|Introduction & Specifications|
|The all-in-one PC form factor is a brilliant, if not obvious, evolution of the desktop computer. AIO systems offer the maximum amount of screen real estate while drastically minimizing the total footprint of the computer by packing all the components inside the monitor (or in the case of this particular AIO, the base of the stand).
Even better, now that ten-finger touch input is de rigeur, these machines offer new methods of computer interaction that are alternately ideal for wide-eyed youngsters, old luddites, and seasoned power users. (Give a toddler a touchscreen and she’ll figure out how to pull up her favorite album, play a simple game, and scroll through photos in minutes. Give her a mouse and keyboard and she’ll destroy or delete everything on your computer in roughly the same amount of time.)
Although some AIOs are intended as higher-end machines for professionals, others are designed primarily for home use by family types and those with more casual workloads. The latter category is where the Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 lands.
Considering the modest specifications, the best features of the IdeaCentre A720 are centered around the display and its tilting capabilities. For starters, you have 27 inches of screen to work with (full HD, 1920x1080), and the screen has impressive viewing angles.
It also sports ten-point multitouch capabilities. Touch input on an AIO desktop is a nice complement to the mouse and keyboard. In order to capitalize on the situational advantages of each kind of input, the IdeaCentre A720 features a pivoting neck that lets you adjust the screen in a variety of ways. It not only tilts forward or backward but can also slide down to rest at an angle on your desk or lay nearly flat to allow for more of a tabletop-like experience.
Clearly, Lenovo intended this particular IdeaCentre A720 to be a family PC as opposed to a high-powered professional or gaming machine. The computer runs on an Intel Core i5-3210M processor, which is a dual-core (2.5GHz) chip, as well as 6GB of DDR3 RAM, an NVIDIA GeForce 630M (1GB) GPU, and a 1TB (5400 RPM) hard drive.
Other features include a 6-in-1 card reader, two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI in and out ports, LAN port, slot-loading Blu-ray player drive, 802.11b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth, integrated 720p webcam, headphone and mic jacks, and stereo speakers.
The computer also runs Windows 8, which looks beautiful on the big screen. Other than the external power brick and some documentation, accessories are limited to a wireless keyboard and mouse combo.
|Software, Accessories, & First Boot|
|Some computer manufacturers load up their systems with bloatware, leaving users to spend the first couple of hours with their new PC sorting through the muck and deleting most of it. Lenovo is a bit guilty of that here--there are twenty-six preloaded programs and utilities on most A720s, although most of the preinstalled stuff is actually desirable.
For starters, there are several Lenovo programs on board, including Lenovo Camera Fun Zone, Lenovo Dynamic Brightness System, Lenovo Eye Distance System, and the Lenovo Rescue System (for data backup and recovery), among others that the kids will enjoy such as Lenovo YouCam. There’s also Skype, Evernote, Kindle, a handful of widgets, and several games including Angry Birds.
On the other hand, there are unnecessary extras including a SugarSync cloud storage signup link, and a Start page link to rara.com. Additionally, McAfee wouldn’t leave us alone until we just uninstalled the program and wiped it entirely from the system. Thus, although some of those programs are nice to have right off the bat, there’s just a lot of unwanted nagging going on.
Lenovo opted for an external power brick as opposed to a built-in PSU for the IdeaCentre A720, and that was a smart move, as there's no PSU fan to add to the noise of the PC. Further, the cable is about 10 feet long, so you shouldn’t ever have trouble finding an outlet close enough to plug in.
There’s nothing overly special about the included wireless mouse and keyboard, but they’re nice additions to the overall package. Both sport a silver and black finish that matches the computer itself, and they connect wirelessly to the PC via a single tiny USB dongle, which conveniently stores inside the body of the mouse so you won’t ever lose it when it's unplugged. Lenovo also threw in a AA battery and two AAA batteries for the mouse and keyboard, respectively.
Though the 3-button mouse is compact and suited for child-size and ladylike hands, it also felt comfortable under our larger mitts. We’d like to see a couple of additional buttons for navigation while Web browsing, but at the end of the day the mouse is sufficient and well-designed.
Upon first boot, we were greeted by the Windows 8 Start page, which was already populated by a number of Live Tiles. Some weren’t welcome (eg, the rara.com tile), but it was pleasing to have others ready to go such as Mail, Calendar, People, Messaging, Internet Explorer, Store, Maps, SkyDrive, newsfeeds, Games, Camera, Music, Video, and a smattering of Lenovo Apps. If you prefer the traditional desktop of Windows operating systems, you can toggle over there and find nothing cluttering the screen except for the Recycle Bin.
|Overall Design & Layout|
|As we mentioned earlier, one of the IdeaCentre A720’s best qualities is how the display tilts to allow for various modes of use. Of course, as you’d expect, the monitor tilts forward and back to let you gently adjust the viewing angle, but it does much more. The whole display can slide forward and down, resting on your work surface and giving you a nice touch-optimized angle to work from, and it will also lay flat like a tabletop. Thus, you can easily adjust the display depending on what you’re doing, be it typing a paper, browsing the Web, scrolling through photos, or playing a board game.
We found that the tilting neck firmly held the display in whatever orientation we put it, and the base was just heavy enough that the whole unit never felt out of balance even when we were adjusting the screen. That’s a tricky dance, but Lenovo nailed it.
The display is edged in black, but there’s no bezel; the glass goes from edge to edge, which is quite lovely. Lenovo put the in-glass touch controls at the bottom right edge of the screen. They’re appropriately inconspicuous yet easy to reach when you need to adjust the brightness or volume, toggle between color modes, or switch the input from PC to HDMI.
Unlike some AIOs, most of the actual PC components are housed in the stand of the IdeaCentre A720, which allows Lenovo to put everything down there--ports, speakers, vents, and so on--and keep the actual monitor's edges smooth and uncluttered.
The stereo speakers in the base are fine for watching some web videos or even plopping the kiddies in front of “Despicable Me” for a couple of hours, but you don't expect high fidelity output for music. We’ve heard better speakers on desktop replacement notebooks, but for a built-in option, these will get the job done. The quality is rather tinny and thin, but at least they’re loud enough. Also, the system doesn't have multiple audio jacks to connect a speaker system, so that’s an unfortunate limitation. You can still go with headphone output we suppose, for line out to a pair of powered speakers but multi-channel setups aren't supported unless you go with HDMI output.
Another knock on the overall strong design of the IdeaCentre A720 is that connecting peripherals to the base isn’t always an ergonomic affair. For example, on the left side of the base, you have access to a USB 3.0 port and two HDMI ports, while the headphone and mic jacks and the other three USB ports are around back. This arrangement doesn’t make the greatest sense, because you’re probably more likely to connect HDMI devices to the back of the PC and leave them connected for a while, whereas it seems like you can never have enough USB ports within reach for various peripherals.
Placing the headphone and mic jacks at the rear of the stand just seems bizarre; for example, if you or your child are sitting far enough away from the 27-inch screen that your eyes aren’t hurting, some headphone cables might not reach that far. Further, headphones are one of those items that are rarely shared, so having to reach all the way around the PC to plug in and unplug earbuds or headsets is inconvenient if you have multiple family members that regularly use the machine.
Still, we like the overall look and feel of the IdeaCentre A720; the base is very low profile, almost disappearing beneath the large screen, and the glass display coupled with the shiny metallic base and neck is an attractive combo.
|PCMark & 3DMark Tests|
|Usually, we’d fire up Futuremark's system performance benchmark, PCMark Vantage, but at press time, Futuremark has not yet released an update of the test for Windows 8. We still have PCMark 7, 3Dmark Vantage, and 3Dmark 11 to test our system, though.
Below is what Futuremark says is incorporated in the base PCMark suite and the Entertainment, Creativity, and Productivity suites, the four modules we have benchmark scores for you here.
The PCMark test is a collection of workloads that measure system performance during typical desktop usage. This is the most important test since it returns the official PCMark score for the system
The Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 posted a respectable if unimpressive score in PCMark 7. Respectable, because it’s right on par with what we’ve seen from other ASUS AIOs with roughly comparable specifications, but unimpressive because a score of 2561 is far behind what we saw from the Dell XPS One 27, which delivered a 4625. Part of the score discrepancy is the storage system. Our Lenovo has but a 5400 RPM drive, whereas the Dell boasts a 7200 RPM storage drive bolstered by an mSATA SSD. There’s also an enormous gap in these two systems' Productivity and Lightweight subtest scores.
The scores above tell us two things: NVIDIA’s Kepler architecture is impressive, and there’s a big step down from the GeForce GT 640M versus the 630M. Having a third-generation Intel Ivy Bridge chip inside doesn’t hurt, either. None of the above systems are setting any records in 3DMark Vantage, but the Dell XPS system simply has superior components, and it shows. Our Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 is well ahead of the ASUS AIOs, but due largely to a slower hard drive and weaker dual-core CPU, it falls behind the Dell system by a long shot.
A score of P1278 in 3Dmark 11 is acceptable for an AIO that isn’t pretending to be a gaming machine and it isn't terribly far off from the Dell XPS we tested (which scored a P1971). It’s also a good gallop better than the P541 that we saw from the HP TouchSmart 520.
Still, it’s worth noting that even SFF gaming systems with modest specs will routinely double or triple some of those scores, so for as adept as these machines may be at most computing tasks, it’s important to reign in expectations about what they can do in more strenuous situations. Speaking of, let’s see what the IdeaCentre A720 can pull in Sandra and Cinebench.
|SiSoft Sandra & Cinebench|
|We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks).
The next time you’re thinking of slashing the cost of a system configuration by skimping on the processor, remember these scores: The IdeaCentre 720’s dual-core Intel chip hit Processor Arithmetic and Multimedia scores of 45.71 and 99.78, respectively, while the Dell XPS’s Intel Core i7-3770S pulled down 110 and 244.25. In fact, Lenovo finished dead last in the multimedia test and essentially tied the ASUS system for a distant third in arithmetic.
The Memory Bandwidth scores here are fairly similar across the board, but the Physical Disks test shows the vast differences in the storage systems on these PCs. Most notably, the Lenovo’s slow 5400 RPM hard drive delivered the lowest score of the bunch.
There’s really no competing with the Core i7-3770S in the Dell system in this group, but the HP’s score versus the Lenovo and ASUS systems highlights the difference between quad-core and dual-core processors.
It’s worth noting, however, that the Lenovo posted a solid OpenGL score of 22.5, which was far and away faster than the HP’s 15.37 and the ASUS’s 6.05 thanks to the GeForce GT 630M on board. Of course, the Lenovo system's score paled in comparison to the Dell XPS which sports a beefier GPU.
|Next, we ran the Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 through a few gaming tests to see how it would fare.
Being a DX11 title, we weren’t expecting the Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 to do too much in the Lost Planet 2 benchmark, and indeed, with high settings the system was a mile away from playable framerates. With everything dialed down, though, our system did well even at its native resolution of 1920x1080.
As expected, the IdeaCentre A720 breezed through Crysis with the settings on low and no AA, but it completely choked on the higher settings.
You can forget about playing AvP on this all-in-one, unless you’re happy dialing down the settings and gaming at a lower resolution. This title is fairly robust, so we weren’t expecting much, but it shows where this system stands in terms of more demanding game titles.
|Power Consumption & Noise|
|We used a power meter to measure the amount of power our test system pulled from the wall outlet. You'll find three figures below: power supply's maximum rated wattage, peak power consumption under a full CPU/GPU load, and how much the system pulled from the wall when idle, following a fresh system boot.
The IdeaCentre A720 is impressively efficient at idle, pulling just 40.8W, which is close to what we’d expect to see from a SFF system. Under a brutal double-whammy of Furmark and Prime95 pushing the GPU and CPU to their limits, the system also remained fairly efficient and maxed out at just 131W. That leaves a little bit of wiggle room for the 150W external power brick.
In terms of noise, the thing is quiet as a church mouse. Even chugging under a full load, we could barely hear anything at all. When at idle or during typical computing tasks, there’s virtually no noise whatsoever emanating from the system.
|Performance Summary & Conclusion|
|Performance Summary: Although the Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 didn’t especially impress in our benchmarks, it did prove capable of handling most typical computing tasks. For a system with an Ivy Bridge chip and a Kepler GPU inside, you might expect more on the performance front, but the CPU is 2.5GHz dual-core and the GPU is a mid-range affair.
However, what was more notable about this system was its display’s ability to tilt to facilitate multiple ways of interacting with the machine; that and its good looks, if aesthetics is a thing for you. With this class of machine, we'd expect many prospective consumers to rate this aspect higher than a traditional desktop.
Bottom line: this is a mostly well-designed machine with some enchanting features and plenty of (more or less) good software that runs on relatively modest hardware, which is rather typical of most AIOs we’ve tested. Granted, you can configure one of these IdeaCentre A720s with a more powerful Intel Core i7-3610QM processor if you like, but that’s about it in terms of meaningful upgrade options. Still, that should bolster performance nicely.
With a price tag of $1,599, the IdeaCentre A720 is priced probably just a touch on the high side when compared to other options we’ve tested, but even so, Lenovo worked to keep the cost of this machine down. They did this primarily by being conservative with its internal components, no doubt allotting more of the cost to the display that offers features that are more valuable to the average user, such as multitouch capabilities, thinness and image quality. However, that’s more or less a smart move, because most people interested in this PC won’t be too keen on shelling out another couple of benjamins for slightly faster Web browsing and app launching and the ability to get higher framerates in demanding games.
Look, your family will probably love the Lenovo Ideacentre A720; the 27-inch screen is large, it’s great to have all the touch capabilities and the various orientations afforded by the tilting display, and there are games and fun software aplenty for kids from 1 to 92. However, if you’re looking for a machine that can pull double duty as a modest gaming rig, this isn't it. For light duty multimedia work like family video editing, sure no problem.
So go ahead and drop the $1,599 on the Lenovo IdeaCentre A720, so long as you set your expectations accordingly on its intended usage model. But you’ll have to make sure you keep another system up and running if you want to be doing any n00b pwning any time soon.