Lenovo IdeaCentre Q180 Review

Lenovo's Q180 is billed as the world's smallest desktop PC, yet this very compact unit is designed to handle HD video and play Blu-ray discs. Just 15cm by 19cm, and 4cm thick, theoretically the Q180 should make an ideal near-invisible entertainment hub for the living room. But how practical is it, and how does this "honey I shrunk the PC" creation actually perform?

Stand up straight

Certainly when it comes to setup options, there are a few. This IdeaCentre machine has both HDMI and VGA ports, so can be hooked up to either a TV or monitor. It can lie down flat on smaller rubber feet to slide into your TV cabinet or stood upright by wedging it into a provided stand. There are air vents on the top and bottom of the unit, but the stand is designed not to obscure them, as you would expect.

There's one further option when it comes to location, and that's using a provided metal bracket to attach the PC to the back of your monitor or television. A smart and tidy solution, for sure, although obviously you'll need a display with mounting holes on the rear to accommodate. Not that you particularly need to hide the IdeaCentre away, as its slimline silver and black appearance is unlikely to offend.

The machine is a solid unit even though it comprises two parts; the PC itself and the Blu-ray drive that clips seamlessly on (using magnets), and fits snugly and securely right next to it. The two are hooked up via a USB connector, which takes up one of the four USB ports on the back of the Q180. In terms of other ports, there's also an Ethernet port on the rear of the device, along with an optical audio out to hook up to your home cinema system.

On the front of the PC, there's a flap that opens to reveal two further USB ports, this time of the faster 3.0 variety, along with a multi-card reader and jacks for a microphone and a set of headphones. Given the Q180's small stature, it's a good array of connections that Lenovo has managed to fit on board.

Atom powered

The Q180 is powered by a dual-core Intel Atom D2700 running at 2.13GHz, with 4GB of system memory, and there's a discrete graphics solution in here too: an ATI Radeon HD 6450A with 512MB of VRAM. A good sized 750GB hard disk offers a commendable amount of storage space, and comes with Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit installed. The hard drive runs at 5400rpm, but the OS boots reasonably quickly, and performance under Windows is solid enough.

The most irritating element, when it comes to general usage, is the Q180's wireless multimedia remote. This comes with a mini keyboard, though it's a full QWERTY affair - and we mean full with arrow keys, home, end, and even multimedia hotkeys. While this is fine to type on, the problem with the remote is the mouse below it.

This is a small circular optical trackpoint, which you brush your thumb over to move the cursor. The problem is that the movement is rather imprecise, which can make navigating around the desktop a bit of a chore. The trackpoint doubles as a left-click button, too, and that's a convenient touch. But overall, we found it a bit irksome, in marked contrast to the keyboard.

Enough talk of peripherals, what you really want to know is how the Q180 fares after you've pressed play on a Blu-ray disc. Once you've loaded up your Blu-ray - via the drive's open slot mechanism, which smoothly takes it from your hand - the results are pleasing indeed.

Picture quality proved very sharp, and with vibrant colours too, we've no complaints on that front. The Blu-ray drive performed fine with standard DVDs as well, although it didn't seem to make any noticeable difference, upscaling-wise, compared to the picture from our standard DVD player.

On the sonic front, the machine offers 7.1 surround, and we hooked up the SPDIF optical audio output to our grand's worth of home cinema kit (Arcam receiver, Mission speakers). In movies, the resulting sound was well balanced, with a good depth and bass. When playing music DVDs, though, we noticed weaknesses on some tracks, with the instruments being "muddied" together, losing the crispness, and ability to pick out individual sounds. On an overall level, however, we'd say the Lenovo machine copes well enough here, and certainly packs a punch with the majority of source material.

Streaming hiccups

While we didn't encounter any hitches playing a number of different format video files on the machine, there was a chink in the Q180's armour when it came to streaming media. While streamed standard definition material was fine, full 1080p video saw the hardware rather labour with the effort. Streaming playback was quite choppy and while still watchable - just about - the slight stuttering was noticeable and rather off-putting.

If you're worried about noise and heat - no one wants a noisy living room PC, or one that will melt through the TV cabinet shelf - then you needn't be with the Q180. Whether streaming full HD or playing a Blu-ray disc for considerable lengths of time, the machine only got slightly warm (a little more so on the top than the sides).

The fan and cooling vents do a good job, and what's more, without much noise either. If you mute the volume, you can hear a low fan noise when playing a disc, but it's barely noticeable from the other side of the room. And obviously when you've got any music or sound playing, you're not going to hear a thing from the Q180.

We also assessed this compact PC's gaming capabilities using a fairly easy going title: Dirt 3. Sadly, even with the graphics details turned to ultra-low, in full HD resolution the Codemasters' driving game averaged a very choppy 17 frames per second. This isn't a machine you'll realistically be able to use for gaming outside of very casual games with undemanding requirements.

Finally, the system benefits from a pretty clean installation, with only a couple of bundled pieces of software, and they're useful ones: Cyberlink PowerDVD 10 for movie playing duties and the Lenovo Rescue System, a handy recovery platform should disaster strike.

Verdict

The Q180 does have weak points - the most disappointing aspect was seeing it struggle when streaming full HD playback. On the audio side, it rather muddied some of our music DVDs, and while the remote is a great idea, the integrated mouse is fiddly to use. Despite all this, the PC delivers a crisp picture with Blu-rays, runs both quietly and coolly, and is incredibly compact yet offers good connectivity. Given the price tag, this is a solid buy that won't disappoint, and will do a very good job of blending into your living room.

Pros: Compact size; impressive Blu-ray playback.

Cons: Stuttered when streaming 1080p video; remote is finicky.

Score: 7/10

Manufacturer: Lenovo

Price: £349.24 inc. VAT

Specifications:

Processor: Intel Atom D2700 Dual Core 2.13GHz

OS: Windows 7 Home 64-bit

Memory: 4GB PC3-10600 1333MHz DDR3

Chipset: Intel NM10 Express

Video Card: ATI Radeon HD 6450A With 512MB

Hard Drive: 750GB SATA 5400rpm

Optical Drive: Blu-ray Player

Connectivity: 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet; Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n

Ports: 3 x USB 2.0; 2 x USB 3.0; 1 x HDMI; 1 x VGA; 1 x SPDIF (optical out); Ethernet port; Microphone jack; Headphone jack; 7 in 1 Card Reader

Remote Control: 2.4GHz Wireless Mini Keyboard & Mouse N5902

Dimensions: 155mm x 40mm x 192mm (without stand)

Weight: 1.5kg