Usage, Battery Life and Closing Thoughts
The ThinkPad T510 is another solid product from Lenovo offering great build quality, ease of use and pleasing aesthetics. It's a bit heavy and larger all around than your average notebook, but that is certainly offset by the fact that it also includes a larger screen, discrete graphics and a very fast processor.
The 15.6-inch matte screen looks great. The brightness wasn't quite as high as I would have liked, but viewing angles were much better than some of the more recent systems I have worked with. Lenovo offers a standard HD version of this display, limited to a 1366x768 resolution, while the HD+ model we used is capable of 1600 x 900. The price difference is only $50, so I would definitely recommend shelling out the extra cash for this.
Although I'd have preferred the island-style keys we saw on the Edge, the keyboard on the T510 works well enough and the spill resistant design is a nice touch. Other than the reversed placement of Fn and Ctrl, we didn't really have much issue with what Lenovo has done here. Keyboard real estate is plentiful and all of the commonly used keys are full size.
The touchpad was very responsive and didn't give me an ounce of trouble. I am glad to see that its size has been reduced compared to the Edge which was a bit too wide and troublesome in my opinion. The mouse click buttons have a great feel to them and the TrackPoint system poses a nice alternative to the touchpad if you don't have a USB mouse handy. It might take some time some getting used to, but many ThinkPad users are already familiar with it.
The keyboard LED light can come in very handy if you aren't a skilled typist working in a dark room. A backlit keyboard may have worked out better, but ultimately your mileage with either solution will vary depending on the situation.
In terms of performance we were quite satisfied with the Intel Core i7 620M. This Arrandale chip is built using a 32nm manufacturing process which results in a smaller and cooler running processor. With Turbo Boost enabled we were able to get up to 667MHz faster clock speeds, reaching a maximum of 3.33GHz, but even with this feature turned off the system ran without a hiccup regardless of what tasks we threw at it.
High definition videos from YouTube and Hulu.com barely registered 15% CPU usage at full screen. Our system was equipped with the Nvidia Quadro NVS 3100M discrete graphics chip, which offers a bit more headroom in the graphics processing power department. This card is geared more towards graphic intensive business applications, but will still allow you to play most mainstream games using decent graphics settings.
I tested it briefly with Unreal Tournament 3. Running the game at resolution of 1600 x 900 and low quality setting, I was getting around 50 FPS. Bumping up to medium settings resulted in an average of 30 FPS, while setting everything to their maximum value resulted in a mostly unplayable 20 FPS. Other less GPU intensive games should run more smoothly though. In general I was impressed to see the system kept running very cool and quiet.
And speaking of battery life, unfortunately this is one aspect where the ThinkPad T510 was rather underwhelming. With the included 9-cell battery, it was good for 3 hours and 18 minutes at max screen brightness while sitting idle at the Windows desktop using the maximum performance profile (no energy saving features). We were able to bump this to a mere 3 hours and 57 minutes by dimming the screen to half brightness while leaving all other settings the same.
Audio quality on the T510 was also very disappointing -- likely the worst I have ever heard from a notebook or even a netbook. The system should be able to get by playing basic Windows sounds but anything more will test your patience unless you use headphones or an external speaker system. The T510's speakers were often overpowered and when listening to music with a lot of simultaneous "noise" they would often distort and crackle.
While the Lenovo ThinkPad T510 starts at $939, our test system is priced at around $1,400 in good part because of the powerful processor and GPU inside. If you are already spending this kind of money on a Core i7 equipped notebook, I would recommend upgrading to at least 4GB of system memory and a faster 7,200 RPM hard drive. An SSD would make this a killer workstation, but obviously price would get bumped considerably as a result.
As a business-oriented laptop the ThinkPad T510 has many things going for it, but the price is a bit steep when you look at the consumer space and see a bunch of other systems from the likes of Asus, Toshiba, HP and even Sony that are similarly equipped but are selling for less. To name a couple, an Asus G Series notebook (model G51JX-X1) running on an Intel Core i7 720QM processor with 4GB of RAM and discrete Nvidia graphics goes for $1,300 on Newegg.com, while a Sony Vaio sharing similar characteristics (model VPCF114FX/B) gets 6GB of RAM and adds a Blu-ray drive for around $1,350.
While we haven't tested either of these machines, we suspect there's a small ThinkPad tax involved that might be worth spending if you are a business user and will make good use of the bundled ThinkVantage software. On the consumer side, if you have owned a ThinkPad before and won't look back, here's more of the same solid feel with up to date internals and external features.
Pros: Classic ThinkPad look and feel, very fast processor, discrete graphics, spill-resistant keyboard, high resolution display, light software bundle, multiple external connection ports, docking station, always-on USB port.
Cons: 2GB of RAM should be upgraded but both slots come occupied, slower 5,400 RPM HDD, terrible speakers, battery life is average.