Lenovo T61p alternative?
April 26, 2008 5:42 PM   Subscribe

Alternative to T61p? I'm looking for a laptop that is highly reliable, has a good graphics card and lots of storage.

I will use this system for 3d cad, gaming, and basic office tasks. I will be traveling with it extensively and it needs to be able to take a beating. I need good battery life and small size. I'd also like to run XP pro as I've finally made peace with XP and I don't want to start all over with Vista. I'd also like bluetooth support.

I would also like it to have 2 hard drives so that I can back stuff up and easily reformat and reload the C drive from an image without needing an external drive. I like to have my computer configured a certain way and when the gremlins start showing up, I like to just nuke them from orbit and start over from an Acronis image

I saw this thread, which made me want a thinkpad, and I was looking at the T-61p 15". This system seems pretty ideal for my purposes, but what turned me off is the poor battery life and the lack of a second drive. Is there somthing else out there that is comperable but with a second drive and longer battery life?

I'm toying with the idea of not having an optical drive, as it seems like I'm asking for too much in such a small package. I figure without an optical drive, I could get more battery or hard drive in a small package. Is this crazy? I don't buy much software and I rarely burn disks. I'd rather rely on flash memory and network for my data transfer needs

Also, is there a website that is like dpreview.com but for laptops? I like the feature search function that they have.
where I can dial in all my wants and search across all brands and models. I'm finding it a real pain in the ass to go to each manufacturer's website and having to first cut through their marketing-speak to figure out which line is the one I'm looking for and then dealing with their customization process. I've got a good 25 firefox tabs open and it's driving me crazy.

Thanks in advance!
posted by Popcorn to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry to say, but "second hard drive" and "longer battery life" are pretty much mutually exclusive, both in terms of power use (a second hard drive means more power usage and therefore shorter battery life, even with a larger/second battery) and just plain space (with most modular laptops I've seen you can have a second battery, or a second hard drive, but not both at the same time).

Actually, good graphics also usually means lower battery life, as the more powerful the graphics card the more power it pulls (generally speaking). Certainly a dedicated card capable of cad and gaming is going to pull more power than an integrated (battery friendly) system.
posted by tiamat at 5:55 PM on April 26, 2008

MacBook or MacBook Pro? I have used a number of different laptops over the years (including a couple of IBMs) and my current MacBook Pro (2.2 ghz one) takes the lead in terms of quality. I've also used a new MacBook for a few months and it's pretty solid as well. Take a look.
posted by aeighty at 5:55 PM on April 26, 2008

Response by poster: I should also add that I'm willing to spend up to $3000 on this but of course the cheaper the better.

I'm not very concerned with the warranty on the system, as I intend to take out an insurance policy on the machine so that I am covered for theft and damage. As a bonus question, does anyone have any experience with this kind of policy? Does such a thing exist?
posted by Popcorn at 5:56 PM on April 26, 2008

Response by poster: Taimat, those are some good points, I guess if it comes down to it, I'd rather have the second drive and just get an extra battery that I can swap in and out. I also am considering getting a solid state drive as the C drive, would that help with power consumption?

Aeighty, Im open to a macbook if I could run windows on it. Are there macbooks with double hard drives?
posted by Popcorn at 6:00 PM on April 26, 2008

You might want to consider the Asus M51Sn, which has a great graphics card and a good price, plus good build quality, features (e.g bluetooth) and design. It might be a bit big for a lot of travelling though.
posted by Flashman at 6:00 PM on April 26, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks flashman, I'm looking that over now.

I should also add that I'm willing to compromise a bit on the graphics, basically what I want is the ability to play first person shooters that come out in the next 2 years, but not necessarily with all the bells and whistles turned on. I'm still playing counterstrike source after all these years, but I wouldn't mind being able to play somthing like crysis with most of the goodies turned off.
posted by Popcorn at 6:08 PM on April 26, 2008

Popcorn, you don't need a second hard drive to put a second OS on your laptop. Just get a sufficiently large hard drive (or buy one afterwards) and put a second partition on it. If you absolutely need to have more than one hard drive, a laptop is not for you.
posted by arnold at 6:33 PM on April 26, 2008

Best answer: I have a t60p that I adore. Please make sure you know that the t60p:
Features an ultrabay where you can place a second hard drive or a second battery in place of the optical drive.
Offers a high-capacity battery.
Offers an awesome port replicator.

I don't know whether you knew all of this, or whether these will help you. I'm a rabid Thinkpad defender.
posted by Kwantsar at 6:43 PM on April 26, 2008

I'm also a Thinkpad fan. The X-series are tiny and have epic battery life. The graphic cards are shitty intel GMA 950s, but Lenovo say that an R60 with integrated graphics gets 7.8 hours, whereas with an discrete card it gets 4.3 hours. Which is crappy.

Also Thinkpads come with a recovery partition, so you won't need the two-spindle setup unless you're worried about drive failure as well.
posted by bonaldi at 7:35 PM on April 26, 2008

Response by poster: Bonaldi, your comment about the recovery partion brings up an important point for me: How is the out of the box software on these machines? Ideally i'd like to wipe the thing when I get it and install xp pro fresh. How much bullshit comes preinstalled on these thinkpads? Is it a special lenovo specific instance of windows? Will I lose any functionality if I build my own recovery partition from scratch using an off the shelf xp pro CD and use the windows driver finder to get everything running?

I want my recovery image to be as slim and clean as possible. If I can build it from scratch, it would make me feel much better.
posted by Popcorn at 8:39 PM on April 26, 2008

Response by poster: Also, what are people's thoughts about that turbo drive feature that they offer? I know it only works with vista, but I do expect to "upgrade" eventually when vista get's it's act together or the things I need are no longer supported by XP. Is turbo drive a good idea? Can I add it later if I need to?

Also, while I'm pretty sure I'm gonna go with XP, but does any one have any experience w/ vista on this particular machine? Is it better or worse than typical vista?

Assuming I go w/ XP, what is the most ram that it is reasonable to get? Am I correct in thinking that anything beyond 3gb is a waste?

Any opinons on hard drive RPMs? In the intrest of maximizing storage, I'm leaning towards the 250gb/5400rpm drive, but I'm worried about the rpms being a bottleneck. The alternative is a 200/7200 drive. I know that there are 320/5400 drives out there, but IBM doesn't seem to offer them. Thoughts on this? Is there any way to buy the thing with no hard drive at all so I can install my own 320?

Looking at the customization numbers, the price difference between the 80gb drive and the 250, the difference is 130$. On newegg, the 320/5400 is only 144. It seems like it makes financial sense to get the 80gb, and buy the 320 separately and swap them when I get the laptop.

I am also having a hard time with this descision:
PC Card Slot & Express Card Slot OR
PC Card Slot & Smart Card Slot

I assume that I want the express card one, thats like pcmcia, right? Isn't a smart card like those credit cards with a chip on them used for banking?

This decision as well, what is the diference? Is it worth 40$ to have the "draft N" support?
Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG
Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN (supporting Centrino Pro)

How about the fingerprint reader? Is that useful? Will it make the computer inaccessible to a thief, should it get stolen? Is it only used to turn the computer on, or could it be used instead of passwords for things like website logins?

Finally, I'm having trouble with this decision as well:
Intel® Core™ 2 Duo processor T8300 (2.4GHz 800MHz 3MBL2) [add $50.00] OR
Intel® Core™ 2 Duo processor T9300 (2.5GHz 800MHz 6MBL2) [add $150.00]

Is 3 extra mb of L2 cache and 0.1ghz worth 100$?

Thanks for all the help so far, you guys are the best!
posted by Popcorn at 9:12 PM on April 26, 2008

Best answer: I work IT at a 50-person mostly-Thinkpad shop. The preinstalled software load is actually not that bad compared to the crap I've seen on fresh Dells and HPs. It's standard XP Pro, with a trial Norton/Symantec antivirus that I replace right off. Past that, depending on your model, there are about a dozen programs/utilities specific to the Thinkpad hardware, like the security chip/fingerprint reader, the Thinkpad "hard drive airbag" system power/battery management tools, etc. Thinkpads have a lot of cool hardware features that make them durable and stable, and some of them require the Lenovo-specific software that runs them.
I have found that for the most part these are happier either being wiped out entirely (losing the benefit) by installing a stock XP to the main drive space, or just left alone entirely - when I remove just one or two of the tools in the set, the other members tend to whine about their missing siblings. YMMV, but I configure several of these every few months.
Depending on whether or not you want those tools on your system (if you're travelling and/or abusing it, you might want them), you can do what you want to your main drive space, and treat the recovery partition as "the magic button that returns it to factory condition" - that's what it's actually there for and designed specifically to do.
I have not devoted the time to learning the required kung-fu to modify the the recovery partition to specific needs, if it's possible; but if you're already comfortable with imaging tools, then all you need to do is have a USB HD with your image handy when you want to nuke & restore from Ghost/Acronis/whatever.
(As a side note, Thinkpads also tend to run Linux really well, without a lot of hardware compatibility problems. The hard drives on most models slide out after removing a single screw - I have tossed the screw, bought a 2nd internal HD, and just physically swap drives between XP and Ubuntu. I'm too cheap for an Ultrabay-equipped model.)
Lastly, Nthing the above comments: you can have lots of extra drives and a hot graphics card, or you can have great battery life, but you can't have both. TPs do have good battery specs, and they do have extended (read double-sized) battery options on offer, but some of the extras on your list will burn right through whatever battery you've got.
On your desire to use this for gaming, going ahead two years? I don't think it's likely you're going to get that; PC games tend to assume purpose-built desktops, with the ability to upgrade parts as new gaming standards are set (can't do that with laptops). So it's doubtful that ANY laptop you buy now will be able to play the hot game of 2009, requiring DirectX11 or whatever. Even more doubtful is getting a Thinkpad that will do so (sorry, no Bioshock for Thinkpadders).
Thinkpads are designed and built to be solid, durable, reliable business PCs that have a long life with low maintenance and they are very very good at that. Bad at modern games because of that. They have so much of that market, and loyalty from that market, that it's unlikely to change.
posted by bartleby at 9:37 PM on April 26, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks bartleby, good info.

"but some of the extras on your list will burn right through whatever battery you've got."

Here is the config I'm looking at, are any of these accessories particularly rough on the battery? Should I consider getting rid of some?

Processor: Intel® Core™ 2 Duo processor T9300 (2.5GHz 800MHz 6MBL2)
Operating System: Genuine Windows XP Professional Display Panel: 15.4 WSXGA+ TFT
System graphics: NVIDIA Quadro FX 570M (256MB Open GL)
Total memory: 3 GB PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz SODIMM Memory (2 DIMM) Pointing Device: UltraNav (TrackPoint and TouchPad) with Fingerprint Reader Hard Drive: 250GB Hard Disk Drive, 5400rpm
Optical device: DVD Recordable 8x Max Dual Layer, Ultrabay Slim System expansion slots: PC Card Slot & Express Card Slot
Card Reader: 4 in 1 Media Card Reader
Wireless cards: Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN (supporting Centrino Pro) Bluetooth: Integrated Bluetooth PAN
Wireless Personal Area Network: UltraWide Band (UWB)
Battery: 6 cell Li-Ion Battery
ThinkPad Serial ATA Hard Drive Bay Adapter

Also, you say "sorry, no Bioshock for Thinkpadders"

this machine seems to surpass the min bioshock specs. Is there some reason why it won't work, or do you mean that I just won't work well?

CPU - Pentium 4 2.4GHz Single Core processor
System RAM - 1GB
Video Card - Direct X 9.0c compliant video card with 128MB RAM (NVIDIA 6600 or better/ATI X1300 or better, excluding ATI X1550).
Sound Card - 100% direct X 9.0c compatible sound card
Hard disc space - 8GB free space

Finally, based on your experience with these, will it be completely impossible to upgrade the video card in the future, or is there some way to work it?
posted by Popcorn at 10:16 PM on April 26, 2008

Xi Computer makes some absolutely beast notebooks for CAD/gaming (available 2 drive RAID, SLI, blu ray, quad core desktop CPU...). Can't go wrong with thinkpads, though.
posted by doowod at 12:49 AM on April 27, 2008

I think you should go with the 9 cell battery if you can. it pokes out a little in the back but it's well worth it.

also, you can shave battery life by disabling the wifi/bluetooth adapters when you're not using them (there's a little on/off switch on the front of the laptop)

you'll be able to play some games, but it will be low quality.

I'm posting from a T60p that is almost a year old, and I can play world of warcraft on it with low to medium settings, and that game is getting on 4 years old.

I think your spec's look ok. I have the same monitor size on mine.

the fingerprint reader can be a secondary method of logging into windows. if someone doesn't have their fingerprint stored they can still enter the password manually. AFAIK it is only used for windows security, and cannot be applied as authentication to web pages or anything else.

This is my work laptop and our IT department guts the software installs their junk on it so i can't speak to what the image is like out of the box, but i can say this laptop is a solid performer.
posted by Industrial PhD at 2:34 AM on April 27, 2008

Also, while I'm pretty sure I'm gonna go with XP, but does any one have any experience w/ vista on this particular machine? Is it better or worse than typical vista?

I'm currently configured for dual drives; in the BIOS, the computer boots from the ultrabay drive when it's present, and the regular internal HDD when I have an optical drive or battery in the ultrabay. I run XP on the ultrabay drive, as that gives me the best compatibility for work, and I run Vista on the regular drive. Vista on this machine is just fine, and I have no idea why everyone hates Vista.
posted by Kwantsar at 7:59 AM on April 27, 2008

Response by poster: One of the alternatives I'm considering is the Alienware Area 51 M15X. It seems like it can be similiarly configured, but with a top of the line graphics card. While I really dislike all the silly lighting that comes on these alienware machines, I must admit that the specs look nice on paper. It also appears to have a switch that allows you to switch to integrated graphics from discrete to save battery. Does anyone have any experience with these guys?

Graphics and looks aside, how does something like this compare to the thinkpad? Are there durability isues?
posted by Popcorn at 10:16 AM on April 27, 2008

Response by poster: Also, does anybody know of any other systems in the 15.4 form factor that support the geforce 8800M GTX? I really hate the alien ware system lighting scheme, it's says to me "we could care less about battery life and we hereby invite the school bully to give you a wedgie and take your lunch money"

In other words, what is the most reliable notebook with the 8800M GTX?

Doowod, can you speak to the durability of these XI notebooks that you recommend?
posted by Popcorn at 10:23 AM on April 27, 2008

While I'm very late in responding, I just wanted to point out that at least on the T60 series, you can pick and choose which software to load when you do a restore. My T60p never saw Norton, excluding the first time I booted it to make sure it worked before waiting on the restore with about half the stuff not loaded.

Also, just for posterity's sake, my T60p could get almost 4 hours on battery with low brightness, no radios, and the 9 cell battery when it was new. Under my normal settings, more like 3:15. Now it's down to a little under 3 hours to flat using wifi and dimming the backlight. I have always been surprised at how well reducing the refresh rate and voltage to the video card (ATI Powerplay) saves battery life.

I'm sure the GMA is much better on the battery life, though.
posted by wierdo at 12:51 AM on June 19, 2008

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