I received my new Lenovo Thinkpad T61 and I’ve had a couple of days to play around with it. In summary, it is one awesome piece of hardware; this is the best laptop I’ve used. Unfortunately, it’s not perfect. Windows Vista looks beautiful, but it’s pretty slow and unreliable as compared to XP. Also, battery life is shorter than I expected (due to the power hungry nVidia graphics card and maybe due to Vista power management.) Here are the pros and cons:
- Keyboard: This keyboard is incredible; it has a great feel to it and the large, white letters on the black keys make them very easy to read. I dislike the keyboard on my Dell D620 even more now and am not overly impressed by the feel of the MacBook Pro keyboard. The ThinkPad keyboard is the best.
- Think Light keyboard light: I love having a keyboard light! The backlit illuminated keyboard on a MacBook Pro is beautiful and extremely easy on the eyesl. The ThinkPad uses a somewhat crude yet practical approach with a single white LED above the screen that shines down on the keyboard. But when the lights are off, when you occasionally need to hunt for a key, they light works.
- nVidia Quadro NVS 140 Video Card+ Docking Station: runs my 30″ Dell 3007WFP monitor at full resolution (2560×1600) with no problems. That’s exactly what I need. Many laptops can’t address a monitor that requires dual-link DVI; a ThinkPad with an nVidia graphics card can. The higher resolution options were not initially presented through the Windows video control panel; I had to use the nVidia control panel to select the 2560×1600 resolution.
- Also note that DVI dual-link is a single DVI connection using 14 pins (instead of the standard 8 pins.) This allows a single DVI connector to driver high resolution monitors (above approximately 1900×1400 pixels. DVI dual-link is not the same a two DVI connectors for driving 2 monitors — see this wikipedia article.
- Clear WXGA+ Screen: The higher resolution WXGA+ screen is extremely clear and very easy to read. I was concerned that the font may be difficult to read at this high of a pixel density, but it is very sharp and clear using the default Windows settings.
- Fingerprint reader: It has worked flawlessly after I got through the initial print entry. I love how quickly I can now sign-on to Windows; it makes the multi-user feature of Windows pain-free.
- Three raised mouse buttons: I love having 3 mouse buttons and the fact that they are raised above the adjacent surface to make them easier to depress. I absolutely hate the 2 recessed trackpoint button on my Dell D620; the ThinkPad buttons are perfect.
- Trackpoint: It is very configurable via the Thinkpad utility, so I can add options such as “tap to select”
- Touch Pad: the touch pad is very configurable; the extra options for scrolling, scroll continuation, and corner taps make the touchpad useful, but I still spend most of my time using the TrackPoint.
- Keyboard customization utility: This little utility allows keyboard remapping of both the internal and an external keyboard, so your can initiate the special Fn+F7 to toggle internal/external monitors and any other of the special Functions.
- Lenovo System Update Utility: Automatic updating of drivers and Lenovo software; much better than with any other manufacturer I’ve experienced.
- Build quality: This is one solid laptop. It’s rigid, purposeful, and balanced
- Docking Station: It’s great that there is a docking station available: fast docking for charging, mouse, and monitor.
- Easy to Upgrade: I upgraded to 2GB of DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) memory as soon as I unboxed my laptop. Instead of looking for service instructions, I decided to figure it out myself. I flipped over the T61 and each one of the screws that had to be removed to access the memory was labeled with a small icon. I unscrewed each one, the cover popped off, and the memory was right there.
- Screen Blanking 6 Seconds after Logon: 6 seconds after I log on or unlock Windows Vista, the screen goes completely blank and then immediately comes back on. This closes the start menu (if I opened it during those first 6 seconds) and also resets the screen brightness to a default level, rather than the level I manually selected prior to the screen locking. This is annoying. Leave the display as it was. Switching back from the logon screen should be completely seamless and it isn’t.
- Weird “Bouncing” Sound from Front Right of ThinkPad: About every 5 minutes or so, I hear a weird sound from the front right of the T61 where the hard drive is located. I pretty sure it’s the hard drive. It sounds similar to a small wooden ball being dropped on a hard surface from about a 1/4-inch height. It’s not loud, but it is persistent and annoying. I’d buy a different hard drive if I knew it would eliminate the sound. It’s not the accelerometer detecting motion and parking the drive heads; I disabled that protection feature and the sound continue to occur.
- Update: This turned out to be a failed Seagate hard drive; it was bad from the start.
- ThinkVantage password manager: It is supposed to allow fingerprint-protected automatic password entry of passwords on websites. But for WordPress, when I go to create a new post on my site, the password manager box pops-up for no apparent reason (that is not prompting for a password.) It seems best to leave password management to Firefox.
- Disk Keeper Slows Everything Down (w/default settings): It is automatically scheduled to defragment the hard drive, which kills the battery and slows the computer. This shouldn’t be the default setting, it’s best to disable this software and run it manually.
- Update: This may have been due to the failed hard drive.
- No Auto-Wake on Lid Open: When I close the lid, Windows can be set to automatically go to sleep (although I have this feature disabled.) What I really want is for the ThinkPad to automatically wake-up when I open the like, the way a MacBook Pro does. Why else would I be opening the lid if I didn’t want to use my computer? Why must I push the power button; can’t it just turn on?
- No DVI-I port on the ThinkPad: There should be a DVI-I port on the ThinkPad instead of the VGA port. DVI-I supports both analog and digital signals, so a small dongle converts it to a standard VGA port. Plus a DVI-I port can drive a digital flat panel monitor (such as my Dell 3007WFP 30″ monitor). Instead, I have to purchase a docking station just to connect to my external monitor. I would have purchased the docking station anyway, but I shouldn’t be required to do so.
- Windows Vista stability and Issues: I initially had problems, but after I installed all of the updates and rebooted, there have been much fewer problems. Unfortunately, ShutterFly software and the ShutterFly Firefox plug-in both crash on Vista (not XP.) Also, the power save feature doesn’t work properly — it’s set to sleep after 10 minutes, but it stays on until the battery is dead. When the screen is deactivated due to the power save feature and it reactivated, it goes to a default brightness level, not the one I had manually set 20 seconds before the screen momentarily powered down.
- Update: After installing the new hard drive and performing a clean install of Windows Vista Ultimate, I’ve had zero problems with Windows Vista!
- I ordered a CD burner instead of a DVD burner: I figured I’d save $50 and burn DVDs on my desktop PC if I needed to do so. But when I was burning 8 CDs to create the backup media, I knew I’d made a mistake. When I downloaded a 1 GB iso file that needed to be burned to a DVD, I was positive I made a mistake. I should have gotten the DVD+CD burner instead of the CD-only burner.
- Tiny Touchpad: The touch pad is absolutely tiny. It should be 4 times the size that it is. And it should have 2-finger scroll.
- Unresponsive Trackpoint: The trackpoint isn’t as sensitive as it is on previous Thinkpads or on my Dell laptop. It seems that I have to push too hard and it still moves too slowly, even with the configuration app in control panel set to the most sensitive settings.
Other Application-specific thoughts:
I tried using Microsoft Internet Explorer and Microsoft Outlook since they are the default Windows programs; I wanted to avoid additional installs. Outlook was unbearably slow syncing with my IMAP server. After an hour of frustration, I installed Thunderbird and all is well. I fared better with IE, but the lack of search-while-you-type finally broke my resolve, and I then installed Firefox. The customization and add-ons make Thunderbird and Firefox almost impossible to beat for anyone who is obsessive about details.
My favorite Windows Vista feature: Start Search. Press the Windows key, start typing the name of the application, and it is automatically selected. I still think Launchy is better, but I could live with only Start Search if I had to.