Lenovo IdeaPad 5i Chromebook review: a powerful laptop powered by a Pentium
Even after two weeks of using the Lenovo IdeaPad 5i Chromebook, this little laptop continues to surprise me. My first impressions on this were mostly about the design changes and high level thinking. These have not changed. But I also made some preliminary observations on the 11th Gen Intel Pentium Gold processor, noting that it impressed me.
Using the Lenovo IdeaPad 5i Chromebook over the past 14 days has only reinforced these thoughts. The Lenovo IdeaPad 5i Chromebook is blazingly fast for its setup and is priced at $ 439.99 on Lenovo’s site. It’s surely a contender for “Chromebook of the Year” in 2021 depending on what you get.
Slight design improvements over last year’s model
I won’t be spending a lot of time discussing the design as I covered much of it in my first impressions earlier this month. If you missed them, here are the main takeaways:
If you’re familiar with last year’s slightly smaller model, you’ll see a lot of familiar features. In fact, it’s not a drastic redesign, although the move from a 13.3-inch display to a 14-inch panel leaves a bit more room in the chassis. This time around, there are larger speaker ports next to the keyboard, for example. These 2W home speakers are tuned with Waves MaxxAudio. The sound quality is not bad and the volume is high for a laptop of this size and price.
With the screen slightly larger, the overall footprint of the 5i is slightly larger than that of last year’s Flex 5. And of course, it’s not a Flex model, so the screen only folds up around 130 degrees. The display panel is otherwise similar to the 2020 models, meaning they are above average. And Lenovo gave the 2021 5i Chromebook a brighter 300 nits backlighting for the IPS panel, which is a welcome addition.
The new chassis material adds rigidity and having USB Type-C ports on both sides is fantastic. Putting it all aside should be a criminal offense, in my opinion. I liked the continued inclusion of a physical slider to turn off the webcam. The webcam itself is average at best, but usable.
The keyboard is unfortunately not backlit on this configuration. This is the only problem I find with. It is comfortable and responsive with good key movement. And the mylar trackpad also performed admirably. Indeed, it’s much better than the click-sounding trackpad on the Flex 5. Oddly, the trackpad is slightly offset from the center, although that didn’t bother me.
With my WiFi 6 router I am getting superb transfer speeds and have not encountered any bluetooth issues. Battery life is closer to the 8 hour mark than I thought, not the 10 hours Lenovo claims. Again, they use a standard controlled test. I just used the device as I would daily so your mileage may vary.
Here are the rest of the hardware specifications for this setup:
|CPU||Intel Pentium Gold 7505 Dual Core (Quad Thread) (2.0 GHz / 3.5 GHz)|
|GPU||Integrated Intel UHD graphics card|
|Display||14 inch IPS 1920 x 1080 screen, matte finish,
16: 9 aspect ratio, 300 nits brightness
|Memory||4 GB DDR4x-3733 MHz memory|
|Storage room||128 GB M.2 PCIe 3.0 × 4 NVMe SSD,
MicroSD card slot for expansion
|Connectivity||802.11ax (2 × 2) Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1|
|Grab||Spill-resistant keyboard, Mylar trackpad
720p webcam with physical privacy shutter
|Ports||1 USB Type-A 3.2 (Gen 1), 2 USB Type-C 3.2 (Gen 1)
supporting PD 3.0, data and DisplayPort 1.4,
combined headphone / microphone jack
|Drums||51 WHr, expected autonomy up to 10 hours|
|Software||Chrome OS automatic updates until June 2029|
I also have to admit that while it doesn’t show up on specs, I really like the LED battery indicator.
A portable Pentium power station
I would say the Lenovo IdeaPad 5i Chromebook ticks most of the major boxes when it comes to design, workmanship, and solid experience. When you add the performance factor for the cost, this Chromebook really shines.
To give you an idea of how the 11th Gen Pentium Gold works inside the IdeaPad 5i Chromebook, I ran a series of performance tests.
For comparison, I ran the same tests on last year’s Chromebook Flex 5 with its 10th gen Core i3. And primarily to see the progress Intel has made over the last few iterations of silicon, I’ve included my daily driver. This is Acer’s Chromebook Spin 13 with an 8th generation Core i5 paired with 16GB of memory.
All tests were run on the latest Chrome OS 92 stable channel, with hyper-threading enabled, and in guest mode on a freshly booted machine. All flags have been set to default settings except for the hyper-threading option.
Looks like I need to update my driver daily!
11th generation Pentium
10th Generation Core i3
|Acer Chromebook Spin 13
8th gen Core i5
|Octane 2.0||47 152||42,429||35 116|
The benchmark results, although it is only a general performance indicator, are striking.
The most recent chip is a Pentium processor, but hands down beats a two-generation Core i5. And it fares better compared to last year’s Core i3 mobile processor.
In other words: it’s not your grandfather’s Pentium. It’s a bouncy little processor that keeps things running smoothly in Chrome OS. Dare I say this year’s Pentium in an entry-level Chromebook rivals last year’s mid-range lineup well?
I guess it depends on how you view entry-level and mid-range Chromebooks. However, a Celeron or a Pentium has long been considered the bottom of that scale.
I don’t use a lot of Android apps on my Chromebook these days, but the ones I’ve tested work as well as my daily driver. Maybe even a little faster, to be fair, although most of them are fairly “light” applications.
Another test that I don’t normally do is anything in Linux. But given the higher than expected numbers from the latest Pentium processor, I thought I would make an exception. For a super basic baseline test, I installed Linux on all three devices. I then wrote a very simple Python script to print the numbers from 1 to 1,000,000 sequentially. The test then displays the time, in seconds, indicating how long the script took to run.
No, this is not ideal and it probably tests the ALU (Arithmetic Logic Unit) of the processor more than anything else. Despite this, the results were surprising:
|Acer Chromebook Spin 13||35,411|
Again, this is a very straightforward test, but installing developer tools and testing the time it takes to compile the code is probably beyond the reach of most Chromebook users.
Should you buy the Lenovo IdeaPad 5i Chromebook?
If you’re looking for a high-end Chromebook, want a 2-in-1 device or a touchscreen, this isn’t the Chromebook for you. Anyone on a budget should definitely consider the Lenovo IdeaPad 5i Chromebook, although I recommend waiting for a sale.
It is quite common for Lenovo to downsize its laptops on a regular basis. But even at the full price, it’s great value for money depending on my use. Daily browsing, Android apps, and even some uses of Linux are all enjoyable here.
It’s certainly more of a mid-range performer, even with the 4GB of RAM, which should meet the needs of most Chromebook users. As I mentioned earlier, this is a definite candidate for “Chromebook of the Year” based on price and performance.
Note that I received reports from readers last week that the Lenovo IdeaPad 5i Chromebook was no longer available. I contacted Lenovo and it hasn’t. It looks like there was a bad floating link on the web. The maid is here.