Lenovo, the company that bought IBM's ThinkPad business last year, has developed an alternative brand of desktop PCs and laptops designed to "address the needs of small-business customers" at a cheaper starting price point than most ThinkPad models. The first two laptop offerings under the Lenovo 3000 umbrella include the superbudget (starting at $599) and the slightly higher-end N100 (starting at $799--same as the ). Our well-equipped $1,399 N100 test unit delivered a strong combination of components (including Intel's new Core Duo processor), performance, and connectivity for the price. The battery life wasn't remarkable, however, and despite the N100's low price, its one-year warranty is inferior to the three-year warranty offered with a comparably priced Dell Latitude D510. That said, laptops that start below $1,000 are of interest to home users, as well as small-business customers (see here for a recent roundup), and in this space, the N100 looks fairly strong against the small-business competition, including the Sony FS series, HP Compaq's and models, and . However, the Latitude D510, though it cannot be configured with an Intel Core Duo processor (yet), offers similar performance and features for a similar price, and the HP Pavilion dv5000, designed for a consumer audience, offers far superior multimedia functionality.
Aside from its coloring--silver on the outside, dark gray on the inside--the N100's design reflects its ThinkPad heritage. It's attractive and well designed, and though it doesn't have all of the ThinkPad's beloved features (drain holes, shock-mounted hard drive, keyboard light), the N100 does have big steel hinges and a relatively sturdy construction. Depending on how you configure it, the N100 weighs 6.1 pounds and runs 10.5 inches deep, 14 inches wide, and 1.5 inches thick; the modest AC adapter brings the total weight to 7 pounds. It strides the line between thin-and-light and midsize, and many laptops around are more portable than the N100, but it's light enough for occasional travel and movement around the home or office, and its rounded back edge makes it easy to carry.
ThinkPad laptops generally have excellent keyboards. The N100 isn't a ThinkPad, and it doesn't have a ThinkPad keyboard, but what it does have is pretty good. The keyboard is a bit more cramped than those on comparable systems, such as the Pavilion dv5000, but the keys are firm, wide, and very comfortable to type on. The touch pad is a bit small, though, and the touch-pad buttons don't give as much as we'd like; alas, it lacks the ThinkPad's red, eraser-head pointing stick. Above the keyboard are three handy external volume controls--the extent of the N100's dedicated multimedia controls--and a fourth button, which summons Lenovo's useful system-management and help utility.
Like many of Lenovo's laptops, the N100 can be configured with one of two screen sizes; in this case, either a 14.1-inch or 15.4-inch wide-aspect display. Our test unit featured the 15.4-inch wide-screen display and a fine, 1,680x1,050 WSXGA+ native resolution, which looked very crisp and clear and offered more screen real estate than the average 15.4-inch display, though it wasn't as bright as we'd have liked. The N100's stereo speakers are simply awful, even for a business machine, delivering exceedingly tinny and soft audio.
When it comes to ports and connections, the N100 offers a solid assortment 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; a 4-in-1 media-card reader (a handy feature missing from many ThinkPad models); as well as VGA and S-Video outputs. Networking connections include 10/100 Ethernet, 56Kbps 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 cutting-edge, double-layer DVD burner. Though it lacks the multiple security features found on ThinkPad models and other business-focused systems, the N100 does have an optional fingerprint reader. About the only entry-level connection missing is an ExpressCard slot, which is included on the Pavilion dv5000 and most other consumer laptops. The software bundle includes Microsoft Windows XP Professional, , a few disc-burning apps, and a number of homegrown connectivity and backup utilities.
Our $1,399 test unit was configured with a solid set of components, including a 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo processor; 512MB of 333MHz DDR2 SDRAM, a low-end Nvidia GeForce Go 7300 graphics card with 256MB of video RAM, and an 80GB hard drive spinning at 5,400rpm. A Pavilion dv5000 configured similarly runs a few hundred dollars more. The N100 turned in a competent score on CNET Labs' benchmarks, performing as well as the other similarly configured dual-core systems we've seen and significantly ahead of the previous generation of Pentium M-equipped business laptops, except the overachieving Latitude D510. (We tested two configurations of the Latitude D510, a lower-end version, which we reviewed, and a higher-end version, which we're using here for comparison.) Our N100 test unit shipped with a standard, 6-cell battery that lasted just slightly more than 3 hours in our drain tests--not bad, but behind a number of competitive models (see charts below). For $30 more, you can upgrade to the 9-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 backs the N100 with a one-year warranty, which is two years shy of the industry standard for business laptops but equal to that of most consumer laptops. You must carry your system in to an authorized repair center, though upgrades for longer terms and onsite repairs are reasonably priced. The company's support Web site includes a handful of troubleshooting topics, as well as the expected driver downloads; the site lacks interactive features such as customer forums or the chance to chat in real time with a technician.
|BAPCo MobileMark 2002 performance rating|
|BAPCo MobileMark 2002 battery life in minutes|
Find out more about how we test Windows notebooks.
Dell Latitude D510
Windows XP Pro; 1.6GHz Intel Pentium M 730; 512MB DDR SDRAM PC3200 400MHz; Intel 915GM/GMS 910GML Express 128MB; Toshiba MK4026GAX 40GB 4,200rpm
Windows XP Pro; 2GHz Turion 64 ML-37; 512MB DDR SDRAM PC2700 333MHz; ATI Radeon Mobility X300 128MB; Fujitsu MHT2060AH 60GB 5,400rpm
Windows XP Pro; 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo T2400; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce Go 7300 256MB; Hitachi Travelstar 5K100 80GB 5,400rpm