Lenovo IdeaPad U300S

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 Lenovo IdeaPad U300S

Overview

The wait for the flurry of Intel ultrabooks is over, and the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S is among the latest super thin and light Windows laptops to come to the fore.

It joins the likes of the Toshiba Portege Z830, Toshiba Satellite Z830, Asus Zenbook UX31 and Acer Aspire S3 in the ultrabook range, a new kind of laptop category that is critically important for the future of the entire market.

Ultrabooks are super-thin, light, sleek and powerful laptops that aim to emulate Apple’s recent gains with the Apple MacBook Air, and finally give consumers a reason to invest in PCs again.

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S is the last in the current line of ultrabooks to hit the shelves, and with a host of new models rumoured to be released at CES 2012 in January, it needs to offer a potent mix of power, great looks and competitive price to stand out among the early salvos from Acer, Asus and Toshiba.

However, our first impressions are underwhelming.

Lenovo hasn’t obsessed over aesthetics, and this laptop is no Apple MacBook Air clone. It seems chunky next to the wafer-thin Asus Zenbook, which features a wedge-shaped design that tapers off to a thin, blade-like point.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S retains its 16mm thickness across the chassis, giving it the impression of being squat.

The body is aluminium, and weighs 1.4kg, the same as the Acer Aspire S3, but much heavier than the Toshiba Portege Z830 and the Toshiba Satellite Z830-10U. If you’re looking for an ultrabook that will turn heads, you will most likely look elsewhere, but can the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S impress with power?

Specifications

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

Under the hood of the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S is an Intel Core i5 processor, which we were slightly disappointed to see, when other manufacturers have managed to add Intel Core i7 processors to a smaller, lighter chassis.

The processor is one of Intel’s low-voltage chips, which balances power with decent battery life and enables system builders to keep their laptops svelte, and achieve the standard required for ultrabook branding.

The low voltage family of processors are part of Intel’s Sandy Bridge range, but don’t expect the same performance as on full laptop systems such as the Dell XPS 15z. These processors are clocked at a meagre 1.6GHz, but have some cunning tech built in to keep the system optimised.

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

There’s Intel’s fast booting technology, which enables the Lenovo to resume from sleep and boot from cold in seconds, and makes a huge difference. It’s one of the best ultrabook features, but it’s not exclusive to the Lenovo.

We have seen better processors elsewhere, such as the Asus Zenbook with its Intel Core i7 processor, and this affects performance.

There’s also 4GB of RAM, which is standard across all ultrabooks and provides enough memory for keeping the system feeling responsive.

Finally, there’s a 128GB SSD drive, which we’re glad to say is becoming standard on ultrabooks, but whether you can live on that is debatable. Yes, you can employ an external HDD, but the question for many is whether an ultrabook can function as a primary machine, or whether it must be complemented by a full-form computer.

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

The lack of connections on the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S means using this as a primary laptop is difficult, which is a bugbear.

While the whole world goes wireless, and we start to store data in the cloud, 128GB of storage seems plenty. Cloud apps and storage are taking the strain off disc drives, but connectivity is the problem. The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S features just two USB ports, one of these being USB 3.0, and an HDMI port but no Ethernet or VGA.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S is also the only ultrabook not to feature a media card slot, and with only two USB slots on offer, connectivity is severely limited.

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

The result is that it’s harder to get online, and we found it frustrating when hopping between offices and meeting rooms when wireless signal was poor, or non-existent. That’s not a problem for home users, but with the matt screen and less attractive lines, we feel this ultrabook is aimed at mobile workers.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S features a 13.3-inch display, and in a nod to true portability, the screen is matt, with a coating to stop reflections in direct sunlight.

Matt screens tend to polarise opinion, with many complaining that it makes the panel dull and lifeless, versus others who love the ability to work outside and near windows with them.

The truth is that both of these statements are true, and the Lenovo is totally unsuitable for those who want to enjoy movies and pictures, but it’s a great choice for people who want to work on the move.

Performance

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Benchmarks
Cinebench: 7,244
3D Mark: 3,394
Battery Eater: 232 mins

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S’s less powerful Intel Core i5 processor showed through in our lab tests, and the 7,244 score in Cinebench is on the low side when compared to the Asus Zenbook UX31 and Acer Aspire S3.

In real-world terms, this is more than enough processing power to run advanced programs such as Photoshop, although rendering will take longer than on full-powered Intel Core processors and ultrabooks with the Core i7 model. You’ll have no problem running multiple applications at the same time, though.

There’s no dedicated graphics card, so 3D effects are left to the GPU found on the Intel Sandy Bridge processor. As you might expect, it produces a poor score, and you won’t be playing any of the latest titles on the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S.

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

There’s enough graphical grunt to deal with HD video, so you can watch a movie on the move, but anything more demanding is out of the question, and the screen won’t make movies look their best anyway.

The battery life was decent, if unspectacular, with 232 minutes of use in our harsh lab tests. This translates to around five hours of web surfing and emailing, which equates to a good day on the move, but nowhere near the seven hours quoted by Lenovo on its marketing literature.

One of the major complaints across many ultrabooks is that they often feature poor, uncomfortable keyboards, and single button trackpads that are frustrating to use, and easy to skip across the page with unintentionally. Unfortunately, the Lenovo suffers here too.

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

On the plus side the keys are as comfortable and natural to use as any ultrabook here, and they’re well cushioned and well spaced, with isolation-style keys jutting through the aluminium chassis.

However, Lenovo has made the Enter and Backspace keys very small, with the Home, End and Delete key to the far right.

This meant mistakes were common, and it took us a while to get used to the keyboard. The trackpad, however, is terrible, and often clicking and navigating led to chaotic moments, where clicks were mis-registered.

Verdict

Lenovo ideapad u300s review

When it comes to weighing up the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S, “average” is a word that crops up too often. It looks average, performance is average despite being thicker and heavier than other ultrabooks, and the keyboard and trackpad are still awkward to use. It doesn’t have the power to turn heads, nor to blow away the likes of the Acer Aspire S3 in terms of performance, and that means it’s hard to recommend, even for particular niches.

The matt screen will make it attractive for business buyers, but the lack of a VGA and Ethernet connection mean that many will overlook this laptop.

We liked

Despite our gripes with the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S, it’s still an excellent ultra-portable laptop. If it had come out before the other ultrabooks, we’d be applauding the excellent design and performance, and the Intel Core i5 is plenty powerful enough for image editing and advanced multitasking.

While we’d never recommend the screen for movies, we applaud Lenovo for offering a matt screen, which is great for people who want to work outside.

The keyboard is comfortable and easy to type on, with good travel between the keys, and good cushioning for long working sessions.

We disliked

Rather than complaining about poor trackpads, we’re going to get down on our knees and beg manufacturers instead. Please believe us that single button trackpads are prone to mistakes and frustrating to use. Stop mimicking Apple and adding them to your laptops.

We also would have liked the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S to be more visually striking. Ultrabooks aren’t just supposed to be thin laptops, they’re supposed to be a new category, where we can get excited about our PCs, take them to Starbucks and sit among our Apple-using friends with our heads held high.

There’s little here to boast about, and that’s a real shame.

Final verdict

The Lenovo IdeaPad U300S is a good ultra-portable laptop, but as an ultrabook, it doesn’t offer any compelling reasons to choose it over the competition.

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Intel Core i7 3930K

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 Intel Core i7 3930K

Overview

The Intel Core i7 3930K is the cheaper alternative to the top-end Sandy Bridge E processor. But then many second hand cars are cheaper than the top-end Sandy Bridge E processor.

At nearly £500 it’s still an expensive CPU, but currently it’s the only LGA 2011 processor worth a look.

The Intel Core i7 3960X, that top-end Sandy Bridge E, is a positively preposterous processor. For in excess of £800, you get a chip that’s not substantially quicker than Intel’s own Core i7 980X of two years ago.

Not at stock clocks, at least. Admittedly, the Core i7 3960X does overclock very nicely indeed and in doing so opens up a gap from ye olde 980X.

But we’ve reviewed the 3960X elsewhere and deemed it disappointing, moderately sinister (it’s prima facie evidence of Intel carpet bagging in response to AMD’s failure to bring out a really quick chip) and largely irrelevant to human existence.

This then is the Intel Core i7 3930K and it’s not the same chip. Not precisely, anyway.

Benchmarks

You can see below just how small a gap, in performance terms, there is between the i7 3960X and the i7 3930K.

It’s also interesting just how close the latest traditional Sandy Bridge chip, the Intel Core i7 2700K, is in general performance terms too, especially in gaming and single-threaded speeds.

3D rendering performance

Intel core i7 3930k

Intel core i7 3930k

Video encoding performance

Intel core i7 3930k

CPU gaming performance

Intel core i7 3930k

Verdict

Yes, this Core i7 3930K is based on the same, quite colossal 2.27 billion transistor chip, known as Sandy Bridge E. So, it shares most of the same specifications as the Core i7 3960X. That starts with six cores in Intel’s latest Sandy Bridge-generation idiom.

Next up we have a new memory controller no fewer than four (yes four, count ’em) channels.

Intel core i7 3930k

Intel’s previous high end processors sported a triple channel memory controller. Even that looked like overkill for a desktop processor. Four channels is getting silly and merely serves to underline the real reason the new Core i7 exists.

It’s a thinly disguised server chip.

Whatever the merits of the quad channel controller, it forces the use of a new socket, the monumental LGA 2011. If nothing else, you are getting a satisfyingly massive chip for your money.

What’s more, thanks to the ‘K’ on the end of Intel Core i7 3930K, this lower priced alternative to the Intel Core i7 3960X gets the full unlocked treatment and also benefits from the newly introduced CPU strap, the better to make overclocking a bit more flexible.

At this stage, you may be wondering what on earth the difference actually is.

The answer is twofold. Firstly it’s clocked infinitesimally lower – 3.2GHz instead of 3.6GHz, along with a commensurate climb down in the maximum Turbo speed to 3.8GHz. The other bit is less L3 cache memory to the tune of 3MB. The 3930K makes do with 12MB.

Frankly, both of these compromises in the name of cost savings fall into the ‘who cares?’ category.

In terms of desktop computing, neither is going to make a blind bit of difference to experience your PC delivers. That’s reflected in benchmarks that are barely any slower. Even better, the 3930K overclocks very nearly as well as the 3960X. Again the gap is just 100MHz, 4.8GHz on airs plays 4.9GHz.

So, here’s the best bit. The 3930K costs over £300 less.

OK, £500 is still a big ask. But the difference in price alone is enough to buy a half decent desktop PC or a cheap laptop.

The point, then, is that this cheaper Sandy Bridge E gives you everything the top chip delivers for a lot less money.

There’s absolutely no reason to spend. We’re not completely convinced even this truly means the Intel Core i7 3930K is good value for money, but it’s still a very fast processor and the chip we’d buy if we had a big budget.

We liked:

The fact that you’re getting almost the same sort of performance out of this £500 Sandy Bridge E as the £850 Core i7 3960X makes it a more intriguing prospect.

The other boon of the Core i7 3930K is that it’s got the same huge amount of overclocking headroom sitting in that CPU package. You can reach extraordinary speeds out of this architecture.

We disliked:

As it’s still based on the same architecture as the Core i7 3960X it’s also got the same flaws, namely that it’s actually an eight-core CPU with a couple of cores turned off.

And despite the fact it’s over £300 cheaper than the top end chip, the Core i7 3930K is still an incredibly pricey processor.

Final word:

Much better value than the 3960X. The obvious choice if you’re thinking of the LGA 2011 platform.

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Review: Toshiba Qosmio X770

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Review: Toshiba Qosmio X770

Overview

Although it’s easy to dismiss 3D as a gimmick that might disappear in a couple of years, there’s no denying its current popularity. As a result, we’ve seen plenty of 3D-compatible laptops in recent times, such as Sony’s ridiculously enormous VAIO F-Series and the HP Envy 17 3D.

Some 3D laptops were heavier than a baby elephant, while some of the earlier models made us so nauseous that we almost threw up and passed out.

One of the best reasons to buy an Nvidia 3D Vision laptop is the huge variety of supported games. All of the AAA titles such as Battlefield, Portal and Fifa now come 3D-ready, and we have to admit that the extra dimension really does immerse you in the game. There’s nothing like squinting down the barrel of a shotgun as a screaming Nazi hurtles out of the screen at you.

Toshiba qosmio x770-107

Toshiba’s Qosmio X770-107 is clearly intended for 3D gaming, with its red-and-black rough-edge design. Thankfully it’s a lot more subtle than the likes of Alienware’s laptops, with their glowing headlights and angular spacecraft bodies, and it’s also a bit lighter than most gaming laptops.

However, the bulky 3.7kg body is still best left on a desk at home. Only Captain America would use this as an everyday travel companion.

The Toshiba Qosmio X770-107’s chassis is reasonably solid, although the palm rests and edges do flex under pressure.

The keyboard is thankfully a lot firmer, with its keys separated out in the popular isolation-style design. You’re less likely to bash the wrong key during frantic action games, and it’s also a great board to touch-type on.

We especially liked the subtle red backlighting, for those late-night gaming sessions.

Above the keyboard is a row of media shortcut keys. These can be used to adjust the volume, play and pause your media, and of course turn the 3D graphics on and off.

Specifications

Toshiba qosmio x770-107

Setting up the 3D is a simple two-minute task using Nvidia’s software. We were watching 3D movies on the Toshiba Qosmio X770-107 in no time, and simultaneously taking abuse from co-workers over the dorky glasses.

Those glasses are a major repellent, and if you wear spectacles to correct your vision, the two definitely don’t sit together comfortably. The biggest problem is the extra pressure around the bridge of the nose. We felt a migraine coming on after just a few minutes, and had to switch to contact lenses to continue.

Still, if your eyes aren’t knackered like ours, you’ll find the experience a lot more entertaining.

The 3D graphics are a good excuse to play classics such as Battlefield 2 all over again, and we were particularly impressed by driving games, where the 3D made it easier to judge corners and distances.

The Toshiba Qosmio X770-107 will also keep your sprogs quiet, thanks to the plethora of 3D cartoons and movies.

We’ve found that 3D-compatible screens are often rather dim, but this laptop’s 17.3-inch display is a refreshing exception. Not only is it comfortably bright, it’s also pleasingly vibrant. The full HD 1080p resolution means you can enjoy HD movies and the latest games with crystal-clear visuals.

We’re often derogatory about laptop speakers, but the harman/kardon efforts built into the Toshiba Qosmio X770-107 are impressively powerful. The bass is especially strong, and our dubstep samples made the entire chassis vibrate.

Of course, music buffs are going to need a dedicated external pair to hear every note as it was intended, but for the purposes of films and games, you can’t go wrong.

If you have a meaty collection of games and movies, you can carry a huge number around on the 1TB hard drive. The Toshiba Qosmio X770-107 might be a bulky machine, but at least you won’t have to lug an external hard drive around too.

If you’re carrying the laptop around during use, Toshiba’s built-in HDD protection shuts the drive down so it doesn’t get damaged. You also get a built-in Blu-ray drive, while an HDMI port lets you hook up a widescreen TV at home.

Performance

Toshiba qosmio x770-107

Of course, you can have all the 3D whiz-gimmickry you like, but if the laptop’s specs are rubbish, any game you play is going to be a juddering mess. Thankfully, the Toshiba Qosmio X770-107 packs in some powerful components.

The brain of the operation is an Intel Core i7 2630QM processor, running at 2GHz. This quad-core beauty is one of Intel’s latest Sandy Bridge efforts, and the scores we churned out of Cinebench were mightily impressive.

Toshiba’s Qosmio X770-107 is as powerful as some top-end gaming machines, including Alienware’s M14X and M18X. Backed up by a generous 8GB of memory, you’ll have no trouble running any modern game, or the very best editing software.

You can run your games with the highest possible graphics settings too, thanks to the Nvidia GeForce GTX 560M graphics card. We didn’t notice any frame rate issues, even when playing intensive titles such as Crysis 2. Few other laptops have produced such a confident graphical performance in recent times.

Despite the impressive performance, this laptop is whisper-quiet. Even during the most intensive gun battles, we heard almost no whirring and creaking from the Toshiba Qosmio X770-107’s innards. The chassis also stays relatively cool, apart from the vents on the left side, which gush hot air.

Unfortunately, the Toshiba Qosmio X770-107’s battery dies faster than a lemming in Dover. We didn’t even get an hour into a movie before it gave up. This is a poor effort even for a powerful laptop like this – especially when you consider that the Alienware M18X clung on for a little over an hour. You’ll need to pack the charger if you lug this beast outside.

Cinebench 10: 17063
3D Mark 06: 15114
Battery Eater: 44 mins

Verdict

Toshiba qosmio x770-107

Whether 3D is here to stay or a mere flash in the pan, there’s no ignoring its popularity. Toshiba’s Qosmio X770-107 is another laptop that caters to the considerable 3D public demand, but does so with style and a considerable amount of grunt.

We liked

The 17.3-inch screen is a great way to take in a movie, either in 2D or 3D, thanks to its sharp 1080p resolution and impressive vibrancy. It’s also a surprisingly bright panel, which is rare for a 3D laptop.

We have to admit, the Nvidia 3D Vision tech works well with certain games, especially driving simulators and trusty FPS games. However, even if you aren’t too bothered about the 3D effects, there’s still plenty for gamers to enjoy here.

You can play any modern title thanks to the Intel Core i7 Sandy Bridge processor, backed up by 8GB of memory, and the dedicated Nvidia GeForce graphics card means those frantic gun battles look amazing. You can also enjoy HD movies via the built-in Blu-ray drive.

We disliked

Not everyone will enjoy the black-and-red design, but it’s less garish than some other gaming laptops. However, like its rivals, you can’t lug the Toshiba Qosmio X770-107 around on a regular basis. The bulky 3.7kg chassis is difficult to fit in a bag and a pain to drag around on public transport, while the battery life sucks.

Final verdict

If you’re looking for a gaming laptop and are sold by the 3D gimmick, the Qosmio offers everything you could possibly need.

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Review: Zoostorm 3390-2012/A

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Review: Zoostorm 3390-2012/A

The Zoostorm 3390-2012/A is a good looking laptop, with a subtly lined black and grey chassis. While it’s certainly not the thinnest laptop we’ve seen – the new MacBook Air can sleep easy in that department – it’s not bulky either, and it’s perfectly easy to carry around.

The laptop’s chassis does feel slightly cheap and brittle, lacking the sturdiness of the Sony VAIO S Series VPCSB1V9E’s build quality.

As we’ve seen with other laptops, the inclusion of Intel’s second-generation Core i3, i5 and i7 processors gives them a big power advantage. The Zoostorm is no exception, and the model we tested comes with an Intel Core i3-2310 2.10GHz processor.

Backed up by 4GB of DDR3 RAM, this makes the Zoostorm 3390-2012/A a fast and responsive laptop that’s excellent at multitasking. Boosting performance even further is the inclusion of a solid state drive that drastically cuts down the time it takes for the laptop to boot into Windows 7.

Microsoft has designed its OS to take advantage of SSD technology, and this is evident in its sheer speed. The technology comes at a premium though, and the model we reviewed – which costs £479 – comes with only 64GB of storage. With Windows 7 Home Premium and the default programs installed there’s only 34GB of hard drive space left. If you need more then you’ll need to either use an external hard drive or opt for the 128GB model, which costs £549.

The only area where the Zoostorm 3390-2012/A is let down by its hardware is in the graphics department. Whilst the onboard graphics that come with second Intel Core processors is perfectly capable, it can’t compete with laptops that have dedicated GPUs. The Zoostorm’s 3DMark score was 7,564, compared with the Sony VAIO S Series’ 12,230.

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Review: Zoostorm 3390-2012/A

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Review: Zoostorm 3390-2012/A

The Zoostorm 3390-2012/A is a good looking laptop, with a subtly lined black and grey chassis. While it’s certainly not the thinnest laptop we’ve seen – the new MacBook Air can sleep easy in that department – it’s not bulky either, and it’s perfectly easy to carry around.

The laptop’s chassis does feel slightly cheap and brittle, lacking the sturdiness of the Sony VAIO S Series VPCSB1V9E’s build quality.

As we’ve seen with other laptops, the inclusion of Intel’s second-generation Core i3, i5 and i7 processors gives them a big power advantage. The Zoostorm is no exception, and the model we tested comes with an Intel Core i3-2310 2.10GHz processor.

Backed up by 4GB of DDR3 RAM, this makes the Zoostorm 3390-2012/A a fast and responsive laptop that’s excellent at multitasking. Boosting performance even further is the inclusion of a solid state drive that drastically cuts down the time it takes for the laptop to boot into Windows 7.

Microsoft has designed its OS to take advantage of SSD technology, and this is evident in its sheer speed. The technology comes at a premium though, and the model we reviewed – which costs £479 – comes with only 64GB of storage. With Windows 7 Home Premium and the default programs installed there’s only 34GB of hard drive space left. If you need more then you’ll need to either use an external hard drive or opt for the 128GB model, which costs £549.

The only area where the Zoostorm 3390-2012/A is let down by its hardware is in the graphics department. Whilst the onboard graphics that come with second Intel Core processors is perfectly capable, it can’t compete with laptops that have dedicated GPUs. The Zoostorm’s 3DMark score was 7,564, compared with the Sony VAIO S Series’ 12,230.

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