Small business users have a specific set of needs when it comes to notebooks. They're looking for something that's more durable than your typical mainstream laptop and with helpful security features built in to protect their data, but they also want something that's fast. That's where the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430 comes in. The successor to the Edge E420, the Core i5-powered E430 (starting at $549, $717 as tested) offers small business users a host of handy features at an affordable price. And for those who need it, there's also a DVD drive on board. So is the Edge E430 the right choice for you? There's only one way to find out.
Stylistically, the ThinkPad Edge E430 is a departure from the traditional ThinkPad design. Instead of a black textured plastic lid, our Edge E430 featured a black brushed aluminum cover. It's a nice change of pace, but unfortunately turns the laptop into a fingerprint magnet. If brushed aluminum isn't your thing, you can instead opt to get the E430 in soft-touch black or red.
Lenovo decorated the E430's lid with a familiar polished silver Lenovo logo in the bottom right corner. Opposite that, you'll find the ThinkPad logo with the letter "i" that pulses when the notebook is in standby mode.
Take a look under the E430's lid and you'll see the same brushed aluminum coating on the keyboard deck. In the top left corner, you'll find the E430's circular power button surrounded by nothing but empty space. In the deck's bottom right corner, Lenovo added another ThinkPad logo complete with a backlit letter "i." Beyond those design flourishes, the Edge E430 includes the company's trademark red pointer stick and click buttons, fingerprint reader and clickpad.
Measuring 13.3 x 9.2 x 1.1-1.3 inches and weighing 4.6 pounds, the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430's dimensions are on a par with those of its predecessor, the ThinkPad Edge E420 (13.3 x 9.1 x 1.4 inches and 4.6 pounds). The Edge E430 also matches up nicely with Acer's Aspire TimelineX 4830TG-6808, which measures 13.3 x 9.4 x 1.2 inches and weighs 4.6 pounds. Other 14-inch notebooks are more svelte than this Edge, especially Ultrabooks, but most of them lack an optical drive.
Display and Audio
The E430's 14.1-inch 1366 x 768 anti-glare matte display offered a sharp but not very bright picture. Its 176 lux brightness rating is well below the average thin-and-light (201 lux). The Acer 4830TG was little better, at 186 lux. An optional VibrantView glossy display promises sharper brighter colors, but will naturally suffer from glare problems. When watching an HD trailer for "The Hobbit," we could make individual strands of hair in Gandalf's telltale gray beard. Viewing angles, however, were fairly narrow, with images washing out before 40 degrees to either side.
The ThinkPad Edge E430's stereo speakers, located on the underside of the system, are surprisingly powerful for a small business laptop. When we listened to Nicki Minaj's "Beez in the Trap," each bass hit sounded clean and distortion-free. Kansas' "Carry on Wayward Son" sounded just as good, with the blues-inspired guitar riffs and cymbal crashes coming through loud and clear. The included Dolby Advanced Audio 2 software is a definite plus. Turn it off, and the Edge's audio quality takes a significant hit.
Keyboard, Pointing Stick and Touchpad
We've long considered Lenovo's keyboards to be some of the best in the business, thanks to their responsiveness, key spacing and overall comfort. The E430's spill-resistant, island-style keyboard lives up to that reputation. We recorded our highest score on the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor while using the E430, 80 words per minute with a 3 percent error rate, far better than our usual 75 words per minute. The layout felt somewhat stiff, but we presume this will lessen as you break it in.
The E430's rubberized TrackPoint pointing stick and associated mouse and scrolling buttons proved accurate and responsive as ever, allowing us to seamlessly transition from typing to controlling the on-screen pointer and back without ever having to take our hands off of the keyboard.
The Lenovo's 3.5 x 2.1-inch UltraNav textured clickpad was also quite accurate. Multitouch gestures worked for the most part, but we found ourselves repeating some of them occasionally, such as using the three-finger flick function to navigate the picture gallery. Two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom, however, were spot on.
After streaming a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the ThinkPad Edge E430's touchpad reached just 79 degrees, while the keyboard registered 80 degrees. The hottest point on the Edge was its underside, which hit a relatively cool 83 degrees. We consider temperatures below 95 degrees to be comfortable.
The ThinkPad Edge E430 includes all of the ports and plugs a small business owner could need. On its left side are a VGA port, USB 2.0 slot, HDMI port and two USB 3.0 ports. Over on the right side, are the E430's power port, Ethernet jack, tray-loading optical drive, a USB 2.0 port that can charge devices while sleeping and a combination audio and microphone jack. Up front, the E430 features a 4-in-1 media card reader.
Webcam and Videoconferencing
The Edge E430's 720p webcam provided bright, but slightly grainy images. Fine details like facial wrinkles were easy to decipher, although colors were somewhat inaccurate. When we tried using the webcam in a darker setting, image quality took a nose dive.
To help improve voice chat quality, Lenovo outfitted the Edge E430 with keyboard noise cancellation technology. Lenovo says the E430's microphone audio field has also improved to allow users to switch between conference mode, in which several people can be picked up by the microphone, and single user mode, which only picks up the voice of the person sitting directly in front of the microphone.
Our ThinkPad Edge E430's fingerprint reader was extremely easy to set up, and can be set to open specific websites and apps with the swipe of a finger. We could also set the reader to log us into secure websites, as well as log on to Windows.
Our configuration of the ThinkPad Edge E430 comes with a second-generation (Sandy Bridge) 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-2540M processor rather than a newer third-generation Ivy Bridge CPU. However, you can configure this laptop with one for $55 more. Still, with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, our Edge E430 proved more than capable of holding its own against the competition.
On PCMark 07, a synthetic benchmark that tests a system's overall performance, the E430 scored 2,337. That's on a par with the thin-and-light laptop category average (2,389), and about 200 points higher than the Acer Aspire TimelineX 4830TG-6808, which has the same CPU.
The Edge E430 also managed to boot faster than the competition, starting up in just 44 seconds compared with the category average of 57 seconds and the Acer 4830TG's 65 seconds. That's largely a result of the difference in rotation speeds between the E430's 500GB, 7,200-rpm drive, and the Acer's 500GB, 5,400-rpm drive.
The ThinkPad Edge E430 fared pretty well on the LAPTOP File Transfer test, duplicating 4.97GB of mixed media files in 2 minutes and 53 seconds for a rate of 29.4 MBps. That's nearly identical to the category average of 29.9 MBps.
The E430 also performed well on our OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, matching 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses in 5 minutes and 4 seconds. This showing is just two seconds slower than the Aspire TimelineX, but faster than the category average of 6 minutes.
Having Intel's HD Graphics 3000 on board means you'll be limited to watching HD movies and mostly casual games. On the 3DMark06 benchmark, the Edge E430 scored just 3,822. That's well below the category average of 5,117, and more than 5,000 points below the Acer Aspire TimelineX, which benefits from an Nvidia GeForce GT 540M GPU.
When we played "World of Warcraft" with the graphics set to autodetect, the Edge E430 managed 34 frames per second, an acceptable frame rate for a nongaming machine. But when we bumped up the graphics to the highest setting, the frame rate dropped to an unplayable 17 fps. By comparison, the average thin-and-light notebook registers 52 and 26 fps, respectively.
The ThinkPad Edge E430's 6-cell 62WH lithium ion battery provides plenty of endurance for mobile workers. On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing with the display brightness set to 40 percent, the Edge E430 lasted 6 hours and 53 minutes. That's 33 minutes longer than Lenovo rated the battery and 25 minutes longer than the thin-and-light notebook category average.
Our E430 came equipped with a 2.5-GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-2450M processor; 4GB of RAM; a 500GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive; an Intel HD Graphics 3000 integrated graphics chip; anti-glare display; 720p webcam ($20); 62WH battery ($10) and Windows 7 Professional for $719. The brushed aluminum coating alone cost $50. Note that some online retailers are selling this notebook for as low as $649.
If you're looking for something with a bit more oomph, you can pick up an E430 with a 2.1-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-3612QM processor, 8GB of RAM, a 750GB hard drive and a 16GB Micro SSD ($40) for improved performance for $1,154.
If your budget is tighter, you can buy the base model for just $549. That version comes loaded with a 2.3-GHz dual-core Intel Core i3-2350M processor, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, no webcam, a soft-touch paint job and Windows 7 Home Premium. There's no price difference between the anti-glare display or VibrantView screen.
Lenovo loaded the ThinkPad Edge E430 with some helpful utilities. For instance, Power Controls lets you optimize your system's power settings, and Enhanced Backup and Restore and Airbag Protection, which turns off the hard drive when a fall or other damaging event is detected. In addition to those, the E430 features Lenovo's SimpleTap tool, which provides you with quick access to different notebook features, websites and applications by two-finger tapping the laptop's clickpad twice.
Lenovo's RapidBoot and RapidBoot Shield features help to improve the system's boot speed by using the E430's RAM to cache boot files and delaying the launch of nonessential programs until Windows is fully started.
The Edge E430's InstantResume software helps users reconnect to the Web quickly when taking the laptop out of sleep mode. Lenovo says the feature will continuously scan for Wi-Fi connections, allowing the system to connect to the web in less than two seconds when it goes back online.
One of the most useful features Lenovo packed into the E430 is its Mobile HotSpot software. The program lets users configure the E430 to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to five people. The feature works by connecting the Lenovo to an available hotspot, then setting Mobile Hotspot software to begin broadcasting a wireless signal for your co-workers or friends. And since Lenovo lets you set up your own Network SSID and password, the wireless signal you send out will be secure.
Other programs loaded on the E430 include a 30-day trial of Norton Internet Security, 5GB of free online storage through SugarSync and Splashtop Streamer.
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Service and Support
Lenovo provides users with its Solutions for Small Business suite. Features include the ability to schedule when you would like the system to perform updates and basic upkeep, configure the E430's USB ports to block users from attaching thumb drives or gaming controllers and set the system to shut down in the evening and restart in the morning.
If you run into any trouble with your ThinkPad Edge E430, Lenovo provides its users with a standard one-year parts and labor warranty. See how Lenovo fared in our Best & Worst Brands Report.
With good performance, an excellent keyboard, long battery life and top-notch speakers, the $717 Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430 is a system that will fit well in any office. The easy-to-use fingerprint reader and helpful small business software are other pluses. However, you might want to skip the brushed aluminum lid for the soft-touch red or black option to avoid fingerprints--and save yourself $50 in the process. The only other drawback is this notebook's display, which is dimmer than average. Overall, though, the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430 is a great choice for small business users.