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Lenovo C300-3012 (Atom 230 1.6GHz review: Lenovo C300-3012 (Atom 230 1.6GHz

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If we to adopt a relativist approach and consider Nettops apart from the larger desktop market, we might actually recommend the $549 Lenovo C300. It includes an uncommonly large 20-inch wide-screen display and performs better than many of its peers because of a slightly faster Intel Atom CPU. Standing in the way of such a recommendation, as usual, is the compelling price-performance of traditional budget desktops, as well as the cheap portability offered by Netbooks. The primary advantage of the Lenovo C300 is that it offers a large screen in an affordable, self-contained package. That certainly has some appeal, but with such abysmal performance, and better alternatives available for the same price, this system offers further proof of Nettops' poor value.

OVR
5.4

Lenovo C300-3012 (Atom 230 1.6GHz

The Good

Largest display among low-cost all-in-one computers.

The Bad

Standard budget PCs are four to eight times faster; weak audio output; no cost savings despite poor performance.

The Bottom Line

Don't let the 20-inch screen fool you. The Lenovo C300 is still a Nettop, and thus still not worth your money. With its terrible performance and limited convenience benefit, a true budget PC or a Netbook would be a wiser purchase.

Lenovo sells a few versions of the C300 with various CPU, memory, and hard-drive configurations. However, each model has a 1,600x900-pixel resolution, 20-inch screen and the display is clearly the series' highlight feature. However, it's not quite as crisp as Averatec's all-in-one PC that has an 18-inch, 1,680x945-pixel resolution screen. We also found that the Averatec's black levels made for a much more vibrant DVD image than the Lenovo's screen. Even if the screen isn't top quality, you will still appreciate two extra diagonal inches in day-to-day use. We also have to credit Lenovo for bringing a 20-inch display to a lower price point than we've seen before.

We'd understand if the large screen entices you to consider the Lenovo C300 as a home entertainment system, but once you experience the tinny audio output, your enthusiasm might dim. Not only is the sound output low quality, but, for example, it also doesn't get nearly loud enough to have a movie on in the background while you're cooking dinner. External speakers might be the solution to the problem, but now you're getting into dicey territory. After all, what's the point of buying a low-cost, self-contained system if you need to add hardware to it to use it the way you want to?

The remaining features around the Lenovo C300 are unremarkable, but not disappointingly so given its low price. You get a handful of USB 2.0 ports, one of which you'll need for the USB mouse, as well as a media card reader, an Ethernet jack, a port for the wired keyboard, and a headphone and microphone jack on its left side. You also get a Webcam at this price (unlike the $349 eMachines EZ1601-01), as well as 802.11g wireless networking. We'd always rather see wireless input devices included, and Lenovo offers no touch capability with the C300's screen. Again, its price makes it hard to complain about its lack of features.

  Lenovo C300 Averatec D1133
Price $549 $599
CPU 1.6GHz Intel Atom N330 1.5GHz AMD Athlon X2 3250e
Memory 4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 512MB (integrated) ATI Mobility Radeon 4530 integrated graphics chip 512MB (shared) ATI Radeon HD 3200 integrated graphics chip
Hard drives 640GB, 7,200rpm 250GB, 5,400rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11g wireless Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n wireless
Display size 20-inches 18.4-inches
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (32-bit) Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (32-bit)

Next to the Averatec D1133, the Lenovo C300 also looks like a very competitive system. It boasts more RAM, a larger screen, more than twice as much hard-drive space, and it has a slightly faster CPU clock speed for $50 less. Assuming we'd consider a Nettop at all, the Lenovo C300 makes a strong case for itself on paper. Our performance charts shed light on the reality.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Averatec D1133 All-in-One
376 
Lenovo C300
550 

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Averatec D1133 All-in-One
306 
Lenovo C300
777 

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Averatec D1133 All-in-One
1,730 
Lenovo C300
2,103 

CineBench test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
Gateway SX2800-01
10,085 
2,773 
Averatec D1133 All-in-One
2,396 
1,235 
Lenovo C300
1,551 
544 

Let's be clear that we're familiar with the common argument that Nettops aren't supposed to be fast. We see no problem with a category of desktop that trades performance for value, but the issue is that Nettops, including the Lenovo C300, don't hold up the value end of the deal.

The strongest argument against the Lenovo C300 comes by way of the now $449 Gateway SX2800-01, an Editors' Choice-winning slimtower PC that debuted for $510 in our back-to-school roundup over the summer. True, the Gateway has no monitor or wireless networking. If you don't already own one, we've seen 20-inch LCDs available for as low as $125. Wireless USB 2.0 adapters go for as low as $10, and PCI cards for as low as $15. Throw in the Wi-Fi adapter and a display, and the total cost for the Gateway comes in at slightly more expensive than the Lenovo C300--and you won't sacrifice capability, and you'll gain at minimum four times the performance versus the C300.

We concede that the Gateway configuration we've described lacks the self-contained appeal of the Lenovo C300, or any Nettop. But if you're truly after a low-fuss, low-cost computer, a Netbook offers the exact same performance of a Nettop as well as portability. A Netbook can be a kitchen PC one minute, and a living room companion the next, with no wires to mess with and no counter space to clear out. If standard budget desktops create a price-performance hurdle for Nettops, Netbooks box them in on the side of convenience. The only trade-off is the larger screen. Perhaps connecting a Netbook to a dedicated LCD, or even an HDTV, is more than you want to deal with. We recognize that Nettops have some appeal for their cheap, self-contained convenience. We just wish you didn't have to make so many sacrifices in performance and features to get it.

Juice box
Lenovo C300 Average watts per hour
Off 0.87
Sleep 1.58
Idle 37.27
Load 60.48
Raw (annual kWh) 145.64376
Energy Star compliant Yes
Annual energy cost $16.53

Annual energy consumption cost
Averatec D1133 All-in-One
$11.52 
Lenovo C300
$16.53 

Worse for Lenovo among its Nettop competition is that its power efficiency isn't quite where it should be. Perhaps its larger display is a factor, but we found the Averatec, which had better benchmark performance than the Lenovo C300, more energy efficient--to the tune of a few bucks on your annual power bill. The cost implications are minimal, but we never like to see slow systems cost more to operate than faster competition.

At least Nettops don't skimp on service and support. Lenovo provides one year of parts and labor coverage for the C300, accompanied by a 24-7 toll-free tech support number. You can add at-home service and extended warranty coverage when you purchase your system online. You can also find basic drivers and documentation on Lenovo's support site, which is a bit too fragmented for our taste.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Asus Eee Top ET1602
Windows XP Home SP3; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270; 1GB DDR2 SDRAM; 32MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics chip; 80GB, 5,400rpm Seagate hard drive

Averatec D1133 All-In-One
Windows Vista Home Premium SP2 (32-bit); 1.5GHz AMD Athlon X2 3250e; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB ATI Radeon HD 3200; 250GB 5,400 rpm Samsung hard drive

eMachines EZ1601-01
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270; 1GB 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics chip; 160GB 5,400rpm Western Digital hard drive

Gateway SX2800-01
Windows Vista Home Premium SP2 (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 32MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 integrated graphics chip; 640GB 7,200rpm hard drive

Lenovo C300
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (32-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Atom 330; 4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4350; 640GB 5,400rpm Western Digital hard drive

OVR
5.4

Lenovo C300-3012 (Atom 230 1.6GHz

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 5Performance 4Support 7