CNET.co.uk is dedicated to the average consumer, so it's not often you'll find a purely business-focused laptop on these hallowed pages. But when a laptop is too good to ignore, we'll turn a blind eye to the fact that it's designed for stuffy business types.
The Lenovo ThinkPad T61p is just such a machine. It's filled to the brim with new, high-end components, is built like a tank and more importantly is the first laptop we've used that comes with an ultra-wideband (UWB) chip -- the stuff that allows wireless USB and wireless HDMI. It's available to buy right now from a starting price of just over £1,600.
In case you didn't already know, IBM sold its PC division to Lenovo in 2005. Lenovo now has permission to use the IBM name and associated branding on its products until 2010. The T61p shuns the IBM name but keeps the ThinkPad moniker -- just as it keeps the angular, matte black chassis design pioneered by IBM all those years ago.
It's fairly dull looking, make no mistake. The angular styling and understated colouring makes it the complete antithesis of laptops such as the Sony Vaio CR series. But don't let that put you off -- as strange as it may sound, the laptop has an air of functional elegance about it. Just one look in its direction is enough to tell you it's packing some serious hardware.
The lid is very understated, playing host to nothing more than a small ThinkPad T Series logo. But things are far more intriguing once you lift the lid. Here you can see the very familiar IBM keyboard layout which includes a blue-coloured return key, blue ThinkVantage shortcut button and, of course, two types of mouse controller. Lenovo gives you the choice of using a touch-sensitive trackpad or, above this, a separate TrackPoint 'nipple', which has its own dedicated selector buttons.
The T61p has a fingerprint reader for secure logins. But instead of sitting between the mouse selector buttons, as is common on consumer laptops, it's positioned out of the way on the right-hand side. Also notable is the lack of a webcam at the top of the screen. Lenovo obviously thinks Web conferencing isn't a popular enough feature, so it's replaced it with a ThinkLight -- an LED bulb that can illuminate the keyboard in dark environments.
The vast majority of the T61p's ports are located on the left side. There's an analogue D-Sub VGA port, modem and LAN ports, a pair of audio jacks, USB and an ExpressCard slot. The front plays host to a memory card reader and on the right there are two more USB ports.Features
Under the matte black plastic, Lenovo has fitted what it describes as a 'roll cage' -- two skeleton-type enclosures that protect the motherboard and LCD screen in the event of a fall. It doesn't pretend it's as tough as a Panasonic ToughBook but it affords the laptop a degree of protection absent from most of its rivals.
At the heart of the system, Lenovo has opted for the latest Intel Centrino components. The CPU is a 2.4GHz Intel T7700 CPU, the fastest we've seen in a laptop thus far. This is paired to 2048MB of DDR2 667MHz memory, making the core specification as potent as you'd expect from any laptop.
Graphics processing is usually overlooked in business laptops but not so in the T61p. It's fitted with an Nvidia Quadro FX 570M graphics chipset, which is a very potent solution. It's designed to cope with the demands of hardcore digital content creation and professional 3D modelling, and it won't shy away from a game of Half-Life 2, either. It's Shader Model 4-compliant, has 256MB of dedicated memory and has a fast 22.4GB/sec memory bandwidth -- in other words it's really no slouch.
The graphics adaptor is paired with a very good display. It's only 15.4 inches in size but it has a widescreen aspect ratio and more pixels than you'll know what to do with. It runs at a monstrous native resolution of 1,920x1,200 pixels, which is way higher than the 1,280x800 pixels you get on ordinary laptops. This means you get more room to position your application windows. It also upsets the apple cart by not using a glossy finish -- you can actually see the display when using it outdoors.
Storage is a tad disappointing in the T61p. It ships with a 100GB Seagate hard drive, which is a slap in the face for anyone who likes to hoard lots of DivX movies. It's fine for stashing spreadsheets and Word documents, though, so business users don't have much reason to complain.
As expected, the T61p includes a DVD rewriter so you can make easy backups. This lives in a modular drive bay to the right of the laptop. Impressively it can be removed and replaced with a secondary Ultrabay battery should you prefer longer operation to optical disc support. An Ultrabay 2000 Li-ion battery will set you back approximately £130 but it's worth investing in if you have the money.
The T61p has plenty of wireless connectivity. It supports 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi networks, and will even hook up to 300Mbps 802.11n networks should you feel the need for speed. Perhaps the most impressive wireless feature, however, is its UWB support. This technology enables the laptop to connect to wireless USB devices (when they become available) -- simply place a compatible device in the proximity of the T61p and it'll connect to it without cables. We were unable to test this feature at the time of writing but hope to do so once compatible devices start to materialise.
The T61p ships with Windows Vista Ultimate edition, which combines the funky consumer features of the Home Premium edition with the security features of the Business edition. Our sample included copies of Microsoft Office 2007, PC-Doctor 5, Picasa 5 and Diskeeper backup software. There's also a three-year limited warranty covering parts and labour and a separate one-year warranty for the system battery.
The T61p uses some pretty potent components so it's unsurprising it fared well in our benchmark tests. It racked up a PCMark 2005 tally of 4,828 -- which is among the highest we've seen for a laptop. Likewise, its 3DMark 2006 graphics score of 4,688 was near the top end of what we've seen outside a gaming laptop. These scores basically verified our initial judgement of the laptop's performance -- it feels as quick, if not quicker, than any we've used in the past.
The T61p isn't for everyone -- many may be better off with a cheaper, consumer-oriented laptop such as the Sony Vaio FZ series. But if you want a machine that's engineered from the ground up to be sturdy, fast in every respect and you don't mind the fact it's lacking in sex appeal, then we thoroughly recommend it.
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday