At $999, with a midrange Intel Core i5 chip, a discrete graphics card, and a stylized case, the Lenovo IdeaCentre K330 clearly has Gateway's FX line in mind as its competition. A unique, semi-useful CPU speed control mechanism helps the Lenovo stand out, and its Blu-ray drive gives an entertainment advantage over the Gateway. We wouldn't recommend the Lenovo to use for upgrading, or if you want the best application performance at this price, but it would make an affordable, well-rounded desktop for media consumption.
Compare the black-and-dark-gray IdeaCentre K330 and its orange accents with the orange and black Gateway FX series and the source of Lenovo's inspiration for this PC will become immediately clear. Neither desktop can claim to offer universal aesthetic appeal, although Lenovo's design is perhaps more traditional, since it lacks the Gateway's carapace-like plastic plates. The Lenovo does have a gaudy flame design behind a CPU speed control switch that lights up on the front case, but a button lets you turn the light off, hiding the flame entirely.
The switch is unique to the IdeaCentre K330, and while its premise is interesting, we're not sure it's that useful. The switch features three CPU speed settings: turbo, auto, and cool mode. Sure enough, when you set it to cool mode, the quad core Core i5 2500 chip holds steady at about 1.5GHz. Dial it up to turbo, and the CPU clock speed locks in at 3.3GHz.
We're ambivalent about the speed control dial. Intel's Core i5 chips regulate their speed automatically thanks to their built in Turbo Boost technology, which adjusts CPU frequency and the number of active cores depending on application demands. Turbo Boost handles this task well enough that makes the Lenovo's speed dial rather useless. Aside from adding some cost to the IdeaCentre K330, we can't say the speed dial does any real harm.
|Lenovo IdeaCentre K330||Gateway FX6850-51u|
|Motherboard chipset||Intel P67||Intel P67|
|CPU||3.3GHz Intel Core i5 2500||3.4GHz Intel Core i7 2600|
|Memory||8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GT 440||1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GT 440|
|Hard drives||1TB, 7,200 rpm||1TB, 7,200 rpm|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray/DVD burner combo drive||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
Up against the Gateway FX6850-51u, the Lenovo IdeaCentre K330 feels very similar. The Gateway's Core i7 2600 chip is faster than the Lenovo's Core i5 CPU, in part because of Intel's HyperThreading in the Core i7 that emulates eight-core performance. The Lenovo can claim an advantage in its Blu-ray drive, where the Gateway offers only a standard DVD burner. Then again, the Gateway also offers wireless networking, which the IdeaCentre K330 doesn't have. On balance, the two are quite similar, and the Lenovo's price tag is exactly where it should be given its configuration.
|Rendering Multiple CPUs||Rendering Single CPU|
The IdeaCentre K330 is a bit slower than the Gateway across most of our application tests. On some tests the differences are minimal, which is likely due to the application only one or two CPU cores. In those cases, performance variation comes down to raw clock speed, and the Gateway and Lenovo systems are very close there; 3.3GHz for the Lenovo and 3.4GHz for the Gateway. On other tests, particularly Photoshop CS5 and Cinebench 11.5, the Lenovo trails the Gateway more dramatically. Those tests demonstrate that Intel's HyperThreading provides a real performance benefit. If you need a PC with the best performance at this price, the Gateway is the better bet at $999.
|1,600 x 1,200 (high, 4x aa)||1,280 x 1,024 (medium, 4x aa)|
|1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)||1,440 x 900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)|
|1,920x1,080 (DirectX 11, very high)|
|Extreme (1,920x1,080)||Performance (1,920x1,080, 16x AF)||Entry level (1,680x1,050)|
Although the Lenovo and its Core i5 chip lagged behind the Core i7-powered Gateway on a few application tests, the two offer an essentially identical gaming performance. That makes sense given that they have the same, budget-priced Nvidia GeForce GT 440 graphics card. The Lenovo's best results came on our Far Cry 2 test, which has become our most forgiving 3D benchmark. The other scores are less encouraging, particularly for newer games. You will find the Lenovo plays mainstream titles at lower detail settings and resolutions, but at higher image quality, or with a particularly demanding game like the Witcher 2, neither the Lenovo nor the Gateway will provide an acceptable gaming experience. If you want a more capable budget gaming system, the Velocity Micro Edge Z40 costs just $1,199 and offers considerably better performance.
We partly forgave the Gateway its slow gaming performance because a beefy 450-watt power supply offered strong upgrade potential. The Lenovo and its 280-watt PSU make us less optimistic about its ability to handle a more powerful 3D card. You could find a mainstream card, particularly from AMD's power-efficient Radeon HD 6000-series that would boost the IdeaCentre K330's gaming performance, but the upgrade path is limited due to the PSU's maximum capacity, as well as its lack of graphics card power inputs.
Other upgrade options are unremarkable. You get a 1x and 4x PCI Express card slots, two free memory stick slots, and a spare hard-drive bay. That gives you some upgrade flexibility, but no more than average for this price range.
The Lenovo's external ports are similarly limited and follow an annoying industry-wide trend of connectivity stinginess. The IdeaCentre K330 offers only USB 2.0, eSATA, Ethernet, and 7.1 analog audio ports on the back panel. FireWire, USB 3.0, and digital audio outputs are all absent. The 7.1 audio jacks are an improvement over the Gateway, which limits you to 5.1 analog output, but we'd like to at least see USB 3.0 support, given that it's built-in to the Intel P67 chipset that comes with this system. At least the graphics card gives you a decent selection of video ports, including HDMI, VGA, and DVI outputs.
|Lenovo IdeaCentre K330||Average watts per hour|
|Off (60 percent)||0.26|
|Sleep (10 percent)||1.87|
|Idle (25 percent)||44.18|
|Load (5 percent)||108.45|
|Annual energy cost||$24.20|
Coming in just above the faster Gateway, the Lenovo draws more power than we'd like to see, but not by enough to merit serious concern. You could always force the Lenovo into constant cool mode, even while running apps that might benefit from the extra speed, if you find you can't stomach the extra $2 or so a month to your power bill. If you can put up with that kind of performance drop-off, we might ask why don't just buy a nettop instead.
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.
We wouldn't recommend the Lenovo IdeaCentre K330 to serious gamers, even those on a budget. We also wish it had more upgrade capability, and more connectivity options. That said, its combination of basic 3D gaming power, capable application performance and a Blu-ray drive may appeal to those looking for home entertainment PC, particularly given its $999 price tag.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Acer Aspire Predator
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 2.93GHz Intel Core i7 870; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5850 graphics card; 1.5TB, 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive
Dell XPS 8300
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 2600; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB AMD Radeon HD 5870; 1.5TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive
Gateway FX6850-51u Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 2600; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GT440 graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Lenovo IdeaCentre K330 Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.3GHz Intel Core i5 2500; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GT440 graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Velocity Micro Z40
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.0GHz Intel Core i5 2500K (overclocked); 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti graphics card (overclocked); 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive