Pros: Fashional design, fast CPU and RAM, USB3.0, HDMI, overall excellent system performance.
Cons: Built-quality not up to ThinkPad standards, lid flexes and a magnet to fingerprints--requires regular cleaning.
Lenovo is currently the second largest computer manufacturer in the world, with HP holding the first position. Founded in 1984 and acquired the IBM personal computer division in 2004, Lenovo offers a wide sprectrum of portable computers in the mobile computer sector. The ThinkPad Edge is a byproduct of this offering for consumers on the budget looking for a stylish portable machine without compromising too much of performance or quality.
My uncle was looking for a new notebook computer mainly for multimedia applications. He has a few required peripherals already in mind; one of which is the HDMI. My suggestion would be the ThinkPad T series, but with it being a business machine without HDMI is out of the question. Trying to stay in the Lenovo line, the next one down would be the Edge series. It has HDMI port and incorporates most of the good components likely found in the T series, such as Intel Core i-series, USB 3.0, etc.
The ThinkPad Edge comes in a few versons available in 14-inch and 15-inch screen format. These are E430, E430c, E435, E530, E530c, and E530.
Came in the retail box are the following items:
- ThinkPad Edge E430 (Type 3254)
- 6-cell battery 48Wh 75+
- 65W AC adaptor & cord
- Package manual and quick guide
ThinkPad Edge E430 (Type 3254):
- Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge, 3310M (2.5GHz) w/ Intel HD 4000 Integrated Graphics
- Display 1366x768 LED matte finish
- 2GB + 4GB PC3-12800 DDR3 RAM (6GB total)
- 750GB 5400RPM Hard Drive
- Fingerprint reader
- 720p Webcam w/ microphone
- Standard Optical Drive CD/DVDRW DVDRAM
- SIM card for GPS (comes standard)
- Wireless ThinkPad 1x1 b/g/n
- Standard 6-cell
- Standard 65W AC adapter
- One-year warranty (base);
- OS: MS Windows 7 64-bit Professional SP-1
Note: It seems that ordering from newegg.com was cheaper than ordering directly from Lenovo through custom order. At the Lenovo web site, the same configuration was $720, while the very same model was ordered at newegg.com for $650; we got a $50 instant discount.
Physical Design, Ports, Peripherals and Display Panel
The ThinkPad Edge features a modern style with glossy lid and comes in various colors and curved edges. We selected a black lid. The entire casing is black-in-black, unless the lid is opted for red or aluminum. Offered as a budget-priced machine, its overall structural body is mainly plastic (not even carbon-fiber in the base), but seems pretty sturdy, though not rigid and solid. The E430 measures 13.3x9.2x1.1-1.3 inches. It weighs 4.6 pounds, not extremely quite light; the ThinkPad T430 weighs 4.7 pounds.
Several important noted features on its peripherals are 3xUSB 3.0 located on the left side of the unit, HDMI and VGA for digital and analog video output. The CPU exhaust fan is also located on the left. There are no ports on the rear. On the right side, we have AC power port, Ethernet RJ-45, optical drive, powered USB 2.0 and headphone/microphine. There is a card reader at the front of the unit.
The ThinkPad Edge E430 sports a 14.1-inch display with 1366x768 resolution 16x9 aspect ratio, HD LED-Backlit, anti-glare matte finish. Although, it has the wide stainless steal hinges, the hinges are pivoted at the base of the unit thus allowing the lid to open only to about 150 degrees. This has an effect on viewability which restricts the unit to be placed at the viewer's eye level to have the lid open roughly at normal angle. There are no latches to lock the lid. The lid flexes when presure is applied on it. When I hold it with presure applied from my thumb I can feel the lid flexes.
The keyboard deck, namely, the entire face of the E430, has a nice brushed aluminum black coating. The palm rest portion feels very solid. However, the upper portion along the power ON/OFF switch area feels plastic-like. This black but shiny brushed surface makes the entire deck looks more of a cheap plastic than the matte-coated surface of the ThinkPad T430.
Software and Integration
The unit was shipped with Windows 7 Professioal. Several other software programs were installed, many of which have 30-day trials and requesting subscriptions or purchasing. These are MS Office 2010, Norton Internet Security. One nice program that came ready for multimedia application is the Lenovo DVD MovieFactory 7. This is a multimedia applcation suite that includes capture and import program, creat and edit video or images, burn CD or DVD.
The 750GB hard drive in the unit was configured with about 17GB reserved for System Recovery, named Lenovo Recovery, with drive letter Q assigned. Another roughly 2GB was asisgned for System drivers; this one is hidden with no drive letter assigned to its partition. It should be mentioned that the 750GB hard drive, after rendering for NTFS file system, has only 698GB of usable space. The rest of drive space, namely, 679GB is used entirely for Windows OS and data storage, with driver letter C assigned. All three are configured as primary partitions.
Performance: Personal Experience and Handling
Keyboard, TrackPoint Pointing Stick and All That
The ThinkPad Edge E430 features a chiclet keyboard style using six rows, much like the new ThinkPad T430 series. The distinction is the large touchpad which also incorporates the integrated buttons. The touchpad is unusally large, with its entire length matching the spacebar on the keyboard. It incorporates a micro-bump texture similar to that of the ThinkPad T430.
The TrackPoint pointing stick features a nice rubberized texture that allows both responsive and accurate traction. Judging from the large touchpad, it does not seem that the TrackPoint pointing stick is meant to be used by most Edge E430 users.
The layout of the E430's keyboard at first glance looks identical to that of the ThinkPad T430; yet there is a subtle difference, even though they both feature a six-row chiclet design. The Edge E430's keyboard makes use of the Function keys as secondary, meaning that the Fn key must be invoked in order to use F1 through F12 keys. The primary function of these keys are for multimedia operations, such as mute, volume control, webcam, display brightness, wireless operation, pause, forward/backward, playback, etc.
The key pressure is good with enough spring for response feedback, with a low subtle sound. Typing is quite comfortable, but does not measure up to the ThinkPad T430's tactile response. Having been used to the ThinkPad T or X series keyboard, I find using the Edge E430's keyboard operation ackward and sometimes inconvenient. For instance, my normal Alt + F-key operation (such as, Alt+F2) now involves a three-key combination: Fn + Alt + F2. It not only annoys me, but it really hinders the productivity. Being a general or multimedia notebook computer, the function keys on the Edge E430 are not often used, and thus, forcing them to secondary-operation feature seem logical. Of course, the function keys may be switched to operate as standard functions via the ThinkPad setup program using the legacy configuration. This can be done by going over to the Config option, then select Keyboard followed by the Change F1-F12 key option via the Legacy.
The Edge E430 comes with a pair of excellent speakers, each placed at the front of the unit facing downward at an angle. The position allows the speaker to produce downward firing which bounces sound off hard surface to reproduce amplified sound, which actually works! The forward-facing position of the speakers also result in a direct sound to the listener. In addition, the speakers reproduce excellent sound quality with crisp and clean treble with overall clean sound and great clarity.
I set the sound level to about 50-51 to listen to music and the system produces an excellent sound stage that fills a roughly 13x15-feet room. At this level, I judge it sounds much better than my T420 or the T430. I reason it has to do with the forward-facing of the speakers. The speakers are hidden behind a long strip of grill shielding that decorates almost the entire lower-front section; this grill shielding is identical to the speaker shielding on the ThinkPad T430 which flanks both sides of its keyboard.
The system performance
On a 750GB hard drive that came in the unit, booting Windows 7 was reasonably quick for a 5400RPM spindle speed. Windows 7 gave the following WEI scores:
Graphics (Intel HD Graphics 4000): 6.5
Graphics (Business/3D): 6.5
Obviously, the 5.9 hard drive score is the lowest among the three components (CPU, RAM, HDD). While Windows 7 only gives a maximum of 5.9 for mechanical hard drive score, it is still possible that the 750GB 5400RPM hard drive will not go any faster. For this reason, a choice of solid state drive is in order here, if a desire to have the ThinkPad Edge E430 perform any faster and on par with the CPU and RAM.
Despite the low hard drive score, the actual response and performance of the Edge E430 is quite good. Many application programs open instantly. This machine is mainly used for multimedia applications with its HDMI connected to a large-screen LED monitor to view photo images, videos and movies, netflix, etc. For such applications, the system is quite responsive, with its strong wireless receiver to pick up signals from the high-speed wireless router.
The Lenovo Enhance 3.0 allows the system to boot instantly; waking up from a sleep mode was instant. However, it annoys me that the optical drive would have to spin everytime the system wakes up from its sleep mode, making a slight wining sound, indicating that the system has sent power to turn it on. I could also hear the hard drive powering up, producing a noticeable difference compared to the ThinkPad T420 and T430, which I did not notice. I could hear the hard drive heads moving. This means that the hard drive (by Western Digital) must be loud. Shutting down the system on this mechanical hard drive is pretty slow, not instant like the SSD.
The Edge E430 has an excellent LED display panel via its anti-glare matte finish with 1366x768 resolution using the 16x9 aspect ratio. I judge its display clarity and brightness comparable to the ThinkPad T430 I have used recently (on a separate review). This is no surprise at all since both are based on Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge with Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics. I have not checked and confirmed yet, but I believe the LED display panel may be based on the same panel used on the ThinkPad T series.
In a regular normally lid room under ambient light, I set the display level to about 4 or 5. Display brightness is quite comfortable, not too dim yet clear enough for viewing. The maximum setting at 15 would dominate the brightness of the sun when using the machine out doors. The ability to set brightness to very low actually is very beneficial--it drains less battery power!
The machine operated very quietly when the CPU fan did not operate, especially under normal-load operation mode with several application programs open. I regularly felt the bottom of the unit after several hours of operation to find no noticeable heat build-up. However, when the CPU fan started to operate under heavy load (multi-tasking with various devices accessed simulatenously--external drive, optical drive, etc.), the system did make a noticeable noise from the CPU fan. I could feel very warm air rushed out the CPU ventilation. Another concern is that there is also a rear CPU exhaust; the problem is that when the lid is open, the lower lid blocks the air passage. I view this a bad design. In many situations, under normal operation mode, the CPU hardly kicked in; this is very good and well managed in terms of heat. There are enough breathe holes to help circulate air inside the system, through the RAM area, CPU and hard drive, as well as the WWAN.
Battery and Power Consumption
It would seem that the Intel Core i5 with its integrated video graphics combined with the new LED display technology would provide advantage in power consumption in this unit. I found this not to be the case. I am now on the fifth charging cycle on the battery (since we began using in late September). I have put the system through various operation conditions on battery two separate times to measure power consumption. Under regular operation, with display brightness set to level 4-5 out of 15 (and by the way, 4 or 5 setting is very bright), with all other devices turned on, including Bluetooth and wireless, with several applications open for multi-tasking, I was able to use the machine for 4 hours on a single fully charged 6-cell battery. The 6-hour operation claimed by Lenovo is not realistic.
With the machine left idling, the system would advertise 4 hours and 18 minutes on a 91% battery. Immediately after I starting using the system, it went down to 3 hours and 25 minutes. Thus, the level of power consumption on the Edge E430 really depends on how many devices are being used. To sum up, the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430 has somewhat poor power management. However, for my uncles's application, this turns out to be all right, since the system is used for a single task, and we could sqeeze out battery for about 4 hours.
The Lenovo Power Management Software 6.0, with its feature to charge the battery when its level becomes lower than the threshold of 25%, we can actually prolong the life cycle of the battery. This is actually a clever way to conserve battery charging cycle. I noticed the battery discharged itself by a few percents over night. Thus, the default charging at 96% can actually waste the charging cycle on the battery. Therefore, I strongly recommend to reset the charging level to quite lower than 96%. You can always change it back to start charging at any time by setting the threshold lower than the actual percentage on the battery, in case you need to charge the battery to be used on the road.
Fingerprint Reader and SIM/GPS
The unit comes equipped with Fingerprint reader that enables the system to log us in without having to type the password. The fingerprint can be configured by registering any finger, preferrably the index finger. In addition, the Edge E430 prpovides a SIM slot for GPS detection which can be activated to track the computer's position, maps and so on. It requires a SIM card to operate this feature. For this particular system, I have not used it yet; perhaps we will not use it at all.
Expansion and Upgrades
Upgrading RAM is possible by utilizing a pair of identical RAM modules. Based on the Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge, the ThinkPad Edge E430 can support memory up to 16GB, using DDR3 PC3-12800. It is a puzzle to me why the unit came in a 6GB configuration with 2GB and 4GB, occupying both sockets. However, Windows 7 stress score on RAM was good. Here, it is possible to add RAM up to 8GB with two 4GB modules that would increase the bandwidth.
The ThinkPad Edge E430 is not meant to provide much expandability. Its optical drive bay is fixed; it has no ultrabay to support additional hard drive. Its WWAN slot is not meant to be used with mSATA drive. The manual however indicated that the Edge E430 supports mSATA; that remains to be confirmed. It has no eSATA or firewire IEEE-1394 port. The only way to expand storage capacity is via the use of an external hard drive via the USB 3.0 port.
All accessible components are located in one place with a single semi-metalic plastic shield (panel). Hard drive, RAM, PCI-Espress WWAN are all accessible in here, even the CPU.
Simply put, the ThinkPad Edge E430 is not built for expanability beyond adding RAM or upgrading to a solid-state drive. It does not support a docking station to increase its peripherals versatility. That department is left to the legacy ThinkPad T series such as the T430.
Linux on Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430
While I am quite certain most users of the Edge E430 use the system under Windows 7 operating system, it should be stressed that the Edge E430 is fully compatible with Linux operating system. After all, the Edge E430 is quite similar to the ThinkPad T430 in terms of architecture that is based on a similar chipset, CPU and RAM; and therefore it supports Linux operating system with full hardware compatibility. I have tested the Edge E430 under Fedora 17 Linux. Also, as I mentioned in my review of the ThinkPad T430, Lenovo now begins supporting Linux. This is a good move for Lenovo to gain a market share. HP, IBM and a few other major computer vendors have supported Linux for a very long time now.
The ThinkPad Edge E430 on SSD
Besides several peripheral variation between the true ThinkPad T430 and the Edge E430, I assume their motherboard be similar; that is, they both utilize SATA-III (6Gb/s) controller. As can be seen in the Windows 7 WEI reported in the Performance section, the mechanical drive really drag down this system to its slow accessing speed. I upgraded the system to utilize solid state drive, Samsung 830 Series 128GB SSD. I installed Windows 7 64-bit and the WEI score for HD jumped from 5.9 to 7.9!!! The performance was phenominal. During booting the four colored dots did not even get a chance to merge, and the system was already in the log-in mode.
We converted the 750GB mechanical hard drive into an external storage device using the Cavalry external enclosure (which I reviewed recently).
This model comes with a standard one-year warranty.
Conclusion and Recommendation
The ThinkPad Edge E430 is a notebook computer that performs with style. Its performance is much comparable to the ThinkPad T430 that was built to deliver performance in a rock-solid body. Lacking in the Edge E430 are the sturdy body and the strong scratch-resistance rubberized coating on the lid and metal roll-cage; the long respected features in the ThinkPad T series.
The Edge E430 delivered superb performance in terms of CPU-RAM-I/O after upgrading to a solid-state drive using Samsung 830 Series 128GB SATA-III. Its scores are comparable to the true ThinkPad T430 of similar CPU and RAM configration. Those users who demand performance should seriously consider upgrading to a solid-state drive. To sum up, the following presents a list of my Pros and Cons after using the ThinkPad Edge E430:
- Great performance in CPU/RAM (and HD when upgraded to SSD)
- Stylish black-in-black
- Excellent keyboard design, very comfortable to type
- Excellent sound system
- Well-managed heat and peripheral ventilation
- Easy upgrade routes for RAM or Hard drive
- 3x USB 3.0 and HDMI
- SATA-III (6Gb/s) controller (excellent for SSD usage)
- BIOS permits multiple boot options (similar to ThinkPad T series)
- No eSATA or firewire
- No ThinkLight or backlid keyboard (and E430 is a ThinkPad member?!)
- Average power consumption on 6-cell battery (4 hours of realistic usage)
- No option of discrete graphics (nVidia Optimus) like the ThinkPad T430
- Mostly plastic contruction--not really sturdy like the ThinkPad T430
- Flexy lid and attracts fingerprints that requires regular cleaning
- No docking system or ultrabay features like the true ThinkPad T430
- Pricey; almost as expensive as the entry-level ThinkPad T430
In conclusion, the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430 is quite excellent in terms of looks (stylish), usability and performance. However, in terms of body construction and sturdiness, it is not at the level of the ThinkPad line, like the T430. The keyboard deck, with its nice brushed black and shiny coating, appears more plastic-like than aluminum or metal, despite the fact that the entire deck feels quite solid. I guess it just "looks cheap." Its casing lacks metal frame to protect its inside components. The bottom is basically plastic. In fact, one of the plastic tabs/hooks on the plastic panel shield (that covers the hard drive, RAM, CPU and WWAM area) broke when I tried to remove it to upgrade hard drive. Its lack of expanability and features (i.e., docking station, ultrabay, ThinkLight, backlit keyboard, etc) begs the question of the Edge E430's place within the ThinkPad line. Its high price tag ($600-$800) further begs the question whether it is worth it to get this stylish notebook computer that may not hold up very well in terms of durability, when the same amount of money could be spent on a more rigid rock-solid, nice looking and sophisticated machine, like the T430.
I give 5 stars for performance, 4 stars for price and design, 3 stars for durability; thus, averaging out to 4 stars. Unless you definitely need HDMI and shiny top lid, otherwise, the ThinkPad T430 is a superior choice for around $800-$900.
I posted several screenshots of the ThinkPad Edge E430's Windows Experience Index scores as well as images comparing the Edge E430 to the true ThinkPad T410 at this web site: