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Lenovo ThinkCentre A50p 8194 (Pentium 4 2.8 GHz review: Lenovo ThinkCentre A50p 8194 (Pentium 4 2.8 GHz

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MSRP: $1,319.00
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The Good Includes IT-management software; lengthy warranty; acceptable midrange graphics performance.

The Bad Comes with only one module of slow memory; poky application performance.

The Bottom Line IT managers and SOHO workers will find more to like about the dull but well-supported ThinkCentre A50p than home users.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

6.6 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Performance 6
  • Support 8

Review Sections

Review summary

IBM's ThinkCentre A series is the company's most consumer-friendly PC line, offering "great technology at affordable prices." The $1,857 ThinkCentre A50p review system that IBM sent us (model number 8194E6U), however, offers only a middling set of midrange features that competitors sell for a better price. Its drab appearance won't win over many home users, either. Thankfully, IBM's support comes to the rescue, offering a strong three-year warranty and excellent service options, including IBM's ThinkVantage support software. Though many home users will appreciate the support, it is targeted at ensuring that mission-critical data stays safe for the SOHO crowd. Still, home users will get good midrange graphics performance with the A50p and can feel secure in knowing they have the tools to keep their data safe and sound.

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.

Application performance
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)
BAPCo SysMark2002 rating  
SysMark2002 Internet-content-creation rating  
SysMark2002 office-productivity rating  
Dell Dimension 4600C (2.8GHz Intel P4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
285 
405 
200 
Falcon Northwest FragBox (2.66GHz Intel P4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)
266 
362 
195 
MPC ClientPro All-in-One (2.8GHz Intel P4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)
262 
376 
182 
HP d325 business desktop (2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+, 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)
250 
326 
192 
IBM ThinkCentre A50p (2.8GHz Intel P4, 256MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)
249 
365 
170 

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)
Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Second Edition Build 330 (16-bit color)  
Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Second Edition Build 330 (32-bit color)  
Dell Dimension 4600C (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
15,803 
15,697 
Falcon Northwest FragBox (Nvidia GeForce FX 5600 Ultra)
12,386 
12,174 
IBM ThinkCentre A50p (ATI Radeon 9600 Pro)
11,561 
11,272 
MPC ClientPro All-in-One (ATI Mobility Radeon 9000)
8,000 
7,461 
HP d325 business desktop (Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440 AGP 8X)
6,225 
4,978 

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)
Quake III Arena  
Dell Dimension 4600C (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
282.1 
Falcon Northwest FragBox (Nvidia GeForce FX 5600 Ultra)
246.0 
IBM ThinkCentre A50p (ATI Radeon 9600 Pro)
212.3 
MPC ClientPro All-in-One (ATI Mobility Radeon 9000)
138.6 
HP d325 business desktop (Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440 AGP 8X)
105.0 

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).

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