Thursday, June 01, 2006

the thinkpad t60

I’ve been in the market for a laptop. After 5 years my old Thinkpad finally died and I needed a replacement. For demos of our secret new product I’ve been using a Dell Latitude, and the new 620 does seem like a good value, but I decided to purchase another Thinkpad instead.

As you may remember, IBM sold their PC division to Chinese manufacturer Lenovo last year. Apart from sparking paranoia about spying, the only real impact of the sale seems to be more reasonable prices for the business-oriented laptops. They are still IBM-branded and indistinguishable in quality.

There are several product lines in the Thinkpad family. The X is ultra-portable, the R is designed for value, the Z is their new widescreen, multimedia offering, and the T has been the corporate standard for almost a decade. Within each line there are also feature choices: the obvious ones like memory, processor speed and hard disk size; and, laptop specific options like screen resolution, battery size and wireless. These are packaged in popular bundles, or if you don’t mind waiting several weeks for build time, you can customize more extensively.

The T60 I selected was an Express package, the 2623D6U model. It features a 1.83 GHz Intel dual core processor, 512 MB memory, 80 GB 5400 rpm hard drive, DVD-writer, ATI Mobility Radeon X1300 graphics controller, and a very sharp 14.1” SXGA+ display. The connectivity options are also extensive, and my model has built-in Bluetooth, gigabit Ethernet and Intel’s 802.11 a/b/g wireless chip. I would have preferred the 9-cell lithium ion battery but it shipped with the 6-cell instead, resulting in a total weight of 5.12 lbs. (Note that 512 MB of memory isn’t enough, but it much more economical to buy extra RAM from a vendor like

For me, several concerns drove my choice. Durability was important, and the titanium-cased T60 is well built. The hard drive is securely-mounted and runs shock-detection software to instantly park the heads if dropped. The top is rigid and well-hinged to the body. And, the keyboard action is unique in the laptop world. As a bonus, it comes with nifty security features like a fingerprint reader for logging in. It is a bit James Bond, but the fingerprint reader works well and it is more convenient than typing a password.

Pointing device was also critical for me. This is a minority view and it narrowed my purchase options, but I don’t like the track pad. I find it to hard to move the cursor fast, and I can’t control it well for fine operations. I much prefer the track point (or dot or pointing stick or nipple as it is often known). And, I like that I don’t have to move my hand away from the keys. When you type slowly, every bit helps. Thinkpads provide both a track pad and a dot.

With laptops, displays are important. In the T-family there are 5 options. Cheapest is XGA (1024x768) in 14.1 and 15” sizes. Next in price are the SXGA+ (1400x1050) in 14.1 and 15” sizes, and, finally they offer UXGA (1600x1200) on their very expensive T60p. I prefer the extra real estate provided by 1400x1050 resolution, but I must say that the pixel size is quite small. Fortunately, the screen is very sharp and clear. Perhaps it could be brighter, but both text and video look gorgeous. One more point on displays. Microsoft’s next operating system is very graphics intensive, so if you are buying a new laptop over the next year, check to make sure if it will be Vista-ready.

There are a few other things you should know about the T60. First, installing a new OS is a pain. The hard drive is SATA and its controller must be installed first. I wanted to set up my machine dual-boot with Media Center Edition on a second partition, and the install of the new operating system took an entire day. Second, although the hard drive is 80 GB, 7GB are reserved by a hidden service partition. Using Lenovo’s software you can perform recovery and repair from this partition rather than using recovery CD’s. I considered removing this, but on-balance it is a good feature. Third, on performance, the T60 benchmarks just as expected for its components, with one exception. Disk I/O is faster than typical 5400 rpm drives. And, finally, heat and noise are not a problem. Thanks to Intel's excellent new mobile chip, the T60 runs cool and quiet.

Surprising, the Lenovo direct price is competitive, but the ship times were too long for my patience level. For the best source of stock and price information, use PriceGrabber and, if you want it soon, consider a vendor like PC Connection or CostCentral. I used the former and I’m very happy with my purchase. Now, after two weeks of use, I am ready to proclaim the Thinkpad T60 my cool thing of the day.