If you’re after a strongly-built laptop that bundles 5th gen Intel hardware, an excellent keyboard and plenty of ports, while selling for a little over $600 at the time of this post, the Lenovo ThinkPad L450 should be on your list.
The ThinkPad L Series consists of mainstream laptops designed to last, designed to pass military grade specs for ruggedness and durability, according to the company’s own words. That makes them well suited for corporate environments, for life on the go, for school maybe or for those of you that simply want a computer that could keep going for a few years.
The L450 is the 14 inch model in this line and we have the most basic configuration available in stores for this review, the one that sells for around $600. Beefier options are also available, but the base model’s excellent price will surely catch a lot of attention. What you’ll be getting for this kind of money and which corners had to be cut in order to meet the low MSRP, well, those are just some of the questions answered in this post. So stick with me for the next couple of paragraphs if you’re interested in the ThinkPad L450.
This is the ThinkPad L450 – a spartan and robust laptop made for corporate environments
The specs sheet
|Lenovo ThinkPad L450|
|Screen||14.0 inch, 1366 x 768 px resolution, TN, matte|
|Processor||Intel Broadwell Core i3-5005U CPU|
|Video||integrated Intel 5500 HD|
|Memory||4 GB DDR3 (2 available DIMMs)|
|Storage||500 GB 7200 rpm HDD ( 2.5″ 9.5 mm bay + mSATA slot)|
|Connectivity||Wireless N, Bluetooth 4.0, Ethernet|
|Ports||3xUSB 3.0, SD card reader, miniDP, VGA, LAN, Kensington Lock, optional SmartCard or fingerprint reader|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1|
|Size||338 mm or 13.34 in (L) x 235 mm or 9.25 in (W) x 24 mm or 0.95 in (H)|
|Weight||about 1.92 kg (4.25 pounds)|
|Extras||no backlit keyboard, Mobile Broadband ready|
Design and exterior
The moment you’ll get this thing out of the box you’ll notice it’s not a compact machine or a convertible or anything complex for that matter. No, this ThinkPad is one of the most spartan clamshell laptops available these days, with a black rectangular case made out of matte plastic and, according to Lenovo, a glass-fiber reinforced chassis and roll-cage. These make the L450 tough, characteristics that perfectly match its rugged looks.
Or at least tougher than the competition in its price range, cause as a long-time ThinkPad user, I do have to add that this one does not feel as strong or as carefully crafted as the more premium ThinkPad Lines, as there’s still some flex in the hood and the keyboard area.
Back to the aesthetics, the ThinkPad and Lenovo logos are the only things NOT black and simple on this thing and many, me included, actually appreciate this kind of looks on a laptop. The choice in materials is also practical, as the matte plastic used for the outer-shell and the interior are fairly grippy and cope well with smudges, scratches and the passing of time.
That aside, the L450 is also fairly bulky and heavy. In fact, with its nearly 1 inch thick waist, it’s not exactly an ultrabook, and the 4.25 lbs body, although much lighter than its predecessor, the L440, is still a significant burden when it comes to lugging the laptop around for hours each day. So keep that in mind.
On the other hand, the size and shape do offer a few benefits. Among them, there’s the generous IO. There are 3xUSB 3.0 slots on this laptop, VGA and miniDP video output, an RJ45 Lan connector and a Kensington Lock, plus an optional SmartCard and fingerprint reader. That’s pretty much everything you’ll need on such a laptop, although some of you would have probably appreciated a full-size HDMI port or maybe an USB 2.0 slot (for older peripherals) as well. That miniDP output is much more versatile though, despite the fact that you might have to buy matching adapters.
The L450 is also compatible with the standard Lenovo Docks and peripherals, through the connector on its belly and while we’re here, there are two other aspects to mention: first, there are plenty of air-intake grills on the bottom, that should keep the machine cool in daily use and second, this thing gets a removable and easily replaceable battery, making it one of the few laptops with this particular feature these days. The battery on our model does not fit flush with the laptop’s body though, which is rather surprising and somewhat annoying for a 14 incher, especially it only has a capacity of 48 Wh. More about that a bit later.
For now, let’s get a step back and pop this thing open. BTW, the screen leans back flat to 180 degrees, like on most ThinkPads, and that puts a smile on my face. The hinges are small, but metallic and solid, which is another thing I appreciate. The interior is as spartan as the outside, with matte plastic being used for the palm-rest, the area around the keyboard and the screen’s bezel. The display is matte as well.
Long story short, the L450 is a true ThinkPad, although an affordable one: well built and spartan. Thus if you’re in for a pretty laptop or a device that will turn heads, this is clearly not the one. But let’s find out what hides beneath the bonnet.
You might have noticed by now the screen, which is matte like I already said and does not support touch. This tested base version gets a 1366 x 768 px TN panel, which is rather bad by today’s standards, but not atrocious. Lenovo does offer a much better IPS FHD display as an extra option for the price of $80, which is well worth getting if you plan to keep this machine for a long time.
However, if you’re coming from an older laptop and haven’t used high-quality displays on your laptops before, you might find this TN decent. Here’s what to expect from it in terms of numbers:
- Panel HardwareID: Lenovo LEN40A0;
- Coverage: 64% sRGB, 46% NTSC, 48% Adobe RGB;
- measured gamma: 1.9 ;
- max brightness in the middle of the screen: 215 cd/m2;
- contrast at max brightness: 80:1;
- white point: 6600 K;
- black on max brightness: 2.76 cd/m2;
- average DeltaE: 9.97 uncalibrated, 3.02 calibrated.
In other words, subpar brightness and contrast, topped with highly skewed gamma and colors, plus poor viewing angles. The colors can be somewhat addressed with a calibration run, but if you’re looking to perform color-accurate tasks on this machine, you should definitely get the IPS screen instead.
In fact, just get the IPS panel no matter what. Period. Don’t even consider the base screen! You’ll thank me for it down the road.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard on the other hand is one of the laptop’s strong points. In fact, it’s the iconic Accutype keyboard we’ve seen on many Lenovo ThinkPads in the last years, spill-proof, with a full-layout and slightly concave keys designed to make it more difficult to miss strokes.
To be honest it took me a few hours to get used to the spacing between the keys and especially the deep travel, but that’s mostly because I’ve been only using ultraportables lately, with somewhat more cramped keys and shallower travel. Even so, I’m confident this is one of the better keyboards available on mid-range laptops these days, if not the best, and the average user will probably love it from day one, without having to go through the same accommodation period as I did.
As a side note though, the keyboard is not backlit and the L450 lacks the night-lamp offered by some of the (older) Thinkpads, which could be a deal-breaker for some of you.
The trackpad is something else Lenovo aced with this laptop, again, if we keep the price in mind. It’s spacious, accurate and reliable. The lower corners are clickable and they’re neither stiff or noisy, like on most other laptops. On top of these, the surface handles taps and gestures well and since it’s a Synaptics unit, you get the preinstaled software that allows for minor tweaks. In fact, the Windows 8.1 side gestures were disabled on this test unit by default and I had to activate them from the software.
Last but not least, as a proper ThinkPad, this one also gets the Trackpoint and the mechanical click buttons on top of the clickpad.
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
As I mentioned in the beginning, we only have a very basic ThinkPad L450 configuration for this review and that includes a 5th gen Intel Core i3-5005U processor with integrated Intel HD 5500 graphics, 4 GB of RAM and a 500 GB HDD.
Lenovo went for a 7200 rpm HDD (Hitachi Travelstar 7K500) on this version, without a caching SSD, and the combo makes the configuration rather slow and causes occasional sluggishness in daily use. My tolerance for lag is however NILL and I’m for sure subjective here, which means that for some of you, the laptop might not feel slow at all. On top of that, I’ve noticed that the configurations available on Lenovo’s website do include a 16 GB NGFF SSD by default which should speed up everyday performance. The NGFF slot is empty on our tested model. But even so, upgrading the HDD to an SSD will make a huge difference. More about that in a sec.
Those of you interested in the basic configuration and not willing to spend any dime on upgrades should know that the tested ThinkPad L450 handled fine all my daily activities, from browsing with multiple tabs opened to watching FHD clips, editing documents or even playing some games on low details. But it wasn’t always as snappy as I’d wanted. It’s worth noting that out of the box there’s a lot of preinstaled bloatware, with a handful of Lenovo apps and third party software. Uninstalling most of them will help to some extent, and the pictures below show you what I kept and what I took out.
I do have to add a few words on the Core i3-5005U processor, a base model in Intel’s 5th gen Broadwell U line. This processor runs at a maximum frequency of 2.0 GHz and I’ve seen no signs of throttling in my tests, not even when running games or performing other demanding tasks. However, it lacks TurboBoost, and that does make it slower than the mid-range Core i5-5200U CPU both in daily use and in benchmarks. It will suffice though when it comes to tackling daily chores, like the ones mentioned above, but if you do need more power you should consider getting the i5.
Speaking of benchmarks, here’s what I got with this laptop:
- 3DMark 11: P910;
- 3DMark 13: Ice Storm – 38699, Cloud Gate –3965, Sky Driver – 2264, Fire Strike – 544;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 2110;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 17.13 fps, CPU 2.25 pts, CPU Single Core 0.84 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 22.12 fps, CPU 206 cb, CPU Single Core 74 cb;
- X264 Benchmark 4.0: Pass 1 – 68.08 fps, Pass 2 – 12.83 fps.
I also tried a few games on native 1366 x 768 px resolution with low details. Here’s how the Core i5-5200U performed on the Dell XPS 13, for the sake of comparison.
|1366 x 768 px – Low details|
|Tomb Raider||32 fps|
|NFS Most Wanted||16 fps|
|Bioshock Infinite||20 fps|
However, if you’re willing to get more from this machine, you can upgrade the RAM and the storage.
The L450 offers two DIMM slots, for a total of 16 GB of RAM, a 2.5 inch 9.5 mm storage bay that’s by default occupied by the included HDD, plus an NGFF mSATA slot. You can opt to buy these upgrades from Lenovo, but that’s going to be pricey ($250 for 16 GB of RAM, $280 for a 256 GB SSD), or, if you’re a bit tech savy, choose to open the laptop and upgrade the RAM and the HDD yourself, for half the price.
The mSATA slot can either take an SSD (but a rather slow one) or an LTE module, as the laptop is ready for Mobile Broadband connectivity from what I can tell, although a 4G/LTE module is not offered by Lenovo for this model.
Anyway, you’ll need to take apart the bottom panel (with a Philips PH0 screwdriver) to access the internals and it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. Disconnect the battery before starting! However, keep in mind that performing any modifications could void your warranty so make sure you ask the Lenovo officials in your country about that. There’s always the option to get the parts and then pay an authorized service to perform the actual upgrade. You’ll still end cheaper than buying those components directly from Lenovo.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
Given the Broadwell Core i3 configuration and the bulky chassis, I was expecting the L450 to run very cool and mostly quiet. In reality, it runs extremely quiet, but not that cool.
The fan is always active, even when the computer sits idle, however it only ramped up from its barely audible speed once in the last week I’ve used this laptop, while installing some Windows updates. The rest of time it remained virtually silent. In fact, in most cases the HDD is noisier than the fan on this machine.
That however causes the internals and the laptop’s case to get warm easily when performing daily activities, and even hot when tackling demanding tasks, like games, as you can see from the pictures below.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube video in IE for 30 minutes;
*Gaming – Need For Speed: Most Wanted on High for 30 minutes
You’ll probably argue that these temperatures aren’t that bad and I mostly agree. But they are pretty close to what I’ve seen on other much thinner, lighter and more powerful devices, so I can’t be happy with the thermal performance achieved here . I do enjoy quiet devices, but I don’t think this tested L450 meets the right balance between temperatures and fan noise. Luckily this could be addressed with a future BIOS release.
Connectivity wise the ThinkPad L450 offers LAN, Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi N on this configuration. I didn’t encounter any Wi-Fi issues during my tests or any drops and the signal strength remained solid even when I got a bit further away from my router, despite the fact that the speeds dropped quickly. However, the Realtek Wi-Fi module Lenovo chose for this configuration is rather slow by today’s standards. The models available in stores are however equipped with an Intel 7265 AC Dual Band Wireless chip and shouldn’t face the same issues.
Last but not least, Lenovo put stereo speakers on this thing and like on many other ThinkPads, the audio coming out of them is on the mediocre side. In other words, these might be good enough for occasional movies and music if you don’t expect much in terms of sound quality, otherwise it’s better to use some proper headphones.
The same can be said about the 720p webcam on top of the screen: decent at best.
Lenovo offers a few different battery options for the L450 and our model came with the 6 Cell Standard Capacity 48 Wh battery. This one does not fit flush with the laptop’s case and leaves a bump on the back. The 3 Cell 23 Wh battery fits flush but also cuts the expected battery life in half. The 6 Cell HC 72 Wh battery however is only $5 extra on Lenovo’s website and although it adds a bit of extra weight, could be a nice option for those of you that require extended autonomy.
On the other hand, It’s worth mentioning that you can use the L450 without a battery connected when keeping it plugged for a longer time, since all the battery options are external and easy to pop out and back in when needed.
Anyway, here’s what to expect from the tested L450 in terms of battery life (screen at 70% equals about 130 nits, which is the closest I could get to my benchmarking target of 120 nits):
- 4 Wh (~12 h of use) – idle, Power Saving Mode, screen at 0%, keyboard illumination OFF, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 7 Wh (~7 h of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, keyboard illumination LVL1, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7.5 Wh (~6 h 20 minutes of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, keyboard illumination OFF, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 8.5 Wh (~5 h 40 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in VLC Player, Balanced Mode, keyboard illumination OFF, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 9.5 Wh (~5 h of use) – heavy browsing in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, keyboard illumination LVL1, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON;
Chrome is still a power hog and will feel slower on this configuration, while draining more energy than IE.
The laptop is bundled with a 45W brick and a full recharge takes around 2 hours.
Price and availability
The affordable MSRP is one of the reasons why this ThinkPad L450 is an interesting device. Lenovo does offers a few different options at the time of this review and there’s a configurator on their site that allows you to build up from the base model, which includes the Core i3-5005U CPU, 4 GB of RAM (single DIMM), a 500 GB HDD + 16 GB NGFF SSD and the FHD screen, for a total of $629. Here are some of the available options:
- the 16 GB NGFF SSD – substract $40 (you can opt out of it if you plan to replace the HDD yourself with an SSD)
- 8 GB of RAM (1 DIMM) – add $100;
- 16 GB of RAM (2 DIMMs) – add $250;
- Intel Core i5-5200 U processor – add $100;
- FHD IPS matte display – add $80;
- 128 GB SSD – add $90 (replaces the HDD);
- 256 GB SSD – add $280 (replaces the HDD).
Personally I’d definitely consider the screen upgrade as well as the Core i5 processor if you need a more powerful device and plan to keep this thing for many years. I’d then upgrade the RAM and SSD myself since Lenovo’s prices are twice of what you’d pay on Amazon and other places.
Looking at the competition, there are very few other 14 inch rugged laptops available out there with 5th gen Intel hardware. The Dell Vostro 14 3000 is an interesting alternative, cheaper (the Core i5-5200U configuration sells for under $600), but not as strongly built or as customizable. Lenovo’s own ThinkPad Edge E450 is also worth a look as it’s about $100 more affordable than the L450 and it’s lighter, but lacks the military grade construction and the versatile IO of the L series.
At the end of the day, I can conclude Lenovo did a fine job with the updated ThinkPad L450. They kept the high-standard build quality, the spartan looks and the compatibility with Lenovo Docks and accessories, updated the hardware and made the whole thing lighter than before. They also added features that will be appreciated by old and future ThinkPad users alike: the mechanical mouse buttons, the option for an IPS display, AC wireless or the selection of batteries.
Even so, the ThinkPad L450 remains a rather bulky and heavy machine for these times. And while the base model is affordable, it also compromises on specs and screen quality, so you’ll actually have to spend significantly more than $600 to unleash the series’ true potential, with upgrades being quite pricey.
That’s why this machine is truly meant for only a few of you. It’s meant for those that need the ruggedness, appreciate the design and require the keyboard or the ports. But especially for those that need the ruggedness and are willing to pay extra for it. If that’s you, this machine might be what you’re looking for. Otherwise, there are countless of other options out there, both when it comes to 14 and 15 inch ultraportables, and especially when it comes to the more popular 13 inch size.
The Lenovo ThinkPad L450 is built to last, built to face the hassle of corporate use, but not necessarily an ideal laptop for the average consumer
Anyway, that wraps it up for now, these were my impressions of the Lenovo ThinkPad L450. Let me know what you think about it and if you got any questions or anything to add to the review don’t hesitate to get in touch in the comments section down below.