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Lenovo ThinkPad R61 review: Lenovo ThinkPad R61

The IBM blueprint is still evident in the Lenovo ThinkPad R61, but the addition of a wide-screen display and all the latest Centrino Duo tricks make this a ThinkPad that could woo home users along with its legion of fans among business travelers.

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
Lenovo ThinkPad R61

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.


Lenovo ThinkPad R61

The Good

The Lenovo ThinkPad R61 has a wide-screen display; an internal roll cage protects the LCD; 802.11n Wi-Fi; dedicated graphics; very small AC adapter.

The Bad

New Centrino technology doesn't offer outsize performance gains.

The Bottom Line

The IBM blueprint is still evident in the Lenovo ThinkPad R61, but the addition of a wide-screen display and all the latest Centrino Duo tricks make this a ThinkPad that could woo home users along with its legion of fans among business travelers.

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
Category Mainstream

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
Video VGA-out VGA-out, S-Video
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.

Lenovo provides a one-year warranty with 24-hour toll-free phone support. That's the standard for consumer laptops, and it's 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 on-site 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)
Intel Santa Rosa whitebox
Lenovo ThinkPad R61

Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Lenovo ThinkPad R61
Intel Santa Rosa whitebox

Apple iTunes encoding test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Intel Santa Rosa whitebox
Lenovo ThinkPad R61

Microsoft Office productivity test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
In seconds  
Intel Santa Rosa whitebox
Lenovo ThinkPad R61

DVD battery drain test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
In minutes  
Intel Santa Rosa whitebox
Lenovo ThinkPad R61

System configurations:

Intel Santa Rosa whitebox
Windows Vista Ultimate; 2.4GHz Intel Core Duo T7700; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Mobile Intel 945GM Express; 80GB Hitachi 7,200rpm

Gateway E-265M
Windows Vista Business; 2.2GHz Intel Core Duo T7500; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD2300; 100GB Seagate 7,200rpm

Gateway E-475M
Windows Vista Business; 2.2GHz Intel Core Duo T7500; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD2300; 100GB Hitachi 7,200rpm

Lenovo ThinkPad R61
Windows Vista Business; 2.2GHz Intel Core Duo T7500; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB Nvidia Quadro NVS 140M; 100GB Hitachi 7,200rpm

Lenovo ThinkPad T60P
Windows Vista Business; 2.33GHz Intel Core Duo T7600; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon V5250; 100GB Hitachi 5,400rpm


Lenovo ThinkPad R61

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Battery 8Support 6