I'm mightily impressed by the ThinkCentre M51 type 8104's small size. It measures 10.9 x 10.6 x 3.5 inches -- about the size of a phone book. In fact, the 17-inch ThinkVision L170p monitor juts past the CPU's sides when centered on top.

The anti-reflective/anti-glare monitor features a 500:1 contrast ratio and 1280 x 1024 resolution. It's attached to a tilt/swivel and height-adjustable stand, which tilts 30 degrees backward, swivels 135 degrees left and right, and adjusts 4.9 inches vertically. A dual input connection allows attachment to two PCs at once.

The CPU opens easily with the push of two buttons, and provides tool-less hard disk and optical drive removal. The CD writing works marvelously, just as it did in the full-size ThinkCentre tower, and CD playback is smooth. The DVD player also performed well, playing DVDs with crisp, clear picture and sound; but both InterVideo and Windows Media Player played DVDs a bit fuzzier at full screen.

It has six USB ports -- two in front and four in back. There are also microphone and headphone jacks, though the sound tended to be blurry when using the headphone jacks.

Maybe I'm too old school, but I still have trouble with biometric scanning. I don't have the hands of someone who has lived a life of manual labor, yet I had trouble getting the keyboard's fingerprint scanner to read my fingerprints.

"Slow down." "Move left." "Align finger." "Try again." "Match failed."

Who knew there were so many ways to screw up a swipe of the finger? Do paper cuts really affect the scanning ability that much? Some of the possible sources of authentication problems are: when fingers are wrinkled; rough; dry; injured; wet; or stained with dirt, mud or oil.

After much frustration, I re-enrolled my fingerprints. That seemed to improve the recognition, though it still took a few swipes to log on. The good thing is that if the computer is that particular about my prints, it will not be fooled by others' fingerprints. They'll get the automatic and firm, "Match failed."

The keyboard does have a nice feel and quiet keystrokes. There's also a handy Access IBM button that users can employ to configure the systems and hardware; set up Internet, printer and wireless networks; find upgrades and downloads; and quickly recover the system if necessary.

All in all, it's a speedy system that looks splendid on the desk.

Specifications:

  • 80 GB hard drive

  • Pentium 4 3.40 GHz processor

  • 504 MB of RAM

  • CD-RW/DVD combo

  • Fingerprint reader keyboard (selected models)

  • USB optical wheel mouse

  • Data link protocol: Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet

  • Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900

  • Retails for $1199, including monitor

    Rating: 4 out of 5

    Miriam Jones  |  Chief Copy Editor