Logo   Banner   TopRight
TopUnder
Transparent
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420s Laptop Review
Transparent
Date: Jul 19, 2011
Section:Mobile
Author: Paul Lilly
Transparent
Introduction & Specification
There's a time and place to act a fool, like at a Ludacris concert for example, or when entertaining your in-laws during a holiday function in which you're trying to encourage a hasty departure. Likewise, there are situations where showboating simply isn't appropriate. Wondering what this has to do with a laptop review?  Well, the same concept applies to PCs. Think about it -- if your main goal is to pack as much horsepower underneath the hood as humanly possible, regardless of weight or battery life, then you're looking for a desktop replacement. And the flashier, the better, presumably because you'll be toting it around to LAN parties in between trips to the chiropractor. On the other hand, if you spend most of your time in board rooms and pitching PowerPoint presentations to co-workers and clients, a flashy system with an LED light show sends the wrong message. This is where the ThinkPad Edge 420s comes in.


The E420s is a business laptop through and through, and while some of you may automatically associate that with "boring," Lenovo set out to build a machine that's subdued, but still a head turner. In place of LED lights and glitzy decals, you'll find a soft matte finish with metal accents. There's a contemporary keyboard with shapely keys, and an infinity screen intended to deliver a TV-like experience. Both stylish and subtle, the E420s is capable of eliciting stares without being obnoxious about it, which sends the right message when you're pitching a multi-million dollar investment to a potential client

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420s
Specifications & Features
Model
ThinkPad Edge E420s

Display

14" HD w/ Infinity Glass (1366x768)

CPU

Intel Core i5 2410M (2.3GHz)

Memory

4GB DDR3-1333

Graphics

Intel HD Graphics 3000

Storage

320GB 7200RPM

Optical

Slot DVD Burner

Operating System

Windows 7 Professional x64

Wireless

Intel 802.11a/b/g/n

Webcam

720p HD

Wired Internet

10/100/1000 Ethernet

Ports

3xUSB 3.0 (including 1 eSATA/USB combo and 1 powered USB), 4-in-1 card reader (SD, MMC, SDHC, and SDXC), VGA, HDMI 1.4, Mic/Speaker combo jack

Weight

4.14 lbs

Dimensions

13.7 x 9.3 x 9-1.2 in (WxDxH)

Warranty

1 Year

Price

$1,554 MSRP ($699 on sale with eCoupon)






As configured, the E420s we received retails for $1,554, though as of this writing Lenovo has it marked down to $749 as a "Web Special," along with a $50 eCoupon (EDGESAVE50) that's automatically applied. After applicable discounts, the final tally, if ordered today, is $699, and you can shave another $50 off if you're willing to downgrade from Windows 7 Professional to Home Premium. Likewise, you can drive the price up by upgrading the amount of RAM, swapping out the hard drive for a solid state drive, and adding additional software and accessories.

Note that you're somewhat limited in terms of customization. While there are oodles of accessories available to toss into the cart, the actual hardware options are pretty thin and not on par with most boutique system builders, or even most bulk OEM systems.
Transparent
Overall Design & Layout
Lenovo claims its ThinkPad Edge E220s and E420s laptops "catch attention with their jaw-dropping, premium design." That's a bit of an oversell, however, we do concede the E420s sports a sense of style not found on your typical business class laptop.



It starts with the redesigned matte lid that's soft to the touch and won't punish you for groping it the way a glossy exterior will with fingerprints and smudges. The color is an off-black (Lenovo calls it "moss-black") accented with polished chrome trim and a couple of small logos ("Lenovo" and "ThinkPad") in the lower left and right corners. At 4.1 pounds and just over an inch at its thickest point, even Ned the accountant, who wears rimmed glasses and carries paperback versions of sci-fi novels because the hardback copies are too heavy, won't break a sweat lugging the E420s to-and-fro.

In terms of construction, Lenovo says the metal hinges employed on the E420s strengthen the bond between the top and bottom shelf, "an important point given that users often pick up their laptops by the lid." Point taken, and the E420s certainly feels solidly built. We also appreciate being able to bend the screen back all the way flat (and even a little beyond), because as we've pointed out in other reviews, this amount of flexibility offers greater compatibility with laptop stands. Asus' G73 line, for example, is constructed in a way that the lid doesn't open much past a 90 degree angle, limiting your ability to plop it on an inclined laptop stand (like the NotePal ErgoStand from Cooler Master that we use) and maintain a level line of sight.

 

For lack of a better term, we'll resort to calling the E420s a 'sleek and sexy' laptop, an oft-used phrase to describe just about any black notebook that catches the eye. Lenovo modernized the design by avoiding plastic on everything but the buttons and speaker grill. One thing we're not as keen on as Lenovo is the 14-inch infinity glass display. We don't have any problem with the 1366x768 (16:9) native resolution for a laptop this size, but the thick bezel, while certainly replicating the TV-screen aesthetic that Lenovo touts, looks a bit odd on a laptop and results in wasted real-estate.

We're much more appreciative of the HD (720p) webcam. It boasts low-light sensitivity and is plenty sufficient for video calls via Skype or snapping quick photos of yourself.



The rubberized coating extends into the body of the E420s and provides a comfortable wrist rest when hammering out TPS reports or long-winded emails telling off your boss before deleting them (unless you work at HotHardware, in which case everyone in charge is awesome, or so the staff is told every week). ed. - This is true.

Sitting slightly to the left is a sizable multi-touch trackpad flanked by a fingerprint reader over on the right. You'll notice a pair of plastic buttons on top of the trackpad, and that isn't because Lenovo's design team built the E420s while standing on their heads. These are for when you use the TrackPoint joystick to navigate the mouse cursor (it's that little red nub nestled all cozy-like in the middle of the G, H, and B keys). Pressing and holding the center button lets you scroll with the pointing stick, and the harder you jam the nub in either direction, the faster you can whiz through your document or webpage.

Lenovo equipped the E420s with a contemporary keyboard. According to Lenovo, the "smile" you see on the top and bottom of the keys isn't just for aesthetics, but "improves accuracy by effectively creating a larger void between keys to reduce the chance of inadvertently hitting an adjacent key." Gone are the Scroll Lock and Pause keys in an effort to streamline the layout with a cleaner one, and the Page Up, Page Down, and Print Screen keys have been moved to the lower right corner for easier access. Typing is fairly comfortable with sufficient click action, and should a passerby knock over your He-Man thermos filled with Amp, you won't have to chase him down to exact revenge because the keyboard is spill resistant. Should this happen, avoid the temptation to tip the E420s on its side, as it includes drainage holes on the bottom that work when the laptop is in an upright position, or so Lenovo tells us.
 
 

Sticking with its clean layout theme, Lenovo opted for a space saving slot-load DVD burner on the left side. Our only gripe here is that the tiny eject button sits so flush with the chassis that it's hard to locate just by touch. To the left of the optical drive is the power connector, and the card reader sits to the right.

On the other side of the E420s, you'll find a pair of USB 2.0 ports, one of which is powered; HDMI-output; mic/speaker combo port; and a cooling vent. The third USB 2.0 port (serves double duty as an eSATA port) occupies the rear, as does the GbE LAN port and VGA connector.

It all adds up to a well thought-out design that adds to the overall tidiness of the E420s, though we do have to shake an angry fist at Lenovo for not trusting its userbase with performing their own upgrades. There's no easy way to get into the E420s to add more RAM or service your machine.
Transparent
First Boot & Software
A growing trend we're noticing among business-class notebooks is to, well, get right down to business when it comes to the bundle. That's a nice way of saying skimpy, and that's the case here. Lenovo includes the laptop itself (duh), power cord, and setup guide. There's no lint-free cloth for that infinity screen Lenovo loves so much, or driver or Windows restore CDs.



See that screen grab above? OEMs take notice, because that's what a desktop straight out of the box should look like, and not after we've spent half an hour cleaning up the performance robbing crapware. Major kudos to Lenovo for not littering the desktop with trialware and other third-party apps we have little interest in using.



What Lenovo does include is its own collection of utilities called ThinkVantage. These purportedly would run upwards of $120 if purchased individually, but are included free with the E420s. They include things like a drive image utility to create recovery media, screen reading optimizer, a connection assistant in which you can create various profiles for different locations, and other odds and ends. Some the more IT-level functions are available via a separate download, including a system migration tool and a secure data disposal app that creates a self-booting disc to rewrite a disk drive up to 99 times.



The ThinkVantage Toolbox is your gateway to  range of diagnostic tools and utilities, many of which are more robust or easier to tweak than the ones built into Windows. Some of these include a security center, power and performance utility, network monitor and manager, and a hardware monitor and diagnostics function.



One thing we don't really expect to find on a business-class machine is a heavy emphasis on audio, but included on the E420s is Dolby Home Theater v4.This gives you greater control over your system's audio, and also makes it easy to connect your laptop to your home theater with clearer sound and dialogue enhancement technology. As for the built-in speakers, while not bass heavy, they get plenty loud for a laptop.
Transparent
PCMark & 3DMark Tests
To start things off, we fired up Futuremark's system performance benchmark, PCMark Vantage. This synthetic benchmark suite simulates a range of real-world scenarios and workloads, stressing various system subsets in the process. Everything you'd want to do with your PC -- watching HD movies, music compression, image editing, gaming, and so forth -- is represented here, and most of the tests are multi-threaded, making this a good indicator of all-around performance.

Futuremark PCMark Vantage
Simulated Application Performance


The E420s qualifies as a daily workhorse able to tackle a variety of tasks, a point that's underscored in our PCMark Vantage testing. It's not going to blow you away in any particular area, but the system boasts a solid foundation with a quad-core processor, 4GB of DDR3 memory, and a 7200RPM hard drive. It's sort of a Jack-of-all-trades, and master of none.

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.



You can forget about playing Crysis and other demanding games with the visual quality settings cranked up, because the E420s relies on Intel's HD 3000 Graphics integrated into the CPU core for gaming duties. It does offer better performance than previous generation laptops, and older games are playable, but keep in mind the Intel HD 3000 Graphics engine doesn't support DirectX 11 visuals, nor is it a pixel pushing heavyweight. Lenovo does, however, offer an AMD Radeon HD 6630M discrete graphics upgrade with 2GB of dedicated video memory.

Futuremark PCMark 7
Simulated Application Performance


Futuremark 3DMark11

Futuremark's PCMark 7 combines more than 25 individual workloads covering storage, computation, image and video manipulation, Web browsing, and gaming. It's specifically designed to cover the full range of PC hardware, from netbooks and tablets, to notebooks and desktops, making it a great testing tool for virtually any system.



Futuremark only recently introduced its PCMark 7 suite, the successor to PCMark Vantage. As time goes on, we'll have a bigger sampling of scores to compare systems with, but in the meantime, we'll be posting individual screenshots, as we've done above. Using the default settings, the E420s managed a respectable 2154 overall score. If we break this down, we can see the E420s excels in computational heavy tasks -- no doubt thanks to the Core i5 2410M processor -- but gives up some performance in the storage subsystem due to its reliance on a mechanical hard drive as opposed to a solid state drive.
Transparent
SiSoft Sandra & CineBench
Preliminary Testing with SiSoft SANDRA 2011
Synthetic Benchmarks

We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2011, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant.  We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks).


Processor Arithmetic

 

 


Multi-Media

 


Memory Bandwidth


Physical Disks

 

We've started to see some notebooks ship with 8GB of memory, and while our E420s came configured with half that much, it still performed well in synthetic testing due to its high frequency (DDR3-1333). And of course here again the Sandy Bridge processor was able to show what all the fuss is about. In the Physical Disks test, the E420s returned a score comparable to other machines that use a mechanical hard drive spinning at 7200RPM.

 

Cinebench R11.5 64bit
Content Creation Performance

Maxon's Cinebench R11.5 benchmark is based on Maxon's Cinema 4D software used for 3D content creation chores and tests both the CPU and GPU in separate benchmark runs. On the CPU side, Cinebench renders a photorealistic 3D scene by tapping into up to 64 processing threads (CPU) to process more than 300,000 total polygons, while the GPU benchmark measures graphics performance by manipulating nearly 1 million polygons and huge amounts of textures.

 

Pretty ugly, right? It always is, not because the machines we review are weak, but because Cinebench is specifically tuned for high-power workstations destined for CAD work and other professional activities. You're just not going to get far in your career if you're relying on integrated graphics to mold complex 3D models.

Transparent
Game Tests & Battery Life

FarCry 2
DirectX Gaming Performance


FarCry 2

Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date. Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations. We benchmarked the test systems in this article with the FarCry 2 benchmark tool using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the "Ranch" map.

For the same reason you don't buy a screwdriver to hammer a nail, you're not going to grab the E420s for intense gaming sessions. As we'll show in just a moment, the E420s is capable of playing less demanding games with some compromises to visual quality settings, but for more hardcore titles, the Intel HD 3000 Graphics chip simply lacks the pixel pushing power required.

 Left 4 Dead 2
 Gaming Performance


Left 4 Dead 2

In our Left 4 Dead 2 test, we use a custom Time Demo that involves plenty of fast action, some explosions, and plenty of people and objects on the screen at the same time.

We ran our custom Time Demo at a variety of settings to give you a sense of how the E420s scales and what's required to pull playable framerates. In this case, it wasn't the resolution that taxed the Intel HD 3000 Graphics chip, but the AA and AF settings. By dialing these back, we're able to produce a stutter-free game experience, even at the notebook's native 1366x768 (HD) screen resolution. What this tells us is that game playing, while not ideal, is achievable here in certain titles, Left 4 Dead 2 obviously being one of them.

 

Battery Life
Power Performance

As we've said on numerous occasions, our BatterEater Pro benchmark is absolutely brutal, and so is the way we run it. To represent an absolute worst case scenario. BEPro proceeds to the tax the system nonstop until it runs out of juice, which for the E420s came out to 56 minutes.

On one hand, keep in mind that you're going to get much more than just an hour of runtime on a single charge, even if you watch a movie the entire time. However, giving up the ghost after 56 minutes, while not representative of real-world usage, checks in at the bottom of the pack compared to other recently reviewed laptops. Why so poor? Well, according to Lenovo's own 'Power and Performance' utility included in its ThinkVantage Toolbox, the main battery is operating at 78 percent of its original capacity when fully charged, and we suspect that's the culprit.

Transparent
Performance Summary & Conclusion
Performance Summary: Lenovo designed the ThinkPad Edge E420s for small-to-medium business (SMB) users, and if evaluating it on those terms, the E420s proves a solid workhorse. It has plenty of horsepower to beam PowerPoint presentations to potential clients, and with its quad-core Sandy Bridge processor, multitasking isn't going to slow things down. Where the E420s falters is in game performance, which isn't at all surprising given that, as configured, it relies on Intel's integrated HD 3000 Graphics for 3D chores (there is an option for discrete graphics). The mechanical hard drive doesn't do the storage system many favors either, though it does spin at 7200RPM. If that's still a sore point, Lenovo offers both hybrid and dedicated SSD options. Overall, the E420s as configured performed well for a $700 machine.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if it takes an aggressive styling with lots of LED lights to catch your eye, the E420s isn't for you. The E420s is instead aimed at business users who plan on toting their laptop into the board room and into meetings with co-workers and potential clients. For those users, the well designed E420s gives the same first impression that a fancy suit would give, which is one of style and sophistication. We really like the rubberized lid with chrome trim, and the size and weight is more than manageable.

From a usability standpoint, the keyboard, while lacking a backlight or numbpad, is comfortable to type on and includes a TrackPoint for quick maneuvering of the cursor. We also like the generously sized tracked that's multi-touch aware. All this is built on a solid foundation for an everyday machine that runs well south of $1,000. If we're going to pick on the E420s, we would have to point out the anemic graphics. While you can certainly fire up a casual game during lulls in the work day, this isn't the laptop to bring to LAN parties, nor was it designed to be. Surprisingly, however, Lenovo paid a bit of extra attention to the audio, and the inclusion of Dolby Home Theater v4 adds a bit of entertainment value to the E420s.

The well groomed E420s isn't going to blow you away in any one area, but for business users, it will get the job done while looking spiffy doing it.

  

  • Chic design with a clean layout
  • Quad-core foundation
  • Dolby Home Theater v4 audio technology
  • HD webcam performs well in low light situations
  • Lack luster gaming performance
  • Difficult access to internal components


Content Property of HotHardware.com