Lenovo ThinkCentre A50p 8194 (Pentium 4 2.8 GHz
The ThinkCentre A50p and its series-mates use the same design vocabulary we've seen from IBM machines for the past five years: a matte-black finish with a sloping front face, exacerbating a design that already looks like a bad 1970s architecture retread. Thankfully, the peripherals all match, but the keyboard features garish, colored shortcut keys and feels flimsy, to boot. Same goes for the mouse.
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In one of its few nods to consumers, the A50p provides front-mounted USB 2.0, FireWire (labeled as 1394), and audio ports.
There are some upsides to the case design, in spite of its aesthetics. The front panel thankfully features easy-access FireWire, USB 2.0, and audio ports. Plus, the side panel pops off with ease and requires no tools, although you can lock it into place with two screws. The front panel also comes off when you press the eject button on the back of the case; this gives you marginally better access when you wish to swap out drives. The rear panel delivers standard ports, as well as six additional USB 2.0 ports and dual FireWire connectors provided by a PCI expansion card.
Inside the case of our evaluation unit, a tangle of cables blocked the memory slots and made it difficult to extract the drives. The midtower case offers two 5.25-inch drive bays and two external 3.5-inch bays--one of each was free in our review system. You'll also have some room for expansion cards with three PCI slots, one of which was unoccupied on our review system.
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|One to grow on: our review unit had one free PCI slot, along with two free bays: a 5.25-inch and a 3.5-inch one.|
Our ThinkCentre A50p (model number 8194E6U) arrived with a solid if unspectacular mix of midrange components, starting with Intel's latest chipset, the 865G, and a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 processor. Unfortunately, the company included only 256MB of 333MHz RAM in a single DIMM, which is not only slower than the 400MHz variety that the chipset supports, it doesn't take advantage of the chipset's dual-channel memory support either. These memory issues most likely caused the review system's disappointing application performance.
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Just the basics: one drive for burning CDs and viewing DVDs, plus a floppy drive.
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We have no complaints with the ThinkVision L150 that IBM bundled with our review system.
Disappointingly, IBM doesn't offer a DVD-recordable drive with this system, either; you get only a DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive. Likewise, the Radeon 9600 Pro graphics card--ATI's midrange option--is the best card that IBM sells. It will play any of today's games, but bleeding-edge gamers seeking the best in pixel-pushing technology will need to look elsewhere. The two-piece speaker set sounded only fair, but we did like the bundled 15-inch ThinkVision L150 LCD. Supporting a maximum resolution of only 1,024x768, it nonetheless delivered true color and smooth DVD playback.
Where IBM does add some value to this system--though, we'd argue, not enough to justify its price--is with the preinstalled ThinkVantage support software, the centerpiece of which is IBM Rapid Restore Ultra. In a nutshell, this utility keeps an image of the user's hard drive stored locally to be reinstated in the event of catastrophic system failure. Additionally, IBM has developed the Access Support utility, which gives users a centralized help center, including online education, backup, configuration, and support options. IBM Update Connector is a foolproof tool that you can choose to have download the latest drivers and patches from an IBM database, and it requires almost no user knowledge.
Memory issues were most likely at the heart of the IBM ThinkCentre A50p's SysMark2002 score of 249, which is low for a 2.8GHz Pentium 4-based system. First, IBM bundled 333MHz memory when the Intel 865G chipset supports 400MHz memory. Worse, the single DIMM 256MB of memory prevents the system from taking advantage of another feature of the chipset: dual-channel memory. Had the memory been split into two 128MB DIMMs, we would have seen a bump in performance. While the ThinkCentre A50p will run any of today's apps, it's far from the peppiest system we've seen in the midrange class.
|Application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)|
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).
3D graphics and gaming performance
The IBM ThinkCentre A50p uses the relatively new Radeon 9600 Pro, ATI's midrange graphics card. With performance on a par with that of rival Nvidia's GeForce FX 5600 Ultra, the 9600 Pro is more than adequate for any of today's games and the games of the near future. Only the most serious of gamers will find its 3D graphics and gaming performance lacking.
|3D graphics performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)|
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Pro Second Edition, Build 330. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8.0 (DX8) interface at both 16- and 32-bit color settings at a resolution of 1,024x768. A system that does not have DX8 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has DX8 hardware support.
|3D gaming performance in fps (Longer bars indicate better performance)|
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Quake III Arena. Although Quake III is an older game, it is still widely used as an industry-standard tool. Quake III does not require DX8 hardware support--as 3DMark2001 does--and is therefore an excellent means of comparing the performance of low- to high-end graphics subsystems. Quake III performance is reported in frames per second (fps).
Performance analysis written by CNET Labs technician David Gussman.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.System configurations:
Dell Dimension 4600C
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; Intel 865PE; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; WDC WD800BB-75CAA0 80GB 7,200rpm
Falcon Northwest FragBox
Windows XP Home; 2.66GHz Intel P4; Intel 845G/GL chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5600 Ultra 128MB; IBM IC35L090AVV207 82GB 7,200rpm
HP d325 business desktop
Windows XP Professional; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; Nvidia Nforce-2; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440 AGP 8X 64MB; Maxtor 6Y0160L0 160GB 7,200rpm
IBM ThinkCentre A50p
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; Intel 865G chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9600 Pro 128MB; Maxtor 6Y120L0 120GB 7,200rpm
MPC ClientPro All-in-0ne
Windows XP Professional; 2.8GHz Intel P4; SIS 645DX chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 64MB; Seagate ST3120023A 120GB 7,200rpm
IBM offers a wide assortment of warranty and protective services for the ThinkCentre A50p, many of which are targeted at the IT industry. The base warranty, included with our unit, has an impressive three-year parts, one-year labor coverage, which you can upgrade to three years of onsite, next-business-day service for only $99. Warranty options extend all the way up to four years of 24/7 onsite service with a guarantee that a service rep will arrive at your location within four hours of your call (available only in selected areas).
Lifetime toll-free phone support is also included, and IBM's online tools are quite deep and very well organized. To top it all off, IBM preloads a complete PDF user manual on your ThinkCentre's hard drive. We'd advise printing this out so that you can access it should your computer ever fail to boot.