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Lenovo’s ThinkPad X61s is a small but powerful mobile computing platform.

The X-series ThinkPads are Lenovo’s 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.

The X61s model has a number of useful features—some obvious, some more subtle. The optional integrated fingerprint reader is a nice touch, letting users authenticate during boot-up or returning from sleep mode with a quick finger-swipe, rather than having to remember and type a password.

The ThinkPad X61s is available directly from Lenovo and also through the channel. “Our channel partners can get orders from midmarket and large enterprise customers for anywhere from a few machines to several thousand laptops,” said Adam C. Howes, director of ThinkPad marketing at Lenovo.

X Series notebooks start at about $1,500. The unit I tested was configured with Intel’s 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. Channel partners will be happy to hear that 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, and channel volume purchasers may get better prices.

Next Page: A highly usable ultralight

I’ve been using a ThinkPad X61s for the past several weeks. I’ve 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 workspace experience—that’s treating the X61 as a small-format desktop; the next-best experience was with the external keyboard.

The 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 I’m using and is light enough that it’s no burden at all.

The X61’s 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 WWAN) 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.

Lenovo’s ThinkPads also include TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chips, which help manage encryption processes and keys.

Enterprise-oriented features are an important part of Lenovo’s ThinkPad lines. These include Image Ultra Builder for building software images, the System Migration Assistant, the ThinkVantage Base Software Administrator for customizing recovery processes and creating personalized files for automated Windows setup, based on the Lenovo Preload.

IBM and Microsoft have improved Wi-FI connection discovery and management a lot in the past few years. The X61s finds new networks quickly and easily, and reconnects to ones it knows automatically. There were times when I had to click on things several times to connect—or check whether I’d turned the wireless switch off.

Lenovo’s X61s adds a number of security and power-management fea-tures.

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 for customers. To help extract the most run-time from the battery, Lenovo and Windows let users 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—I’ve gotten 4 to 5 hours on a charge. By also using an 80-watt-hour external notebook battery, I’ve been able to go for a full day without plugging in to a wall socket.

Next Page: Nitpicks and suggestions

I haven’t found any killer criticisms or problems with this notebook, but I did manage to come up with some things I’d 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. You’d be better served on the road with a small, USB-powered optical drive and an external battery. (If your customers want an ultralight with a built-in optical drive, you’ll need to try another vendor, such as Panasonic with its Toughbook.)
  • Watch for heat. The machine does get warm on both top and bottom. It’s not painful, but it is noticeable.
  • Power-down is occasionally slow. Usually, the machine turned off quickly, but occasionally it would take forever or hang, making me hold down the power button to turn it off. (This could easily be a Vista, not Lenovo, issue.)

    Overall, I’m impressed by this machine. Depending on what your customers need to do with their computers, how much screen turf they need and their keyboard druthers, this may not be a “use it all day” choice. But, if they want to travel light, you won’t go wrong with the X61s.

    Daniel P. Dern is an independent technology writer and can be reached at His web site is