Lenovo ThinkPad R500 User Review

by jin07 Reads (187,306)
  • Pros

    • Great cooling system
    • Nice screen
    • Overall build quality
    • Good value

  • Cons

    • Too heavy and big
    • Keyboard flex is disappointing coming from a Thinkpad


Previously, the Lenovo Thinkpad R-series was known as the “budget” Thinkpad model; however, upon the introduction of the Thinkpad SL-series, it lost that title. Unfortunately, the SL series has not fulfilled one of the most common traits of a Thinkpad: superior build quality. Has the refresh of the Thinkpad R-series made similar compromises or is it a worthy follow-up?

The Lenovo Thinkpad R500, desktop replacement laptop, under review has the following configuration:

  • Processor: 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 (1066MHz FSB, 3MB Cache)
  • Graphics: Intel Integrated Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD
  • Screen: 15.4″ WXGA, Anti-Glare (1280 x 800)
  • Memory: 2GB PC3-8500 DDR3 SDRAM 1067MHz SODIMM Memory (1 DIMM)
  • Storage: 160GB SATA HDD (5400rpm)
  • Optical Drive: DVD Recordable 8x Max Ultrabay Enhanced
  • Wireless and Communications: ThinkPad 11b/g Wireless LAN Mini PCI Express Adapter III
  • Battery: 6-cell Li-Ion
  • Dimensions: 14.1″ x 10.2″ x 1.4″
  • Weight: 6.6lbs with battery
  • Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium
  • Warranty: 1-year

 

Reasons for Buying

While I looked for a new laptop, I focused primarily on low-cost business notebooks. The reason for this decision is grounded in the desire for a well-built, long-lasting notebook with solid customer support. Furthermore, I did not need a laptop with a dedicated GPU since this laptop would be used primarily for basic tasks (Internet browsing and Microsoft Word). Some of the other laptops I considered where the Dell Vostro 1510, the Thinkpad SL500, and the Dell Latitude D830.

Where and How Purchased

This Thinkpad R500 was bought through Lenovo’s U.S. website using the Visa Discount offer. The Thinkpad R500, as configured above, will cost you $873 when using the Visa Discount. If you do not have access to the discount, the above configuration will cost $895. For a comparison, a similarly built Thinkpad T500, without a discrete GPU, costs $1,008. At $873 or $895, the Thinkpad R500 represents a reasonably priced laptop, though I do wish it was lower. Nevertheless, I do consider the R500 to be a solid deal when taking into account what it offers.

Build and Design

While the overall build quality of the Thinkpad R500 is good, there are some areas for improvement. Before I get into an analysis of the build and design of the Thinkpad R500, I want to say that this is one of the best built laptops I’ve come across. The Thinkpad R500 possesses a better build quality than even my considerably more expensive HP 8510p.

The first thing one notices when looking at the R500, or any Thinkpad, is its boxy, black, and relatively boring design. The Thinkpad line will not be winning a style contest. Upon closer inspection of the outside, there are some drawbacks to the R500. Picking up the R500, the sheer weight of it becomes apparent. I do not expect 15.4″ laptops to be light, but the R500 just feels a little too heavy at 6.6 lbs. I would be weary suggesting this laptop to a student that will be carrying it in addition to their books and school folders. The R500 is better as a desktop replacement that stays at your desk. Another problem with the R500 is its overall thickness; I would prefer a thinner laptop. Additionally, the battery is loose while attached to the laptop. Finally, the laptop lid does not shut tight. Hopefully, nothing small gets through the opening and damages the laptop’s screen.

Size Comparison:

Despite my barrage of negatives about the outside, the R500 remains a very well built and incredibly durable laptop. I have stood (yes, stood) on top of the laptop with absolutely no damage to any component. That sentence alone should speak volumes about the build quality. The palm rests are equally durable and were able to withstand my body weight.

Opening up the R500, the next component up for examination is the laptop’s lid. Unlike some other laptops, the R500 actually has a latch to keep the lid close. It would have been better if Lenovo had made the latch metal instead of plastic, yet I would prefer a plastic latch to none at all. Fortunately, Lenovo did supply the R500 with metal hinges. Not only are the hinges metal, but they also do a great job at keeping the screen in place. The hinges are so strong, that one can lift the entire laptop with lid barely open. Thus, in order to open the laptop, you must use both hands. Going on to the lid itself, there is a minimal amount of flex; however, I would not worry about it. Also, when knocking or pushing on the back of the lid, no ripples appear on the screen. My sole complaint about the lid is that the edges, where the borders of the screen are a bit bigger (top and left border), create flex problems. Pressing on these borders causes some of the plastic to lift from the main part of the lid. Well, I do have another, very minor criticism. The light in the lid which is supposed to make the keyboard easy to see at night provides only a negligible benefit.

The last brief complaint about the inner part of the laptop is the considerable amount of flex above the DVD drive.

Screen

One of the more common problems with prior Thinkpads was a dim screen. Now that R-series has switched to LED-backlit screens, this is no longer the case. The WXGA (1280 x 800) screen is plenty bright and looks great overall. I have not noticed any dead pixels or light leakage. Similar to other anti-glare screens, the screen does not reflect light and helps when working with direct light hitting your laptop’s screen.

The viewing angles on the R500 are poor vertically, and decent horizontally. In other words, they are like most laptops.

Speakers

The vast majority of laptop speakers are not that good, and the R500 is no exception. Although they are less than ideal, the speakers are serviceable as long as you do not expect amazing sound quality. They can also attain a high volume level when needed. I suggest you use headphones if you are concerned with audio quality.

Processor and Performance

The R500 under review came with an Intel Core 2 Duo P8400, 2GB DDR3 RAM, and a 160GB 5400rpm HDD. Utilizing this setup, the R500 has been able to easily handle all of the basic tasks needed. None of the programs (Word, Thunderbird, Firefox, etc.) ever feel sluggish, even when all of the programs are up simultaneously. Vista itself also runs smoothly and does not take too long to boot up or shut down.

In terms of synthetic benchmarks, the R500, as equipped, performs well in most areas.

wPrime Results:


PCMark05 Results:


PCMark Vantage Results:


3DMark06 Results:


HDTune Results:

As reinforced by the 3DMark06 results, this laptop is in no way a gaming laptop. The integrated chip could run older or less graphically intense games. Beyond that, I would not count on the 4500MHD to provide adequate gaming performance. However, this laptop was not bought to game on; its sole purpose is for basic everyday tasks. For the regular home user or people who do not game, this laptop will provide more than enough power.

Heat and Noise

Perhaps the most surprising part of the R500 is how it deals with heat and the amount of noise it produces. The R500 is by far the quietest and coolest laptop I’ve ever used. When idle or running basic tasks, the R500 is completely silent. The only way I can hear anything is by putting my ear almost directly on the laptop. Even then, all I hear are the clicks of the hard drive. At the same time, the laptop is quite cool. Nowhere on the laptop is there any spot that feels uncomfortably hot. There should not be a problem with using the R500 on your lap. The shocking part is that the R500 acts basically the same under load. After running all of the benchmarks, the fan was barely audible. I could hear it without my ear close to the laptop, but it was still very quiet. In terms of heat, again, no areas were uncomfortably hot. When I checked temperatures on HWMonitor about 1 minute after the tests, the only elevated temperature listed was the hard drive. I would not be surprised if the GPU’s temperature was higher following the benchmarks, but its temperature was not listed.

Temperatures Before Benchmarks:


Temperatures After Benchmarks:

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard feels good to type on with plenty of feedback. However, it feels like more force is needed to press down a key when compared to my 8510p. It is for this reason that I prefer the 8510p’s keyboard over the R500′s keyboard. A nice feature of the R500 is that if you spill coffee or water on the keyboard, it drains safely away from the laptop’s vital components. That said, I was disappointed with the amount of flex present. Throughout the entire keyboard, there were differing levels of flex. On the left side, there was a minimal amount of flex that required one to press down with some force. On the right side, the flex was more pronounced. There was also flex on the plastic part containing the volume, ThinkVantage, and power buttons.

The touchpad is sensitive, yet it is too small. The horizontal width is adequate, but the touchpad should be better vertically. The lack of vertical space makes the touchpad rather useless to me.

I do not like or use trackpoints, but the trackpoint on the R500 seemed good.

 

Input and Output Ports

The port selection was solid, but could be better. I would have preferred an additional USB port and to have the ports spread out. Additionally, an HDMI port would have been nice.

Front: Wireless On/Off, Headphone/Mic, SD-Card Reader

Rear: AC Input, Battery, Modem

Left: VGA, DisplayPort, LAN, three USB, Firewire, PC-Card Slot, Expresscard/54

Right: Optical Drive, Kensington Lock

Wireless

The wireless signal is strong throughout my entire house and passes through multiple walls without any noticeable drop.

Battery

Battery life is what I expect from a 15.4″ laptop clocking in at 3 hours with 80% screen brightness and wireless turned on. By dimming the screen, turning off wireless connectivity, and running only basic tasks, I expect that the battery may be stretched to close to 4 hours. Lenovo also includes its own power management program to help increase battery life.

Operating System and Software

The only operating system available for most users is Windows Vista. One can get a Windows XP Pro downgrade option, if they buy 25 or more PCs annually. No operating system or restore disks were provided with the laptop. Fortunately, Lenovo provides you with software to create restore disks as part of its ThinkVantage software suite. By pressing the blue ThinkVantage button, a number of programs are brought up. Most of these programs are actually useful. There is a rescue and recovery program, an active protection system, and a system migration assistant to name a few. It should be noted that there are a few bloatware programs that come with the R500.

Conclusion

Despite its problems, the Lenovo Thinkpad R500 is an easy recommendation for anyone desiring a laptop for basic tasks. It delivers more than enough performance for these programs and runs Vista without any problems. The overall build quality would make the R500 safe for travel, yet its weight and size hinders its portability. Still, its cooling system is best I have ever seen. As long as gaming is not high on your priorities, the Thinkpad R500 should be on your short-list for laptops under $1,000.

Pros:

  • Great cooling system
  • Nice screen
  • Overall build quality
  • Good value

Cons:

  • Too heavy and big
  • Keyboard flex is disappointing coming from a Thinkpad

 


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