Lenovo IdeaPad U310 review:

Lenovo IdeaPad U310

Lenovo IdeaPad U310 Average for category [ultrabook]
Video HDMI VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader 2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive None None

Most of the bases are covered in terms of ports and features on the IdeaPad U310. USB 3.0, Ethernet, an SD card slot, and HDMI are all present and accounted for. What's missing? Bluetooth and an optical drive. You'll miss the former more than the latter, although you could always use a plug-in USB module.

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Lenovo offers several configurations of the U310 on its Web site, with limited upgrade options. The most affordable version has a third-gen 1.8GHz Intel Core i3-3217U processor (currently starting at $719 on Lenovo's Web site), while ours has a higher-end Core i5 CPU. RAM maxes out at 4GB, while hard-drive options are either 320GB or 500GB platter-type mechanical hard drives. Certain configurations offer hybrid hard drives with an additional 32GB SSD for faster booting, but there's no SSD-only upgrade. Our configuration, priced at $799, includes 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive.

Ultrabooks with third-gen (code-named Ivy Bridge, but you'll never see that on the box) Intel Core i3, i5, and i7 processors are, on a whole, a little faster than their counterparts from last year and earlier this spring, but not dramatically so. Compared with the IdeaPad U300s reviewed last year that had a 1.8GHz Core i7-2677M processor (and a faster SSD drive), our IdeaPad U310 with a 1.7GHz Core i5-3317U ran nearly equivalently on single-task tests, and did better at multitasking. That IdeaPad U300s was a $1,599 configuration last year; this ultrabook only costs $799. In just under a year, that's a big leap in value.

Expect that trend to continue. The Sony Vaio T13112FXS, with the same processor and $799 price tag, is an equivalent purchase to consider, as is the Dell Inspiron 14z. All three have the same Core i5 processor, and -- no surprise -- performed similarly on our tests. The new 13-inch MacBook Air was a little bit faster, and all these ultrabooks weren't as fast as those with fuller Core i5 processors, like the Lenovo ThinkPad X230. Still, for everyday use, most users will find this to be a perfect everyday computer.

Your graphics options, however, are limited. Integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics are a nice step up from last year's integrated HD 3000 version, and can play most mainstream games on low to medium settings. However, some ultrabooks are starting to include higher-end graphics, like the Dell Inspiron 14z, whose AMD graphics provide another bump for games and video-intensive applications. Those upgrades will cost you extra, generally: the Inspiron 14z costs a hundred dollars more at $899.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Annual power consumption cost

Battery life is good, but not great. An integrated three-cell battery lasted 4 hours and 51 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. That's a minute less than the Dell Inspiron 14z (which also has dedicated AMD graphics in the configuration we tested), and less than the Sony Vaio T. It's also over 2.5 hours less than the 13-inch MacBook Air, and even less than last year's IdeaPad U300s. That's not good enough to convince the average person to ditch an optical drive and go ultrabook, but it's good enough to last a good part of a day before recharging, providing you tweak the battery settings and screen brightness.

Lenovo offers a standard one-year warranty with the IdeaPad U310, but extended warranties can be purchased on Lenovo's site: $99 for a base warranty extension to three years, or $229 for three years plus accidental damage protection. Lenovo's Web site and customer service information are relatively easy to find, but you'll want to make sure you've got your specific configuration and model correct (Lenovo makes a lot of laptops).

The best part of the IdeaPad U310 is its price: $799 is a sweet spot for a thin Windows laptop. You're not getting anything here that a number of competitors aren't also offering for a similar price, and that's the kicker. The U310 is capable, but not especially stellar at anything. As a back-to-school lightweight laptop, however, it's a pretty smart bet.

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