For Sale – Lenovo ThinkPad T61p 6460-8UG December 24th, 2011
As a converted Mac user, I no longer use my trusted Lenovo T61p.
The T61p may be a few years old but in my experience it still out performs most, if not all, of the mid-range machines on the market today. The ‘p’ designation was a very high specification laptop designed as a mobile workstation geared towards serious mobile computing and design work and will frankly, embarrass many of the most up-to-date models; with good all round performance coupled to a quality full HD display, the T61p is truly a great machine.
I wrote a review of the machine a while ago which can be found here for further information.
Specifications are as follows:
Model – Lenovo ThinkPad T61p 6460-8UG
Processor – Intel Core 2 Duo T7700 2.4Ghz with Centrino Pro technology
Memory – 3Gb DDR2 SDRAM PC2-5300-667MHz SO DIMM 200-Pin
Display – 15.4″ Full HD (1920×1200 WUXGA) TFT Active Matrix
Graphics – Nvidia Quatro FX 570M 256Mb PCI Express x16
Battery – 9-Cell Extended (Genuine Lenovo, approximately 6 months old)
Hard Drive – 320Gb 7200rpm SATA
Optical Drive – DVD-Writer DVD+RW
Operating System – Windows 7 Ultimate Edition 32-Bit (installed, licensed and activated but no COA or media supplied)
Please feel free to contact me if you’d like any further information, or head over to the eBay auction directly to place a bid. I also have available a Lenovo Advanced Dock (for the above) as well as a 19″ Widescreen Lenovo monitor.
Installing Mac OS X Snow Leopard In Windows 7 October 15th, 2010
Some time ago I wrote an article detailing how to install Ubuntu (or any other Linux distribution) on a Windows 7 machine using VirtualBox. Since writing the article, I have received numerous emails asking for a similar guide to enable people to install OS X in the same way, well I am always open to requests if there is sufficient demand; not only that but having a localised installation of OS X would be a useful tool for me also to test out various methods when writing other guides. So with need established, I set about experimenting with various different configurations to get a working installation of OS X within Windows.
Caveat: At this stage I would like to point out that whilst technically possible, under the Apple EULA it is not permitted to run an Apple desktop OS within a virtual environment; as such this guide is for informational purposes only. If you choose to follow this guide and install Mac OS X within a virtual environment, you do so at your own risk, I will not be held accountable for breaching the EULA. In this guide you will need an official Mac OS X installation disc (well, an .iso of the original disc) so in the spirit of the EULA and to make you think twice, I will not be sharing a file for download or publishing a download link; you’ll need to figure this out for yourselves. Personally I own an official retail Snow Leopard installation DVD which I used as a base for this guide.
The problem with OS X is that it has been designed to run with very specific hardware, unlike the Windows family of operating systems which are expected to run with almost every hardware combination imaginable. There are those that will tell you OS X is far more stable than any Windows installation; but the reality is that Apple products are designed to run on very specific hardware and as such, have been thoroughly tested. This is a luxury that Windows developers do not have, it’s nigh on impossible to test every combination of hardware components that the Windows platform is expected to work with; there are simply too many possible combinations.
Here lies the problem.
Even within a virtual environment, the hardware that is emulated is far more akin to working with Windows or Linux (still UNIX based but far more forgiving than OS X in its hardware compatibility requirements). All is not lost however; ever since being told that it was not possible there has been a group of talented developers who have gone about reverse engineering and hacking OS X to work with PC hardware. The result of this hard work is ‘Hackintosh’, or OS X that has been modified to run on a standard PC platform.
Prerequisites: Before starting the guide, please read this post in its entirety; it’s important to understand all of the steps before starting to ensure you do not run into any problems. You’ll also need to download and/or check the following:
- Download and install the latest version of VirtualBox if you do not already have it installed on your machine already; the latest version can be found here. If you are running an earlier version (or one of the Sun versions, VirtualBox is now branded Oracle) it would be wise to update
- You will need to dig out your original Snow Leopard installation DVD and create an .iso image of the disc locally on your machine.
- You’ll also need a special modified Bootloader to enable you to boot into the OS X installation; this can be downloaded from here.
- This stage is purely optional but I find it helps a great deal. Once VirtualBox has installed it will create the following folder c:Users$USERNAME.VirtualBox so, create a new folder called ‘Source ISO’ within it and copy both the Snow Leopard DVD image and the extracted images from the file you downloaded in step 3. It’s good to get into the habit of filing files in an organised manner, I’ll also be referring to this file location throughout the guide so if you choose not to create this folder, you will need to modify the guide accordingly
- Finally you need to ensure that your machine supports hardware virtualisation; most modern machines do. Curiously though (especially within laptops) some manufacturers decide to disable this feature by default within the BIOS. If you are in any way unsure, reboot into your BIOS to check this before continuing with the guide
At this stage I would normally continue straight into the guide, however owing to the vast number of possible hardware combinations available, I thought it would be beneficial to list the hardware capabilities of my machine – the machine I am using to test and produce this guide – to show you a known working configuration as a base line; it’s worth mentioning that this is not the latest and greatest hardware, but a good all round performer from a few years ago. The basic specification is as follows:
- Lenovo ThinkPad T61p
- Intel Core2Duo T7700 GHz (VT Enabled, 64-Bit Architecture)
- 3Gb RAM
- 256Mb NVidia Quadro FX570M discrete graphics
- Windows 7 32-Bit host operating system
Now, onto the guide itself, I have split the guide up into stages to make it more manageable. Simply follow each stage step by step and you will have a working installation of OS X at the end.
The first stage is to create the initial virtual machine configuration file:
- Open VirtualBox by clicking through Start>All Programs>Oracle VM VirtualBox>VirtualBox
- Create a new virtual machine by clicking on the New button at the top left of the screen
- You’ll be greeted with the Create New Virtual Machine wizard, click Next
- Name the virtual machine that you’re creating based on your own naming conventions, for simplicity I am going to choose the name Mac OS X; for operating system choose Max OS X in the drop down box and then Mac OS X Server in the Version drop down box. Then click Next
- You now need to configure the amount of memory that you are going to allocate to the new virtual machine, if your machine supports it (or, if you have at least 2Gb of RAM available on the host machine) slide the slider to the maximum available (1500Mb or 1.5Gb) and then click Next
- Next to configure the new virtual HDD, you can leave the default options checked and click Next. You’ll now be shown the Welcome to the Create New Virtual Disk Wizard, click Next once again
- Now you need to configure the type of virtual disk that you want to create, unless you have good reason to choose otherwise, I recommend that you leave the default option of Dynamically expanding storage selected and click Next; then, once again leave the default options selected (you should see the size pre-populated to 20Gb) and click Next followed by Finish to create the disk
- You should now see a summary screen, click Finish
The basic virtual machine will now be created, albeit without the actual installation of OS X – yet. The next stage is to make some configuration changes to the basic virtual machine before proceeding with the actual installation process in preparation for the install:
- Highlight the virtual machine that you have just created (in my case named Mac OS X) and click the Settings button
- Click Display and change the Video Memory option to its maximum and click the Enable 3D Acceleration box
- Click Storage and highlight Mac OX S.vdi then click the remove button (-), then click the Empty option and under CD/DVD Device, navigate to the .iso image that you saved in your .VirtualBoxSource ISO folder earlier (legacyempire_efi1085.iso) then click Select
- Click the add button (+) and choose Add SATA Controller then click the add button (+) next to the new controller, you should now see Mac OS X.vdi appear in the list of SATA devices; highlight this. Finally in the drop down box next to Hard Disk choose Mac OS X.vdi (Normal, 2 which should clear the exclamation mark
- Click System and then Processor and change the default option to 2, then click Motherboard and uncheck the Enable EFI (special OSes only) option. Next under Boot Order, uncheck Network and Floppy if selected and change the boot order so that CD/DVD-ROM is checked first, followed by Hard Disk. Click OK
- Click Start to power on the new virtual machine
- When the Empire EFI Bootloader screen appears right click on the CD/DVD icon in the bottom right of the screen and click Unmount CD/DVD Device. Right click the icon again and click More CD/DVD Images and navigate to the .iso image of your retail Snow Leopard installation disk in the Source ISO folder, then click Select
- Wait a few seconds then click inside the virtual window and hit the F5 key, you should notice the option on the screen now change to Mac OS X Install DVD, press the Enter key. After a few seconds, you’ll be asked to press the Enter key again
The actual installation of OS X will now begin:
- The first screen that you will see will ask you to choose the language that you wish to configure the OS with, select this and then click the Forward key (this is the round blue icon towards the bottom right of the screen with an arrow in)
- At the next screen, you’ll need to ensure that the virtual HDD is correctly setup and ready for use, click Utilities at the top of the screen followed by Disk Utility
- Highlight the virtual disk, in my case 21.47 GB VBOX HARDDI… and click Erase. Ensure the Format option is set to Mac OS Extended (Journaled) and name the disk Macintosh HD then click Erase. You’ll be asked to confirm your actions, click Erase once again. Once the utility has created your disk, click the Exit button (which is the small red circle in the top left of the screen)
- Click Continue and agree the terms of the EULA (Please read the caveat above)
- Click Macintosh HD as the installation location and then finally click Install to begin
- Once the installation has finished (this will take some time, certainly enough time for a coffee), you will get an error screen saying that the Install has failed but don’t panic, this is normal
- Click the ‘x’ in the top right corner to close the virtual machine and select Power off the machine followed by OK
- Highlight Mac OS X once again and click Settings
- Click Storage and then Snow Leopard 10.6.3.retai.iso; then next to CD/DVD Device change the location to point to legacyempire_efi1085.iso once again. Click OK
- Start the virtual machine by clicking the Start icon
- Once the Empire EFI boot screen loads, click inside the virtual window and press the right arrow key to highlight Macintosh HD and then press Enter
- OS X should now start to load
This initial load up may take a few minutes but you should shortly be greeted with the Welcome screen where you can set up the basic options including your Apple log in, needless to say you should change these following steps based on your own individual circumstances:
- On the Welcome screen, click United Kingdom and then click Continue
- Next you’ll be asked to choose a default keyboard layout, click British and then click Continue
- Presumably, as you are running this within a virtual machine you will not have another Mac that you wish to transfer information in from so at the next screen, choose Do not transfer my information now and then click Continue
- You’ll now be asked to enter your Apple ID, if you do not have one you can simply click Continue and will have the opportunity at a later time to set one up. If you use iTunes on your windows PC, the login you use for the iTunes Store will also double as your Apple ID so enter these details here and then click Continue (hint: at this stage your keyboard will still be in the default US configuration so to enter ‘@’, press shift+2)
- Next you will have the option of setting all of your personal information, if you entered an account in the above step this will already be partially populated, fill in the appropriate details and click Continue
- You will now need to enter you’re your chosen username for the installation, enter these details and click Continue and your new account will be created
- Now chose your time zone, this should already be selected to the correct option. Once you are satisfied click Continue
- Click Go
- The OS X desktop will now load up
In its current configuration, the Empire EFI .iso needs to be attached and connected during each boot of the virtual machine or else it will not load, so the next step is to address this and install the boot loader permanently onto the OS X local hard disc. Doing this will install the Chameleon boot loader and also, some other important drivers and fixes:
- Inside the virtual machine on the OS X desktop you should see the Legacy Empire EFI disc mounted, click this and in the folder that opens, open the Post-Installation folder
- Now, before doing anything else you should take a backup of what you have done so far; within VirtualBox this is known as a snapshot. Click Machine and then Take snapshot, choose a name and click OK; then back to OS X
- Double click the myHack installer package (for Star Wars fans, it’s the Storm trooper icon) and then Continue once the application installer opens
- Click Continue twice and then Agree
- Once again, highlight the Macintosh HD as the destination for the installer and then click Continue
- Click Install
- You’ll now be asked to enter your password, this is the one that you configured earlier when setting up your local account, enter the password and then click OK. The install will now take place although it does take a little while (fantastic, time for another coffee then), once finished click Close
- Click Machine and then Close and chose the Power off the machine option then click OK
- Now you can remove the attached Empire EFI .iso from the virtual machine as it is no longer required. Click Settings followed by Storage. Highlight legacyempire_efi1085.iso and next to CD/DVD Device select your host drive (in my case Host Drive ‘D’)
- Click OK
Finally, you need to install an appropriate sound driver that is compatible with box VirtualBox and Mac OS X as this will not have been configured during the installation:
- Start OS X once again by pressing the Start button and wait for the OS X desktop to appear
- Open Safari within Mac OS X and enter the following address into the browser window –http://forums.virtualbox.org/viewtopic.php?f=30&t=33358 then click on the VirtualBox ICH AC97 Audio Driver.zip link in the first post, this will then download automatically and the installer will open
- Click Continue
- Highlight Install for all users of this computer and click Continue followed by Install
- You’ll now be prompted for your password again, enter this and then click OK, then click Continue Installation
- The sounds driver files will now be installed, once this has taken place click Restart
You should now have a working OS X installation although here are a few final thoughts. Firstly speed; those who are used to running OS X natively will no doubt be the first to point out that running OS X in a virtual machine is not the user experience that you get when running it natively on dedicated Mac hardware, this is to be expected. Remember that not only is the hardware virtualised, but you are also sharing resources with the host machine which moves me nicely onto my next point. Whilst the virtual machine is running, the performance of your host machine will suffer. It’s still more than usable but during periods of heavy resource utilisation in the virtual machine, the resources will not be available to the host, obviously; remember you may be able to run 2 operating systems simultaneously but you only have one piece of hardware which needs to be shared.
My biggest criticism with OS X within VirtualBox is that the native shutdown and/or restart features do not work. That is to say that if you click shutdown from within the OS it won’t actually shut down. If you try doing this you may see errors such as CPU halted (for Shutdown) or MACH Reboot (for restart) and the OS will just stop. This isn’t a major issue however, as instead of either shutting down or restarting from within OS X you simply power off or reset from within the VirtualBox console; it’s just a little niggle that taints an otherwise good user experience.
The only thing I haven’t covered in this guide is changing the screen resolution; although I haven’t actually felt the need to do this yet. Whilst the default resolution is (by today’s standards) low, it still represents the resolution of an average laptop a few years ago so for testing purposes it’s fine for my purposes. However I’m sure that a lot of you would prefer the option to change this so over the next few days, I will find a way and publish a step by step walk-through. (Update: Change resolution here)
My only other thought is system updates. I am not sure if applying any of the system updates will revert any of the core files back to a state whereby they will not work with VirtualBox, often with hacking code this is the case. So feel free to do a system update if you feel the need however I would resist unless you really have to, remember I’m assuming that, like me, you will only be following this guide for information and/or testing purposes; it’s not intended to be used in a production environment. However, if you must make sure you take a snapshot (backup) first.
** For convenience, you can also download a copy of this guide in .pdf format here **
Using Lenovo Power Manager With Non Genuine Battery… May 9th, 2010
I’m now on my third battery with my Lenovo T61p, my only criticism with what is otherwise an absolutely fantastic machine. The first two batteries were both genuine, the most recent a much cheaper, generic sourced one. The first battery that came with the system was a fairly typical 6 cell offering, nothing unusual there and it lasted for around 1 year; ironic really, it always seems with laptop batteries that they suddenly decide to loose their charge after the one year warranty has expired. I wasn’t too upset about this actually, mainly because I had always regretted not getting the 9 cell with my machine so it was an ideal opportunity to upgrade and secondly, being mainly office based where my machine sat in a docking station all day being charged to 100% I wasn’t too surprised it had come to an untimely end.
Now normally, I like to run my systems very ‘Zen’, ditching all of the manufacturer bloatware that comes pre-installed these days, but I decided when I bought the 9 cell battery to install the Lenovo Power Manager software, by now in version 3. For those who are not aware of what this does, it enhances the ability to control and monitor all aspects of the machines power usage; this is especially so of the battery and the way its charging cycles are handled. One of the features that I was most interested in was the ability to dynamically change the charging thresholds of the battery and thus improving its longevity. In essence, this works by changing not only the threshold at which the system allows the battery to be charged, but also the level at which the charge stops; so for example the system may determine to stop charging the battery when it reached 96% charge. The idea of course, is that this is better for the batteries health and it ‘should’ last longer.
All was well, I had this and other settings customised just how I like them when I was greeted with a warning to tell me that my lovely battery had a fault and could no longer be used; the fault was terminal. Most annoying was that the battery was still holding more charge than a 6 cell, even though it had well over 100 charging cycles, the battery should have been good for some time yet! Frustrated with the cost of genuine batteries from Lenovo, I started to look at other options and did some research on generic batteries. Finally, I decided that for a cost of £35 including delivery for a brand new 9 cell battery, it was wroth taking a punt and duly placed an order. Herein lies the problem.
Lenovo have cunningly engineered into the software a warning which keeps popping up to tell you that you are not using a genuine battery along with the usual warning about the effect this may have on your warranty and a rather scary disclaimer which in not so many words, tells you that you may spontaneously combust if you do not throw the battery in the bin straight away and buy one directly from them. Ironically, when you click OK for what seems like the hundredth time and acknowledge the warnings to enter the software, the battery information shows amongst other things that the part number is ‘COMPATIBLE‘ and the manufacturer is ‘SANYO‘; but hang on a minute, don’t Sanyo make the genuine batteries for Lenovo anyhow? It seems to me that Lenovo are just abusing the software to boost their after sales, something which I will not be tricked into and something which I think is unfair given the rubbish quality of a lot of their own batteries (namely the Sanyo ones it would seem, I wonder how long this one will last). I’m sorry Mr Lenovo but your ruse will not be working on me.
So that left me with the problem, just how do you go about continuing to use the otherwise excellent Power Manager software but without being nagged every 5 minutes to buy a new battery and fooled into thinking that you are about to blow up?
Turns out that the solution is actually painfully simple. After doing some research on Google I first started but doing some registry edits and denying certain services the authority to run, this should according to the research I came across work; not by fooling the software into thinking it was a genuine battery but by stopping it from being able to display the warning messages from being displayed. Sadly though, it didn’t work even after trying numerous different hacks.
It was then that I had a thought, they often say that it’s the most obvious solution that works. The Power Manager software itself comes essentially in two parts, firstly the system software and secondly, the extra toolbar which runs in the system tray that shows you a graphical representation of the charge you have left and, importantly, is where the warning messages are displayed so prevalently. So I wondered, if I simply right clicked and removed the Power Manager toolbar, would that allow the software to still run and do all of the behind the scenes stuff to keep my battery in good condition without the warning messages being displayed. It turns out that it does. By disabling the toolbar, you are still able to access all of the Power Manager features by right clicking the default Windows power icon in the system tray instead (or via the Control Panel), meaning that you are able to configure power options and battery options just as before. Of course you do loose the Lenovo power icon in the system tray but I was never a huge fan of that anyway and it did nothing that the Windows power icon doesn’t. The end result is that I am now using a non-genuine battery quite happily with Lenovo Power Manager but without all of the annoying warnings and attempts to sell you a new battery.
I hope someone finds this useful. Enjoy.
Installing Chrome OS on USB Drive December 16th, 2009
Recently, Google announced the release of the Chrome OS source code, after all of the build up it turned out to be quite a low key affair but within a few hours, the internet was full of images running within virtual machines such as VMware or VirtualBox. Soon after, images began appearing which could be transferred onto a USB stick and run directly without the need to install or change any of the partitions on your machine which is great news as it allows you to try the new OS without having to undertake a major upgrade.
Caveat: before you decide to download Chrome OS, there are a few things that you should consider. Remember that it is still very much in the early stages of development, so it may not work as well as you are expecting. In fact, depending on your hardware it may not work at all. You should also fully understand that by design, the new OS is very simplistic as it is intended for use on the new generation of netbook computers. By definition, a netbook is designed to perform simple tasks. When Chrome OS is launched, all you get on the face of it is a web browser. Don’t be too surprised after trying Chrome is you wonder why you bothered in the first place, personally, I won’t be using it again on my machine but that said, I am glad I gave it a try. Also, don’t forget the obvious, if trying it on your production machine backup any important data first!
OK, so you’ll need a USB drive that you can use to be able to try it out and a BIOS which allows you to choose a temporary boot device so that you can boot from the USB drive once you have the image written to it. I’d recommend using a USB stick with 4GB of storage capacity. Remember also to check if you have any files already on it before going any further, you’ll need to back these up in a safe place if so as the USB stick will be repartitioned during the following process.
You will also need a little bit of luck. Chrome OS may or may not work on your computer hardware. I did successfully run it on my Lenovo T61p but it did not successfully recognise the wireless network adapter. Finally, you’ll need to download the necessary files to put Chrome OS onto your USB stick.
- Download the Chrome OS for USB Torrent [here]
You’ll need a good BitTorrent client like uTorrent to download it.
The torrent has a zip file that includes the disk image, as well as a Windows tool for putting the image onto the USB drive. The program you’ll use to create the Chrome OS USB boot disk is called Image Writer for Windows. It’s a great little tool for writing disk images, it’s free, and it’s open source. You won’t need to download it separately as it is included in the download.
Installing Chrome OS onto your USB Stick
Unzip chrome_os_usb.zip and launch Win32DiskImager.exe to copy the image onto your USB stick. You may get the following warning when you launch Image Writer if so then simply cancel the error and continue. The problem is that it will be looking for a floppy disk that’s not there (a:/) so once you have cancelled the error, hit the refresh icon and you should now see the option of your USB stick. Once you have got Image Writer running, click the folder icon and select the chrome_os.img file (which should be located in the same location as you launched Image Writer from). Next, click on the device dropdown box and choose the drive letter which corresponds to your USB stick (check in My Computer if you are unsure). Then, click Write and the program will create a bootable Chrome OS on your USB stick.
Boot up Chrome OS
You’re now ready to boot into Chrome OS! Leave the USB stick in your machine and reboot, when the machine reboots press the appropriate boot menu key to interrupt normal boot and choose the USB stick as the bootable drive (on my T61p this was F12). In around 10 seconds you should see the Chrome OS login screen. Yes, it’s much faster than Windows! Login with chronos and password. This will log you into your new system as a local user. Once you have logged in, you should see what appears to be just a Google Chrome browser. If you click on the Chrome sphere in the upper left corner, you will see a Google Accounts login page where you will be able to login with your Google Account details and off you go! If you do not see this page and you get a browser page that says it could not find the page requested, then luck isn’t on your side and it means Chrome OS doesn’t like your network adapters. If this is the case you could of course always retry from within Windows in a Virtual Machine. If you were able to successfully log in, you should now see the application page.
As you can see, all of the applications are in the cloud. All of the applications that you can see on the application page bring up different webpages and everything you do takes place within the browser. As I said at the start of the post, a lot of the stuff isn’t working yet, this is all still under development. You’ll also see right at the top of the application page a message that says UI under development. Designs are subject to change. This means what it means so please don’t ask me why certain things are not working!
Let me know if you manage to get Chrome working properly and your thoughts. Enjoy!
Lenovo T61P Review November 3rd, 2009
Sadly I have never owned an IBM ThinkPad. I say that because since Lenovo took over the ThinkPad brand a lot of reviews and industry insiders will tell you that the quality and experience of owning a ThinkPad has suffered. Well, I own a Lenovo ThinkPad; a T61p in fact which a year ago was one of the high-end models in the range.
Previously I have owned a fair few laptops, goes with the territory, ranging from HP, Dell and Acer models right back to my very first laptop, an Olivetti! So, what do I think about my Lenovo? Truth is its fantastic, by far the best laptop I have owned!
My ThinkPad has the following specs:
• Intel Core Duo T7700 2.4Ghz processor
• 3Gb DDR2 PC2-5300 RAM
• NVidia FX 570M GPU with 256Mb dedicated memory
• 15.4” 1920×1200 WUXGA (175nit) LCD
• Seagate Momentus 7200.1 ST910021AS 100Gb 7200RPM HDD
• Intel Pro 3945 A/B/G WLAN
• 4-in-1 card reader
• Fingerprint reader
When you first look at a ThinkPad, you’ll notice that it is a big rectangular piece of black plastic. When you consider the price premium which usually goes with a ThinkPad you’d be forgiven for thinking that it doesn’t look anything special. Personally, I like the looks, very businesslike and more durable than say a Sony Vaio or a MacBook; but I know many would disagree. What a lot of people don’t know is that hidden beneath this bland exterior lays a very sophisticated magnesium roll cage. The I/O on the outside consists of Firewire, three USB slots, VGA out, Ethernet, modem, a 4-in1 card reader and a card slot; I’d have liked to have seen a serial port too but these are a dying breed amongst the latest offering, which I find very frustrating as we (IT professionals) still have a real need for them. There is also a radio on/off switch on the front and audio jacks on the side.
When you first pick up a ThinkPad, it feels very solid with no flex in the body and is relatively light without the battery. Lenovo have put a magnesium roll cage around the entire laptop for protection which – importantly – for a laptop which spends a lot of its time on the road, reduces the chances of the LCD screen being cracked or otherwise damaged. The black plastic on the top cover also has a slightly rubbery texture which personally I really like, helps ensure you have a good hold when you pick it up, minimising the chances of it slipping out of your hand which has happened to me previously with a nice shiny Dell x1.
The keyboard is the standard ThinkPad keyboard; full-size, stiff and with a great tactile response when typing. It’s by far the best keyboard I have used on any laptop, certainly leagues ahead of the rubbish Dell seem to spec these days. Another great feature although of course not unique to the ThinkPad, is the drain holes at the base of the laptop and a ‘containment reservoir’ underneath the keyboard in case you should accidently spill any liquids (because we all follow the rule of not putting out coffee next to our laptops on the desk right..?). Fortunately I have never had to test this feature – yet – but it’s good to know that it’s there. One of the key features for me when choosing the ThinkPad was the TrackPoint, it resembles an eraser on the top of a pencil, making it possible to navigate without having to move your hands hardly, if at all. Of course it also comes with a conventional touchpad for those who are not able to get along with the TrackPoint; which is kind of like Marmite; you either love it, or hate it. The ThinkPad also had a small LED mounted to the bezel above the screen aptly named the ThinkLight; it’s an ingenious idea which allows you to illuminate the keyboard in dark conditions so you can work in comfort, genius.
I choose the largest screen option, which is a whooping 1920×1200. The screen itself is great quality and reproduces colour and contrast exceptionally well. My only criticism is that the screen is not quite as bright as others I have used, such as the latest HP models. I’m glad to see as well that Lenovo resisted the urge to go for the latest craze of horrible glossy screens. There is a tiny bit of light leakage from the top and bottom of the screen which you can see if the screen is completely black, but I’m being critical here, it’s minimal. The GPU is an NVidia FX 570M which has 256Mb of dedicated memory so runs graphics superbly. In hindsight, I would have preferred an onboard shared video GPU but that’s only because I don’t play any games so don’t need such a powerful chip; the NVidia chip also eats more battery than an onboard chip, another reason I would have gone down that route if I were specifying this machine again. Having a 1920×1200 screen resolution on a laptop is amazing and makes multitasking much easier, but there are tradeoffs, you’ll need good eyesight! One strange thing about the ThinkPad screen is that it is not housed centrally in the LCD cover, this isn’t a problem though and most people will not even notice unless it is pointed out to them.
I’ve had cause to use a few of the battery options, originally starting off with the standard 6-cell arrangement which worked quite well. I can’t remember exactly how long I was getting between charges as I used to be more office based and use a docking station but from memory, I was getting on average around 3 hours which I didn’t think was too bad. Unfortunately for me, I lost my charger over the summer and rather stupidly, ordered a ‘compatible’ replacement from one of the ever present online battery specialists. Needless to say it was unbranded and made in China! Aside from the bulk of it, everything appeared to work fine until recently when I noticed I was getting what appeared to be static shocks from my laptop, I had a niggle that it was the charger so bought an original Lenovo replacement – as I should have done the first time round – but it would seem the damage was already done and my battery soon gave up the ghost, only lasting around 10 minutes on ‘full’ charge.
I now have an original Lenovo 9-cell battery and with a little experimentation, can almost get through a day without needling a power socket. The only downside of the larger battery is that it is a bit on the large size and protrudes from the back of the machine, although I don’t really find this an issue. I plan on keeping an eye open on eBay for a second battery which sits in the modular drive bay, that way I should be able to easily work away from a power socket all day without worrying. Good stuff.
I’ve had Windows XP, Windows Vista and now Windows 7 installed on the machine and so far, the only problems I have had are a few random lockups whilst using Windows Vista. Both Windows XP and Windows 7 have been perfect. Even though the laptop is now a good year old, it is perfectly matched for Windows 7, all of the hardware is recognised during the initial installation and they work together very well.
ThinkPad’s also come with ThinkVantage software to help manage the computer and for me it was another key feature in choosing the ThinkPad. I’ve always liked the idea of ThinkVantage software because it makes dealing with minor but annoying Windows shortcomings much easier to handle. Lenovo have done an excellent job in developing the ThinkVantage software and unlike other manufacturers have provided the end user with genuinely useful enhancements instead of the usual crapware. It seems that one of the trends in the industry over the past 5 years has been the rise of this bundled software on new machines. Crapware; no one wants it, most of it is about as good as the name suggests, and as a rule it does nothing more than slow the boot times of what would otherwise be decent computers. But crapware is on new machines for a reason – it helps to subsidise the cost of new machines and helps to keep costs down.
I’m just pleased that Lenovo have bucked this trend and developed its suite of genuinely useful enhancements. In terms of Windows 7, Lenovo were also the first manufacturer to work with Microsoft to develop the ‘Windows 7 Enhanced Experience’ program. I’m yet to experience this as it is more geared towards Lenovo’s latest offerings but if my experience of Windows 7 and my T61p is anything to go by, I look forward to the new features when it’s time to trade up next.
As I mentioned before, I also use the ThinkPad advanced dock mated to a Lenovo 24” widescreen monitor when I am at my desk. I think this is the perfect solution for me, gives me real desktop performance when I’m sat at my desk. The dock itself offers full port replication with the addition of DVI and VGA connectors, parallel and serial ports, Firewire and USB ports, the usual audio jacks and an extra modular drive bay. Perfect setup, what more can I say.
The only thing I would like to do with my T61p is replace the hard drive with a SSD offering, although I’m planning to wait a while until the cost comes down a little. Other than that, there is nothing I think my laptop needs; it really is a great machine.
I started this post saying that I was sad not to have ever owned an IBM ThinkPad but when I think about it, actually I don’t think it really matters. The IBM ThinkPad’s may have been better than the latest Lenovo’s, they may not have been but I don’t think it really matters. I don’t think it really matters because the Lenovo ThinkPad is a great machine in its own right and me for one, I am very happy with mine thanks very much.
Lenovo, keep up the good work!