Lenovo IdeaPad S12-2959 (Ion review: Lenovo IdeaPad S12-2959 (Ion

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The Good Excellent keyboard; bright, crisp screen; improved graphics performance for a Netbook.

The Bad Same old Atom N270 processor; high price.

The Bottom Line Although the IdeaPad S12, with its Nvidia Ion graphics processor, provides some 3D muscle, it costs more than comparable Netbooks.

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6.5 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Performance 7
  • Battery 6
  • Support 7

Long, long ago in the year 2009, we first heard news about the forthcoming Nvidia Ion GPU for Netbooks and got excited. At long last, Netbooks would be more capable of graphics processing and handling HD video. One of the first frontrunners claiming an Ion Netbook was Lenovo, and the IdeaPad S12 seemed like the perfect mininotebook to contain it--especially since early reports claimed the S12 with Ion would cost "under $499."

Instead of getting a chance to review the Ion version of the S12, we received an IdeaPad S12 with a straight-up Atom N270 processor, GMA 950 graphics, and normal Windows XP Netbook specs back in July and reviewed it with mixed results. At a cost then of $499, it was more expensive than most Netbooks, but it did provide an excellent keyboard, a bright screen, and a solid feel that almost made up for the baseline Netbook-level performance.

At long last we have received the Nvidia Ion-packing version, far, far later than the original target date. It does have 256MB of discrete graphics, an expanded 3GB of RAM, and a large 320GB hard drive, plus 32-bit Windows 7 Home Premium, and Bluetooth. On the other hand, it also costs $650. That's a bit of a problem.

Back in September, this might have been compelling. On the tail end of the Windows 7 launch and right before a CES full of upgraded Intel Atom processors and cheaper, faster thin-and-light notebooks, the S12 now finds itself in a crowded landscape. Ultralow-voltage processor thin-and-lights such as the 13-inch Toshiba T135-S1309 offer better performance minus the graphics at similar or even more affordable price points, and the aging N270 processor in this S12 configuration is practically on the verge of extinction. That's not to say the IdeaPad S12 doesn't have its advantages. It still has a great keyboard, good sound, solid design, and a very bright screen. While this configuration is technically only $150 more than our previously reviewed version, you can get lots for your money in that price range nowadays that performs better. Most notably, the HP Mini 311 Netbook, also with an Nvidia Ion processor, only costs $399. There's no reason the S12 should cost this much.

Price as reviewed / Starting price $599 / $650
Processor 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270
Memory 3GB, 667MHz DDR2
Hard drive 320GB 5,400rpm
Graphics Nvidia Ion
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium (32-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 11.5 x 9.2 inches (battery extends chassis)
Height 0.9 inch
Screen size (diagonal) 12.1 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 3.4/4.0 pounds
Category Netbook

The IdeaPad S12 comes in two processor versions: one with a Via Nano ULV and one with an Intel Atom N270. To get the Nvidia Ion processor, you must choose the Atom N270 (the Via Nano is the low-end config only, at $399.) While the non-Ion S12 we previously reviewed now sells for $429, the cheapest Ion config is $599. Our review unit was the highest-end model.

From a design standpoint, the S12 looks like a larger brother of its smaller 2009 sibling, the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2. Compact and well-proportioned, the outer matte black plastic case (white is also available) is topped with a glossy plastic lid patterned in a subtle series of varying polka-dots. It's a smudge-collector, but attractive. Inside, smooth matte black plastic surrounds the keyboard, and the 12-inch glossy screen is surrounded in glossy plastic. It looks professional and stylishly austere, not unlike a ThinkPad. The full keyboard feels great, and the touch pad is an improvement on the S10-2 in terms of size. It feels like a "real" laptop. It might be the most comfortable and solid keyboard we've experienced on a Netbook.

Above the keyboard are a few dedicated buttons for volume control and muting, along with a QuickStart button that launches a Splashtop instant-on OS. The browser, music player, and photo viewer in this OS are serviceable and load faster than booting up Windows 7, but the fastest way to "boot" is still keeping the S12 in standby and reawakening as needed. Facial recognition security software that operates off the Webcam and a OneKey backup/data recovery hot button are also included.

The 12.1-inch glossy LCD has a 1,280x800-pixel native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size. The effect of having a larger screen, especially in the vertical dimension, is critical for ease-of-use when browsing the Web and working on office documents. The added screen real estate really made a difference on our productivity, as opposed to the 10.2-inch IdeaPad S10-2. Though the additional screen and keyboard size obviously add to the unit's bulk, it's a trade-off that really makes the Netbook far more usable. It's up to you whether portability or productivity matters more, but it's a distinction that's a key defining point between the two models' philosophies.

  Lenovo IdeaPad S12 (Ion) Average for category [Netbook]
Video VGA-out VGA
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion None None
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None None

Three USB ports are better than average for a Netbook, but the S12 is closer in size to a thin-and-light, so one's expectations might be closer to that territory for ports. Bluetooth is an appreciated add-on, but the S12 still doesn't have 802.11n Wi-Fi.

The included 1.6GHz Atom N270 processor is very familiar to us at CNET; it's the chip that's been in nearly every Netbook this year. Not surprisingly, this meant Netbook-level performance in our benchmark tests. Adding an Ion processor did help significantly with multimedia multitasking, and also sped up Photoshop and iTunes performance somewhat. However, in some tasks, the IdeaPad S12 was nearly twice as slow as the single-core Pentium SU2700 processor in the Toshiba Satellite T115-S1105, which cost only $479 in our tested configuration. Is nearly $200 more worth it for an Ion processor, slightly better RAM and hard drive, and a nicer chassis, despite operating at an overall slower speed? That's up to you.

The chief advantage of the Nvidia Ion is its enhancement of HD graphics and gaming, and unlike with the T115-S1105, we were indeed able to play games on this laptop. The Nvidia Ion is similar in design to the 9400M processor in Apple's MacBooks, which should equate to good graphics performance--on the other hand, however, the S12 has an Atom processor, not a Core 2 Duo.

We'd advise some curbing of enthusiasm: Unreal Tournament 3 in 1,200x800 pixels with normal graphics settings ran at 16.5fps, which is barely functional. Lowering the settings to 800x600 pixels netted us a much better 21.2fps, but it wasn't better than the HP Mini 311, which also has an Nvidia Ion--this was surprising, especially since this S12 has triple the RAM. HD playback was definitely improved, but most notably for HD video files. Streaming video, including full-screen 480p Hulu playback, had some stutter, even with Flash 10.1 beta installed, although next year's official release of Flash 10.1 should greatly improve streaming performance with Ion. Sadly, the Atom processor is the real bottleneck here. We'd love to see Ion processors paired with improved Atoms or ULV processors--as it currently stands, the IdeaPad S12 offers too little for its high price.

Juice box
Lenovo IdeaPad S12 Avg watts/hour
Off (60%) 0.4673
Sleep (10%) 0.7193
Idle (25%) 8.3327
Load (05%) 22.818
Raw kWh Number 31.33
Annual Energy Cost $3.56

Annual power conumption cost
Sony Vaio W
HP Mini 311
Lenovo IdeaPad S12 (Ion)