Without proceeding any further, I am about to make a guess: you have already decided whether or not you’re buying a ThinkPad. The iconic brand, the unending combination of professional respect, solid features, and unabashed blandness, combine to make a product that has surprising appeal across the board, yet remains, literally, a black box. The newest update to the line, the ThinkPad SL510, is part of Lenovo’s Windows 7 product launch. Like many companies, Lenovo is taking the 7 launch as an opportunity to tweak and improve some of the features in its existing line, and so it is with the SL510.
The SL510 starts at $529, but that configuration only has a 1.8 GHz Intel Celeron T3000 and no Webcam, Bluetooth, or other bells and whistles. For $1,024 in our build, you get a matte 15.6-inch screen in 16×9, a 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, and a thick, solid chassis that’s lighter than you’d expect. Customizable to the gills for 3G, antiglare, and the always popular fingerprint reader, the SL510 is exactly what it looks like: a large-screened business laptop that runs Windows 7. The good news is that the tweaks are likely to make you happier if you’re a ThinkPad person.
Price as reviewed / Starting price $1,024/$529
Processor 2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8700
Memory 3GB, 1066MHz DDR3
Hard drive 320GB 7,200rpm
Chipset Intel GM965
Graphics Mobile Intel GM45 Express
Operating system Windows 7 Professional
Dimensions (WD) 14.9 x 9.75 inches
Height 1.48 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 15.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 5.72/6.44 pounds
We’re not going to mince words here: this ThinkPad is a wide black box that’s stunningly generic. It could have come from five years ago at first glance, but to Lenovo’s credit, the basic black design is at least timeless, and the back of the laptop’s black lid is devoid of large logos, leaving the ThinkPad imprint to one tiny corner. The smooth matte surfaces and angular lines lend to an all-around solid feel, though not as iron-clad reinforced as higher-end models such as the T400 line. The laptop base is thick, but the whole machine is actually lighter than it looks.
A full-size tapered keyboard fits the usual bill for Lenovo-typing comfort, but it was an odd decision to leave off a number pad: one could easily have been fit in, and instead there’s a lot of empty space on either side of the keyboard. Dedicated buttons control volume and mute for both the speakers and microphone, as well as a blue hot key for Lenovo’s ThinkVantage suite of help tools. The matte multitouch touch pad is made of the same excellent material as on the T400s, and has great traction. As always, the trackpoint rubber nubbin remains lodged between the G, H, and B keys, which is either your dream come true or your aesthetic nightmare (some people still love those trackpoints). Buttons are arrayed both above and below the touch pad, depending on which control scheme you prefer; that’s still a selling point on the ThinkPad line.
New to the SL510 is a 16×9 screen, making the viewing of DVDs and other HD movies more enjoyable with less letterboxing. It’s an unexpected addition in a business laptop that otherwise seems like it couldn’t care less about multimedia, but most modern laptops have already made the switch, and it’s appreciated. Also notable: our 15.6-inch screen was matte instead of glossy, which is uncommon, but still found more in business systems than consumer ones. While it certainly helped reduce glare, colors and brightness seemed a bit washed out as a result. Otherwise, the 1,366×768 native resolution screen looked good, although we’ve also seen screens this size with higher resolutions. The ThinkPad SL510′s stereo speakers are set below the screen, facing outward in the upper lid. Their volume was average and their quality was passably fine–being exposed, they at least didn’t suffer from any sound-muffling.
Lenovo ThinkPad SL510 Average for category [mainstream]
Video VGA-out, HDMI VGA-out, HDMI
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0, 1 eSATA/USB, SD card reader 4 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion None ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN
Optical drive DVD burner DVD burner
Travelers looking for a complete complement of ports on their laptop won’t be disappointed here; with the exception of ExpressCard, there are a full assortment of USB ports spread across the sides and even the rear of the ThinkPad SL510, one of which is eSATA as well. VGA and HDMI are both included. Those touches, combined with the 16×9 screen, help nudge the SL510 into media-friendly notebook territory. We certainly wouldn’t call it a media laptop, but the higher-end SL510 configurations represent an extremely solid package for ThinkPad lovers who want a Windows 7 preinstalled package.
The SL510 starts at $529, but comes in a variety of processor configurations and other options that can push the price out as far as you’d like. Our config had 3GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive running at a better-than-average 7200rpm speed.
Our ThinkPad SL510 came with a P8700 Core 2 Duo processor running at 2.53GHz, which is a very good processor that we’ve seen before in models such as the IdeaPad Y650. While there are no discrete graphics on the SL510, it was able to handle Unreal Tournament 3 in passable-but-choppy fashion. For playing high-def movies or streaming media, the SL510 will suffice more than adequately. It also handled Windows 7 Professional very well, doing everything we needed.
The ThinkPad SL510 ran for 3 hours and 37 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included six-cell battery. That’s comparable with the ThinkPad T400s, and is better than average for a laptop this size, but there are certainly laptops out there that can do far better. Our battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.
Lenovo includes a one-year, parts-and-labor, mail-in warranty with the system, although for a high-end business laptop, we’d expect a three-year plan as standard. Upgrading to a three-year plan will cost an extra $119, or $219 for three years of next-business day, on-site service. Support is accessible through a 24-7, toll-free phone line, and an easy-to-navigate online support site with a knowledge base and driver downloads.