Lenovo ThinkPad SL300 Review

by Reads (210,863)

by Kevin O’Brien

The ThinkPad SL300 is Lenovo’s new 13.3" budget business notebook which offers many of the same features you would find on the T/X/R-series notebooks, but at a much lower price. The SL series is Lenovo’s attempt to directly compete against the lower priced Dell Vostro small-business lineup of notebooks, offering many business features, but at a lower cost than the Latitude models. Now the question running through everyone’s minds is, should Lenovo have put the ThinkPad logo on a budget oriented notebook? Read our review to find out what we think about the ThinkPad SL300.

 

Our review unit specifications:

  • Processor: 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 (1066MHz FSB, 3MB Cache)
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 9300M GS 128MB
  • Screen: 13.3" WXGA LED-Backlit Glossy VibrantView (1280×800, 300nit)
  • Memory: 2GB(up to 4GB configurable)
  • Storage: 250GB SATA HDD (5400rpm)
  • Optical Drive: Dual layer CD/DVD recordable drive
  • Wireless and Communications: Intel 5100 (802.11 a/b/g/n wi-fi), BlueTooth 2.0 EDR
  • Battery: 6-cell Li-Ion 51Wh
  • Dimensions: 12.5 x 9.4 x 1.3-1.5"
  • Weight: 4lbs 14oz with battery
  • Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium SP1
  • Warranty: 1-year


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Build and Design

The design of the new SL-series is not unlike the older generation R-series notebooks during the IBM era of ThinkPads. The entire chassis is made up of a durable plastic, which helps cut down on weight as well as cost. The normally exposed screen hinges are covered with plastic and the ThinkPad logo even sports a red LED for the "I". A glossy surface replaces the rubbery black paint commonly found on the more expensive ThinkPads, which some might say gives it a cleaner or more stylish appearance. This budget ThinkPad also shows its true "ThinkPad" roots with the red-striped and blue-dotted TouchPoint buttons.


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Build quality is just above average, with a durable feel, but not as strong as what you might find in the R or T series models. Some mild flex is found in the palmrest, and the bottom of the notebook has more give under stress, such as gripping the edge while carrying the notebook around. Fit and finish could be improved in a few areas, such as the TouchPoint buttons which are too close to the top edge of the palmrest, and squeak when pressed. While this is a fairly minor assembly defect, the level of annoyance is like walking around with a shoe soaked with water, squeaking everywhere you step.

 

 

Upgrading components on the SL300 is much easier than trying to do the same on the T or R series ThinkPads. All user upgradable parts are located beneath 2 panels located on the bottom of the notebook. This includes access to the RAM, WWAN slot, processor, and other components. Compared with the other ThinkPad models which require the palmrest and keyboard to be taken apart before you can access certain items, this might be more user-friendly.


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Screen

The LED-backlit VibrantView display found on the SL300 rates above average and was very easy on the eyes. Color and contrast with the glossy finish were excellent, making images and video "pop" out at you. Vertical viewing angles were decent, with a good-sized sweet spot before colors started to invert as you tilt the screen forward or back. Horizontal viewing angles were excellent, not really showing any distortion even at very steep angles. The LED-backlit was very bright, enough to easily overcome intense office lighting. Outdoor visibility would have been better if the screen didn’t have so much reflection from the glossy surface, but it was still manageable. My preferred brightness setting inside was 80% in the office and about 50-60% at my home.


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Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard on the SL300 is very firm around the perimeter, and even above the optical drive cavity, shows little to no flex under firm pressure. Key action is very smooth and gives just the right about of feedback for each click, exactly what you would want out of a ThinkPad keyboard. Some of the layout has been tweaked, such as the page up and page down buttons located near the direction pad, instead of at the upper corner of the keyboard.


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The touchpad was a mild disappointment, with quite a bit of lag and inconsistent sensitivity. While on the surface the touchpad looks just like what you would find on any other ThinkPad, it is actually a completely different panel. Lenovo opted for a non-Synaptics touchpad which I found to be so distracting in use that I turned to the TouchPoint during my review. The touchpad surface is very nice, with a semi-rough texture that is easily to glide your finger across. The touchpad buttons are also excellent, with a deep throw and great feedback. The TouchPoint functionality was great, and my only gripe were the buttons that rubbed up against the palmrest and squeaked.

Performance

System performance was excellent with the 2.4GHz Intel P8600 Core 2 Duo processor and NVIDIA 9300M graphics. The notebook was very snappy with a fast boot-time, and applications opened without any lag. While it might not be in the same territory as gaming rigs, it is more than capable for its intended audience of small businesses. Synthetic benchmarks also gave very good scores, although not the best with 3D gaming.

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 / CPU wPrime 32M time
Lenovo ThinkPad SL300 (Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.4GHz) 32.059s
Lenovo 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) 43.569s
Dell XPS M1530 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)
37.485s
HP Pavilion dv6500z (Turion 64 X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 40.759s
Sony VAIO NR (Core 2 Duo T5250 @ 1.5GHz) 58.233s
Toshiba Tecra A9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 38.343s
Toshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.299s
HP Compaq 6910p (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 40.965s
Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz) 76.240s
Zepto 6024W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 42.385s
Lenovo T61 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.705s
Alienware M5750 (Core 2 Duo T7600 @ 2.33GHz) 38.327s
HP 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):

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Lenovo ThinkPad SL300 (2.4GHz Intel P8600, Nvidia 9300M GS 128MB)   5,554 PCMarks
Lenovo 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 PCMarks
Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB) 5,412 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA 8600M GT) 4,616 PCMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 4,591 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 4,153 PCMarks
Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,987 PCMarks
Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB) 4,189 PCMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks
Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 3,487 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 5,597 PCMarks
Sony VAIO SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400) 3,646 PCMarks

 

3DMark06 comparison results for graphics performance (higher scores are better):

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Lenovo ThinkPad SL300 (2.4GHz Intel P8600, Nvidia 9300M GS 128MB)   1,695 3DMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad SL400 (2.26GHz Intel P8400, NVIDIA 9300M GS 256MB)  2,211 3DMarks
HP Pavilion dv5z (2.1GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80, ATI Radeon HD 3200)   1,599 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100) 545 3DMarks
HP Pavilion dv6500z (2.0GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60, NVIDIA 8400m GS)  1,551 3DMarks
Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100) 504 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB) 4,332 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA 8600M GT) 2,905 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,408 3DMarks
Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB 2,183 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks

 

HDTune storage drive performance results: 


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Ports and Features

Port selection on the SL300 is very nice, offering a wide range of ports that don’t always crop up on 13.3" notebooks. The SL300 offers both VGA and HDMI graphics, which should interest both projector users and people who watch to use the notebook with an HDTV.

  • Three USB 2.0 ports
  • Firewire
  • ExpressCard slot
  • Gigabit Ethernet and modem
  • Multi-card reader
  • Audio out, microphone in
  • VGA monitor out
  • HDMI (video and audio)
  • Kensington lock slot

Front: Wireless On/Off, Headphone/Mic


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Rear: Kensington Lock Slot, Modem, VGA


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Left: HDMI, 1 USB, Multi-Card Reader, Firewire


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Right: Expresscard/54, 2 USB, LAN, AC Power


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Speakers and Audio

The Lenovo SL300 offered three main sources of audio output, including Headphone out, speakers, and HDMI audio. The speakers performed adequately, but were low in peak volume and lacked any hint of bass. For watching YouTube clips or listening to internet radio it would be fine, but if you really want to enjoy an audio source turn to one of the other audio sources. The Headphone jack provided clean static-free audio, perfect for private listening. The HDMI output also supported digital audio out which worked fine with my Sony HDTV.


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Battery

The SL300 handled itself quite well in our off-the-grid testing, reaching above 4 hours of battery life on the 6-cell battery. With the brightness set to 60%and wireless enabled and active, the SL300 managed 4 hours and 19 minutes of battery life before it reached 4% and went into hibernation. While this is no 6 hours from our T400, it is still very good for a 13.3" notebook.

Heat and Noise

The Lenovo ThinkPad SL300 ran remarkably cool during our tests, having more than enough cooling from a fan that always operated at a slow speed while the computer was running. Running off of the battery in adaptive mode, typing surface temperatures were great peaking just below 81F towards the lower part of the keyboard. With room temperature at 74F, you could barely even feel if the laptop had been operating for any length of time. Bottom temperatures were also excellent, with a peak temperature of 83F. I could probably go as far as saying that this notebook is the coolest operating notebook I have reviewed.


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Fan noise was minimal at slow speeds, just under a whisper level. Under stress like benchmarking it did increase, but not to unbearable levels.

 

Conclusion

The Lenovo ThinkPad SL300 turned out be to be very capable business notebook, with most of the ThinkPad durability and features we are used to, but with a much lower cost. This notebook had more than enough power to plow through daily tasks, heavily influenced by the 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 processor and NVIDIA 9300M GS graphics card. Battery life was good reaching above 4 hours of life in our testing, compared to the 14" T400 which could break six hours with switchable graphics. Overall the SL300 is a solid notebook for those looking to purchase something more durable than a consumer notebook, but don’t want to make a jump into the full-on business notebook category.

Pros

  • Very good performance
  • Cool to the touch; is it even on?
  • Easy to upgrade components in compared to regular ThinkPad
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • Squeaky TouchPoint button
  • Laggy non-Synaptics touchpad


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