The matte black housing, the iconic nub in the middle of the keyboard, and the deep set keypad are all comfortingly familiar, as are the Lenovo ThinkPad SL510's black, boxy looks, with the familiar "ThinkPad" logo on the top of the case's corner. The machine's lightweight feel is surprising but welcome. It's the return of an efficient, gifted friend - a friend who is now marginally less awkward at social events. And it'll set you back from around £499.
At 358x260x370mm and weighing 2.9kg, our review unit was big, but not too bulky. The latchless case opens easily, and the join between screen and laptop feels rock-solid. Our review unit Lenovo ThinkPad SL510's 15.6-inch screen was matte, not glossy, which means a bit less brightness and colour but makes the screen easy to view under just about any lighting you like (a glossy screen is available). The native resolution is just 1366 by 768, but going any higher would have required Lenovo to pack a little more graphics dynamite under the hood.
Our review model Lenovo ThinkPad SL510's guts include a 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8700 CPU, 3GB of RAM, Intel's integrated 4500 Graphics Media Accelerator, and a 320GB, 7200rpm hard drive. That was enough to earn a score of 104 in our WorldBench 6 test suite, and is actually fairly fast for an all-purpose laptop.
In our own subjective tests, the Lenovo ThinkPad SL510 easily handles DVD and streaming video playback, but is also meaty enough to deal with 12 tabs of Firefox running while fiddling in Office and Photoshop. However, that anaemic GPU means gaming is secondary - hardly a surprise here. (That said, if you need a quick gaming fix, consider Torchlight, which ran swimmingly and is a lot of fun.)
As for battery life, the Lenovo ThinkPad SL510 lasts 5 minutes shy of 4 hours, or about 20 minutes less than the average we've seen from all-purpose-class laptops. So, while it has moxie, keep your charger handy.
The keypad is the fantastic standard that ThinkPad users have used to write so many memos. It's full-size, with plenty of space between individual keys and a fantastic feel on each individual keystroke. The arrow keys and the dedicated Page Up/Page Down keys sit in the lower right as a two-row, three-column bunch with a careful trio of grooves leading the hand from the bottom of the machine to the keys themselves.
It's a little thing that makes it very easy to navigate documents and apps without looking down to find keys. The Lenovo ThinkPad SL510 keyboard also features Lenovo's usual spill-resistance technology - it even feels as if you could drop a brick on the keyboard, and it'd be fine.
The Lenovo ThinkPad SL510 keyboard's positioning doesn't make as strong a case for adoration. Sticking close to Lenovo's plain-design philosophy, the keyboard sits squarely in the middle of the laptop. Given its wide screen, that decision leaves a broad swath of space to either side of the keys, though the left side has four dedicated volume buttons, while the right has the ThinkVantage and power buttons and your indicator light array.
We'll admit it irks us to see such swaths of unused space on a laptop, but this is still a very comfortable setup. The Lenovo ThinkPad SL510 keyboard is centre-aligned with the screen, and you can rest your hands comfortably without accidentally hitting any extra arrays of buttons.
The aforementioned ThinkVantage button gives access to an excellent suite of support and monitoring tools. It is a central clearinghouse of information about your machine and doesn't require someone from IT to come over and help just to get something useful done. Lenovo's electronic help documentation is quite thorough - designed, clearly, to be helpful to the IT guy while not overwhelming to the business user.
And ThinkVantage's Enhanced Backup and Restore features make online, external, and local backup easy, while its Performance and Configuration History tracks a wide variety of boring but important facts about your machine: hardware scans, tests, system changes (as granularly as program updates), critical events (with full error logs), performance-changers (such as new programs that launch at startup), and when you created restore points. The SL510 also incorporates the ThinkPad line's usual Active Protection System, which stops the hard drive from spinning if the machine takes a sudden impact. It's a recurring theme: the Lenovo ThinkPad SL510 is a tank.
As for what you'll find lining the box, here's a quick rundown: three USB ports, a hybrid eSATA/USB port, VGA- and HDMI-video outputs, a mic and headphone jack, a media card reader, a DVD/CD-RW drive, an express card slot, and an ethernet port are arrayed around the machine. One USB port sits in the back; every other connection is on the right or left side and recessed into the Lenovo ThinkPad SL510 just a little.
That rear port may not seem very useful, but think about it for a second: How many odd dongles or awkwardly-sized USB flash drives block up neighboring USB ports? This back-mounted port should accommodate any USB devices with exceptionally fat plugs. 802.11 Wi-Fi is supported out of the box for every version; optional Bluetooth, WWAN and WiMax units are available.
Overall, the ThinkPad SL510 is a solid Windows 7 machine. Its wide screen gives ample room to work without a full jump up to a monster-size model. The defining ThinkPad reliability is very much present, and its speed is admirable. True, battery life could be a bit better, and Lenovo really should have given the SL510 a bit more punch - you certainly won't want to try to play anything graphically demanding - but it's a surprisingly light, remarkably quick notebook. In short, it's a ThinkPad.