The Lenovo IdeaCentre B540 is a moderately priced touchscreen all-in-one desktop PC with a decent, if unremarkable, feature set. For £799, you get a full touchscreen Windows 8 experience on a reasonably equipped, nicely designed system – although the older CPU with integrated Intel HD Graphics 2000 isn’t ideal, particularly when it comes to dabbling with gaming. Still, the machine does represent a relatively inexpensive way to get a full 1080p HD 23in touchscreen PC into your home.
Design and features
Some might call the design monolithic, some might call it a black vertical slab. Whatever it is, the IdeaCentre B540 kind of resembles a mid-market HDTV, with a standard two feet and easel stand design. Its seamless glass lets you drag your fingers all over the screen, bringing up Windows 8 features like the Charms bar and the full list of apps from the Start screen. There's a little bit of drag on your finger, but otherwise the touchscreen sensors are plenty sensitive and accurate enough. The screen is a 23in affair and boasts 10-finger touch functionality.
The display has a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080, in other words full 1080p HD, but unfortunately the B540 lacks a Blu-ray drive, so you'll need to use an external drive for Blu-ray movies. The screen looks fine playing back DVD movies with the tray-loading DVD burner, and the display is certainly large enough for the touch interface, particularly when you’re in desktop mode, using older pre-Windows 8 programs (which can have smaller icons, menus and so forth).
The system comes with a wireless mouse and keyboard, which is pretty standard for all-in-one desktops these days. The keyboard’s keys have been graced with Lenovo's standard curved design, which is very comfortable to type with. The USB dongle for the mouse and keyboard fits snuggly in any of the system's four USB 2.0 ports. The B540 also has a pair of USB 3.0 ports, but they are on the back panel; they would be more convenient for external drives and USB sticks if they were on the left (or right) side panel.
The left side panel hosts two of the USB 2.0 ports, plus the SD-based card reader, audio ports, and the power button. The remaining USB ports, HDMI out (for an external monitor), and Ethernet port are situated round the back. The B540 has a standard power port, which means that the system doesn't need an external power brick, a big plus in tight workspaces. It would have been nice to see a HDMI-in port included, so you could continue to use the B540's monitor once the PC internal components become obsolete.
The system comes with a few pre-installed programs on the Start screen, but for the most part these additions are less obtrusive than if they had been left as icons in desktop mode. It’s also worth noting that the B540 comes with Dolby audio enhancements, which noticeably change the sound while listening to music and movies. The speakers themselves are loud and clear enough for a mid-sized room, though bass is fairly light.
The machine’s easel-style arm at the back lets you tilt the screen a decent amount backwards to accommodate tall or even standing users, but it can't be tilted to true vertical or given a negative tilt for shorter users or people who like to recline while surfing the web. The spring-loaded arm also means that the system will eventually endeavour to come back up to a more vertical orientation, which means you'll have to readjust the machine during extended touch sessions with the screen reclined. This Lenovo all-in-one comes with a one year limited warranty.
The B540 we reviewed was powered by an Intel Core i3-2130 processor, along with 4GB of system memory, a 1TB hard drive, and integrated Intel HD Graphics 2000. While this is all you need to accomplish most day-to-day tasks that you'd want to do with a PC, the older second-generation Intel Core i3 means that the system can't play DX11 3D games (more on that below).
One plus point here is that the B540 is somewhat user serviceable, unlike some all-in-ones. Systems like the Apple iMac 21.5in (late 2012) and the Sony Vaio Tap 20 have no user upgradability or serviceability, but the IdeaCentre B540 easily lets you in to upgrade system memory (up to 8GB) or swap out the included hard drive for something faster, more capacious, or both. Both back panels slide off easily, giving end users a modicum of hands-on serviceability.
As stated above, the B540 comes with a second-generation Core i3 processor. Most higher priced systems have third-generation Core processors, which feature faster clock speeds and higher end DX11 3D graphics compatibility. We're not saying that this older processor is obsolete, but you will start to run into the system’s limits earlier with an older CPU.
While the B540 performed reasonably on our PCMark 7 test, it completely failed to run our DX11 3D tests (like 3DMark11 and the Heaven game benchmark). In terms of multimedia performance, the machine recorded a 3.19 score in CineBench R11.5, which isn’t too far off the pace of the iMac 21.5in’s score of 4.46. The Lenovo machine’s Photoshop CS6 benchmark was rather slow, though, at 5 minutes and 17 seconds – almost a minute and a half slower than the iMac.
The Lenovo IdeaCentre B540 makes a decent enough showing against the competition, but the older processor holds it back a little in terms of performance – although the CPU is obviously part of the reason why Lenovo has been able to pitch the PC’s price at a decent level.
On the other hand, there isn't a lot to make the B540 stand out either, aside from a reasonable price tag. It’s certainly a usable enough system, though, and could be recommended to anyone who doesn’t want their 23in all-in-one purchase to damage their wallet too much (and who isn’t bothered about anything but the most casual gaming).