Encoding

N/A

Multithreaded Test 2 / Text Edit

106.84 Pages/s

Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Decompression

23.64 MPixels/s

Multithreaded Test 3 / File Compression

3.22 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 3 / File Encryption

42.61 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 3 / HDD — Virus Scan

24.74 MB/s

Multithreaded Test 3 / Memory Latency — Random 16 MB

7.82 MAccesses/s


Drives & Storage

The Z61t came with a 100GB Fujitsu SATA 5400RPM hard drive. After deducting the recovery partition, there was 88GB left on the drive. 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 losing data. The Z61t came with 1GB of memory which is enough for the typical user. I believe there is one slot open for upgrades.

Keyboard Area

This has to be one of the best keyboards I’ve ever used on a laptop. There’s no slop in the keys. I definitely have fewer typos on this keyboard compared to my desktop keyboard. I compared the Z61t with my friend’s T43 keyboard. Somehow I feel that T43 has a better build and slightly better keyboard. The T43 keyboard seems to be less noisy and keys are a little stiffer compared to the z61t. But after getting used to the keyboard, I realized that I could type even faster on it than my desktop keyboard! I would rate the keyboard at 9 out of 10 as it’s a pleasure to type on. The only drawback is that it’s a little loud but not at all annoying. As a note, the Z61t also has dedicated keys for Home and End.

The Z61t also comes with the integrated fingerprint reader which is integrated into the Trusted Platform Module (TPM). The finger printer reader is very useful; it will save you a lot of time and effort logging into Windows. It’s very easy for one handed operation and good for those times when holding a cup of coffee in one hand and trying to log on to XP with the other. I had no problem registering fingerprints. It’s quick and easy.


Keyboard view (view large image)

Battery & AC

My z61t came with the 4 cell battery. Because I use this laptop at home, I always use it with the maximum performance power setting. With the screen at max brightness, WiFi on and a lot of browsing I was able to get around 2 hours of battery life. The AC adapter is one of the smallest I have seen for a laptop which is good.

Heat & Noise

The Z61t has three vents to help push out hot air; one on the back, one on the left and one on the bottom. During normal use, it gets warm, and became uncomfortable after using it for some time. When docked and on power, the temperature seems to be around 59 degrees. When running benchmarks, the temperature reached 78 degrees as displayed by mobile meter. At full processor power setting the fan runs most of the time, but you don’t hear the noise at all. I have a 2GHZ processor and when run at maximum frequency all the time you’ll just have to accept the fact it will get warm.

This is a capture from what mobile meter is showing when I’m editing some word docs and the laptop is docked using external power.

Wireless & Networking

The Z61t has the Intel 3945 WiFi card and Broadcom NetXtreme Gigabit Ethernet card for networking purposes. The connection seems solid and I haven’t seen any slowness or a disconnect yet. But I noticed that z61t was showing a 60% WiFi signal when a T43 right next to it showed 100% to the same router. Also, the T43 was detecting a lot more access points around my house which were out of range for my Z61t. I’m not sure why this is the case. To test for throughput rate I did a download/upload test from www.speakeasy.net and Z61t came up with better numbers than the T43, even though it indicated a stronger connection to the router. My methods and concept of what signal strength truly means isn’t clear I guess.

My Z61t came with an integrated Verizon EV-DO wireless WAN (WWAN) card option. I don’t need this, but the problem with Lenovo is that you need to buy a higher-end model to get all the features you want. Core Duo 2GHZ, Bluetooth and a DVD burner were a must for me. But I had to buy this model which came with EVDO and a 100GB HDD which were not needed for me. You just can’t customize Lenovo laptops as much as a Dell.

The antenna sticks out on the right side of the notebook. I have heard stories about Verizon’s customer care, and most aren’t good. Instead of being locked into a 1-year $80/month EVDO service, I just wanted to try the $15 per day EVDO access but was unable to find more details on it from Verizon. The Verizon reps I talked to had no clue on this, even though it was promoted by them and Lenovo. I didn’t waste anymore time on this so I could not test the EVDO feature.

The Z61t also has Bluetooth 2.0. I had no problems connecting to my Nokis 6820. I was able to detect and pair my H700 Motorola headset, but couldn’t get it to work. I was hoping to use the headset profile for Skype. I will give it another try later. You need to make proper changes to sound properties to get audio routed through Bluetooth


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Ports & Connections

The Z61t has a lot of the ports that everyone needs. On the front of the Z61t is a 3-in-1 card reader, IR port, and a WiFi/Bluetooth on/off switch, headphone, and microphone jack.


Front view (view large image)

The left side of the Z61T has a VGA-out port, Ethernet port and modem port.


Left side view Z61t (view large image)

The right side has 3 USB ports, Firewire, a PC card slot, and a security lock. There is no ExpressCard slot.


Right side view of Z61t (view large image)

The back has the S-video port and power connector. The underside has the port replicator/dock connector.


Back view of Z61t (view large image)


Bottom view of the Z61t (view large image)

Sound

The speakers on the ThinkPad Z61t are located on the sides of the keyboard. For a notebook, the sound emanating from them was pretty decent — it was clear and crisp. It’s not loud enough, which is disappointing. My HP iPaq PDA speaker is louder than these laptop speakers.

Webcam

The Z61t came with an integrated webcam. It sits a few inches to the left of the ThinkLight at the top of the screen. The camera is so small it’s not easy to find. I discovered the camera only when the green LED associated to it turned on. I think the picture quality is good enough, at least for occasional video conferencing. I was surprised at the image quality in low light conditions. It’s better than my $50 creative webcam.


Web Camera(view large image)

Software

The Z61t doesn’t have much bloatware like HP and dell consumer notebooks. I removed unwanted stuff like Google desktop etc. I always run XP at max performance mode with minimal graphics. I also disable unwanted startup programs using the msconfig executable.


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I also removed Symantec and installed Norton Ghost with no issues. I have seen major issues when you try to use Ghost on a PC which had a previous Symantec product uninstalled. The ThinkVantage suite of software utilities is pretty good.

I was able to partition the hard disk using Partition Magic into 3 partitions without losing any functionality and was done without any restore/reinstall. The Z61t also comes with software to encrypt all your data which is so critical these days when you see a lot of identify theft cases. Also, your laptop has more chances of getting stolen than your desktop, so I would recommend everyone to backup your laptop data frequently and encrypt your personal data.

Warranty & Support

I upgraded this model to a three year depot warranty with one year on the battery. It was $92 EPP price for the 3-year warranty — a bargain.

Okay, now to the interesting story on how I got the additional $200 discount on top of already discounted EPP price. I was dealing with a sales rep that was pretty knowledgeable and very friendly. He answered all my questions and was very eager to help, and not just to sell the laptop like the Dell sales rep whom I talked to few days earlier.

Unfortunately this rep was on vacation when I called to order. I got some other rep that was OK. I enquired about DVI support through the dock and he claimed that Z61t indeed supports DVI. I ordered the laptop and waited for 4 weeks with no shipping in sight. They pushed the shipping date out for 2 more weeks. I got really frustrated and called Lenovo and asked them to put my laptop on the critical list. (I claimed that I was leaving the country in 1 week and wanted it before I left — an. idea given by one of the forum members on this site). I got a call at home from Lenovo the next day and was told that my laptop was on the critical list and I would get it within 5 days and before I leave the country. Yes I did get it in less than 5 days, which was cool

But I couldn’t get my DVI working. My 19-inch Viewsonic wide-screen LCD monitor which has VGA and DVI inputs complained about no-signal. The VGA signal was so weak and the text wasn’t crisp and brightness unimpressive. I don’t do high end graphics but wasn’t impressed with the text quality. I don’t call support that often but had to this time. The support guy didn’t even try to troubleshoot and offered to replace the dock claiming that it might be defective. I wasn’t ready to buy that and told him that I will do my own troubleshooting and will call back.

After doing some research, I found out that that the Z61t won’t support DVI output even with a docking station. The only way was to get the advanced dock and put a PCI express graphics card in for DVI output. So I wasn’t ready to live with that and called the Lenovo sales rep to resolve this issue. Remember this is an EPP purchase and there is absolutely no return/refund etc. The sales rep could only manage to get a special permission to return the dock for refund and sent me RMA #. I wasn’t happy about that and demanded to escalate. They escalated my case to Lenovo customer relations in NC. I was assigned a case# and a customer relationship person. The customer relationship rep was ready to help me with the situation and we started working on the options. They offered me to take the Z61t back for full refund and get the Z61p for $1,700 ($2,000 EPP price and $2,400 web price). But the 15″ screen Z61p wasn’t an option because of the weight and size. Ultimately they let me return the mini-dock and gave me a $200 discount on the purchase of the advanced dock.

Docking solution

I’m really impressed with this docking station. I don’t think anybody can do it better. The advanced dock has 5 USB 2.0 ports, 1 PS/2 port for keyboard or mouse, serial and parallel audio, microphone in, headphone out, S/PDIF, DVI-D, VGA, Ethernet modem, Ultrabay Enhanced slot, PCI Express card slot, 6-in-1 media card reader and an ExpressCard slot. The overall build is impressive. It has buttons for undocking and LEDs to show status and a built-in fan. If using XP, you can also soft-undock.

I ordered a $90 PCI express card from TigerDirect.com (XFX Geforce Nvidia 6600 256 MB) and installed it with no problems. I was able to get DVI output from the PCI card’s DVI port. I was able to get a 3D mark score of 1332 when using the PCI card. Please note that the PCI slot seems to be 1X not 16X. That’s why we see a low score for 3Dmark. You need to enable BIOS to use the PCI card DVI at boot. The dock only supports Low-Profile PCI express cards. You can’t use any other card. Only a few cards seem to work with this docking station and cards which share memory from RAM don’t seem to work. Also you won’t be able to hot dock/undock if you are using the PCI card in the dock.


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The funny thing is, when I connected my monitor to the advance dock’s VGA port, I was able to get output which was almost as good as DVI output! Unlike the experience I had with mini-dock. The text was crisp and clear with more than enough screen brightness. Bottom-line, don’t get the mini-dock. Somehow its VGA output is weak. I’m still keeping the PCI card because I will enable and use it whenever I’m doing some graphics intensive work like video editing etc.


Docking station (view large image)

Conclusion

Overall this is a very impressive, feature rich laptop with great build quality. It’s a great multimedia laptop fast enough to be a desktop replacement and light enough to carry around when traveling. It’s a great compromise between a business and consumer oriented notebook. It’s perfect for a business user that demands a well built highly usable notebook and wants a few consumer features. The widescreen is great for spreadsheets and viewing two windows at the same time or for watching movies. Built-in EVDO and fingerprint reader is a plus for business users. Combined with an advanced dock and PCI graphics card to make a true desktop replacement, you can’t go wrong.

Pros

  • Good Build Quality
  • Attractive solid Look
  • Great Performance
  • Excellent Keyboard
  • Lots of Connection Options
  • Minimal Bloatware
  • ThinkVantage Tools

Cons

  • No DVI support even with docking station
  • Heat issues
  • Speakers not loud enough
  • Screen could have been better
  • Expensive

Glamour Shots and More Pictures!

 
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