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Lenovo T61 review: Lenovo T61

Lenovo T61

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
6 min read
Unless you put them side by side, you'd be hard-pressed to spot the physical differences between the two new Centrino laptops from Lenovo, the ThinkPad T61 and the ThinkPad R61. Both 14-inch models include all the important parts of Intel's revamped Centrino platform, including new Core 2 Duo CPUs, extra onboard Turbo Memory (for boosting access times), and 802.11n Wi-Fi. While the slightly bulkier Centrino Duo R61 aims for the sweet spot in the price/performance matrix, the more expensive Centrino Pro T61 is a little thinner, a little lighter, and adds Intel's Active Management Technology, allowing the IT department to manage the system from afar, even when it's in sleep mode or powered down.

Despite the new technology, this is still largely the same black, boxy ThinkPad you've come to know and perhaps love, but Lenovo is starting to add consumer-friendly features such as optional Webcams and media card readers. It's still pricey when configured for power users, but the typical excellent ThinkPad build quality makes this a system that should enjoy a long lifespan.


Lenovo T61

The Good

Internal roll cage protects LCD; 802.11n Wi-Fi for faster wireless throughput; very small A/C adaptor adds little to overall travel weight; Intel's Active Management Technology provides remote support.

The Bad

New Centrino technology doesn't offer outsize performance gains.

The Bottom Line

Lenovo's 14-inch ThinkPad T61 shaves a few millimeters off the company's more mainstream R-series laptops, but still boasts the same, solid ThinkPad DNA along with IT-friendly features by way of Intel's new Centrino Pro platform.

Price as reviewed / Starting price $2,399 / $1,399
Processor 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300
Chipset Intel Mobile 965 Express
Memory 2GB, 667MHz DDR2
Hard drive 100GB 7,200rpm
Graphics Intel GMA X3100
Operating system Windows Vista Business
Dimensions (WDH) 13.1 x 9.4 x 1.4 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 14.1 inches
System weight / weight with AC adapter 5.4 / 6.0 pounds
Category Mainstream

Like the Lenovo R61, the T61 features a wide-screen display, which is fast becoming the norm, even in business-minded laptops. The chassis itself has been reinforced with a new 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 Lenovo claims can be negatively affected by an old-fashioned full magnesium alloy cover.

We're also firm fans of Lenovo's extremely small A/C adaptors. 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. Lenovo's two-prong adaptor, in contrast, weighs around half a pound and the brick itself measures just 4 inches long by 1.5 inches wide by 1 inch thick.

The road-ready design includes sturdy steel hinges and a shock-mounted hard drive. The ThinkPad keyboard is still one of the best laptop keyboards available, offering an extremely comfortable typing experience. The T61, in true Lenovo fashion, also features both an eraser-head pointing stick and a touch pad, each of which has a set of mouse buttons (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 summons Lenovo's helpful preinstalled support-and-configuration utility. Our T61 review unit was missing the optional Webcam found on the R61.

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, which we generally prefer to the glossy screens found on many consumer laptops.

  Lenovo ThinkPad T61 Average for mainstream category
Video VGA-out VGA-out, S-Video
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire 4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, mulitformat memory card reader
Expansion PC Card and Express card slots PC Card slot
Networking Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive DVD burner DVD burner

The ports and connections on the T61 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. The Express card slot can be swapped for a media card reader in Lenovo's online configurator for no extra charge. 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 802.11n router to take advantage of it.

One major feature the Centrino Pro ThinkPad T61 has over the Centrino Duo R61 is the inclusion of Intel's Active Management Technology, where your IT department can remotely fix, update, or even recover your system after an OS failure, if you're still connected to your company network--even if the system is in sleep mode. It's a boon for large, enterprise organizations because your IT staff can push updates to all of the PCs on your network at once; it saves you from having to physically visit cubicles where the PC or laptop isn't running.

The Lenovo ThinkPad T61 can be configured with any of Intel's Santa-Rosa-compliant Core 2 Duo CPUs, from the 1.8GHz T7100 to the 2.4GHz T7700. Our review unit included the middle-of-the-road 2.0GHz T7300, along with 2GB of RAM (expandable to 4GB for and extra $495) and a 100GB 7,200rpm hard drive. You can bump the hard drive up to 160GB, but the larger drives run at the slower 5,400rpm speed.

Like the other Santa Rosa systems we've tested, including the Gateway E-475M, the T61 offered excellent performance, but fell slightly behind its less-expensive cousin, the Lenovo ThinkPad R61, because our build of that model had a faster T7500 CPU. It was also slower than the non-Santa-Rosa Lenovo T60p, a long-time laptop favorite. The T60p has a slightly faster, although older, T7600 CPU, showing that the new Centrino Duo platform won't drastically change your computing experience. We expect to see larger performance gains once 800MHz memory is available for laptops later in the year.

Overall performance differences were minor between the largely similar Gateway and Lenovo Santa Rosa systems we tested. In anecdotal testing, the T61 felt fast and was stutter-free, even while multitasking--but we'd expect nothing less from any recent laptop.

While the 128MB Nvidia Quadro NVS 140M graphics card is an option in both the T61 and R61 ThinkPads, our T61 stuck with the integrated Intel X3100 GPU, which Lenovo says will give you better battery life than running a high-powered graphics card. The system ran for an impressive two hours and 29 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, using the included six-cell battery, which sticks out a few inches from the rear of the system. That's a little more than 20 minutes more than the R61, which has the discrete video card option. Keep in mind, our DVD battery-drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.

Lenovo provides a one-year warranty with 24-hour toll-free phone support. That's the standard for consumer laptops, but is shorter than the three-year term that covers many business laptops. You can choose from several different warranty extension options--but adding three years of onsite service will cost an additional $219. The preloaded suite of ThinkVantage applications helps users troubleshoot problems, and company's support Web site also has extensive support section.

Find out more about how we test laptops.

Multimedia Multitasking test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
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Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test
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Apple iTunes encoding test
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Microsoft Office productivity test
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DVD Battery Drain test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
In minutes  

System specifications

Gateway E-265M Windows Vista Business Edition; 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD2300; 100GB Seagate 7,200rpm
Lenovo ThinkPad R61 Windows Vista Business Edition; 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB Nvidia Quadro NVS 140M; 100GB Hitachi 7,200rpm
Lenovo ThinkPad T60P Windows Vista Business Edition; 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7600; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon V5250; 100GB Hitachi 7,200rpm
Lenovo Thinkpad T61 Windows Vista Business Edition; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel 965GM Express; 100GB Seagate 7,200rpm


Lenovo T61

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Battery 7Support 6