Lenovo ThinkPad SL500 review
Lenovo cuts the price, but not the quality of its ThinkPad laptops and the result is a simply stunning budget machine.
UPDATE: Since this review was written Lenovo has changed the specifications slightly. Under the new part code of NRJAJUK, the SL500 now costs £500 (£575 inc VAT) but features a 2GHz Core 2 Duo T5870 and a much larger 250GB hard disk. This led to a benchmark score of 0.99 and five hours of light use battery life. The score and award still stand.
We're usually big fans of Lenovo's no-nonsense approach to producing laptops. Its thin and light ThinkPad X300 is still one of our favourite ultraportables, some 16 month after its initial release and, last month, its business workstation - the T500 - also impressed us.
This month, things have taken a different tack entirely, from the seriously expensive T-series to the ultra-cheap IdeaPad S10e and this - another reasonably-priced laptop, the SL500, which at ?434 exc VAT is less than half the price of the T500.
Initially at least there's no discernible drop in quality, either. Open the lid and there's the usual solid feel to the hinges. Unusually for a ThinkPad the closure mechanism is magnetic rather than mechanical, but it closes with a good, solid thunk and the lid stays tightly shut until you prise it open again.
The SL500's control points are typically fine too. The keyboard boasts a positive click, a robust feel and a sensible layout - we can't fault it, though as with the T500 it's a touch lighter and more rattly than previous ThinkPads we've reviewed.
And there's a choice between touchpad and trackpoint, as with other ThinkPad laptops. Both are sensitive and easy on the finger.
There are nods to consumer styling here too, something we haven't seen from Lenovo in recent times. The lid, for instance, is finished in a posh, glossy piano black lacquer, and the dot on the i of the ThinkPad logo glows red when the laptop is switched on or in standby.
The edges of the main body of the laptop are set at a rakish angle, a move we're rather taken with, and one that certainly makes a change from the usual boxy ThinkPad chassis.
The SL500 runs surprisingly cool, too. Sit it on your lap in High Performance mode and you'll not be bothered at all - there are no hot vents and the base doesn't cook your thighs as other machines of this size and specifications can do.
It's only when you start to manhandle the chassis that you discover where cutbacks have occurred. The plastics are a little flexy - tug at the wristrest firmly just below the trackpad and, surprisingly, the body pops apart at the catches.
But this is a fair compromise, and though it has an undeniably cheaper feel than the firm's premium products it's still a much more solid machine than the Dell Vostro 1500 - it's principal rival in this sector.
So far, so Lenovo, but with quality this good we expected the ThinkPad to suffer elsewhere. Not a bit of it: though the core specifications of a 1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5670, 2GB of RAM and 160GB hard disk aren't exactly earth shattering, for under ?600 they're perfectly acceptable, driving the SL500 to a decent score of 0.92 in our benchmarks.
Unsurprisingly there's nothing as fancy as the dual graphics found on the T500 here - just Intel's integrated X4500, so no chance of anything but the lightest of gaming sessions when you knock off work at the end of the day.
Battery life is fine if not outstanding: the SL500 lasted 4hrs 10mins in our light use tests and 2hrs 8mins when flat out. In fact, the only disappointment is the screen.
|Warranty||1 yr return to base|
|Dimensions||328 x 260 x 42mm (WDH)|
Processor and memory
|Processor||Intel Core 2 Duo T5670|
Screen and video
|Resolution screen horizontal||1,280|
|Resolution screen vertical||800|
|Resolution||1280 x 800|
|Graphics chipset||Intel GMA X4500|
|VGA (D-SUB) outputs||1|
|Optical disc technology||DVD writer|
|Replacement battery price inc VAT||£0|
|Wired adapter speed||1,000Mbits/sec|
|802.11 draft-n support||yes|
|Integrated 3G adapter||yes|
|PC Card slots||0|
|USB ports (downstream)||4|
|PS/2 mouse port||no|
|9-pin serial ports||0|
|Optical S/PDIF audio output ports||0|
|Electrical S/PDIF audio ports||0|
|3.5mm audio jacks||2|
|Pointing device type||Touchpad, trackpoint|
Battery and performance tests
|Battery life, light use||300|
|Battery life, heavy use||128|
|Overall application benchmark score||0.99|
|3D performance (crysis) low settings||Fail|
|3D performance setting||N/A|
Operating system and software
|Operating system||Windows Vista Business|
|OS family||Windows Vista|