The Lenovo B570 laptop is as friendly on the wallet as you can get, at the current price of $300 at Best Buy if it were any cheaper you’d wonder if there were some catch and you had to buy the operating system and processor separately. Or that you overslept and it’s now Black Friday and this is one of those door buster deals. But it is in fact October and the Lenovo B570 is a fully functional and indeed capable laptop being sold for $300. So what’s the catch, is the B570 a worthwhile bargain or is there a big gotcha that will make it a regrettable buy? Read on to find out!
The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E425 is an AMD powered version of the popular ThinkPad E420 that I reviewed back in June. The ThinkPad E425 is the same as the E420 in every way but for two key features: it has a different chipset and starts at a cheaper price. So how does the Edge E425 perform compared to its cousin the E420 and are the savings worth it? Read on to find out!
First let’s take a look at the specs for the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E425 being reviewed:
Processor: AMD A-Series A4-3300M 1.90GHz dual core (overclocks to 2.50GHz)
Lenovo Part No: 1198CTO
OS: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Screen: 14.0” Matte (Anti-Glare) 1366 x 768 resolution
The base starting price of the ThinkPad E425 is $479 but the processor upgrade I made from the AMD E2-3000M to the A4-3300M was a $20 upgrade and so the final price before taxes was $499. Shipping was Free as it always is at Lenovo.com.
ThinkPad E425 Purchase Experience
The Edge E425 was purchased direct from Lenovo.com, the price of this configuration at the time of order was $499. The order was placed on 10/5/2011 and the laptop shipped 7-days later on the 12th. The shipping was via UPS ground and it took until the 18th for the laptop to make it to my door. The box was rather beat up upon arrival, I firmly believe UPS and FedEx are on a mission to torture test laptops before they arrive to you. If they can survive UPS Ground, they can probably survive whatever you dish out to it:
Luckily the laptop inside was undamaged despite the crushed in left side of the box. The E425 was resting snugly between some cardboard and plastic supports inside:
Below you can see everything you get in the box which includes the ThinkPad Edge E425 laptop itself, power adapter and cord, battery and various manuals:
ThinkPad Edge E425 Overview
The 14” screen ThinkPad Edge E425 was announced in August of 2011 but didn’t see the light of day until the end of September 2011. Right now configurations for sale are somewhat limited, when announced Lenovo listed several AMD Fusion processors that would be available for configuration but at this time there are only two processor choices and the most powerful is the rather humble AMD A4-3300M.
The ThinkPad E425 is geared towards small business buyers with a limited IT budget. Lenovo claims in their marketing materials that the E425 and E525 are “slim, elegant notebooks that offer SMB users a sophisticated computing experience with the capabilities of enterprise PCs.” So there you have it, if you want a laptop that doesn’t cost as much as the flagship T420 Lenovo sells to the suit guys working in Enterprise, then the E425 is for you. The starting price of $479 definitely helps make the Edge E425 interesting, you get a laptop that has many of the features of the more expensive ThinkPad line at a much lower price point. The design may also appeal more to those that don’t dig the black and boxy look of the typical ThinkPad. The E425 uses a more rounded design and has consumer touches such as a chiclet keyboard and a couple of blinking lights on it. Mercifully it does not have the glossy screen popular in consumer notebooks, Lenovo stuck to a matte (anti-glare) screen that business notebooks typically have. So you actually get a nice blend of a few consumer design touches but keep enough of a business notebook characteristics to make it still fit well as a professional looking work laptop.
ThinkPad Edge E425 Design and Build
The ThinkPad E425 has curved edges that are very noticeable when viewed from above with the lid closed. This adds a bit of a design touch over other more boxy ThinkPads such as the T420. Speaking of design touches, Lenovo went as far as to add blinking lights to the “i” in ThinkPad. While this probably wouldn’t appeal to Enterprise IT buyers, it may appeal to small business buyers who appreciate a bit of uniqueness in a laptop.
Open up the lid of the E425 and you’ll be presented with a chiclet style keyboard, which isn’t typical for ThinkPad laptops. Chiclet keyboards are much more common in consumer laptops, but the more modern look will appeal to small business buyers who often use their work laptops for personal use as well. The design surprises end right about there, because the rest of the story is that the E425 is all black just like any other ThinkPad. It also has the red pointing stick in the middle, a laptop couldn’t be called a ThinkPad without this iconic touch. It also has the blue Enter button and blue striped mouse buttons that all other ThinkPads have. Upon opening the lid the chiclet keyboard is definitely a non-standard ThinkPad touch you’ll notice but one that’s more common among consumer laptops these days. It’s certainly a more modern look. Outside of that the Edge E420 is still all black and uses the same logos as other ThinkPad’s, it has the red pointing stick and red and blue striped mouse buttons common on all ThinkPads. Overall the design a nice balance between a fully fledged ThinkPad and IdeaPad consumer notebook from Lenovo.
The ThinkPad E425 has a rubberized texture lid which makes it easy to grip when carrying and a silver plastic trim along the sides of the lid. The lid does not use any type of latch mechanism to stay closed, so there is no need to push or slide a button to raise the lid, you simply flip the lid open. Closing the lid is nice and easy to do, Lenovo uses a soft close hinge so even if you “throw” the laptop lid to close it the hinges will prevent the lid from slamming down on the keyboard and instead softly close. When in the open position the hinges hold the screen firmly in place, there is no wobbling of the screen as you type, the hinges also do a nice job of holding the screen down when the lid is closed.
The ThinkPad Edge E425 weight is 4.6lbs according to my handy Salter kitchen scales, this is about average for a 14” laptop. It’s actually lighter than the ThinkPad T420 that weighs in a 4.8lbs. The travel weight of the ThinkPad E425 when you add in the power adapter goes up to 5lbs 6 ounces as the adapter brick and cord weigh exactly 1lb.
The E425 ranges from 1.10” thick at the front to 1.29” thick at the back, so it’s not exactly a “thin and light” 14-inch laptop, but it also won’t break your back to carry around for short distances either.
ThinkPad Edge E425 Processor and Performance
The major differentiator between the Edge E425 and E420 is the fact the E425 has an AMD Fusion chipset while the E420 uses Intel’s Core i3 and i5 Sandy Bridge chipset. AMD boasts that their Fusion chipset will give better graphics performance and battery life. The AMD processor aboard this review unit is the A4-3300M and is part of the Llano family of AMD processors. The processor is dual core and has a clock speed of 1.90GHz and can overclock to 2.50GHz. It’s fairly comparable on paper to the Intel Core i3-2310m processor, which is Intel’s budget play in its latest Sandy Bridge lineup of Core i3 and Core i5 processors. The A4-3300M has an integrated Radeon HD 6480G graphics card which is the supposed advantage the AMD Fusion family has over competing Intel processors – it can boast decent graphics and video decoding performance but still play nice with battery life. While the AMD 6480G does have DirectX 11 support and the new UVD3 video decoder, it’s still considered on par with entry level dedicated graphics cards and will not enable you to turn the E425 into a gaming machine. As far as video playback and decoding, I viewed several 1080p videos on YouTube.com such as the Kung Fu Panda 2 trailer and playback was seamless with the processor usage hovering around 50% during playback of the 1080p HD video.
Now onto comparisons with Intel processors. To be fair, I can’t directly compare the Edge E420 benchmarks I generated with the Edge E425 because the processor on board the E420 was the powerful Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz processor that can overclock to 2.90GHz. That’s a more expensive and higher end processor than the AMD A4-3300M that’s on board the E425 under review. So we’ll compare the specs between three laptops, the E425 with the AMD A4-3300M, ThinkPad T420 with the budget Intel Core i3-2310m and ThinkPad E420 with Intel Core i5-2410m.
ThinkPad Edge E425 Windows Experience Index Score: 4.7
The ThinkPad T420i that was benchmarked was unfortunately hobbled by 2GB of graphics and a slow 5400RPM hard drive. The E425 benefits from 4GB of RAM and a 7200RPM hard drive to give it a performance boost. Bottom line, overall the AMD A4-3300M is probably almost as fast as the Intel Core i3-2310m processor, but not quite. Notebookcheck.net claims that the performance of the AMD A4-3300M is “clearly worse than similar clocked Sandy Bridge processors” but that’s a little harsh, it’s close and each processor has different benefits.
ThinkPad Edge E425 Battery Life
Interestingly Lenovo claims the ThinkPad E425 gets around 8.3 hours of battery life on their website. That’s a very precise number for battery life, and quite frankly over inflated based on what I was able to achieve with the E425. For a battery run down test I put the E425 into the Lenovo Balanced Power mode, set screen brightness to level 4 out of 15, left wi-fi turned on and then opened a web page that refreshed every 60-seconds. I forced the screen to remain on and then started up BatteryMon to test the battery run down time. 4 hours and 46 minutes later the E425 hit 5% battery life remaining and went into hibernate. That’s over 3 hours short of the claimed 8+ hour battery life claimed by Lenovo. You can of course dim screen brightness further, turn off wi-fi and do all sorts of other things to squeeze out more battery, but there’s little chance of gaining another 3 hours magically. I’d say 6 hours is the most you could possibly squeeze out of the E425, and it’d take putting the laptop in a near vegetable idle state to achieve that.
Still, close to 5 hours of battery life with conservative usage isn’t bad. A more realistic usage scenario with the screen brighter and more intensive tasks being performed such as video playback would bring you closer to 4 hours of battery life. That’s not bad, but doesn’t break any records and there are 14” screen laptops that do better. The E425 does just sneak by the E420 with better battery life, I got 4 hours and 9 minutes on the E420 using the same test that netted 4 hours and 46 minutes on the E425.
ThinkPad Edge E425 Screen
The ThinkPad Edge E425 has a 14.0” 1366 x 768 matte screen with a standard 1366 x 768 resolution. The screen isn’t going to blow anyone away with its features, overall it’s a very average screen. The brightness level is fine, viewing angles typical for a laptop, resolution exactly average and the color richness nothing to write home about. In other words, the screen is just fine for everyday business application usage but it can be a little disappointing when it comes to movie watching as the screen is slightly grainy and has a warm yellow hue, whites are not perfectly white.
It’s too bad there is no option for a screen upgrade such as a better resolution, the ThinkPad T420 offers a higher resolution HD+ (1600 x 900) screen which is great for fitting more of a web page or Excel sheet on a page. At the cost of sounding overly negative, praise is due for the choice of a matte screen that is anti-glare. Lenovo could have gone with a glossy screen finish as another consumer touch to the laptop, but they opted for the more business friendly matte screen. Having a matte screen is important if you have to stare at the screen 8 hours a day for work, glossy screens give off a lot of reflection and can cause eye strain.
Some different angle pictures of the ThinkPad Edge E425 screen:
The Edge E425 comes with a built-in web camera with 720p video quality recording and a built-in microphone so that you’re ready to go with Skype out of the box.
Edge E425 Keyboard and Touchpad
The ThinkPad Edge E425 keyboard uses a chiclet style design. This is one noticeable difference between the regular ThinkPad and the Edge series, the enterprise targeted ThinkPad sticks with the same design used for several years now. I prefer the regular style ThinkPad keyboard, from time to time I do find myself catching a finger under a key on the E425 chiclet keyboard. Since keys have more space and clearance under them with this design I have experienced catching my finger under the “J” key as I move from having pushed the “M” key and move up to pushing the “Y” key. Take a look at the keyboard layout and you might imagine how this happens, it’s a little hard to put in words.
Other than this minor complaint that is related to chiclet keyboards in general, the E425 keyboard is very good. It feels much like a regular ThinkPad keyboard — each key has a nice travel distance and a very solid stroke, there is no flex or “clickety-clack”. The keyboard allows you to move your fingers fast and the noise is minimal even if you have a punishing key stroke. The Page Up and Page Down keys are very small and poorly located, there’s no way you’ll be able to use them in a touch type fashion. The top row of function keys are also shrunken to fit the keyboard, this isn’t a big deal but if you’re clumsy or have big hands then it could be irritating to have to peck at such small buttons to adjust things such as volume and screen brightness. One thing I do like is that the top row of keys function as media buttons first and foremost, so for instance if you hit the button labeled F1 it mutes the volume. You have to hold in the Fn key + F1 to get it to perform the typical F1 function which is generally opening a Help menu in an application.
The touchpad on the E425 is large and nice and easy to move the cursor around the screen if you prefer the touchpad over the pointing stick. I tend to use the red pointing stick Lenovo puts in the middle of the keyboard, it’s nice to have this feature on a laptop that costs only $500 – generally it’s reserved for expensive $1,000+ business laptops. Either way, having multiple methods of mouse input means you can choose which works best for you and that’s a plus. The touchpad and mouse buttons overall work great, the touchpad offers scrolling and zooming gestures. The only minor knock I can give is that the two mouse buttons below the touchpad are rather chintzy – use the red striped buttons above the touchpad and you’re set as they’re excellent and easy to reach while touch typing.
ThinkPad E425 Input and Output Ports
The input and output ports you get on a laptop is of course an important aspect. The E425 has a good number of ports, certainly enough to satisfy most small business usage scenarios. Here’s a look around the E425 to see what ports are located where:
On the left side you get a VGA monitor out port, 3 USB 2.0 ports one of which is a combo eSata / USB 2.0 port, an HDMI port, headphone/microphone combo port and media card reader slot.
On the back of the E425 you just get an Ethernet port, it is Gigabit enabled
On the right side you get a 34mm ExpressCard slot for expansion, 1 USB 2.0 port that is powered so you can charge devices such as a SmartPhone via USB even when the laptop is turned off. The powerjack is on the back right side. Notice the optical drive is here on the right side too.
There are no ports located on the front of the Edge E420, the forward facing speakers are located here
The ThinkPad E425 does not have the latest USB 3.0 port technology, but the eSata port is a fine substitute to allow for fast data transfer to an external hard drive. It’s interesting to note that Lenovo went with an HDMI port, normally business notebooks include a DisplayPort, but since the E425 is a blend of business and consumer they went with the more TV friendly HDMI port.
ThinkPad Edge E425 Heat & Noise
The Edge E425 uses a large vent on the back left side and since this isn’t an extremely thin laptop there’s plenty of ventilation for the components inside which results in an overall cool running laptop and legs that remain burn free. The fans rarely came on during normal everyday usage, you wouldn’t need to worry about disrupting meetings with loud fan noise. It seems the cooling system and processor have been well designed to keep the E425 at a comfortable temperature and free of excessive noise.
ThinkPad Edge E425 Review Conclusion
The AMD Fusion powered ThinkPad E425 is priced right at under $500 for a decent configuration. The build quality is very good for such a priced laptop and it is overall a very practical purchase. The performance is good enough for any task a business user will perform and the design is a nice blend of business meets consumer, so you can use it at the office and look professional yet it’s still stylish and keeps up with some of the latest design trends on the consumer side. As far as the decision between the Intel powered ThinkPad E420 and AMD powered E425, it’s a tough call, but overall the Intel Core i3 gives slightly better performance over the comparable AMD Fusion processors, but you do get a slightly better graphics boost thanks to the integrated AMD 6470m. The E425 with the AMD Fusion APU also has better battery life compared to the E420. If you can afford to configure the ThinkPad Edge E420 with a Core i5-2410m processor you’re going to get much better performance than the E425 AMD A4-3300M Fusion equipped, so if you don’t mind paying for an upgrade to the Core i5 that’s my overall recommendation. If you cannot afford the upgrade and want to stay under $500, the Edge E425 could be a better bet, especially if battery life and graphics performance are important to you.
Great price for a business laptop of under $500
Good battery life, can squeeze up to 5 hours with conservative use
Good quality keyboard, get a pointing stick and touchpad
Decent overall system performance for the price
Screen is very average, some graininess and whites have a yellow hue
Limited processor options at current time, only basic AMD Fusion processors available
No USB 3.0 port
ThinkPad E425 Video Overview
A little bonus for those that prefer visuals to text, below is a quick video overview of the ThinkPad E425 that I did:
The Dell Vostro 3450 is a 14” screen laptop sold via Dell Business. The Vostro 3450 can be purchased in the $500 range and easily fits a small business budget. The 3450 is equipped with the latest Intel Core i5 technology and includes enticing new features such as the latest USB 3.0 port, HD web cam and a backlit keyboard. Because of these features the Vostro 3450 is a laptop that stands out in its price range. Same size and budget laptops that compete with the Vostro 3450 include the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420 and HP ProBook 4430s. The specs for the Vostro 3450 being reviewed are below:
Screen: 14.0 inch LED Display (1366 x 768), matte finish
Processor: Intel Core i5-2410M processor 2.30 GHz with Turbo Boost 2.0 up to 2.90 GHz Vostro
Memory: 4GB (1-DIMM, 1333MHZ, DDR3)
Graphics: Intel HD 3000
Storage: 320GB 7200RPM Hard Drive
Input: Backlit Keyboard with Gesture Touchpad, Finger print reader
OS: Microsoft Genuine Windows 7 Professional 64 bit Service Pack 1
Battery: 6-cell Lithium Ion
Optical Drive: 8X DVD+/-RW with double-layer DVD+/-R write capability
Color: Aberdeen Silver
Weight: 5.0 lbs
Dimensions: 13.5” x 9.68” x 1.20 – 1.31” (Width x Depth x Thickness)
Ports: Ethernet RJ-45, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 1 USB 2.0 port, 1 USB 2.0/eSATA combo port, Microphone jack, Headphone jack, 34mm ExpressCard slot, HDMI port, VGA Monitor port, 8-in-1 Media card reader
Warranty: 2-year Basic Support: Next Business Day Parts and Labor Onsite Response 1 Year Extended
This Dell Vostro 3450 configuration was purchased for $539 during a great sale on a “Quick Ship” model. It was such a good price and so many people went for it that it caused Dell to run out of inventory and it ended up taking 5-days to receive instead of the promised next day shipping that you’re supposed to get. It wasn’t a big deal for me as I knew the deal was good and Dell updated me each day with an email on the status and there was an option to cancel, no questions asked and no charges incurred. Frankly I was pretty impressed by the way Dell handled the delay, their automated email communication is far superior to the experience I’ve had with other laptop vendors.
Dell Vostro 3450 Build Quality
I knew going into the purchase that the Vostro 3450 would be a bit more beefy than other 14” laptops I’ve used, but I was still surprised by just how heavy and thick this laptop is in the flesh. I weighed the Vostro 3450 and it was almost exactly 5.0lbs, if you include the charger and cord as travel weight then you’re all the way up to 5.7lbs. That’s quite a bit heavier than other 14” laptops and encroaching the weight of 15” laptops. That said, the competing ThinkPad T420 is a quite heavy 4.8lbs so the Vostro 3450 is not leaps and bounds bigger than the rest. At the thinnest point the Vostro 3450 is 1.20-inches and goes all the way up to 1.31” at the back, with 1” of thickness being the standard for a svelte laptop this Vostro definitely felt relatively “fat”. The Vostro 3450 simply does not qualify as a thin and light 14” laptop, but that doesn’t prevent it for being good in other ways.
The good news is that the weight of the Vostro 3450 has a lot to do with the thick casing and metals used in the chassis, it makes for a very rugged overall feel. The lid is made of a sturdy aluminum and the hinges are thick and metallic. There isn’t an ounce of flex anywhere on the body that I could find. The underneath of the laptop was also very solid , this is important for protecting the laptop internals, people tend to clunk laptops down and if you don’t have good protection on the bottom that can lead to damage of internal components. Bottom line, the Vostro 3450 is probably the most durable feeling $500-range laptop I’ve used in some time, rugged and tank are two words that come to mind when you pick this thing up.
Dell Vostro 3450 Design
I was pleasantly surprised with the new design of the Vostro 3000 series. The silver lid is attractive with the black trim, if a silver lid is too boring you have the option of a bronze or red finish to add some design flare. Once opened the all black inside with chrome trim around the keyboard and touchpad are a nice design touch. The chiclet style keyboard with rounded keys is also unique and pretty cool looking, but the real design coup is the backlit keyboard. Not only is the backlit keyboard highly functional and great for working in darkened rooms, it also just looks darn cool!
Vostro 3450 Performance
The Vostro 3450 can be configured online via Dell.com, you can choose anywhere from a budget configuration starting at $499 all the way up to a super fast Intel Core i7-2620M 2.70GHz processor and AMD HD 6630M graphics that will cost over $1,000. The configuration for the Vostro 3450 under review is middle of the road and what I would recommend for most buyers as it’s affordable yet provides ample power for most business users needs. For the price I paid after coupon code of $539 the performance and specs on the Vostro 3450 are quite amazing. The latest Intel Core i5-2410m dual core processor (Sandy Bridge family) is a fast 2.30GHz and can automatically overclock to 2.90GHz when an extra speed boost is needed thanks to the Intel Turbo Boost technology that is built in.
Also included in this configuration is a fast 7200RPM 320GB hard drive, this is the fastest spinning hard drive you can buy, only an expensive SSD would be faster. Faster hard drive speeds help with bootup times. The 4GB of RAM included is the perfect amount to provide a smoothly performing laptop, if you wanted to upgrade to as much as 8GB of RAM you can easily access the memory on the bottom of the laptop.
The standard Intel 3000 integrated graphics are good enough for some light 3D gaming, serious gamers that want to play 3D games on high frame rate settings would need dedicated graphics, the AMD HD 6630M dedicated graphics card is available with more expensive configurations of the Vostro 3450 for this. However, most people buying the Vostro 3450 will want it for its productivity and affordability, not for gaming, so I don’t think it makes sense to spend a ton on an unnecessary graphics card as it won’t help with overall productivity performance. For a majority of business users, the Vostro 3450 configured with the Intel Core i5-2410m processor is going to provide more than enough power and will still not be outdated 4-years from now.
For those that like to see benchmark scores to get an idea of performance, I ran the Windows Experience Index and also PCMark Vantage:
– A 4.7 score on Windows Experience Index (scores range from 1.0 to 7.9, higher is better). The processor scores a high 6.9 while the graphics performance is the lowest score at 4.7.
– A 5,901 PCMark score, which is a very respectable score
Comparison to other 14.0” screen business laptops:
You’ll notice that the Vostro 3450 performance is in line with similarly equipped 14” screen laptops, other than the lower graphics performance on the Windows Experience Index, which is somewhat odd since the same graphics card is used in all three laptops. Whatever the case, you’ll have no problems multi-tasking and having several browser tabs open with the Vostro 3450’s processing power when equipped with an Intel Core i5. HD video playback will be excellent, many people mistakenly believe Flash video (which is what a majority of online streaming video sites use) needs a good graphics card to run smoothly, but in fact processing power is more important.
Dell Vostro 3450 Battery Life
Battery life is one of the most important considerations for any business user that has to travel and leave the confines of their cube. The Vostro 3450 comes with a default 6-cell sized Lithium-Ion battery that is user replaceable. I tested the battery life on the Vostro 3450 by setting the screen brightness to half, leaving wireless on and then doing some light work for a couple of hours and leaving a browser open set to refresh every 60 seconds. Under this scenario the Vostro 3450 battery lasted 4 hours and 45 minutes before going into hibernation due to a low battery. That’s a pretty respectable battery life for this sized laptop and I think enough for most people. You could get over 5 hours of battery life by turning the brightness down, wireless off and disabling the keyboard backlight however that’s not a very realistic usage scenario. Here’s how the Vostro 3450 stacks up in terms of battery life relative to other 14” laptops I’ve recently used:
Battery Life (with standard battery)
Dell Vostro 3450
4 hours and 45 minutes
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420
4 hours and 9 minutes
Lenovo ThinkPad T420
The battery seen here on the underside of the Vostro 3450 is easily removed from the bottom of the laptop by pulling the two locks on the battery outwards.
Dell Vostro 3450 Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on the Vostro 3450 is both attractive and very usable. I love the look of the island style rounded keys, even the orange accents on the function keys to indicate the media actions those buttons control is a nice touch. The backlit keyboard is the sugar and cherry on top in terms of making the looks and usability all that much better. The keys themselves have a nice travel distance and are pleasant to press, no annoying noises or clickety-clack. The keyboard is firm, there are no locations where you’ll find annoying keyboard flex. The backlighting is great for making keys more visible in darkened rooms, and even in lit rooms I find it helps. There is no ambient light sensor to automatically detect when the keyboard backlighting should turn on/off, it’s just always on unless you disable it.
While the keyboard is a dream, I’m less enamored by the touchpad. It’s a bit small and I found it to be flaky when it comes to using gestures. Even two finger scrolling, a very basic feature, was rather hit or miss to use. The mouse buttons are also middling, they make a hollow click noise when pressed and don’t have a good travel distance or overall feel.
Above is a picture of the Vostro 3450 keyboard with the backlight on, notice how it’s much easier to see the letters with the lighting turned on, the backlight feature is useful even in a lit room.
Dell Vostro 3450 Screen
The Vostro 3450 has a 14” screen with 1366 x 768 resolution, it has a matte finish. There are no options for upgrading the screen, for those who want a higher resolution you’d have to look to the Dell Latitude series. I found the screen to be above average for other 14” business laptops I’ve used. The screen is plenty bright enough on the highest setting, the display is crisp and the colors are great. As is typical for laptop screens, unless you have a more expensive IPS display, the vertical viewing angles are somewhat limited so you’re best off viewing things straight on with your eyes perpendicular to the screen. Below are some different viewing angles of the Vostro 3450 screen so you can get an idea of the range and what happens to colors from various angles.
Also worth a strong mention is the fact you get an integrated HD web cam at the top of the screen, the picture resolution this camera provides is above the standard web cam and works well for Skype which is pre-installed on the Vostro 3450.
Dell Vostro 3450 Heat and Noise
If you’re in a meeting room you want a laptop to be as quiet as possible so and prevent distraction from the business at hand. Unfortunately, the Vostro 3450 has a habit of kicking on its fans quite frequently, even under light usage, so unless there is other ambient noise in the room these fans will be heard when they spin up to try and cool the computer. The fan noise was definitely more noticeable with the Vostro 3450 than other laptops I’ve recently reviewed. On top of all that, the Vostro 3450 got a whole lot hotter than recently used laptops. It was uncomfortable to use this laptop on the knees for a length of time over 30 minutes as the entire underside got quite hot. The palm rest areas also got warm to the touch after 30 minutes of usage. On the whole, the amount of heat and noise the Vostro 3450 produced is quite disappointing and inferior to other laptops that do a better job of staying cool in a passive manner.
Dell Vostro 3450 Port Selection
One area the Vostro 3450 stands out is in the ports selection. The new USB 3.0 port technology which provides faster data transfer times to external peripherals (up to 10 times faster than USB 2.0) is provided in two ports. You also get one regular USB 2.0 port and then a USB / eSata combo port. The USB 3.0 ports are distinguished by the blue pin connectors inside. You also get an 8-in-1 media card reader slot to easily pop up media cards from your camera or smartphone. There’s an all important HDMI connector for output to a higher resolution display such as an LCD TV. If there’s not already enough ports on board then you have a 34mm ExpressCard slot for expansion needs. Below is a picture of each side of the laptop along with details of port locations:
Vostro 3450 left side: VGA Monitor out, HDMI port, USB 2.0 / eSata combo port, USB 2.0 port, 34mm ExpressCard slot, 8-in-1 media card reader
Vostro 3450 right side: optical drive, headphone out port, microphone in port, USB 3.0 port
Vostro 3450 front side: indicator lights (no ports)
Vostro 3450 back side: RJ-45 Ethernet LAN jack, USB 3.0 port, Kensington slot lock, power jack
The Vostro 3450 clearly provides one of the best port availability features for a laptop in its size and price range and will really appeal to those that like multiple options to interface with other devices and the latest port technology.
Dell Vostro 3450 Speakers
The Vostro 3450 speakers are located on the underside at the front of the laptop, they’re actually quite hard to see as they’re just two little slits emitting audio. As you’d expect based on the location and size, the audio isn’t exactly that great. While the mid to high range of audio is crisp and clear, making movie dialogue and video chat just fine, there is no bass so you won’t have a rich sound experience when it comes to music listening. This is a business laptop, so you just don’t expect much emphasis to be placed on the speakers. You can easily plug in a set of headphones on the right side for a much better audio experience.
Dell Vostro 3450 Review Conclusion and Summary
The Vostro 3450 certainly has a lot of things going for it and features that will appeal to small business buyers. The price is definitely right, for $500 something you get the latest Intel Core i5 processor technology, a fast 7200RPM hard drive, an ample 4GB of RAM and highly durable laptop. The screen is great, the look of the laptop is appealing and offers color customization and the backlit keyboard not only looks fantastic but is a pleasure to use. The battery life of close to 5 hours is also very good and an important factor for those on the go. If you like to have lots of ports and the latest port technology you’re well taken care of with the Vostro 3450. On the downside the Vostro 3450 is quite heavy and thick for its class, it could be more bulky that some students will want to carry. The amount of heat and noise the Vostro 3450 generates is also disappointing, given the weight and heat buildup it’s ironically not a great laptop to use in the lap. While I prefer the ThinkPad Edge E420 as an option for a 14” small business computer, the Dell Vostro 3450 is still a good choice and has unique features that will fit better with some users needs.
The Toshiba Satellite L755 is sold direct from Toshiba.com as the Satellite L750 or in various online and bricks and mortar retailers as the Toshiba Satellite 755 model. The Satellite L750 is a 15.6” screen desktop replacement style laptop that comes equipped with an Intel Core i3 or Core i5 processor. One of the biggest attractions of the Satellite L755 is definitely the budget pricing it offers, making it a good choice for students or others that just need a basic laptop for the home. The Satellite L755-S5271 model under review was purchased for only $499.99 at Amazon.com and comes nicely equipped with the following tech specs:
Processor: Intel Core i3-2310m (2.10 GHz)
Screen: 15.6” 1366 x 768 resolution LED backlit display
OS: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium
Memory: 4GB RAM
Storage: 640GB (5400RPM)
Optical Drive: DVD-Super Multi drive
Ports: 2 USB 2.0, 1-USB 2.0 with Sleep and Charge, HDMI, Media card reader, monitor out, headphone jack, microphone jack, Ethernet port
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 3000
Wireless: 802.11 a/b/g/n
Built-in web cam and microphone
Battery Life: 4 hours and 40 minutes
Dimensions: 14.96 x 9.84 x 1.48 inches (width x depth x thickness)
The Lenovo ThinkPad T420i 14-inch screen laptop is a budget version of the ThinkPad T420 business laptop. Don’t think that “budget” in any way equates to inferior though, the only difference between the T420i and the fully fledged T420 is the fact the T420i comes with a budget friendly Intel Core i3-2310m processor, which actually has more than adequate performance for most business software needs. Outside of that the T420i has the same high quality build, legendary ThinkPad keyboard, and port selection that you get with the T420. This review of the ThinkPad T420i will focus on the strength of the laptop as a work and not so much on performance and benchmark numbers, though rest assured with the inclusion of the latest Intel Sandy Bridge processor technology it’s no slouch in the performance department. Before getting started let’s go over the specs of the ThinkPad T420i under review which was configured and purchased from Lenovo.com:
Screen: 14.0” HD+ (1600 x 900) LED backlit display
Graphics: Intel Integrated HD Graphics 3000
Memory: 2GB PC3-10600 DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz
Storage: 250GB Hard Drive (5400 RPM)
Battery: 6-cell Lithium Ion
Wireless: Intel Wireless N1000 (802.11 b/g/n)
Ports: 2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 2.0/eSATA combo, 4-in-1 media card reader, Display Port, 34mm Express Card slot, Ethernet port (LAN)
Battery Life: 6 hours
Dimensions: 13.4-inches x 9.05-inches x 1.18 – 1.20 inches
Optical Drive: Multi Burner DVD/CD
ThinkPad T420i Buying Experience and Packaging
I purchased the ThinkPad T420i direct from Lenovo.com and because my configuration was basic, except for the screen which I upgraded to the HD+ 1600 x 900 resolution, the price was very good. The final price after a 10% off coupon available at the time was $782.10 before taxes. A pretty amazing price for such a high quality laptop, upgrades such as a faster processor would have quickly boosted the price, but frankly I don’t see why the average business user would need to spend more for a faster processor. The purchase experience from Lenovo.com was smooth, after placing the order I got an acknowledgement email and then several days later a notification the laptop had shipped. The email notifications were pretty bare and didn’t actually contain any mention of what I had bought, but you could click a link to see your order summary that did. The actual delivery and packaging was flawless, the box that arrived was nicely taped and not covered with so many packaging stickers you’d think it had just toured the world with multiple stops (I got that with a recent HP purchase). The ThinkPad T420 was snugly secured inside along with the 6-cell battery, power cord and getting started package, warranty guide and other documentation. Below you can see everything you get in the box and then the process of piecing the laptop together so it’s ready to use:
ThinkPad T420i Design
The cosmetic design of the ThinkPad hasn’t changed a whole lot since the line was introduced almost two decades ago – it’s black and boxy. That’s fine by me, black suits are timeless with their looks so why not a black laptop. Now, there have of course been changes in terms of dimensions and features to the T-series over time. The T420i is thinner than past T-series laptops thanks to new technologies that provide for ever smaller components and therefore less thickness necessary to house the “guts”. To the chagrin of many, the T420i is also much wider than past ThinkPads due to the advent of wide-HD resolution screens.
Internally there are a lot of changes of course, but externally the ThinkPad T420i looks the part of a professional business laptop and from 30-feet away you probably couldn’t distinguish it from the ThinkPad T23 made 10-years ago.
Out of the box you of course get the requisite Windows 7, Intel and Lenovo Experience stickers on the lower left side of the laptop. These are easily peeled off and once removed you have a clean all black finish on the left palm rest and then ThinkPad logo on the right palm rest. The metal hinges provide an appealing industrial and rugged look while also serving to give a durable feel to the lid opening and closing experience.
The blue Enter button is somewhat of an iconic feature found on most ThinkPads, it’s nice to have as it makes that often used key really stand out, though this is probably more useful for the hunt and peck typists who have to look to find keys.
The TouchPad is large and nicely textured, I found it easy to use but since I’m a trackpoint fan myself I used that method to push the cursor around the screen. For those unfamiliar, the red nub in the middle of the keyboard you see is the trackpoint stick and probably the most iconic design touch the ThinkPad has. It’s not a ThinkPad unless it’s black with a red nub in the middle! Notice the red stripes on the mouse buttons as well, again this is a nice design touch that makes finding the buttons a little easier than if they were all black.
The finish on the ThinkPad T420i case lid is nice and easy to grip, it’s a slightly rubberized feel that prevents slipping from the hands. No shiny and glossy lid here, it’s a 100% matte finish that helps to reduce the amount of greasy fingerprints that show up, though you will still get that to a degree. The build quality of the ThinkPad T420i is one of the most important features, it features a magnesium alloy internal chassis to hold everything together and protect the internal components. The outer case is made of a rigid plastic and the underside is made of a glass reinforced plastic to provide extra protection there. The keyboard is spill proof so that if you spill a liquid it is carried safely out of the bottom of the laptop. The hinges are very stiff and, as you can see by the pictures, thick and rugged so there is no worry of the screen getting wobbly and flopping closed. A latch on the lid keeps the lid securely closed. Overall this is one of the better built laptops for the under $1,000 price range and designed to stand the rigors of business travel, commuting and general abuse we dish out to our laptops in an 8 hour (or more) work day.
Lenovo ThinkPad T420i Weight and Size
A laptop intended for portability and ease of carrying needs to be easy to slip into a bag and not weigh you down too much. The ThinkPad T420i weighs in at 4.8lbs without the power adapter, when you add in the weight of the power adapter it’s about 5.5lbs total carry weight. Considering the battery life for the T420i comes close to almost six hours (see battery life section later on) you could forgo the adapter if it’s as much as a half-day meeting you’re off to, but if it’s travel then the adapter will need to go with you and so consider the total weight. Once you get over 5lbs you might feel the weight a bit, especially if you’re carrying a bunch of documents as well, for this reason travel warriors might consider the lighter and smaller ThinkPad X220.
The ThinkPad T420i is definitely not the thinnest laptop out there at about 1.20 inches thickness from front to back, but it’s still thin enough to easily slip into any backpack or messenger style bag. The width is quite wide at 13.4-inches, this is to accommodate the new and wider 16:9 aspect ratio screen (previously it was 16:10 on the T-series). Laptops now use the same screen technology and resolutions as the TV in your living room, so their overall shape is a much wider rectangle than they used to be.
Lenovo ThinkPad T420i Performance
When configuring the T420i I purposely went for the lowest end components to keep the price down and because I knew that for my needs, which doesn’t involve any gaming or use of other 3D applications, the basic selections would be just fine. The Intel Core i3-2310m processor this laptop is equipped with is the entry level processor for Intel’s latest Sandy Bridge processor family (the second generation of “Core i” processors). The Core i3-2310m clocks in at 2.0GHz of clock speed and is dual core. Within the T420i configuration you can get up to an Intel Core i5-2410m, step up to the T420 and you can get up to an Intel Core i7-2620m 2.70GHz processor as a $190 upgrade feature. I only configured 2GB of RAM in the T420 due to the fact Lenovo was overcharging for an upgrade to 4GB at the time, they wanted +$80. Instead I purchased another 2GB from NewEgg.com for around $25 to bring the total to 4GB. I went with the standard 250GB 5400RPM hard drive instead of splurging on the very expensive upgrade to an SSD (+$400). Having an SSD would certainly help performance but can only be justified for those with money to spare (burn?) and a penchant for wanting fast boot times and file loads that an SSD is so good at. I use a laptop for writing, web development, multimedia (YouTube, DVDs etc.), Skype and a few other utilities. My usage pattern is fairly standard and similar to many other business or home users, my most egregious use of resources is having several browser tabs open at the same time which can tend to eat up memory. The T420i as configured had no issues performing fast under all usage conditions. HD video on YouTube played back flawlessly and opening programs was always snappy. Even if you have some graphics intensive applications the integrated Intel 3000 HD graphics are quite capable, much better than Intel integrated graphics of a couple of years ago, you can get away with doing some light gaming using the Integrated graphics without problem. All that said, if you know your usage demands will be more than mine you have the ability to make some nice component upgrades and have a very fast T420 configuration – you’ll just have to fork over the money for upgrades!
For those that prefer some raw numbers, I ran a couple of benchmarks to get scores. Please note, these benchmarks were run with only 2GB of memory on board and the PCMark score in particular would likely jump to 4,000 or so with the benefit of an extra 2GB of RAM:
PCMark Vantage Version 22.214.171.124
Windows Experience Index
ThinkPad T420i Battery Life
Battery life is probably one of the most important features to any business user that has to actually go places with their laptop. If you’re like me and get hives watching the battery meter tick down to 0% as you sit stranded doing work far from any power outlet you can appreciate a long lasting battery. I’m happy to report that the T420 offers a very comfortable battery life of 5-hours under normal usage and screen at 2/3 brightness, and if you’re a road warrior that doesn’t mind dimming the screen way down and doing work then you can easily top 6-hours. I pulled the plug and dimmed the brightness to level 5 of 15, left wireless on and let the computer idle and after 6 hours and 2 minutes it went into hibernation when battery life was worn down to 5%. If five hours of sustained battery isn’t enough for you, there’s a couple of options to get longer battery life. You can upgrade to a larger 9-cell battery that should give you around 7.5 hours of battery life, or remove the optical drive and use a 3-cell bay battery in place of it for another couple of hours of battery life.
Lenovo ThinkPad T420i Keyboard
The legendary keyboard is the main reason a lot of people will only buy a ThinkPad laptop. The ThinkPad T420i keyboard is of course the same as it ever was on former ThinkPads, each key feels individual with just the right amount of travel and feedback. The texture of the keys is great, the finish is matte and prevents fingers from slipping and hides dirt well. The keyboard is very firm and no sag can be found. Honestly, everything is pretty much perfect about the keyboard, my only wish is that there were an option for a backlit keyboard as I really love the ability to easily read key lettering in dark rooms. The included “ThinkLight”, a light in the top of the lid that can be turned on to illuminate the keyboard, but does not do an adequate job of illuminating the entire keyboard area.
Lenovo ThinkPad T420i TouchPad and TrackPoint
You have two options for moving the cursor around the screen built into the T420i, either touchpad or trackpoint. I favor the trackpoint as it prevents the need of having to lift your hands from the keyboard to move the cursor to another location. The trackpoint has a red rubber cover on it for easy grip and the sensitivity can be adjusted using built-in software. For those more used to a touchpad you will find the one included on the T420 is easy to use due to its textured surface and decent size. It’s not as good as say the huge Apple MacBook Pro touchpad, but that uses an integrated mouse button approach while Lenovo always favors having obvious and dedicated buttons, which I prefer.
Lenovo ThinkPad T420 Screen
One nice thing about the ThinkPad T420 is that you have a couple of screen resolution options. I really like being able to fit as much on my screen as I can by having a high-resolution so I went for the 1600 x 900 upgrade instead of the 1366 x 768 standard resolution, it means smaller text and icons but my eyes are still young enough to tolerate that. So the high resolution is appreciated, but outside of that the screen itself is fairly standard in the world of laptops. The brightness is very good, it’s more than bright enough at the highest setting to use in any type of indoor setting. It is not bright enough to use outdoors in the sun, you need a specialized (and expensive) laptop to do that. If you look at the screen straight on the colors are vivid and true, but adjusting the vertical angle of the screen away from perpendicular to your eyes will mean the colors start to invert and simply not look right. A demonstration of the viewing angles can be seen in the below pictures.
ThinkPad T420 default wallpaper
Viewing straight on
Screen tilted back view
Screen tilted forward view
Overall what you see above with the cute Koala bear getting distorted at different angles is typical of any laptop that does not have an IPS screen. The ThinkPad X220 actually offers an IPS screen if you really dig being able to view a screen from any angle and seeing the same colors. The Apple iPad is another example of a consumer device (that’s invading many businesses) that has an IPS screen.
Lenovo ThinkPad T420i ports
The number of ports offered on the T420i is excellent, the only thing missing is an HDMI port, instead you get a DisplayPort as that’s more standard in business devices than the more consumer oriented HDMI port. Here’s a run down of the ports you get and where they are located:
ThinkPad T420i left side: VGA monitor out port, Gigabit Ethernet LAN port, DisplayPort, USB 2.0 port
ThinkPad T420i right side: headphone/microphone port, ExpressCard 34mm slot, 4-in-1 media card reader, USB 2.0/eSata combo port
ThinkPad T420i back: IEEE-1394 (FireWire) port, USB 2.0 port always-on powered port (vertically aligned), power jack
ThinkPad T420i front side: No ports here, just the screen latch
Some people may also be disappointed not to have the latest USB 3.0 included, but to be honest, since you have eSata as a way to quickly move data to external devices the need for USB 3.0 is reduced. I’m sure we’ll see USB 3.0 in the ThinkPad T430, or whatever they call the succeeding laptop to the T420.
ThinkPad T420i Speakers and Audio
The speakers for the T420i are located on either side of the keyboard. They serve just fine for watching DVD movies and streaming audio, though as you’d expect the bass isn’t all that great. There’s a headphone jack on the right side toward the front and I recommend plugging in a set of decent headphones to get the best audio experience. If you travel by air you probably already have a pair of noise cancelling headphones that can be put to good use here.
Lenovo ThinkPad T420i Conclusion
The ThinkPad T420i is a great option for any business user or simply someone looking for a high quality laptop. It has the battery life, usability and build quality it takes to simply get work done. It’s great to be able to get a budget level version of the T420 that can fit the needs of many and only set your back around $800. For the same price as a much more expensive laptop you still get the same build and design quality. I like the fact the option for a higher resolution screen is present, for those of us that find we can do work more efficiently using two windows open at once on the screen you will appreciate the 1600 x 900 resolution screen. Overall a thumbs up on buying the T420 that is a worthy successor to the previous ThinkPad T410 and improves on an already great line of laptops.
Where to Buy:The ThinkPad T420 and T420i can be configured and purchased at Lenovo.com:
Few middle-of-the-road priced laptops on the market today sit so squarely in the mid-range of features, function, and form quite like the Gateway NV55S05U. If you plotted the performance and quality of the 15-inch Macbook Pro and the Toshiba Satellite on opposite points of a graph then the performance and quality of the NV55 would be at the midpoint. Relative to the Gateway legacy that’s saying a lot. Relative to the competition that isn’t saying very much. But relative to the $629.99 MSRP, is it worth it?
The plastic lid of the NV55 is at first-glance a sterilizing white, then upon closer inspection one notices a slightly darker geometric pattern spread across the otherwise crystal clean top of the laptop. It’s certainly an original style relative to recent models and especially the NV55’s mostly dark-colored competitors, but as such it isn’t for everyone. The design just about disqualifies the NV55 for businesspeople or those who like to avoid flare when it comes to the look of their electronics. With that said I doubt Gateway was marketing the NV55 to these groups anyway.
The outer body of the laptop is coal-black hardened plastic that feels a bit sturdier than the chassis of most laptops in the NV55’s weight range. That’s pretty good considering this beast weighs a whopping 5.6 lbs. The left side is where you’ll find the NV55’s HDMI plug-in, headphone jack, VGA slot, Ethernet jack, extra USB port and charger connector. The right features the other two USB 2.0 ports, lock-slot, and DVD player/burner. The 4-1 card reader is located at the front of the body.
The approaching-six pounds of hardware should mean that the 1.3 inches of closed-width comes as no surprise. The outside quality and styling of the NV55 is appropriate for its cost, however it would have been nice to see some options for the lid design. I feel the pattern and color, however cool, probably just doesn’t fly with enough tastes. Maybe Gateway was marketing towards a particular individual, but eliminating other markets in the process doesn’t make much sense.
The bleach-bright white of the exterior lid carries on into the upper portion of the interior chassis, only it no longer includes the signature geometric pattern. The opened NV55 is therefore quite an experience on the eyes when in a brightly-lit room. Without a Macbook side-by-side it was tough to judge, but the NV55 seems a few shades brighter white than Apple’s signature hue.
The white is little too popping when it comes to the matte keyboard. Anyone who has to hunt-and-peck – and because the function keys have changed around a little on the NV55 everyone will at least once – is going to have to squint. Otherwise the keys are big and sturdy; when typed they firmly depress downward into the island case without any grinding against the edges.
The white color comes to a halt a little more than a centimeter south of the keyboard, turning into a metallic gray palm rest with geometric shapes similar to those on the lid. Within the gray pattern lies the touchpad, on which the pattern carries on without interruption.
The NV55’s Elan touchpad is comically dinky. That’s because it’s small to begin with, but only looks smaller when compared to the awesome amount of real estate located to the right of it on the rest of palm rest. The maneuverability of the cursor almost makes up for the 3.4×1.8-sized touchpad if it weren’t for the fact that your right palm gets easily tired hanging over the edge of the laptop when using it. You probably want to use a mouse as much as possible with the NV55 unless you’re a south paw.
The Gateway NV55S05U stores a surprising amount of strength in areas you wouldn’t normally expect such a moderately priced laptop to function ideally. Despite the inclusion of a consumer-base AMD processor when an Intel core i3 would have been better, the 6GB of RAM (8 max) and 640GB of memory in the NV55 makes task management a far quicker ordeal than in competing models. Running a word processor with music in the background and multiple tabs going at once is no problem. Video rendering and 3D MMO gaming simultaneously will probably freeze the system. That’s about what you should expect from the NV55.
The biggest surprise comes in the form of super-grade AMD HD Radeon video graphics. The step up from Intel is a little shocking considering that the NV55 is otherwise not the occasional gamer’s dream laptop. The resulting display is phenomenal especially when watching streaming HD television with a good Internet connection. It even enables the user to play high-end 3D graphic games with minimal loss in picture quality. With that said, viewing range is weak, limited to probably only two individuals pressing their inner shoulders against each other.
The audio, which is brought by-way of a standard line speaker near the hinges, is nothing to write home about. When watching late night talk show television the host’s voice couldn’t be heard unless the volume was brought to a level where the audience reactions were obnoxiously loud and prickly on the ears. The need for headphones combined with the minimal viewing area means the NV55 video watching experience is certainly meant to only be a one-person affair.
The price you pay for all the power that comes with the NV55S05U is that it barely sucks 4 1/2 hours of life from the battery at best. That’s with a moderate dose of video play and relentless web browsing. DVD rips and gaming will bring the life down to under four hours. There are similarly priced laptops with worse battery life and not many that perform as well for longer, so if you dig the punch in this otherwise unassuming laptop four hours isn’t so bad.
Ideal for no one in particular, the Gateway NV55S05U would have benefited from a variety of styles instead of a love-it-or-hate-it white-and-tan lid pattern. With that said those who appreciate the power of the NV55 relative to the price probably won’t care about the way the lid looks. They’ll be happy to see advanced 3D games perform surprisingly well on a seemingly sub-par gaming system. They’ll enjoy the massive amount of storage space and the fast speeds between one task and the next. There might be disappointment in the inability to show off the high-end Radeon displays to more than one person at a time, but people can wait their turn.
The Gateway NV55S05U suits those who are interested in netting the video capabilities of superior laptop models without the need for long-lasting battery life. The style is specific yet attractive to even your more conservative laptop shopper. It’s a solid pick for those who want basic portable computing primed with visual perks.
Releasing hardware meant to rival a specific Apple product is no simple task. It took Microsoft years to come up with a worthy opponent for the iPod in the Zune and by the time they did the Mp3 player had already become ancient history. Here we have Samsung releasing the 13-inch Series 9 meant to compete against the comparable Macbook Air. The Air is no stranger to competition, seeing the Dell Adamo series rise and fall without a wink of worry. At $1649 does the Series 9 stand up to the product it was bred to face? Read on to find out…
For less than $1000.00 the Toshiba Portege R835-P56X packs nearly the same amount of processing punch as higher-end 13 inch models such as the Samsung Series 9 and Macbook Air. Yet with a $799.99 MSRP does it improve upon it’s R700 predecessor without straying too far from the efficiency of the closely-priced 13.3. inch Toshiba Satellite T235? More importantly does it justify that $100+ discrepancy between it and similarly packed lower-end models? While the Portege appears primed for a picture perfect single-user experience, the price may or may not be as fitting for a single-user’s wallet depending on what particular experience is expected.
Google wants you on the web as much as possible. They want you on the web so bad they’ve created the Chrome operating system, a completely web-reliant client experience built around the Chrome browser anyone with a web-connection can install and use for free. But an operating system is no good without the hardware to house it. Google wants you on the web so bad they’ve struck a deal with Samsung and Acer to release the Chromebook, the former’s Series 5 3G being the specific model being reviewed. It’s essentially a netbook taken to the ultimate level of bare necessity, serving as a portable conduit for users to experience a Google-centric Internet and a modest spectrum of basic computing needs met through cloud-based Google applications. What that means when staring at a 500 dollar price tag is what follows.
The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420 is a new 14” screen laptop that comes equipped with the latest 2nd generation Intel Core i3 and i5 processors. The ThinkPad Edge E420 is very competitively priced starting at $549 and is targeted at small business buyers. While the ThinkPad T420 I reviewed is a higher end and more expensive 14” screen laptop from Lenovo, the Edge E420 is a close cousin and has many of the same configuration options. The Edge E420 differs most from the T420 in terms of design and build. We’ll cover those differences in this review and evaluate whether the E420 makes a good option for your business needs.
Before commencing with the review, here are the full specs for the E420 as purchased for review:
The Edge E420 was ordered direct from Lenovo.com during a sale event, the price was $539.10 before any taxes and shipping was free. The E420 arrived 10-days after the order was placed online, I was impressed with the fulfillment time for a custom configured laptop with standard free shipping. Below is a picture of the ThinkPad E420 packaging it arrived in and then the unboxing:
ThinkPad Edge E420 Design and Build
The ThinkPad Edge E420 tries to be a little different from the ThinkPad T420 design wise, but still maintains enough of the same characteristics to make it unmistakably a ThinkPad. The first difference you’ll notice are the curved edges at the front as the Edge tries to gain a bit of design flair over the standard ThinkPad look. Also unique is that the “i” on ThinkPad logo lights up in red, an interesting design touch. Upon opening the lid you’ll notice the chiclet keyboard, definitely a non-standard ThinkPad keyboard design and one that’s more common among consumer laptops these days. It’s certainly a more modern look. Outside of that the Edge E420 is still all black and uses the same logos as other ThinkPad’s, it has the red pointing stick and red and blue striped mouse buttons common to all ThinkPad’s. Bottom line, the E420 won’t be mistaken for a Lenovo IdeaPad laptop and has a professional and classy look but with a bit of an “edge”.
The lid for the Edge E420 has a rubberized texture top to make for easy grip when carrying and a silver plastic trim along the sides of the lid. When opening the lid there is no latch mechanism to use like you get on other ThinkPad’s, you just flip it open. A nice touch is that when closing the lid it features a soft close hinge. The hinges themselves are very strong, there is no screen wobble at all and they hold the screen firmly down when closed.
The ThinkPad Edge E420 is about average in weight for a 14” laptop at 4.6 pounds (4 lbs and 10 ounces), the Edge E420s (s = slim/skinny/svelte) weighs a half pound lighter at 4.1lbs. The E420 is actually lighter than the 4.8lb weighted ThinkPad T420, this is likely because the T420 uses more metal in the design which thereby makes it more rugged, but at the same time heavier. The E420 can’t be called a thin and light computer, that’s reserved for laptops around 4lbs or lighter, but it’s still portable and won’t weigh down your bag excessively when travelling.
ThinkPad Edge E420 Screen
The 14.0” 1366 x 768 Edge E420 screen is definitely not going to provide any wow factor, it’s very average. Average level brightness, average viewing angles, average screen resolution and average color depth. This is what you expect in this price range laptop. The good thing is that the screen is matte instead of glossy, I personally find glossy screens a strain on the eyes after several hours of viewing. The Edge E420s has an infinity screen that is a somewhat glossy finish, so if you really hate screen reflection the cheaper Edge E420 might actually be preferable for you.
Some different angle pictures of the ThinkPad Edge E420 screen:
The Edge E420 has no screen upgrade options, you can choose whether to have a built-in camera at the top of the screen (I did not), but that of course will not affect screen quality. So if you’re a person that loves higher resolution screens or more expensive IPS technology screens you’ll have to up your budget and look at something like the ThinkPad X220 or Dell Precision M4600.
ThinkPad Edge E420 Performance
The performance on the ThinkPad Edge E420 is quite amazing for the price. Considering you can pay close to $500 and get the latest Intel Core i5 2nd generation processor, a fast 7200RPM spinning hard drive (the fastest hard drive you can buy, only SSD is faster) and ample 4GB of RAM you’ll be more than set for blazing through your everyday school computing tasks. The Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics will even be good enough to do some gaming, although serious gamers playing the latest 3D based games would need a faster dedicated graphics card not available in the Edge E420. For 90% of business users though, this laptop is going to provide more than enough power and not be outdated 4-years from now since you’re getting the latest processing technology inside. For those that like to see benchmark scores for an idea of performance, I ran the Windows Experience Index and also PCMark Vantage to give an overall idea:
– A 5.9 score on Windows Experience Index (scores range from 1.0 to 7.9, higher is better). Each component scores quite impressively, there is no Achilles heel for performance on the E420.
– A 6,056 PCMark score, a very good score for this class of laptpop, a comparison chart sourced from laptopmag.com is here for comparison scores to what other laptops in this class range got. It performed above the category average of 5,457.
You’ll have zero problems multi-tasking and having several browser tabs open with the E420 processing power when equipped with an Intel Core i5. HD video playback will be excellent, many people mistakenly believe Flash video (which is what a majority of online streaming video sites use) needs a good graphics card to run smoothly, but in fact processing power is more important.
Edge E420 Keyboard and Touchpad
The ThinkPad Edge E420 keyboard uses a chiclet style keyboard, which is quite popular for many laptops today. This is one main difference between the regular ThinkPad and the Edge line, the enterprise targeted ThinkPad’s stick with a trusted and true keyboard design. To be honest, I prefer the regular style ThinkPad keyboard, from time to time I do find myself catching a finger under a key. Since keys have more space and clearance under them with this design I have experienced catching my finger under the “J” key as I move from having pushed the “M” key and move up to pushing the “Y” key. Take a look at the keyboard layout and you might imagine how this happens, it’s a little hard to put in words. Other than that minor complaint that is related to chiclet keyboards in general, this keyboard is very good. It feels much like a regular ThinkPad keyboard — each key has a nice travel distance and a very solid stroke, there is no flex or “clickety-clack” going on at all. The keyboard allows you to move your fingers fast and the noise is minimal even if you’re a key punishing typist like myself. The PgUp and PgDn keys are ridiculously small and poorly located, there’s no way you’ll be able to use them in a touch type fashion. The top row of function keys are also shrunken to fit the keyboard, this isn’t a big deal but if you’re clumsy or have big paws then it could be irritating to have to peck at such small buttons to adjust things such as volume and screen brightness.
The touchpad on the E420 is very generously sized, this is nice for moving the cursor around the screen if you prefer the touchpad over the pointing stick. Personally I prefer the red pointing stick Lenovo puts in the middle of the keyboard, it’s nice to have this feature on a laptop that cost just over $500 – generally it’s reserved for expensive $1,000+ business laptops. Either way, having multiple methods of mouse input means you can choose which works best for you and that’s a plus. The touchpad and mouse buttons overall work great, the touchpad offers scrolling and zooming gestures. The only minor knock I can give is that the two mouse buttons below the touchpad are rather chintzy – use the red striped buttons above the touchpad and you’re set as they’re excellent and easy to reach while touch typing.
ThinkPad E420 Battery Life
You can configure the Edge E420 with either a 6-cell or 9-cell battery, I went with the 6-cell. It’s nice to know you can upgrade the battery or buy a replacement down the road if you want, the Edge E420s has a sealed battery like the MacBook Pro so you cannot upgrade or easily replace the battery. Using a battery rundown test in which I opened a browser window and set the browser to refresh every 60 seconds, set the screen brightness to an above medium setting (7/12), left wi-fi on and set the power usage to “Maximum Battery Life” in the software settings I got 4 hours and 9 minutes of battery life. This is a decent amount of battery life, in a more demanding scenario in which screen brightness is cranked all the way up and you’re downloading a lot of files or watching video you’ll probably end up with closer to just over 3 hours of battery life. If you get the 9-cell battery you can assume you’d get around 6-hours of battery life.
ThinkPad E420 Input and Output Ports
The input and output ports you get on a laptop is of course an important aspect. The E420 has a generous array of ports that will fulfill most user needs. We’ll take a tour around the E420 and detail what port is located where:
On the left side you get a VGA monitor out port, 3 USB 2.0 ports one of which is a combo eSata / USB 2.0 port, an HDMI port, headphone/microphone combo port and media card reader slot.
On the back of the laptop you just get an Ethernet port, it is Gigabit enabled
On the right side you get a 34mm ExpressCard slot for expansion, 1 USB 2.0 port that is powered so you can charge devices such as a cell phone via USB even when the laptop is turned off. The powerjack is on the back right side. Notice the optical drive is here on the right side too.
There are no ports located on the front of the Edge E420, the forward facing speakers are located here
The only thing I can think that some people might miss is having a USB 3.0 port as that’s the latest and greatest in USB technology. However, having an eSata port will allow for fast data transfer with external storage devices and the HDMI port will give you fast video output transfer so for most this port selection will suffice.
ThinkPad Edge E420 Heat & Noise
The Edge E420 uses a large vent on the back left side and since this isn’t an extremely thin laptop there’s plenty of ventilation for the components inside which results in an overall cool running laptop and legs that remain burn free. The fan rarely came on during normal everyday usage, so you won’t have problems with being that person in the meeting with a laptop that distracts everyone due to its noise.
ThinkPad Edge E420 Review Conclusion
If you’re on a budget, as many small business users are, then the Edge E420 with its quality build and latest Intel processor technology is a great buy in the mid $500 range. The E420 is a practical laptop for those on a budget but who still want something that’s going to last and won’t be outdated technology wise in two years. Even though it’s a little more modern with its design than the classic ThinkPad, it’s still probably not going to turn heads. If you want something more flashy looking you’ll likely need to look at a consumer and not business targeted laptop, but then you lose the advantage you get with build quality and support offered by business class laptops. It’s really up to the individual as to what’s more important to you in a laptop, but if you’re a practically minded person looking to get the most for your money and don’t need something terribly flashy then the ThinkPad Edge E420 should be on your short list of laptops to consider for your work needs.