After Intel's late-August Core 2 Duo launch, the first Lenovo laptop to incorporate the new processor wasn't a ThinkPad, but the humble Lenovo 3000 N100. With a starting price of $699 ($929 for the base Core 2 Duo model), the N100 line isn't exactly where you'd expect to find the latest and greatest components. Then again, there's nothing worse than seeing a well-designed laptop hobbled by subpar performance, and while the N100 we tested won't win any speed races, it zips through the typical productivity work that most budget laptop buyers are looking to do. Granted, if you need blazing performance, strong security measures, or a lengthy warranty, you should look beyond the N100 to more expensive laptops, such as the HP Compaq nc6400, the Dell Latitude D620, or Lenovo's own ThinkPad Z61t. But small businesses looking for an extremely low-priced, well-stocked portable will find a lot to like in the Lenovo 3000 N100.
The Lenovo 3000 N100 doesn't feel quite as tank-like as its ThinkPad cousins, but its case (silver on the outside, dark gray on the inside) features sturdy metal hinges and an overall solid construction. Measuring 13.1 inches wide, 10 inches deep, and 1.5 inches thick, it is comparable in size to the HP Compaq nc6400 and the Dell Latitude D620. The N100 is a bit heavier than its thin-and-light competitors, though, weighing 5.5 pounds alone and 6.2 pounds with its small AC adapter. (For those looking to haul a little less weight, the Lenovo 3000 V100 starts at just 4 pounds.)
You can tell that the N100 is a descendant of a ThinkPad the second you start typing: Its keyboard is roomy and comfortable. Unfortunately, its touch pad, though passable, is a bit on the small side, and its buttons don't give as much as we'd like. Three volume controls above the keyboard constitute the extent of the N100's media controls, not surprising given that Lenovo targets small business with the N100 and the rest of the Lenovo 3000 line (the company's ThinkPad brand, which it inherited from IBM, is marketed to larger enterprises). Next to the volume control is a button to summon the useful Lenovo Care system-management and help utility. A fingerprint reader below the keyboard frees you from typing in passwords. Like the ThinkPad Z61m, the N100 includes handy port labels along both sides of the keyboard deck to help you immediately find where to plug in peripherals.
The Lenovo 3000 N100 can be configured with either a 14.1-inch or 15.4-inch wide-aspect display. Our test unit featured the 14.1-inch wide screen with a typical 1,280x800 native resolution, which proved adequate for working on spreadsheets and word processor documents. Lenovo also gives buyers a choice of screen finishes: glossy and video-friendly or antiglare. Our test unit's antiglare screen worked well in our typical office environment, though it didn't get as bright as we'd have liked. Video content, however, looked just OK, and the screen's rather flat contrast means it wouldn't be our first choice for watching movies. This inclination is compounded by the N100's predictably lousy stereo speakers, which deliver tinny, soft sound. If media consumption is your goal, look to a more entertainment-oriented laptop, such as the HP Pavilion dv2000t--or at the very least, configure the N100 with the glossy display.
Because the Lenovo 3000 line is aimed at small-business users who are likely to have neither an IT department nor loaner systems at their disposal, the company preloads the N100 with a helpful suite of utilities called Lenovo Care. Based on the company's robust ThinkVantage suite for ThinkPads, Lenovo Care helps users quickly access support information, set up network access, schedule backups and system maintenance, and configure data security.
Like the 15.4-inch version we reviewed earlier this year, the 14.1-inch N100 offers a solid assortment of ports and connections for the price. You get a generous four USB 2.0 ports, three clumped together on the right edge and another on the left; one four-pin FireWire port; headphone and microphone jacks; a slot for a Type II PC Card (we would be impressed, however, if a laptop in this price range recognized the latest ExpressCards; a 4-in-1 media-card reader; as well as VGA and S-Video outputs. Networking connections include10/100 Ethernet, modem, 802.11a/b/g wireless, and optional Bluetooth; a handy switch on the front edge turns all wireless radios on and off. Our unit came configured with a ho-hum CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive.
Our $929 Lenovo 3000 N100 test unit was configured with the low end of the latest generation of components, including a 1.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5500 processor, 512MB of fast 667MHz RAM, integrated Intel Mobile Express 945GM graphics, and an 80GB hard drive spinning at 5,400rpm. An HP Compaq nc6400 configured similarly (though with a 60GB hard drive) costs $270 more, while a similar Dell Latitude D620 will set you back almost $1,400. The N100 exhibited merely decent performance on CNET Labs' benchmarks. On all of our tests, it trailed behind the Sony VAIO C150P/B and the Fujitsu LifeBook A6010, both of which incorporate the same processor as the N100 but have four times as much RAM. We felt comfortable using the N100 for typical productivity work but found it bogged down while using resource-intensive programs, such as Photoshop; if you plan to do much more than word processing and Web surfing, one of Lenovo's $70 upgrade packages--which doubles the amount of RAM on your system and adds a DVD burner, higher display resolution, and a few other features--is well worth it.
The N100's six-cell standard battery lasted close to three and a half hours in our drain tests--above the average for a laptop of this size and well ahead of the Fujitsu LifeBook A6010. The Sony VAIO C150P/B held out for 15 minutes longer. For $150, you can upgrade the N100 to the nine-cell battery, which will add a few ounces to the weight of the laptop but should extend its runtime for another hour or two (CNET did not test the extended battery).
Lenovo 3000 N100 comes backed by a yearlong warranty, which, though the standard among consumer laptops, is shorter than the three-year term that covers most business laptops. Somewhat expensive warranty-extension options include an upgrade to three years for $199; 24/7, toll-free phone support lasts for the length of your warranty. In addition to the Lenovo Care suite mentioned above, the company's support Web site displays troubleshooting information, though it lacks helpful elements, such as a user forum.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)