Lenovo IdeaCentre A300 40181OU review: Lenovo IdeaCentre A300 40181OU

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The Good Unique design; same footprint as standard all-in-ones; lots of connectivity options, including HDMI input; competent Web video device; adequate audio volume and quality.

The Bad Laptop components make system run slow; no optical drive; small hard drive; all-in-ones with larger displays available in the same price range.

The Bottom Line Design fans in particular will appreciate Lenovo's unique all-in-one that serves best as a dedicated, Web-based home entertainment PC for a small room. The distinct look requires some trade-offs, particularly in performance and the lack of an optical drive, but if you're willing to sacrifice function for a bit of form, you'll find the IdeaCentre A300 charming and generally capable.

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6.6 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 6
  • Performance 5
  • Support 7

We applaud Lenovo for taking a risk on the distinctive-looking IdeaCentre A300 all-in-one desktop. This system and its unique design are available currently for $849, a discount from its original $1,099, making this a relatively competitive PC among other midrange all-in-ones. Like Apple and its MacBook Air laptop, Lenovo had to sacrifice the optical drive to achieve the IdeaCentre A300's look. You can also find faster, traditional-looking all-in-ones for a few more dollars, although the IdeaCentre A300 is not without a few tricks of its own. We recommend this system to those shopping for a midrange entertainment desktop who value their hardware's looks over its features-to-dollar ratio.

Connecting the display to the base with an adjustable arm has certainly been used a previous all-in-one designs, most notably by Apple with its "lamp"-style iMac G4 from 2002. Unlike that venerable system, the display on the IdeaCentre A300 has a relatively limited range of motion. You can't tilt or rotate the display beyond around 50 degrees from side to side, and about 10 to 20 degrees of tilt, which means the design's benefits are mostly cosmetic. We think it looks fine. Others may disagree.

To achieve the unique design, Lenovo has compressed the guts of the computer into the horizontally situated base unit. Despite a flat-lying base, the IdeaCentre A300 only takes up about 8 inches of front-to-back desktop real estate, roughly the same as that of an average all-in-one with a back-mounted support arm. Input ports ring the left and rear edge of the Lenovo's base, and the included wireless Bluetooth mouse and keyboard help minimize cable clutter and preserve this system's glossy white, shiny chrome aesthetic.

  Lenovo IdeaCentre A300 401810U HP TouchSmart 300-1120
Price $849 $899
Display size/resolution 21.5-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels 20-inch, 1,600x900 pixels
CPU 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6600 2.7GHz AMD Athlon X2 235e
Memory 4GB 1,066MHz DDR2 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 64MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 HD 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3200
Hard drives 500GB, 5,400rpm 750GB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive NA dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet; 802.11n wireless networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

HP's TouchSmart 300-1120 poses reasonable competition for the IdeaCentre A300. Although the Lenovo's screen does not offer touch input, both come in on the smaller end of the screen size range for this price. Acer's 23-inch Aspire Z5700 series represents the other end of the range, and you can find it for as low as $899.

Not everyone wants a large-screen all-in-one, though, especially if you're shopping for a countertop PC. In exchange for the smaller screen size, we expect more features or faster performance, and the Lenovo doesn't quite deliver on either front. Some of those limitations come from the Lenovo's design. The compact chassis doesn't have room for an optical drive, which means watching DVDs, disc burning, and disc-based installs are out unless you invest in an external drive of some kind. The IdeaCentre A300 has a small, slow, hard drive for its price as well, although we suspect that's also a function of its compact design that relies on smaller, slower laptop parts. That explains why this desktop has a mobile Core 2 Duo chip, for example, which in turn is partly responsible for its slow performance.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Lenovo IdeaCentre A300 40181OU

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Lenovo IdeaCentre A300 40181OU

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Lenovo IdeaCentre A300 40181OU

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Acer Aspire Z5700
Gateway One ZX6900-01e
Apple iMac Spring 2010
HP TouchSmart 300-1120
Lenovo IdeaCentre A300 40181OU

The Lenovo comes in dead last across our performance benchmarks, which should send a clear signal that you should stay away from this PC if you're shopping for a budget productivity all-in-one. We were happy with its ability to play HD video content from a variety of Web-based sources, so it's at least beefy enough for its intended purpose. We also had no complaints about general usability. You can play music, open a Web page, and then switch out to watch a video file with no trouble, all of which is to say it's not slow to where you'll be irritated performing day-to-day tasks. You just don't have to look too hard for a faster all-in-one PC in this price range.

In addition to its ability to play video from the Web on this PC, Lenovo also incorporates both an HDMI input and a separate HDMI output jack. HDMI input has become one of our favorite all-in-one features, as it lets you use the system as a self-contained entertainment hub by inputting the signal from a cable box, a game console, or a standalone Blu-ray player. Because of the horizontal base unit, you can even likely stack this system on top of an external video component to keep the footprint small (just don't block any component exhaust vents). As the only video output on this system, the HDMI-out port will let you attach a second monitor, or even connect to a TV if you're so inclined. We'd suggest that a traditional DVI output would be more useful.

Other connectivity options include four USB 2.0 jacks, a pair of analog audio headphone and microphone inputs, a mini FireWire 400 jack, and a multiformat media card slot. There's also a TV tuner jack, which we can always do without, especially given the HDMI input option. Overall, the relative wealth of connections prevents us from writing this PC off as a design gimmick. We're also happy with both the quality of the LED backlit display, as well as the audio output, which was loud and clear enough for at least a smaller room.

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