When Lenovo took over IBM’s PC and laptop business in 2004, the results were anxiously awaited by fans of the legendary ThinkPad range. What would happen once control passed from the Americans to the Chinese? Any hunt for cost-cutting measures could well have put pay to years of flag-waving quality.
But the transition is now complete – the T61 is the first ThinkPad in PC Authority not to feature the IBM logo at all – and we’re relieved to say that the ThinkPad range is none the worse for it. When IBM sold off its PC and laptop business, the price evidently included a few design secrets; the matte-black styling hasn’t changed for years and Lenovo has wisely left the keyboard unchanged. Large, well-spaced keys with a good amount of travel make touch-typing almost a thrill, all in a chassis that feels capable of withstanding almost anything.
However, in a world of waif-like Sony notebooks, the T61 is a little lumbering: 2.3kg and an LCD bezel measuring 20mm at the top are hardly seductive vital statistics. But it does feel like it will cover thousands of miles in planes and trains and start flawlessly every time. Every join and panel is solidly in place, and the metal screen hinges feel particularly robust.
The ThinkVantage suite of disaster-recovery and system-health tools also offers a vast array of troubleshooting tools. Press the blue ThinkVantage button while the system is POSTing and you’ll be taken to a feature-packed GUI, offering everything from individual file to entire hard-disk recovery. The image-based incremental backup system allows you to set the maximum number of increments before an entirely new file is generated, as well as offering the option to set up an automatic backup schedule.
There’s an equally helpful array of software ready once Windows starts. Press most function keys and a helpful dialog box springs up – press , for instance, and rather than simply punting the T61’s screen output to the D-SUB port, you get a box offering a range of resolutions so you can quickly connect a projector. Plus, if your projector has a resolution other than 800 x 600 or 1024 x 768, you can set up a custom resolution. And while pressing on a lesser laptop might simply shut down the wireless card, the T61 gives the option to shut down just the Bluetooth adapter or only the Wi-Fi card, or both at the same time.
Security is another highlight. The fingerprint reader is useful, as is the TPM 1.2 chip inside the T61. Again, ThinkVantage plays a part: visit a website that requires a username and password and you can set the T61 to prompt for a fingerprint swipe or password for future use. ThinkVantage will even physically protect your system with the Active Protection System, using sensors to detect exactly how your system is positioned, and stops the hard disk if it thinks a disaster is imminent. It’s a highly sensitive system, but it also adapts – for instance, if the T61 experiences frequent small shocks, it will decide it’s in a car or train and not constantly kick in.
There’s a bewildering array of ThinkPad T61 models on sale, and Lenovo chose to send us the 766415M model – this specifies the screen size, processor, memory allocation, hard disk size, optical drive and operating system as shown here. There are much more affordable mixes (including the 89329TM, which has a 1.5GHz CPU, for just $1174), but our model showed its speed credentials in our benchmarks: a score of 1.01 is very strong. Battery life should be around 4hrs under light use whichever model you choose. Also note hard disk capacity: the 120GB disk in the 766415M offered nearer 100GB of space once the ThinkPad had grabbed a handful of space for the recovery partition.
The T61 focuses on the things most important to travelling professionals: toughness, security and usability. Smaller businesses should be able to pick the right model for their needs by scouring the online retailers, while larger businesses can negotiate the right spec at the right price with their dealer. Whichever route you choose, it’s a great alternative to the better value but not so well built, A-Listed Dell Latitude D630.