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Lenovo IdeaCentre B520 review: Lenovo IdeaCentre B520

Lenovo IdeaCentre B520

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Rich Brown
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Rich Brown Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness

Rich is the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, KY. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D-printing to Z-Wave smart locks.

Expertise Smart home, Windows PCs, cooking (sometimes), woodworking tools (getting there...)
8 min read

Lenovo's IdeaCentre B520 is one of the first all-in-one desktops we've seen with a built-in 3D display. While we're not crazy about the idea of 3D viewing in general, building the technology into an all-in-one makes a lot of sense. A lower-midrange graphics card prevents this system from excelling as a gaming system, but in broad multimedia terms, the IdeaCentre B520 is as complete as we expect for $1,279. We don't recommend this PC to everyone, but if you're interested in a self-contained, 3D-capable entertainment desktop, the Lenovo IdeaCentre B520 is a remarkable deal.

Lenovo IdeaCentre B520 7745 - Core i7 2600 3.4 GHz - 23" TFT
7.8

Lenovo IdeaCentre B520

The Good

The fully featured <b>Lenovo IdeaCentre B520</b> offers an impressive assortment of digital entertainment for its price, including 3D viewing capability.

The Bad

We wouldn't recommend this system for hard-core gamers due to its only adequate gaming performance.

The Bottom Line

Lenovo's IdeaCentre B520 is an amazingly well-equipped all-in-one for its price. You'll come for the 3D feature, but you should stay for the sheer value.

One of the more stylized all-in-ones on the market, the IdeaCentre B520 looks the part of a specialized computer with its angled edges. The 23-inch, 1,920x1,080-pixel-resolution touch screen is large enough that you can watch movies from a moderate distance, and Lenovo includes a remote control that helps you navigate as you would with a traditional home entertainment component.

For 3D output, Lenovo relies on Nvidia's 3D Vision technology, facilitated here by the Nvidia GeForce GT 555M graphics card and a set of Nvidia's active 3D glasses. The glasses charge via an included Micro-USB cable, although unlike with the standard desktop version of 3D Vision, you don't have to deal with a separate 3D emitter device, since it's built into the IdeaCentre's chassis. Although we're ambivalent about 3D viewing, this system demonstrates how all-in-one desktops make a more compelling case for desktop 3D by offering the clutter-minimizing opportunity to integrate the emitter.

Equipped with 3D Vision, the IdeaCentre B520 lets you play games and view photos and Blu-ray movies in 3D. Enabling 3D viewing isn't as easy as it should be. You need to either click the specific enable/disable icons buried in the Nvidia Start menu folder, or know to go into the graphics driver software. Neither will stump savvier users for long, but with all of the bundled application icons Lenovo crammed onto this system's desktop screen, it seems remiss that Lenovo didn't also come up with an icon for toggling the 3D.

We had both good and bad experiences with the IdeaCentre's 3D functionality. 3D quality in movies largely depends on the way it's implemented in production, but for movies in which the makers used 3D to good effect, the Lenovo's 3D output was crisp and engaging. For games that explicitly support Nvidia's implementation of 3D, such as Metro 2033, the experience can be enjoyable, but for others, like the AMD 3D-designed Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the 3D effects look disjointed. This is more a function of game development choices than a failure on the part of Lenovo, but the fact is that not every game will look great in 3D on the IdeaCentre B520. As you'll see in our performance discussion, the quality of the 3D experience is only one concern we have about this system's gaming capabilities.

Lenovo IdeaCentre B520 Sony Vaio L-Series 3D Signature Edition
Price $1,279 $2,499
Display size/resolution 23-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels 24-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels
CPU 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600 3.3GHz Intel Core i7-2720QM
Memory 8GB 1,333MHZ DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 555M 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 540M
Hard drives 2TB, 7,200rpm 3TB, 5,400 rpm
Optical drive Blu-ray/DVD burner combo drive Blu-ray/DVD burner combo drive
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless
Operating system Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

Even if you're not sold on the 3D concept, it's hard to argue against the IdeaCentre B520's value. Sony is one of the few other vendors with a competing 3D-equipped all-in-one, but the $2,499 L-Series Signature Edition costs nearly twice as much as Lenovo's offering, and the two are essentially identical in terms of their features. Sony can boast a larger hard drive and a slightly larger display, but Lenovo offers a faster CPU and a faster graphics card, both of which help make it a more complete computer. You can buy a more affordable Vaio 3D L-Series all-in-one from Sony, but you cannot match the components in the IdeaCentre B520 without spending more than $2,400.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing 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)

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

Cinebench 11.5
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  

We also like that the IdeaCentre B520 is a stellar performer among higher-end all-in-ones. It's a better Photoshop system than the Sony or either of Apple's most recent iMacs. It also has the best raw multicore performance. An iMac will make a better audio encoding system, at least in iTunes, but not by that much. And while you might have other reasons for favoring an OS X or a Windows 7 system, among Windows PCs, the Lenovo is the clear performance leader compared with the Sony that costs nearly twice as much.

Far Cry 2 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,080 (3D mode)  
1,920x1,080 (2D Mode)  
1,440x900 (3D Mode)  
1,440x900 (2D Mode)  
Lenovo IdeaCentre B520
12 
28 
17 
38 
Sony Vaio L-Series 3D Edition
11 
25 
15 
34 

3DMark 11 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Extreme  
Performance  
Entry-level  
Lenovo IdeaCentre B520
2 
3 
4 

We took a different approach with game testing on these systems than we usually do so that we could account for the 3D capability. We focused solely on old, forgiving Far Cry 2, since we knew it would give these systems a reasonable challenge without bogging them down to the point of irrelevance. First, the Lenovo is faster than the Sony system on every test run. But also note that with 3D turned on, you lose about half your frame rate. The results aren't limited to one resolution, either, so you can't blame memory bottlenecking or any issue other than raw graphics processing capability. The Far Cry 2 scores combined with the more challenging 3DMark 11 test suggest that the Lenovo is only an adequate gaming desktop at best, and that's without 3D enabled. Turn 3D on, and overall performance suffers dramatically.

This is not to say that the Lenovo can't handle more modern games. With 3D off, it was able to play Deus Ex: Human Revolution smoothly, although we ran into some chugging at maximum image quality. In all, the IdeaCentre B520 is a respectable gaming desktop. You can expect it will play some games in 3D and with decent image quality well, but we can't guarantee a smooth 3D gameplay experience with every title. Even without 3D enabled, you may also have to be conservative with the image quality settings on more challenging games.

Aside from gaming, Lenovo views this system as a general-purpose media delivery device. Its touch screen works well enough, but more importantly it features inputs for both HDMI and component audio and video, giving you the ability to pump in video from a wide array of external sources. You can also swap between video input sources via a convenient touch capacitive button on the front of the IdeaCentre.

The touch capacitive buttons are one of this system's more convenient features. The LED behind the button icons fades when you're not using them, so they don't mar the design of the IdeaCentre, but by putting them all on the front of the case, smartly grouped together, Lenovo made them more intuitive to use. Aside from the signal swap button, you get controls for audio volume, screen power, and screen brightness, as well as a marginally useful video mode toggle and a button that turns on a down-facing keyboard light. The touch response isn't as snappy as we want it to be, but on balance the front-panel control scheme succeeds in putting basic media control buttons at your fingertips.

We have a less favorable opinion of the included Bluetooth mouse and keyboard. The two input peripherals work well enough for their respective functions, but waking up each device after a period of inactivity can take 3 seconds or more. That's an irritating gap in responsiveness, especially compared with Apple's Bluetooth peripherals and their ability to wake up instantly.

The rest of the IdeaCentre B520's external features are mostly unremarkable. You do get an HDMI output, to let you attach a second monitor to the system. Other than that, you'll find an assortment of USB 2.0 jacks, analog audio outputs, a TV tuner, an SD card slot, and a PS/2 input. We would have been happy to see a USB 3.0 slot or two, but otherwise we have no complaints.

Juice box
Lenovo IdeaCentre B520 Average watts per hour
Off (60 percent) 0.18
Sleep (10 percent) 0.89
Idle (25 percent) 38.03
Load (5 percent) 123.71
Raw kWh 172.04
Energy Star-compliant Yes
Annual energy cost $19.53

The Lenovo's power consumption fits exactly where we expect given its performance and its configuration. All of the systems in our power-draw comparison use Intel's second-generation Core CPUs, and the overall efficiency of those chips has at this point been well-documented.

Lenovo's service and support policies hold to the near-universal industry standard of one year of parts and labor accompanied by a 24-7 toll-free tech support number. You can add at-home service and extended warranty coverage if you purchase your system online from Lenovo directly. You will find basic drivers and documentation on Lenovo's support site, but we wish the site gave you more direct access to the product-specific information.

Conclusion
The Lenovo IdeaCentre B520 is a versatile, amazingly full-featured entertainment desktop with strong value among all-in-ones in general, and within its 3D-capable niche. Don't expect the world from this system as a gaming PC, but it should prove capable enough for its price, although we recommend you temper your expectations of its 3D viewing capabilities.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Lenovo IdeaCentre B520
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 555 graphics card; 2TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Apple iMac 21.5-inch (2.5GHz, Summer 2011)
Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.7; 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2400; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 512MB AMD Radeon HD 6750 graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive

Apple iMac 27-inch (3.1GHz, Summer 2011)
Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.7; 3.1GHz Intel Core i5-2500; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 6970M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Sony Vaio L-Series 3D Signature Edition
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 3.3GHz Intel Core i7-2720QM; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 540 graphics card; 3TB 5,400rpm hard drive

Lenovo IdeaCentre B520 7745 - Core i7 2600 3.4 GHz - 23" TFT
7.8

Lenovo IdeaCentre B520

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 7Support 7
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