We’ve taken our sweet time testing the T60’s performance, battery life, and general usabilityso much so that the successor to its mobile Core Duo processor is rumored to be imminent. Before we’re totally blown into the weeds by the rate of progress, let’s take a look at how this Centrino Duo-based laptop compares to a Pentium M-based precursor. We’ll also consider the T60’s many virtues, including the Zen of the ThinkPadthat intoxicating combination of build quality and features that somehow makes paying the premium for the ThinkPad label seem like the only rational choice. Read on as I type away on this wonderfully clicky keyboard.
Who’s who and what’s what
Before we delve into the T60’s particulars, we should probably pause briefly to review the confusing mix of names, technologies, and companies involved. If you’re new to these things, the befuddlement probably starts with this Centrino Duo business. Centrino is a “platform,” a combination of interrelated technologies that Intel delivers to laptop makers, who can then use it as the basis for their system designs. This platform is made up of several parts, including a core-logic chipset, a wireless networking solution, and a microprocessor. Only when all three of these components are incorporated into a system together does the laptop earn Intel’s stamp of approval as a true Centrino solution.
Centrino Duo is the latest version of the Centrino platform, which was code-named “Napa” during its development. The three components of Centrino Duo include Intel’s 945 Express chipset, its latest 802.11g Wi-Fi networking solution, and the Core Duo processor. The most exciting of these elements is undoubtedly the Core Duo, the first mobile processor with dual execution cores and, until very recently, Intel’s best all-around CPU. If you’re not yet familiar with the Core Duo, I suggest reading our look at how the Core Duo stacks up against some of the fastest desktop CPUs. The thing is no slouch, with a natively dual-core design, a shared L2 cache, and strong clock-for-clock performance.
Once you’ve got that sorted out, you may wonder who really makes the T60. After all, it has four brands attached, including Centrino Duo, IBM, ThinkPad, and Lenovo. The truth is that no one really knows. People have been harvesting ThinkPads from an underground mine in the Amazon basin for over a decade now.
Ok, maybe not. As I understand it, IBM made ThinkPads for ages and ages, until it sold its PC business to Chinese PC vendor Lenovo in late 2004. Lenovo kept stamping “IBM ThinkPad” on its laptops, kept some of the same employees responsible for ThinkPad design, and by most accounts hasn’t entirely messed up a good thing. So Lenovo’s IBM ThinkPad T60 with Centrino Duo technology came to be.
The ThinkPad T60
Perhaps figuring that this laptop had enough names attached already, Lenovo has elected to sell two different versions of ThinkPad T60 that diverge in a pretty major way. You can buy a T60 with a 14.1″ display or a 15″ display, and the size of the screen affects the laptop’s dimensions, weight, and proportions. Beyond that, the features and options are the same. As a friend of mine said, the 15″ version of the T60 is for “people who don’t know any better,” although I suppose that’s not entirely fairthe larger screen might be good for people with failing eyesight, or perhaps the user is into weight training. Fortunately, Intel sent us the 14.1″ version of the T60, whose measurements place it squarely in the “thin and light” category of laptops.
Lenovo offers a number of configurable options on the T60 series, but our review unit’s specs are pretty similar to a common configuration that’s selling at a range of online vendors. They’re the makings of a pretty nice computer, too.
|CPU||Intel Core Duo T2400 (1.83GHz)|
|Memory||1GB of DDR2 667MHz SDRAM (2 DIMMs)|
|North bridge||Intel 945GM|
|South bridge||Intel ICH7-M|
|Graphics||Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 (integrated)|
|Display||14.1″ TFT with SXGA+ (1400×1050) resolution|
|Storage||Hitachi Travelstar 5K100 80GB 5400-RPM SATA hard drive
CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive (in Ultrabay Slim)
|Audio||HD audio via Analog Devices SoundMAX codec|
3 USB 2.0
1 RJ11 for ThinkPad modem
1 RJ45 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet via Intel PRO/1000PL
1 analog audio headphone out
1 analog mic in
1 VGA out
1 ThinkPad docking station port
|Expansion slots||1 PC Card II
1 Express Card/54
|Communications||802.11a/b/g via Intel PRO/Wireless 3945AGB
|Dimensions||12.2″ W x 10″ D x 1.0-1.2″ H|
One caveat to the table above: our review unit is a little heavier than specs say, because it came with a nine-cell extended battery that sticks out the back of the case like a camel’s hump and adds some additional weight.
Interestingly enough, I couldn’t find our review unit’s exact configuration at online vendors, and I wasn’t able to create this configuration via Lenovo’s web site, either. Instead, Lenovo prefers to match the 14.1″ 1400×1050 TFT display with an ATI Mobility Radeon X1400 graphics adaptera much more sensible GPU option for a high-def display than Intel’s GMA 950. With the Radeon and a config otherwise the same as our review unit, the T60 is selling for just under $1700.
For that price, you get a laptop loaded with hardware that could make even some recent-vintage desktop PCs jealous, including a dual-core processor, dual channels of DDR2 667MHz memory, a 5400-RPM SATA hard drive, Gigabit Ethernet, sound that conforms to Intel’s High Definition Audio spec, and a (mobile) PCI Express expansion slot. On top of that, the T60 has some goodies even most desktops don’t, such as a Bluetooth radio and a fingerprint reader for biometric user authentication.
So the T60 is well appointed, but the specs sheet alone won’t tell you nearly enough to understand something with as much physical and tactile appeal as a laptop computer. This version of the T60 with the 14.1″ screen is about as large as I can stand for a truly mobile computer to be, and Lenovo hasn’t wasted any space. More importantly, the T60 follows in the ThinkPad tradition with its all-black look, solid construction from high-grade plastics, unparalleled keyboard feel, and well thought-out design.
The 4:3 aspect ratio of the T60’s display dictates that its enclosure be closer to square than some new machines. Lenovo takes advantage of the chassis’ extra depth by incorporating a generously sized palm rest in front of the keyboard and a pair of pointing devices: the de facto-standard touchpad plus a traditional IBM “eraser-head” TrackPoint device. I’m no TrackPoint fan, but its presence doesn’t usually get in the way, except every once in a while when I go to type “H” and get a finger hernia instead. Lenovo no doubt has to serve its TrackPoint-loyalist customers, but I’d have preferred that they use the space to include a super-sized touchpad a la Apple’s MacBooks.
That minor gripe fades into insignificance, though, compared to the praises I have to sing for the T60’s amazing keyboard. This is by far the best keyboard I’ve ever used on a laptop. Each key press triggers a distinct “click,” accompanied by the appropriate tactile feedback, so that you know exactly what you’re getting. There’s no slop in the keys, either; adjacent keys don’t rattle as you bang away on their neighbors. It’s easily better than a good portion of the desktop keyboards these days, even though key travel is necessarily limited by the T60’s thin profile. The keys are slightly contoured and textured, so that I rarely lost my bearings while typing away. I found that I produced substantially fewer typos on this keyboard than I do on my Sharp M4000 WideNote‘s. The value of the ThinkPad keyboard will no doubt depend on your ability to adapt to lesser keyboards and the nature of the work you do on your laptop, but I’d consider the keyboard alone reason enough to justify paying the price premium Lenovo asks for a ThinkPad.
On the right below that wondrous keyboard is another item of interest: the T60’s fingerprint reader. Using the thing is easy enough. Once you register your fingerprints (one or more) with Lenovo’s software, a simple swipe of the finger will replace typing one’s password to log into Windows or other authentication prompts. Using the thing is more convenient than typing in a password, and it ought to encourage the use of higher-quality passwords if folks aren’t required to type them in constantly. You’re also much less likely to forget your fingerprint. Still, I can’t say this device is a big advance from my perspective. I imagine corporate IT managers and admins will appreciate it more than individual T60 owners will.
On one side of the T60 are two of its USB ports and its CD-RW/DVD combo drive. I have a personal beef with laptops that place their USB ports in the way of prime mousing space, and the T60 avoids that mistake. The USB ports are located near the rear of the chassis, which leaves enough room for mousing around with a mouse plugged into one of the ports.
The rest of the T60’s ports are around on the other side, including the RJ-45 and RJ-11 connectors for the GigE and modem, respectively. There’s also another USB port, mic and headphone jacks, and a VGA port. Under the slot cover are two different types of mobile expansion slots, a Type-II PC Card slot and an Express Card/54 slot. Notably absent from the mix is a Firewire port; this omission is one of the T60’s few concessions to the space constraints of a mobile computer, and it may be inconvenient for owners of older digital video cameras and other devices that lack USB connectivity.
I haven’t included a picture of it, but the T60 does have a toggle switch on its front edge that disables all wireless radios, too.
One other nice ThinkPad-style touch on the T60 is a small LED light located in the center of the bezel above the screen. This light can illuminate the keyboard for working in the dark. I’d prefer a backlight underneath the keyboard, but this works pretty well. Cheesily, Lenovo refers to this thing as a “ThinkLight,” which for me conjures visions of Neil Diamond crooning, “Turn on your ThinkLight.” Eww.
If we’re going to test the virtues of the ThinkPad T60 and the Centrino Duo platform, we’re going to need a basis for comparison, and today, that thankless duty has fallen to my very own Sharp M4000 WideNote, a laptop whose Centrino-platform innards are the Centrino Duo’s direct predecessor. The M4000 is a little bit smaller than the ThinkPad T60, and is generally regarded as an “ultraportable” class system rather than a thin-and-light like the T60.
So the size isn’t a perfect match, but the M4000 WideNote ought to make for a reasonable foil in terms of basic specs. The M4000 has a 90nm Pentium M 740 processor running at 1.73GHz and an Intel 915GM chipset with integrated GMA 900 graphics. For the sake of this comparison, we’ve outfitted the Sharp to match up to the T60 by installing 1GB of DDR2 533MHz memory and the ATA version of the same Hitachi TravelStar 5K100 hard drive found in the ThinkPad. (Thanks, by the way, to Corsair Memory for providing us with a 512MB DDR2 533 module so we could get the Sharp’s RAM size down to 1GB.)
Before we get into the benchmarks and see the T60 kick around its single-core brother, we should have a quick look at how the two systems compare physically. Perhaps our designated victim will even score a few points before the hammer comes down.
With its wide-aspect 13.3″ screen, the Sharp is just as wide as the T60, but not as deep. The T60’s depth wouldn’t be all that much greater than the Sharp’s were it not for the ThinkPad’s nine-cell battery. And the ThinkPad is actually a little thinner than the Sharp overall.
Oddly enough, if you add up all of these dimensions and factor in the M4000’s 3.7-pound curb weight, the Sharp subjectively seems to be much more of a mobile creature than the T60. That’s no great knock on the Centrino Duo platformultraportable laptops similar in size to the M4000 are available with Centrino Duo internalsbut it might give you a sense of how the T60 compares to smaller laptops. Of course, the T60’s larger form factor is necessary in order to house its roomy screen with a standard aspect ratio.
In fact, these two systems’ displays represent rather divergent philosophies. The T60’s 14.1″ display is a high-density affair with 1400×1050 pixels and a matte or anti-glare finish. Although it’s virtually the same width, the Sharp’s horizontal resolution is only 1280 pixels, and the screen is coated with a glossy or anti-reflective coating. I’m all over the T60’s smaller, more plentiful pixels, but the Sharp wins out otherwise, because it’s made me a complete convert to the glossy screen camp. The glossy coating lets through more light and is thus brighterand it shows. Compared to the Sharp, the T60’s display lacks color definition and contrast, and the T60 doesn’t overcome ambient light as well in brightly lit rooms or outdoors. The ThinkPad’s display is quite nice as far as matte-finish TFTs go, but it’s just not up to the Sharp’s standard.
The ThinkPad does have a heck of an edge in the battery department, thanks to the nine-cell monster tucked intoand sticking out ofits battery bay. You will see some battery life tests in the following pages, and it’s only fair that we note how much larger the T60’s battery is before we make any comparisons.
How we tested
Deciding how to test a system pre-loaded with all manner of software was a new endeavor for us, since we’re generally about pieces and parts, not pre-assembled systems. What we decided to do with these two laptops was what we’d probably do if we purchased one of them: start with the default OS install from the manufacturer, run some updates, disable or remove the most offensive shovelware apps, and go from there. In the case of the ThinkPad T60, that meant disabling the tray icons for DiskKeeper Lite and Picasa and uninstalling Google Desktop. We also used the auto-update function in Lenovo’s ThinkVantage software suite to bring any ThinkPad system utilities up to date.
We updated both systems’ Intel graphics driver to version 22.214.171.12443, and we turned off both systems’ variants of Norton Antivirus for our tests. Both laptops also got the latest round of patches from Windows Update before our testing began.
Our first round of performance tests was conducted with the laptops set for maximum performance while running on AC power. The second round of battery tests includes a performance component in addition to battery life, as you’ll see.
WorldBench’s overall score is a pretty decent indication of general-use performance for desktop computers. This benchmark uses scripting to step through a series of tasks in common Windows applications and then produces an overall score for comparison. WorldBench also records individual results for its component application tests, allowing us to compare performance in each.
The ThinkPad T60 pulls out to a commanding lead over the M4000 in WorldBench. Let’s look at the results from WorldBench’s individual component tests to see where and how the T60 performed better.
The T60 completes nearly all of the tasks in less time, but some of its biggest leads come in tests where the Core Duo’s second execution core can really shine. The Microsoft Office test, for instance, does multiple things at once in order to simulate user multitasking, and the Windows Media Encoder tests employ a multithreaded video codec. In cases like these, a dual-core laptop has a decided advantage.
Incidentally, we also tested these laptops in WorldBench with power-saving features like SpeedStep enabled. In that case, the ThinkPad T60 scored 83, just a couple of points off its full-speed score, while the M4000’s score dropped to 61. I believe Sharp’s power management software is being very aggressive about keeping clock speeds low and saving power, even on its most conservative setting with SpeedStep adaptive clock throttling enabled.
We’ve had to drop all the way back to 3DMark03 in order to find an appropriate graphics benchmark for the Intel integrated graphics in these laptops. Intel claims a 50% performance gain for the GMA 950 over the GMA 900. Is that a fair claim?
The ThinkPad’s GMA 950 is indeed about 50% faster than the Sharp’s GMA 900. Of course, that’s not really anything to brag about. Both of these systems utterly crawled through the Mother Nature scene that made the GeForce 5800 Ultra infamous back in the day. Intel’s graphics solutions may meet the minimum specifications for a DirectX graphics processor, but they are a far cry from even the low-end discrete graphics solutions from ATI and NVIDIA.
Intel’s graphics are acceptable for some games with relatively low horsepower requirements. For me, one of the most important games in that category is Guild Wars, so I decided to test it. I used FRAPS to record frame rates over a series of five 60-second gameplay sessions in which my ranger character was running around outside of Ascalon, kicking some tail. The game’s terrain quality was set to high, reflections to default, texture quality to high, and shadow quality to medium. Post-process effects were enabled.
The ThinkPad T60 delivers higher average frame rates than the Sharp, but the median low frame rates remain the same. Despite the fact that the low frame rates aren’t improved, playing the game did feel smoother to me on the ThinkPad.
Battery testing can be a complex beast, because laptops offer so many different power-saving options, including more and less aggressive methods of CPU performance throttling, screen brightness, hard-drive spin-down times, and the like. We tried to pick out a few fairly typical settings and test them in a couple of scenarios using MobileMark 2005. MobileMark itself offers several different tests that attempt to simulate certain types of laptop use. Before we began testing, we attempted to condition the batteries in both laptops by running them completely out of power, to the point where the system had to shut itself off and wouldn’t start again. We then charged the batteries fully and kicked off our tests.
First up is MobileMark’s Productivity test. This one produces both a battery life time and a performance score, because the two tend to be interrelated. For this test, both laptops were set to their default mid-grade mobile power-saving modesin between the max performance setting for AC power and the max battery setting for optimum longevity. The ThinkPad’s display brightness was set to five out of a possible seven steps, and the Sharp’s display was set to a similar share of its maximum brightness.
Whoa. The ThinkPad T60 draws from its camel hump to achieve an uptime of over seven and a half hours in a relatively conservative power-saving mode. Performance is a little better than the Sharp, as well.
Next, we have a DVD playback test. MobileMark comes with a DVD made for this test, so the video is read from the optical drive. For this one, we used the systems’ max battery modes, with display brightness on the ThinkPad set to one out of seven steps and the Sharp adjusted similarly. Sound was sent to a pair of headphones rather than playing on the systems’ built-in speakers.
The T60 is able to play DVDs constantly for well over five and a half hours on a single charge. Impressive.
Finally, we tried what may be the most typical scenario of all for laptop use: wireless web browsing. We used our less aggressive “mobile” settings from the Productivity test for one run, and then we tried the “max battery” config from the DVD playback test after that.
Insane. The T60 can browse the web for just under nine hours of continuous use without a single wire attached. Personally, I might opt for the smaller battery and its lighter weight if I were to configure a T60 for myself. Long battery life is a wonderful thing to have, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see this laptop deliver four to six hours of battery life with its stock battery. Given the tradeoffs involved, that might be a better choice for everyday use.
Like I said at the outset, I can see why Intel chose this laptop as a showcase for its Centrino Duo platform. The ThinkPad T60 clearly outperformed our older Centrino/Pentium M representative in general application performance and in 3D graphics. In cases where software was really taking advantage of multiple CPU cores, either via multitasking or explicit parallelism, the performance gap between the Core Duo-based system and the Pentium M was even larger. At the same time, the T60 used its combination of low-power components and high-capacity battery to achieve excellent times in all of our battery life testsincluding well over eight hours of wireless web browsing on one charge. Beyond that, the T60 is chock full of ThinkPaddy goodness, which it only takes a few minutes of typing on this spectacular keyboard to appreciate. I’ve barely mentioned Lenovo’s ThinkVantage software suite, mostly because I’m a hardware guy, but I should mention that it didn’t entirely offend me. The power management and security tools seem to be pretty full-featured, and the auto-update capabilities are good enough that I just might be willing to let it manage driver updates and system patches on my own ThinkPad, if I had one. The whole of the ThinkPad package, from the build quality to the software installation, inspires confidence in a way that many laptops do not.
If the T60 has a big weakness, it’s the relative lack of color contrast on its TFT display. I understand that glossy screens are still controversialand for good reasonbut seeing this thing side-by-side with the Sharp M400 WideNote is a heckuva object lesson in glossy vs. matte finishes.
The T60’s other potential drawback may not affect you at all, depending on your preferences, but I still prefer a slightly smaller form factor than this one. The 13.3″ wide-screen of the Sharp or the Apple’s new MacBook is where I want to be, and make mine under four pounds, please. Many folks, I’m sure, will find the T60 relatively sleek and trim, which it is. But I want less.
If you can’t wait and want to buy a laptop right now, the ThinkPad T60 should be a very good choice. If you care about games or graphics at all, you’ll want to get one configured with Radeon X1400 graphics and the 1400×1050 display instead of Intel’s integrated GMA 950 graphics. Lenovo seems to be helping folks down that path already. A system so configured should serve you well for years to come.
However, as is so often the case with technology, potentially better things are coming very soon. Turion 64 X2 laptops have started to appear, and we’ve heard rumors of ThinkPads based on AMD’s new mobile CPU. Also, Intel is set to introduce the mobile version of its Core 2 Duo processor, the Core Duo’s incredibly fast replacement. The mobile Core 2 Duo will purportedly be a drop-in replacement for the Core Duo, so I’d expect to see Lenovo selling Core 2 Duo-based ThinkPads not long after these CPUs become available. (I don’t know whether it will be possible to upgrade an existing ThinkPad T60 to a Core 2 Duo, but such open-heart surgery attempts on laptops are generally warranty-killers anyhow.) Both the Turion 64 X2 and the Core 2 Duo are capable of running 64-bit code, which could become an important capability over the next few years. The Core Duo cannot run 64-bit programs.
But I’ll tell you what. I wouldn’t mind being stuck with this nice, fast, power-efficient, dual-core processor in this lovely ThinkPad chassis. Somehow, I think I could live with that.