Introduction and design
Lenovo purchased the ThinkPad product portfolio from IBM a decade ago and has maintained the brand ever since. The company refreshed the entry-level enterprise laptop range, the E-series, and dropped the Edge name from it. The latest addition to it, the ThinkPad E555, follows the path of its predecessor, rigorously sticking to the design guidelines of the ThinkPad family.
A word here to mention the fact that this particular model faces some stiff competition from one of its own, the Lenovo B50-30. The latter is geared towards small businesses and home users, aimed at "increasing productivity but without breaking the bank" according to Lenovo.
The ThinkPad E555 (20DH000TUK) is currently selling at Ebuyer for £240 (around $365, or AU$490) while the Essential B50-70 retails for £270 (around $430, or AU$550). Both come with a free 3-user BullGuard Internet security package, free delivery and a fairly similar specification.
If you’re used to lightweight laptops (Ultrabooks or Chromebook-type), handling the ThinkPad E555 comes as a shock and is a stark reminder of how massive traditional laptops (i.e. 15.6-inch models) used to be in the not-so-distant past.
It is heavier than most laptops of a similar size we’ve played with before and while the weight makes it reassuringly solid, it is not something we’d like to lug around regularly (e.g. as a commuting laptop).
As with most notebooks of this family, it features a discretely-etched Lenovo logo in one corner of the laptop and a prominent ThinkPad logo on the opposite corner of the smooth, anthracite rubberised cover – the red dot on the letter "i" of this logo lights up when the machine is on (there’s an exact replica on the right edge of the palm rest).
As expected its girth is significant at just over 2.5cm – the E555 occupies a surface area of about 25.5 x 37.5cm weighing a solid 2.4Kg. The left hinge squeaks slightly when opening the cover, although ours might be a dodgy one.
Once opened, you get a sense of deja-vu that will please ThinkPad aficionado: the red lines, the logo, the curved keys, the ‘nipple’ in the middle of the keyboard and the depressed start button near the top, all of these are unmistakable signs of a ThinkPad machine.
The screen and the input peripherals are subjective matters; opting for a matte display means little reflection, fingerprints or dust speckles. The keyboard has a decent spring, no apparent flex and felt fairly soft thanks to the slightly curved design of the keys. The top row of keys has two functions and the numeric keypad is a welcome addition.
I never felt compelled to use the input contraption commonly known as the nipple, which Lenovo calls the TrackPoint style pointer. It makes my index finger numb after a while and is not as precise as the touchpad – it still reminds me of the good old trackballs from yesteryear but without the propensity to get all dirty.
Speaking of the touchpad, the one on the ThinkPad E555 is probably the only glaring weakness of this device. I like my clicks localised; i.e. clicking on one area doesn’t depress the entire touchpad. It’s an issue I’ve encountered both on cheap and upmarket laptops, but the one on the E555 is made worse by the hollow sound that accompanies every click.
Specification and performance
The E555 is surprisingly well configured for the price. There’s an AMD A8-7100 APU at its core, a Kaveri-based model which comes with four cores (and four threads), a base clock speed of 1.8GHz, 4MB of L2 cache and an integrated Radeon R5 GPU.
The full spec sheet reads as follows:
- AMD A8-7100 APU
- 4GB DDR3L 1600Mhz RAM (0.67GB allocated to graphics)
- 500GB hard disk drive (a HGST Travelstar Z7K500 model with 32MB cache, spinning at 7200RPM).
- DVD writer
- 15.6-inch AntiGlare display with a 1366 x 768 pixel resolution
- Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11n Wi-Fi
- 6-cell, 48Whr battery
- HD webcam
- Dolby speakers
There’s a proprietary Onelink connector on the left of the laptop that plugs into Lenovo’s (slightly overpriced) docking station plus the power connector, the optical drive and a USB 2.0 port. At the front is an SD card slot and on the right you’ll find the fan exhaust, GbE Ethernet, D-Sub/HDMI and a pair of USB 3.0 ports.
The bottom of the E555 houses two easily accessible hatches that hide the main components of the laptop. There’s also six rubber feet, two of which are on the removable battery.
Lenovo also judiciously bundled both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 operating systems, a clear sign that this laptop targets the enterprise rather than the SMB market. The older operating system is the one running by default; you will be able to upgrade both to Windows 10 when it launches.
Oddly though, Lenovo decided to bundle a number of third-party applications which some might consider to be bloatware; the infamous Superfish adware was not one of them, you’ll be pleased to hear. There’s Skype, Adobe Reader XI, Evernote, Nitro Pro 9, REACHit, Maxthon, Norton Internet Security and PowerDVD Create.
Fortunately, none of these ran at start-up but Lenovo still fired up about a dozen of its own applications meaning just as many processes ran when the computer was at rest, ring-fencing a fair chunk of system memory. Not a good sign.
That didn’t prevent the E555 from performing rather well on our benchmarks compared to similar priced laptops – the APU and the fast hard disk drive were the two reasons why that was so.
- 3DMark: Skydiver: 2035; Cloud Gate: 2785; Fire Strike: 505
- PCMark 8 Home: 1713
- PCMark 8 Work: 2073
- PCMark 8 Battery Life: 3 hours 5 minutes
The ThinkPad E555 also hit 142 points and 17.86 fps on Cinebench 15 CPU and GPU tests respectively. All in all, these are some surprisingly good scores, especially when it comes to graphics performance. If you fancy playing not-so-recent games on low resolutions during your lunch break, then the E555 might just fit the bill. In use, it was fairly quiet and it did feel warm to the touch.
The cheapest ThinkPad laptop on the market proved to be a decent all-rounder at a budget price. Some might criticise the lack of any security features (TPM or fingerprint reader) but it manages to pack a lot for the price while still carrying the ethos of the ThinkPad brand.
A ThinkPad for well under £250? Who would have thought! Lenovo managed to bring the quintessence of the brand to a mainstream audience, without actually cutting any corners. Many will appreciate the dual operating system configuration which gives system administrators the choice between Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.
The battery life could have been a tad better on the E555 and the touchpad let the laptop down badly. Another area that will need improvement is heat dissipation; the laptop runs warm under load and the fan gets louder. One last niggle – the laptop has far more third-party applications than I was expecting, especially for an enterprise-focused device.
Lenovo did a great job with the ThinkPad E555. It produces some decent numbers performance-wise, is very well built and competitively priced. There are some minor issues with battery life and the touchpad but neither of these are deal breakers. Competition is heating up in this segment but Lenovo has managed to produce a laptop with a highly impressive value-for-money rating that has very few rivals between £200 and £300 (around $320 to $480, or AU$405 to AU$610).