Lenovo ThinkPad X61s review: Lenovo ThinkPad X61s

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The Good Solid performance, thanks to the latest Core 2 Duo processor; extremely portable design; excellent keyboard; fingerprint reader; easy-to-use ThinkVantage utility; lengthy battery life with extended battery.

The Bad Lacks built-in optical drive; standard-aspect display feels outdated.

The Bottom Line The ThinkPad X61s provides excellent dual-core performance in a lightweight, compact package that's still comfortable to use.

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8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Battery 8
  • Support 6

When you look at the latest ultraportable ThinkPad, it would seem that little has changed since we gave the Editors' Choice to the ThinkPad X60s last year. The ThinkPad X61s features largely the same design as its predecessor--it still lacks a built-in optical drive--but adds a low-voltage Core 2 Duo processor and Intel's latest Centrino Pro platform, plus new security and power-management features. The end result is a laptop that doesn't take up much room in a laptop bag and yet still packs plenty of performance oomph as well as a screen and keyboard that are comfortable for working long stretches away from the desk. (If you must have an ultraportable with an optical drive, look to competitors' laptops, such as the Fujitsu LifeBook P7230 and the Sony VAIO TXN17P/B--though both those models feature smaller screens.) About the only area where the ThinkPad X61s doesn't match its predecessor is battery life: whereas a year ago the ThinkPad X60s had the longest battery life we'd ever measured, the ThinkPad X61s posted a battery life that was still longer than average, but not chart-topping. Nevertheless, we'd gladly trade endless battery and the built-in optical drive for the ThinkPad X61s's great balance of comfort, performance, and portability.

Price as reviewed / Starting price $1,964 / $1,200
Processor 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo L7500
Chipset Mobile Intel 965GM Express
Memory 2GB of 667MHz
Hard drive 100GB at 7,200rpm
Graphics Mobile Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100 (integrated)
Operating system Windows Vista Business
Dimensions (wide x deep x thick) 10.5 x 8.3 (9.3 with extended battery) x 0.8 front (1.1 back) inches
Screen size (diagonal) 12.1 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 3.4 / 4.0 pounds
Category ultraportable

The ThinkPad X61s is virtually identical in design to its predecessor. While the lightest ThinkPad X61s configuration weighs a spritely 2.7 pounds, our test unit, which included the "ultralight" display option but also a weighty extended battery, weighed 3.4 pounds (the extended battery also adds 1 inch of depth and 0.3 inch of thickness at the back). By comparison, both the Fujitsu LifeBook P7230 and the Sony VAIO TXN17P/B weigh less than 3 pounds and incorporate optical drives, though they feature single-core processors and smaller displays. Though it's clearly not the smallest laptop on the market, the ThinkPad X61s is one of the smallest Core 2 Duo options we've seen and is definitely compact enough to carry every day.

While most manufacturers have converted their ultraportable lines to wide-screen displays, Lenovo has outfitted the ThinkPad X61s with a lightweight 12.1-inch standard-aspect (4:3) screen. While we've definitely come to love a wide-aspect ratio (16:9), we also appreciate that the ThinkPad X61s offers a bit more screen real estate than, for example, the 10.6-inch wide-screen Fujitsu LifeBook P7230, while keeping a smaller design than the 12.1-inch wide-screen Toshiba Satellite U205. The display on the ThinkPad X61s is remarkably bright (222 cd/m² in our Labs measurement); its 1,024x768 native resolution doesn't exactly send shivers down the spine, but it does suffice. The screen's matte finish minimizes reflections, making it a winner for typical office productivity work.

Though most ultraportables sacrifice key size to fit a smaller case, the ThinkPad X61s's keys are large and very comfortable for extended typing. Our only complaint is that the right-side Alt and Ctrl keys are a bit narrow--annoying if you're accustomed to using shortcuts. As with all ThinkPads, the X61s includes a red TrackPoint pointing stick--there is no touch pad--and three mouse buttons (the center acts as a scroll button). Above the keyboard are basic volume controls as well as the very helpful blue ThinkVantage button, which launches a suite of system maintenance, power management, connectivity, and other utilities. Tucked beneath the lip of the lid is a nifty light that illuminates the keyboard in dim environments. A fingerprint reader below the keyboard lets you securely log in to Windows and your company network with just the swipe of a finger. Companies that need even more security can take advantage of the ThinkPad's new 32-bit hard-drive password protection as well as the option to disable the laptop's input and output ports to prevent the transfer of data.

  Lenovo ThinkPad X61s Average for ultraportable category
Video VGA-out VGA-out
Audio Headphone/microphone jacks Headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0 (4 with UltraBase), mini-FireWire, SD card reader, serial*, parallel* 2 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD, or multiformat memory card reader
Expansion PC Card PC Card or ExpressCard
Networking modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth ($29), optional WWAN modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth, optional WWAN
Optical drive None or DVD burner* None, or DVD burner

* Available only with optional UltraBase dock, which would add $270 to price of our review unit.

By virtue of its slender case, the Lenovo ThinkPad X61s has just the basic ports and connections to keep business travelers productive on the road. Worth noting: the ThinkPad X61s lacks a built-in optical drive, so you'll have to purchase the X6 UltraBase dock (which would bring our review unit's price up to $2,234) in order to get a DVD burner. This may be a deal breaker for some, but we actually like having the option of paring down our system to the bare essentials for travel, particularly given how rarely we actually use a disc drive. Like many business laptops, the ThinkPad X61s includes a convenient hardware on/off switch for its Wi-Fi radio.

The $1,964 Lenovo ThinkPad X61s we tested included a low-voltage Core 2 Duo L7500 processor built on Intel's latest Centrino Pro platform. It also runs Windows Vista Business, though companies who haven't yet made the switch to Microsoft's latest operating system can choose Windows XP for the same price. We were pleased with the ThinkPad X61s's performance on CNET Labs' application benchmarks, where it kept pace or finished slightly ahead of systems with normal-voltage Core 2 Duo processors and Intel's previous-generation platform. Unsurprisingly, the ThinkPad X61s largely outpaced its ultraportable competition, the Sony VAIO TXN17P and Fujitsu LifeBook P7230, both of which are built on Core Solo processors. For business users who multitask heavily or spend a lot of time working with Microsoft Office applications, the ThinkPad X61s provides dual-core performance in a lightweight, compact package.

Our Lenovo ThinkPad X61s included an eight-cell high-capacity battery that extends 1 inch off the back of the machine; this battery added $50 to the price, and we think it's worth it. On our taxing DVD battery drain test, the ThinkPad X61s lasted an impressive 3 hours, 9 minutes (you can expect to go a little longer if you're usage is largely office productivity applications). That wasn't quite enough to top the remarkable 4-hour, 54-minute battery life achieved by the Sony VAIO TXN17P/B (which included a smaller, LED-backlit display and a single-core processor), but the ThinkPad X61s did outlast the Fujitsu LifeBook P7230 and the Toshiba Satellite U205 by 36 minutes or more. Lenovo has also bundled the ThinkPad X61s with its new BatteryStretch software, which lets you micromanage power settings and may help you squeeze a few more minutes out of the battery. (CNET did not test this feature; read more about our test settings here.)

As Lenovo has moved toward offering built-to-order systems, the company has dropped the baseline warranty for ThinkPads to a single year. Reasonably priced upgrades add coverage for accidental drops or spills and LCD damage for up to four years. Lenovo's support Web site includes the expected troubleshooting topics, driver downloads, and user guides. The site lacks interactive features such as customer forums or the chance to chat in real time with a technician.

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