Lenovo IdeaPad U310: A More Affordable Ultrabook

Introduction and Specifications

The recent rise and fall of the netbook as a computer category made one thing clear: consumers are willing to sacrifice some screen size and power in the name of portability, but not as much as a netbook requires. On the other hand, many shoppers are willing to pay a premium for a thinner, lighter notebook, and that's where the ultrabook comes in.

As the Windows-based competitor to Apple's popular MacBook Air, the ultrabook category has been reasonably well-received. Intel created the term "ultrabook" last year and stirred up plenty of buzz about it at CES this January, promising systems that would be powerful (compared to netbooks) and svelte (compared to notebooks). You'll turn heads if you fire one up at your local coffee shop, and you won't need to quietly suffer through sluggish performance to look so good.

One area that has been a challenge for manufacturers is the ultrabook's price point. Intel's $1,000 goal (not to mention their recent Ivy Bridge ULT-based $799 target) has been hard to hit, given all the pricey tech that goes into making these slim systems sing. Most have come in at well over the $1K mark – until recently. That brings us to the Lenovo IdeaPad U310, which has a price tag that, depending on the configuration, slides the machine into mainstream notebook territory. Today, we're taking a look at the U310's Core i5-3317U model, which weighs in nicely at Intel's current even more aggressive utltrabook price target of $799.99.

For manufacturers, there's always some risk to sending us anything less than the top of the line model. Generally speaking, a computer makers wants its best system to be reviewed.  That's a reasonable approach, and it means that because so many review systems have the best tech that their lines carry, a lower-priced model is likely to look a little pale by comparison in performance analysis. That's something worth keeping in mind as we dig into the U310: the ultrabooks you've seen recently may have more power, but they're also much more expensive. Whether the U310 strikes a solid price-for-performance balance is what we're setting out to learn. Can an $800 ultrabook take you through a day of hard work and a little play?

Lenovo IdeaPad U310 Ultrabook
Specifications & Features
Processor Options      

Starting at Weight
System Memory
AC Adapter
Hard Drive Options    
Wireless Connectivity    

Ports and Connectors

Productivity & Entertainment Software

Operating System Options

Intel Core i7-3517U (1.9GHz w/ Turbo Boost to 3GHz, 4MB L3 cache)
Intel Core i5-3317U (1.7GHz w/ Turbo Boost to 2.6GHz, 3MB L3 cache)
Intel Core i3-3217U (1.8GHz, 3MB L3 cache)
Intel HM77

Height: 0.7" / Width: 13.1" / Depth 8"
Starting at 3.75lbs (with 3 cell battery)
13.3" HD LED (1366x768)
Machined aluminum shell, full-sized keyboard, integrated glass touchpad
4GB DDR3 1600MHz (1x4GB)
Intel HD 4000 graphics
46WHr battery: 3-Cell (built-in). Up to 7 hours battery life claimed
30W AC Adapter
320GB or 500GB 5400RPM HDD, optional 32GB SDD cache
Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2200 802.11b/g/n, 10/100 LAN, optional Bluetooth 3.0, Intel Wireless Display ready
2x1.5W integrated stereo speakers with Dolby Home Theater V4
1MP (720p HD) webcam
USB 3.0 (2)+ USB 2.0 (1); HDMI (1); mic; Headset Jack (1); LAN port, SD/MMC card reader

Adobe Reader, CyberLink YouCam 3.0 and Veriface 4.0, Lenovo EE Boot optimizing tech, Magic Share, McAfee Emerald 11.0, Microsoft Office 2010, Windows Live Essentials 2011

Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

$799.99 as tested - Core i5-3317U, 4GB DDR3, 500GB, 32GB SSD cache

Lenovo sent us a U310 with an Intel Core i5-3317U processor, which runs at 1.7GHz and can reach 2.6GHz with Turbo Boost and HD 4000 graphics. The ultrabook includes a reasonable amount of DDR3 1600MHz memory at 4GB, but it's all on a single DIMM. We noticed the single-channel memory when reviewing the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s and we were surprised that Lenovo didn't go for the extra performance of dual-channel memory at the time. It looks as though Lenovo hasn't changed its game plan here.

On the storage side of things, Lenovo opted for a 500GB hard drive at 5400RPM, rather than a straight-up SSD. But it also included 32GB of SSD cache. The combo is designed to approximate SSD speeds and helps the U310 provide a faster boot-up time (about 26 seconds in our test) along with faster overall speeds than you'll see from a standard hard drive. The combo isn't likely to be quite as fast as a dedicated SSD, but it's a way to balance price and performance, which is what this ultrabook is all about.

The U310 doesn't have space for an optical drive, but it does have an SD card reader, which is handy of course. It also has a LAN port and built-in Wi-Fi, as well as Bluetooth. An HDMI port, three USB ports (two of which are USB3.0), a 720p web cam, and standard mic/headphone ports round out the package.

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