Review: Lenovo ThinkPad E550

Introduction and design

Business-class mobile workstations aren’t normally great value for money. This is especially true of Lenovo’s ThinkPad line, which usually competes right at the high-end of the market, with a corresponding high cost.

But the 15.6-inch ThinkPad E550 bucks this trend, as it starts at just £379 including VAT ($470 in the US and AU$606) for an entry-level model, and even the high-end variant, with a fairly powerful specification, including a discrete graphics card, Intel Core i7 processor and a 1,920 x 1,080 display costs £689 ($854 in the US and AU$1103), and therefore isn’t bad value at all.


The first thing you’ll see when the E550 is unwrapped is a charcoal dark grey polycarbonate surface covering the lid. It has an unexpected premium quality feel to it, a really smooth texture that feels great to touch.

Lenovo ThinkPad E550 top

The chassis is made from a sturdy plastic decked out in a similar dark grey, with the distinctive ThinkPad logo in the lower right, red navigation joystick in the centre of the keyboard and three physical mouse buttons above the trackpad. To the right is a fingerprint scanner.

With a large 15.6-inch notebook chassis, there’s plenty of room on the keyboard for a full-sized number pad, with shortcut keys above it for your browser, calculator, Windows Explorer and a lock switch. As with all ThinkPads the function keys running along the top of the keyboard double up as system controls, with built-in software handling various functions like screen brightness and volume, by holding the alt key.

It’s not trying to be the thinnest or lightest laptop in the world. We measured a thickness of 24mm with the lid closed (with a ruler rather than quoted via the manufacturer) of which the chassis section is 18mm high. This is fairly standard for a mid-range laptop. Weight starts from 2.35kg, again fairly average.

Lenovo ThinkPad E550 ports

A vent occupies almost half the space on the left-hand side, with a range of ports, including Ethernet, VGA, HDMI and a pair of USB 3.0 ports, confusingly painted black rather than the usual blue. There’s a USB 2.0 port on the other side, an optical drive and the proprietary rectangular Lenovo power connector (which handily can be plugged in either way around).

The power pack itself is worth mentioning as it’s a relatively straightforward compact design, with a long cable stretching to the computer, and a piece of velcro to tie it up when storing it. It takes a standard 3-pin laptop power lead.



The entry-level E550 listed on Lenovo’s site ships with a 2GHz Intel Core i3-5005U processor, 4GB of system memory, Intel HD 5500 graphics, a 1,366 x 768 15.6-inch display and a 500GB hard disk. Not a bad specification for £379.

TechRadar was sent the high-end model though, which offers a few significant upgrades. The processor is an Intel Core i7-5500U, a quite nippy 2.4GHz 14nm dual-core chip offering four threads, with a Turbo frequency of 3GHz. It’s part of Intel’s newest Broadwell chip line.

Lenovo E550 side

8GB of memory comes as default with this model, the screen is bumped to 1,920 x 1,080, you get an SSHD instead of a traditional hard disk, and it ships with a discrete AMD R7 M265 graphics card, with 2GB of dedicated video memory rather than integrated graphics.

There are a few further subtle differences in E550 models, with the jump from Windows 8.1 to Windows 8.1 Pro and the inclusion of a fingerprint reader, which is missing from the lower-end variants.

The display is a TN screen rather than IPS, which may be one area that has been cut to bring the price down. As always it means slightly worse viewing angles, and it also seems noticeably lower brightness as well. But as TN panels go, it looks good, with only a small amount of colour deviation in the corners, at least compared with other TN screens. Although the display on the entry-level model may not look quite as good.

Lenovo E550 angle

Here’s the full spec sheet of the review model as provided to TechRadar:

  • CPU: Intel Core i7-5500U (2.4GHz)
  • Graphics: AMD Radeon R7 M265X (2GB)
  • RAM: 8GB DDR3
  • Screen: 15.6-inch (1920 x 1080)
  • Storage: 500GB SSHD
  • Optical drive: 8x DVD writer
  • Ports: 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0, HDMI, VGA, 3.5mm audio jack
  • Connectivity: 802.11ac, Gigabit Ethernet
  • Camera: 720p HD camera
  • Weight: 2.35kg


With a dual-core chip that runs at 2.4GHz, there’s a reasonable amount of CPU performance available on the E550. It’s obviously enough for all basic office tasks, media and web browsing, but should be good enough for light design work in tools like Photoshop too. Cinebench results confirm this analysis, with a CPU score of 285.

The Radeon M265X gives it a big boost too. There’s a considerable difference between the PCMark 8 Conventional and Accelerated Home tests, with the higher figure hugely boosted by OpenCL support.

The Cinebench GPU test, and 3DMark results, indicate that the E550 should be fine to at least run modern games. Check out the benchmarks in full:

  • 3DMark: Sky Diver: 4512; Cloud Gate: 5658; Fire Strike: 1271
  • Cinebench: CPU: 285 points; Graphics: 37.8 fps
  • PCMark 8 Home Test: 2871 (3692 accelerated)
  • PCMark 8 Battery Life: 4 hrs 14 mins

The battery life test showed reasonable performance, and while many laptops last longer in the same test, the E550 does well. Since PCMark 8 is quite taxing, expect the battery to last longer when using it for word processing or looking at websites.

Lenovo E550 top 2

We also tested the display on the E550, not expecting the results would match colour-accurate displays on more high-end laptops. With a maximum brightness level of 230.6 nits, it comes out short of modern IPS desktop monitors, and lower than many other laptops. The black levels and contrast fall a bit short too.

But this is a reasonably affordable laptop, so it’s very easy to forgive less than perfect colour accuracy.


We liked

CPU performance is really good, considering the price of the E550. It’s enough for just about anything you throw at it, as long as you temper your expectations. Only being a dual-core chip, it might take a while to complete really high-end tasks, such as encoding 1080p video.

The R9 265X GPU isn’t the fastest gaming graphics card on the market, but it still manages to pull away from the performance levels of Intel’s integrated graphics. Its inclusion alone is great to see on a mid-range laptop and it boosts both OpenCL and gaming performance considerably. Just don’t expect to run GTA V at 1920 x 1080 with all the detail settings on high.

The overall design is solid, from the keyboard to the trackpad, with some nice touches such as the comfortable material used for the chassis lid. Battery life is great, too.

We disliked

In terms of storage, an option that comes with an SSD by default would be preferable to an SSHD. It’s also worth noting that a DisplayPort video output might be a better choice for modern computers rather than VGA.

Bear in mind that the screen is only a TN panel, so the colour performance is a little lacking, and it isn’t as bright as IPS screens. It’s not the most slender laptop in the world either.

Final verdict

£689 ($854 in the US and AU$1103) is a reasonable price to pay for an all-round quality laptop. For that money, you should expect reasonable performance, the ability to at least run games and no areas where the design or specification is lacking.

In some areas, the E550 is even better than this though. Its CPU performance is excellent for the price (that’s thanks to the better efficiency from Intel’s new chips) and having a discrete GPU means better gaming and OpenCL performance. There’s an adequate amount of memory, the keyboard and trackpad are great and the screen is perfectly fine for a TN panel.

The only thing that seems to be missing is an SSD. Even the fastest SSHD isn’t as good as an all-flash storage device, and it would have meant even better performance, boot times and responsiveness. For many people, the potential trade-off in a smaller SSD storage capacity would be well worth it. Perhaps Lenovo is saving that upgrade for its pricier models.

But aside from this it’s hard to really criticise the E550. It ticks all the important boxes, doesn’t cost the earth and is exceptionally well built. Definitely a contender for the best value laptop you can buy at this price.