Lenovo is best known for its ThinkPad range of laptops, but those machines generally command high prices that not everyone can afford. The company's Essential B series is aimed at those who aren't quite as flush with cash. Despite packing in a second-generation Sandy Bridge Intel Core i3 processor, our configuration of the 15.6-inch Essential B570 can be bought for a shade under £390 from Laptops Direct and other vendors.
One glance at most budget laptops will tell you where the savings have been made. They usually look duller than dishwater, with a chassis hewn from the type of plastic you used to get on Taiwanese-made ghettoblasters in the '80s. Thankfully, the B570 largely manages to avoid this fate.
Although the chassis is predominantly made from matte black plastic, Lenovo has added a subtle pinstripe pattern on the lid and keyboard surround. It really helps to improve the machine's appearance.
The keys on the isolated keyboard are unusually shaped, with a rounded design. The end result is that the keyboard looks very distinctive and not unappealing. The keys are excellent to type on, allowing you to bash out quick emails easily.
There's a full numerical keypad on the right-hand side, which may come in handy if you often have to add up figures in Excel. We've got no complaints about the trackpad either. It's very large and wide, so there's plenty of surface area to play with, and the two big, long buttons feel solid and respond with a reassuring click when pressed.
For a laptop in this price range, the 15.6-inch display's resolution of 1,366x768 pixels is pretty standard. The display is one of the better ones we've seen on a budget laptop though. Its glossy coating is rather reflective, but it produces impressively rich and punchy colours, which make photos and videos a pleasure to view.
Often the displays on budget laptops suffer from poor viewing angles, but that's not the case here. Even when viewed from pretty extreme angles, colours and contrast remain consistent across the surface of the screen.
The 320GB hard drive is on the small side, but the line-up of ports isn't too bad. Along with three USB sockets, there's an eSATA port that's useful for connecting up high-speed external devices like hard drives. Alongside the standard VGA output, there's an HDMI connector, which makes it much easier to hook the laptop up to a hi-def TV, as audio and video are both carried over the same lead.
The B570 is based around one of Intel's new dual-core, 2.1GHz Core i3-2310M processors, paired with 3GB of RAM.
The main advantage of the new Sandy Bridge processors is that they have improved integrated graphics. This showed in the laptop's score of 3,520 in the 3DMark06 benchmark test. That's not quite enough graphics oomph to let you play hard-core first-person shooters, but it should deliver decent frame rates with older, less-demanding games.
More surprising was the machine's performance in PCMark05. Similarly priced laptops, such as the Acer Aspire 5336, haven't managed to break the 4,000 mark, but the B570 blitzed the competition with a score of 5,904. This isn't a laptop that will be limited to menial tasks like emailing and Web browsing -- it's also got the chops for more demanding duties, like video editing.
Its battery life is none-too-shabby either. In the punishing Battery Eater Classic test, which runs the processor at full whack to simulate worst-case-scenario battery life, the machine kept running for 1 hour and 26 minutes. Under real-world conditions, you should get much longer life from the battery.
For such a modestly priced laptop, the Lenovo Essential B570 really does punch above its weight. Its looks much better than you'd expect, the keyboard and screen are excellent, and it's a surprisingly speedy performer too. If your budget is tight, it's an excellent bet.
Edited by Charles Kloet