Netbooks have been hogging the spotlight lately, making the world marvel at how capable a computing companion you can get for a notch under $500. Lenovo would like equal time to point out just how capable a real computer you can get for a notch over $500.
Not to knock netbooks, including Lenovo’s, but the IdeaPad Y450 is a highly appealing notebook for $599. This member of the ThinkPad line’s consumer cousins has features no netbook can match, starting with a 14.0-inch screen — a bright and sharp LED-backlit one with rich colors and HD video-worthy 1,366 by 768 resolution. You’ll also find a full-sized keyboard; an onboard DVD±RW drive for watching movies and burning music and data discs; and HDMI, eSATA, and FireWire as well as VGA and USB ports.
Oh yeah, and instead of a netbook’s humble hardware lineup — you know, almost invariably a single-core CPU, 1GB of memory, and a 160GB hard drive? A dual-core processor with 3GB of DDR3 and a 250GB drive. (Even so, the Y450 is sadly no better than a netbook at playing high-octane games, but you can’t have everything.)
Perhaps best of all, the IdeaPad isn’t a clunker to carry around: At 4.6 pounds, the 14 -inch Lenovo is lighter than the 13.3-inch Gateway UC7807 we reviewed in April, and its low-profile, 16:9-aspect-ratio display combines with a recessed hinge to yield a display height not much more than that of a netbook, so you can open it even if the airline recliner in front of you has invaded your personal space.
Ebony and Ivory
We’re shallow enough to admit that part of the IdeaPad’s appeal is its looks. Its lid features a black honeycomb pattern surrounded by a copper-colored trim stripe, while the keyboard and palmrest are matte and glossy white, respectively.
One touch-sensitive strip above the keyboard provides multimedia controls; another, dubbed Lenovo Desktop Navigator, summons a Mac OS-like bottom-of-screen dock or “slidebar” for launching several utilities including image capture via the webcam — or, in a feature apparently undocumented outside of the Lenovo help forums, launching other applications if you switch Desktop Navigator to “mouse mode,” then drag favorite program icons to the dock. A OneKey Recovery button provides system backup and restore options when the system’s turned on and emergency system restore and antivirus options even when Windows won’t boot.
The keyboard has a pliant typing feel with comfortably big Shift, Enter, Backspace and Ctrl keys (although an Fn key usurps Ctrl’s rightful place at the bottom left corner), as well as dedicated Home, End, PgUp and PgDn keys. There are large, soft-touch buttons beneath the plus-sized touchpad; the latter worked smoothly, although we occasionally activated its two-finger pinching and zooming control by accident.
Closed, the notebook measures 9.1- by 13.4- by 1.4 inches. Headphone and microphone jacks and a multi-format (SD/MMC/MS/xD) memory-card slot are on the front edge, with Ethernet, VGA, two USB 2.0, and HDMI ports along the left side. The HDMI port supports HDCP for routing copy-protected HD content to an HDTV set. At the right, the DVD burner and an ExpressCard/34 slot join a third USB port, a combination USB/eSATA port, and a FireWire 400 connector.
Do Cores Outweigh Cache?
Under the hood is Intel’s Pentium Dual-Core T4200, an economy-class 2.0GHz processor with an 800MHz front-side bus and 1MB of shared Level 2 cache. That’s only half or one- third the cache of more upscale Core 2 Duo CPUs, but the IdeaPad’s benchmark performance was in the same ballpark as the 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo notebooks we’ve tested lately (the above-mentioned Gateway and the Acer Aspire 3935), perfectly adequate for mainstream productivity tasks.
The IdeaPad posted a SysMark 2007 Preview score of 97 and rendered Cinebench R10‘s sample scene in three minutes and 53 seconds. The installed 32-bit Windows Vista Home Premium OS’ rated the Lenovo at 3.4 on Vista’s 5.9-point Experience Index, with Aero graphics drawing the low card.
Actually, we’d give the Intel GM45 Express chipset’s GMA 4500MHD integrated graphics a whole deck of low cards, considering that the system flailed to all of five frames per second at 1,366 by 768 resolution in our Unreal Tournament 3 game test and posted a meager 3DMark06 score of 754.
Would-be gamers will note that there’s an available IdeaPad Y450 configuration with DirectX 10-compatible Nvidia GeForce G105M discrete graphics, a Core 2 Duo P7450 processor with 3MB of L2 cache, a 320GB hard disk instead of our unit’s 250GB Western Digital drive, and Bluetooth; it’s $899. Lenovo estimates that model’s battery life at an hour less than the integrated-graphics/Pentium combo, however, which would make it one less than the three- to three-and-three-quarters hours that our work sessions averaged, depending on how much disk-spinning (software setup and DVD viewing) we did.
Lenovo’s software bundle includes the usual game, Microsoft Office and Norton Internet Security trials; CyberLink’s Power2Go for burning CDs and DVDs; a photo and video viewer called Media Show; and an elaborate carousel of marketing offers and RSS feeds dubbed Idea Central.
We continue to be underwhelmed by Lenovo’s touted VeriFace face recognition software, which uses your image in the webcam to log you into Windows and encrypt files. Sometimes VeriFace welcomed and unlocked the system for us in the blink of an eye; sometimes it spun its scanning wheels for more than a minute, longer than it would have taken to type a dozen passwords, as if hoping somebody better-looking would show up. We think it’s closer to a consumer gimmick than a robust security solution.
The Y450 is pretty robust overall, though — a likable laptop that’s an undeniable deal at $599. There are other “real” notebooks (as opposed to netbooks) that cost even less, but many are bulky and clunky compared to the elegant IdeaPad. Few will make you feel as good about carrying them.
Lenovo IdeaPad Y450
On a 5-star scale: