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Lenovo ThinkPad X61s review: Lenovo ThinkPad X61s

Lenovo ThinkPad X61s

Michelle Thatcher Former Senior Associate Editor, Laptops
Tech expert Michelle Thatcher grew up surrounded by gadgets and sustained by Tex-Mex cuisine. Life in two major cities--first Chicago, then San Francisco--broadened her culinary horizons beyond meat and cheese, and she's since enjoyed nearly a decade of wining, dining, and cooking up and down the California coast. Though her gadget lust remains, the practicalities of her small kitchen dictate that single-function geegaws never stay around for long.
Michelle Thatcher
7 min read

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.


Lenovo ThinkPad X61s

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Lacks built-in optical drive; standard-aspect display feels outdated.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

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.

* 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.

Find out more about how we test laptops.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Lenovo ThinkPad X61s

Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Microsoft Office productivity test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Lenovo ThinkPad X61s

DVD Battery Drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

System configurations:
Lenovo ThinkPad X61s
Windows Vista Business Edition; 1.6GHz Intel Core Duo L7500; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 358MB Intel Mobile Express 965GM; 100GB Seagate 7,200rpm

Acer TravelMate 6291
Windows Vista Business Edition; 1.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5500; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 224MB Mobile Intel 945GM/GU Express Chipset; 120GB Seagate Momentus 5,400rpm

Windows Vista Business Edition; 1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1400; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 400MHz; 224MB Mobile Intel 945GM Express; 80GB Toshiba 4,200rpm

Toshiba Satellite U205-S5057
Windows Vista Home Premium Edition; 1.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5500; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 528MHz; 224MB Mobile Intel 945GM Express Chipset; 160GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Fujitsu LifeBook P7230
Windows Vista Business edition; 1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1400; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 224MB Mobile Intel 945GM Express; 60GB Toshiba 4,200rpm


Lenovo ThinkPad X61s

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9Battery 8Support 6