ThinkPad: Lenovo’s Small Business Notebooks

ThinkPad notebooks PCs have long been a standard for employees of large corporations, where the classic black laptops were bought by the pallet-load. But the extra features demanded by enterprise IT departments — standardized docking connectors, common swappable bays, TPM security circuitry, management firmware and software, set-in-stone OS images — often pushed the price of ThinkPads out of reach for small-business buyers. Lenovo is looking to change that with the ThinkPad Edge line of notebook computers designed specifically for the SMB set.

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge, small business notebook
You can get a ThinkPad in any color you’d like as long as it’s black — and now red.
(Click for larger image)

Starting at $599, the ThinkPad Edge 14 and ThinkPad Edge 15 combine affordability and productivity features in an updated ThinkPad design. Breaking from the all-black motif of past ThinkPads, the Edge series is available in red or black, and the machines feature a band of silver trim to make them more stylish.

“We did a lot of work on the industrial design to differentiate the small business offerings from the ‘classic’ offerings,” said Charles Sune, SMB portfolio manager for ThinkPad notebooks. “A significant portion of business owners, especially those with one to 99 employees, buy in retail channels, so we needed to appeal to them.”

Sune noted that the Edge series also delivers the productivity features SMB buyers need, such as fast processing, wireless options and VoIP features, while staying true to the attributes that ThinkPad buyers demand. “They share the DNA common to all ThinkPads,” he said. The low-cost entries still feature spill-resistant keyboards, for example, as well as active hard drive protection technology, which protects against data loss should the machine be jostled or dropped.

The ThinkPad Edge entries also have built-in VoIP features, making it easier for small businesses to embrace this money-saving convenience. Skype’s audio/video calling software is preloaded, and the machines have built-in Webcams and dual-array microphones for better sound quality. There’s even a handy microphone-mute button to quickly mute calls without fumbling for a Function-key combination.

In fact, the ThinkPad Edge series reverses the typical Function-key setup of most laptops: The primary functions of those buttons is for tasks like volume, mute, screen brightness and so on; if you need to activate Fn 2, for example, you hold down the Function key. In addition to that change, the Edge series features a more modern flat-top keyboard as opposed to traditional beveled keys of other ThinkPads.

Sune pointed out other differences, as well. For example, while many higher-priced ThinkPads are made with magnesium alloy and aluminum chassis structures, the Edge models are high-strength ABS plastic. There are also no docking connectors. But buyers will find all the connectivity they are likely to need, including an eSATA port for connecting an external high-speed drive and an HDMI port for connecting an external display device.

The Edge series also features Intel’s latest processors, the Core i3 and Core i5, along with available Celeron processors in the entry-level models. For wireless connectivity, Wi-Fi is included on all models, with 3G and 4G wireless broadband offered as options. The ThinkPad Edge 14 and ThinkPad Edge 15 inch are available now through Lenovo’s business partners, directly from the company’s Web site, and leading retailers including Best Buy for Business stores beginning in April.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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