by Kevin O'Brien
The new Lenovo G550 is an update to the Value Line G530 with the primary difference being the shift from a 16:10 to a 16:9 screen. This is becoming a common trend for most manufacturers, as they shift to the now more standardized 16:9 screens. The biggest question on our minds is how well this updated budget notebook performs; considering the previous revision earned our Editor's Choice award.
Lenovo Value line G550 Specifications:
Build and Design
The design of the G550 has changed slightly from the G530, switching from a smooth matte exterior finish, to a black weave pattern. The new cover is every bit as strong as the last one, preventing any screen distortion even if you hit or flex the back of the screen. The interior of the notebook shares the same color as the lid, but is textured with a rougher matte finish similar to what you would find on unpainted sections of a ThinkPad. Lenovo took the back-to-basics route with the color scheme on this notebook, making it entirely black inside and out.
The chassis is constructed entirely of plastic, but where most budget notebooks might feel flexible or flimsy, the G550 feels like a solid block of sturdy material. When talking about the palm rest on most notebooks, including ThinkPads, notebooks with good support still show some flex under a very strong grip. Somehow squeezing the palm rests on the G550 feels like you are trying to squeeze a rock. Other areas of the notebook share the same toughness, including the keyboard and surrounding trim.
To upgrade components the G550 has easy access panels to the memory and CPU, wireless card, and hard drive on the bottom of the notebook. No components, including the processor, had "warranty void if removed" stickers, making it very easy to handle upgrades or repairs in the future.
Screen and Speakers
The 15.6" LCD is average compared to most 15-16" notebooks, with bright and vibrant colors and decent viewing angles. The G550's big change is the transition away from the 16:10 screen size to the wider (but shorter) 16:9 panels. The screen offers a glossy surface, which helps improve colors and contrast at the cost of added reflections and glare. Compared to "frameless" displays the reflections were tolerable as long as you were not outside under direct sunlight. Screen brightness was adequate for viewing in bright office conditions, but might not cut it outside unless it is an overcast day. Vertical viewing angles were adequate with a broad viewing sweet spot measuring 30 degrees forward or back before colors started to wash out or invert. Horizontal view angles were much better, showing minimal color distortion at steep angles.
The speakers are located on the front edge of the palmrest and sound more than adequate for playing music or watching streaming video. Sound quality isn't the best compared to other notebooks of this size with a tinny sound that lacks bass. Headphones would be a good accessory for this notebook.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard is easy to type on, sharing the same comfortable and durable feel as my ThinkPad T60 keyboard and only differing in layout. Individual key action is smooth with no audible click when pressed. The keys are textured with a smooth matte finish, giving decent traction for typing ... unlike the glossy keyboards we are seeing on a greater number of notebooks these days. Keyboard support is excellent, barely a hint of flex on the main section of the keyboard. The newer 16:9 chassis on the G550 allowed Lenovo to add a numberpad to the keyboard, but they didn't change the support under that side of the keyboard frame. It doesn't appear to have much flex, but it has just enough to make a squeaking sound against the optical drive when press down. Media-related keys are limited to touch-sensitive mute and volume up/down buttons located above the keyboard.
Lenovo transitioned to a new touchpad on the G550, switching from the Synaptics model on the G530 to an ALPS pad. The ALPS pad doesn't have as quick of a refresh rate, so at times it feels like the pointer is lagging behind your finger. Another problem is the surface isn't as sensitive for users who like to use tap to click and tap to drag frequently. On the Synaptics pad it is easy to drag and lift off, while the ALPS models seem to need a strong tap at the end, otherwise it won't let go of the selected item and you keep dragging it around the screen. The touchpad buttons are similar to the old ones, with shallow feedback and giving off a positive "click" when pressed.
Ports and Features
Although the G550 is now larger than the G530, Lenovo still managed to decrease the amount of ports available. The ExpressCard slot is missing, USB ports are down from four to three, and the modem jack is gone. I can see no other reason besides cutting costs for such a loss of features.
Front: Wireless on/off, audio jacks
Rear: Screen hinge
Left: Kensington lock slot, LAN, VGA, two USB
Right: one USB, optical drive, AC power
Performance and Benchmarks
The Lenovo G550 works very well as a desktop replacement notebook, handling most tasks with ease. The target market for this notebook includes small businesses, students, or home users looking for a basic machine. The G550 has no problems surfing the web, playing SD or HD movies, or playing the occasional 2D game like Peggle. Compared to the older G530, Lenovo switched from using DDR2 memory in favor of DDR3 which is faster and now becoming cheaper. In theory this change could have meant greater performance, but we didn't see any significant change. Both PCMark05 and 3DMark06 dropped, while wPrime saw a small boost in speed.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
|Notebook / CPU||wPrime 32M time|
|Lenovo T500 (Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 @ 2.8GHz)
|HP EliteBook 8530w (Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 @ 2.53GHz)||30.919s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad SL500 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.4GHz)||32.275s|
|HP ProBook 4510s (Intel Core 2 Duo T6570 @2.1GHz)||36.583s|
|Lenovo G550 (Intel Pentium Dual-Core T4200 @ 2.00GHz)||38.172s|
|Lenovo G530 (Intel Pentium Dual-Core T3400 @ 2.16GHz)||38.470s|
|Dell Vostro 1510 (Intel Core 2 Duo T5670 @ 1.8GHz)
PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
|Lenovo T500 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, ATI Radeon 3650 256MB GDDR3)||7,050 PCMarks
|HP EliteBook 8530w (2.53GHz Intel T9400, Nvidia Quadro FX 770M 512MB)||6,287 PCMarks|
|Lenovo T500 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, Intel X4500)||5,689 PCMarks
|Lenovo ThinkPad SL500 (2.4GHz Intel P8600, Nvidia 9300M GS 256MB)||5,390 PCMarks|
|HP ProBook 4510s (2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6570, Intel 4500MHD)||4,192 PCMarks|
|Lenovo G530 (2.16GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core T3400, Intel Intel 4500MHD)||4,110 PCMarks|
|Lenovo G550 (2.00GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core T4200, Intel Intel 4500MHD)||3,964 PCMarks|
|Dell Vostro 1510 (1.8GHz Intel T5670, Intel X3100)||3,568 PCMarks|
3DMark06 measures overall graphics performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
|HP EliteBook 8530w (2.53GHz Intel T9400, Nvidia Quadro FX 770M 512MB)||5,230 3DMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T500 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, ATI Radeon 3650 256MB GDDR3)||4,371 3DMarks
|Lenovo ThinkPad SL500 (2.4GHz Intel P8600, Nvidia 9300M GS 256MB)||2,242 3DMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T500 (2.80GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9600, Intel X4500)
|HP ProBook 4510s (2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6570, Intel 4500MHD)
|Lenovo G530 (2.16GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core T3400, Intel Intel 4500MHD)||730 3DMarks|
|Lenovo G550 (2.00GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core T4200, Intel Intel 4500MHD)||716 3DMarks|
|Dell Vostro 1510 (1.8GHz Intel T5670, Intel X3100)||519 3DMarks|
HDTune storage drive performance test:
Heat and Noise
Thermal performance of the G550 is very good thanks to the large chassis, slower processor, and integrated graphics. Under stress the system controlled temperatures very well, and under normal loads the bottom of the notebook and palmrests stayed cool to the touch. Fan noise was minimal, with it staying off under light system loads, and going just above a whisper under intensive use. The one hotspot that stood out on the G550 was the panel beneath the hard drive that warmed up considerably if you were stressing the disk. The temperatures shown below are listed in degrees Fahrenheit:
The new Lenovo G550 uses a slightly smaller battery than the G530, but with a more efficient processor it consumes less power and gets longer runtimes. The G550 stayed running for 4 hours and 18 minutes in our tests with the screen brightness reduced to 70%, Vista on the "Balanced" power profile, and wireless active. This is better than the original 3 hours and 29 minutes the G530 managed with a larger battery. While I hate to see the battery capacity decrease, at least the efficiency made up for it and gave us a net gain in battery life.
The Lenovo G550 is a very solid and durable notebook, but now is missing some of the features that were standard on the previous revision. From what could only be considered cost-cutting measures, Lenovo took away one USB port, removed the ExpressCard slot, and moved to an ALPS touchpad. These types of changes might not look as bad if the retail price also dropped, but it is selling for the same price as (if not slightly more than) the previous model. I would still gladly take this model over a lot of the small-business targeted notebooks on the market, but it is just a shame that it is no longer as nice as it once was.