What do you do if you want something like a ThinkPad, but don’t have the money– or think the normal models are too ugly?
You buy a ThinkPad Edge.
Lenovo realized several years ago that the ThinkPad line could use a refresh, but it didn’t want to abandon its traditional models. The answer to this quagmire was the Edge, a ThinkPad that’s ostensibly for small businesses, but just as suitable for consumers.
In this review we’re looking at the E530, unarguably the most mainstream of the ThinkPad sub-brand. Anyone can have this laptop in its most basic trim for less than $500, and you would have to try pretty hard to shoot the price above $800. Our modestly upgraded review unit, which includes a second-generation Intel Core i5 processor and a 500GB hard drive, limbos in under $600 on Lenovo’s website. The MSRP is allegedly $1200, but worry not — you’re never going to pay anything close to that.
The pricing looks decent, but there’s a lot of competition. Can the Edge stand out from the mob?
Our Edge E530 review unit came with a black brushed aluminum lid. Lenovo calls that an upgrade, but don’t expect anything special — brushed aluminum lids have been done to death.
The interior is more of the same, but that’s okay. Metal trimmed interiors are not to be taken for granted at this price point, and the use of metal encompasses the entire interior rather than just the palm rest. Lenovo even includes metal display hinges, a classy extra rarely found on inexpensive laptops.
Build quality is reasonable. Panel gaps are mostly of moderate size (and the black finish helps hide those that aren’t). The side bearing the included optical drive feels prone to flex, but the rest of the chassis is solid. It’s functional, too — the bottom offers two removable panels allowing easy access to most of the internals.
Connectivity is average for the segment. You get two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI and a combo headphone-microphone jack. There’s also VGA, which is useful for connecting to older monitors and projectors.
The ThinkPad typing experience
The Edge uses the AccuType keyboard, which is now used across both the ThinkPad Edge and standard ThinkPad lines. It offers a roomy island-style layout that provides good definition between keys. Key travel is excellent. Overall, the typing experience provided by the E530 is on par with current ThinkPads.
Backlighting is not offered, even as an optional extra. Another surprise is the lack of a numpad, which will disappoint accountants. The space saved by its exclusion provides more room for keys. It also means that the touchpad is centered instead of sitting slightly to the left.
Touchpad quality is excellent. The surface is large and well textured. Multi-touch input works well. You may not even use it, however, because the Edge also includes a trackpointer. Whatever their preference, users will be pleased.
Matte at a low price
Lenovo offers 1366 x 768 as the only display resolution, but users can pick from a glossy or matte coating. We received the matte version. Given the price of this laptop, we didn’t expect much, but the panel proved adequate. Black levels are a bit better than normal, and banding test images rendered smoothly.
Despite these strengths, the display doesn’t offer the most vibrant picture. Nor can it escape poor viewing angles. It is a strong panel compared to other inexpensive laptops, but only because the bar has been set so low.
Audio quality is a weakness. Maximum volume is loud and the sound is reasonably clear, but there’s essentially no bass. That gives audio the tinny quality found in so many laptop sound systems. It is passable in a pinch, but anyone using this as a desktop replacement should consider external speakers.
The E530 is a thick laptop with a processor of average power and no discrete graphics. Despite this, it generates noticeable fan noise at all times. We were able to detect it even with an open window and a desktop computer running in the same room. And that was at idle. Load doesn’t cause the fan to become excessively loud, but it is easy to notice.
Keeping the fan active does result in cool operating temperatures. We found that the bottom did not warm above 84 degrees Fahrenheit at idle. Load put temperatures at a maximum of 92 degrees, but this was only in a small hot-spot at the rear-left. Most of the laptop’s underside remained under 90 degrees, making lap use comfortable.
Winning the endurance race
As mentioned, the E530 is a bit chunky. It’s not the easiest laptop to tote around. Its weight of 5.4 pounds makes it noticeable in any backpack or messenger bag. With that said, this laptop is not any heavier than others of similar size. In fact, it’s a bit lighter than expected.
Battery life comes courtesy of a six-cell standard battery. A 48Wh unit is standard, but our model had an upgrade to a 62Wh version, which costs only $10. We’re not sure why anyone would want the smaller battery.
The upgraded battery provided impressive endurance results, lasting three hours and twenty-six minutes in our Battery Eater load test and six hours thirty one minutes in our light-load Reader’s test. This easily beats the average for multimedia laptops, which often have trouble lasting more than two hours at load and over five hours in the Reader’s Test.
The E530 comes with Lenovo’s useful ThinkPad software, including Access Connections and Power Manager. Both of these tools work a fair bit better than the default Windows counterparts, providing both more customization and more information. Power Manager gives you a real-time power draw estimate, while Access Connections provides a virtual map of all detected Wi-Fi connections based on signal strength.
The only bloatware is a trial copy of Norton antivirus, but you’ll find a trial copy of antiviral software on 99 percent of new computers. Going elsewhere won’t free you of the pop-ups, but uninstalling the software will.
Last-gen performance isn’t bad
We were more than a little surprised to see that Lenovo sent us a review unit with a Core i5-2450M processor. The company does sell the E530 with third-generation processors, but some parts have extended ship dates. It appears Lenovo, like other manufacturers, can’t grab enough new Intel processors to fill out its entire product line.
SiSoft Sandra’s Processor Arithmetic benchmark returned a combined score of 41.55, while 7-Zip offered a combined score of 8,451. These results are competitive with laptops that have third-gen processors — a little lower, to be sure, but the difference is around 10 to 15 percent.
The Edge posted a low PCMark 7 score of 2,340. That reflects the entry-level nature of the E530. Yes, it has a fast processor, but it completely lacks a solid-state drive and discrete graphics.
3D performance was poor, as expected. 3DMark 11 would not run because Intel HD 3000 does not support DirectX 11. 3DMark 06 reached a score of 3,739, which is among the lowest we’ve recently recorded. You can play some old 3D games on this laptop, but demanding new titles are out of the question.
The ThinkPad Edge E530 is an excellent entry into the mainstream laptop market. It has a number of advantages that you won’t find on most competitors — including a wonderful user interface, a matte display, long battery life, and useful pre-installed software.
Performance is the only issue, but it’s an important one. Consumers can find much quicker laptops for a similar price. HP’s g6 is a good example. It can be had with a third-generation Intel processor and can even be ordered with discrete graphics, all for just $625.
However, the E530 is clearly the choice for people more interested in productivity than entertainment. You won’t find a better keyboard or a more usable display on any other laptop sold at a similar price.
- Excellent keyboard and touchpad
- Matte display
- Outstanding endurance (with upgraded battery)
- Thick and bulky
- Poor audio quality
- Not the best performance value