Apple MacBook Air Vs. Lenovo ThinkPad X230 Comparison Video

First of all let me state we’re not here to declare a winner or do quite as in depth a writeup as the ThinkPad X220 and Apple MacBook Air comparison that was done last year by Zaz.  However, having both the new ThinkPad X230 and 2012 MacBook Air on hand we couldn’t resist shooting some video to compare these two extremely popular ultraportables.  The video has been posted to YouTube and embedded below or view the full screen version by visiting the ThinkPad X230 Vs. MacBook Air comparison on YouTube.

Lenovo ThinkPad X230 and Apple MacBook Air (2012) Comparison

For those that aren’t into watching 15 minute video on the web or find that work blocks YouTube, I’ll offer a text summary of what the pros and cons are for each laptop in the comparison.

Design and Build

Really, do you have to ask which one looks better of these two here?  Ask yourself which of these laptops a fashion designer would rather have their model carrying down a catwalk  as an accoutrement to an outfit and the answer is clear.  The MacBook Air is not only iconic and recognized by all as a great piece of technology, but it also makes a fashion statement and has status associated with it that most anyone recognizes.  The downside to that would be thieves love it, leave a MacBook Air alone on a coffee shop table in a big city and it’ll be gone in a New York minute (that’s about 10 seconds).  The ThinkPad X230 meanwhile is black, boxy and unassuming.  It does look business professional, so looks right at home in the boardroom.  And not to completely downplay the ThinkPad brand, people know it well and understand it represents a solid machine well liked by serious people that are discerning with their work and choice of work tools.

macbook air and x230 design comparison

Build quality is a little more hard to declare a winner.  Both are very solidly built.  The X230 uses an internal magnesium roll cage and on the outside the highly durable ABS plastic.  The MacBook Air meanwhile is built using an aluminum unibody.  Neither laptop flexes and is built to last the long haul.  I mention in the video I get concerned wearing my watch when typing on the MacBook Air because the metal clasp scratches against the keyboard and makes a racket, so I take it off for fear of scratching the body.  An old MacBook Pro I have also has significant scratches on the lid, I did not take care of it at all, so bottom line using a sleeve is very wise if you’re carrying the MacBook Air around a bunch.

Weight and Thickness

A picture says a thousand words:

ThinkPad X230 and MacBook Air back to back

That’s the ThinkPad X230 with a 6-cell battery back to back with the MacBook Air.  You could probably stack two MacBook Airs on top of each other and still have them be thinner than the X230.  If you crave thinness in a laptop, the MacBook Air is obviously the winner in that department.  In terms of weight, the MacBook Air weighed in at just under 3lbs while the ThinkPad X230 with a 6-cell battery was around 3.45lbs while the MacBook Air was 2.94lbs, so the Air is about .5lbs lighter while still having a larger 13” screen compared to the 12.5” screen on the X230.

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Screen

The screen on the MacBook Air appears brighter than the X230, which may be somewhat attributed to the glossy finish as that tends to trick the eye into believing the screen is brighter – it makes colors pop.  Meanwhile the ThinkPad X230 has a matte finish and IPS technology.  This means that you don’t have to deal with annoying reflections off the screen and the viewing angles are excellent.  Where the MacBook Air wins is in the resolution department, it has a 1440 x 900 resolution screen compared to the 1366 x 768 on the X230, so you can see more stuff on the MacBook Air’s screen.

MacBook Air and ThinkPad X230 side by side

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard on both models are chiclet style, I’m not sure there’s any new laptop that isn’t these days.  Both keyboards are nice, but the legendary ThinkPad keyboard feels better to type on.  The MacBook air is somewhat limited by its thinness, it can’t offer the same amount of key travel as there’s not enough room.  The X230 offers a pointing stick, the MacBook Air does not.  However, the touchpad on the MacBook Air is around twice the size as what you get on the X230 and works way better.  If you’re a pointing stick type of person, you’ll prefer the X230, if you’re a touchpad fan then the MacBook Air will please you.

Ports

The X230 has more room for ports and has to keep legacy ports around for the enterprise buyers so it easily wins in the port selection category.  Here’s what you get on each laptop.

Left side MacBook Air 13”: Power jack (magsafe), USB 3.0, headphone port

X230 left side: two USB 3.0, VGA monitor out, Mini DisplayPort, ExpressCard 34mm

MacBook Air and X230 ports

MacBook Air right side: SD card slot, USB 3.0, ThunderBolt

X230 right side: 3-in-1 media card reader, powered USB 2.0 port, Ethernet LAN, dual headphone/microphone port

MacBook Air and X230 ports

The X230 has a power jack on the back that is not pictured here.

Ease of Upgrades

Apple has never claimed the MacBook Air is easy to upgrade, quite clearly it is not, it has a unibody design and is not made to be opened up.  You can’t upgrade the battery, RAM, hard drive or anything on your own.  It has to go back to an Apple retail store or shipped to them for any upgrades, and yes that includes battery replacement.  The X230 meanwhile is targeted at enterprise buyers that like to know they can fiddle with and upgrade machines down the road.  The battery offers a 4-cell, 6-cell, 9-cell and slice option.  The X230 also offers a docking station.  If you really care about future upgrade potential, the X230 will appeal.  You have to configure the MacBook Air just how you want it at the time of purchase.

Battery Life

One thing I didn’t touch upon in the video was battery life.  The X230 with the 6-cell battery should get around 6 hours under normal usage, that includes wireless on, screen brightness at half and watching a couple of videos.  The MacBook Air should get around 7 hours with wireless on and screen brightness set to half.  You can of course add a slice battery to the X230 or upgrade to a 9-cell to get longer battery life.

Conclusion

If you watched the video, my conclusion here is the same as there.  There is no winner, both are great laptops and you have to decide what features are important to you and your usage patterns.  Of course the Windows Vs. Mac OS debate is not even touched upon, that’s a whole different debate and too vast to get into for this comparison of machines.  You’ll need to either know or research what OS might fit your needs or be better for your usage.  At the end of the day you can’t go too far wrong with either laptop.  They’re both well built, come from great companies and are premium machines.  If you have the money, buy both!

Where to Buy

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Lenovo ThinkPad W530 Review

Just like last calendar year, Lenovo is ahead of Dell and HP in releasing a workstation equipped with the latest and greatest Intel Core processors and nVidia Kepler professional graphics. Starting at $1,299 on Lenovo.com (which is the same starting price as the W520 when it was introduced), the Lenovo Thinkpad W530 can be configured with processors ranging from the Intel Core i5-3320M to i7-3610QM to the top-end i7-3290XM, supports up to 32GB RAM and 270 nit 95% color gamut FHD display for demanding business customers. The W530 is like the W520 in many ways as a professional workstation laptop.

Lenovo ThinkPad W530

The Thinkpad W530 under review comes with the following specs:

  • Processor: Intel Core i7-3520M (2.9GHz, TurboBoost to 3.6GHz, 4MB L3 cache)
  • Graphics: nVidia Quadro K1000M
  • Memory: 8GB RAM DDR3-1600MHz
  • Display: 15.6” 1600 x 900 resolution, matte finish
  • OS: Windows 7 Professional
  • Storage: 500GB 7200RPM
  • Battery: 6-cell Li-Ion, 57Whr
  • Wireless: Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205
  • Ports: Gigabit Ethernet, VGA, mini-DisplayPort, powered USB 2.0, USB 2.0, USB 3.0 (x2), combination headphone/microphone jack, ExpressCard slot (34mm), SDHC reader, 1394
  • Weight: 5.95lbs (2.7kg)

Keyboard

Let’s just start off with the most obvious change. The new keyboard is the most radical change in the ThinkPad line since…forever, really. Up until now, the ThinkPad series has had the same keyboard style since introduction, with minor changes here and there. Replacing the traditional 7-row ThinkPad keyboard is the island-style 6-row keyboard, found on the whole range of ThinkPad’s, from the 12” X230 all the way up to this 15.6” workstation.  Even with the changes, the surface of each key has stayed the same during the transition (1.5cm by 1.5cm for the alphanumeric keys) as well as the spacing between each key (roughly 0.4cm). Other keys, such as Caps Lock, Enter, Shift, Backspace, etc., have stayed the same size as well, though the Caps Lock key no longer has an indicator light. Notable differences include shape changes in the Esc key, Delete key, moving the power button from top-center to top-right, and the lack of a dedicated Menu key.  However, the most important changes in key layout are as follows:

  1. The layout of the “special keys” (Delete, Home, End, PgUp and PgDn) has been dramatically rearranged on the new keyboard
  2. The dedicated Forward/Back buttons are now gone.  These buttons used to be located to the right/left of the Up Arrow key and are now replaced with the PgUp/PgDn keys
  3. The Print Screen button is now located where the Menu button should be.
  4. The Scroll Lock and Pause buttons have disappeared, though they have been relegated to near-oblivion in today’s world

And just for change’s sake (as far as I know), Lenovo decided to paint the Enter key black instead of the traditional ThinkPad blue and the Windows key is bigger on the W530 than the W520 (1.5cm squared vs. 1cm squared).

ThinkPad W530 keyboard

To those coming from an older ThinkPad, the newer keyboards are either something to love or something to hate. The older keyboard in previous generations were renowned for their quality and keyboard feel (certainly, they were one of the best laptop keyboard on the market) and is so popular that it has an almost religious following among ThinkPad users. On the flip side, the newer keyboard has a lot to prove to the ThinkPad community. While the common-used alphanumeric keys have the same area and spacing as the old keyboard and the typing quality on it is above average (compared to other island-style keyboards), Lenovo’s choice to move and kill off some special function keys fly in the face of what most ThinkPad users would want. I love using the Forward/Back buttons while browsing the internet and using Windows Explorer, for example, but with the current and likely future ThinkPad’s killing those buttons off, I will miss being able to navigate with just my right pinkie. The choice to move the Print Screen button to the bottom of the keyboard just baffles me, period. It would have been nice if Lenovo had kept the 7-row layout while designing the new keyboard and if the keys had stayed in pretty much the same positions during the change (for example, “special keys” staying in the top-right, bringing back the Forward/Back buttons), I wouldn’t make too much fuss over the new style even though I personally prefer traditional keyboards. At least the Fn button stays in the bottom-left corner, an odd quirk that’s been featured on ThinkPad’s for as long as I can remember.

Build and Design

ThinkPad W530 lid

Just like the W520 before it, the newer W530 is a tough machine, built well and meant to last. The outside casing of the laptop is made using ABS plastic, while the inside contains an internal rollcage to protect internal electronics in case of a drop or other accident. It also makes the laptop all but impossible to flex (there’s maybe a millimeter or two of flex when twisting the display). There is a keyboard draining system that will protect the laptop in the event of a small liquid spill onto the keyboard as well. Sturdy, metal hinges attach the display to the body of the W530, and they are firm enough to hold any angle they are set up despite any typical vibrations or other movements, and if the W520 is any indicator, they will stay firm for years to come.

W530 hinges

As I’ve mentioned in my Thinkpad W520 review, Lenovo’s business laptops are certainly capable of withstanding a few drops onto the floor. Even with repeated drops, having the power brick fall onto the palm rest from several feet above, and traveling with the notebook unprotected in a backpack for just over a year, I’m sure that the W530 will be able to survive prolonged abuse for years to come.

One thing to note about the W530 (and workstation laptops in general) is the power brick. The version with the K1000M GPU comes with the 135W power adaptor and it’s just slightly smaller and lighter than an actual brick of the clay variety, coming in at 6in by 2.5in by 1.4in and 1.83lbs. Those considering buying a W530 with the K2000M will receive the 170W power adaptor (like my W520), which measures 6.5in by 3in by 1.4in and actually weighs less (1.7lbs) oddly enough.

power bricks

Performance Benchmarks

The performance of the ThinkPad W530 of course depends greatly on how you configure it, as noted earlier there’s a wide variation of options available, our configuration is middle of the road so the benchmarks can at least be looked at as an average of the low-end and high-end.

PCMark Vantage Benchmark Results – Higher scores indicate better performance

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Laptop PCMark Vantage Score
Lenovo ThinkPad W530 – Intel Core i7-3520M 2.90GHz , Nvidia K1000M, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 9,934 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X230 – Intel Core i5-3320M 2.60GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 7,603 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X220 – Intel Core i5-2410M 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 5,764 PCMarks
SONY VAIO SA – Intel Core i5-2430M, AMD 6750M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 7,007 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM 6,056 PCMarks
Dell Vostro 3450 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30Ghz, 4GB RAM 5,901 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron N411z – Intel Core i3-2330m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM 5,285 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad T420 – Intel Core i3-2310m 2.1GHz, 2GB RAM 3,204 PCMarks

 

PCMark 7 is a more recent benchmarking program but measures the same overall system performance:

image

Laptop PCMark 7 Score
Lenovo ThinkPad W530 – Intel Core i7-3520M 2.90GHz , Nvidia K1000M, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 2,560 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad Y580 (Intel Core i7-3610QM, Nvidia GTX 660M, 8GB RAM, 5400RPM HD) 2,622 PCMarks
HP dv6t-7000 Quad Edition, Intel Core i7-3610QM, Nvidia GT650M, 7200RPM HD 2,877 PCMarks
HP Envy 17-3000, Intel Core i7-2670QM, AMD 7690M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 2,703 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad Y570 – Intel Core i7-2670QM, Nvidia 555M 1GB, 8GB RAM,5400RPM HD 2,573 PCMarks
Dell XPS 17 (Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, Nvidia 550m, 6GB RAM, HD 7200RPM) 1,995 PCMarks
Sony VAIO SA (Intel Core i5-2430M 2.50GHz, AMD Radeon 6630M, 4GB RAM) 2,002 PCMarks

For those that are interested in the graphics performance of the Nvidia K1000, we ran both 3DMark Vantage and 3DMark 11 which focus more on graphics performance to measure a score:

3DMark Vantage – Measures 3D graphics performance, higher scores are better

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Laptop 3DMark Vantage
Lenovo ThinkPad W530 – Intel Core i7-3520M 2.90GHz , Nvidia K1000M, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 5,218
HP dv6t-7000 Quad Edition, Intel Core i7-3610QM, Nvidia GT650M, 7200RPM HD 10,108
Lenovo ThinkPad X230 – Intel Core i5-3320M 2.60GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 3,165
Lenovo ThinkPad X220 – Intel Core i5-2410M 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 1,611
Dell XPS 15 (Intel Core i7-2670QM, Nvidia GT 525M 1GB RAM, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD) 4,211
HP Envy 17-3000, Intel Core i7-2670QM, AMD 7690M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 6,970
Dell XPS 17 (Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, Nvidia 550m, 6GB RAM, HD 7200RPM) 4,747
HP Pavilion dv6t Select Edition – Intel Core i5-2410m, Intel HD 3000 Graphics, 6GB RAM 1,845

 

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Laptop 3DMark 11
Lenovo ThinkPad W530 – Intel Core i7-3520M 2.90GHz , Nvidia K1000M, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 1,213
HP dv6t-7000 Quad Edition, Intel Core i7-3610QM, Nvidia GT650M, 7200RPM HD 2,365
Lenovo IdeaPad Y480 (Intel Core i7-3610QM, NVIDIA 640M LE, 8GB RAM, 5400RPM HD) 1,333
Lenovo IdeaPad Y470p (Intel Core i5-2450m, AMD 7690M, 6GB RAM, 5400RPM HD) 1,339
Dell XPS 17 (Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, Nvidia 550m, 6GB RAM, HD 7200RPM) 1,041

While those benchmark scores above are very respectable, there is of course room for improvement if you make some upgrades to your W530 configuration. For instance, using an SSD or upgrading to a faster K2000M graphics card or Extreme Core i7 Quad Core processor will add a nice jolt.

Ports

Comparing the W530 (top) with the W520 (bottom), the port layout has relatively stayed the same. In the front, we have nothing at all except for a latch to unlock the display hooks (which secure the display when not in use).

front comparison

The back features the power connector and a USB 2.0 which allows a user to charge a device even while the laptop is turned off. An interesting detail I found is that while the plug and port for the W520’s 170W power adaptor is keyed, the W530’s 135W power adaptor is not.

back comparison-001

The right side is home to the ExpressCard slot, SDHC card reader, headphone/microphone jack, optical bay, Ethernet port, and a Kensington lock slot.

right side comparison-001

Most of the ports on either laptop are located on the left. Both have a physical WiFi switch, a 1394 port, two stacked USB 3.0 ports (note that the W530’s USB 3.0 ports are not colored blue), a VGA connector, and some version of DisplayPort. The W530 has a mini DisplayPort connector, whereas the W520 has a full DisplayPort connector. The other big difference between the two is the non-powered USB 2.0 port; Lenovo has decided to rid the Thinkpad of an eSATA port (the W520 had a combination USB 2.0 + eSATA port) in favor of just USB. Maybe people are just not buying and using a lot of eSATA devices?

left side comaprison-001

TrackPoint and Touchpad

The TrackPad on the W530 stays the same as the previous Lenovo workstation; however, the upper-most left- and right-click buttons have had a slight design change from the W520. Whereas the W520’s buttons have a curved recess about the width of the spacebar, the W530’s buttons are shaped differently, blending in with the shape of the keyboard’s recess which makes the buttons feel flat to a user’s fingers. The middle button also has a different design, having a sloped surface that leads up to a set of seven raised blue dots; the W520 has a flat middle key that includes a raised plastic bar with flush blue dots. The bottom set of left- and right-click buttons are mostly the same, though they have decreased in size slightly (1cm by 3.5cm in the W520, 0.7cm by 3.5cm in the W530). Lenovo carried over the TrackPoint from the previous generation of ThinkPads (the W530 comes with the Soft Dome by default), though an end user has the option of buying a pack of additional domes in different styles, including the Classic ThinkPad dome and the Soft Rim dome (similar to the point sticks that Dell and HP use).

Display

While the review unit came with a 900p, 220 nit HD+ display, the W530 is also available with a 768p 220 nit display (which I recommend against; 768p needs to stay in netbooks and bargain-bin laptops, not workstations) and a 1080p, 95% color gamut, 270 nit FHD display. Depending on the configuration options, either the 768p is the default and the 900p is a $50 upgrade, or the 900p is the default; the 1080p display is a $250 option, though after owning a W520 with said display, I highly recommend it if it’s in the budget. Both the W520 and W530 use the same model displays.

W530 1080p display on the left, 900p display on right

Screens tilted back

With the 1080p display to the left and 900p display to the right, the 50 nit difference shows. Compared to the HD+ display, the FHD appears to be noticeably brighter (though in photos, it shows as being more white-washed, though this is due to the camera and not the displays). Colors on the 95% gamut FHD are also more saturated than the HD+ display, though the HD+ display still has colors that pop out well. Black reproduction on either display is good, with both being very dark. Being TN panels, viewing angles on either is just average, though better than on glossy display found in most consumer laptops. Tilt either screen back far enough (they go just past 180 degrees) and colors turn into shades of black or extremely darker versions.

IMG_0959 IMG_0960
tilting forward side view

Sound

This is where the W530 makes the W520 look shameful. Owners of the W520 workstation laptop would either have to use an external speaker set, headphones, or have to perform modifications in order to have a laptop that sounds half-way decent. The W520 speakers were low volume (even when at 100%), had no depth, and would sound tinny when playing near 100% and/or playing high-pitch noises.

In contrast, the W530 actually sounds amazing. In my review of the Thinkpad W520, I contrasted the W520 to a Dell XPS 15 with JBL speakers, concluding that the only way to get good sound from a W520 was to use a different sound solution from the internal speakers. However, I feel that the W530 can compete with media center laptops in terms of audio performance, a major plus over the previous generation Lenovo workstation. This is in thanks to different audio drivers (the W520 uses the Conexant 20672 SmartAudio HD drivers, and the W530 uses Realtek High Definition Audio) and Lenovo’s inclusion of Dolby Home Theater v4 software, which I went into detail about in the Ideapad U310 review. In a nutshell, this software includes a few factory-shipped sound profiles and settings appropriate for different usage scenarios, which allow a user to enhance voice quality (in the Movie profile) or to enjoy rich sound when listening to music (in the Music profile and various settings). While the W520 was tinny and lacked bass, the W530 can reproduce sounds from any pitch found in music and gives great bass for a laptop lacking a subwoofer.

Software

Unlike the previous W520, Lenovo’s ThinkPad W530 comes with a bit of bloatware out of the box. Of course, there is the typical trial AV software, Intel WiDi, and Microsoft Office Starter 2010, though this is to be expected in pretty much any laptop bought today. Also included is a trial of Nitro Pro 7, a PDF editing suite, and Corel DVD MovieFactory (Lenovo Edition). Lenovo also includes a cloud storage solution called “Lenovo Cloud Storage by SugarSync”. Skype is also included on the W530 and with the integrated camera, the video coming from the W530 user looks clear and colorful.

Lenovo also includes some excellent software as well. My personal favorite is the Lenovo Power Manager 6, which is like the default Windows power manager on steroids. A user can change system settings (CPU deep sleep, display brightness, ODD power, etc.), idle timers (when to stop the HDD, dimmed display brightness, standby and hibernation), advanced settings (allow/disallow hybrid sleep and wake timers, power management for PCIe, USB, CPU, and system cooling), events and alarms. By default, it comes with six power profiles (Power Source Optimized, Max. Performance, Max. Battery Life, Video Playback, Energy Saver (which actually drains more power than Max. Battery Life, oddly), and Timers off (for when a user wants to use the W530 in a presentation).

PM6

The best I can describe Lenovo SimpleTap as being is a Metro-like interface on top of Windows 7; either launching it from the Start menu or the blue ThinkVantage button on the keyboard will activate it, resulting in the traditional Windows desktop being replaced with a Metro-style tile system and a toolbar on the top-right corner. The user can always exit out of this interface by either pressing the Escape key or clicking on the SimpleTap background. The included Thinkpad-branded fingerprint software is also excellent, allowing for a simpler and more secure way to log into Windows; I use it exclusively on my personal W520, though there is a setting to allow a user to log in with a password en lieu of a fingerprint. Last but not least is the ThinkVantage Tools suite, which includes the above ThinkPad applications, plus: Password Vault, Update and Drivers, Airbag Protection (an active protection system for the HDD), Factory Recovery Disks, Messages from Lenovo, Enhanced Backup and Restore, Internet Connections System Health and Diagnostics, and Web Conferencing.

Lenovo SimpleTap

In the case of a fresh Windows install, a user can always download the Thinkpad-branded software from Lenovo’s website. If anything, I recommend keeping the Power Manager software.

Battery Life

Not using Power Manager’s Battery Stretch, the Lenovo Thinkpad W530 was able to last six hours and 46 minutes while having the display brightness set to 5 out of 15 and only using the Intel GPU (Optimus disabled). The 6-cell battery was also able to last five hours and 25 minutes under those same conditions, but also included a 45 minute YouTube video. Using the same settings, but running solely on the K1000M, the W530 manages a battery life of three hours and 52 minutes.

Out of curiosity, I tried installing my W520’s 9-cell battery into the W530, and while it fitted correctly, there were some issues. If a user tries booting with the older battery, the W530 will stop booting and display the following message:

The battery installed is not supported by this system and will not charge. Please replace the battery with the correct Lenovo battery for this system. Press the ESC key to continue.

What that means is that even if the W530 is plugged into its charger, the laptop will still not recharge the battery. This is because the older batteries lack an authentication chip inside of them (found in OEM batteries in the -30 series of Thinkpads). A user can still use an older battery with the system, but will have to find some other means to charge up other than the W530.

User Upgradability

If you know how to use a screwdriver, you can upgrade the W530 yourself with aftermarket parts. Lenovo, in a way, even encourages this by publishing their service manuals online. To access RAM slots 3 and 4 and to access the hard drive bay, all that’s needed is to remove the only two doors on the underside of the laptop, three screws total. This ThinkPad ships with a Hitachi Z7K500 500GB 7200RPM hard drive and no RAM in the last two slots (out of a total of four slots, allowing 32GB of RAM maximum).

bottom internals

To gain access to the rest of the components, there are two additional screws located on the bottom that must be undone. One is located right next to the RAM module door (towards the front edge of the laptop) and the other is located within the RAM module area itself. When these are gone, all one needs to do to remove the keyboard is to slide it towards the display, lift from the bottom edge near the trackpad, and carefully move towards the trackpad. First thing I noticed was that the size, shape, and connector is the same for both the W530’s keyboard and W520’s keyboard, so it might be possible to put an traditional ThinkPad keyboard into this Ivy Bridge system. However, there are additional keys on the W520’s keyboard that are not found on the W530 (Screen Lock, Forward/Back keys, etc.) and the BIOS probably would not know how to handle those extra keys. Anyway, Lenovo ships out this particular system with two sticks of generic Samsung memory (4GB each), an Intel 6205 WiFi card, and a slot for either a WWAN card or mSATA SSD (only one can be installed at a time). If an end user must have both, they could install the mSATA SSD and use an ExpressCard 3G cellular data card externally.

under keyboard internals

Conclusion

Like its predecessor, the W530 is a functional workstation laptop that’s first out of the gate with an array of Ivy Bridge processors to choose from. It can pack up to an Extreme Edition i7-3920XM, nVidia Quadro K2000 GPU, 32GB of RAM, 1080p display, and up to three system drives — mSATA SSD, primary HDD bay, and another drive if you replace the optical bay with an Ultrabay HDD caddy.  While not equipped with the more expensive options, our review unit is certainly a great workstation that will serve a professional well in any CUDA-based work (CAD, video or photo editing, graphics design, etc.). The most noticeable change between the W520 and W530 is the keyboard, and for a lot of potential buyers it will be a love it or hate it situation. For those buying into the ThinkPad line for the first time, it may not bother you too much. Those who are long-time ThinkPad users (such as myself) will probably be disappointed in the direction Lenovo has gone with the new design, but ignoring the odd arrangement of non-alphanumeric keys the new ThinkPad keyboard is actually a joy to type on. The curved keys fit well around the fingers, just like the old keyboard, and since the spacing between keys are the same it shouldn’t feel too different for those upgrading to a newer ThinkPad.

If history is any indicator, the ThinkPad W530 should not only be the first Ivy Bridge mobile workstation, but will also be the lightest of the bunch as well (the W520 was 5.95lbs, Dell’s Precision M4600 was around 6lbs, and HP’s Elitebook 8650w started at 6.5lbs). My only objective complaint about the W530 (ignoring the keyboard) is that Lenovo did not introduce an option for users to purchase one with a FirePro professional GPU (Quadro’s competition), found in workstations offered by Dell and HP. For those that do not need CUDA, it would have been a great, cost-effective solution while still staying with the legendary ThinkPad line.

Pros

  • Business-quality durability
  • Multiple storage drive options
  • Over 6.5 hours of battery life
  • IBM warranty support
  • Vastly improved sound quality (compared to the W520)

Cons

  • No Forward/Back keys, other missing keys
  • Cannot use previous-generation Lenovo OEM batteries

Where to Buy

[button link=”http://www.lenovo.com/products/us/laptop/thinkpad/w-series/w530/” bg_color=”red” window=”yes”]Purchase the ThinkPad W530 Direct from Lenovo.com[/button]

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New HP Coupons, 33% Off Quad and Envy Laptops through July 19th!

Here’s the 33% off coupon code everyone has been waiting for!  Use coupon NBP9668 at checkout to get 33% off HP’s high end gaming laptops, here are the details on this offer:

There are other new coupons this week too, here’s a synopsis of all the coupons now available:

The dv6t-7000 Quad Edition can be configured with high end specs of an Nvidia 650m 1GB card, Intel Core i7-3610QM,  1920 x 1080 Full HD display and 1TB Hd for $921.24 after using the NBP9668 33% off coupon, here’s a screenshot of my cart after using that coupon:

NBP9668 dv6t coupon

The dv7t-7000 Quad Edition with this same configuration except the Hard Drive is upgraded to a 7200RPM Hybrid 1TB drive is $1,028.44 after the 33% off coupon:

NBP9668 dv7t coupon

If you had your heart set on the Envy 15t-3200, you can get a nice configuration with a Core i7-3610QM, AMD 7750M graphics and 1920 x 1080 radiance display for $1,075 after the 33% off coupon

Envy 15t-3200 33% off coupon

Excellent deals all around here for this week!  Obviously the 33% off coupon is best for those that want a high end configuration because the more you spend, the more you save.  For instance, a laptop that’s $1500 before coupon gets $495 off after coupon bringing the total to an actual $1,005.

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HP Pavilion m6-1000 Now Available to Configure from $849 on HP.com

The HP Pavilion m6 first showed up at Best Buy last month, and now finally the m6-1000 15.6” Ultrabook is now available online at HP.com to configure.  Pricing starts at $849.99 without any coupon, but if you use coupon code NBQ1148 it bumps the price down to $749 (that coupon expires July 19th, 2012).   The Pavilion m6-1045dx starts at $729 at Best Buy and is the same as the starting configuration for the m6-1000 on HP.com so you still get a slightly better deal at Best Buy.  However, the added bonus of buying direct from HP is that you can configure dedicated graphics in the form of the AMD HD 7670M graphics card and can upgrade the processor to a more powerful Core i7 Ivy Bridge.  Unfortunately, there’s no option to upgrade to a higher resolution screen than the 1366 x 768 that’s standard.

HP Pavilion m6-1000

To recap, the Pavilion m6 is basically an oversized Ultrabook with a weight of 5.29lbs and thin form factor of 1.04”.  It’s a whole lot like the ENVY 6t in terms of form factor and options, however the m6 has the advantage of using regular voltage processors and has a built-in optical drive for those unwilling to give up the ability to use a DVD.  Basically, it’s a thinner version of the Pavilion dv6t-7000 but does not have the same powerful processor or graphics upgrade options.  The starting specs for the m6-1000 are below:

  • Color: Midnight black (upgrade to silver for +$25)
  • Screen: 15.6" diagonal High Definition HP BrightView LED Display (1366×768)
  • Processor: 3rd generation Intel Core i5-3210M Processor (2.5 GHz with Turbo Boost up to 3.1 GHz)
  • Graphics: Intel HD 4000 Graphics (upgrade to AMD 7670M for +$50)
  • Memory: 8GB DDR3 System Memory  (max upgrade of 16GB)
  • Storage: 750GB 5400RPM Hard Drive (max upgrade of 1TB)
  • SSD: mSSD Hard Drive Acceleration Cache upgrade option for +$50
  • Battery: 6 Cell Lithium Ion Battery (upgrade to 9-cell Li-Ion for +$20)
  • Optical Drive: SuperMulti 8X DVD+/-R/RW with Double Layer Support
  • HP TrueVision HD Webcam with Integrated Digital Microphone and HP SimplePass Fingerprint Reader
  • Wireless: Intel 802.11b/g/n WLAN and Bluetooth(R)
  • Keyboard: Backlit Keyboard

Another special note about the Pavilion m6 that some may like is the fact it has an upgradeable and replaceable battery, unlike the ENVY 6t.  There is no dedicated SSD storage option, though HP does offer a 32GB mSATA SSD cache option to help give you SSD like boot performance of under 30 seconds. 

Source: HP Pavilion m6-1000 on HP.com

Thanks for the tip Chris!

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Lenovo ThinkPad T430 Review

The T series, particularly the 14” model, has always been the super model of the ThinkPad line-up. It gets most of the love and attention. The T430 is the newest version of the 14” T series notebook. The T430 is designed chiefly for large institutional buyers who in turn dispatch them to their employees. Lenovo didn’t stray to far from the successful T420 blueprint. The biggest changes for the T430 are the it now offers the latest Ivy Bridge Core i5 and i7 CPUs, has been upgraded to USB 3.0 and switched to an island style keyboard. Yes, I can hear the groans from old-school ThinkPadders. Read one to find out if the T430 make a suitable choice for you.

Lenovo ThinkPad T430

Specs

Here are the specifications of the T430 model under review:

  • Model: 2342-22U
  • Operating System: Windows Seven Professional x64
  • CPU: Intel 2.6GHz Core i5-3320M(3.3GHz Turbo) 35w
  • Memory: 8GB DDR 1333MHz(16GB Max)
  • Hard Drives: 500GB Hitachi Z7K500 (7200RPM)
  • Screen: 14.0” 1366×768 Matte LED LCD
  • Graphics: Intel HD 4000 Integrated
  • Network: Intel Gigabit Ethernet and 6205 WiFi Card, Bluetooth, WWAN Upgradable
  • Inputs: Six Row 84 Key Island Style Keyboard, Pointstick and Touchpad with Separate Buttons
  • Buttons: Power, ThinkVantage, Volume Up and Down, Mute, Microphone Off and WiFi On/Off
  • Ports: Four USB 3.0 – Two Left Side, One Right Side, One Rear (Powered), Ethernet, VGA/Mini DisplayPort, Combo Headphone/Microphone Jack, Dock Connector
  • Slots: SD Card Reader, ExpressCard/34 Slot, Smart Card Reader
  • Battery: Nine-Cell((94Whr)
  • Dimensions w/ Nine-Cell: Width 13.4”, Depth 8.13” and Height 1.18”
  • Weight: 5.1. Pounds
  • Warranty: One Year

Design and Build

T430 badgeThinkPads are the dinosaurs of notebooks. From the looks of them, you’d think they’d have gone extinct years ago. Yet, when you open them up and start to use them, you realize they’ve somehow got the latest and greatest goodies in there. If you like ThinkPads, which I do, there’s a certain comfort in getting the exact same thing every time, but the boxy black nature of them probably doesn’t endear to those want a dash of style with their notebook. I guess you’ll have to decide on that one.

IMG_0909What struck me when I first got the T430 was how thick and heavy it was, but then again, I’ve been mostly reviewing Ultrabooks of late. When I put the T430 on the scale, it was just over five pounds using the larger nine-cell battery. That should put it squarely in the center of the 14” notebook segment weight wise. The T430 is a little over an inch thick, about 1.2”. This would seem to go against the slimmer trend, but the extra thickness gives it a more muscular feel and inspires a confidence that an Ultrabook just can’t match.

The T430 is another in a long line of well built ThinkPads. No shortcuts were taken, the T430 feels like a tank. It somewhat reminded of the Lenovo Z61m I reviewed years ago, which could be used in a combat zone. The casing on the T430 is made from carbon fiber and is supported by a rigid sub frame. There’s no give on the base of the notebook at all. You can pick it up by the corner and it just goes about its business without making a sound. You can make the screen ripple a bit by applying some pressure, but it feels like it’s well protected. The screen is secured to the base using steel hinges. They’re very stiff and the screen doesn’t move at all. The fit and finish on the T430 is excellent.

Display and Audio

The T430 has a 14.0” 16:9 LCD, no surprise there. There are two resolutions offered on the T430 – HD (1366×768), which our review unit has, and an HD+ (1600×900) LCD that’s a $50 upgrade. Both are LED and matte, which means there’s no reflections if there’s a light source nearby. The brightness of the screens is 200 nits for the HD screen and 250 nits for the HD+ LCD, which means both are more than bright enough for indoor usage, but too dim to use outside. The contrast for both is rated at 300:1. There’s a small bit of leakage on the screen, but it’s mostly only noticeable when booting the T430 during which time the screen is all black.

From the way people bellyache about these screens, one might get the idea that you’ll go blind while using them, but I certainly did not find that to be the case. That’s not to say this is a good panel by any means either. The image is crisp, but the colors are average at best. The lower resolution means more scrolling. The screen has a bit of a blue hue to it, though this can probably corrected somewhat for those willing to calibrate the screen. Sadly, calibrating the screen will not transform it into Prince Charming. Being that the T430 uses a TN panel, the viewing angles were on the thin side, though I was able to find a decent enough sweet spot where it looked mostly good as long as I didn’t move too much.

T430 viewing angles IMG_0912-001
T430 viewing angles T430 viewing angle side

When you want to find the limitations of the screen, start watching a movie. It just doesn’t have enough contrast to properly render the image. Particularly, dark areas look grayed out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as your employer, who just issued you a T430, doesn’t want you watching movies on the clock anyway. The bottom line for the screen is it’s fine for Office and Internet type tasks it’ll be mostly asked to do, but if screen quality is a priority for you, then you’d best move along.

On the plus side, the speakers on the T430 are at least located on the top side of the T430, but that may be the only plus. It always amazes me that my tiny iPhone manages to sound better than a lot of the notebooks I see. Being that this is a business notebook, quality sound is not a top requirement and the sound quality on the T430 reflects that fact. It’s not terrible, but definitely could be better. The sound is tinny and there’s not much bass to speak of, but it’s certainly adequate enough for a video or some music. If you’re an audiophile, investing in some good headphones or speakers wouldn’t be a bad idea.

CPU, Performance and Storage

The T430 offers a range of third generation Core i Ivy Bridge CPUs from the i5 to the i7. The i3 equipped T430 models use the Sandy Bridge platform CPUs. All T430 models can also support up to 16GB of DDR3 memory. Our review unit took the middle of the road approach. It has the 2.6GHz i5 CPU and 8GB of DDR3 memory. The T series, particularly the 14” models, are meant to be handed out to worker bees and as such performance isn’t a top priority. They’ll be tasked with non-processor intensive duties like Office and Internet. For those assignments any of the CPUs the T430 offers, along with the minimum of 4GB of memory, should preform more than capably. I was able to surf the web, run some Photoshop filters and listen to music. The T430 never squawked at all. We ran PCMark Vantage just to see how the T430 compared similar notebooks. Its 8,979 score bears out the fact it’s an efficient performer and if you need top performance, the T430 can deliver it.

image

PCMark Vantage Benchmark Results – Higher scores indicate better system performance

Laptop PCMark Vantage Score
Lenovo ThinkPad T430 – Intel Core i5-3320M 2.60GHz, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD, Intel HD 4000 8,979 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad W530 – Intel Core i7-3520M 2.90GHz , Nvidia K1000M, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 9,934 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X230 – Intel Core  i5-3320M 2.60GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 7,603 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X220 – Intel Core  i5-2410M 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 5,764 PCMarks
SONY VAIO SA – Intel Core i5-2430M, AMD 6750M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 7,007 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM 6,056 PCMarks
Dell Vostro 3450 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30Ghz, 4GB RAM 5,901 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron N411z – Intel Core i3-2330m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM 5,285 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad T420 – Intel Core i3-2310m 2.1GHz, 2GB RAM 3,204 PCMarks

 

3DMark Vantage Results – Higher scores indicate better graphics performance

image

Laptop 3DMark Vantage
Lenovo ThinkPad T430 – Intel Core i5-3320M 2.60GHz, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD, Intel HD 4000 3,948
Lenovo ThinkPad X230 – Intel Core  i5-3320M 2.60GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 3,165
Lenovo ThinkPad X220 – Intel Core  i5-2410M 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 1,611
Dell XPS 15 (Intel Core i7-2670QM, Nvidia GT 525M 1GB RAM, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD) 4,211
HP Envy 17-3000, Intel Core i7-2670QM, AMD 7690M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 6,970
Dell XPS 17 (Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, Nvidia 550m, 6GB RAM, HD 7200RPM) 4,747
HP Pavilion dv6t Select Edition – Intel Core i5-2410m, Intel HD 3000 Graphics, 6GB RAM 1,845

The T430 has the Intel HD 4000 integrated GPU. While the HD 4000 is a good integrated card, see the 3DMark 3948 score in the table above, it’s still an integrated card. This means you can play some older games and maybe some newer games on lower settings, but if gaming is a significant want, you’ll probably wish to look elsewhere. Do note that the T430 that comes with the Core i3 CPU will have the slower performing HD 3000 GPU. The Nvidia NVS 5400 is an option for those wanting a dedicated GPU option. It has Optimus technology, which will switch to the Intel GPU when the dedicated card is not needed.

Probably the biggest lag on the T430’s performance is the slower platter based hard drive. The review unit came with the Hitachi Z7K500 500GB 7200RPM hard drive. It booted in about about 40 seconds, which is twice as long as my SSD equipped X220i, and it just doesn’t have the same level of snappiness, which is not unexpected. Fortunately, unlike the screen, this is easily fixed. The T430 has three drive bays – the main bay, a miniPCI slot where you can put a mSATA SSD and the ultrabay where you can put another hard drive in place of the optical drive using the modular caddy. Any of the bays are bootable. Sticking a SSD in there should liven up performance quite a bit. One disappointment is that Lenovo switched the main bay to a 7mm drive like the X230. This means that 500GB is the largest drive you can put in the T430. If you had dreams of a T430 with a mSATA SSD and 1TB HDD, prepare to have them crushed.

Keyboard, Pointing Stick and TouchPad

ThinkPad T430 keyboard

I think we’ve all heard by now Lenovo switched the classic ThinkPad to the new six row island style keyboards. Doing this lets Lenovo add a keyboard backlight to the keyboard, which is often requested by ThinkPad users. Our review unit did not have keyboard backlight, though you still get the ThinkLight on all T430 models. The keys themselves have a bit more slippery feel to them than before, but I don’t think that affected my speed as it’s already sub 40WPM. Despite changing to an island style, the keyboard on the T430 is still spill resistant. A small amount of liquid hitting the keyboard shouldn’t cause any damage. The keys on the keyboard to my untrained eye appear to be slightly larger than the classic ThinkPad keyboard. Lenovo has removed a few keys and the keys have a new shape. The sides of the keys on the classic keyboard angle upward to the top of the key, but the sides on the new keys are perpendicular to the top of the key. That should make for easier cleaning of the keyboard. Lenovo has also changed the location for a number of keys and function keys, which will not make longtime ThinkPadders happy, but I don’t know what the answer is for them, other than getting used to the new keyboard. Nobody else is offering a traditional keyboard. Getting to the actual typing on the new keyboard, it’s quite good, just like the old ones. The keyboard is firm, no bounce to it all when typing on it. The pitch is exceptional. When you hit the bottom of a keystroke is just when you’d anticipate starting to bring your finger back up. Overall, the keyboard is excellent, just like the old keyboards.

T430 touchpad and ultra nav

The T430 gives you two options for controlling the mouse – an isometric joystick or pointstick in Lenovo lingo and a touch pad. The touch pad on the T430 is square like in shape, which seems an odd choice for a notebook with such a squat screen. It has tiny bumps covering the surface of the touch pad that give it a bit of a rough texture, but it actually feels quite nice when using it. The touch pad works well. There’s no lag. The finger gestures like scrolling and pinch to zoom work sufficiently, though are probably not up to Apple standards. The biggest issue with the touch pad is the buttons. They’re small, about 1/3 the size of the pointstick buttons and they sit on the edge. I found my finger would sometimes go too far and fall off the edge when I went to click a button.

trackpoint

Like all ThinkPads, you get the pointstick option for moving the mouse. When I get the settings to my liking, I find the stick to be superior to any touch pad. Your hands never stray far from the keyboard and you never have to pick your hand up to move from one side of the screen to the other. In particular, scrolling on the stick is phenomenal. It helps, in my opinion, to mitigate the pain of a lower resolution screen because it’s so easy to hold down the center button and push the stick in the direction you want to go. It’s been my experience the stick is one of things in life people either like or don’t, but I’ve found few people who do both. Whichever way you roll, the T430 has you covered.

Battery

There are three batteries options offered on the T430. There’s a six-cell (57Whr) and nine-cell (94Whr) standard batteries that plug into the rear of the T430. The six-cell sits flush with the back of the T430 while the nine-cell battery sticks out the back of the T430 about an inch or so. Both batteries help to raise the rear up a bit. In addition to those two batteries, Lenovo offers a slice battery (94Whr) for the T430, which plugs into the docking port on the underside of the T430. It’s a nine-cell battery, and adds about a pound and half weight to the T430. That would make the T430 around 6.5 pounds. Our T430 has the nine-cell battery. To test the battery I set the screen to half brightness with WiFi on and I parked the CPU in low power mode. I did typical tasks like surfing the web, listening to some music and working on the review. Using those settings, I was able to get 8:45 minutes from a fully charged battery until it went into sleep mode. That’s some serious battery life. Back in the day I remember being pretty happy with the 5.5 hours I got on my 14” ThinkPad R60 with the nine-cell battery. If you can double life with the slice battery, that’s getting close to 2.5 work days of usage away from the outlet. I can’t imagine using a notebook that long, but if you can, it’s there for you.

ThinkPad T430 9-cell Battery

Heat & Noise

The T430 has two vents to help push hot air. Both are located on the left side, one on the side and one on the rear. It’s been fairly toasty this week while I’ve been working on the review, in the mid 90°s and humid too. It hasn’t been fun at all, but the T430 has been a cool customer the whole time It never got much above warm, even when running benchmarks. Most of the time I’ve had the T430 it’s been very quiet. If you put your hand by the vents you can feel the warm air being pushed out, but it’s still whisper quiet for everyday usage. Like any notebook when you start to push the processor, the fan kicks on to help keep the temps down, but even there, it’s pretty quiet. In a noise free room you’ll hear the fan, but if there’s any ambient noises at all, it will quickly drown out the fan. The Hitachi Z7K500 was also quiet, though the T430 is a bit thicker, which probably helps shield the noise more than a thinner notebook like the X230.

Ports and Networking

The T430 offers most of the ports users would want for typical usage. Perhaps HDMI would have been a nice addition, but the DisplayPort is easily converted to HDMI with a cable. Since the Intel chipset supports USB 3.0, the T430 now has USB 3.0 ports. The left side of the T430 has the VGA connector, mini-Displayplay port, a combo headphone/microphone jack and two USB 3.0 ports:

ThinkPad T430 left side

The right side of the T430 contains a USB 3.0 port, ExpressCard/34, Card Reader and above the optical drive is a smart card reader.

ThinkPad T430 right side

The back of the T430 offers a powered USB port, which is nice for charging the phone, an Ethernet port and the power jack.

ThinkPad T430 back side

The bottom of the T430 incorporates a docking port. Using the docking port you can plug into either of the Series 3 docks. The docks are a great idea for when using a ThinkPad at a desk. You don’t have to connect the monitor and other peripherals in every time. You can just attach the T430 to the dock and be ready to go.

Bottom of ThinkPad T430

The T430 gives buyers lots of options for connecting. If you’re like me, WLAN is all I need. The T430 comes with multiple WiFi card options. Being cheap, I usually take the least expensive ThinkPad card and it’s always worked out well for me , but we have the Intel 6205 N wireless card in the review unit. I’ve had no problems with the card. It functioned flawlessly, both at work and home. All T430 machines are WWAN upgradeable. You just need to put the WWAN card into the miniPCI slot on the underside of the T430 and attach the wires. You may also configure it with a WWAN card on Lenovo’s website at purchase. Our review unit did not have a WWAN card. Our unit also came with Bluetooth, which is a $30 upgrade for C-T-O machines. Pairing my iPhone to play music from it on the T430 was a painless process. Ethernet is standard on every T430. Needless to say, however you want to connect, the T430 gives you the option to do so.

Final Words

There’s a lot to recommend about the ThinkPad T430. It’s very well built and should take the punishment mobile workers will inflict upon it with ease. While most of its users probably won’t push it much, for those who do, it’ll perform quite well. Despite some grumbling from veteran ThinkPadders, the keyboard is splendid. The red pointing stick and touchpad are pretty good too. The T430 is very easy to upgrade and it gives end users lots of choices to configure their machines. It offers just about every port and connection option one could reasonably ask to get. It should last a whole day plus on battery if that’s what you need, even more if you pick up the slice battery. Why am I not running out to buy this?  The screen to me is the biggest flaw.  While the screen is serviceable and the low cost will make large institutional buyers (who purchase these by the 1,000s) happy, if I’m spending my own pocket money I’d like a better option. It’s a judgment call. If you’re looking for a great all-around notebook and don’t mind the ordinary screen, then the T430 is an outstanding choice. If you’ve been spoiled by IPS screens on models like the ThinkPad X230 like me, then I’m going to at least look at other options. A T430 with a decent screen would be a killer notebook, it doesn’t even need to be IPS, but unfortunately, we don’t have that option today.

Pros

  • Built to Last
  • mSATA + HDD Setup and Ultrabay Options
  • Easy Upgrades
  • As Many Ports as You’ll Need
  • Lots of Connection Options
  • USB 3.0
  • Portable
  • Long Battery life

Cons

  • Fair Screen
  • Changing of Function Key Locations, Removing Keys
  • Looks Exactly Like the previous ThinkPad T420

Where to Buy

[button link=”http://www.lenovo.com/products/us/laptop/thinkpad/t-series/t430/” size=”large” bg_color=”red” window=”yes”]Buy the Lenovo ThinkPad T430 Direct from Lenovo[/button]

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Lenovo ThinkPad X230 Vs. X230t Tablet Comparison

If you’re in the market to buy the Lenovo ThinkPad X230, which is an excellent choice as a portable laptop and you’re commended on your decision, you might be thinking “hey, why don’t I just get the Tablet version of the X230, it only costs a little extra?”  I certainly had that thought cross my mind when I saw the price of the X230 tablet at the time I was shopping for the regular X230 was only $200 more.  It seemed that the pen input and touch screen functionality of the X230 tablet could be well worth the extra money.  However, I wasn’t really sure of how the form factor would change or if there were downsides to getting the X230t.  Lenovo doesn’t do a great job of showing all the ins and outs of the X230t on their site.  As it turns out, there are some pretty major form factor differences between these two versions of the X230.  I happen to have both models on hand at the moment and so wanted to do a picture and video comparison.  This is not an in depth review of each notebook, nor is it an analysis of the tablet PC functionality as that’s a large topic, rather it’s just a comparison focused on features and form factor differences and whether the X230t or regular X230 makes the most sense for you.

Video Comparison

First up, take a look at this side by side video comparison of the X230 and X230t Tablet.  It goes a long way to demonstrating how these two are similar and different.

ThinkPad X230 and X230t Tablet Comparison

Depth and Height Comparison

This may come as a surprise to some, but the height and depth of the X230 tablet are actually quite a bit more than the regular version of the X230.  Take a look at this side by side picture and see that the X230t is looks almost a full inch extra in height (X230 tablet is on the left in all pictures):

X230 next to X230 Tablet

Similarly, when the lid is closed you can see the depth of the X230t is revealed

X230t Tablet and X230 depth comparison

Both of these models have the 6-cell battery installed, and you’ll notice that the 6-cell sticks out on the tablet version so that adds even more depth at the back.  Now you can see why if you’re ordering a custom sleeve for the X230 it’s important to know which version.  The X230 regular is 8.13” deep while the X230 tablet is 9 inches deep, so in actual fact it’s about 0.87” of extra depth on the X230 tablet.

Thickness Difference

The X230 tablet is also  slightly thicker than the X230 when closed, we’re not talking a huge difference, but it is about 0.1 – 0.2” thicker depending on whether you’re looking at the front or back.  Here’s aside profile photo showing this difference in which you can see the X230 tablet on the left (in the distance) and X230 on the right:

X230 and X230 tablet thickness comparison

And here’s a front profile thickness comparison with the tablet version again on the left:

X230 and X230 tablet thickness comparison

For those who are obsessed with how thin a laptop is, this small difference may be a consideration.

Ports Difference

While the ports are almost exactly the same between both versions of the X230, there is are some subtle difference that occur on the left side, see if you can notice it (the X230t tablet is on the bottom, X230 regular on top):

X230 left side

See it?  The DisplayPort is full size on the X230t Tablet whereas you get a mini-DisplayPort on the regular X230.  Also, the VGA monitor out port has its posts embedded on the X230 regular but they protrude on the X230 tablet.  The blue coloring is used on the USB 3.0 ports on the X230t but not on the X230 – no idea why that is.

On the right side all the ports are the same, but you do get the pen silo for the stylus on the X230 tablet, you can see the red eraser head pointing out.

X230 right side

Some people get really annoyed at having to use a mini DisplayPort, so if that’s you the full sized DisplayPort on the X230t might be a plus.

Battery Difference

The X230 and X230t Tablet on hand both have the 6-cell battery.  However, though the capacity is the same the form factor for each of these are very different.  A look at the bottom of each notebook demonstrates this best.  The battery on the X230 Tablet sticks out quite a way and also has a hollow bubble area underneath.  I assume it’s for something to do with structural integrity or to provide a way to grip the tablet at the back.  The X230 regular battery meanwhile is flush at the back and sticks out just a little at the bottom:

IMG_1112

Weight Difference

There is a weight difference between each version.  The X230 regular weighs 3.44lbs with the 6-cell battery:

X230 weight

While the X230 Tablet weighs in at 4.15lbs with the 6-cell battery:

IMG_1116

That’s over a half pound in extra weight on the tablet version.  This is somewhat ironic since a tablet is designed to be held in slate mode by field work professionals, but the extra technology and screen requirements simply means the tablet version weighs more.

Conclusion

Now we of course glossed over the whole Tablet PC functionality, that’s definitely a bonus for users interested in the X230t.  However, if you have little use for tablet functionality or don’t know how you’d use it, you may want to consider the downsides the X230t has.  It’s thicker, weighs more and has quite a bit of extra depth.  Some people won’t like the fact the battery sticks out at the back and has a strange hollow area on it for the tablet either.  While we don’t have a full review of the X230 tablet yet, check out our review of the ThinkPad X230 for more coverage.

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HP Pavilion G6 with AMD Trinity Review

The HP Pavilion g6 with the new AMD Trinity processor is the latest addition to HP’s g6 lineup of budget laptops.  The g6-2123us model under review features the new AMD Trinity line of A6 processor that were released just this summer of 2012.  The idea with the AMD Trinity line, like the previous Llano, is to provide capable integrated graphics performance along with the dual core processor so that those that want to run 3D intense applications or maybe do some gaming can do so.  AMD is also known for being the lower price option relative to Intel, and that continues to be the case here with the Pavilion g6-2123us as pricing starts at a very low $399 and can be found at popular retailers like Staples, Amazon.com and Best Buy.  With that low pricing students on a budget or just someone looking for a cheap home laptop will be the target buyers.

HP Pavilion g6-2123us

Design and Build

The Pavilion g6-2123us features an updated design for the g6 lineup, however it’s not drastically different from last years design.  You get a lot of glossy surfaces on this laptop, including the lid, keyboard deck area, around the screen and even in between the keys themselves.  That means when it’s clean the g6 looks great, like a shiny toy you just want to touch.  However, it picks up fingerprints quite easily so you’ll need to wipe it down every couple of days if you’re a clean freak.  Those that use an iPad or similar tablet and deal with cleaning the screen are probably used to carrying a cloth for their gadgets anyway.

HP g6-2123us lid

Along the top of the keyboard is a classy looking speaker grille.  It has Altec Lansing branded speakers, there’s no Beats Audio or associated logo at this budget price but you do get Dolby advanced audio support.

IMG_1101

You’ll notice this model under review is a black color, HP calls it sparkling black.  It’s hard to tell in the pictures, but the glossy areas have a sort of speckle to them so it’s not entirely a solid color, though from a distance it certainly looks it.

The laptop case is made of all plastic, it’s not as solid feeling as the Pavilion dv6t-7000 laptop we reviewed that has quite a bit of aluminum used in the case construction.  However, the plastic used on this g6 is by no means cheap, it’s quite sturdy, not flimsy feeling.

Screen

The HP g6-2123us screen is 15.6” in size, has a glossy finish and a resolution of 1366 x 768, there is no upgrade option.  Overall the screen is decent, it offers bright colors thanks to the glossy finish and overall color accuracy is decent.  However, viewing angles are limited, which is typical of laptop screens.  It’s best to look straight on at the screen to get the best colors, if you tilt the screen back or forward the colors will get washed out and hard to view.  It’s not like an iPad that has an IPS screen and looks the same from any angle.

Pavilion g6-2123us screen Pavilion g6-2123us screen
Pavilion g6-2123us screen

Pavilion g6-2123us screen

As mentioned before, the screen has a glossy finish.  On the plus side that means colors really pop and it’s good for movie watching.  However, if you’re in a brightly lit office environment or outside you’ll get a lot of reflection off of this glossy screen, it acts like a mirror, so it’s not good for all day 8 hour work as that tends to strain your eyes.

Specs and Performance

The specs for this g6-2123us laptop under review are as follows:

  • Screen: 15.6” diagonal with 1366 x 768 resolution, glossy finish
  • Processor: AMD A6-4400 Trinity Processor with speeds up to 3.2 GHz
  • Graphics: AMD Radeon HD 7520G Discrete-Class graphics
  • Storage: 640GB 5400RPM hard drive with HP ProtectSmart Hard Drive Protection
  • Memory: 4GB RAM
  • Ports: 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0, 1 x HDMI, 1 x VGA, 1 x RJ-45, 1 x Headphone, 1 x Microphone
  • Optical Drive: Super Multi DVD burner
  • Weight: 5.5lbs
  • Battery: 6-cell Lithium Ion
  • Dimensions: 14.8" x 9.61" x 1.43" (Width x Depth x Thickness)
  • Warranty: 1-year manufacturer

Most people buying the g6-2123us won’t be demanding users, instead it will be buyers looking for a laptop that can serve as maybe a shared home PC or a student taking it to school to get work done.  For typical tasks such as web surfing, video chat (there’s a built-in web camera), HD streaming video watching or typing up papers the AMD Trinity processor has more than enough power and will allow for multi-tasking.   If you had your heart set on doing some gaming, then you can still play some less demanding but recent 3D games on low graphics settings. 

To measure overall system performance I ran PCMark Vantage which takes into account processor, graphics, storage and memory.  The 4,474 score the g6-2123us achieved is decent, about in line with last generation Intel Core i3 processors.

PCmark Vantage g6-2123us

Laptop PCMark Vantage Score
HP Pavilion g6-2123us AMD A6-4400, AMD Radeon HD 7520G, 4GB RAM, 640GB 5400RPM HD 4,474 PCMarks
Acer Aspire AO722 AMD C-60 1.0GHz, 4GB RAM, 320GB HD 1,601 PCMarks
HP Pavilion dm1z AMD E-350 1.6GHz, 3GB RAM, 320GB HD 2,202 PCMarks
Asus Eee PC 1025C (Intel Atom N2600 1.60GHz, 1GB RAM, 320GB 5400RPM HD) 1,483 PCMarks
Dell XPS 13 (Intel Core i5-2476M 1.60GHz, Intel HD 3000, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD) 9,826 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM 6,056 PCMarks
Dell Vostro 3450 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30Ghz, 4GB RAM 5,901 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron N411z – Intel Core i3-2330m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM 5,285 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad T420 – Intel Core i3-2310m 2.1GHz, 2GB RAM 3,204 PCMarks

3DMark 11 was used to measure the graphics performance, the 613 score is somewhat disappointing but still almost tied the score of the Nvidia 520M graphics card from last year.

Laptop 3DMark11
HP Pavilion g6-2123us AMD A6-4400, AMD Radeon HD 7520G, 4GB RAM, 640GB 5400RPM HD 614
Sony VAIO SA (Intel Core i5-2430M 2.50GHz, AMD Radeon 6630M, 4GB RAM) 997
Lenovo ThinkPad W520 – Intel Core i7 2720QM, 4GB RAM, Nvidia Quadro 2000, Intel 320 SSD 1,438
Dell XPS 14z – Intel Core i5-2430m 2.40GHz, 8GB RAM, Nvidia GT 520M, 7200RPM HD 639
Alienware m14x – Intel Core i7-2630QM, 8GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GT 555, 7200RPM 1,331

   

Ports Selection

You’re covered with all the necessary ports on this laptop, you get HDMI for output to a TV or monitor and also the latest USB 3.0 port.  Included ports and related pictures are below

On the left side is a VGA monitor out port, HDMI, Ethernet, two USB 3.0, microphone port, headphone jack, SD card reader

Left side of g6

On the right side is a USB 2.0 port and power jack along with the DVD Burner

g6 right side

There are no ports on the front or back side of the g6.

Battery Life

HP quotes a battery life of 6.5 hours for the g6-2123us, which to me seemed like it would be too good to be true as the battery is a rather small 47WHr capacity.  However, under light usage with screen at half brightness and just browsing the web I was able to get just over 5 hours.  If you’re really conservative and dim screen brightness all the way down there’s a chance you could eek out 6.5 hours.  If you’re watching movies and multi-tasking and have the screen at full brightness you’ll probably get closer to 3.5 – 4 hours.

g6-2123us underside

Keyboard and Touchpad

The g6 uses a chiclet style keyboard, it’s comfortable to use and includes a number pad on the right side which will appeal to some.   It’s a little loud and the keys are quite flat, which are my only real complaints.  The touchpad is nice to use, it has a dimpled surface for extra texture and makes it easy to find when not looking down.  The touchpad technology and drivers are provided synaptics so you get all the typical multi-touch features such as pinch to zoom and two-finger scroll.

Pavilion g6-2123us keyboard

Fans and Noise

HP has installed software called CoolSense that allows you to somewhat control how frequently the fans come on to keep the laptop cool.  Under normal settings the fan comes on quite frequently and does a great job of keeping the g6 cool, it never gets more than a bit warm.  If you use Cool Sense to turn the fans down they still come on quite a bit but the machine remains fairly cool still.  It appears HP is leaning more towards running fans more and keeping temps down than worrying too much about the noise levels.  So if frequent fans bother you, you may get annoyed with the g6.  However, with that said I couldn’t hear the fans over ambient noise such as the TV or air conditioner.  I’d prefer a cool running laptop over no fan noise anyway.

Conclusion

For the price of $349 that I got this g6-2123us laptop for at Amazon.com you really can’t beat what you get.   Sure, it’s no premium model laptop that’s going to turn heads or win you kudos, but if you’re not a fashionista and just want something functional the g6 can fit that bill.  Those who want a cheap laptop and are on a budget but still want something decently built and with ok looks might be drawn to this g6 model.  Performance will be more than adequate for everyday tasks and you can even do some light gaming with the AMD graphics.  I imagine we’ll see this model at some incredible prices come Black Friday of 2012, it’s already cheap as it is and any less will make it an amazing deal.

Video Tour

For those that like to have a few more visuals, I shot some video of the g6-2123us:

HP Pavilion g6-2123us Video
6 comments

Lenovo IdeaPad Y580 Review

The IdeaPad Y580 is Lenovo’s flagship multimedia notebook featuring a 15.6″ display, 2GB Nvidia GTX 660M graphics card, and the latest Intel quad-core processor. At just south of $1,000 this unit delivers a great value save for one thing – the anemic 1366×768 resolution display. Fortunately Lenovo offers a full HD upgrade (1920×1080) which offers twice the viewing area and depending on the configuration, costs almost the same as our review unit.

Build and Design

Lenovo has thankfully moved away from glossy plastic on its higher-end IdeaPads (for the most part); it only exists now around the screen bezel. Most of the Y580’s visible surfaces are brushed aluminum; it serves an aesthetic function and does a pretty good job of it. It lends some strength to the chassis but it still flexes a bit when twisted by the corners. The lid twists a bit but no ripples appear on the display surface when pushing in from the back; that’s definitely a good thing.

Lenovo IdeaPad Y580

Design-wise the Y580 is on par with HP’s Pavilion notebooks (the Y580 is a prime competitor to the HP dv6-7000 we reviewed). Small things I like include the classy speaker grilles above the keyboard and the beveled aluminum edge of the touchpad. The backlit keyboard adds a nice visual (and useful) touch in the dark.

Y580 logo

Input and Output Ports

The Intel ‘Ivy Bridge’ chipset natively supports USB 3.0 and the Y580 includes two of them. It also has HDMI, VGA, and a built-in optical drive. Overall there’s not much missing: ExpressCard and eSATA but there’s a limited need for those on a consumer notebook.

Left: Kensington lock slot, cooling exhaust vent, VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, 2x USB 3.0

Lenovo Y580 left side

Right: Headphone and microphone jacks, USB 2.0, tray-load optical drive, USB 2.0, AC power

Lenovo Y580 right side

Front: Status lights, media card reader

Lenovo Y580 front

Back: Nothing here!

Lenovo Y580 back

Keyboard and Touchpad

The Y580 has a full-size keyboard with separate numeric keypad. This is a ‘Chiclet’ style keyboard where there is extra spacing between the keys. I like the feel of this keyboard a lot; it has relatively short keystrokes and makes a pleasant clicking sound when pressed. It takes minimal effort to press the keys but they’re not soft to the point where you can’t rest fingers on them. There is no noticeable flex. The layout is normal with no missing or misplaced keys. The numeric keypad keys are slightly smaller than the main keyboard keys so it takes a little time to get used to. I like the white backlighting; it looks great and is useful in the dark. The backlighting can be turned off by pressing [Fn] and [Space].

Lenovo IdeaPad Y580 keyboard

The touchpad is actually a clickpad; press down anywhere with your finger to produce a click. The clicks take a bit more pressure than I’d prefer but it is fairly accurate; not quite as good as Apple’s implementation but respectable. At the end of the day I prefer separate physical buttons though.

Lenovo Y580 backlit keyboard

Screen and Speakers

This particular Y580 has a generic glossy display with a low resolution of 1366×768. It’s a bargain basement display; the glossy surface causes reflections and is annoying in well-lit environments. The low screen resolution means it’s tough to use two windows side-by-side and a lot of scrolling is required in documents and web pages. Brightness is just average and viewing angles are narrow. Lastly, color reproduction is mediocre; the whole display has a bluish cast and saturation could use a serious boost.

Y580 Screen Y580 screen tilted back
Y580 screen forward Y580 screen sideways

There is an option to upgrade to a 1920 x 1080 screen display, it costs between $100 – $200 more depending on current promotions, for those that are more picky with displays it seems based on opinions from owners of the higher resolution display it has better overall quality.  However, even the 1920 x 1080 display is still glossy and will reflect  a lot, there’s no avoiding that with the Y580.

The Y580 has two JBL-branded stereo speakers above the keyboard which are loud and clear. I usually carry a Logitech notebook speaker bar with my notebook but with the Y580, there’s no need. It lacks a dedicated subwoofer but there is still noticeable bass.

Performance and Benchmarks

The Y580 as configured had no trouble ripping through our suite of benchmarks plus several of the latest games (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Mass Effect 3). The Intel Core i7-3610QM quad-core is one of the most powerful processors available in a notebook and is up for any task, especially something like Photoshop or video and audio editing. Having 8GB of fast memory is helpful for multitasking; it’s hard to even use a fraction of it. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 660M has a whopping 2GB of its own video memory and as we’ll see in the game benchmarks, eats modern games for breakfast. Last but not least there’s the storage drive; the 1TB model in our review unit certainly has a lot of capacity but is somewhat sluggish (it runs at just 5400RPM). Opt for a 7200RPM hard drive or an SSD for the best overall performance.

Our Y580 review unit has the following specifications:

  • 15.6-inch glossy 720p display (1366×768 resolution)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
  • Intel Core i7-3610QM quad-core processor (2.3GHz, up to 3.3GHz Turbo Boost, 6MB cache, 45W TDP)
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 660M graphics card w/ 2GB memory
  • 8GB DDR3-1600 RAM (2x 4GB; max. supported)
  • 1TB 5400RPM hard drive (Seagate Spinpoint M8)
  • Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2200
  • Integrated Bluetooth wireless
  • Integrated HD webcam
  • Internal tray-load DVD burner
  • 1-year limited warranty
  • 6-cell li-ion battery (10.8V, 72Wh, 6700mAh)
  • Weight: 6.17 lbs.
  • Dimensions: 15.15 x 10 x 1.4 inches
  • Price as configured: $936

Gaming Performance

The graphics card is the most important component for 3D gaming and the Nvidia GTX 660M 2GB on the Y580 doesn’t disappoint. It’s one of the faster graphics card available in a notebook. We ran two modern games: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Mass Effect 3. Both games were run at the Y580’s native screen resolution of 1366×768 and at maximum settings (with 4X AA in Call of Duty). We’re looking for a minimum frames per second (FPS) above 30 at all times.  Below are some charts of frame rates in each game to give you an idea of what the GTX 660m can do:

Game Average FPS Min FPS Max FPS
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 99.011 66 149
Mass Effect 3 59.811 52 64

The GTX 660M is if anything overpowered for the 1366×768 screen resolution; that’s another reason to upgrade to the 1920×1080. A higher resolution will provide a more detailed gaming experience.

Benchmark Performance

To give an idea of how the Y580 performs relative to other laptops we’ve reviewed we ran a few of the popular Futuremark benchmark applications.  First up is PCMark Vantage, an older benchmark that measures overall system performance by taking into account the processor, memory, storage and graphics components.

image

Laptop PCMark Vantage Score
Lenovo IdeaPad Y580 (Intel Core i7-3610QM, Nvidia GTX 660M, 8GB RAM, 5400RPM HD) 9,256 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad Y570 (Intel Core i7-2670QM, Nvidia 555M 1GB, 8GB RAM,5400RPM HD) 8,771 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad Y480 (Intel Core i7-3610QM, NVIDIA 640M LE, 8GB RAM, 5400RPM HD) 8,634 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad Y470p (Intel Core i5-2450m, AMD 7690M, 6GB RAM, 5400RPM HD) 6,727 PCMarks

Not much surprise there in the PCMark Vantage results, the Y580 handily beats both the previous IdeaPad Y570 and the smaller Y480.  Next up is the more recent PCMark 7 that again measures overall system performance.   The Y580 scored 2,622 on this benchmark

image

Laptop PCMark 7 Score
Lenovo IdeaPad Y580 (Intel Core i7-3610QM, Nvidia GTX 660M, 8GB RAM, 5400RPM HD) 2,622 PCMarks
HP dv6t-7000 Quad Edition, Intel Core i7-3610QM, Nvidia GT650M, 7200RPM HD 2,877 PCMarks
HP Envy 17-3000, Intel Core i7-2670QM, AMD 7690M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 2,703 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad Y570 – Intel Core i7-2670QM, Nvidia 555M 1GB, 8GB RAM,5400RPM HD 2,573 PCMarks
Dell XPS 17 (Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, Nvidia 550m, 6GB RAM, HD 7200RPM) 1,995 PCMarks
Sony VAIO SA (Intel Core i5-2430M 2.50GHz, AMD Radeon 6630M, 4GB RAM) 2,002 PCMarks

 

You may be surprised to see the old 2011 ENVY 17 and dv6t-7000 with a weaker graphics card beat out the Y580 in the overall system score, but those configurations both had a faster 7200RPM hard drive and this PCMark 7 benchmark puts a big weighting on hard drive speed.  If you upgrade to a 7200RPM drive or, better yet, SSD in the Y580 it’ll smoke those laptops with its score.

Where the Y580 is able to really stand out from the crowd is 3D performance thanks to its Nvidia GTX 660M card.  The Y580 scored higher than any recent gaming notebook we’ve reviewed, it just outscored the dv6t-7000 but once again the storage may have hampered the Y580 score a bit.  In reality, the GTX 660M is quite a bit more powerful than the GT 650M.

3DMark Vantage – Measures 3D graphics performance

3DMV

Laptop 3DMark Vantage
Lenovo IdeaPad Y580 (Intel Core i7-3610QM, Nvidia GTX 660M, 8GB RAM, 5400RPM HD) 10,153
Lenovo IdeaPad Y480 (Intel Core i7-3610QM, NVIDIA 640M LE, 8GB RAM, 5400RPM HD) 5,587
HP dv6t-7000 Quad Edition, Intel Core i7-3610QM, Nvidia GT650M, 7200RPM HD 10,108
HP Envy 17-3000, Intel Core i7-2670QM, AMD 7690M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 6,970

Heat and Noise

The Y580 puts off and exhausts quite a bit of heat under full gaming load but the keyword here is “exhausts” – the chassis warms up a bit but fortunately not hot, most of the heat is blown out of the large vent on the left side. At idle the Y580 is silent for all intents and purposes. Under full load the fan is audible but it’s not so much the fan that sounds like something; rather, the rush of air coming out.

y580 heat sink

You can see a big, beautiful copper heatsink looking in the fan exhaust port on the left side of the notebook. This means the heatsink is as efficient as it can be. Copper is expensive and used only in higher quality heatsinks. Based on the amount of power in the Y580, it needs it.

Battery Life

I measured four hours, 35 minutes of battery life surfing the Internet with half screen brightness. I turned the keyboard backlighting off to save power. This is a respectable time for a consumer desktop replacement notebook – especially one as powerful as the Y580.

Conclusion

The Lenovo IdeaPad Y580 is a great value for many reasons. The only major item I disliked about our test unit was the generic 1366×768 resolution display which simply doesn’t belong on a notebook of this caliber. Fortunately Lenovo offers a 1920×1080 (full HD) upgrade for not much more; the Y580 needs to have that in order to get our full recommendation.

Otherwise there is more than enough to like. Let’s start with the little things: four USB 3.0 “Superspeed” ports, great-sounding JBL speakers, and a classy aluminum-clad design. Then there’s the 4.5+ hour battery life, great full-size backlit keyboard and phenomenal performance thanks to the third-gen Intel quad-core processor and Nvidia GTX 660M graphics card.

At just around $1,000 the Lenovo IdeaPad Y580 is easy to recommend to gamers and multimedia enthusiasts alike; just make sure you get that 1920×1080 screen upgrade.

Pros:

  • Excellent overall performance
  • Good backlit keyboard
  • Nice speakers
  • Good value

Cons:

  • Low-rent 1366×768 display; make sure you get the 1080p version
  • So-so clickpad; we prefer regular touchpads

Where to Buy

[button link=”http://www.lenovo.com/products/us/laptop/ideapad/y-series/y580/” size=”large” bg_color=”red” window=”yes”]Buy the IdeaPad Y580 Direct from Lenovo.com[/button]

18 comments

Lenovo IdeaPad U310 Review

An Ultrabook with a higher-capacity mechanical hard drive? While not strictly following the “Ultrabook” formula set out by Intel (solid-state drives only), the Lenovo Ideapad U310 fits the category as a sleek, thin laptop that you can’t help but to stare at.  It’s a simple, clean design that incorporates several newer technologies such as a line of low-voltage Ivy Bridge processors, hybrid SSD + HDD solution, and Lenovo’s updated Enhanced Experience 3. While the Ultrabook market is starting to flood with designs from nearly every major OEM, this Ideapad stands out with its affordable pricing, starting at $720 from Lenovo’s website.

Lenovo IdeaPad U310

The IdeaPad U310 under review comes with the following specs:

  • Processor: Intel Core i5-3317U ULV (1.7GHz, TurboBoost to 2.6GHz, 3MB cache)
  • Graphics: Intel HD 4000
  • Memory: 4GB RAM DDR3-1600
  • Display: 13.3” 1366 x 768 resolution, glossy finish
  • OS: Windows 7 Home Premium
  • Storage: 500GB 5400RPM hard drive + 32GB mSATA SSD cache drive
  • Battery: 3-cell Li-Poly, 46Wh
  • Wireless: Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2200
  • Ports: HDMI, two USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, combo microphone/headphone port, SD/MMC card reader, RJ-45 Ethernet 10/100
  • Dimensions: 13.1 x 8.8 x 0.7 in (33.3 x 22.4 x 1.8 cm)
  • Weight: 3.75lbs (1.7kg)
  • Warranty: 1yr standard depot warranty

Build and Design

Lenovo IdeaPad U310 lid

Like most Ultrabooks, the Ideapad U310 is small, lightweight, and has a simple design that derives from Lenovo’s previous 13.3” Ultrabook, the Ideapad U300s. The display is attached to the laptop’s body via a large center hinge that spans nearly the entire width of the body and is surrounded by a glossy black bezel, a la the MacBook Pro. The lid and the bottom of the U310 are both made from aluminum, though the palm rest is constructed from plastic, which is both a plus (in that a user will not have cold hands when first using the laptop) and a slight negative. Overall, I like the way that the U310 is built and it certainly feels much sturdier than laptops typically sold at big box stores for the same price. The only issue I take up with the construction is that there is a slight flexing issue with the keyboard if a user presses down with modest pressure; however, with normal typing this is not very noticeable and a user would have to go out of their way to discover this flex. The same goes for the area bordering the keyboard plate, mostly near the side edged (near the Caps Lock and PgUp keys) and between the keyboard and hinge, though these require that a user press down with a lot of pressure to notice.

Lenovo IdeaPad U310 design

Moving on from the negatives, there are only two other buttons on the U310, one being the power button on the upper-left corner and the other a OneKey Recovery button, just to the side of the power button on the left edge of the laptop. No dubious media keys lining the upper edge, any speaker grills, nor an excess of marketing stickers (the only stickers present are the WIndows 7 and Intel Core i5 stickers). Lenovo aimed, successfully may I add, for the U310 to convey a sleek, modern design that’s meant to appeal to a fashion-conscious demographic. One of my favorite features of the U310 is the “Loop” design around the edge of the laptop. When the lid is closed and a user wants to open the laptop, it’s very easy to use a single finger to lift up the display thanks to the lip around the body and the weight distribution — the U310 will not lift up from the force it takes to open the lid.

IMG_0755

Keyboard and Touchpad

Like the rest of the new Lenovo line up, the U310 has what they refer to as the AccuType keyboard. As I have stated in my Ideapad Y470p review, the AccuType keyboard is a great version of the island-style keyboard. A lot of these new keyboards have flat keys that are uncomfortable to type on, but Lenovo’s version has curved keys that fit a user’s fingers well, making it about as comfortable as traditional-style keyboards. I still have my reservations on Lenovo’s decision to place the special function keys (Delete, Home, End, and PgUP/PgDn) on the right side of the keyboard instead of in the top-right corner like in other keyboards. This new layout causes the Shift, Enter, and Backspace keys to be of a shorter length despite this being a full-sized keyboard. For a touch typist, using the AccuType keyboard requires that they slow down their typing and make sure that they hit these buttons instead of something else; this is especially a problem with the right Shift key because there’s an equally likely chance an end user will hit the Question key or the Up Arrow key instead.

Lenovo U310 keyboard

While the keyboard is good, the trackpad is what really shines on the U310. Its massive area (12 square inches – 4” x 3”) and glass construction make it an absolute joy to use. While my favorite laptop mouse system is still the TrackPoint seen on the ThinkPad, this low-friction glass touchpad is certainly a step up from the typical laptop trackpad. Basically, this is a Windows version of the Macbook trackpad, including many of the same features in a less expensive competitor to the MacBook Air. Two-finger scrolling is smooth and instant, zooming in and out work as expected and also in a smooth fashion, and the whole trackpad is a physical button. A user can click anywhere on the trackpad and, save for the bottom-right corner, left-click from any position.

Display

Lenovo configures all Ideapad U310 Ultrabooks with a glossy 1366 by 768 TN panel, common in many laptops sold on the market. As such, the quality of the display is pretty much run of the mill here. For people buying this laptop as a replacement for another laptop that was bought at a big-box store for the same price range, this display doesn’t feel too different for what they’re upgrading from. The glossy coating helps the colors pop out and blacks are nice and dark. While the screen looks good while viewing it at an angle perpendicular to the user’s face, colors start to darken when the screen is tilted back to its maximum angle (140 degrees), and tilting the laptop back by a few more degrees will cause the colors to invert. Tilting the display in the opposite direction causes the colors to fade away to white. Viewing the U310 from either side is fine if there’s a document on screen (black text on a white sheet is clear and readable), but colors will darken, invert, or fade to white, depending on where the eyes are located relative to the display. While this sort of behavior is normal for most laptops, those coming from higher-end displays (such as Full HD 1920 x 1080 displays, the ThinkPad X230’s IPS displays, etc.) won’t be too impressed by the quality. Still, the display is good enough to get work done and it performs well enough for entertainment purposes (movie watching, photos, etc.).

IdeaPad U310 screen U310 screen side
U310 screen tilted forward IdeaPad U310 tilted back

Ports

Even with the small amount of room to spare in the Ultrabook design, Lenovo has included all the ports a user will need about 99% of the time. On the left side, you get two Super Speed USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, and an Ethernet port (10/100). Also on the left are the internal microphone, vents, and the OneKey button.

Lenovo IdeaPad U310 left side ports

On the right, you have the combination microphone/headphone jack, a USB 2.0 port, and the DC power connector.

Lenovo IdeaPad U310 right side

Only the SD/MMC card slot and two indicator lights (power, battery charge) occupy the front of the U310

IdeaPad U310 SD slot and indicator lights

The back is completely clean, with no ports to speak of.

U310 back side

Speakers and Audio

The Lenovo U310’s speakers are hidden inside the laptop with sound coming from the back of the case, near the display hinges. Lenovo includes Dolby Home Theater v4 software with this Ultrabook, which allows the user to control several sound qualities. Features included are the Intelligent Equalizer, which has several presettings that target different combinations of high, mid, and low frequencies, a Graphic Equalizer, Volume Leveler, Surround Virtualizer (which adjusts directional bias in either the speakers or headphones), and a Dialogue Enhancer (useful for movies). There are three preset profiles (Movie, Music, and Game) and the software includes six spaces for custom profiles. While the default Intelligent Equalizer profile for Music is “Open” (which “Dynamically enhances low and high frequencies”) is fine for most rock and jazz titles, dubstep lovers will want to use the “Focused” profile (which enhances mid frequencies), as tested with Chrispy’s “Kung Fu King”; bass is pretty good for a laptop without a subwoofer inside. Trying to listen to music on either the Movie or the Game profiles tends to make it sound tinny, so remember to check profiles before extended listening sessions.

As for the headphone jack, the sound quality boils down to what earphones or headphones are being used. Using a pair of inexpensive JVC Gummies earphones, sound quality is fine, whereas a pair of Sony MDR-NC7 headphones has issues reproducing bass (though that’s the fault of the headphones, not the U310 or the Dolby software). Upgrading to more powerful headphones, which typically require a USB port in addition to an audio cable, produces audio that sounds better than the internal speakers (in this case, a Turtle Beach Earforce X12 gaming headset). Even so, the internal speakers sound better than the majority of other laptops old today, and fall just short of some branded speakers (such as JBL and Harman Kardon).

Software

Just like a lot of laptops sold on the market, the U310 includes several pieces of software pre-installed from the factory. Aside from the already-mentioned Dolby Home Theater v4 audio software, there is McAfee AntiVirus Plus, ooVoo, Intel WiDi, Microsoft Office Starter 2010, and Absolute Data Protect. ooVoo is Cisco’s chat software that competes with Skype, while Absolute Data Protect is something new seen in Lenovo computers. It is a 90-day free trial of software that, in combination with Intel’s Anti-Theft technology, promises to safeguard information on the computer by allowing the user to remotely delete files, locate the laptop, and lock the laptop with either a timer or on demand. This is possible through a web interface via lojackforlaptops.absolute.com, a configuration webpage where the user sets up and manages the service. With the rise of BYOD policies (using personal computing devices in the workplace), Absolute Data Protect looks to be a good step in the right direction for securing a personal computer that contains corporate data.

The U310, like other Ideapads, comes with Lenovo’s usual suite of software titles that are OEM branded. Energy Management, just as the name suggests, manages the amount of power used by the laptop (it’d be power [W] and not energy [J], but that’s just the engineering student in me complaining of word usage). Unlike Lenovo’s Thinkpad Power Manager, Energy Management is just a GUI interface to Window’s built-in power manager (so the user can select Power Saver, Balanced, or Performance). Lenovo Smart Update is an application that can update information (such as “instant message software, Sina microblog, e-mail, etc.”) while the computer is in sleep or hibernation. By default, monitored items include Tencent QQ, Windows Live Messenger, Outlook, Live Mail, Facebook, and Twitter, though a user can choose to change the latter four as unmonitored (unfortunately, Tencent QQ and Windows Live Messenger are required to be monitored, since they are locked under the “Monitor” category). YouCam (developed by CyberLink) uses the U310’s 1MP camera to record the user (or anyone else in front of the camera) and give the ability to upload the snapshots and/or videos to Youtube, Facebook, or email. Image quality is decent. Images are slightly dimmed (and somewhat blurry, from a distance) and some colors are a little washed out (my beige walls are closer to gray in videos in a sun-lit room). Included with Youcam are several effects, including action blurbs such as “BAM!”, “WOW!”, and “ZZZ…”, silly add-ons (such as a witch hat, gas mask, police cap, etc.), frames, and image distortions. Another feature included is a tab which includes different faces (such as an alien, Statue of Liberty, Abe Lincoln, a dog, etc.) that follow the user’s face movements fairly accurately (head position, lips, eyebrows and eyelids).

The two Lenovo applications that don’t feel gimmicky to me are the OneKey Recovery software and the Veriface 4.0 software. OneKey, also developed by CyberLink, is an alternative to Window’s native backup and recovery system. Both Windows and OneKey function similarly, though OneKey has a simple user interface that would feel more comfortable to people not used to the native function, as well as the physical OneKey button included on the side of the laptop that launches the program. Veriface 4.0 works just like a fingerprint login, except that it uses the image of the user’s face instead of their fingers. It also works with website logins (something I wished Thinkpad fingerprint login would do by default) as well and all images are password protected.

Battery Life

The sealed 3-cell Li-Poly battery included with the Ideapad U310, rated for 46Wh, will run for five hours and twenty-two minutes under Window’s “Power Saver” (at display brightness set to a little under half power) and four hours under “Balanced” (display set at roughly 80% power) with light computer usage (Office, internet browsing, and one or two Youtube videos). While not the advertised seven hours claimed by Lenovo, I still consider the nearly 5.5 hours of battery life to be great for such a tiny battery, thanks in part to the ULV processor. With a TDP (max. power) of 17W, putting the CPU on full-load while using battery should reduce battery life to around 2.5 hours.

Performance

With a Cinebench R10 score of 7024.4, the i5-3317U delivers slightly more power than the i5-540M full-voltage CPU and just a few points behind the i7-2637M ULV CPU (7068.7). For the average Joe or Jane, this means that the processor is more than powerful enough to handle daily computing tasks without issue, despite the processor only sipping power from the battery or wall outlet. The real change that will be noticed is Intel’s new HD 4000 graphics, which is comparable to AMD’s Radeon 6620G found in the A-series APUs; this means both GPU options perform similarly to the Radeon 5650 dedicated GPU. In a nutshell, this laptop will be able to handle most modern games at high detail at native resolution (768p), including Fifa 12, Dirt 3, CoD: Black Ops, and StarCraft 2. This is an Ultrabook however and not a gaming machine, so some more demanding titles (Battlefield 3, Skyrim) will not perform well with the HD 4000 graphics, even at low detail.

The most noticeable performance point is the combination HDD + mSATA SSD cache. Just a brief run-down of storage options before moving on though. Data saved by a user is stored in one of several ways: via mechanical hard drive (common in nearly all laptops and desktops), removable media (flashdrives, DVD, etc.), and solid-state drives (just now becoming commonplace). While mechanical drives offer massive amounts of storage (ranging from 320GB to 1TB in current notebooks), they are typically slow and this becomes the most common bottleneck in computer performance (games and files load slowly, Windows takes a long time to boot, etc.). Solid-state drives are orders of magnitude faster than other types of permanent storage, but the issue with SSDs is that they are too expensive (per GB) to be the sole storage device for many computer users (for example, a person could buy a 1TB notebook HDD for around the same price as a 120-180GB SSD). Lenovo and other OEMs are trying to bring the best of both worlds to the user by offering optional HDD + mSATA SSD cache combinations. In the U310’s case, this means either a 320GB or 500GB (both 5400RPM) HDD combined with a 32GB solid-state drive acting as a cache drive. While this offers both large amounts of storage space (the user only sees the 320GB or 500GB from the mechanical drive) and SSD-like loading times, the SSD cache has to “learn” the end-user’s computing behavior first before offering such speeds. What I mean by that is that if a user normally boots up Windows, often opens up Firefox, and typically uses Microsoft Office products such as Word or Excel, the cache drive will allocate its hardware to accelerate the loading times of Windows, Firefox, and Office software to SSD-like times. Windows boots up in around 21-22 seconds (ignoring the time needed to log in), which is similar to solid-state drive boot times, and resuming from sleep takes only a second or two; both measures of performance a user will love. Loading up files and programs not commonly used will still only load as fast as a typical 5400RPM mechanical drive will allow, but for users who typically have the same computing pattern every day, the U310 (with optional cache drive) will feel as though they have an actual solid-state drive (without actually paying for one).

Boot results for U310

We’d of course be remised not to include some of the Futuremark performance scores we usually cover for the sake of comparison to other laptops.   Below are the scores the U310 achieved running PCMark Vantage:

pcmark vantage

PCMark Vantage Benchmark Results – Higher scores indicate better performance

Laptop PCMark Vantage Score
Lenovo IdeaPad U310 – Intel Core i5-3317U ULV 1.7GHz, 4GB RAM, Intel HD 4000, 540RPM HD 6,433 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X230 – Intel Core  i5-3320M 2.60GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 7,603 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X220 – Intel Core  i5-2410M 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 5,764 PCMarks
SONY VAIO SA – Intel Core i5-2430M, AMD 6750M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 7,007 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM 6,056 PCMarks
Dell Vostro 3450 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30Ghz, 4GB RAM 5,901 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron N411z – Intel Core i3-2330m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM 5,285 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad T420 – Intel Core i3-2310m 2.1GHz, 2GB RAM 3,204 PCMarks

 

While the IdeaPad U310 is not intended to be used for gaming purposes, with its Intel HD 4000 graphics it can run a few games, here’s the score it achieved in 3DMark Vantage and how it compares to other laptops:

3dmark vantage

3DMark Vantage – Measures 3D graphics performance, higher scores are better

Laptop 3DMark Vantage
Lenovo IdeaPad U310 – Intel Core i5-3317U ULV 1.7GHz, 4GB RAM, Intel HD 4000, 540RPM HD 2,133
Lenovo ThinkPad X230 – Intel Core  i5-3320M 2.60GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 3,165
Lenovo ThinkPad X220 – Intel Core  i5-2410M 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 1,611
Dell XPS 15 (Intel Core i7-2670QM, Nvidia GT 525M 1GB RAM, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD) 4,211
HP Envy 17-3000, Intel Core i7-2670QM, AMD 7690M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 6,970
Dell XPS 17 (Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, Nvidia 550m, 6GB RAM, HD 7200RPM) 4,747
HP Pavilion dv6t Select Edition – Intel Core i5-2410m, Intel HD 3000 Graphics, 6GB RAM 1,845

Conclusion

For those wanting a lightweight, thin laptop without breaking the bank, the Lenovo IdeaPad U310 offers a great design that buyers should consider. The metal construction adds to both the structural strength (I feel comfortable picking up the laptop by the edge) and outward appearances, and the plastic interior (save for the keyboard plate) even looks like bare aluminum. At only 3.75lbs, the 13.3” laptop will not weigh down a bookbag or laptop bag while traveling and the 3-cell battery allows a user to stay away from outlets for a decent amount of time. While I’d rather see a 900p display than 768p (even if only as an optional choice for extra cash), for a starting price of $720 for such a slim laptop I can’t really complain. What I can complain about is the keyboard layout, specifically the right edge of the keyboard and the shorter right Shift, Enter, and Backspace keys. Just like with the Y470p I tested, often times I find myself hitting the Up Arrow key or the Question key instead of the desired Shift or the Plus/Equal key instead of Backspace; at least I’m able to hit the right Enter key a lot of the time. As a touch-typist, I’d rather see the special function keys back in the top-right corner of the keyboard instead of lining the right edge. It would also be nice if an end-user was able to upgrade some parts of the laptop themselves (HDD, RAM, battery), but due to the limited internal space I understand why this isn’t possible. Still, I think that the Lenovo Ideapad U310 is a strong contender in the slim, lightweight laptop market commonly known as the Ultrabook market, combining just the right amounts of price, design, and power to satisfy a buyer.

Pros

  • Sleek metal design
  • Five and a half hours of battery life
  • Non-tinny speakers
  • Weight
  • USB 3.0 and HDMI ports
  • SSD-like speed
  • Stays cool to the touch

Cons

  • No 900p display option
  • Odd keyboard layout
  • Somewhat narrow viewing angles on the screen

Where to Buy

[button link=”http://www.lenovo.com/products/us/laptop/ideapad/u-series/u310/” bg_color=”red” window=”yes”]Buy the Lenovo U310 for $720 at Lenovo.com[/button]

4 comments

HP Pavilion dv7t-7000 Quad Edition First Thoughts

The 17.3” screen HP dv7t-7000 Quad Edition is the second most popular selling laptop the company offers, right behind the smaller 15.6” screen dv6t-7000.  The features between these two notebooks are very similar, but the larger size of the Pavilion dv7t does offer some advantages.  For instance, the dv7t comes with a standard 1600 x 900 resolution screen over the 1366 x 768 standard screen on the dv6t.  The larger size of the dv7t also supports dual hard drives, which is something many power users look for as it enables either large internal capacity storage or a fast SSD and high capacity HD to get the best of both storage worlds.   And finally, if you just prefer bigger screens and don’t care about mobility (this is a desktop replacement after all) then the extra 2-inches of diagonal viewing on the dv7t might be considered a positive.

HP dv7t-7000 out of the box

The Pavilion dv7t-7000 can be configured and ordered direct from HP.com, it starts at $899.99 before any coupons, but there’s invariably a coupon to help knock that starting price down.  At the time we ordered this there was a 33% of coupon so the configuration under review was $921:

  • Processor: Intel Core i7-3610QM
  • Screen: 17.3” HD+ (1600 x 900 resolution) glossy finish
  • Graphics: Nvidia GT 650M with 2GB GDDR5 memory
  • Memory: 8GB DDR3 (2 DIMM)
  • Storage: 1TB 7200RPM HD (Seagate)
  • Battery: 6-cell Lithium Ion, quotes 5.75 hours of battery life
  • Backlit keyboard with number pad
  • Built-in WebCam
  • Weight: 6.94lbs
  • Ports: monitor out, HDMI, Ethernet LAN (RJ-45), three USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 port, headphone jack, microphone jack, media card reader
  • Wireless: 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Optical Drive: Blu Ray player & SuperMulti DVD burner
  • Dimensions: 16.38” x 10.79” x 1.24” (Width x Depth x Height)
  • Warranty: 2-year

The price of $921 is not bad for these specs considering it’s a capable gaming laptop and often times such models cost over $1,000.  Upgrades made included the Nvidia 650m graphics card (+$125) and backlit keyboard (+$25).   Included in the box that you receive with a shipped dv7t-7000 are the following:

You don’t get the luxury unpacking experience that an HP ENVY laptop offers with its black box and fancy packaging, but that’s not really an important aspect of why you buy a computer.  Inside the box you get the following contents:

  • dv7t-7000 Quad Edition Laptop
  • Power brick and charge cable
  • Documentation and warranty
  • Battery (6-cell standard)

You don’t get restore disks or fancy packaging and a free sleeve like you do with the ENVY lineup of laptops.

The new design on the Pavilion dv7t-7000 series is what HP is calling part of their Mosaic of product designs.   I’m not totally sure what that means, but according to HP this Mosaic design encompasses using precise lines and tapered profiles along with premium materials such as aluminum and magnesium.

HP dv6t-7000 lid

The only color choice you get with the dv7t-7000 is midnight black, last year you could get either a dark umber brown or silver finish on the dv7t but HP decided that since black is often the most popular color they’d just roll with that one option.  The midnight black design used on this model is appealing, it offers subtle aluminum brush strokes and silver accent finishes.  The HP illuminated logo on top is also a nice touch, though it probably doesn’t carry the same cache’ an Apple logo does…

HP dv7t-7000 open

The screen and keyboard deck area are also all black like the lid, the bezel around the screen has a glossy finish that picks up a lot of fingerprints.  The keyboard tray area has the same glossy finish, though the keys themselves are a matte finish.  The glossiness is pretty annoying as it tends to show dust.  The palm rest areas have a brush metal finish, the same as that on the lid.  The side areas of the dv7t-7000 where the ports are located have a silver color finish, the material used here is plastic, but it’s solid and durable feeling nonetheless.  At the top of the keyboard and below the screen are two mesh like speaker grilles.  There are quad speakers and then a subwoofer on the bottom, together they offer very good sound by laptop standards.

The bottom of the dv7t-7000 has an easily removable panel, all you need to do is use a Phillips head screwdriver to remove one screw to slide out the panel and get access to the two hard drive bays, memory slots, and PCIe slot where the wireless card is located.  You can see this in the below picture, the battery is also removed in this image:

dv7t-7000 bottom panel removed

The dv7t-7000 uses a mix of aluminum and plastic in its construction, the case is thick making it very rigid and durable.  The lid and palm rest areas use an aluminum chassis while the side of the laptop are a sturdy plastic material.  The bottom appears to be a rigid plastic.

HP offers two options for the 17.3” screen, the standard screen is a glossy 1600 x 900 while the premium upgrade is a 1920 x 1080 resolution matte finish screen.  The dv7tqe under review has the standard screen, if you can afford it I would recommend the premium screen upgrade as it is a much better screen.  The standard screen isn’t horrible by any means, but it’s not as good as the 1920 x 1080 screen on the dv6t-7000 I reviewed earlier this year.  Below are various angles of the dv7t-7000 screen showing that colors do distort as you tilt the screen back:

dv7t-7000 1600 x 900 screen dv7t-7000 1600 x 900 screen
dv7t-7000 1600 x 900 screen dv7t-7000 1600 x 900 screen

While viewing angles may not be as good as the premium 1920 x 1080 screen option, the colors are still very good when viewed straight on and the screen is nice and bright.

One of the major reasons people are interested in buying the dv7t-7000 Quad Edition is the Intel Core i7 Quad core processor that uses the new Ivy Bridge platform and Nvidia GT 650M graphics all for under $1,000.  The price to performance features are compelling.  For typical work tasks such as using the web or office applications this laptop flies.  You really don’t need as much power as is under the hood here to do regular work.  If you’re into photography and do a lot of rendering or video processing, the Core i7-3610QM on board will shine and churn through that type of multimedia software too.  You can upgrade to even faster Core i7 offerings, but for most that’s really not going to be necessary.

We ran a few benchmarks to see how the dv7tqe stood up to laptops we’ve reviewed in the past.   PCMark 7 measures the overall system performance:

pcmark 7

 

Laptop PCMark 7 Score
HP dv7t-7000 Quad Edition, Intel Core i7-3610QM, Nvidia GT650M, 5400RPM HD 2,660 PCMarks
HP dv6t-7000 Quad Edition, Intel Core i7-3610QM, Nvidia GT650M, 7200RPM HD 2,877 PCMarks
HP Envy 17-3000, Intel Core i7-2670QM, AMD 7690M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 2,703 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad Y570 – Intel Core i7-2670QM, Nvidia 555M 1GB, 8GB RAM,5400RPM HD 2,573 PCMarks
Dell XPS 17 (Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, Nvidia 550m, 6GB RAM, HD 7200RPM) 1,995 PCMarks
Sony VAIO SA (Intel Core i5-2430M 2.50GHz, AMD Radeon 6630M, 4GB RAM) 2,002 PCMarks

 

3DMark Vantage is an older but more popular 3D benchmarking suite, the dv7 went over the 10,000 score mark on this which indicates very good graphics performance:

3dmark vantage

Laptop 3DMark Vantage
HP dv7t-7000 Quad Edition, Intel Core i7-3610QM, Nvidia GT650M, 5400RPM HD 10,066
HP dv6t-7000 Quad Edition, Intel Core i7-3610QM, Nvidia GT650M, 7200RPM HD 10,108
Lenovo IdeaPad Y480 (Intel Core i7-3610QM, NVIDIA 640M LE, 8GB RAM, 5400RPM HD) 5,587
HP Envy 17-3000, Intel Core i7-2670QM, AMD 7690M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 6,970
Dell XPS 17 (Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, Nvidia 550m, 6GB RAM, HD 7200RPM) 4,747
HP Pavilion dv6t Select Edition – Intel Core i5-2410m, Intel HD 3000 Graphics, 6GB RAM 1,845

You’ll notice in the above scores the dv6t-7000 Quad Edition I reviewed just outscored the dv7t-7000, that’s because it had a faster 7200RPM drive as configured.  If you upgrade to a 7200RPM drive or better yet SSD in the dv7t then you’ll get better scores than you see here.

Stay tuned as we continue to work with and play around on the dv7t-7000 and post a full review in the next few weeks.  Until that time take a look at a video tour I shot of this model:

HP Pavilion dv7t-7000 Tour
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