Lenovo ThinkPad E575 Review

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I have been using and recommending ThinkPads since Pentium IIIs were top of the line. However, in all of this time, I’ve never purchased one new for myself. That changed last week when, after reading what little I could about it, I ordered the Lenovo ThinkPad E575. In summary: It’s great.

The E series is a lower-end ThinkPad than the X, T, and W line that I normally buy at work. Not only that, I bought the absolutely lowest-end version I could, only upgrading the screen. Well, man, I am glad that I did. This machine is such an amazing value, I am absolutely thrilled with it.

Here are the details:

The Large Pieces

The reason I bought this machine was to have a large machine with a good keyboard for when I was doing extended work upstairs while my son played. I have been using either an older ThinkPad W520 or my main machine, a Dell XPS13. Both are great, but the Dell, while beautiful and portable, is just a 13″ display. The W520 is roomier, but despite the size, the display is only 1600×900 and it isn’t IPS. I like good displays. I’m spoiled by good displays.

So in my inbox pops up yet another ThinkPad sale from Lenovo. Much to my surprise, I saw the E575, a model I was unfamiliar with, starting at just $460.

At under $500CDN, the base ThinkPad E575 is a 2 core AMD A6 CPU with some sort of integrated 4 code GPU. I went with this, as my dual-core XPS 13 with integrated Intel graphics is fine for my work. There is an option to upgrade to a 4 core A10 with a better discrete GPU. This added $130, so I passed. Seeing how well the E575 works for games, this may have been a mistake. It turns out that AMD Pro CPU/GPUs are pretty amazing. (Especially for the price.)

The base E575 also has a low-end 1366×768 TN panel. Low resolution isn’t very good, neither are TN panels. TN panels have poor colour reproduction and bad off-angle viewing. However, the E575 has an optional $70 upgrade to a full 1920×1080 matte IPS panel. I would have happily paid far more for this upgrade. If you’re considering buying any ThinkPad, if you value your eyes, buy the IPS panel. As a complete bonus, it’s a matte panel. My favourite. Just perfect.

So, as configured, this machine cost just $530, making it $80 more than a base-model iPad or $20 less than a 128GB iPad, and about half the price of Apple’s cheapest MacBook Air.

I’ve only used high-end ThinkPads, such as the X1 Carbon, and their X2*, T4*, and W5* line of machines. These systems are always $1200-$3000 when I configure them for someone at work, so I was a bit nervous and curios to see what you would get for a low-end 2-17 ThinkPad. I have to say, I’m thrilled

Input: Keyaboard, TrackPoint, Trackpad

As far as I’m concerned, the ThinkPad X220, T420, and W520 were the best keyboards ever produced. (All the same part, by the way.) The E575 isn’t that good. However, it’s at least as good as my ThinkPad Yoga keyboard, and on-par, though slightly mushier, when compared to the current ThinkPad P51 (the replacement to the W500 line.)

There is a capslock light, which is key for me and is frequently missing on ThinkPad keyboard revisions.

This is the first ThinkPad I’ve owned with a numeric keypad. I don’t use these and would have preferred no keypad and a centered keyboard and mouse. However, this is fine, and I’m sure there are many people that cursed the fact that the big, spacious W500 series always had plenty of space and a keyboard with no keypad. It’s a change that I’m sure others would appreciate more than I don’t.

The one and only negative about the keyboard is that there’s no backlight or little top LED that adorned older ThinkPads. This is an option on the P51 and other high-end models. This is clearly a differentiator between the professional and E series lines. For the price difference, I accept this small compromise.

The TrackPoint is perfect. Just like the one on my X220. Three real buttons. Something that Lenovo waffled on. I’m glad they returned to this.

The Trackpad is fine. The left click seems to be a little fiddly in Linux, and I suspect but haven’t verified that it would be the same in Windows. I don’t like trackpads and would disable it in the BIOS if I could. (This was an option in older ThinkPads. It isn’t now. Such is life.)

Output: Screen and sound

As mentioned, the screen is the only thing I upgraded. For $70, I don’t know why anyone would buy the lower-quality TN panel. 1920×1080 matte IPS for $70 is an absolute, positive no-brainer. If you’re reading this and are considering the lesser screen, please just don’t. I promise, you won’t regret it. Skip the CPU, skip the RAM, skip an extra warranty. Get the screen. It’s how you use your computer. TN panels and low resolutions are the only real problems with older ThinkPads.

I haven’t run benchmarks, but the colour gamut looks good to me. The upgraded screen stands in good stead with my Dell XSP13 and my 2016 Retina MacBook Pro at work. (Of course, this isn’t a QHD screen, but I consider that to be better for Linux and with my eyesight. Higher pixel density than this is an unnecessary luxury to me.)

The sound quality also surprised me. It’s quite loud and clear with good dynamic range. I may have heard better, but I’d say it’s on-par with older MacBook Pros that I’ve always considered to be top-quality.

Ports-a-plenty

Get this: DVD, 3 USB ports, full HDMI, VGA, Ethernet. Oh yes, and an SD slot. And a Kennsington Lock option. No dongles necessary. Well done, Lenovo. Apple: Please take notice. We don’t just look at our laptops. We use them.

Mini DP would have been nice. USB C would have been nice. A docking station option would have been nice. $530. They made great choices.

Overall Hardware Quality

I’m watching The Force Awakens as I watch this. I’m reminded of Han saying “She may not look like much but she’s got it where it counts.” The build quality isn’t quite what I’m used to from higher-end ThinkPads, but it’s great for the price. The screen, keyboard, and trackpoint are great. That’s what counts for me.

Make no mistake, this is not the same computer as the P51. It lacks a dock option, it isn’t as expandable, the list of ports is fewer, it doesn’t have a backlit keyboard, the casing is cheaper plastic, and the machine is less durable for day-in-and-day-out travel around the world. At work, I will still be recommending the higher-end ThinkPads. However, it’s pretty darn good. Like the difference between the white plastic MacBooks and the metal MacBook Pros. The higher-end machines are nice, but it’s overkill for my intended use.

As far as I am concerned, this is a perfect all-around machine. I will be recommending it to anyone for use at home, as a decent desktop replacement, and it perfectly suits my needs. The quality of the hardware far, far surpasses anything I’ve seen in the price range in stores ever. It’s still a ThinkPad.

System Performance

The last time I used an AMD processor in a desktop or laptop was in the Athalon era. Things have certainly changed. I haven’t run benchmarks, but the performance of the A6 processor seems fabulous to me. Equivalent to an i3 or i5 for my uses. As of the time of writing, I haven’t used it to run VMs.

The GPU is shockingly good. I am comparing this machine to an older quad-core i7 and high-end Nvidia Quadro GPU. The GPU on this machine has been comparable. It looks to run Rocket League and even Tomb Raider at least as well as the W520 it replaces. I wish I had a chance to try the better A10 and discrete GPU. I think it would be awesome.

Needless to say, it handles a normal Linux desktop fine. (Tested under Gnome3, Unity, and Pantheon.)

Battery Life

Unoptimized, it looks like I’ll get about 4 hours on regular use in Ubuntu 16.04. I haven’t booted Windows. This is great for me. I may look at optimizing this, I might not. For a low-end 15″ machine, 4 hours sounds about right.

Linux Compatibility

This part surprises me a lot. What ultimately sold me on the machine is when I was chatting with a Lenovo rep (or bot; tough to tell these days.) After a bit, I asked about Linux compatibility and was quite surprised to learn that it was certified to run on Linux. Bonus!

Before I powered the laptop on for the first time, I removed the 500GB HD it shipped with and installed an SSD with Ubuntu 17.04 on it. Everything worked as expected. Then I tried a different SSD with Ubuntu 16.04 (Elementary OS) because it had games and other software on it to better test the machine. Both OSs work great. I’ve seen what may be minor funniness with the power management once, bit no crashes. I can confirm that all software buttons work great under both operating systems, and that everything, including GPU acceleration, looks to work perfectly in Linux with Open Source drivers.

In particular, the GPU (often a sore point for AMD/ATI graphics) looks to be working fantastically. As in better than Intel integrated or Nvidia discrete GPUs.

Performance of the CPU and GPU

This may be a bargain-basement ThinkPad, but it is no slouch. This is a fast computer, even in the base configuration.

For testing the CPU, about the most demanding thing I do is run VMs. AMD pioneered virtualization extension. As it happens, the A6 CPU seemed more than up to what I threw at it in limited testing. This included three VMs simultaneously: Windows 7 Pro, Windows XP, and CentOS 7. With just 2 CPU cores and 8GB of RAM installed (4GB allocated to CentOS, 3GB to Windows 7, and 1.5GB to XP) everything seemed to truck along nicely, though I was understandably starting to hit the limits of the CPUs. Still, throughout this, the system remained quite responsive and there were no video glitches.

I tested out a few fairly demanding games: Tomb Raider and Rocket League. Both worked at least as well as they did on the quad-core i7 with the Nvidia Quadro M2000 GPU. I am simply floored. This with the low-end A6 and poorer integrated graphics. I’d rather have the $130 that they charged for the upgrade, but I wonder if I should have paid extra, as this could possibly be a decent gaming laptop. At least for the games I play.

I’m absolutely astounded by the CPU/GPU performance for the price of the machine. I was expecting something that felt like Atom-grade performance in the worst case and instead got something that feels as good as my 2015 Dell XPS 13 with an i7, and will do better with games than that computer. I’m shocked. Well done AMD, and good for Lenovo for taking the chance on them and ensuring that everything works well in Linux. It’s far beyond my expectations.

Wrap-up

This system so far exceeds my expectations, particularly given it’s price. I really can’t believe how nice it is for the money. Sure, if someone offered to trade me for a P51, I would, but I am quite intrigued by the AMD CPU/GPU and would wonder if I have been unfair to them. These new offerings look to work great in Linux. I would jump at the chance to test a higher-end version of this machine. It’s really very good.

 

+ $460 base price, just $70 for FHD IPS display, $530 total. Less than a 128GB iPad ($579)
+ Works perfectly with Ubuntu 16.04 and 17.04
+ 15″ 1920×1080 matte IPS display
+ AMD A6 2 core + 4 GPU core CPU
+ ~5lbs
+ Great ThinkPad keyboard. Not as nice as the W520 but as nice as the new equivalent
+ Great speakers
+ Great build quality for the money, right compromises made to hit the price point
+ Easy to upgrade RAM, HD, wireless
+ The low-end CPU and GPU are as good as the i7 and Nvidia Quadra in the W520!!

– No backlit keyboard
– Only dual-core ($130 for a 4 core CPU and better GPU)
– Screen doesn’t go all the way back
– Build quality is lower than the W500 series (and other high-end ThinkPads)

Gallery

Here are some pictures of the E575. Enjoy! (I’ll add some comparing to other ThinkPads soon.)

GoSaBe Blog - Oct 4, 2017 | Hardware, Linux, ThinkPad, Virtualization