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Review: And The Hits Just Keep On Coming From Lenovo

Lenovo announced new notebooks based on Intel's Centrino 2 technology, and the Test Center examined them to see how they hold up.

The company, now based in Raleigh, N.C., continues to work on the former as its sales numbers show measured progress. And with this week's launch of Intel's Centrino 2 platform (formerly known as Montevina), Lenovo is making a statement that it's serious about quality.

The Test Center examined and reviewed two of Lenovo's new business PCs, the ThinkPad X200 and the ThinkPad SL 400. They are top-flight notebooks, and they simply raise the bar for the rest of the industry. With what it is launching today, Lenovo will force competitors to take a good, hard look at upping their own investments in RandD.

The ThinkPad X200 is aimed at travelers who need lots of battery life and who need to travel light without compromising performance. The ThinkPad SL 400 is part of a new focus for Lenovoand#8212;mobility in the small-business spaceand#8212;and provides nice features at a competitive price.

The ThinkPad X200

This is a follow-up to Lenovo's ThinkPad X300, but really this notebook in a class by itself. At 2.95 pounds, it's light enough to carry around all day, and its small form factor (11.5 by 9.5 by about an inch at its thinnest point) makes it possible to take in a carry-on for those who don't want to walk on an airplane with more than one bag.

The system is built with an Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 at 2.4GHz and 2 GB of RAM, as well as Windows Vista Business. Running Primate Labs' Geekbench 2.0 benchmarking test, the X200 ran up a score of 2,704and#8212; which is on par with notebooks we've looked at recently that had CPUs with a measurably higher clockspeed and the same amount of memory. The 12.1-inch WXGA screen is bright and, like other ThinkPads, makes good use of design; it's a bright-screen that does seem larger and is easy on the eyes.

What really grabbed our attention was the X200's 9-cell battery life. Using the Test Center's standard test, in which all power-saving options are turned off and video is run continuously off the hard drive until the battery dies, the X200 lasted for 4 hours and 16 minutes. That is pushing the envelope in our testing environment, and puts it at or near the head of the class this year in battery life.

The X200 isn't quiet, it's silent. Its sound level never got close to ambient noise level of the lab. Its weakest point wasn't really even that weak: It did run a little warmer than we'd like, but not uncomfortably so at 98.6 degrees at its bottom vent. (The X300, by comparison, ran about 10 degrees cooler.) When plugged in and booted, it consumed 41 watts and when running video, it elevated to 52 wattsand#8212;which is reasonable.

New features in this round of ThinkPads include a display port and second-battery charger. Starting list price: $1,199and#8212;less than half the price of the X300and#8212;but it's unclear if that model is with a 4-cell battery or a higher-end version. The X200 is available beginning Aug. 5.

The ThinkPad X200 is built and priced competitively. It will certainly be a factor in the second half of 2008 and will be a tough notebook to beat in the Centrino 2 class.

The ThinkPad SL 400

The SL series is a new one for Lenovo, with the company clearly gunning to pick up market share in the small-business space. It's coming to the market with a segment-specific offering a year after Dell began delivering its Vostro line for small and midsize business butand#8212;given the fragmentation of this segment and the fact that other tier-one OEMs lag in getting hereand#8212;it's not that late.

The SL 400 that we reviewed came to the lab built with an Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 at 2.26GHz, 2 GB of RAM and loaded with Windows Vista Business. Using Geekbench 2.0, the SL 400 scored a modest 2,443and#8212; below the performance registered on other notebooks. However, further testing showed that whatever performance it may lack is more than compensated.

That's because when plugged in, the SL 400 consumed an incredibly modest 23 watts of powerand#8212;with power-saving features turned off. Running video, it elevated to 37 watts. And after running for several hours the SL 400 threw only 88 degrees of heat from its vents with no noise.

If deployed as a desktop alternative, the SL 400 would give a small business a few strong incentives to deploy it: its entry price of $799; its power consumption would save on electric usage; its absence of noise would be welcome in a small-office setting; its 14.1-inch screen is a nice negotiation between mobility and productivity; its performance is fine for basic business.

Other points: The ThinkPad SL 400 ships with an integrated Webcam and dual-array mics, making it nice for videoconferencing. It's also manufactured with an un-ThinkPad-like glossy, black case which makes it stand out. For a ThinkPad, it's handsome.

The Bottom Line: The Test Center can recommend both the ThinkPad X200 and the ThinkPad SL 400. In fact, the X200 is now giving the X300 a run for its money for the title of year's best notebook. The SL 400 can simply give VARs a strong weapon to win sales in small-business accounts.

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