Lenovo G505 £340
27th Sep 2013 | 09:23
Can Lenovo hit the perfect balance between versatility, portability and price?
How much should a laptop cost? A laptop that can handle serious applications, surf like the best of them and also turn its hand to the odd game? How does £350 strike you?
That's the price tag that can be found hanging from Lenovo's latest offering, the potentially bargainous Lenovo G505.
With the world and his dog jumping aboard on the Ultrabook bandwagon, it's good to see that there's still interest from system builders to manufacture value-focused machines. Laptops such as the recently released Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite and the Toshiba Satellite C50 prove that the market is healthy, despite the likes of the Apple iPad and Nexus 7 threatening to muscle in on the action.
The mention of tablets does highlight the potential problem with any affordable laptop though, and that's whether you actually need a laptop - or will a tablet do the job in a more portable form factor with better battery life? The truth is, that while it's easy to dismiss tablets for content creation, if you simply want to surf and perform a few tasks while sat on the sofa or on a train, then a tablet can be hard to beat.
One area where budget laptops still definitely deliver though is when it comes to actually working, and by that we don't just mean rudimentary emails and maybe a little tweaking of existing documents and websites. We're talking document writing, photo and video editing, not to mention website creation, simple programming and a host other of tasks. While you can find ways to do many of these on tablets, you'll often find yourself bumping up against the limitations of the hardware or the limited software. Not so with a full laptop.
But what specifications are important for such a machine? If you're looking to work on a laptop, then screen resolution is one of the key factors. We're currently transitioning towards higher resolution screens, although at the budget end of the market you can't expect too much on this front. Not only are the panels more expensive, but the graphical power needed to drive them is notably more exacting as well. You're looking at 1366 x 768 as the bare minimum here, although the higher the resolution the better, really.
When it comes to the graphics subsystem, the good news is that the integrated offerings from both AMD and Intel are more than capable of handling most normal tasks, and may even be able to handle the odd game if you're lucky. Likewise the processing capabilities of the latest chips is commendable, although if you're looking to use the machine for video editing, then the more power you can lay your hands on the better.
Essentially though, right now should be a good time to get a powerful laptop for not much cash, assuming of course that the system builder knows what they're doing...
The specification for the Lenovo G505 reads like it will produce a quality experience. It may lack some of the thrills of more expensive systems, but this isn't an out-and-out budget offering, and so there are some worthwhile inclusions here that you may not have thought possible at the price.
As a case in point, there are plenty of smaller hard drives available for budget machines, but Lenovo has elected to install a 1TB drive inside the chassis. This gives you plenty of room for both work and play. Admittedly it is only a 5,400rpm model, but given that 7,200rpm 2.5-inch drives have all but disappeared, it's a reasonable enough inclusion which shows that Lenovo isn't just building to the tightest budget possible. It has also squeezed an optical drive into the chassis, which gives you more options over many Ultrabooks.
What of the processor? At this price point Intel's chips are out of reach, but this does give AMD a chance to shine. And it has been seeing some success in budget machines recently, with the aforementioned Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite using one of AMD's latest chips. Lenovo has turned to a slightly lower member of its advanced processing unit (APU) range here, although it is one of the newer 'Jaguar' APUs - specifically the A4-5000. This is the same fundamental architecture that can be found inside the PS4and Xbox One, although to be fair, in this mobile form, this APU is more about power efficiency rather than trying to set the standard for next-generation gaming.
This APU boasts a maximum operating thermal design power (TDP) of 14 Watts, which is certainly low compared to normal mobile CPUs, and helps the G505 manage an overall battery life when playing back videos of just over four hours. There is a downside here though. The performance offered by this quad-core chip isn't going to set the world on fire - with a maximum core speed of just 1,500MHz, it doesn't pack the kind of punch that we're used to. It's no Haswell CPU, and this is proved in the benchmarks, with Cinebench and X264 both trailing Intel's Core i3 processors.
As this is an APU, it's also responsible for the graphics subsystem. AMD officially calls the GPU side of things a Radeon HD 8330, but don't be fooled too much by the seemingly cutting-edge naming convention. This is very much a low-impact subsystem, with just 128 unified shaders. It is at least based on the GCN architecture, but without the raw silicon behind it, it just can't produce the kind of performance you would want for games – even at the lowest settings it feels jerky. It's fine for work though, and handles the demands of the 1366 x 768 resolution screen well, even if the screen itself is rather lacklustre due to its poor viewing angles.
The final point on the specification list is the amount of installed memory available. At 4GB this should be a healthy amount for most applications, although the fact that Lenovo has installed this as a single stick means that the A4-5000 is operating with only half the bandwidth available, and that does affect performance notably.
3DMark - Ice Storm: 26,057, Cloud Gate 2259, Fire Strike 323
Cinebench R11.5 - OpenGL 12.81, CPU 1.46
Battery life: 3 hours 45 mins
The benchmark results for the Lenovo G505 aren't going to set the world on fire, with only the battery life standing out from the crowd on any level. At over four hours when playing back HD video and performing some simple background tasks, this is a machine that should see you through a whole day's worth of working on the move. This is backed up by the similarly strong battery life result given by PCMark08.
The Cinebench result shows that the CPU side of things isn't really pulling its weight, scoring roughly a quarter of a Core i7 machine. If you're serious about video work, we'd recommend getting a much better processor than what is available in here. Likewise, the 3DMark score highlights that this simply isn't a gaming machine – something backed up by gaming tests that had the laptop producing single figure framerates at the machine's native resolution of 136 x 768. In both cases, better hardware is available, but it's going to cost you significantly more than what this machine retails for.
It's actually not the standard benchmarks that highlight the real problem with this machine's configuration though. Numbers only tell so much of the story. It's when you come to actually use it – it simply feels too sluggish. Part of the problem here is the pedestrian hard drive, especially in these days of super-fast solid-state drives. But there are limits to what you can do for this sort of cash, and even a small SSD would add a considerable margin to the £350 price tag.
The real issue is the memory configuration. It may seem like a simple oversight on Lenovo's part, but by halving the amount of available bandwidth it has essentially starved the machine of one of the cheapest components in modern computers, and thus left it bottlenecked for everything from intensive computational tasks through to simple file copying. It does mean there's a simple upgrade to really unlock the potential of this machine, but we would have just preferred Lenovo to ship it with a pair of 2GB sticks rather than a single 4GB SODIMM.
On the positive side, the keyboard is great to use, and easily one of the machine's highlights. If you're looking for a piece of hardware primarily for writing, then this really isn't a bad machine for that. The screen can be a little difficult to see, even in reasonable lighting when viewed straight on, but you do get used to it.
There's no getting away from the fact that this is a machine built to a tight budget. It isn't a total compromise on every front to hit that £350 price tag, but there are a few decisions that make it difficult to recommend as it is. The main problem is the memory configuration, which would be a simple thing for Lenovo to sort out, and at least then you'd know that the machine wasn't being artificially hobbled.
Not too long ago, this kind of price point would have us groaning about all the issues that such a machine would be plagued with. But actually, bar the memory configuration, this is an impressive little laptop. The core specification is sound, and while the processor isn't going to set the world on fire, it's capable enough for most tasks, and puts in a good showing on the stamina front as well.
The hard drive may be a bit slow, but the fact that Lenovo has managed to squeeze a 1TB drive in to the machine is to be commended, and gives you plenty of room for applications, data, photos and even games. Even if you won't be playing the latest titles on here, at least you've got room for some of the classics. Pair this with the optical drive, and you've got plenty of options for getting your applications and titles onto the Lenovo G505.
The keyboard is the high point here though, offering plenty of room around the keys to avoid mistyping, but also making for a comfortable work machine for anyone that has a lot of writing to do. The trackpad isn't too bad either.
We don't have a problem with the fact that Lenovo has shipped the machine with 4GB of RAM. In fact this is above par for this kind of budget, but its decision to use a single SODIMM really does hobble what could have been. Given the machine is home to one of AMD's APUs – chips that depend on good memory bandwidth to really perform – this is such a silly oversight on Lenovo's part.
The screen isn't a highlight either. We don't mind the resolution – indeed, any higher would have caused even more problems for the integrated graphics. But the fact that the panel can be quite hard to see in even moderate lighting can be frustrating. An IPS panel would have been preferable here, even if it did add a little more to the cost.
Overall, the Lenovo G505 shows potential, but it's let down by some odd decisions – notably on the memory and screen front. The core performance is fine for most general tasks, and the capacious hard drives offer plenty of versatility for a mainstream machine. It's still potentially good value if you're prepared to upgrade the memory the moment you buy it. But ultimately, it doesn't quite shine enough to make us want to recommend it. Whatever you want the machine for, there's going to be a more focused offering available that will shine where this fails to.