In the wake of Spectre and Meltdown, some organizations are diversifying their technology buys. Lenovo's new Ryzen-powered ThinkPads bring choice to business notebooks.
For the 25+ year history of the ThinkPad line of business-oriented laptops, Intel processors have been a mainstay of the brand. Part of this is practical--AMD's strategy has long focused more heavily on desktops at the expense of lower-power processors found in notebook PCs. With AMD's new generation of Ryzen-branded processors, the company is targeting the portable computing market again with a renewed focus. As part of this--and after significant speculation--AMD announced in May that Ryzen processors would be coming to ThinkPads and business-oriented laptops from other brands.
The first of these, the Lenovo ThinkPad E485 and E585, are now available globally. According to their product pages, the pair support either a Ryzen 3 2200U (dual-core, 2.5 GHz base, 3.4 GHz turbo), Ryzen 5 2500U (quad-core, 2 GHz base, 3.6 GHz turbo) or Ryzen 7 2700U (quad-core, 2.2 GHz base, 3.8 GHz turbo) CPU, with a 1366x768 TN or 1080p IPS display--the E485 screen is 14", while the E585 is 15.6"--with integrated AMD Radeon Vega graphics.
Likewise, the pair can be configured from the factory with a 1TB SATA HDD or 256 GB PCIe M.2 SSD, or both, with up to 16GB DDR4 2400 RAM, as 8GB SODIMMs. Both also include an 802.11ac + Bluetooth 4.1 wireless card, 720p webcam, 3 cell 45Wh Li-Po battery, and 65W AC adapter, as noted on their product pages. For connectivity, the pair include 1 USB 3.1 Type C port, with Power Delivery and DisplayPort functionality, as well as two standard Type A USB 3.1 ports, one USB 2.0 port, and one HDMI, 3.5mm combo jack, RJ45 (for Ethernet) and a microSD/HC/XC card reader.
Aftermarket upgrades are possible on both systems. The E485 and E585 include a dedicated M.2 2280 slot for SSDs, and Lenovo notes that the pair are capable of using up to 32 GB RAM. This is not available as a factory configuration, and would be decently expensive to do in the midst of the current price fixing scandal plaguing the RAM market. (As a representative example, this bundle of two 16GB DDR4 2400 SODIMMs is $289, at press time.)
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Lenovo's E Series ThinkPads are generally considered the budget line, and both the E485 and E585 start at $561.00 in the United States, for the baseline model with a Ryzen 2500U, 1366x768 display, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD, and Windows 10 Home. Of note, upgrading to a 1080p IPS display is only $32, which is likely worth it considering the difficulty of aftermarket upgrades of display panels. At present, only the midrange 2500U is available, the dual-core 2200U and higher-speed quad-core 2700U are not available, though this is expected for later this year, the page notes.
Likewise, as the budget-end of the ThinkPad spectrum, the E Series lacks certain features used in enterprise configurations, such as SmartCard and fingerprint readers. The E series also lacks the hot-swappable battery and USB-C-powered docking port capability (though the E485 and E585 do charge via USB-C) as well as touch displays and the plastic ThinkShutter slider that covers the webcam when not in use. Typically, these are not deal breakers for most organizations. The aforementioned missing features are available in the upcoming A285 and A485 notebooks, which are effectively AMD Ryzen-powered equivalents of the X280 and T480, respectively.
Given design differences between AMD's Ryzen processors and Intel-produced designs, particularly in terms of how the pair are affected by Spectre and Meltdown, business users may find a non-Intel notebook more palatable in terms of security. Likewise, mitigations for Spectre and Meltdown, which target variants specific to Intel processors, are disabled on Linux (and likely Windows, though this is unconfirmed), leading to fewer performance penalties for patched systems.
Both the E485 and E585 feature a discrete Trusted Platform Module (dTPM) 2.0 chip, which works together with Windows 10 Pro Bitlocker to offer data encryption. Because of this, Lenovo goes as far as to invite users to "laugh at would-be hackers" on the product pages.
As a historical curiosity, this is not the first time a non-Intel CPU has been available on a ThinkPad. Most recently, Lenovo offered AMD A12-powered A275 and A475 notebooks, though these were met with little enthusiasm as they were released after Ryzen Mobile CPUs were announced. Previously, Lenovo also offered the ThinkPad x100e netbook with a single-core AMD Athlon Neo, which CNET noted in 2010 was the first AMD-powered ThinkPad they had seen. The same year, the Edge 11 was released with a dual-core AMD Athlon Neo X2 variant, though this was not sold in US. Finally, the ThinkPad 800 series was powered by the IBM PowerPC 603e.
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- The ThinkPad E485 and E585 are the first business-class notebooks powered by AMD's new Ryzen CPUs.
- Lenovo's E Series ThinkPads are generally considered the budget line, but more enterprise features are available in the A285 and A485 models for sale later this year.
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