Not content to just add the latest Santa Rosa specs to its current lineup, Lenovo rolled out two new ThinkPad models, including the ThinkPad R61 (the other is the T61 in the higher-end ThinkPad T series). The 14.1-inch R61 includes all the important parts of Intel's revamped Centrino platform, including the new Core 2 Duo T7500 CPU, extra onboard Turbo Memory (for boosting access times), and 802.11n Wi-Fi. It's still the same black, boxy ThinkPad you've come to know and perhaps love, but Lenovo has started to add consumer-friendly features such as Webcams and optional Blu-ray drives for those who want one laptop for work and play. It's still pricey when configured for power users, but the typically excellent ThinkPad build quality makes this a system that will have a long lifespan.
|Price as reviewed/starting price||$2,085/$1,299|
|Processor||2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500|
|Memory||2GB of 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||100GB at 7,200rpm|
|Graphics||Nvidia Quadro NVS 140M|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Business|
|Dimensions (LWH)||13.1x9.4x1.5 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.1 inches|
|System weight/weight with AC adapter||5.7/6.3 pounds|
While Lenovo, and IBM before that, has firmly resisted major changes in the tried-and-true ThinkPad design, we were pleased to see the company take two new steps in the right direction. First, the new Lenovos are all available with wide-screen displays, meaning that the old-fashioned 4:3 laptop screen is one step closer to extinction. Second, the chassis itself has been reinforced with an internal roll cage, replacing the traditional solid magnesium alloy cover. The slightly concave roll cage, hidden under a composite cover, protects the LCD while helping Wi-Fi reception, which can be negatively affected by an old-fashioned full magnesium alloy cover.
We're also firm fans of Lenovo's extremely small AC adapters. There's little point to carrying around a lightweight laptop if all the extra room in your bag is taken up by a huge power brick. The Lenovo adapter, in contrast, weighs around half a pound and the brick itself measures just 4 inches by 1.5 inches by 1 inch.
The time-tested design includes traveler-friendly touches, such as sturdy steel hinges and a shock-mounted hard drive. The keyboard is one of the best laptop keyboards available, offering an extremely comfortable typing experience. The R61 also features both an eraser-head trackpoint and a touch pad; each has a set of mouse buttons, and the top set includes a scroll button in the middle. Above the keyboard are three handy volume buttons--the extent of the system's dedicated multimedia controls--and a blue ThinkVantage button, which calls up Lenovo's helpful preinstalled support-and-configuration utility. A Webcam sits on top of the display, although we're not sure how many business users actually need one. We've never Web-conferenced from a laptop, but someone, somewhere must do it.
The 14.1-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,440x900 native resolution, which is a bit finer than the 1,280x800 resolution commonly found on 14- and 15-inch laptops. Text and icons are highly readable, and the screen has a matte finish. While many consumer laptops have glossy screen coatings, which make for a more vibrant multimedia experience, most business systems stick with the matte look, which we generally prefer for its glare-fighting properties.
|Lenovo ThinkPad R61||Average for mainstream category|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||Three USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a mulitformat memory card reader||Four USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||PC Card and Express card slots||PC Card slot|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/g/n Wi-Fi||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The ports and connections on the R61 are in line with what you'd expect from a mainstream business laptop, although we'd have liked to see one more USB port and an S-Video output. Our review unit didn't have Bluetooth (which is an available option), but it did offer a built-in 802.11n antenna, for the very latest in fast Wi-Fi connection speeds. You will, of course, need a wireless Draft N router to take advantage of it.
Lenovo hasn't released the configuration details for the R61 yet, but we do know there will be numerous hard drive options (our review unit included a faster and more expensive 7,200rpm drive), your choice of Santa Rosa CPUs, including the T7100, the T7300, the T7500, or the T7700, and even an optional Blu-ray drive, which should add around $400 to the system's cost.
Our ThinkPad R61 review unit uses the new 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500.which is one click down from the top-of-the-line Santa Rosa CPU. Like the other Santa Rosa systems we've tested, including the Gateway E-475M, the R61 offered excellent performance, but its benchmark test scores were neck-and-neck in most cases with the non-Santa Rosa Lenovo ThinkPad T60p, a long-time laptop favorite. The T60p has a slightly faster, although older, T7600 CPU, showing that the new Centrino Duo platform isn't automatically going to drastically change your computing experience. The R61, however, did widely outperform the older Lenovo T60p on one important benchmark for business users, CNET Labs' Microsoft Office productivity test.
Overall performance differences were minor, and as we test more new Centrino Pro and Centrino Duo systems, we'll get a better picture of the performance advantages to be found in the Santa Rosa platform. In anecdotal testing, the system felt fast and was stutter-free, even while multitasking--but we'd expect nothing less from any recent laptop.
A relative rarity for a business laptop, the ThinkPad R61 offers discrete graphics in the form of the new 128MB Nvidia Quadro NVS 140M. While that's not enough to make it a serviceable gaming machine, it does make the system capable of playing full-resolution Blu-ray movies. Running Quake 4 at 1,024x768 with anti-aliasing turned on, we got a playable 33.7 frames per second.
The ThinkPad R61 ran for an acceptable, if not impressive, 2 hours, 8 minutes on our DVD battery drain test; we expected it to run longer since the new Centrino platform is meant in part to improve battery life. Our review unit used a six-cell battery; and the Gateway E-475M ran 29 minutes longer on a similar six-cell battery. Our DVD battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.