Every sign we've seen thus far leads us to believe that netbooks are going to be very popular this holiday shopping season. With good reason, too – they fill a void which has existed since the dawn of mobile computing. Truly cost efficient, rugged, little notebook computers with enough processing power and screen resolution to get basic tasks done – nothing more, nothing less. Given that pocketbooks are hurting in the current economic climate, these new low-cost mobile systems become that much more attractive, besides being a downright exciting product category.
Many of the large-scale PC vendors have already developed, or are developing a netbook product for the end of the year. Dell’s Inspirion Mini 9, along with the Asus Eee PC and MSI’s new Wind netbooks appear to be some of the more popular models. As this year comes to a close, the pace of netbooks hitting the market has certainly accelerated, and we expect that to continue for the next month or so. One of the more exciting netbook models that came to market just recently is Lenovo’s IdeaPad S series.
There are a number of reasons why Lenovo’s IdeaPad is one of the more exciting releases to date. First off, they are offering 10” diagonal screens on the IdeaPad S10, which appear to be what most consumers are drifting towards when looking at netbooks. Secondly, Lenovo’s build quality is generally perceived as one of the best in the notebook market, as their rugged ThinkPad series designs are likely to be seen in some form on the IdeaPad models. Thirdly, Lenovo is being aggressive with their pricing, offering the S10 out to market at $399 with an well-rounded feature set and a sleek, simply designed exterior.
The IdeaPad S10 is what we'll be looking at today. Designed for cheap, low-powered light mobile computing, it almost seems to be the polar opposite of Lenovo’s other recently released workstation notebook, the monster Thinkpad W700. These two products are designed for very different markets, but their close release showcases that Lenovo is really covering the entire range of notebook offerings, from low-end to high-end. Let’s see if their new foray into the sub-$500 mobile market is worth all the hype.
Before we dig in and see what the S10 is like to use in the real-world, let's take a look at what Lenovo is offering with the S10 in terms of its specifications.
"Our new S Series netbook is finally here. And it's designed to keep pace with your busy lifestyle – possibly even simplify it. At a mere 2.65 lbs and about one inch thin, it's so light and portable. You can take it wherever your day takes you. Plus it's loaded with thoughtful standard features to make your life a little easier. A winning combination of mobile technology and exceptional engineering at a fantastic price. All at your fingertips." - Lenovo
First off, what we should point out is that the IdeaPad S10 model we received does not appear to be orderable from Lenovo's website currently, at least in the U.S. Through Lenovo's website, you can only configure S10 models with 512 MB of memory and an 80 GB hard drive. Our sample, however, was pre-configured with 1 GB of memory and a 160 GB hard drive. It's likely that Lenovo will be transitioning the S10 lineup over to this default configuration - but as of now, what we see online and what we have in our hands doesn't match up.
The other possibility is that we've heard rumors of a more powerful IdeaPad S10 model being prepped to hit the market at a $449 price point, which seems like it could match up with the configuration we're testing with today.
Beyond this pricing and configuration snafu, the specifications of the IdeaPad S10 are on par with what we expected. The raw dimensions of the notebook are very thin and light for a 10" netbook, besting the competition easily. However, Lenovo uses a smaller three-cell Lithium Ion battery, whereas our competing Asus EeePC 1000H model is equipped with a six-cell unit. The IdeaPad S10 also does not have 802.11N wireless networking by default, but it does have an ExpressPort34 slot for those who want to add it (hey, you could even add WiMax support...if you live in Cleveland).
The IdeaPad has picked up a lot of early buzz due to its impressive bezel design, which on first glance, appears to be slightly better than the competition in terms of build quality, perhaps due to the long history of IBM's notebook division. Now that the same teams are working under the Lenovo name, the bar is certainly set higher for Lenovo's first netbook entry.
Unfortunately, of the colors which the IdeaPad is offered (black and white now, pink, red and blue available later), the white model which we're looking at today, is the most bland variant, in our eyes. The press shots of the model on Lenovo's website make the white look sleek and almost silvery, whereas the final product tends to edge toward a beige colored plastic. We would really like to see a bit more finesse with Lenovo's white model in regards to material finishes. Judging from the shots on Lenovo's website, we would likely opt for the black model, which looks somewhat sleeker than the white one we have here, in our opinion.
On the plus side, the shape of the IdeaPad S10 is likely one of the best we've seen from the netbook crowd to date, as the S10 has a sturdy feel to it along with a very streamlined, refined design. It's a modern design with lots of smooth edges and chrome bits on the outside. The S10, by itself, weighs 2.65 pounds and has dimensions which are a bit smaller compared to similarly classed netbooks. It's definitely light enough and small enough to easily be tossed into a bag to go with you on the road and will be rugged enough to take some jolts. The build quality is up to par with what we would expect from Lenovo, very good.
However, when you open up the S10, much of the initial excitement wears down when you looking at the keyboard. At least with the white color, the keys look somewhat toy-like and the button quality does not really match up with the initial impressions. Granted, we're dealing with a $399 netbook, so we're not amazed that they didn't go all out with an ultra-sleek keyboard, but the S10's keyboard could use a bit more love from Lenovo's design teams. Within a few minutes of typing on the unit, I had already managed to pop a key out of its holder with normal typing pressure. Not a good sign for long-term reliability.
The keyboard is about as compact as most netbooks, which means keys are about 75% of their normal size and there is no num-pad. The S10, much like the new Asus EeePC 1000H model, suffers from a bad placement of the right shift key, putting it in a non-standard area right under Enter. Initial reaction - this is not a keyboard which you would want to type large amounts of content on. For browsing the web and writing short emails, the keyboard will be sufficient.
The IdeaPad has three buttons above the keyboard, two of them are fairly standard as a power switch and a Wi-Fi/BlueTooth hardware switch. The other button with a red arrow is Lenovo's own custom OneKey backup solution. Hitting the button opens up Lenovo's OneKey Recovery Software, which is tasteful, simple to use, and effective. The software more or less is a glorified .iso creation utility, but with all of the functions to automate a backup into an image, burn it to a DVD and have it be bootable with your entire OS image, it becomes very simple to perform high-quality backups with very little work. A full hard disk backup to an .iso file took about 25 minutes from start to finish, although only about 30 seconds of that took any actual work on our part.
The trackpad on the IdeaPad is about as simple as they come, with a basic matte white finish and two chrome buttons for left and right clicks. The trackpad is significantly smaller compared to most trackpads we're used to using, but we did not find this to be a particular nuisance.
|From All Angles|
Below the trackpad on the front of the bezel, Lenovo has a nicely designed metal mesh which serves multiple purposes. Not only does this look nice, but it holds the system's LED units for power, battery, and disk activity, all of which are nice subtle blue LED variants. The mesh also acts as a vent, helping to keep the insides of the system slightly cooler - in addition to housing the system's speaker.
The left side of the unit houses another (larger) vent to exhaust a greater amount of CPU created heat. The left side also includes a power jack, a 15-pin VGA monitor output, a Secure Digital memory card reader, and a single USB 2.0 port. Slightly above the SD/USB ports is a small hole, which acts as the system's embedded microphone, which works in conjunction with the camera on the top of the bezel.
To the right, we have a small little latch which opens up to reveal an Expresscard 34 expansion slot, a very rare thing to see on a netbook. This expansion slot opens up the Ideapad S10 to handle additional functionality such as Firewire, eSATA, 802.11N, or WiMax with appropriate Expresscard adapter. You also have basic analog audio in/out ports, another USB 2.0 port, and a 10/100 Ethernet port powered by a Broadcom chip internally.
As denoted by the S10 name, this netbook houses a 10" widescreen LCD panel which runs at a native resolution of 1024 x 600 (WSVGA) resolution. This screen resolution matches what other competing 10" netbooks are offering, although Lenovo does get bonus points as their LCD panel is LED backlit. LED backlighting offers advantages in terms of battery life, color vibrancy and accuracy, and allows for tremendously flexible viewing angles. For its size, it's a great looking LCD screen, although of course, we'd like to see a higher resolution option available.
|Under The Hood|
Like just about every other netbook at this price point, the IdeaPad S10 is equipped with Intel's hot new Atom N270 processor. The N270 is a 1.6 GHz single core processor which supports Hyper-Threading, and gives you enough processing power to handle most basic applications. The chip has 512k of L2 cache, runs at a 533 MHz front side bus speed, and supports SSE-2/SSE-3 multimedia extensions. The chip does not support SSE4, hardware virtualization, or execute disabl bit like the majority of Intel's new chips. Lenovo doesn't deviate from Intel's baseline clock speeds like some other manufacturers have started to. At full load, the chip clocks up to 1.6 GHz, whereas under light loads the chip drops down to 800 MHz.
Lenovo claims that their system has an "Advanced Thermal Engineering" feature to deal with internally created heat in such a small form factor. The system has one vent on the left side and a series of vents on the bottom and front of the notebook. While we never ran into any stability issues with the IdeaPad S0 under heavy application loads, we did notice that the keyboard does get substantially warm. Since there has been a lot of back and forth about the IdeaPad S10's keyboard heat, we decided to run a quick benchmark test against the similarly configured Asus EeePC 1000H. From overnight cold boots, we fired up both systems at the exact same time and started them up with benchmarks to max our their heat-producing components, namely the CPU and GPU. We measured keyboard temperatures with an infrared probe. Here's what we found out.
The Lenovo IdeaPad S10 is equipped with a small internal cooling fan which will only kick on under prolonged intensive usage. Throughout the majority of our testing, the fan did not run and the IdeaPad S10 was essentially silent. When the fan does kick in, it is noticeable and vaguely annoying, although the volume and pitch are for the most part, tolerable.
The graphics subsystem is powered by Intel's GMA 950 graphics processor, a fairly aged integrated graphics solution which siphons off a chunk of your system memory for graphics purposes. The GMA950 chip is adequate enough to handle the basic Windows XP GUI, although don't expect to be playing high-resolution movies or gaming on the S10 - it simply isn't happening. The GMA950 can, however, drive multiple displays if you use the S10's 15-pin VGA output port, which is nice enough.
The S10 does not have an optical drive, nor does Lenovo offer a companion drive option at this time. The system is equipped with a 160 GB Serial ATA hard drive in a 2.5" form factor, which can easily be removed or upgraded by opening up a panel on the bottom of the system. Our sample unit's 160 GB hard drive was from Western Digital, to be more specific, the WD Scorpio Blue, which runs at 5,400 RPM and has an 8 MB cache buffer. It's a surprisingly speedy little drive, considering it's a 5,400 RPM model, and we've got some disk benchmarks to show that later on.
In terms of network connectivity, Lenovo provides the bare basics on what you would expect from a netbook model. The system is equipped with both 10/100 wired and a 802.11 B/G wireless network interfaces, along with a BlueTooth wireless interface for connecting to phones and such. Lenovo leaves out the 802.11N from the mix, and WiMax is nowhere to be seen. However, since the system does have an ExpressPort 34 expansion slot, you can add these cards in if you wish.
|Power Consumption and Battery|
The rear of the notebook is kept completely clean, as it is occupied by the system's three-cell Lithium Ion battery. This battery pack delivers about three and a half hours of power with the most aggressive power saving settings. If you want to run the system at its highest performance settings with the screen on full brightness, that figure will get cut down to roughly two and half hours of battery life. Not terrible, but certainly not great either. Currently, Lenovo does not offer larger battery options either, so all S10 users will be stuck with the standard three-cell Lithium Ion unit at this time. Not surprisingly, Lenovo does not like to tout their battery life numbers on their website.
The A/C Adapter which Lenovo bundles with the IdeaPad S10 isn't the most discrete of bricks we've seen to date. While ours looks particularly striking due to the different colored power cables, we've been assured that finalized shipping versions will have the same color of these two cables. While the power brick size and shape are adequate, we're less than thrilled with the very high-volume noise which you receive when you unplug the A/C adapter while the system is running. It's not very pleasant.
With that said, the IdeaPad S10's power brick is fairly small, and Lenovo provides generous length cabling, so you should be able to route the power cabling to be mostly out of sight.
We were curious of the power consumption of the Lenovo IdeaPad S10, so we ran a set of numbers between one of the S10's competitors, the Asus 1000H, which has the same Atom CPU, GPU, and screen size. Here's what we saw.
Things to take away from the numbers. At a 10" screen size, we see virtually no difference in power draw between these two netbooks. We are guessing that since so many different netbooks are based on these same core components, many notebooks of this class will show similar power consumption.
Both are absolutely exceptional in terms of overall power draw. Running a full-fledged (mildly powerful) computing platform in the palm of your hand running at a maximum wattage level as a dim lightbulb.
|Software and Benchmarks|
Unlike most other netbooks currently on thee market, Lenovo does not offer the IdeaPad S10 with a Linux installation option. This isn't to say that you couldn't run Linux on one of them if you'd like, but as for pre-configured options, currently Lenovo is only offering Windows XP. Our sample S10 unit was equipped with Windows XP Home Edition (32-bit, of course) with Service Pack 3 already loaded. Even with only 1.6 GHz Atom processor and a gig of memory, Windows XP feels pretty snappy on the S10 hardware, once you take the time to un-install some of the bloat software.
In the pre-installed software department, Lenovo does fairly well in terms of keeping the initial application load low(ish) while making sure the system is as flexible as possible out of the box. From first bootup to having the system fully cleaned out and working the way we wanted, we were looking at about an hour of time. Not bad for a pre-built system.
In terms of Lenovo bundled software, the company leaves out its usual ThinkVantage software suite this time around, opting for a far less intrusive and resource hungry software footprint. The only real Lenovo applications are the OneKey backup system and the Energy management software. There are other minor bits of Lenovo software integration here and there, but nothing which we've seen on high-end Lenovo laptops.
We ran a quick set of benchmarks on the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 and Asus EeePC 100H, which sells for a similar price-tag and has roughly the same feature-set, but has been out for a bit longer on the market. By the time of you read this, there has likely been another dozen notebook makers who have announced 10" netbook models to compete in this arena - although Lenovo and Asus are definitely some of the industry heavyweights here.
Both the IdeaPad S10 and EeePC 1000H have 5,400 RPM SATA-II hard drives, a 1.6 GHz Atom chip, 1 GB of memory, and an Intel integrated graphics subsystem. Performance wise, they should be pretty close - let's see.
In terms of raw CPU power, there is virtually no difference in overall system performance. As both the systems run on the same Atom processor at the same clock speed, it's to be expected. Memory, disk, and application performance benchmarks are continued on the following page.
The EeePC 1000H system does have slight edge over the Lenovo S10 system in terms memory bandwidth, while at the same time delivering lower latencies. In all likelihood, the delta isn't large enough to show any real world performance differences, although obviously better memory performance is always preferred.
We do see a pretty massive performance difference in terms of disk performance, at least in this synthetic test, between the two netbook's storage subsystems. Lenovo's choice to use the WD Scorpio notebook hard drive pays off, delivering 51 MB/s sustained throughput rates, definitely solid for a 5,400 RPM disk drive. The EeePC 1000H runs at a respectable 38 MB/s with its Seagate Momentus 5400.3 drive.
Despite having a faster disk, the IdeaPad S10 altogether is just a bit slower than Asus's EeePC in performance testing with PCMark05. The EeePC can clock itself up slightly when plugged into a wall outlet (which our test systems were), which seems as the likely cause for improvement of one system over the other.
Lenovo's IdeaPad S10 is unique enough to turn some heads for those looking to purchase a netbook in an increasingly saturated market. It's definitely a sharp little system, design wise, and we think that in some of the more unique Lenovo color offerings, it will stand out more compared to the unit we have looked at today. However, to be frank, Lenovo hasn't brought anything truly outstanding to the table here, and there are also are some bits which we still think need some work.
On the upside, Lenovo's very slim and stylish external bezel design is one of the better looking designs when the unit is closed for transportation. The front bezel is quite sharp, with its open-airflow design with integrated speakers. If this was manufactured with a high quality metal composite, as opposed to plastic, we'd all be drooling over this thing (it would likely cost much more though). The Lenovo S10 is, however, extremely lightweight at 2.6 pounds, so it's lighter than most competing netbooks, despite having a larger keyboard and a 10" widescreen display. Lenovo's usage of a Western Digital Scorpio hard disk delivered very solid storage subsystem performance numbers as well. The integration of an ExpressPort34 slot is also much appreciated, as it makes the unit capable of so much more through the use of high-speed expansion cards, like eSATA or WiMax networking.
On the down side, the unit only has a 3-cell battery which will net you unplugged usage life of about three hours with most load levels. Given the battery size, it's somewhat respectable, although it would be great if 6-cell or 9-cell options were offered as well. We're not entirely thrilled with the quality of the keyboard on the S10 either, although we do appreciate that it feels slightly larger than many other netbook units we've tried.
Performance wise, the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 is not particularly fast, but our overall application performance was no better or worse than any similarly classed netbook we've tested to date. The S10 can reliably handle about a half-dozen or so (light) applications at any given time, or one to two mid-range applications. A heavyweight program like Photoshop, Maya, or After-Effects will be a bit much. The S10, like the EeePC 1000H, is not great at any kind of real multimedia content (high-res movie playback, gaming), but for basic web apps, office-type applications, and older (less system intensive) games, it's definitely sufficient.
With all that said and done, anyone who calls themselves a gadget-geek or the businessman or woman that needs to really travel light, would probably love to get one of these for the holidays this year. There is an undeniable charm with the petite size of these netbooks, especially when they can handle real-world computing tasks with surprising efficiency. The IdeaPad S10 is a definitely a solid start for Lenovo to get into the netbook market and it definitely has a lot going for it. We think the Lenovo S10 will be one of the more popular netbook models this holiday season.