Lenovo IdeaCentre B750 review: An extra-wide-screen all-in-one

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The Good With one of the only 21:9 screens we've seen on a PC, the Lenovo IdeaCentre B750 offers a ton of desktop space to fill with browser windows and productivity apps. With the right software, Blu-ray and HD movies can play without letterbox bars, and games feel much more immersive.

The Bad The midlevel graphics card, left over from last year, can't push the higher screen resolution and high-end game settings at the same time; bundled media player software oddly doesn't help with 21:9 playback, and the lack of a touch screen feels dated.

The Bottom Line A refreshing new way to look at all-in-one desktops, the Lenovo B750's Blu-ray-friendly, extra-wide display is great for movies (if you add some extra software), and games greatly benefit from a wider field of view. It's different, and fun to use, but it cries out for a touch screen.

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8.4 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8

Lenovo's B750 all-in-one desktop PC isn't the first system we've seen with a wider-than-normal screen, but it's still a relatively rare animal. And, with a discrete GPU, high-end CPU, and excellent IPS display, it's also a fun alternative to run-of-the-mill all-in-ones, and hopefully something we'll see more of in the future.

The B750 swaps the usual 1,920x1,080 screen, a 16:9 aspect ratio (the same as HDTV screens), for a 2,560x1,080 screen, which works out to 21:9, or the same as many theatrical release films. Technically, the aspect ratio is 64:27, but that's commonly rounded to 21:9. This wider style of display may never become a mainstream trend, but it's a nice change of pace and serves three major goals.

Sarah Tew/CNET

First, you can display HD video content, such as Blu-ray movies, without the traditional letterbox black bars you'd see on 16:9 displays. Note, however, that you'll need special media playback software for this -- I had to download some new trialware as I couldn't get the bundled media software to work with the 21:9 aspect ratio.

Second, PC games gain a new level of immersion by adding a wider field of view, essentially giving you extra peripheral vision in games that support that 2,560x1,080 resolution. Many of the games we tried, from Call of Duty to BioShock Infinite to Skyrim, worked well, although some will need config file tweaks to force the higher resolution.

Third, the wide desktop allows you to put full apps and browser windows side by side, much as one might do on a multiple monitor setup. For example, putting a Web browser and Word doc next to one another, or a large video playback window and another app.

At $1,449 for our configuration, which included a current-gen Intel Core i7 CPU, a big 2TB HDD, 8GB of RAM, and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 760 graphics card, the B750 feels fairly priced, considering its unique features. My most notable complaints are two-fold: the older video card (Nvidia is up to the 800-series now) suffers from serious frame-rate drops when trying to push the higher native resolution; and the otherwise excellent display isn't a touch screen, making Windows 8 hard to use, and making the entire system feel dated.

Specs compared

Lenovo IdeaCentre B750 Dell XPS 27 Apple iMac (27-inch, September 2013)
Price $1,449 $2,099 $2,199
Display size/resolution 29-inch, 2,560 x 1,080 screen 27-inch, 2,560 x 1,440 touch screen 27-inch, 2560 x 1,440 screen
PC CPU 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-4770 3.1GHz Intel Core i7-4770S 3.4GHz Intel Core i5 4670
PC Memory 8GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM 8192MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz
Graphics 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 760A 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT750M 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 775M
Storage 2TB, 7,200 rpm hard drive 2TB, 7,200 rpm hard drive 128GB SSD 1TB hybrid hard drive
Optical drive Blu-ray/DVD/DVD RW combo Blu-ray/DVD/DVD RW combo None
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11a/c wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Windows 8.1 (64-bit) Windows 8 (64-bit) OSX Mountain Lion 10.8.5

Design and features

The Lenovo B750 cuts a different desktop footprint than other all-in-one PCs, just because it takes up so much room. The screen itself measures 29 inches diagonally, but it's an entirely different aspect ratio, so that translates to a shape that's wider and shorter than a regular 16:9 monitor of the same size would be. You won't mistake this for a high-design all-in-one like the Apple iMac or even Dell's excellent XPS 27, and at 32.5 pounds it's heavy enough that you'll want to move it only when absolutely necessary.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The wide body requires a wide stand, and the v-shaped base extends nearly the entire width of the system. The stand is hinged in the back, but it can pivot the display only slightly up and down. The body is largely plastic, with a sleek edge-to-edge glass screen overlay that would make you think the display was touch-enabled, even though it's not. However, a row of simple capacitive touch controls sit under the screen on the black lower bezel and can control brightness, volume, and a few other functions.

Bundled with the system are a basic Lenovo wireless keyboard and mouse. The keyboard is slim and angles up at the rear. It includes a full number pad, but I like my space bars a little wider, and the backspace button is too small. The plastic mouse is as basic as it gets; if you want to use the B750 for gaming, I'd suggest a more specialized model with more buttons and a sleeker shape.

Sarah Tew/CNET

But the real star here is the display. The giant IPS screen has a native resolution of 2,560x1,080, which is the same vertical resolution as a standard 1080p screen but a horizontal resolution 1.3 times as wide as 1,920. Why would you want that? Productivity is one reason -- you can create two side-by-side windows, each housing a 1,280x1,080 Web browser window or office document. It's not as much real estate as you'd get from combining two 1080p monitors, but not having the physical break between screens as with a dual-monitor setup gives you a seamless view that may be easier to work with.

I also liked the idea of playing HD content, such as Blu-ray movies, without the usual wide-screen letterbox bars on the top and bottom of the screen. However, even though that's an obvious usage model for this system, I found it somewhat hard to pull off.

The bundled DVD/Blu-ray software, PowerDVD, didn't seem to have an aspect ratio option that would present the Blu-ray content in a 21:9 format, so I eventually gave up and downloaded ArcSoft TotalMedia, which did allow for this. Note, also, that while watching a Blu-ray on a 21:9 screen is fun and immersive, you are losing some resolution, as the full image, including the black letterbox bars, is 1,920x1,080. In this case, you're essentially zooming in on that image, cutting off the top and bottom, to fill the screen. Still, I'd call it a worthwhile trade-off and a reminder of how ridiculous it is that HD movie content has one aspect ratio (actually several, but one modern primary aspect ratio), while HDTV content has an entirely different aspect ratio.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The final reason you may want a 21:9 display is for PC gaming. Fortunately, this system has a discrete graphics card, giving it the muscle to play most current games. That card is the Nvidia GeForce GTX 760, a decent card but one from last year's Nvidia line, since replaced by the 800 series. It's not top-of-the-line but fine for mainstream PC gamers. However, pushing games to the wider 2,560x1,080 resolution, when a game even supported it, caused a notable drop in performance. We had to compensate by lowering the detail level in some games.

The end effect is still very impressive, giving you an expanded sense of peripheral vision in games, which is even more immersive in some ways than playing in stereoscopic 3D, which can have a tunnel-vision effect. Skyrim, the expansive fantasy RPG, worked well, although I had to force the correct resolution in a config file. Metro: Last Light and BioShock Infinite both also benefited from the added field of vision, although their detail levels needed to be knocked back for smooth gameplay.

Seeing this wider screen up close while gaming, I quickly got used to it, making it a letdown to go back to a normal 16:9 display. To take it one step further, I can see how having a curved 21:9 display would be even more immersive, although I'm not aware of any curved 21:9 PC monitors for sale right now.

Audio from the 2.1 speakers was good for internal sound, helped by a rear-firing subwoofer on the back of the chassis, but you'll still want to hook up external speakers if you're DJing a party from your desktop.