Convince me not to get a Thinkpad!
July 11, 2008 7:19 PM   Subscribe

What are some reasons NOT to get a Lenovo Thinkpad R61? I'm pretty enarmoured with this laptop and I want to be sure it's a good decision.

I've more or less decided to buy a Lenovo Thinkpad R 14.1" -

Core 2 DUO T8100
80 GB 5400 RPM
1 GB PC2-5300 (2 Dimm)
Intel GMA X2100 GM965
6 cell battery
3 year warranty
14.1", DVD RW, webcam, etc
Vista, unfortunately.

(I have spare parts to upgrade the RAM and the HD)

Primary use for this computer will be 2D graphics editing, occasional video/audio editing, the usual browsing/wordprocessing etc. with a bit more usage volume multi-tasking than the average user. Total cost comes to around $1400 CDN after tax and shipping.

The actual question: I've been burned pretty badly before in the past with a refurb Gateway and their nonexistent customer service. Doing research into Lenovo's customer service generates as many "Lenovo is a world-class first rate company" from most likely paid reviews as "Lenovo SUCKS and I HATE THE WORLD."

Apart from the shipping system issue they ran into around the holiday season of last year (has that been resolved yet?) what is your opinion on Lenovo's quality, service and reputation? Anecdotes welcome.
posted by Phire to Computers & Internet (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I believe the Thinkpad line is due for a refresh soon, so maybe wait until the new models are announced?
posted by Krrrlson at 7:24 PM on July 11, 2008

I just got an HP laptop that came with vista, and it turned out I actually liked it.
posted by delmoi at 7:33 PM on July 11, 2008

I am responding on one (R series Thinkpad) now. It is nice and the price is right. I got the 15 inch bright screen and it really turned out to be worth it. I also have a the latest T series one with a 14 inch screen of regular brightness and the difference is quite noticeable.
posted by caddis at 7:37 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

You'll want > 1GB RAM w/ Vista.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:39 PM on July 11, 2008

Service: I have a Thinkpad R61 (different specs than what you're looking at, though). A few months ago it needed repair (it froze while I was trying to update the BIOS). The customer service person I spoke to spoke English perfectly and didn't give me a runaround at all. Turnaround time for getting the postpaid box and having the laptop back in my hands was a week or less (can't remember exactly, but it was fast--though, granted, it was a simple, defined problem that they were fixing.). I was in California and the laptop was repaired in Tennessee.

I bought mine through so I can't comment on Lenovo's sales shipping issue.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:50 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

My experience of Lenovo Thinkpads is pretty good. I have had two of these now (an R40, followed by a T60) and I love them. They support their machines with driver, utility, and firmware upgrades long after other manufacturers have decided to drop support in favor of current models. They are built well (good quality) and feel nice to use (good keyboards and screens).
The only thing that I would consider for your purchase is to get more RAM (I would definitely try to get a 1 GB DIMM rather than 2 DIMMs - otherwise an upgrade means replacing, rather than adding to your current memory). With Vista, you'll need the extra memory. It will run with 1GB, but s..l..o..w..l..y. Vista is not all that bad, once you have identified the workarounds for M$'s patronizingly-awful "you don't really want to do that, do you?" interface design ... If you want to downgrade to XP, you'll find all of the drivers and firmware that you need, online. As someone who did this (but has learned to work with Vista since), I feel like giving Lenovo a BIG HUG for their second-to-none support!
posted by Susurration at 7:51 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I bought a Lenovo notebook recently for my SO and it shipped within 4 days.
posted by Susurration at 7:53 PM on July 11, 2008

I've got a T43 and a T61 and am very happy with both, I also have a Toshiba...ugh.
posted by Cosine at 8:00 PM on July 11, 2008

I don't have experience with the R61, but I had a T61 via my company for a couple of months and that thing was a nightmare. Pre-loaded with all kinds of junk bloatware - long story short, it was near impossible to get around using Lenovo's substandard utilities for things like wireless connectivity and use, say, Windows to connect.

I voluntarily downgraded to a T60, sans bloatware, and while it's a definite improvement, based on the complaints I hear from coworkers and the IT staff at my all-Lenovo company, I'd never spend my own money on one. I'd go for a Dell instead.
posted by chez shoes at 8:01 PM on July 11, 2008

chez: That is very odd, my all-Lenovo company has several hundred T61's and are extremely pleased with them, failure rate near zero and the fingerprint scanner is teh awesome. Also if your company is releasing laptops to users that still have all the usual OEM crapware on them then your IT dept needs the cobwebs cleaned out. We also have some laptops from Toshiba, Apple and Dell and they are all noticeably worse with far more hardware problems (particularly the Macs)

One dept insisted on Dell laptops last year, most have swapped them out already, cheap plastic toys, and talk about OEM crapware!

My own T61 runs Ubuntu and XP and is fast, reliable, cool and quiet.
posted by Cosine at 8:14 PM on July 11, 2008

T60 here. I'm very hard on computers and tend to kill them after about two years of usage at a steep angle, but my T60 is two years old and hasn't given me a lick of trouble.
posted by Soliloquy at 8:32 PM on July 11, 2008

I used to service T-series Thinkpads (among others) as a field tech for an IT services contractor. Compared to laptops from other manufacturers, Thinkpads are a dream to work with -- couple of (well-labeled) screws gets you access to anything that might need replacement. They're also pretty rugged, at least as far as non-hardened machines go. I've seen cracked screens (when people shut them with objects inside, stepped on them, etc) and one dead unit due to a severe liquid spill.

I personally use Apple hardware, but if I were going to buy a non-apple laptop, it would be a Thinkpad.
posted by Alterscape at 8:34 PM on July 11, 2008

I have a T61 for work and it's nice. The one thing that bugs me: the function key is where the control key should be. I think all the Thinkpads are this way.
posted by lalas at 8:46 PM on July 11, 2008

Personally, I'm going with the T61 14.1".

Engadget has the specs on the refresh due in a few months.
posted by dragoon at 9:00 PM on July 11, 2008

Only the bad: I have a T61 (766416U) that came with Vista and it was a huge pain in the ass initially. I had to disable the active protection for the harddrive and the Intel Turbo Memory because they were making my system unstable. Like chez shoes above, I also removed most of the crappy little Lenovo utilities. After that things were pretty ok. Sometimes in Vista the wireless driver crashes, which is pretty annoying. Now the fan has some kind of problem and it refuses to boot occasionally, making sad noises and saying "Fan error". When it does this it tends to boot up after a couple tries. I think of it like starting a crappy car in the winter. Oh, my battery died too, so I'm only running it off the AC adapter for now. For what it's worth, I have been using it pretty heavily since I got it (a little more than a year ago). It's generally only off when I'm asleep.

I haven't tried Lenovo's service yet, but given the state of the machine, I soon will.

I remember when I bought the thing they mentioned that I could downgrade to XP for free if I wanted to, so you might want to consider that. Also, I don't know which wireless chipset that R61 has, but if you aren't going to be using any 802.11n networks, you may want to avoid the Intel 4965 wireless chipset (the one in my T61) because of the driver problem I mentioned above.

I still like the machine, but it's definitely had it's share of problems.
posted by benign at 9:01 PM on July 11, 2008

The function key is a definite annoyance. I have a T61 at home and a Dell at work, and the change in keyboards between work and home screws me up all the time.

Other than that, though, my experience with ThinkPads has been great. My T61 more or less survived a full bottle of Gatorade being dumped on its keyboard. (ThinkPads are made to be resistant to spills. See: That in itself is enough for me to recommend the ThinkPad line.
posted by mrbula at 9:05 PM on July 11, 2008

Response by poster: Sorry, there's a bit of confusion on the ram issue due to my mistake - I have 2 1GB laptop ram sticks currently sitting at home and I thought I would get the cheapest option on the website and simply swap out the ram myself. I wouldn't dream of doing 2D graphic editing on XP, let alone vista, with less than that.

Other than that, thanks for the great responses so far, keep them coming!
posted by Phire at 9:34 PM on July 11, 2008

I can't believe I'm actually typing this, but I would recommend you avoid the Thinkpad.

I used to be a huge fan of Thinkpads, especially the T series. I've had a few and they have all been stellar. I was so happy with them that my last laptop purchase -early last year- was supposed to be a T61, and I never even considered getting anything else.

Unfortunately, it cost almost twice what a comparable Dell was going for at the time and that gave me pause. After much soul-searching and comparing of specs, I went with an Inspiron 6400 with better components and oooooodles of RAM.

Today, a year and a half later, I'm surprisingly very happy with my choice and will probably not go back to Thinkpads, for one reason: They're just too good.

At the rate of hardware and software evolution we're seeing, holding on to a laptop for more than two or three years is unpractical and very unsatisfying. You simply can't keep up, and RAM or HD upgrades simply won't cut it. A 3-year-old Thinkpad is usually still perfect. I mean, those things are indestructible. You would have absolutely no reason to get rid of it, especially after paying for Thinkpad quality. A Dell, on the other hand, will be ready for Ebay, allowing you to upgrade to a better machine, and will have cost you less, to boot.

Laptops have become a generic commodity with a limited useful lifespan, so there's no reason to invest in longevity. Get a Dell with better components and switch every 2 years.
posted by Cobalt at 10:00 PM on July 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Honestly, those specs aren't that great for the price. My last two computers (a desktop and a laptop) have both been from Dell and - I love them. Try pricing out the same specs but with a better graphics card and a T9300 Penryn processor; in the Vostro line in Dell Small Business. I wouldn't buy from Dell "Home and Home Office" though. Two different sales and support divisions. As for support, with any Small Business purchase you get much better support - from USA call centers. With 'Home' you get India and much longer hold times. Yes, you have to pay tax on a Small Business purchase, but they almost always have free shipping which you don't always get with a 'Home' purchase. It's almost always a wash as per price.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 10:22 PM on July 11, 2008

Whatever kind of laptop you buy, seriously think about more ram. Vista or XP can address 3GB at the moment. I went for 4GB anyway because I like to have matching ram sticks inside my machines.
posted by chairish at 10:39 PM on July 11, 2008

Reasons not to get it:
1) It's Lenovo and not IBM, and since the change, things have gone downhill. My experience is based on using r40,r51,r60 and maintaining r61's for others.

2) The default OS/software bloat install makes the speed equal to that of a p3 running windows, no joke. This is solvable though, but if you're paying this much, it shouldn't be something you have to deal with.

3) I had issues with the screen randomly turning off, or having artifacts under certain applications. Resolution for the turned off screen was to close and open the laptop lid.

4) Wifi switch was in an odd position on R60, impossible to see which position it was in, and hard to switch either way unless you used your nail.

5) Heavy. Probably not more than most laptops, but it is a reason.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 12:06 AM on July 12, 2008

I have a R51, approaching 3 years. Overall i love it.
The problems: the default wifi software sucks. One spot on my screen is unusully bright - but only from odd angles, so when working it doesnt bug me, and also at times the CD wont open. And of course its heavy.

Buy most of all what I love about them is the NIPPLE MOUSE! I can't believe no one has mentioned the nipple mouse. I find myself to be more productive in programs mostly to do with typing.

That all said, if Dell had a laptop that had a nipple mouse, id probably buy a Dell, mostly for the reasons that Cobalt listed. But to my knowledge they dont, so....
posted by figTree at 12:34 AM on July 12, 2008

I have an older X41 and couldn't be happier with it. This is mostly due to the timely firmware and driver updates, durability, non-glossy screen (the lack of glare/reflection is not to be undervalued), and, as mentioned above, the trackpoint (or "nipple mouse", as it were). I used to think touchpads were slicker and more productive, but once you get good with the trackpoint, you're far speedier and more accurate with it than with a touchpad (mostly because you don't have to change your hand position at all from typing to mousing.

As for the one nay-sayer above, I'm not so sure why all the things that person mentions wouldn't count just as much (if not far more) in favour of a ThinkPad than anything else. You may love the ThinkPad like it was your own child and never want to part with it, but so will others (i.e., they would die to acquire it) -- and this can do nothing less than increase its resale value proportionately, once you get over your emotional attachment to its superb craftmanship.

Also, I've heard nothing but good things about their support, though have never had to use it.
posted by astrochimp at 8:21 AM on July 12, 2008

Seconding astrochimp. I have a T41, it's perfect for my purposes, it was less than $500 used, and it has held up quite well. I don't do video editing. The R61 would probably be quite adequate, though.

I don't know if it's a consideration, but the Linux and BSD support for Thinkpads is usually stellar (I'm running OpenBSD on mine.), with the caveat that you will probably need to replace the mini-pci wireless card and run a utility to disable the unauthorized NIC lock at boot. The firmware for the built-in wi-fi is restricted and may not work.
posted by trouserbat at 10:04 AM on July 12, 2008

Whoops, it looks like according to the link, the R61 does not have the unauthorized NIC lock. It might be helpful for someone considering a different model, though.
posted by trouserbat at 10:10 AM on July 12, 2008

I've owned and serviced over 1000 thinkpads over the last decade. Almost all of them have been the T series (and a few 560,570,570e units before). Failure rate is exceptionally low (even after the move to Lenovo), the customer service is better than anyone else's (3 day turnaround if you have to ship it, 6-12 hours if you've got the on-site warranty).

Like Cobalt, at one point, in a moment of low cashflow, I decided to buy a Dell, because for what amounted the same specs it was half the price. The Dell works adequately, has been stable, and would perfectly satisfy anyone who hadn't previously owned a Thinkpad.

Unlike Cobalt, I don't think I'd buy another laptop that isn't a Thinkpad (and I certainly wouldn't want to support a fleet of anything else -- the maintenance friendly design is a work of art). It is a toss-up whether Apple or Lenovo are making the best machines these days (I'm going to stay away from that one)... but there's a huge gap in quality once you go down from those two makers.

You won't be disappointed.
posted by toxic at 10:30 AM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I bought a T61p based largely on the recommendation of people on Metafilter, and don't regret it at all - it's a great, extremely solid machine that has run flawlessly... so far (1 month or so). There wasn't much in the way of bloatware to remove (I've left on various 'ThinkVantage' bits and bobs while I figure out if they're actually useful) and while I had trepidations, based on a lot of alarmist talk out there, I've found Vista runs really well too (I did though fine-tune it based on the advice of various websites). I'd also read all sorts of scare stories about bad screens, and feezing up during gameplay, and random crashing and 'BIOS' problems (whatever that means), but as far as I can tell my unit doesn't have any weird hangups. I think it's just that the few people who have problems with their computers make a lot of noise about it - while, legitimately, seeking out solutions. So these are the stories you read about when you Google search, not the 99.6% of people who are content.
I bought it while Lenovo had a 30% discount in May - I think they were trying to clear out old stock in preparation for the new model - so even with all sorts of upgrades it was also about $1400CAD (then my sister hauled it over the Atlantic for me in her carry-on luggage). So, it might be worth waiting for another sale like this - it seems to have been something they'd done regularly.
Delivery time was about 10 days I think, quite a bit less than they'd estimated. My only criticism of Lenovo I'd say, is that there is considerably less transparency in the ordering and shipping process than say Dell. I ponied up the cash and got a receipt with an estimate of delivery, but after that was pretty much in the dark over where my computer was or when it was actually going to turn up, until it did
But, a minor complaint, and I too certainly recommend the Thinkpad.
posted by Flashman at 1:08 PM on July 12, 2008

Writing this on an R50e running XP coming up for it's 3rd birthday in October. Now I have gone through laptops in the past like you wouldn't believe but this one has had coffee poured through it and taken a short flying lesson off of a table too and it just keeps on going...

My only (small) gripe is that the DVD drive has a tendency to occasionally stop working and then just come back again in a week or so, though I think that is software related rather than a hardware issue. I honestly don't think I would ever buy a different brand now...

Best keyboard I ever had on a laptop too.
posted by Chairboy at 1:56 PM on July 12, 2008

I somehow managed to short out my Thinkpad by spraying cleaning fluid on the screen. The refused to RMA and told me that the "proper" way to clean a screen is spray it on the cloth. I have had, probably, a dozen laptops in my life and I've never had this problem. Perhaps I'm lucky with my improper cleaning. I'm hoping this a one-off defect. In any case, it fits like a well-worn glove. The keys click like they should, the laptop carries like it should and it works like it should. I don't know why, it just seems like a good workhorse to have.

Oh and yeah, the pre-loaded software sucks. I've yet to see a laptop without preloaded crap. I had to buy one at Circuit City recently and they were pushing hard for me to pay $50 for the cleaned up model. Buh?

Anyway, Vista + Drivers from format takes less than an hour. 40 minutes of that is Vista doing an unintended install. Get the cheap model with Linux pre-installed and buy an OEM of Vista Business/Ultimate. Everything should be very smooth.
posted by geoff. at 2:34 PM on July 12, 2008

I'm currently on my third ThinkPad (X61T) after two IBMs, and it's a quality nightmare. I have the infamous "bezel issue", two of my display corners are bashed in because the inside corners use cheap plastic. After a couple of month, the pen started getting stuck in its little hold and could only be retrieved by removing a couple of screws. I sucked it up because the alternative was sending the computer away for repair. Then, one day, the pen literally fell apart. I called customer service and demanded a new pen for my five-month old laptop. The refused to give me one for free, then told me to order a new one from an IBM parts distributor in another country who subsequently refused to ship me a new pen because they consider themselves a wholesaler and don't deal directly with consumers.

I have a suspicion that this wouldn't have happened in the olden days, when my recovery CDs where delivered by taxi straight from the airport a day after I had asked IBM for them, without charge of course.
posted by themel at 3:40 PM on July 12, 2008

I got an X61T two months ago and have had no problems. Heavy all day, every day tablet use.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:09 PM on July 12, 2008

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