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Lenovo ThinkPad Edge Review
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Date: Feb 10, 2010
Section:Mobile
Author: Shawn Oliver
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Introduction and Specifications

Lenovo had one of the largest showings from any single PC manufacturer at CES this year, and while sifting through the company's new lineup of machines can be a daunting task for the average consumer, it was pretty clear from the outset that the ThinkPad Edge would be one of Lenovo's standout products of 2010. In many ways, it's a departure from the ThinkPad norm. It's the first ThinkPad to be available in more than just black (it will also ship in red), and there are a copious amount of customization options. Processors from both AMD and Intel are available, and it ships in 13", 14" and 15" form factors. It's not usual that a single machine type is available in ultraportable, mid-size and full-size notebook form factors, but the Edge seemingly breaks the mold.

The ThinkPad Edge is also one of Lenovo's most connected notebooks, ever. It can be ordered with Wi-Fi, WiMAX and an optional Gobi chipset, which can connect to both CDMA (Verizon Wireless) and GSM (AT&T) cellular data networks. To date, we have yet to see a machine with as many connectivity options built in. If you can't find an 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi hotspot, there's a good chance you could connect to VZW or AT&T's data network; if you're in a major city with Clear WiMAX service, you could even connect to 4G. Of course, you'll need to activate and pay monthly for each data service you wish to subscribe to, but at least the options are integrated in case you find it necessary to activate in the future.

The ThinkPad Edge, in addition to being wildly flexible, is also amongst the cheapest options from Lenovo. It's not built quite as "tough" and "thick" as a traditional ThinkPad, which is why the company was able to set the starting price at just $549. If the allure of a ThinkPad had you hooked, but the conventional exterior styling pushed you away, the newly engineered Edge just might be the Lenovo notebook for you.



Lenovo 13" ThinkPad Edge (Intel-based) Notebook
Specifications and Features (as tested)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 @ 1.30GHz, 533MHz FSB; 512K Cache
  • 4GB of DDR3 RAM (1066MHz)
  • 13.3" LCD (1366x768 resolution); LED backlight
  • Intel GMA 4500MHD integrated graphics
  • 320GB (5400RPM) Seagate Momentus 5400.6 Hard Drive
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • No Optical Drive
  • 0.3 megapixel webcam
  • VGA and HDMI Outputs
  • USB 2.0 x 3
  • RJ-45 (Ethernet 10/100/1000)
  • Headphone / Mic Input Jacks
  • SD / MMC / MSPro Multimedia Card Reader
  • Stereo Speakers
  • Gesture-Enabled Multi-Touch Trackpad
  • 3.6 Pounds (with 4-cell battery installed)
  • Removable 4-Cell or 6-Cell Li-ion Battery (Up To 7.8 Claimed Hours of Computing)
  • 13.07" x 8.97" x 0.66"-1.23" (Dimensions)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
  • Price (as tested): $899
  • Price (starting): $549


If netbooks don't offer the kind of performance you seek, and size is still a major factor, the 13" ThinkPad Edge is a fantastic choice--on paper, anyway. The ultraportable space is getting crowded quickly. Is this machine able to stand out amongst the legions of others? Join us in the pages ahead to see how our 13", Intel-based test unit stacks up.

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Design and Build Quality

 
The ThinkPad line has always been synonymous with "sturdy," "rigid," and, well, "plain." Flash and pizazz have never been calling cards for ThinkPad laptops, but Lenovo obviously thinks that it's time for a change. Of course, the entire ThinkPad line isn't straying from its roots, but the Edge is a welcome addition to a lineup that has grown to feel somewhat aged due to the lack of exterior change. As companies like Dell, HP, Asus and Acer all look to create more stylish machines, it was only a matter of time before Lenovo did the same, and the Edge feels like a fantastic first attempt at something different in the ThinkPad family.


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The entire machine weighs just 3.6lbs and measures between 0.67" and 1.23" thick, making it one of the thinner ultraportables out there. Clean lines and curves are abundant, and while the Edge is very much different than the conventional ThinkPad, it still maintains that familiar look of a Lenovo machine. But that overall feel is where the similarities end. There are silver accents around the ends, the ThinkPad logo on the palm rest has a red, light-up "i" and the keyboard is a chicklet-styled keyboard rather than the edge-to-edge keyboard that is on most classic ThinkPad machines. However, the switches beneath the keycaps are similar to other ThinkPad models.

    
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Thankfully, for the purists, Lenovo left a few key ThinkPad elements in the mix. A TrackPoint? It's there. The dual left/right click pads? Both are present. There's also a larger-than-average trackpad surface, and palm rest stickers are kept to a minimum. We did notice that the display bezel is much larger than average, but the glossy coating on the 1366x768 panel is quite common. Personally, we would have preferred a matte panel given that Lenovo is clearly encouraging users to work on-the-go with all of those connectivity options.


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On the right side panel, you'll find an SD/SDHC card slot, two USB 2.0 ports, a power input socket and a headphone jack. No ports are on the rear. On the left side, there's a lock slot, an exhaust port, VGA output, a full-size HDMI output, Ethernet port and one final USB 2.0 port.


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The trackpad surface is atypically smooth; a drastic departure from the highly textured trackpad on machines like the T400s. The chicklet keyboard feels like a standard full size keyboard, and the "Fn" and "Ctrl" keys are reversed, as Lenovo has always done. Those used to having the Ctrl key on the outside of the bottom-left of the keyboard will have to do some adjusting to avoid hitting the wrong key(s).

    
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Each key is also smooth, and typing on this keyboard was a real joy. The chicklet approach is one we dig, particularly on smaller machines. It's a fairly basic key layout, with a number of multimedia keys across the top tow (a nice touch) as well as dedicated Page Up and Page Down keys (which is unusual on an ultraportable). Key travel was perfect, and yet again Lenovo has proven that it really knows how to build productivity machines with highly attractive keyboards and mousing surfaces. Business users shouldn't worry; Lenovo has cut no corners in terms of usability and comfort on the input devices that you'll use most frequently to handle your duties.

    
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The overall casing is also remarkably sturdy. There's no keyboard flex whatsoever (which is highly atypical for a standard, sub-$1000 ultraportable) and all hinges and exterior parts feel very solid. The plastic on the inner casing isn't quite as robust as the more expensive ThinkPads, but that's hardly a major flaw. For having a base price of $549, we're astounded at the overall build quality. In this respect, it's a ThinkPad through and through.
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Software and Accessories


The ThinkPad Edge is one of the slimmest 13" machines out there. Fittingly, it's also bundled with an amazingly slim amount of accessories and software. Lenovo trimmed the price of this ultraportable down below $600 at the base, and there's no question that the company saved a few bucks in the accessories department. Unlike rivaling Asus units that we've seen, there's no slip cover or carry case included here. All that came in the box was the machine itself, a power adapter and an AC cord.


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As for software, we're actually delighted by Lenovo's choice to take the minimalist approach. Far too many pre-built PCs ship with loads of software that many consumers have no need for, and worse still, software that bogs the machine down, right out of the box. The ThinkPad Edge 13" that we tested features a 64-bit edition of Windows 7 Home Premium, and aside from the integrated Lenovo Connectivity Panel (which helps to manage the Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G connections) and a simple Lenovo overlay at the bottom (which shows your connection strength alongside a detailed battery meter), we didn't notice a single piece of bloatware. No nagging screens about registering anti-virus software that we never asked for. No pop-ups from bloatware that's parading around as legitimate software. Just a basic, clean install of the OS with a few minor Lenovo touches.


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We should mention that the top lid of our test unit was a glossy black, and unless you don't mind your machine getting scuffed up from normal travel, we'd suggest investing in some sort of sleeve or case. The lid will definitely become scratched if you just shove it into a carry-on bag one too many times.
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User Experience


Using the ThinkPad Edge is a real blast. There's just no two ways about it. As far as an ultraportable experience goes, let alone one that can be had for as low as $859, this is about as good as it gets. As we'll detail below, there's just one major thing missing from the overall package, but it's one that can't easily be had in notebooks of this size to begin with.


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From the moment you take the machine out of the box, you know you're dealing with something that's high in quality. Lenovo's ThinkPad line is known for its toughness and rigidity, and while the Edge isn't quite as sturdy as the T400s, it's easily one of the most well built that we've seen at this price point. There was no keyboard flex at all, and the trackpad was easily the largest and most enjoyable to use for any small machine that we've tested below the $600 price point.


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In fact, even with our $899 test unit, we had a tough time accepting that this machine was priced as low as it was. Lenovo has really created a value-packed package here, and the design is one of the nicer ones that we have seen. Opening and closing the lid was a cinch, and the LCD screen held in place once we positioned it. Bootup was super quick for a CULV-based machine, and again, we can't express how nice it is to have Windows 7 out so these chips aren't overwhelmed by Vista. We were also thrilled to see Lenovo stuff 4GB of DDR3 memory into this frame.


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The 1.3GHz SU7300 chip isn't the most powerful processor out there, but it's a real energy sipper and is plenty fast for most applications that one would find themselves using on an ultraportable. The integrated 4500M GPU is the real weak spot in the system; as we alluded to earlier, this prevents users from being able to have an enjoyable gaming experience, and you can pretty much assume that any major first-person shooter is out of the question. It's possible that some older, non-graphically intensive games would run with low, in-game detail and at a sub-native resolution, but it certainly won't be ideal. The silver lining here is that the GPU is more than powerful enough to handle even the most burdensome multimedia; 1080p playback is buttery smooth, even on battery power.

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The typing and mousing experience was top notch. The chiclet keyboard was easy to use, and required basically no adjustment from our traditional full-size keyboard on the 15" machine that we typically use. The trackpoint is also a huge bonus for Lenovo loyalists who prefer it, but the unconventionally placed Fn key (which is to the left of the Ctrl key in the bottom-left of the keyboard) might take some getting used to if you've never used a ThinkPad keyboard before. We're also blown away by the connectivity options here, and all of them worked well in testing. Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G connections synced up in a jiffy, and while we did manage to confuse the system once by jumping between connections, a simple reboot remedied things.


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Using the system daily was also enjoyable. Windows 7 is a perfect fit here, and multitasking was never a problem. Applications loaded quickly, including 1080p movie trailers, and all of the multimedia we tested played back while barely putting a strain on the system. We were actually fooled into thinking that the machine had a faster CPU in it than the 1.3GHz chip it had, and that's always a good thing. The general lack of bloatware, Windows 7, and well-rounded hardware configuration enabled the Edge to blast through tasks with ease, and aside from not being able to play Half-Life 2 at a decent frame rate, we didn't see any signs of sluggishness.
 
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Test Setup and 3DMark 06 CPU


 
  
HotHardware's Mobile / Desktop Test Systems
Covering the bases
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13"

Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300
(1.3GHz)

4GB DDR3

Intel GMA 4500MHD


On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x320GB Hard Drive          
5400 RPM SATA

Windows 7 Home
Premium (64-bit)

13" LED LCD Display
(native 1366x768)
Asus UL80Vt

Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300
(1.3GHz)

4GB DDR3

Intel GMA 4500MHD +
512MB
NVIDIA G210M GPUs

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x320GB Hard Drive          
5400 RPM SATA

Windows 7 Home
Premium (64-bit)

14" LED LCD Display
(native 1366x768)
Asus UL30A-A1

Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300
(1.3GHz)

4GB DDR3

Intel GMA 4500MHD GPU

On-Board Ethernet
On-Board Audio

1x500GB Hard Drive          
5400 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Home
Premium SP1 (32-bit)

13.3" LED LCD Display
(native 1366x768)



 Performance Comparisons with 3DMark06
 Details: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/

The Futuremark 3DMark06 CPU benchmark consists of tests that use the CPU to render 3D scenes, rather than the GPU. It runs several threads simultaneously and is designed to utilize multiple processor cores.



No huge surprises here; the SU7300 1.3GHz CULV processor is present in all three of these machines, with the main variables being the OS (Windows 7 vs. Vista) and the GPU arrangement. Our Edge 13" didn't stack up so well against the UL80Vt (which was tested with its discrete GPU switched on), but it matched up pretty evenly with the UL30A. The unit's full 3DMark06 benchmark result is below:


Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13" 3DMark 06 CPU Score; Click To Enlarge

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Futuremark PCMark Vantage


We also ran the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13" through Futuremark‚Äôs latest system performance metric, PCMark Vantage. This benchmark suite creates a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. We like the fact that most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, in order to exploit the additional resources offered by multi-core processors.



The Edge 13" is the weakest performer of the bunch here, but it's important to remember that it's one of the cheaper options as well. The machine we tested lists for $899, while many of the others here are well over the $1000 mark. The Asus UL80Vt, which also shares the same 1.3GHz SU7300 CPU, had a discrete GPU enabled during this test, so that explains the delta between those two. Still, for an ultraportable with 6+ hours of battery life and a sub-$900 price tag, this thing really holds its own.


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SiSoftware Sandra Benchmarks


Testing with SiSoft SANDRA 2009
Synthetic Benchmarks

We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2009, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant.  We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks). All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running at its default clock speed.

 
CPU Arithmetic Test; Click To Enlarge


CPU Multimedia Test; Click To Enlarge


Memory Bandwidth Test; Click To Enlarge


Physical Disc Test; Click To Enlarge

The Edge 13" was a pretty middle-of-the-road contender in most of these tests. The 5400RPM hard drive wasn't exactly the fastest thing we've tested (an SSD in here would really make the system scream), but having 4GB of DDR3 memory certainly helped. For a CULV-based ultraportable, the numbers aren't too shabby, and real-world performance was better than expected.
 
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Gaming Performance
 Performance with Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Gaming Performance

To touch on gaming performance, we chose two games that draw moderately on system resources, Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. We then ran a pre-recorded demo of each at a resolution of 800x600 and also at a higher resolution of 1280x800. The resulting performance achieved is indicated in frames per second in the graph below.



Lenovo's Y530 is no gaming beast, but even the small boost in performance provided by a 2GHz CPU and the 9300M GPU makes some games playable. Realistically, the Edge 13" cannot play either of these titles in any enjoyable fashion. You could probably get away with older titles at lower resolutions, but don't even bother attempting any intensive, modern games here. Of course, Lenovo never intended for this machine to be a gaming machine, but we were impressed by its ability to play back every single 720p and 1080p movie trailer we threw at it without ever sending the CPU utilization meter above about 30%.
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Power Consumption and Battery Life


It's no secret that our battery life figures are generally less than those claimed by the PC maker. We've found that most published battery life figures are based around "ideal" conditions, which generally means that the screen is dimly lit, Wi-Fi is switched off and no real intensive tasks are done during the duration of the test. We use Battery Eater Pro, an application that taxes the system for the duration of the test to mimic heavy real-world usage. We had the screen brightness locked at 60%, Wi-Fi switched on and all other applications closed.

The ThinkPad Edge doesn't quite live up to the lofty claims by Lenovo in terms of battery life, but it's really close. Closer than most machines are, that's for sure. We were incredibly impressed with the 4.25 hour figure that we saw in testing, though we should make clear that this was with the optional 6-cell battery and not the standard 4-cell. If you're planning on using this machine on the road often, we would highly recommend springing for the larger battery. It produces a small bulge on the underside that actually provides ventilation when it's sitting on a table. This is far superior, in our minds, than carrying around a second 4-cell battery.


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What's amazing is that this ultraportable can last longer than some netbooks we tested, and if you really crank the brightness down and flip off the Wi-Fi (such as when you're in flight), you could probably squeeze six hours out of the machine on a single charge. For all but the most avid of travelers, that's plenty of time, and it's really raising the bar in terms of battery life for machines of this form factor. Kudos to Lenovo for providing a capable machine with great battery life; those two come together far too infrequently in the notebook sector these days.
 
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Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary:  In our SiSoftware Sandra tests, the ThinkPad Edge 13" trailed the reference systems in the HDD benchmarks, but managed to match up well against rivaling components in other areas, particularly when you consider the low price point of the system ($899 as tested, starts at $549). Windows 7 was well suited to the system, and the 4GB of DDR3 memory helped applications load quickly and assisted in multitasking.  The benchmarks do show that this machine is no gamer, though it's definitely up for HD video playback, which it handled with ease.  For a standard machine to handle common computing tasks, it's plenty fast. Business users should have all they need under the hood, and the 4 - 7 hour battery life is great for road warriors.


As you've heard throughout this review, the ThinkPad Edge is a fine creation. It's a new take on a familiar form-factor by Lenovo, and while purists will find plenty to love, those who prefer fresher styling options will also find this machine very easy on the eyes. It's available in three sizes (13", 14" and 15") as well as in red or black, so there's a good chance there's an Edge for you. Our 13" ultraportable test unit was an outstanding piece of kit, with an excellent keyboard and trackpad, great build quality, fantastic battery life and above average multimedia playback.



The design is top notch, and the overall user experience is excellent. The 1.3GHz CPU and 4GB of RAM are plenty to handle basic multitasking within Windows 7 as well as 1080p playback, and the integrated HDMI port means that you can use the Edge as a portable movie player with output to HDTVs. The only major task that this machine can't handle is hardcore gaming, but basic titles should play fine at lower resolutions. Lenovo has managed to mix business with pleasure on the Edge. The typing experience is amazing and business users will surely feel comfortable on it. Its stylings are fresh and modern as well.


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We personally love the mix of seriousness and fine design, and we definitely love the $549 starting price. Our $899 test machine felt like a great value, and while the ultraportable market is undoubtedly crowded, we can say that the 13" Edge is worth a look if you're in the market for a machine in this size class. For those who spend more time on the go than at home, the three way wireless communication radio is a real boon. Wi-Fi, 3G (AT&T/Verizon) and 4G (Clear WiMAX) are all available as integrated options, giving road warriors a multitude of ways to stay connected, regardless of where they are and what network they are on.

     
  • Windows 7 Runs Buttery Smooth
  • Great Value At $549-899
  • ThinkPad Toughness
  • Excellent Keyboard
  • Great Battery Life
  • Ultra Quiet And Cool
  • Well-Rounded
  • Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G Support

 

  • Glossy Display
  • Low Resolution Panel
  • No Optical Drive
  • Lackluster Gaming Performance
  • Only A 5400RPM HDD
  • No USB 3.0 Ports

 



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