by Jerry Jackson
The Lenovo ThinkPad SL400 is the latest addition to the ThinkPad family and promises to offer features and performance at a fraction of the cost of other ThinkPads. Lenovo’s new IdeaPad line of notebooks might give consumers plenty of attractive options, but The new SL series is the first line of small business notebooks designed with ThinkPad styling at an affordable price. Is there more here than just traditional ThinkPad shape and a low price? We took a first look at the SL400 to give you some idea of whether this laptop is right for you.
Our ThinkPad SL400 has the following specifications:
- Processor: 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 (1066MHz FSB, 3MB Cache)
- Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 9300M GS 256MB
- Screen: 14.1″ WXGA, Anti-glare (1280×800, 200nit)
- Memory: 2GB(up to 4GB configurable)
- Storage: 160GB SATA HDD (5400rpm)
- Optical Drive: Dual layer CD/DVD recordable drive
- Wireless and Communications: Intel 4965AGN (802.11 a/b/g/n wi-fi), BlueTooth 2.0 EDR
- Battery: 6-cell Li-Ion
- Dimensions: 13.2″ x 9.7″ x 1.3″-1.5″)
- Weight: 5.5lbs with battery
- Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium
- Warranty: 1-year
The pricing on the SL400 starts at around $799. Unfortuantely, at the time of this writing we don’t have pricing information on the configuration that we are testing … but we’ll have that information in our full review coming soon. Needless to say, this is one of the more budget-friendly ThinkPads on the market. More to the point, Lenovo has gone out of its way to give you multiple reasons to consider the SL series over the competition.
Build and Design
The ThinkPad SL400 is quite solid in terms of build quality, though the plastics used in the chassis construction do give in to some case flex when squeezed. The entire chassis exterior is plastic and while the appearance is nice, the “feel” of the notebook is a little less rugged than we’ve come to expect from ThinkPads. Unlike with the other ThinkPads, you don’t get a double latch mechanism with button release to make sure the screen is held down when it is closed and being carried. Instead, the SL400 uses hinge tension to hold the screen in place.
The glossy black plastic display cover is probably the most interesting design element on the SL400. Lenovo also decided to modify the traditional ThinkPad logo by adding a small red LED to the dot above the “i” in ThinkPad. I suppose someone still thinks “bling is the thing” in the world of small business. In any case, this certainly isn’t a boring ThinkPad.
Input and Output Ports
The number of ports the SL400 has is fairly good and certainly much better than the average budget notebook designed for small business. Here’s a run down of the ports:
- 4 USB 2.0 ports
- ExpressCard slot
- Gigabit Ethernet and modem
- 5-in-1 multi-card reader
- Audio out, microphone in
- VGA monitor out
- HDMI (video and audio)
- Kensington lock slot
About the only thing you might consider “missing” on this notebook is an eSATA port. Since eSATA is rapidly becoming a new standard for external data storage, it would have been nice to see an eSATA port on the side of the SL400. On the other hand, it only be a matter of time before we see USB 3.0 ports that surpass the performance of eSATA.
There’s also no option for a docking station, you have to go with a USB-based port replicator (or ExpressCard/34) to get the additional ports you would want at a desk. Obviously engineers had to make design trade offs and you can’t have it all on a notebook in this price range. Personally, I feel like the SL400 provides an excellent balance of ports for its size and cost.
Performance and Benchmarks
Although it’s nice that Lenovo is bringing a small business solution to the market for less than $800, the price wouldn’t matter if the SL400 can’t provide great performance for your dollar.
The Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 processor in our review unit provided ample processing power and never presented any problems when running applications or encoding video and audio files. The synthetic benchmarks below suggest the P8400 processor is one of the more capable processors from Intel and should satisfy the needs of any business professional.
Likewise, the NVIDIA 9300M GS dedicated graphics card with 256MB of RAM allows you to play most average games at a reasonable frame rate. This certainly isn’t the laptop designed to play Crysis, but you’ll have enough power to handle 1080p Blu-ray movies and some games (during non-work hours, of course).
Let’s take a look at a few basic benchmarks so you can get an idea of how the SL400 stacks up.
wPrime is a program that forces the processor to do recursive mathematical calculations, this processor benchmark program is multi-threaded and can use both processor cores at once, it measures the amount of time to run a set amount of calculations.
wPrime comparison results (lower scores means better performance):
Notebook / CPUwPrime 32M timeLenovo ThinkPad SL400 (Core 2 Duo P8400 @ 2.26GHz) 34.628s HP Pavilion dv5z (Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80 @ 2.1GHz) 39.745s Dell Inspiron 1525 (Core 2 Duo T7250 @ 2.0GHz)43.569sDell XPS M1530 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)
37.485sHP Pavilion dv6500z (Turion 64 X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz)40.759sSony VAIO NR (Core 2 Duo T5250 @ 1.5GHz)58.233sToshiba Tecra A9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)38.343sToshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)37.299sHP Compaq 6910p (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz)40.965sSony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz)76.240sZepto 6024W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz)42.385sLenovo T61 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)37.705sAlienware M5750 (Core 2 Duo T7600 @ 2.33GHz)38.327sHP Pavilion dv6000z (Turion X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz)38.720s
PCMark05 is a benchmark that measures the overall system performance, so it considers the processor, hard drive, memory and OS as part of the mix. The ThinkPad SL400 once again fairs pretty well with this benchmark:
PCMark05 measures overall notebook performance (higher scores are better):
NotebookPCMark05 ScoreLenovo ThinkPad SL400 (2.26GHz Intel P8400, NVIDIA 9300M GS 256MB)5,173 PCMarks HP Pavilion dv5z (2.1GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80, ATI Radeon HD 3200) 3,994 PCMarks Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100)4,149 PCMarksDell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB)5,412 PCMarksDell Inspiron 1520 (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA 8600M GT)4,616 PCMarksDell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS)4,591 PCMarksLenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)4,153 PCMarksLenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)3,987 PCMarksLenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB)4,189 PCMarksHP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)4,234 PCMarksFujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400)3,487 PCMarksAlienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX)5,597 PCMarksSony VAIO SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)3,637 PCMarksAsus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400)3,646 PCMarks
The 14.1″ WXGA, Anti-glare (1280 x 800) is nice and reasonably bright at 200nit brightness, color, contrast, and viewing angles are all good. More importantly, the display on our review unit uses a anti-glare matte finish … something important to many business professionals and something we’re glad to see.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on the ThinkPad SL400 has zero flex and excellent key travel with quiet presses. The keyboard is remarkably similar to the keyboards on the older ThinkPad R-series notebooks. There’s little to complain about here from a functional standpoint. Sure, it’s not the most attractive keyboard on the market … but it works great. Of course, the SL400 wouldn’t dream of calling itself a ThinkPad if it didn’t include the iconic red Trackpoint pointing stick in addition to the standard touchpad.
The palm rest area is pretty plain: it has a matte black finish so it both feels and looks nice. It’s very smooth and the touchpad is nicely textured with a responsive surface. Lenovo also decided to include the standard fingerprint reader for those businesses concerned with security.
More to Come
As of this writing we’ve only had the ThinkPad SL400 in our office for a short while now. We typically find a few things to complain about after “the honeymoon” is over, but right now there is a lot we can say in favor of the SL400.
As it stands now, there are a number of reasons you might want to pick up an SL400 rather than a similar notebook from the Dell Vostro lineup or Toshiba Satellite Pro line. That said, diehard ThinkPad owners might criticize the glossy lid, lack of lid latch, and the type of plastics used in some places. The performance of our test configuration suggests the SL400 packs enough raw power to satisfy most small business owners, but it’s clear that the new SL series isn’t the same ThinkPad we’ve seen before.
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