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Despite the laptop world’s obsession with cramming faster hardware into ever-smaller spaces, sometimes the best laptop for the job is a big, hulking brute. There's no denying that a full-sized keyboard is easier to type on, while a large screen usually makes it simpler to run simultaneous programs. Those in the market for one of these behemoths might like to consider the slab of a laptop that is the E540, a design where mobility apparently featured far down the list of design goals.
Design and features
The 15.6-inch touchscreen determines the large size of this laptop, yet strangely Lenovo hasn't installed Windows 8 to make the most of it; the OS on our review sample was the rapidly aging Windows 7. Touching the screen reveals a small cursor, and its jagged motion suggests the touch sensitivity of this screen isn't quite as new or accurate as other competing displays. For such a large screen the low resolution of 1366 x 768 is a real disappointment, obviously compromised to enable a touchscreen at a lower price. Once again we see Lenovo wheel out its generic all-black plastic construction, used to deliver a very plain, business oriented case.
Our favourite Lenovo feature, the Precision Keyboard, is present and accounted for; when combined with the large keyboard size it makes the E540 a touch-typist's delight. Lenovo also includes the usual pointing stick, as well as their less than impressive touchpad design. Our biggest issue with Lenovo's touchpads is left clicking — doing so sees the entire touchpad depress, rather than just the bottom left corner, which can make it hard to tell whether it's been clicked in the right place.
Connections, performance and battery
One benefit of a large laptop is the ability to cram more components inside, and Lenovo has made the most of this. Intel's Core i5-4200M is a very speedy processor for a laptop, with a maximum speed of 3.1GHz spread amongst its two HyperThreaded cores. 4GB of DDR3-1600MHz is understandable given the affordable price tag, but we're very pleased to also see NVIDIA's GT740M discrete GPU included. Finally, the thick base has plenty of room for an optical drive, in this case a combination CD/DVD burner.
Sadly our review sample had major issues with our overall system benchmark, PCMark 8 Home. Despite reinstalling it several times and reverting to earlier system restore points, we couldn't get it to run without crashing, a very disappointing result considering the hardware within should have delivered speedy results. Thankfully our casual gaming benchmark, 3DMark Cloud Gate, did work, with the score of 5597 being one of the fastest we've seen at this price point. We're guessing the PCMark 8 issues were a result of our review sample having been messed up by earlier journalists, and believe a freshly installed version of Windows 7 wouldn't have any of the issues we saw. Battery life was very acceptable for such a speed demon, delivering 257 minutes in the PowerMark benchmark.