Editors note: The laptop reviewed is an overseas model, and specifications and performance may change on the Australian model.
When you look at the latest ultra-portable ThinkPad, it would seem that little has changed since we gave an 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 notebook that doesn't take up much room in a travel bag and yet still packs plenty of performance punch 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 a competing notebooks such as the Sony VAIO VGN-TX5XN/B -- although this does have a smaller screen.) 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's 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.
The ThinkPad X61s is virtually identical in design to its predecessor. Although the lightest ThinkPad X61s configuration weighs a spritely 1.22kg, our test unit, which included the "ultralight" display option but also a weighty extended battery, weighed 1.54kg (the extended battery also adds 25.4mm of depth and 7.6mm of thickness at the back). By comparison, the Sony VAIO VGN-TX5XN/B weighs less than 1.5kg and incorporates an optical drive, although it features a single-core processor and a smaller display. Although it's clearly not the smallest notebook on the market, the ThinkPad X61s is one of the smallest Core 2 Duo models we've seen and is definitely compact enough to carry around every day.
Most manufacturers have converted their ultraportable lines to wide-screen displays, but Lenovo has outfitted the ThinkPad X61s with a lightweight 12.1in. standard-aspect (4:3) screen. The display on the ThinkPad X61s is remarkably bright (222 cd/m² in our Labs measurement); its 1,024 by 768 native resolution is nothing to write home about, but it does suffice. The screen's matte finish minimises reflections, making it a winner for typical office productivity work.
Although most ultraportables sacrifice key size to fit a smaller chassis, 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 centre one 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 into 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 system's input and output ports to prevent the transfer of data.
By virtue of its slender case, the Lenovo ThinkPad X61s has just the basic ports and connections to keep business travellers productive on the road. As noted above, the ThinkPad X61s lacks a built-in optical drive, so you'll have to purchase the X6 UltraBase dock 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 notebooks, the ThinkPad X61s includes a convenient hardware on/off switch for its Wi-Fi radio.
The 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, although companies that 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 our 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 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 25.4mm off the back of the machine; this battery adds 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). 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 (Note: The Australian model comes with a four-cell battery by default. An eight-cell battery is available as an optional extra for AU$239).
Lenovo's baseline baseline warranty for the ThinkPad X61s is three years (customer carry in). 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. However, the site lacks interactive features such as customer forums or the chance to chat in real time with a technician.