Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A notebook for road warriors

Database News : Thursday December 06, 2007


A notebook for road warriors

Lenovo's latest notebook is a lean, 1.64-kg package of computing muscle that delivers five hours of battery life


Here's a portable computer that is just what you need when you're on the road, and nothing more: a lean, 1.64-kg package of computing muscle that delivers five hours of battery life, or better.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X61 stays true to its IBM heritage and, unlike many notebooks that seem to have lost their way and gained weight by going the wide-screen route, this unit is 10-1/2 inches wide, by 8-1/4 inches deep and is just an inch or so thick (having a slightly tapered base, it is 3/4-inch thick at the front and 1-1/8-inches at the rear).

The X61 will slip into a briefcase without any problems and the odds are that you won't have to take the adapter/charger along because the battery life is so good. Indeed, a friend swears by this model's predecessor, the X60, and he simply takes a spare battery with him when he's out of the office, which gives him the ability to work at the keyboard anywhere for around 12 hours.

Mind you, the external adapter/charger is also very compact, being 1-1/4-inches by 4-inches by 1-5/8 inches, although there's no LED charge light which I rather like to see - particularly when connected to in-flight charging sockets, but useful almost anywhere when external power is not certain (such as in hotel rooms, which cut off the power to some sockets when the room is not occupied). I find an adapter LED serves as a good, quick check on this.

The screen is 12.1-inches (1024 by 768 pixels) with a 4:3 aspect ratio, big enough for most computing tasks, and it comes with a matte finish that cuts out reflections.

IBM, and now Lenovo - which took over its personal computing division a while back - always stayed faithful to the trackpoint navigation interface while other notebook makers have been fiddling around with touchpads, trying to get them "just right," - but often building in too much sensitivity so that the cursor hops around like a dazed fly when your thumbs or fingers come too close to the pad.

Once you get used to moving the cursor with the trackpoint, a tiny joystick with a red rubberised tip that is nestled snugly between the G, H and B keys, you may well decide that it is superior and that it gives you as much or better precision than a touchpad, and without any downside.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X61 is also a no-nonsense machine, with a matte black case with just a discreet silver ThinkPad logo, while the unit opens up to reveal a keyboard and screen surround in dark grey. The Enter key is deep blue, while keycaps are marked clearly in white (in both Thai and English), while there is an embedded numeric keypad.

The keyboard also has a special key (also blue, but a darker shade), which calls up the ThinkVantage Productivity Centre of tools and utilities; the only other observation I'd make is that the key at the far bottom left is the function key, rather than a control key, which might take a little getting used to.

My initial reaction to the keyboard was that it had a nice feel to it, offering positive resistance, nor was it too stiff. There was no key bounce, while the caps-lock key is not vulnerable to accidental triggering thanks to a carefully-designed gap between the "A" key and the caps lock . If you touch-type your left-most finger is unlikely to stray that far.

The width of the keyboard at 10-inches is fine, and this compares to a standard notebook of about 10-1/2 to 11-inches in width, or a widescreen notebook at about 12-inches.

A panel of icons with symbols in a subdued yellow hue tells you whether the unit is in hibernation, charging or on battery power, while there are Wi-Fi and Bluetooth indicators as well as HD activity, caps lock and numeric keypad indicators. There's just enough illumination and they are not too intrusively bright.

The ThinkVantage Productivity Center has three categories: a "Quick links", "Resource Center" and "Message Center", with the Quick Links offering "Welcome", "Back-up Now", "Get Web Support", "Find Wireless Networks", "Access on-system Help", "Power on Wireless Radio" and "Power on Bluetooth Radio."

The Resource Centre offered categories of "Maintenance", "Wireless and Networking", "Device con- figuration", "System Migration", "Data Protection and Recovery", "ThinkVantage Technologies" and "Help and Support". If you highlight one of these categories, a further selection of options pops up.

With the X61 Lenovo claims to have improved the sensitivity of the Wi-Fi by 30 percent with an enhanced WLAN antenna and I must say that I was able to pick up several "stray" Wi-Fi signals while travelling around the mid-South of Thailand.

The unit under evaluation was powered by an Intel Core2Duo, T7300 processor running at 2GHz with an 80MHz FSB and 4MB of L2 cache coupled with 1 GB of DDR2 SDRAM. It came with Windows Vista Business, (sorry, there are no games) and it comes with a fingerprint security feature.

A trial of Norton Internet Security is provided, along with a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office and Adobe Reader 8. However, I would recommend downloading IBM's Lotus Symphony suite, which is based on the ODF standard, is free, and would seem to be a much more elegant set of office tools to use on a ThinkPad notebook.

The base model comes with an 80GB HD (although the one I reviewed had the 120GB drive) and there's a built-in motion sensor that protects the disk from jolts or shock, while there is a three-year carry-in warranty and ThinkProtect one-year insurance warranty.

For connectivity there are three USB ports (one at the left, and two to the right), serial and RJ11 (gigabit Ethernet) ports; a FireWire (IEEE 1394) port, a PCMCIA card and an SC card memory card reader slot, RJ45 (modem), and audio in and out (microphone and headphone) ports.

Worth noting is that there is no internal CD/DVD drive, the main shortcoming being that loading drivers or a software application would be inconvenient since you'd probably need access to an external drive to do this.

All in all, this is a no-compromise ultraportable that provides all the assurances of the ThinkPad line, offering built-in security and rugged reliability without coming at too much of a premium while being light on your shoulder when you need to take it with you on the road.

I found the battery life to be exceedingly good - and this was despite Vista's best efforts that frequently saw frenzied hard disk access for reasons probably only known to the authors of the OS in Redmond.

Indeed, battery life was so good that I stopped worrying about how much charge I had left - which began with an ambitious prediction of six and a half hours - since it really seemed to go on, and on, and I would be using the X61 on its battery for hours at a time and yet I never ran low enough that it would automatically shut down.

The base unit, with 512MB of RAM, and 80GB hard disk and a T7100 Core2Duo processor running at 1.8 GHz will set you back some 53,900 baht, according to Lenovo ( There's a tablet version of the X61 notebook as well, while the extras (faster CPU, more RAM and larger HD) included in the unit tested boost the price by 9,000 baht.

By : Bangkok Post

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