May 9, 2007 Several days ago Dave Weinstein had the chance to sit down with several members of Lenovo's product marketing team and take a look at two of the company’s new laptops – the new 14" T61 and R61 Thinkpads. Both units are based upon the newest Intel Santa Rosa technology that's being launched today. While we did get to see a sneak peak of some of what's coming up over the next few months, we did promise to focus on the two devices that are being released today. Dave’s first impressions …
There are several new technology innovations that are being carried across all the Thinkpad lines:
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Santa Rosa - Intel's newest Centrino Pro processors and chipsets are the core of the new 61 series Thinkpads. This translates into better performance, better battery life, better manageability (and remote support), and 802.11n support.
Chassis Improvements - A new and improved "lid" that improves on the roll-cage technology that arrived in the 60 series models, also extends that protection to the display as well. Lenovo was able to add this cage without increasing weight, and in addition to providing significantly better protection for the screen, they were also able to upgrade the WiFi and WWAN antennas for better radio performance. The WWAN antenna no longer protrudes from the side of the screen, but is now integrated into the back of the display. On top of all that, there is also an integrated camera (optional) that sits within the frame centered above the display.
Turbo Memory - Turbo Memory is Intel's newest disk caching technology that is used in conjunction with standard SATA hard drives instead of spending extra for expensive hybrid drives (disks with 256M of onboard flash RAM). Lenovo showed us several graphs and tables that were the condensed results of a lot of performance testing with 5400rpm and 7200rpm hard drives, using both hybrid drives and Turbo Memory (in varying amounts). Their conclusion was that 1GB Turbo Memory used with regular SATA disks significantly beats hybrid disks for user performance. They're claiming 45% over uncached disks for Turbo Memory, vs. 7% for hybrid drives; we're looking forward to testing this for ourselves.
Better Thermal Design - The new 61 series Thinkpads are on average run 1.7 degrees Celsius cooler, and have new fans that are 3dB quieter. This gives Lenovo a LOT of headroom for including hotter and faster components as they become available. Lenovo's even worked a bit of magic to increase battery life over an above the savings inherited from moving to Intel's Santa Rosa platform.
Better Expansion Options - These new laptops will be available with either (1) 2x PCI Express Card slots, (2) 1x PC Card and 1x PCI Express Card slot, or (3) 1x PC Card plus a multi-format flash card reader.
Comparing the R61 to the T61
Traditionally, the R series Thinkpads have been positioned and manufactured as budget versions of the T series units. While this is still somewhat the case, there are many fewer differences between the two devices we saw than in previous generations. Both units use the same "lid", and get the same roll cage improvements. Both units get updated to Intel's Santa Rosa technology. Both units have the same display resolution options, and WiFi/WWAN options. In fact, the only significant differences are that the R61 has a 12.5mm chassis design vs. the T61's 9mm design; and the fact that the fastest processor speed is only available for the T series. In the "mid-range" configuration of these units, this translates into a trade off between 3.5mm of thickness vs. a US$500 savings. For us, it's a really hard decision to pick which way is the correct way to go. In the past it's been easy to spend the extra money for the "flash" of the T series, but these significant upgrades to the R series make it a much harder choice.
Overall, we like the changes we saw in these devices. The only complaint that we could think of was our chronic wish for DVI instead of VGA video output (we were promised DisplayPort in 2008). We also would have like to have seen the 15" versions of these new devices as well, but this is a significant upgrade, and it's not unreasonable for Lenovo to be releasing these devices as they're ready.
We're looking forward to a proper field test of these units; but our first impressions were really quite positive.