Lenovo ThinkPad E480 | Tech News
The Lenovo ThinkPad E480 (starts at $599.99; $974.99 as tested) is Lenovo’s budget 14-inch laptop for small and medium-size businesses and the education market. It offers military-grade durability, a comfortable keyboard, and the latest Intel processors for less than $1,000. That’s the good news. The bad? It’s heavy for the screen size, and it can run hot at times. The ThinkPad E480 tips the scales at nearly 4 pounds, making it a ho-hum choice for road warriors. And despite using an efficient eighth-generation Intel Core i5 processor, it tends to engage the system’s cooling fan during demanding graphics tasks. We would be willing to put up with the bulk and heft, given the approachable price, but the heat and frequent fan noise dampen the deal.
Heavy, But Metal
Lenovo attempts to streamline the ThinkPad E480’s bulk by employing tapered edges, but there’s no mistaking that this is more of a tank than most ThinkPads. You are getting a budget workhorse in the E480, not a boardroom status symbol like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon.
The chassis measures 0.78 by 12.96 by 9.53 inches (HWD) and weighs 3.9 pounds. That puts it in the ballpark of the Dell Latitude 3490 (3.79 pounds), another bulky budget laptop for business, as well as nearly 1.5 pounds heavier than the 2.49-pound ThinkPad X1 Carbon and almost a pound more than the 3.07-pound Lenovo ThinkPad T480s.
The ThinkPad E480 comes in traditional ThinkPad matte black, but the test system I received came outfitted in a silver chassis. Unlike pricier ThinkPads, it does not feature a carbon-fiber case, but thankfully it’s not made of flimsy plastic, either. The chassis is an aluminum shell that’s sturdier than plastic but not as rigid as a carbon-fiber ThinkPad; the keyboard deck flexes a bit when you are typing. The system design does pass a dozen MIL-SPEC tests for durability under extreme conditions, withstanding dust and sand ingress, sudden shock, and other environmental hazards.
The keyboard itself measures up to the ThinkPad’s lofty standard, but I found it a bit clacky compared to the luxuriously silent gold-standard keyboard on the ThinkPad T480s. And the keys have a bit of a textured surface, which is a departure from the usually smooth feel of a ThinkPad keyboard. Overall, the keyboard is comfortable, with that satisfyingly springy ThinkPad feel.
The keyboard is spill-resistant but does not offer backlighting. Likewise, our test system lacked a fingerprint reader, but you can add one for $25 on Lenovo’s site with certain configurations of the E480. Following ThinkPad tradition, the ThinkPad E480 offers both a touchpad and a red pointing stick.
The ThinkPad E480 comes standard with a 1,366-by-768-pixel native-resolution display, but the test system I received features Lenovo’s upgrade that bumps you up to a 1080p (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) IPS panel. (Certain base models of the E480 offer this panel; you’ll want to double-check what you are getting.) This upgrade is well worth the money for the sharper image and wider viewing angles. The display’s brightness is limited, but it suffices for indoor office use, and its anti-glare coating does an admirable job of keeping distracting reflections at bay. Note that the display, in any of its iterations, does not offer touch support.
The system’s stereo speakers are built for work and not play, which is to say their sound is adequate for video conferencing but not music playback. They reach a fairly loud level at maximum volume, but the sound is not dynamic. The high and, particularly, low frequencies are lacking.
Essential Connections, But No Thunderbolt 3
The 720p webcam above the display produces a crisp image with accurate colors, but it lacks items you can get as you move higher up the ThinkPad price scale and pecking order. On pricier ThinkPads, you can opt for an infrared (IR) camera, which lets you log in to Windows using facial recognition, or Lenovo’s new ThinkShutter camera, which features a manual privacy cover. You get neither the IR functionality nor a privacy feature with the budget ThinkPad E480’s webcam.
The port selection covers the basics, but I wish it had Thunderbolt 3 support or at least a second USB Type-C port. You do get one USB Type-C port, but it doubles as the power connector, so you can’t use it unless you are running on battery power. Elsewhere on the left edge, you get a pair of USB 3.1 ports, an HDMI output, and an audio combo (mic/headphone) jack…
On the right side, you’ll find a microSD card slot, a USB 2.0 port, an Ethernet jack, and a Kensington-style cable lock notch. If only I could blink and turn that USB 2.0 port into a USB Type-C Thunderbolt port.
On the storage front, though, I had no complaints. The test system I have in hand features a 256GB PCI Express NVMe solid-state drive (SSD), which represents a big speed upgrade from the standard 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive on the ThinkPad E480 base model. I strongly recommend opting for the SSD, for two reasons. First, as you’d expect, you’ll get faster data access from an SSD than from a traditional spinning hard drive. Second, the ThinkPad E480 is already noisy enough with the whir of its cooling fan that you don’t need the chatter of a spinning hard drive on top of it.
If you need more storage capacity, Lenovo offers a 512GB SSD upgrade (a $200 upcharge over the 256GB SSD, at this writing), and for the budget-minded, Lenovo also offers a 128GB SSD option, which knocked down the overall price by $100 versus the 256GB SSD.
Lenovo includes a one-year warranty with mail-in hardware support for the ThinkPad E480.
Dig Those Spiffy Threads
The $974.99 ThinkPad E480 tester configuration here features the eighth-generation Intel Core i5-8250U, 8GB of RAM, and on-CPU graphics acceleration, dubbed Intel UHD Graphics 620. The Core i5-8250U has four processing cores, with support for eight processing threads, and it operates between a stock frequency of 1.6GHz and a top turbo of 3.4GHz. The base models of the E480 employ seventh- or eighth-generation Core i3 CPUs, and you can go one step higher than this Core i5: a Core i7-8550U, which also carries with it modest AMD Radeon RX 550 dedicated graphics.
Overall, with the Core i5, the system feels snappy during usual Windows tasks, from running office apps to browsing while juggling a dozen open tabs. One consistent behavior I noted, though: Running graphics apps like Photoshop and playing games caused the cooling fan to spin, sometimes loudly.
The productivity tests shook out like so…
Our test system performed admirably on the PCMark 8 benchmark test, using the Work Conventional setting. That trial measures general computing performance by simulating web browsing, video conferencing, and other basic tasks. Any score above 3,000 on this test indicates excellent performance, so the result of 3,249 makes the cut. That it trailed the Dell Latitude 3490 can be explained in part by the Latitude 3490’s lower-resolution display, which creates an advantage for that Latitude machine on this test. Having more pixels to push leads to lower scores.
See How We Test Laptops
The ThinkPad E480 also turned in an outstanding score on the Handbrake video-encoding test, trailing only the Latitude 3490. And thanks to its four processor cores with thread-doubling Hyper-Threading support, it achieved a competitive score of 563 on the Cinebench 3D rendering test. Looking at the dual-core Apple MacBook Pro’s Handbrake and Cinebench scores, you can see what additional processing cores do for intensive graphics work in programs that can tap them.
Gaming performance is limited, which comes as zero surprise given that the ThinkPad E480 relies on integrated graphics. The E480 failed to hit frame rates higher than 30 frames per second, the minimum threshold for smooth gameplay, even on our medium-quality tests.
The ThinkPad E480 uses a three-cell, 45-watt-hour battery and ran for more than 11 hours on our battery rundown test. That’s enough juice for the entire workday, plus working on the train or bus during your commute to and from work. That said, you ought to get a couple more hours from the Apple MacBook Pro, Dell Latitude 3490, or Lenovo ThinkPad T480s, each of which features a higher-capacity battery.
The ThinkPad E480’s battery, however, charges quickly. With the E480’s rapid-charging feature in play, Lenovo claims a 60-minute charge will get you back to 80 percent battery life. I put that claim to the test and found that Lenovo underpromised and overdelivered; a completely dead battery shot to 86 percent in an hour.
Performance Over Design
All budget machines are studies in sacrifice, forcing you to decide which facets you are willing to compromise and which you are not. The Lenovo ThinkPad E480 forces you to give up more on the design and portability side of things than on features and core componentry.
At nearly 4 pounds, it’s a hefty laptop for a 14-incher; spend more, and you can get a 14-inch model that weighs closer to 3 pounds, or possibly even less. It lacks Thunderbolt 3 support for speedy data transfers, an external GPU connection, or daisy-chainable video-out. And its thermals are a bit worrisome; the cooling fan doesn’t always engage, but it frequently cycles on during graphics tasks and games. And when it does, it makes itself known.
On the other hand, Lenovo doesn’t force you to settle for the plastic chassis so typical of other budget laptops; you get durable aluminum. Its display is adequately sharp if you opt for the 1080p-resolution model, and it is similar in quality to the screens on pricier models. Inside, it features ample memory and a snappy SSD, along with a quad-core, Hyper-Threading-enabled processor from Intel’s latest lineup, if you match our test model. And its battery life is more than adequate.
If you are on a budget and care more about durability and raw performance than design, the ThinkPad E480 delivers reasonable bang for your buck, along with a comfortable ThinkPad keyboard. But we wouldn’t recommend it for heavy graphical lifting (it’ll be noisy) or frequent travel about town (it’s heftier than it should be).