In the year since Lenovo announced the first-ever wide-screen ThinkPad, the company has been keeping the Z series fresh by incorporating the latest components without drastically changing the laptops' excellent design. With the midsize Z61m, for example, Lenovo has stocked the now-familiar wide case with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and the latest graphics card from ATI, all at a competitive price. So far, so good, but when it came to our performance benchmarks, the ThinkPad Z61m lagged behind the competition. For some, the ThinkPad Z61m's excellent design and business-friendly feature set will offset its pokey performance; users looking for every last drop of speed, though, should consider the similarly priced (and identically configured) HP Compaq nc8430.
The ThinkPad Z61m is solidly constructed with a magnesium-alloy frame and thick metal hinges. It measures 14 inches wide, just less than 10 inches deep, and 1.4 inches thick, making it similar in size to the HP Compaq nc8430 and a bit smaller than the Acer Ferrari 5000. Though the ThinkPad Z61m starts at 6.3 pounds, the optional titanium cover on our review unit bumped its weight to 6.8 pounds (7.7 pounds with its AC adapter), making it a touch heavier than the other models. While we wouldn't want to carry the ThinkPad Z61m with us every day, it is still light enough for the occasional business trip. For travelers who want to carry less weight, Lenovo also makes the ThinkPad Z61t, a thin-and-light member of the Z series with a slightly smaller display.
As with all ThinkPads, the Z61m features a wide, comfortable keyboard; Lenovo includes both an average-size touch pad with two corresponding mouse buttons and a red eraser-head pointing stick that includes its own set of mouse and scroll buttons. Above the keyboard sit buttons for volume up, down, and mute, along with a fourth ThinkVantage button that launches the company's robust preinstalled help and configuration utility. Alongside the keyboard are two speakers that emit remarkably balanced, if quiet, sound; beneath the board sits the laptop's biometric fingerprint reader. Handy port labels along both sides of the keyboard deck help you immediately find where to plug in peripherals. Though the ThinkPad Z61m lacks dedicated media buttons--not surprising for a business-oriented laptop--its arrow keys double as multimedia controls by pressing the function key.
Our ThinkPad Z61m review unit came with a high 1,680x1,050 native resolution, equal to the resolution on the Acer Ferrari 5000's display, which affords a large amount of screen real estate but can make text appear small. The only 15.4-inch laptop we've seen with a sharper resolution is the MacBook Pro. For those who favor larger text and icons, the ThinkPad Z61m can be configured with a 1,280x800 resolution display. Tucked into the bezel above the screen, the ThinkPad's classic reading light lets you illuminate the keyboard when working in dark environments. Next to it, a built-in camera and microphone allow for easy Web conferencing.
While the ThinkPad Z61m lacks some of the high-end audio and video connectors found on laptops such as the Acer Ferrari 5000 and the MacBook Pro, it does offer everything the typical mobile worker will need. This includes S-Video out, VGA, mini FireWire, and three USB 2.0 ports, plus headphone and microphone jacks. There are slots for PC Cards and the latest ExpressCards, as well as a media card reader that recognizes Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, MultiMediaCard, and Secure Digital formats. Our Z61m's swappable media bay came filled with a DVD burner. Networking options include a 56Kbps modem, Gigabit Ethernet, and 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi; our test model's price included an optional Bluetooth radio but lacked integrated WWAN (also available as an option).
Our ThinkPad Z61m review unit cost $1,719--a pretty competitive price, considering its satisfying selection of components that includes a midrange 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 processor; an ample 1GB of quick 667MHz RAM, a huge 120GB hard drive rotating at 5,400rpm; and an ATI Mobility Radeon X1400 chip with 256MB of VRAM The ThinkPad Z61m's performance on CNET Labs' benchmarks surprised us, however, and not in a good way. It fell near the bottom of a pack of closely configured competitive models, at times trailing the leader by as much as 20 percent. The only test where the ThinkPad Z61m kept up with the group was the processor-intensive iTunes encoding test. While some of the performance discrepancy can be chalked up to engineering differences among manufacturers, the rest is likely due to the laptops' hard drive speeds; the otherwise identical HP Compaq nc8430 ($1,799), which raced ahead of the ThinkPad, included a 7,200rpm hard drive. Although the ThinkPad Z61m didn't feel particularly slow while doing typical productivity work, users with a strong need for speed should consider upgrading its hard drive to the faster speed ($40 for 100GB).
In our battery-drain tests, the ThinkPad Z61m lasted an above-average 3 hours, 46 minutes--more than an hour longer than the same-size battery on the Polywell PolyNote V512NC and just 7 minutes less than the HP Compaq nc8430's larger battery.
Lenovo provides a one-year warranty with the ThinkPad Z61m which, though the standard among consumer laptops, is shorter than the three-year term that covers most business laptops. You can choose from several different affordably priced warranty extension options; 24/7, toll-free phone support lasts for the length of your warranty. The preloaded suite of ThinkVantage applications helps users troubleshoot problems, configure their networking options, and enhance data security. The company's support Web site also displays troubleshooting information yet lacks helpful elements, such as a user forum.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)