Linux ThinkPad T61 Review

by Reads (35,120)

by Kevin O’Brien

Operating system selection has almost always locked consumers into the Microsoft Windows operating systems, but recently many manufacturers have started to offer Linux alternatives. Lenovo has started to offer SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 on some Thinkpad models, in addition to Vista and XP. This review covers the 14" T61 with the "SLED 10" Linux operating system.

System specifications:

  • Processor: Intel T7300 Core 2 Duo (2.0GHz, 800MHz FSB, 4MB Cache)
  • Graphics: Intel GMA X3100
  • Operating System: Novell SLED 10
  • Display: WXGA+ 1440 x 900 (LG screen)
  • Hard Drive: 80GB 5400RPM
  • Memory: 1GB (1GB x 1), up to 4GB max
  • Ports: 3x USB 2.0, 1x FireWire, Monitor out, modem, Ethernet, headphone out, microphone in
  • Slots: PC Card Slot and Smart Card reader
  • Optical Drive: CDRW/DVD-ROM
  • Dimensions: 13.2" x 9.3" x 1.09 – 1.26" (335mm x 237mm x 27.6 – 31.9mm)
  • Weight: 5.5lbs
  • Price: $1,249


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System Durability and Design

Nothing has changed with this T61 since our last review of this exact model beyond the operating system differences of going from Windows to Linux. This model still shares the same top notch Thinkpad build quality, and the basic semi-rugged business design.


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Operating System

The biggest change to this notebook since our last review is that Lenovo now offers SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 as an operating system option in addition to Windows Vista and XP. This gives users or businesses another choice, and hopefully a discount off the system price without needing to pay for a Windows license. Many users will also enjoy added security and stability that many Linux and Unix systems bring over XP or Vista.


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Since many users are probably curious how this system stacks up against a Windows system, I will compare this system against a comparable Vista machine for basic benchmarks.

Boot times

Suse boot to idle desktop: 2 minutes 8 seconds
Vista boot to idle desktop: 53 seconds (with fingerprint scan)

Shutdown Times
Suse shutdown: 30.2 seconds
Vista shutdown: 34.5 seconds

I found it very surprising that the boot times into the Suse Linux desktop environment took more than twice the time of Vista. For someone trying to quickly check their email in an airport quickly, it would be painful taking that long. I would highly suggest users use hibernate or suspend modes instead of a full shutdown.

Wireless Setup

Wireless setup in both Vista and Suse Linux is very straight forward. You click on the wireless icon in the taskbar and are greeted with a list of discovered networks. You then select the network, and depending on security options connect to that network. I did have trouble connecting onto a few WEP enabled networks around the office with the Suse system, but testing with other routers using WEP and WPA proved successful.

Office Productivity

For standard office documents like word processing, spreadsheets, or presentations, the Suse system includes Open Office. This handled everything in an environment that looked very similar to Microsoft Office, and was easy to adapt to. All document formats were easily opened, including those from the newer Office standard like Docx, Pptx, and Xlsx.

Document load times

Documents loaded at near identical speeds on both systems. Times ranged from 0.5 second to 2.0 seconds depending on file size.

Image Editing

The image editor included on the Suse system is Gimp, which is a free photo editing program with similar capabilities to Adobe Photoshop. Since this software is also available for Windows, I did a side by side image loading benchmark between each system using a 40MB 8-bit TIFF image.

Image loading times

  • Windows Vista: 4.8 seconds
  • Suse Linux: 3.0 seconds

Audio and Video Players

For listening to music or watching movies you have a pretty good selection of applications to pick from with the stock Suse system. The main applications being RealNetworks Helix for audio, and mPlayer for video. One advantage the Suse system had over Vista, was it already contained all the required video codecs to play Divx and Xvid encoded movies.

Instant Messaging

For instant messaging you have Gaim preloaded, which has support for AIM, MSN, Yahoo, Jabber, and many other protocols. Since I use a version of this software called Pidgin on my Vista machine, I felt right at home with Gaim.

System Performance

To measure system performance, we used the Dhrystone benchmark for processor performance and HDParm for disk performance.

Dhrystone: 374.8
Hdparm Cached Reads: 7263.51 MB/s
Hdparm buffered reads: 46.23 MB/s

Ports and Features
Front: Firewire, Wireless On/Off switch, and Headphone/Mic jacks


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Back: Battery and AC plug


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Left: VGA, Modem, LAN, 2 USB, PC-Card Slot, Smart Card Reader


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Right: Optical drive and 1 USB


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Battery

One area of concern with the Linux system was battery life. Suse did not appear to support the same power saving profiles that Windows offered, and battery life times were much lower. With the 6-cell 5200mAh battery, I was lucky to get more than 2.5 hours of battery life. In our previous review of the T61 with higher spec running a 6-cell battery, we managed roughly 3 hours and 40 minutes.

Heat and Noise

In general, the Linux version of the ThinkPad T61 performed noticeably better in terms of heat and noise than a Windows version … if only because the processor wasn’t as heavily taxed by the light operating system. Below are images with temperature readings listed in degrees Fahrenheit.


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Conclusion

I think that the Linux operating system offering is an excellent start at giving consumers more choices, as well as a cost saving option if they do not wish to pay for the Windows operating system. In its current form the two systems are similar enough for most users to pick up quickly without much frustration, although some areas still need a bit of refining, like in the power management area. With battery life being a key attribute to notebooks, having almost an hour less is of much concern. Overall I think Linux needs to be offered on all notebooks for an operating system option, if for nothing more than giving consumers another alternative to Windows.

Pros

  • Runs well out of the box, no need to install updates or additional software for general uses
  • Stable and Secure

Cons

  • Power profiles on battery are limited
  • Boot times are painfully long


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