Executive Summary:

The ThinkPad X61 isn't the smallest of lightest ultraportable available, and I found its general usability to be somewhat lacking (from my admittedly biased point of view). But I can't deny its dual-core power or its extreme portability. This is a comfortable device for the road warrior—as long as you can get past its idiosyncrasies.


Summary
Lenovo ThinkPad X61

PROS: Impressive CPU speed and solid,
quality construction; vivid LCD display;
may not be the lightest portable laptop, but
features an impressive array of ports and
interfaces
CONS: Lack of an integrated optical drive
may limit usability for some users; the integrated
pointing device can be difficult to use
for those not accustomed to using it
RATING: 4 diamonds
PRICE: $1,500-$2,500
RECOMMENDATION: The ThinkPad X61 comes with its share of idiosyncrasies— including old-school full-frame display and a dreaded pointing stick—but I have to recommend the unit for its dual-core power and extreme portability. Road warriors will love it.
CONTACT: Lenovo • 866-96-THINK •
www.lenovo.com


I’ve just spent a month playing around with Lenovo’s latest ultraportable laptop computer, the ThinkPad X61—a sturdy little powerhouse that boasts a low-voltage 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB or RAM, and a 100GB, 7200rpm hard disk. Weighing in at about 3 pounds, the ThinkPad X61 is definitely a godsend for the frequent traveler, and it’s undeniably powerful for its size. It’s about 10.5" wide, a little over 8" tall, and the case thickness varies from a bit less than an inch to a still-respectable 1.39" at its widest point. But the unit lacks certain important features, giving it an oddly old-school feel.

Let’s start with first impressions. Opening up the laptop, I was struck by its build quality. This is a well-constructed machine with a nice fit and finish. Next, I noticed that Lenovo has opted against using a widescreen (16×9) display, instead reverting to an oldschool 12.1" display with a standard 4×3 aspect ratio. I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed by this choice, having come to love the widescreen ratio on my other systems. That being said, I know some users who prefer the standard ratio for business use and save the widescreen presentation for their home media. (Anyway, the built-in speakers are nothing to crow about.) As it stands, the ThinkPad X61’s display is vivid, performing better in bright-light scenarios than other ultraportables I’ve seen.

How about the keyboard? Another first impression is that Lenovo is still using its red TrackPoint pointing stick in the center of the keyboard. Here, I must admit to another personal bias: I can’t stand pointing sticks. (The ThinkPad offers no touch pad—a far more preferable navigation device, in my mind.) Three mouse buttons underneath the keyboard provide left-click, right-click, and scroll functionality. Even after a month, I found this setup decidedly frustrating and antiquated. However, once I got past my own bias, I could see that the ThinkPad boasts nice, large keys that invite more comfortable typing than most ultraportable keyboards. Pay special attention to the ThinkVantage button just beneath the screen: Pressing it brings up the ThinkVantage Productivity Center, a terrific resource to help you with system maintenance. There’s also some new gadgetry on the ThinkPad X61 that might increase your interest: For example, a fingerprint reader just to the right of the mouse buttons lets you securely log on, and a button on the bottom lets you disable the Wi-Fi radio.

The ThinkPad X61 offers basic connectivity ports and inputs, including an expansion bus (for the UltraBase or an extended battery), three USB 2.0 ports, a 1394 port, an external display adapter connector, audio and Ethernet ports, as well as the expected AC adapter plugs and RJ-11 modem port. As I stated earlier, it lacks a built-in optical drive. My test device included the optional X6 UltraBase dock, which contains a DVD/CD-RW burner, as well as a number of additional business-connectivity inputs and ports.

The ThinkPad X61 I tested ran Windows Vista Business, and I found its performance to be generally pleasing. I didn’t notice a huge speed boost with the Core Duo processor, but I found it to be a step forward in all tasks: Bootup seemed average, but Internet activity was impressive if not startling. After diving into some multitasking, I could clearly experience the benefit of the processor: There was no lag switching quickly from app to app. Probably the ThinkPad X61’s greatest competitive advantage is its dual-core performance in such a travelfriendly package.

As always, I recommend investing in the longer-life battery. My test unit came with a larger, higher-capacity battery that gave the ThinkPad X61 an impressive battery life of more than five hours, in my tests. Also as always, that larger battery increased the weight, size, and price of the laptop itself, so be aware of those tradeoffs. The bigger battery is certainly a necessary upgrade, though.

The ThinkPad X61 isn’t the smallest of lightest ultraportable available, and I found its general usability to be somewhat lacking (from my admittedly biased point of view). But I can’t deny its dualcore power or its extreme portability. This is a comfortable device for the road warrior—as long as you can get past its idiosyncrasies.