Lenovo has continued the ThinkPad tradition of no-nonsense business laptops with the SL500, which provides good value and is powered by the Intel Centrino 2 architecture, and comes loaded with Windows Vista Business.
We see ThinkPads as AK-47s of the notebook world — tough, reliable and rolled out en masse. However, this latest ThinkPad incarnation comes with a glossy piano-black cover, which we have dubbed "fingerprint black".
There are three notebooks in the Lenovo ThinkPad SL range, the SL300, SL400 and SL500, with 13.3-inch, 14.4-inch and 15.5-inch displays respectively. We reviewed the latter. At 2.88kg, the SL500 is a mid-weight laptop — making it heavier than a Dell small business Vostro, but about the same weight as Sony's business Vaio BZ or a Dell Studio.
The SL500 sports a large keyboard, which feels solid and comfortable. Above the keyboard is a speaker, which is neither tinny or quiet, but the sound from laptop speakers are never amazing. Below the arrow keys is a fingerprint reader, which we see as a valuable security measure which is increasingly becoming standard on business laptops. Thankfully Lenovo's business range doesn't include the facial recognition software bundled with the IdeaPad range, which we found to be beyond useless.
We liked the SL500's 1,680x1,050 (60Hz, 200-nit) high resolution display, especially because it is not glossy — consumer laptops often have glossy displays, which are more reflective and harder to see in bright light.
Although some notebooks have a higher screen resolution than what is available on the SL500 — such as the 1,920x1,200 display on the Dell Latitude — they tend to reduce the battery life.
Mouse options on the SL500 include both a trackpad and a "nipple mouse", which sits prominently in the centre of the keyboard. By virtue of having two mice, the SL500 also has two sets of mouse buttons, one above and below the trackpad. The trackpad also features vertical and horizontal scrolling using its outermost edges.
The SL500 includes four USB 2.0 ports, HDMI and FireWire. It also includes a 56kbps modem — let us know in talkback if you still use one. The power and VGA ports are on the back and there is also an SD card reader.
Overall, the build quality of the SL500 is high. We could only find a few small issues — the Ethernet port is right next to the modem port, which resulted in us often getting the plugs confused, and we would prefer the lid to have a latch.
The SL500 includes Intel's new Centrino 2 platform, which provides a raft of features including better wireless, power management and performance.
Our review unit came with an Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 (2.4GHz), 2GB of RAM (667MHz) and a discrete graphics card in the form of an Nvidia GeForce 9300GS (256MB). Our tests gave a PCMark05 score of 3,860, which makes this a dependable laptop without being flashy. To put this into perspective, Asus' M51Va achieved a score of 5,612 in PCMark05, mind you this laptop comes equipped with 4GB of RAM (800MHz) and a 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo.
The inclusion of discrete graphics means this machine should confidently tackle even graphics intensive business applications. The SL500 delivered a 3DMark06 score of 1,974. Compare that to Asus' M51Va, which delivered a 3DMark06 score of 3,710 with a 512MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650 card. Be aware that high-end graphics cards drain the battery faster, and are generally unnecessary for business applications.
The SL line of ThinkPads is only available with a maximum of 2GB of RAM. Our system came with two 1GB RAM chips, filling both slots — so users wanting 4GB of RAM would need to replace both chips. Bear in mind that the SL500 range isn't pre-installed with 64-bit Windows, and as you know only around 3GB is addressable by the 32-bit version.
In order to test battery life, we turned the screen brightness to 50 per cent, muted the system and then played a DVD. This gave a total battery life of 109 minutes, which is above average. A good battery life — despite its high resolution display and discrete graphics card — endears this laptop to us.
Unfortunately, the SL500 comes pre-installed with a whole pile of crapware. Our system included a 60-day trail of Office 2007, a trail of McAfee Internet Security, PC Doctor 5, and Roxio (DVD burning software). There was also a whole stack of Lenovo "help" software, most of which wasn't helpful because it simply directed us to either the Lenovo website or a website that sold accessories.
Lenovo has continued the ThinkPad tradition of tough, no-nonsense business laptops with the SL500. It contains all the necessary features and at AU$1,900, it represents relatively good value for money. The system comes with a one year warranty — it's solid but not generous.
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