We've previously looked at a laptop from Lenovo's Essential G series (the G570), and now it's time to check out the Essential B series. If you're unclear on the difference, Lenovo helpfully offers that the B series consists of "budget laptops for working at home or at the office," while the G series is described as "everyday laptops at a great price."
While the descriptions can be a bit of a head-scratcher, looking at examples of the two lines side by side it's clear that the B series, represented here by the $669 Essential B470, is the slightly more upscale of the two. The plastic of the body is matte rather than glossy, and the more compact dimensions of the 14-inch body (as opposed to the 15-inch Essential G570) help it feel more portable and purposeful.
As both Essential laptops we've reviewed use Intel's Core i5 2410M processor and have identical amounts of RAM and hard-drive space, the big difference under the hood is the B470's Nvidia 410M graphics card. It's about as entry-level as GPUs get, but it will give you better gaming performance in most cases than the default integrated Intel HD3000 graphics in the G570.
That makes the B470 a decent overall package, and a passably good-looking budget laptop, but also tough to recommend over the slightly larger G570, which was significantly less expensive at the time of our review. If you're willing to sacrifice the Nvidia GPU and move to a 15-inch screen, you can knock almost $100 off the price, which is rock-bottom for a system with the 2011 version of Intel's Core i5 CPU.
|Price as reviewed||$669|
|Processor||2.3GHz Intel Core i5 2410M|
|Memory||4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce 410M|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.4x9.2 inches|
|Height||0.9 - 1.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.9 pounds / 5.9 pounds|
Like the 15-inch Essential G570, this 14-inch Essential B470 model shares some stylistic points with both the IdeaPad and ThinkPad laptop lines from the same company. Still, it doesn't exactly feel like a traditional Lenovo laptop. The plastic body is solid, and we especially appreciate the matte finish on the lid, which is in strong contrast with the glossy, smudge-friendly lid on the 15-inch G570. The chassis is still thick and bulky, however. This is definitely not a member of the new generation of slim midsize laptops you've been hearing about.
The sunken keyboard tray is a nice upscale touch, and the keyboard is similar to what you'd find in recent IdeaPad models. It's a variation on the popular island-style keyboard, instead of the older tapered key style still typical of ThinkPads. In the Lenovo version of the island-style keyboard, the flat-topped, widely spaced keys bow out slightly at the bottom, making it easier to catch the bottom edge of the key for those of us who are not perfect typists.
The touch pad has the same matte-textured finish as the 15-inch model, and is in fact the same size, but the mouse buttons on B470 are smaller and even less substantial-feeling. That's too bad, as multitouch gestures, such as two-finger scrolling, work but only to a degree, as is the case for virtually all Windows laptops.
Several free software applications are preloaded, although it's not exactly the same lineup as on the Essential G570. Lenovo's VeriFace facial recognition log-in software was missing, but the OneKey Recovery 7.0 app for system backups is there, as is the Lenovo Security Suite, which houses many disparate security tools from around the Windows environment.
The 14-inch display has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is standard for a midsize laptop in this price range. Screen images were bright and sharp for a budget laptop, and horizontal off-axis viewing was good (vertical, not so much). Speakers, located above the keyboard, were thin, but we wouldn't expect much more from something in this price range.
|Lenovo Essential B470||Average for category [midsize]|
|Video||VGA plus HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, 1 USB 2.0/eSATA combo, SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
While it's not mentioned anywhere we could find in Lenovo's online listing for this model, our Essential B470 includes Intel Wireless Display, also known as WiDi. That allows you to beam the onscreen image to a remote TV, much as you would to an external monitor. This requires a sold-separately adapter box, which usually runs around $99. Oddly, we couldn't find such an adapter, usually made by Netgear, for sale on Lenovo's Web site.
There are two base models of the Essential B470. The higher-end one, reviewed here, has Intel's Core i5 2410M CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and Nvidia GeForce 410M graphics for $669. There is also a $589 version, which trades the CPU down a bit to the Intel Core i5 2310M and ditches the Nvidia graphics for Intel's integrated HD3000 graphics. To save nearly $100, that sounds like a pretty good trade-off, especially if you don't need the slightly better graphics of the higher-end model.
Not surprisingly, this system performed nearly in unison with the 15-inch Lenovo Essential G570, which had the same set of components, minus the Nvidia GPU. That system (like the less expensive version of the 14-inch) is among the best deals we've seen for a midsize Intel Core i5 laptop. Either can handle any mainstream workplace, multimedia, or productivity task you're likely to try.
That Nvidia GeForce 410M GPU even helped a bit in our gaming tests. The otherwise similar Lenovo Essential G570 ran our Street Fighter IV test at the native resolution at 15.2 frames per second, while the 14-inch B470 ran the same test at the same resolution at 36.2 fps. It still won't do much for high-end, newer PC games, but for World of Warcraft, it should be fine.