The L-series ThinkPad is an eco-friendly business notebook made from post-consumer recycled content. Read our review to see if the 14-inch Lenovo ThinkPad L420 measures up to the ThinkPad standards for durability and performance.
Our Lenovo ThinkPad L420 review unit has the following specifications:
Our review unit has numerous options which bring the price up substantially from its base of $599. The upgrades include Windows 7 Professional over Windows 7 Home Premium; the Intel Core i5 processor from the base i3; double the RAM (4GB vs. 2GB); a higher-capacity hard drive (320GB vs. 250GB); Bluetooth wireless; a 720p webcam; finally, an upgraded Intel wireless card. The final price of $969 as of writing is not exactly a bargain, especially considering the notebook only comes with a one-year warranty.
What can be said about a ThinkPad's design - these notebooks have always placed function over form. ThinkPads as we know them have changed subtly but steadily from their introduction over 20 years ago. The L420 has an unassuming black plastic exterior with a matte finish. Unlike older ThinkPads the L420 does not look boxy thanks to its inward-cut sides and slightly sloped front. An interesting design feature is the speakers located in the lid below the display; most business notebooks put speakers under the palm rest or on either side of the keyboard.
Ports and Features
The L420 has an above average port selection for a 14-inch notebook, including DisplayPort, eSATA, and an ExpressCard/54 slot. It also has a docking station port on the bottom of the chassis. The L420 does not have USB 3.0. All picture descriptions are left to right.
Front: Status lights
Back: USB 2.0 port, battery pack, cooling exhaust vent
Left: Cooling exhaust vent, VGA, Ethernet, eSATA/USB combo port, DisplayPort, microphone/headphone combo jack, ExpressCard/54 (top)
Right: Wireless on/off switch, memory card reader, 2x USB 2.0, DVD burner, AC power, lock slot
ThinkPads have always been known for their legendary keyboards; the L420 proudly continues that tradition. Dare I say this keyboard is slightly gimped compared to higher-end ThinkPads (such as the T-series): it has six rows of keys instead of seven. Normally the home, end, page up, page down, insert, and delete keys are clustered together at the top right; with this layout, they are spread across the top in a single row and the page up/page down keys are placed next to the arrow keys. The layout is not as nice as the new T420s but is more than functional. Lenovo likely decided on the six row layout out of space concerns; adding an additional row of keys would likely cramp the touchpad.
Enough about the layout - let's talk about the feel. It's fantastic. Each key is reassuringly made of thick plastic and securely anchored to the surface. There is absolutely no flex, which is another testament to the L420's build quality. The keyboard is reasonably quiet and should not disturb others nearby.
Screen and Speakers
The L420 has a 14-inch display with an anti-glare coating and 720p (1366x768) resolution. The display quality is average at best; brightness is satisfactory though by no means "bright". Contrast is average; the Command Prompt window is not quite deep black as it should be. Viewing angles are typical for a TN-type panel; colors quickly distort from above and below. It suffices for business use.
The 1366x768 resolution is subpar considering this notebook is intended for productivity. Unfortunately the L420 is not available with a higher-resolution screen as of publishing. A 1600x900 screen would increase the amount of information viewable on the screen at once; this would mean less scrolling and the ability to use two windows side-by-side.
The L420 has two stereo speakers located directly below the display facing the user. They have typical sound quality for notebook speakers and no perceptible bass.
Performance and Benchmarks
The L420 is well-stocked with performance components. The second-generation Intel Core i5 processor is more than capable of handling business productivity tasks; 4GB of RAM is enough for multitasking; the integrated Intel HD graphics work fine for everything but gaming. The hard drive is not impressive; the Seagate 7200.4, while it runs at 7200RPM, is old and slower than most modern 5400RPM drives. It is also noisier than newer drives.
Wprime processor comparison results (lower scores are better):
PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores are better):
PCMark Vantage measures overall system performance (higher scores are better):
3DMark06 measures overall graphics performance (higher scores are better):
3DMark Vantage measures overall graphics performance (higher scores are better):
CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
Heat and Noise
The L420 has a single fan that exhausts out the left side of the chassis. It is always on and audible, however has no annoying pitch; it mostly sounds like a rush of air. Even under full load, the fan hardly gets louder. It would be nice if the fan turned off when the notebook idles.
The surface of the notebook remains room temperature; under full load, the only warm spot on the notebook is the bottom of the chassis under the fan intake. Overall, the L420 has a good cooling solution.
The L420 has a modest 6-cell 57Wh battery. I measured four hours, 36 minutes of life during our standard battery rundown test (Windows 7 Balanced power profile, 70% screen brightness, wireless active, and refreshing a web page every 60 seconds). This is less than I expected; I was looking for a time well north of five hours.
Battery life test results (higher scores mean better battery life):
The Lenovo ThinkPad L420 is an above-average offering in the value business notebook segment. It succeeds in barely enough areas to get our recommendation, however. Highlights first: very good build quality, an excellent keyboard and touchpad, a good selection of input/output ports, and good overall performance. Now for the downsides; the first is battery life. Four and a half hours is average at best; ideally we were looking for another hour. Secondly, the 1366x768 screen resolution is too low for office productivity and makes multitasking difficult. Lastly, the $969 asking price is a bit high; Lenovo should either knock $100 off the price or include at least a two-year warranty standard.
In the end, the Lenovo ThinkPad L420 is a very well-built machine and meets most of our expectations.