For companies that want to provision employees with lightweight, full-featured, secure and centrally manageable notebooks, Lenovos ThinkPad X61s ultralight fits the bill nicely.
The X-series ThinkPads are Lenovos smallest notebooks—8 ¼ inches by 11 inches by 1 inch with the standard four-cell battery. (A system with the eight-cell, high-capacity battery adds another inch at the back.) At just under 3 pounds with the standard four-cell battery, a ThinkPad X can be easily toted around.
That said, ultralights such as the ThinkPad X61 arent for people looking for a desktop replacement.
The X61s model has a number of useful features—some obvious, some more subtle. The optional integrated fingerprint reader is a nice touch, letting you authenticate during boot-up or returning from sleep mode with a quick finger-swipe (once you get the hang of it), rather than having to remember and type a password. Other features I liked include the physical on/off switch for wireless (Wi-FI and Bluetooth) and the power-saving modes and settings.
X Series notebooks start at about $1,500. The unit I tested was configured with Intels 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo L75002GB, 2GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, Windows Vista Business Edition, the eight-cell, high-capacity battery, the UltraBase docking station and the DVD burner that goes in the UltraBase bay. (Lenovo offers a choice of Windows XP Professional or Vista Home Basic, Business or Ultimate.)
With the standard 1-year warranty, the system I tested costs about $2,000. Longer and on-site warranties can add several hundred dollars to system prices.
A highly usable ultralight
Ive been using a ThinkPad X61s for the past several weeks. Ive tried it in a variety of modes: without any accessories, in my home office and around the house; with travel mouse, external keyboard and notebook stand; at my local library, using free WiFI; and plugged into my KVM switch, at my desk, using my 22-inch widescreen LCD, ergonomic keyboard and Kensington Trackball.
Not surprisingly, using my regular monitor, keyboard and trackball makes for the best overall work space experience—thats treating the X61 as a small-format desktop; the next-best experience was with the external keyboard.
The ThinkPad X61s screen is a modest 12.1 inches (diagonal, 4-to-3 format, not widescreen). The keyboard has a good feel, and, impressively enough, the character portion of the keyboard is full-sized—big enough to type on, even to touch-type on, comfortably.
But travel convenience is where the Lenovo ThinkPad X61s shines. The X61s is a joy to travel with. Unlike my older 5.5-pound, 14.1-inch screen ThinkPad T40, the X61s fits easily in whatever carrying object Im using and is light enough that its no burden at all.
The X61s screen and power are great for Web browsing and e-mail, and even for video.
The main box has Ethernet, audio, video and three USB ports, as well as SD (Secure Digital) and PCMCIA card slots. Depending on the model, other features include 802.11n MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) and a better external WWAN (Wireless WAN) antenna; an UltraLight display screen that Lenovo claims is thinner, lighter and brighter with more efficient power consumption; a 32-byte hard-drive password and BIOS port lock-down; and a shock-mounted hard drive.
Lenovos ThinkPads also include TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chips, which help manage encryption processes and keys.
Enterprise-oriented features are an important part of Lenovos ThinkPad lines. These include Image Ultra Builder for building software images, the System Migration Assistant and the ThinkVantage Base Software Administrator for customizing recovery processes and creating personalized files for automated Windows setup.
IBM and Microsoft have improved Wi-FI connection discovery and man-agement a lot in the last few years. The X61s finds new networks quickly and easily and reconnects to ones it knows automatically.
Lenovos X61s adds a number of security and power-management features.
I liked the integrated fingerprint reader, especially since Vista wants users to log in at bootup and each time the machine wakes up from sleep mode. It took about 10 minutes to get the hang of swiping my finger correctly. (IBM includes a good training video and test routine.)
The wireless on/off switch is a long-overdue feature and will add power-savings and security. To help extract the most runtime from your battery, Lenovo and Windows let you tweak various settings, and an included utility estimates how many minutes of runtime each change will makes.
Battery life with the eight-cell, high-capacity battery (75 watt hours) was delightfully good in my tests. With power/battery settings on reasonable conservation—while doing lots of Wi-Fi, Web and e-mail, not to mention streaming radio and software downloads—Ive gotten 4 to 5 hours on a charge. By also using an 80-watt-hour external notebook battery, Ive been able to go for a full day without plugging in to a wall socket.
Nitpicks and suggestions
I havent found any killer criticisms or problems with this notebook, but I did manage to come up with some things Id like to see added or changed.
- The X61s has the IBM erasertip mouse but no touchpad. Pack a travel mouse.
- Use the UltraBase as a docking station, not a travel accessory. Youd be better served on the road with a small, USB-powered optical drive and an external battery. (If you want an ultralight with a built-in optical drive, youll need to try another vendor, such as Panasonic with its Toughbook.)
- Watch for heat. The machine does get warm on both top and bottom. Its not painful but it is noticeable.
- Power-down is occasionally slow. Usually, the machine turned off quickly, but occasionally it would hang, making me hold down the power but-ton to turn it off. (This could easily be a Vista, not Lenovo, issue.)
Overall, Im impressed by this machine. Depending on what you do with your computer, how much screen turf you need and your keyboard druthers, this may not be your “use it all day” choice. But, if you want to travel light, you wont go wrong with the X61s.
Daniel P. Dern is an independent technology writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His web site is www.dern.com.
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