Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E520 Review

The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E520 is a 15” screen business laptop that offers the latest range of Intel Core i3 to Core i7 processors and starts at $549 on Lenovo.com. The E520 is targeted at budget buyers such as small businesses or students, the ThinkPad T520 we recently reviewed is much like the E520 but has some more premium features that you won’t see in the E520. That said, there are some features about the Edge E520 that some may prefer over the more expensive T520, and many of the configuration options are similar between the two laptops so you might prefer to save money and go with the E520.

Lenovo ThinkPad X220
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E520

ThinkPad Edge E520 specs and configurations

Here are the specs of the E520 that was purchased from Lenovo.com for $549:

  • Processor: Intel Core i3-2350M (2.30GHz, 3MB Cache)
  • Screen: 15.0” 1366 x 768 screen with an anti-glare matte finish
  • OS: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
  • Memory: 4GB RAM
  • Storage: 320GB 7200RPM hard drive
  • Graphics: Intel HD 3000 graphics
  • Optical Drive: Multi-Recorder DVD/CD
  • Battery: 6- cell lithium-ion
  • Wireless: 802.11 b/g/n
  • Ports: VGA monitor out, HDMI, Ethernet port, microphone/speaker combo jack, 4 x USB 2.0 ports (1 powered, 1 USB/eSata combo), 4-in-1 card reader, 34mm ExpressCard slot
  • Weight: 5.2lbs
  • Dimensions: 14.76″ x 9.64″ x 1.10″ – 1.29″ (Width x Depth x Thickness)
  • Warranty: 1-year standard

The Edge E520 was configured on Lenovo.com on 10/27/2011 and it was delivered on 11/9/2011, so it took approximately 10-business days to be delivered from the time of order, a very reasonable time frame in my opinion. Below is a picture of the packaging and what the E520 contents after unboxing:

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E520 unbox

ThinkPad Edge E520 Design and Build

The ThinkPad Edge E520 offers up some differences to the design of the T520, but at the same time keeps the same general look and everyone will recognize it as a ThinkPad. The biggest difference the E520 offers is its curved edges on the front, this is different to the more boxy squared edges on the regular ThinkPads and is intended as a design flair. Another unique design feature is that the “i” on the ThinkPad logo lights up red when the laptop is powered and awake.

The chiclet keyboard is another big design difference you’ll notice on the E520 vs. the T520, chiclet – or island-style keyboards as some call them, are more common on consumer laptops, and offer a more modern look.

So what stays the same between the E520 and other ThinkPads? The all-black look is of course a mainstay of ThinkPads. The red TrackPoint and red striped mouse buttons are also there as you would expect. However, the blue accents such as the Blue Enter button on regular ThinkPads are not found on the E520. There are some orange letter color accents used on the keyboard in place of blue, for instance, the function keys and Fn key use orange lettering to stand out.

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E520 top view

The lid top for the E520 has a rubberized texture that makes it easy to grip if you choose to carry it, with the laptop being over 5lbs it’s highly recommended you support it underneath of course. There is no latch to close the lid, instead, you just raise the lid and the resistance from the strong hinges holds the lid down when closed and firmly in place when open.

Worth mentioning, if black just doesn’t suit your style, for $50 extra you can get a red-colored lid, Lenovo refers to this as a Heatwave Red finish.

ThinkPad Edge E520 Weight

The ThinkPad E520 weighs in at 5.2lbs, this is significantly less than the 5.75 lbs the T520 weighs. The E520 is definitely lighter than the average 15” laptop, but it’s still big enough that I wouldn’t want to lug it too far across campus or try to carry and use it on a plane, it’s just too big for that. The ThinkPad Edge E420 14” screen laptop that is much like this laptop but smaller would be better suited to anyone who needs a more portable laptop.

ThinkPad Edge E520 Screen

The 15.0” 1366 x 768 Edge E520 screen is not going to provide any wow factor, it’s quite average. The resolution is low for this sized laptop and when watching HD movies you might see some pixelation. Unfortunately, there is no option for an upgrade to an HD display like the T520 offers. Nevertheless, there is an HDMI port so that if you crave a higher resolution display you can output to a larger monitor or TV. This resolution is probably about average for this sized laptop, some might like the very large text and icons that you get as a result but to be honest I’d expect better from something carrying the ThinkPad logo.

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E520 display

On the plus side, the screen is very bright and the color contrast is good. And of course, the screen is anti-glare (matte) which results in a low reflection level and makes viewing for long hours very comfortable. For many that purchase this laptop you’ll be staring at it all day long, so a matte screen is important to have. If you prefer a glossy screen that offers more vibrant colors and plan to use the E520 a lot for movie watching, there is a glossy screen option available at no extra cost, Lenovo refers to it as “Vibrant View”.

The Edge E420 has no screen upgrade options, you can choose whether to have a built-in camera at the top of the screen (I did not), but that of course will not affect screen quality. So if you’re a person that loves higher resolution screens or more expensive IPS technology screens you’ll have to up your budget and look at something like the ThinkPad X220 or Dell Precision M4600.

ThinkPad Edge E520 Performance

The ThinkPad Edge E520 recently got a quiet upgrade from the base level Intel Core i3-2310m 2.10GHz processor to the Core i5-2350m 2.30GHz processor. You pay the same price of $549 now as you would just two months ago and get a slightly faster processor. Even though the Core i3-2350m is the entry-level processor for this system, it’s going to provide more than enough performance speed for the average user. Multi-tasking is no problem for this processor and streaming and watching 1080p HD video, a fairly demanding task, won’t even push the processor past 40% utilization. The Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics will be powerful enough to do some light gaming, but the serious game playing of the latest 3D based games would certainly need dedicated graphics. While the top 1366 x 768 resolution of the monitor was complained about earlier, the upside is that 3D graphics run more smoothly at this resolution. Currently, on Lenovo, there is no option to upgrade the graphics to dedicated, although you can find some pre-configured systems with AMD RADEON 6630M graphics.

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E520 performance

The E520 comes with a standard 4GB of RAM, which is plenty and I wouldn’t recommend paying the $80 upgrade to 6GB memory that Lenovo is currently charging, you can upgrade to 8GB of memory for a mere $25 – $30 if you purchase 4GB of memory from Newegg.com or Crucial.com.

The base-level hard drive on the Edge E520 is a 320GB 7200RPM drive if you’re like me and don’t need a whole lot of storage this is just fine. It’s extremely nice that Lenovo saw fit to provide a faster 7200RPM drive, which will provide better performance than the more standard 5400RPM drive.

Onto the benchmarks!

The Windows Experience Index came in at 4.7, the main reason this is quite low is due to the Intel HD 3000 graphics, you can see that all of the other components received a much higher rating. But the WEI score is determined by the lowest component score on the assumption that a system can only be as fast as the slowest component – this is not entirely true of course.

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E520 benchmark

A better measure of overall system performance is determined by PCMark Vantage, the E520 scored an impressive 5,927 PCMarks on the 64-bit version of the test. The 3DMark score that measures 3D graphics rendering performance for a laptop was a quite low 1,609

e520 pc mark

Edge E520 Keyboard and Touchpad

The ThinkPad Edge E520 keyboard uses a chiclet-style keyboard, which is quite popular for many laptops today. This is one main difference between the regular ThinkPad and the Edge line, the enterprise targeted ThinkPad’s stick with a trusted and true keyboard design. I prefer the regular style ThinkPad keyboard, from time to time I do find myself catching a finger under a key. Since keys have more space and clearance under them with this design I have experienced catching my finger under the “J” key as I move from having pushed the “M” key and move up to pushing the “Y” key. Take a look at the keyboard layout and you might imagine how this happens, it’s a little hard to put in words. Other than that minor complaint that is related to chiclet keyboards in general, this keyboard is very good. It feels much like a regular ThinkPad keyboard — each key has a nice travel distance and a very solid stroke, there is no flex or “clickety-clack” going on at all.

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E520 keyboard

The keyboard allows you to move your fingers fast and the noise is minimal even if you’re a key punishing typist like myself. The PgUp and PgDn keys are ridiculously small and poorly located, there’s no way you’ll be able to use them in a touch type fashion. The top row of function keys are also shrunken to fit the keyboard, this isn’t a big deal but if you’re clumsy or have big paws then it could be irritating to have to peck at such small buttons to adjust things such as volume and screen brightness.

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E520 trackpad

If you like to have a number pad for fast numeric entry you’re in luck with the E520, on the right side you get a dedicated set of number keys. This is certainly nice for those who are accountants or need to enter a lot of number patterns during a day of work or study.
The function keys on the top row operate as media keys by default, I prefer this approach as it makes it easy to adjust things such as volume and screen brightness with the touch of a button. If you don’t like this default behavior you can adjust it in the bios settings.

The touchpad on the E520 is very generously sized, this is nice for moving the cursor around the screen if you prefer the touchpad over the pointing stick. I prefer the red pointing stick Lenovo puts in the middle of the keyboard, it’s nice to have this feature on a laptop that cost just over $500 – generally, it’s reserved for expensive $1,000+ business laptops.

Either way, having multiple methods of mouse input means you can choose which works best for you and that’s a plus. The touchpad and mouse buttons overall work great, the touchpad offers to scroll and zooming gestures. The only minor knock I can give is that the two mouse buttons below the touchpad are rather chintzy – use the red striped buttons above the touchpad and you’re set as they’re excellent and easy to reach while touch typing.

ThinkPad E520 Battery Life

You can configure the Edge E520 with either a 6-cell or 9-cell battery, I went with the standard 6-cell. It’s nice to know you can upgrade the battery or buy a replacement down the road if you want, laptops such as the 15” MacBook Pro have sealed batteries so you cannot upgrade or easily replace the battery. Using a battery rundown test in which I opened a browser window and set the browser to refresh every 60 seconds, set the screen brightness to a low setting (4/12), left wi-fi on and set the power usage to “Maximum Battery Life” in the software settings I got 5 hours and 26 minutes of battery life. This is a decent amount of battery life, in a more demanding scenario in which screen brightness is cranked up and you’re downloading a lot of files or watching the video you’ll probably end up with closer to just over 4 hours of battery life. If you get the 9-cell battery you can assume you’d get around 7-hours of battery life.

ThinkPad E520 Input and Output Ports

The E520 has a generous array of ports that will fulfill most user needs. We’ll take a tour around the E420 and detail what port is located where:

On the left side you get a VGA monitor out port, 3 USB 2.0 ports one of which is a combo eSata / USB 2.0 port, an HDMI port, headphone/microphone combo port, and media card reader slot.

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E520 leftside

On the right side, you get a 34mm ExpressCard slot for expansion, 1 USB 2.0 port that is powered so you can charge devices such as a cell phone via USB even when the laptop is turned off. The power jack is on the back right side. Notice the optical drive is here on the right side too.

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E520 rightside

On the back of the laptop you just get an Ethernet port, it is Gigabit enabled

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E520 backview

There are no ports located on the front of the Edge E520, the forward-facing speakers are located here

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E520 frontview

There is no USB 3.0 port, the latest and greatest in USB technology, some might miss this but you get an eSata port that provides another good option for fast transfer of data to a portable storage drive.  The HDMI port is nice to have if you want to output video to a larger monitor or TV.

ThinkPad Edge E520 Heat & Noise

The Edge E520 uses a large vent on the back left side to cool the laptop. The E520 never got extremely hot, even after benchmarks were run, but since this was used on a desk at all times you may have a different experience if you place this on your lap and block vents or prevent heat dissipation. The E520 got most warm on the left side, this is where most of the components are so it makes sense. The keyboard and touchpad never got overly warm or uncomfortable to use. The fan rarely came on during normal usage, so you won’t have problems with being that person in a room with a laptop that distracts everyone due to its noise.

ThinkPad Edge E520 Review Conclusion

If you’re on a budget, as many of us are, then the Edge E520 with its quality build and latest Intel processor technology is a great buy in the mid $500 range. The E520 is a practical laptop for those on a budget but who still want something that’s going to last and won’t be outdated technology-wise in two years. The base-level configuration should be ample performance for the average buyer, I found that the Intel Core i3-2350m processor was a nice bump in performance over the former Core i3-2310m that used to come with the ThinkPad E520. Even though the E520 is a little more modern with its design than the classic ThinkPad, it’s still probably not going to turn heads. The lack of a screen resolution upgrade from 1366 x 768 is unfortunate too, the more premium T520 has 3 screen resolution options, the E520 should at least have gotten 2.

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E520 power button

It’s really up to the individual as to what’s more important to you in a laptop, but if you’re a practically minded person looking to get the most for your money and don’t need something flashy then the ThinkPad Edge E520 should be on your shortlist of laptops to consider for your work and school needs.

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