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Review: Lenovo ThinkPad SL510 laptop

Nov. 4, 2009 (4:30 pm) By: Sal Cangeloso
When Lenovo introduced the SL series last year, not everyone was thrilled with what they saw. Any changes to the venerable ThinkPad lineup come along with scrutiny, but this small business series was seen by many as a watering down of the brand. After all, in carried the ThinkPad name, but included a glossy lid with an LED light on it (CHECK), a new body design, different textures/materials, and some other changes from what people have come to expect from a T, X or R series system. The SL was available for considerably less than even the entry level R series notebooks though, and shed the enterprise level features that SOHO users would not need.
The new SL510 marks a slight change to the SL series. It seems that despite some ThinkPad fanatics’ claims that the SL was not “real” ThinkPad, which were met with protestation from Lenovo, the SL510 looks a lot more like a classic ThinkPad than the SL400 or SL500 [links]. The new system has a matte lid, more ThinkPad-like materials, drops the light in the LED, and changes the LCD bezel {CHECK{} making it seem a lot more like a R or T series system. It’s a welcome change to anyone looking to buy a ThinkPad without an expense account.
The 15-inch SL510 succeeds the previous SL500. It weighs XXXX and starts off at XXXX, making it a reasonable desktop replacement as well as something that can be used on the go if the need should arise. Our test system came eqipped with a Core 2 Duo P8700 processor, 3GB RAM, Windows 7 Professional (32-bit), a 320GB disk, Intel 5100 agn WiFi, and a DVD burner. The system disappointly, uses Intel’s integrated graphics (CONFIRM) to push the 1366×768 display. It’s a solid build, but a price-consious one, with the one concession being that P8700 processor, which will help with the battery life.
The shape of the exterior is similar to that of the previous SL series models. It is on the thick side (xxx inches) and has an inward-sloping bottom half, just like on the previous models. This make looks interesting and veer away from the all 90-degree angled ThinkPad, but it can interfere with certain USB devices a prevent them from being plugged in. Most will be fine, but some larger (older) USB broadband modems might have problems. The materials and looks of the SL510 resemble a standard T or R series system much more, and while they don’t mimic one perfectly the matte lid is a very nice change from the previous gloss.
Being a 15-inch system the SL510 is generously sized and comes with a full complement of ports. In addition to the optical drive it has a lock port, 3 USB slots, an eSATA + USB combo port, a card reader, mic/headphone jacks, HDMI, ExpressCard/34, ethernet, and VGA-out. It’s a nice setup and it nicely dropped the modem jack while including a handy card reader. There is even a wireless on/off switch and a standard 20V ThinkPad power connection. Also included are a webcam and microphone (but not a dual array microphone). The ports are nicely labeled on the palmrest, making them easy to find even if they are a bit recessed.
ThinkPad owners will be happy to know that the keyboard is just what they’ve come to expect. The SL510 packs your standard 6-row ThinkPad keyboard and it feels quite nice–maybe not a perfect that the one on the T400s, but spot on. It has dual cursor controls (with the new textured trackpad and the updated button design for the trackpoint) so ThinkPad users will be right at home. The main change with the SL510 is that it adds buttons on the sides of the keyboard. The power and ThinkVantage buttons are placed on the right while four shortcut buttons (microphone off, volume up, volume down, and mute) are on the left, in keeping with the ThinkPad’s recent push for VOiP usage. The speakers then placed below the display, which props up the display a bit and slightly changes the hinge design, but it isn’t a drastic departure thanks to the use of a widescreen (not very tall) display. Finally the keyboard does not use the new double-height delete and Escape keys found on systems like the T400s.
This ThinkPad has no ThinkLight. I looked for the ThinkLight key for about 10 minutes before coming to this sad conclusion. (did previous SLs have it?????!???!?)
During testing the SL510 performed quite well. In fact, it felt a lot like an R series system. It’s a nice size for getting real work done, but it’s light enough to put in a backpack, so long as you don’t have too much other stuff. The keyboard is a pleasure to use, as are the cursor controls. So despite the ways it is stepped down from a standard R or T series system, it feels like a productivity machine and one equipped to get work done. The build felt well-rounded and more than capable of day-to-day work, thanks in no small part to the use of Windows 7, which some businesses might not be ready for , but it’s refreshing on the user level. The 16:9 display is quite wide and somewhat shallow, but it’s not a huge change from previous widescreen ThinkPads, and it’s really something that users just have to get used to. If more height is needed there is always that HDMI port but the display is acceptable. Increased viewing angles would be great to see, but the LCD does get nice and bright.
performance notes- video
The SL510 is not a highly portable system so battery life is not of utmost concern, but it’s still an important factor for any notebooks. Thanks to the ThinkPad’s Power Mananager software there is a good bit of customization that can be done to extend the system’s battery life if you need more or less power at any given. That noted, it shold be able to provided users with about four hours of battery life [CHCHCHCHEEEEKKCCC} under standard mobile working conditions (backlight around 50%, WiFi on, doing internet work). This is using the SL510's standard 55Wh battery, which does not extend from the rear of the system.
Like the previous SL models, the SL510 offer a nice system for a reasonable price (starting at $529). What's nice to see is that it feels more like a ThinkPad than the SLx00 models, which may mean nothing more than nicer materials to some people, but will be bigger change for people who specifically want a new ThinkPad. It's nothing flashy, but it gets its job done and like other ThinkPads it should be able to stand the test of time. The components and display are average, below average insofar as the graphics go, but the SL510 is a system that will be perfectly acceptable to general desktop work and internet productivity. As always the included ThinkPad software tools are a nice perk that will set the system apart, but the suite is not as useful as the security tools included with HP's competing ProBook line.
Ultimately the SL510 is a good buy in a highly competitive space where there is no choice that is clearly better than the rest. It is a nice evolution of the SL series as well as a step up from the SL500. The $529 starting price is there just to attract buyers, but for for well under $1000 you can have a Windows 7 productivity machine.

When Lenovo introduced the SL series last year, not everyone was thrilled with what they saw. Any changes to the venerable ThinkPad lineup come along with scrutiny, but this small business series was seen by many as a watering down of the brand. After all, it carried the ThinkPad name, but included a glossy lid with an LED light on it, a new body design, different textures/materials, and other changes from what people have come to expect from a T, X or R series system. The SL was available for considerably less than even the entry level R series notebooks though, and shed the enterprise level features that SOHO users would not need.

The new SL510 marks a slight change to the SL series. It seems that despite some ThinkPad fanatics' claims that the SL was not a "real" ThinkPad (which were met with protestation from Lenovo), the SL510 looks a lot more like a classic ThinkPad than the SL500. The new system has a matte lid, more ThinkPad-like materials, drops the light in the LED, and changes the body design making it seem a lot more like a R or T series system. It's a welcome change to anyone looking to buy a classically-styled ThinkPad.

thinkpad_sl510_03

The 1.65-inch SL510 succeeds the previous SL500. It weighs 5.7 pounds and starts off at $499, making it a reasonable desktop replacement as well as something that can be used on the run if necessary. Our test system came equipped with a Core 2 Duo P8700 processor, 3GB RAM, Windows 7 Professional (32-bit), a 320GB disk, Intel 5100 agn WiFi, and a DVD burner. The system disappointingly uses Intel's integrated graphics to push the 1366x768 (16:9) display. It's a solid build, but a price-conscious one, with the one concession being that P8700 processor which will help with the battery life.

The shape of the exterior is similar to that of the previous SL series models. It is on the thick side (about 1.5-inches) and has an inward-sloping bottom half, like on the previous models but not as pronounced. This veers away from the all 90-degree angled ThinkPad, but it can interfere with certain USB devices and prevent them from being plugged in. Most will be fine, but some larger (older) USB broadband modems might have problems. Overall the materials and looks of the SL510 resemble a standard T or R series system and while they don't mimic one perfectly, the matte lid is a very nice change from the previous gloss.

thinkpad_sl510_02

Being a 15-inch system the SL510 is generously sized and comes with a full array of ports. In addition to the optical drive it has a lock port, 3 USB slots, an eSATA + USB combo port, a card reader, mic/headphone jacks, HDMI, ExpressCard/34, ethernet, and VGA-out. It's a nice setup and it nicely dropped the modem jack while including a handy card reader. There is even a wireless on/off switch and a standard 20V ThinkPad power connection. Also included are a webcam and microphone (but not a dual array microphone). The ports are nicely labeled on the palm rest, making them easy to find even if they are recessed.

ThinkPad owners will be happy to know that the keyboard is just what they've come to expect. The SL510 packs your standard 6-row ThinkPad keyboard and it feels quite nice--maybe not as perfect as the one on the T400s, but still spot on. It has dual cursor controls (with the new textured trackpad and the updated button design for the trackpoint) so ThinkPad users will be right at home. The main change with the SL510 is that it adds buttons on the sides of the keyboard. The power and ThinkVantage buttons are placed on the right while four shortcut buttons (microphone off, volume up, volume down, and mute) are on the left, in keeping with the ThinkPad's recent push for VoIP usage. The speakers are placed below the display, which props up the display a bit and slightly changes the hinge design, but it isn't a drastic departure thanks to the use of a widescreen (16:9) display. Finally, the keyboard does not use the new double-height delete and Escape keys found on systems like the T400s.

This ThinkPad has no ThinkLight. I looked for the ThinkLight key for about 10 minutes before coming to this sad conclusion. The SL300 did not have one either, but it's surprising that this hasn't been addressed yet.

thinkpad_sl510_08

During testing the SL510 performed quite well. In fact, it felt a lot like an R series system. It's a nice size for getting real work done, and while it's large the system is on the light side for a 15-incher. The keyboard is a pleasure to use, as are the cursor controls. So despite the ways in which it is stepped down from a standard R or T series system, it feels like a productivity machine and one equipped to get work done. The build felt well-rounded and more than capable of handling day-to-day tasks, thanks in no small part to the use of Windows 7, which some businesses might not be ready for but it's refreshing on the user level. The 16:9 display is quite wide and somewhat shallow, but it's not a huge change from previous widescreen ThinkPads. Ultimately it's something that users just have to get used to. If more height is needed there is always that HDMI port but overall the display is acceptable. Increased viewing angles would be great to see, but the LCD does get nice and bright.

The system's performance is good for a mainstream/small business notebook, especially considering the price range. The lack of discrete graphics are a serious limitation, but anyone that needs them should know to get a T series at this point.

thinkpad_sl510_06

The SL510 is not a highly portable (it is about 15-inches wide) system so battery life is not of utmost concern, but it's still an important factor for any notebooks. Thanks to the ThinkPad's Power Manager software there is a good bit of customization that can be done to extend the system's battery life if you need more or less power at any given time. That noted, it should be able to provide users with about four hours of battery life under standard mobile working conditions (backlight around 50%, WiFi on, doing internet work). This is using the SL510's standard 55Wh battery, which does not extend from the rear of the system. Then customizing their computer, buyers can opt for a 4, 6 or 9-cell battery.

Like the previous SL models, the SL510 offer a nice system for a reasonable price (starting at $499, tested at $839). What's nice to see is that it feels more like a ThinkPad than the SLx00 models, which may mean nothing more than nicer materials to some people, but will be a bigger change for people who specifically want a new ThinkPad. It's nothing flashy, but it gets its job done and like other ThinkPads it should be able to stand the test of time. The components and display are average, and below average insofar as the graphics go, but the SL510 is a system that will be perfectly acceptable to general desktop work and internet productivity. As always the included ThinkPad software tools are a perk that will set the system apart, but the suite is not as useful as the security tools included with HP's competing ProBook line.

Ultimately the SL510 is a good buy in a highly competitive space where there are not really any clear standouts. It is a thoughtful evolution of the SL series as well as a step up from the SL500. The $499 starting price is there just to attract buyers, but for well under $1000 you can have a Windows 7 productivity machine.

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