In the business notebook category, Lenovo continues to be the company to beat, and it looks to continue its dominance with the ThinkPad T520. Thanks to a Core i5 processor and Nvidia graphics, this 15-inch $1,299 system can handle just about any task. A sturdy chassis, excellent keyboard, and built-in fingerprint reader further sweeten the pot, but is it enough to keep the T520 at the top of the business heap?
As with other ThinkPads, the T520 is as buttoned-down as they come. Its black matte rubberized lid is highly resistant to fingerprints and smudges, and is only accented by a chrome Lenovo emblem and a ThinkPad logo. Following the ThinkPad aesthetic, the deck features the traditional all-black interior with the keyboard nestled between two speakers. The telltale blue Enter key and the bright red TrackPoint located between the G and H keys are also on board. A raised panel above the function keys houses buttons for mute, volume, microphone mute, the ThinkVantage toolbox and Power.
A black latch along the right front lip of the notebook releases the lid, which is held up by two rock-solid metal hinges. An internal magnesium alloy frame, backed up by strong ABS plastic on the outside, means this notebook should stand up to a fair amount of abuse and resist flexing. The extended battery felt slightly loose, though.
Even though 15-inch systems aren't meant to be carried around extensively, the 6.2-pound, 14.7-by-9.7-by-1.3-1.4-inch T520 is on the chunky side compared to other machines we've recently reviewed with this size display. For example, the HP Envy 15 weighs 5.8 pounds and measures 14.9-by-9.6-by-1.1 inches, while the 5-pound Samsung Series 7 Chronos has a 0.9-inch profile.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The T520's classic, spill-resistant keyboard has large keys with firm, springy feedback. Similar to other ThinkPads, the T520's keyboard features oversized ESC and Delete keys. We scored 55 words per minute with a 1 percent error rate on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, higher than our usual 50 wpm/1 percent error rate.
Lenovo's comfortable, textured TrackPoint pointing stick continues to be the gold standard, delivering accurate navigation. There's also a 2.8-by-1.6-inch touchpad for users accustomed to using the pointing stick. Rubbing our fingers against the textured surface felt good. However, the limited surface area made activating some multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom tricky.
Both sets of discrete mouse buttons offered strong feedback, as did the center trackpoint scroll button.
After streaming a full-screen video on Hulu on 15 minutes, the touchpad, space between the G and H keys and the notebook's underside measured 82, 85 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit respectively. The middle of the notebook's bottom measured 98 degrees, which is 3 degrees above what we consider to be comfortable, but then this is not a machine that will see a lot of time on your lap.
Ports and Webcam
An ExpressCard/34 reader, a 4-in-1 card reader, a combination headphone/microphone, Gigabit Ethernet, and a tray-loading DVD burner sit on the right side of the T520. Two USB 2.0 ports, a USB/eSATA port, DisplayPort, VGA, Firewire 400 and a wireless switch sit along the left side. A single USB 2.0 port can be found on the notebook's rear right corner. At this point, we wish the notebook came with USB 3.0, too.
The 720p camera delivered sharp clear images, even in low light settings. During our Skype call, our caller reported a clear image with distinct detail. However, the color appeared to be slightly washed out. Audio came through loud and clear. We experienced some problems with lag on our end, but for the most part, saw a clear image with vivid color and loud audio.
Display and Audio
The T520's matte 15.6-inch display provided sharp and vivid images thanks to its 1600 x 900p resolution. While watching the 1080p YouTube trailer of "The Hunger Games," we marveled at how the display rendered Katniss' brilliant red dress as well as her piercing blue eyes. However, at 155 lux, the T520 isn't quite as bright as the Series 7 Chronos (167 lux).
Despite the two wide speaker grilles on either side of the keyboard, the T520 doesn't offer the greatest sound. At full volume, the notebook barely filled a small room, even after tweaking settings in the Smart Audio control panel. Still, Robin Thicke's soulful tenor were nicely balanced on "Love After War" as were the strings, piano, and crisp snare drums.
The Lenovo ThinkPad T520 comes equipped with a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i5-2540M processor, 4GB of RAM, 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive and switchable graphics (Intel HD Graphics 3000, Nvidia NVS 4200M GPU with 1GB of VRAM). The machine took just about everything we threw at it, including playing video, performing productivity tasks and some light gaming.
On the PCMark07 benchmark, which measures overall performance, the T520 scored 2,177, slightly less than the 2,278 mainstream category average. The HP Envy 15 and its 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-2450M and 6GB of RAM notched 2,385 while the Samsung Series 7 Chronos' 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-2675QM CPU and 8GB of RAM delivered 2,447.
The T520's 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive booted the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Professional in 49 seconds. That's 10 seconds faster than the 0:59 category average. During the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, the ThinkPad T520 duplicated 4.97GB of mixed media files in 3 minutes and 1 second, a transfer rate of 28.1MBps. That's slightly slower than the 31 MBps mainstream average.
On the OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, the T520 took 4 minutes and 54 seconds to match 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses, 1:32 seconds ahead of the 6:26 average. The Series 7 Chronos was a close second with 4:56 while the Envy 15 lagged with a time of 6:31.
The Lenovo ThinkPad T520 comes equipped with Nvidia's Optimus technology, allowing it to automatically switch between its integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 and its discrete Nvidia NVS 4200M GPU with 1GB of VRAM for optimal performance and battery life.
On 3DMark06, which measures graphics performance, the T520 scored 5,627. That's 678 points above the 4,949 mainstream category average. During the "World of Warcraft" benchmark, the T520 delivered a frame rate of 38 fps on autodetect at 1600 x 900. While that fails to match the 58 fps mainstream category average, most notebooks in this category sport lower resolutions. When we cranked the settings to maximum, the T520's frame rate dropped slightly to a still-playable 33 fps. That's enough to defeat the category average and the Envy 15 (28 fps).
Lenovo sent us a big 9-cell battery with the ThinkPad T520, and it didn't disappoint. During the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi) the business laptop lasted a whopping 9 hours and 4 minutes. That's 4 hours and 8 minutes longer than the 4:56 mainstream category average. If you're constantly dashing from one meeting to the next, you'll appreciate the 9-cell battery's endurance; if you do most of your work at your desk, the smaller 6-cell battery will probably suffice.
Security and Software
Lenovo keeps things pretty light on the software front, choosing to outfit the T520 with not much more than the standard ThinkVantage utilities. We found the powered fingerprint reader to be the most helpful utility. In addition to adding a layer of security, we also could use it to turn on the T520 by simply swiping our finger.
We especially liked the Power Manager, which gave us the ability to schedule when the notebook went to sleep and check remaining battery power. Our favorite feature is Instant Resume, which keeps the Wi-Fi active for up to 99 minutes after the notebook is in sleep, eliminating the need to wait to reconnect.
Also included is Rescue and Recovery to make backups of important system information, Password Manager and Access Connections to manage wireless connections.
Third-party applications include Skype, Adobe Reader 9, Microsoft Office Starter, Windows Live, a 30-day free trial of Norton Internet Security 2011 and a basic version of Business-in-a-Box, a business document template software.
Support and Warranty
Our $1,299 review unit of the T520 came equipped with a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i5-2540M CPU with 4GB of RAM, 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive, switchable graphics (Intel HD Graphics 3000, Nvidia NVS 4200M GPU with 1GB of VRAM) and a 15.6-inch 1600 x 900 display. The $899 base model features a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i3-2350M processor, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB 5,400-rpm hard drive, an Intel HD Graphics 3000 GPU and a 15.6-inch 1366 x 768 display.
The $1,319 top-of-the-line model includes an Intel Core i5-2520M CPU with 4GB of RAM, a 160GB SSD, switchable graphics (Intel HD Graphics 3000, Nvidia NVS 4200M GPU with 1GB of VRAM) and a 15.6-inch 1600 x 900 display. For an additional $200, shoppers can upgrade to a 1920 x 1080 display.
While it's a bit thick and heavy for a 15-inch laptop, the $1,299 Lenovo ThinkPad T520 offers business users everything they need: good performance, durability, and security. Of course, you also get Lenovo's trademark fantastic keyboard and accurate pointing stick. Add in wide viewing angles for the matte screen and extra-long battery life and you have a sound investment.