Lenovo ThinkPad X61s Review

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$2228

Pros: Fast performance for ultraportable; Bright display; Very good battery life; Top-notch security and durability

Cons: Mediocre Wi-Fi performance; Lacks integrated optical drive; No widescreen option

Verdict: Striking a very good balance between performance and battery life, the X61s is a highly recommended ultralight business notebook.

One of our favorite ultraportables just got a power boost. Like its predecessors, the ThinkPad X61s ($2,228 as configured) boasts a rock-solid design, a best-in-class keyboard, and enough security features to make the most seasoned hacker ponder retirement. What's new is the muscle, courtesy of Intel's latest Core 2 Duo Low Voltage processor, which also delivers long battery life. Despite its surprisingly low Wi-Fi score (for 802.11n), standard-ratio screen, and lack of a built-in optical drive, you'll be happy with this pricey pint-size performer.
The fact that Lenovo didn't mess with the design of the X Series is mostly a good thing. With the included eight-cell battery, which hangs off the back, the X61s weighs just 3.3 pounds. The lid on this system feels incredibly sturdy, and the keyboard provides excellent tactile feedback, although some of the keys (like Backspace) are a bit shrunken to accommodate the X61s' compact footprint. Getting accustomed to the TrackPoint control-there's no touchpad-took some time, but we found it comfortable and accurate.
In some ways, however, the X61s feels a bit behind the times. The 12.1-inch UltraLight display is plenty bright (with 180 nits of brightness, compared with 150 for the standard screen), and the matte finish does a good job cutting down on glare. But this panel's standard-aspect ratio could make anyone who's used to a widescreen feel like they just got launched back a few years. Lenovo has already gone wide with its other ThinkPads, but not with this series.
You also don't get a built-in optical drive. A DVD burner is built into the X6 UltraBase dock, which is included in this configuration and brings the weight to 5.2 pounds. If you do want a widescreen and integrated optical drive, you may prefer the Toshiba Portege R500, which weighs only 2.4 pounds.
Otherwise, this ultraportable has all the features road warriors need. Our configuration included 2GB of RAM, a speedy 7,200-rpm hard drive, and both 802.11n and Bluetooth wireless. The right side of the system houses two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and the mic and headphone jacks, and on the left side you'll find another USB 2.0 port, VGA connector, and Ethernet port.
As you might expect from a ThinkPad, the X61s is all about protecting both the hardware and the data inside. In addition to a fingerprint reader on the keyboard deck, this notebook features new 32-byte hard drive password protection and the ability to disable I/O ports. You still get active hard drive protection, which temporarily stops the hard drive in case of a tumble, as well as a hard drive shock absorber.
We've always been fans of the blue ThinkVantage button, which brings up a utility menu that allows users to do everything from defragging the hard drive and toggling wireless connections on and off to backing up and restoring your system. If you do a little digging, you'll find the new Battery Stretch tool, which automatically dims the display, disables the wireless radios, and mutes the audio. This tool even tells you the estimated increase in battery life.
The good news is that the X61s lasts a long time on a charge without having to make any tweaks. On our DVD rundown test, this notebook lasted just shy of four hours-and that's with the external drive, which requires more power than an internal drive-so you can expect at least six hours of runtime when performing everyday productivity chores. That's a battery life that's about two hours less than the not-as-powerful X60s we tested last year, but it will be long enough for nearly a full day of work. After using a plug-in EV-DO modem to surf the Web for more than an hour, the battery meter said we still had 75 percent juice left.
Even better, this ultraportable doesn't sacrifice performance for endurance. The 1.6-GHz Core 2 Duo processor, combined with 2GB of RAM, allowed the X61s to notch a very good PCMark05 score of 3,549. That's above average for this class and provides plenty of horsepower to run Vista Business and Office 2007. Graphics performance was also above average, with a 3DMark03 score of 1,607.
The only disappointment was the X61s' Wi-Fi performance. Throughput from both 15 feet (8.4 Mbps) and 50 feet (7.1 Mbps) for our access point was below average, especially for a notebook with an 802.11n connection. Other Core 2 Duo laptops we've recently tested, like the ThinkPad R61-14w, clock in above 17 Mbps. If you want mobile broadband built in, it will cost you an extra $175, which includes a pop-up antenna for better reception.
Although we'd like to see a widescreen option, the ThinkPad X61s is an excellent choice for road warriors. We prefer the Panasonic Toughbook CF-W5 for its longer battery life, lighter weight, and integrated optical drive, but this system has a better keyboard, a more powerful processor, and more robust security features. If you want an ultraportable that performs-and feels-like a mainstream business machine, this is the one to get.

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Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 1.6-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo L7500
Operating System MS Windows Vista Business
RAM 2GB
RAM Upgradable to 4GB
Hard Drive Size 100GB
Hard Drive Speed 7,200rpm
Display Size 12.1
Native Resolution 1024x768
Optical Drive DVDRW Dual Layer
Optical Drive Speed 8X
Graphics Card Intel GMA X3100
Video Memory 128MB
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth Bluetooth 2.0
Ports (excluding USB) Firewire
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Modem
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
USB Ports 3
Card Slots Type II
Card Slots Type I
Card Slots SD memory reader
Card Slots ExpressCard
Warranty/Support One-year parts and labor/24/7 toll-free
Size 10.5 x 9.3 x 0.8 inches
Weight 3.3 pounds
Company Website www.lenovo.com