The ThinkPad legacy
The ThinkPad is among the oldest extant laptop computer brands (having recently celebrated its 14th year in production), and has long been known as a well-built, powerful, reliable, portable, and somewhat expensive notebook computer system. For years the T series has had a number of attractive options that most of its competitors lack: an extended battery, a more-than-capable port replicator, and a modular design that allows the most failure-prone and upgrade-sensitive parts (RAM, hard drive, optical drive) to be easily replaced without requiring a technician. If your ThinkPad can't do what you want it to, chances are there is something you can buy to bring it up to your standards.
There are now several ThinkPad models, but the T series is the most powerful and well-known. As mentioned above, this is the first new ThinkPad T series model to come from Lenovo instead of IBM. Since IBM built the ThinkPad name, and since many Westerners think of China as a place where cheap and unreliable consumer goods come from, many have wondered whether the ThinkPad's quality would suffer as a result. After a thorough evaluation, I'm glad to report that the ThinkPad T series is still worthy of its reputation.
The T60p is built even more solidly than the T40 and T20 series was, and is definitely a worthy replacement for previous T series models. Cosmetically the T60p is the same as the T40 and T20 -- black plastic lower bezel, indicator LEDs in the familiar place just right of center below the LCD, both a touchpad and a trackbutton for mouse pointer control, and a heavy-duty keyboard with the same basic key layout as in previous models.
|The ThinkVantage utilities in SLED 10|
Part of the deal in buying the ThinkPad line was also, to an extent, the IBM logo. Lenovo will continue to use the IBM ThinkPad logo on ThinkPad machines for five years after the deal was originally completed.
Models and packages
The model I tested was the T60p 2007-8ZU, though there are many different configurations therein. There is also the T60, which shares most of the major features of the T60p except the T60 does not have the more powerful ATI FireGL video card -- instead it has either an Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 or a 128MB ATI Mobility Radeon X1400. All other options are identical between the two models.
There are many different T60p models and sub-models, all with very slightly different configurations. The models that support SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 are the 2007 and 2613, though as of this writing the only Linux-compatible models available for sale are the 2007-8ZU (14.1" LCD) and the 2007-9ZU (15" LCD).
Physical and electrical design
As mentioned above, the ThinkPad T60p is cosmetically similar to its predecessor T series models, but there are several subtle or hidden enhancements. The most noticeable upgrades are the wider, less abrasive trackbutton cover -- it's flatter and a little easier on your skin, making it more accurate and comfortable to use for extended periods. The keyboard, while having the same layout as the T40 series, has slightly less resistance than T40 and T43 keyboards did. Being a ThinkPad T40 owner (and a former T23 owner), I can attest to the fact that the T60p keyboard is much easier on the hands and is a real pleasure to use. One of the biggest problems that laptop computers have is a weak keyboard -- too mushy, too stiff, too awkwardly designed, too cheaply made, etc. -- the ThinkPad T60p avoids all of these pitfalls.
Secondly, the chassis is more durable. The upper LCD portion is now made of a magnesium alloy instead of plastic. I'm not a fan of magnesium in laptop computer chassis because it tends to be brittle. On the other hand, magnesium is both lightweight and highly heat-conductive when compared to plastic, so not only will it lighten the system while adding a measure of hardness and general structural integrity to the machine, but it'll also keep it a little cooler. The lower part of the chassis is reinforced with titanium, which makes the T60p noticeably more durable than its already-solid T40 predecessor.
The LCD screen comes in two sizes: 14.1" (SXGA+, 1400x1050 max resolution) and 15" (UXGA, 1600x1200 max resolution). For this review I tested only the 14.1" model, which has the same physical dimensions as the ThinkPad T40 with the 14.1" screen, but the T60p offers superior resolution. It's bright and sharp, has a standard anti-glare coating, and I found no dead pixels.
The hard drive is SATA, which means that if necessary, you can take it out and connect it to a desktop machine. It also offers a higher potential data transfer rate than parallel ATA (IDE) hard drives of the past. The ThinkPad T60p comes with a range of hard drive options, from 40 to 100GB. On the top end you have a choice between a 5400RPM and a 7200RPM edition. Though it may cost substantially more, there is a significant and noticeable difference between the rotational speeds in SATA drives. In other words, you definitely want the 7200RPM drive; consider it a "must-have" on any new laptop computer.
The optical drive is modular and can be removed without disassembling the machine; any ordinary user who has proper instructions should be able to remove the optical drive unit without professional assistance. This makes it very easy to upgrade or replace the drive in the future. There are two options: a dual-layer DVD writer, and a CDRW/DVD-ROM.
Integrated peripherals is where most laptop manufacturers cut corners and use cheap components that have poor quality drivers in Windows and no drivers at all for other operating systems. While I have never liked ATI's sub-par Linux drivers, at least the FireGL V5200 is supported by both the Lenovo-supplied driver and the standard ATI driver. The sound is Intel High Definition Audio; though some versions of this chip have had problems lately, this one works very well in SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10. The Bluetooth and infrared transmitters both work well in Linux as well. The wired network uses the standard e1000 kernel module, and the wireless is Intel IPW3945, which has been around for a while and is now fairly widely supported in both GNU/Linux and *BSD.
The heart of the T60p is the Intel Core Duo processor, with a choice of three performance models: the T2500, T2600, or T2700. The Core Duo is a dual-core processor based on the popular and successful Pentium-M, which was originally the basis for Centrino-branded laptop computers. The Core Duo is a great processor -- low power consumption with high-end laptop performance -- but it's already outmoded by the Core 2 Duo. Lenovo will offer Core 2 Duo editions of the ThinkPad T60/T60p series in late October 2006 according to a Lenovo representative. Despite there being a newer version of the processor, the Core Duo should last you long into the future. Even the previous generation of Pentium-M machines still perform very well by today's standards.
As for RAM, the system supports up to 4GB, though the 32-bit limitation applies, so you won't get more than about 3.3GB out of 4GB. To remedy that you'll have to wait for the 64-bit Core 2 Duo. The RAM speed is DDR2-667, which is about as good as it gets as of this writing; most other Core Duo (and even Core 2 Duo) systems still use DDR2-400 or DDR2-533.
As has been standard in most ThinkPad models over the past few years, a white LED keyboard light at the top of the LCD screen allows you to more easily see the keyboard in low-light environments. It's easily turned on and off with a function key.
One of the most interesting new features of the T60p is a physical switch that allows you to instantly turn off all radio transmitting devices in the system. Not only will this help to prolong battery life if you don't need to use the wireless LAN, Bluetooth, or the internal cellular modem if you have one, but it also makes your computer more airplane-friendly.
There is an integrated fingerprint reader on the right side of the machine, approximately where your palm would rest while typing. It's supposed to allow you to use a scan of your finger instead of passwords in various applications and such, but at the moment it only works in Windows.
Lastly, the standard warranty is one year, which is unusually short considering the machine's quality and reputation. If you like, you can extend the warranty for up to five years at an increased cost.
The ThinkPad battery recall
IBM and Lenovo recently announced a battery recall on some ThinkPad batteries. Though the recall affects some T60 models, the T60p is not specifically mentioned, and both the standard 6-cell and the extended 9-cell batteries that I received with the T60p I reviewed were not part of the recall. If you would like to check your batteries to see if they have been recalled, remove the battery from the ThinkPad by holding the battery lock in the unlock position and pulling the battery away from the machine. The black and yellow label on the computer-facing side of the battery should have two part numbers in the upper right corner following the letters FRU P/N and ASM P/N. The battery is part of the recall if it matches any of the following part numbers:
If your battery is recalled, follow the directions in the above link to contact Lenovo.
Putting the T60p to the test
The first thing I noticed with the ThinkPad T60p was that all of the special buttons and functions worked perfectly in SLED 10, including suspend to RAM and suspend to disk. I can't say I have used many laptop computers recently that could claim this honor.
Few products I've evaluated recently have been as enjoyable to use on a daily basis as the ThinkPad T60p. The hardware itself was as solid, reliable, and speedy as it could possibly be. The fast hard drive and large amount of system memory combined with the excellent Core Duo T2700 processor and the ATI FireGL V5200 video chip made the system invincible in terms of desktop performance stress. There was no desktop task I could do that I felt I had to wait unreasonably long to complete, even when compared to high-performance desktop computers.
Battery life was outstanding, and if it isn't outstanding enough for you, spend the extra money to get the extended 9-cell battery. Even working with several programs at once in KDE while playing music and browsing the Web, I could squeeze almost 3 hours of usage out of the 6-cell battery (probably closer to 5 hours if I used the command line interface and stuck to editing text files and such, but that's just a guess based on previous power consumption research). Apparently there is yet a further degree that you can stretch your battery time by buying an Ultrabay battery that fits in the optical drive slot.
As far as heat was concerned, even heavy usage in warmer-than-normal room temperature doesn't make any part of the ThinkPad T60p untouchable or uncomfortable. It'll definitely blow hot air out of the left rear vent, but the chassis itself never made me sweat when the machine was on my lap.
The fingerprint reader and optional internal cellular modems do not yet have Linux support. A Lenovo representative told me that Linux drivers may be developed in the future, but that it was too early at the time of this writing to give any definitive answers. The fingerprint reader is a matter of convenience, but the cellular modem would make a big difference to me. Right now only Cingular- and Verizon-compatible internal cards are available, so since I'm with Sprint, I guess it doesn't make much of a difference anyway.
Because the T60p looks so similar to previous models, I decided to see if some of the removable parts were interchangeable with the T40. The batteries look almost identical, but are in fact not interchangeable. Neither is the power adapter or the T40 port replicator. The optical drive is fully compatible, though; this is good news because it means that there are at least two model generations worth of replacements available. It really sucks when your laptop computer needs a part that is no longer in production; I don't think that will be too much of a concern with the T60p.
Operating system compatibility
The above-listed T60p models are fully compatible with SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 for x86, with the already-mentioned exceptions of the fingerprint reader and optional internal cell modems. But what other OSes will work? I'll briefly describe my experiences:
Mandriva 2007 PowerPack Edition: Works, though I had trouble with the ATI video driver and never really got it to work properly. Getting both the wired and the wireless network to come up was unnecessarily difficult. The SLED 10 RPMs will not work with Mandriva, so you can't get the modem driver, the system configuration tool, the power manager, or the wireless network manager that Lenovo provides under the ThinkVantage brand.
Ubuntu 6.06: Works, but none of the ThinkVantage utilities will install, and the modem driver provided by Lenovo won't work either.
Ubuntu 6.10 knot 3: Failed to install -- couldn't detect hard drive. It's odd that 6.06 worked but 6.10 knot 3 did not; this is, however, a beta test release and what I experienced may have been a bug rather than an omission.
Gentoo Linux 2006.1: Works, but none of the ThinkVantage utilities will install, and the modem driver provided by Lenovo won't work either.
Fedora Core 6 test 3: Failed to install -- couldn't detect hard drive.
Freespire 1.0: Failed to install -- couldn't detect hard drive.
OpenBSD 3.9: Failed to install -- couldn't detect hard drive.
FreeBSD 6.2 beta 1: Failed to install, but the problems seemed to be FreeBSD-related, not ThinkPad-related. The disk was properly detected, sliced, and formatted, but the installation utility ended up failing later on for various reasons.
Windows Vista will reportedly work on "select models" of the T60p series. I suspect this disclaimer is due to Windows Vista's stated requirements of at least 512MB RAM and a 20GB hard drive, but beyond that, I can't figure out how the ThinkPad T60p would not be Vista-compatible.
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60p: the Cadillac of laptop computers|
If I still have the T60p when new OSes come out, I'll try to remember to post the results of my compatibility testing here.
I would guess that SUSE Linux 10.1 would probably work just as well as SLED 10, and would probably also be able to use the Lenovo-supplied RPMs for the ThinkVantage utilities and the modem driver. I did not test SUSE 10.1, though, because the installation takes a long time. Also, SLED 10 will install any SUSE Linux 10.1 program, so what's the point in taking a risk on SUSE Linux 10.1 when you know SLED 10 will definitely work?
XGL/Compiz did not work in SLED 10 because even though the video card can do direct rendering, it is not compatible with XGL.
All of the Lenovo-supplied RPMs are available for download from the T60p's support page on the Lenovo web site. The idea is, you install SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, then install the Lenovo RPMs. I found the ThinkVantage Access Connections utility to be little better than SLED 10's Network Manager, and the Lenovo-supplied ATI driver to be defective. It's better to use the ATI-supplied video driver, which is automatically installed for you during the installation process if you have a working Internet connection. The other ThinkVantage packages were unique and definitely worth the effort to install.
Lastly, I'll mention that even within SLED 10 you must use KDE instead of GNOME if you want to use the ThinkVantage utilities. The drivers will all be fine no matter what desktop environment you use, but the ThinkVantage power, network, and system managers all are validated only for KDE. Individually they will work if you run them, but they won't attach properly to the GNOME taskbar.
Ordering a Linux-compatible ThinkPad T60p
You can't buy a SUSE-compatible T60p through the Lenovo Web store; instead you must call Lenovo's sales department at 1-866-96-THINK and ask specifically for one of the Linux-compatible models. They are -- again -- the 2007 and 2613, and as of this writing, only the 2007 is available.
SLED 10 does not come preinstalled -- you must obtain and install it on your own. I have written a detailed guide that explains how to do this.
Conclusions and manufacturer recommendations
The ThinkPad T60p is basically as good as it gets when it comes to laptop computers. I like it so much I wish I could keep it. So even considering the cost, would I buy one? After all, my usual recommendation is to spend as little as possible on a laptop computer; when it dies after a year and a half, you won't feel so bad about throwing it out and buying a brand new one that is faster and more efficient for the same price. That's usually a much more palatable scenario than paying through the nose for a computer that has to last five years in order to justify the initial expense. As a former laptop repair technician, I can say with confidence that it is only in the rarest of cases that a regularly-used laptop computer will last five years without a repair. You'll at very least need a replacement battery in that timeframe, and it's very likely that you'll go through at least one keyboard, too. So why would you pay more than $2000 for a ThinkPad T60p when a new "throwaway" laptop computer can be had for around $600? Because of all of the laptop computers I have used, fixed, and tested over the years, it has consistently been the ThinkPads that have beaten the odds and become those outside cases that seem to last forever. Both electronically and physically, the ThinkPad T series is built to last -- and even when it fails, there are ample replacement parts on the market. Add near-perfect GNU/Linux compatibility to that (which the el cheapo laptop computers are famously terrible with), and you have a computer that can go the distance and justify the expense.
Despite the superiority of the ThinkPad T60p, there is still a little room for improvement. Here's what I'd like to see in future revisions:
- Broader Linux and BSD support. That the ThinkPad T series has any models that are validated for any GNU/Linux distro is great news, but taking it a few steps further shouldn't be that much more of an effort. Let's have drivers for the fingerprint reader and the cellular modems, and wider distro support for the ThinkVantage applications. I'd also like to see better OpenBSD support, mostly because that's my laptop OS of choice. Better OpenBSD support means that the OpenBSD developers need a donated machine or two so that they can work directly with the hardware.
- Make it easier to buy a ThinkPad with SLED 10. Right now you have to call Lenovo and order a ThinkPad T60p over the phone in order to get it without an operating system. Even then, installing SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 is up to the end user, not Lenovo. And if you want support for your OS, you have to go to Novell. Why can't SLED 10 be added to the "buy online" configurator? Why can't SLED 10 be preloaded and configured, even if it'll cost a little extra?
- A better warranty. What's with the 1-year mail-in warranty? This should be 3 years onsite as a rule. Nothing degrades buyer confidence more than a lackluster warranty; it tells your customers that you don't think your product will last very long.
|Device support||One PCMCIA, one ExpressCard, three USB 2.0, one 15-pin SVGA, one 10/100/1000 Intel-based NIC, one RJ-11 analog modem line, audio in/out. The T series ThinkPads no longer have a PS/2 connector.|
|Market||Engineers, GNU/Linux enthusiasts, business professionals|
|Price (retail)||U.S. $1829-$3600 or more, depending on accessories, options, and service plans.|
|Previous version||ThinkPad T43|
|Product Web site||Click here|