Lenovo's T-series ThinkPads are designed to offer a marriage of performance, portability and durability. The T510 is the largest in the series, and with a 15.6in. screen it's borderline portable for many people. The entry-level price is £766.99 (inc. VAT; £639.15 ex. VAT), so the ThinkPad T510 needn't break the bank — but does it deliver on Lenovo's promise?
Lenovo talks up the durability of its ThinkPad range, with the notebooks able to withstand drops from desk height and keep functioning. The chassis certainly seems very solid indeed.
The lid, for example, is one of the least flexible we've seen outside a ruggedised notebook; it provides ample protection for the screen, which is one of the most vulnerable parts of a notebook. There's a lip on the lid that ensures nothing can find its way between screen and keyboard when the notebook is in transit; a very solid catch offers additional security.
The design is low key, with a matte black finish to our review sample and a discreet ThinkPad logo on the outside of the shell. The solid chassis construction is partly responsible for the ThinkPad T510 being on the heavy side at 2.67kg. It's sizeable too, measuring 37.28cm wide by 24.51cm deep by 3.58cm thick. It's not the kind of notebook that most people would want to carry on a daily basis.
Of course you do get a large screen in return for that bulk and weight: a 15.6in. display will easily accommodate two working windows side by side, and with a native resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels, the image is sharp and clear.
The screen has a matte finish, which is welcome, and viewing angles are good. The T510's 14.1in. stablemate, the T410, comes in a version with a touchscreen, which we reviewed last year; there's no touchsceen option for the 15.6in. model though.
The T510 has a typically high-quality keyboard, flanked by a pair of speaker grilles
The keyboard area is flanked by two long vertical grilles that house the stereo speakers. This gives the impression of a cramped keyboard, but in fact there's plenty of space. The QWERTY keys are large, the number keys are full height, with a row of half-height Fn keys above.
The Enter key is larger than normal and, as usual with Lenovo, is blue where the rest of the keys are black. The Esc key, too, is noticeably tall; it's in its usual spot, though, and we found it no trouble to use. If we have a grumble it's that the cursor keys — which contain multimedia controls when used with the Fn key and double up as scroll keys within a web browser — are a little small.
All the keys depress a long way, and there's a slightly hollow feeling when typing. It's a very different experience from using 'chiclet'-style keyboards.
The Fn keys and others such as PrtSc, Pause and Insert sit on a double row above the number keys. A double-height Delete key and the Home, End, PgUp and PgDn keys are to the right of these. At the very top, on the left side, are the audio control buttons, including one for muting the microphone, plus Lenovo's ThinkVantage button and the main on/off switch. A Fn-F6 combination opens a set of VoIP controls, including settings for the 2.0-megapixel camera.
To add even more complexity to the keyboard area, Lenovo incorporates its usual dual touchpad/trackpoint system. The latter sits between the G, H and B keys and has its own pair of mouse buttons immediately beneath the space bar. Between these is a third button: press it down and you can use the trackpoint to scroll vertically and horizontally.
The touchpad sits flush to the wrist rest and has a stippled background to differentiate it. It supports multitouch, allowing you to pinch to zoom, which is very useful when web browsing. Beneath the touchpad is a second pair of mouse buttons.
All these features make for a busy arrangement, and those who like a simple, uncluttered keyboard may find it a little offputting. The keyboard may take some getting used to, but it does offer plenty of options for cursor control and puts a lot of features and services at your fingertips.
There is a keyboard light above the screen, next to the webcam, which you turn on and off with a Fn key combination. This provides enough light to work by and does not cause light bleed around the keys as can happen with some backlit keyboards such as that of the Sony VAIO S.
There is a fingerprint sensor on the right side of the wrist rest.
Our review sample of the ThinkPad T510 had a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-520M processor. There are three 'stock' models currently listed at Lenovo's web site, but our review configuration was slightly customised.
The CPU was supported by 3GB of RAM, which can be raised to a maximum of 8GB. Storage came via a fast 7,200rpm 320GB hard drive, with 500GB and 250GB options available as well as a 128GB SSD.
Our review sample ran under Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, but this can be replaced with the 32-bit version, or with Windows 7 Home Premium or Ultimate (either 32-bit or 64-bit).
Intel's integrated HD Graphics handled the graphics, but a discrete Nvidia NVS 3100m Optimus GPU is also available.
All models come with Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) and Bluetooth, and some (including the review unit) can be upgraded with integrated mobile broadband (Gobi 2000 with GPS, £74.84 inc. VAT). The SIM card slot is loacted beneath the battery.
The optical drive sits in a bay on the right-hand side, where you'll also find an SD card slot and an ExpressCard slot stacked vertically. Behind these slots is a combo audio jack and, at the back, an Ethernet (RJ-45) connector.
The front of the chassis is bare, while the back houses the power input, a modem (RJ-11) port and a single USB slot.
This arrangement means that most of the ports are squeezed onto the left-hand side. There's a hardware switch for the wireless radios at the front, then a FireWire (IEEE 1394) port and a combined eSATA/USB port. Next comes a pair of vertically stacked USB ports whose proximity may make it tricky to use both at the same time. Further back there are VGA and DisplayPort connectors.
ThinkVantage Toolbox utilities and services help you maintain your ThinkPad T510 in good shape
The software bundle includes Lenovo's ThinkVantage toolbox, which gives access to a number of local and online services designed to keep the system running smoothly.
Performance & battery life
The T510's Windows Experience Index (WEI) was 4.3 (out of 7.9). It rated higher than the ThinkPad Edge 11" overall, and either bettered or equalled all of its component scores.
The overall WEI rating corresponds to the lowest component score, which was for Graphics (Desktop performance for Windows Aero). The highest score, an impressive 6.8, was for Processor (Calculations per second). In between came scores of 5.8 for Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate), 5.5 for RAM (Memory operations per second), and 5.2 for Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance). This is a decent performer: if you need better graphics speed, specify the discrete Nvidia GPU in place of Intel's integrated HD Graphics.
Lenovo talks up the environmental credentials of its ThinkPad range, highlighting features like mercury-free displays, switchable graphics in some models, and Battery Stretch, which is designed to improve battery life.
There are several power plans to choose from, including preconfigured settings for video playback and one called 'timers off', which is optimised for making presentations. Although we run a video as our battery life test, we chose a standard Maximum Lifespan plan, and then ran a video for as long as the system could manage.
The 6-cell 2,600mAh battery delivered video for 2 hours and 13 minutes, at which point playback stopped and we were told there was 9 minutes of life left in the battery. If you need longer, you can upgrade to a 9-cell 2,800mAh battery.
The speakers flanking the keyboard deliver excellent-quality sound for a business notebook. There's enough bass to satisfy personal movie-watching requirements, and plenty of volume too.
It's difficult to find serious fault with Lenovo's ThinkPad T510. It's heavy, but in exchange you get a solid build and large screen. The keyboard is well designed, although you may find the dual pointing devices rather button-heavy. Audio output is very good, and the screen is large enough and good enough to deliver presentations directly to small audiences. Battery life from the 6-cell standard battery isn't great, but this is a notebook that's likely to spend more of its time on the desk than on the move.