Lenovo IdeaPad U410 review

Pros

  • Decent graphics for an Ultrabook
  • Good battery life
  • Keen price
  • Generous number of standard-sized ports

Cons

  • Chunkier than other Ultrabooks
  • Core i3 processor

After the super-skinny Asus Zenbook Prime UX32A and Samsung Series 9 900X3B, Lenovo’s IdeaPad U410 seems decidedly portly. If you’ve used a recent unibody MacBook Pro you might find this notebook’s interior a little uncanny, too, as it takes quite a few design cues from the Apple product, even if the brightly coloured exterior is a complete departure.

The IdeaPad is still pretty thin, measuring just 21mm at its widest point, but it’s also heavier than many ultrabooks, at 1.85kg, which does stretch the classification slightly. Its build feels solid, albeit not as solid as the unibody MacBooks it emulates. Where the Apple notebooks use a single piece of metal for the entire palm rest and keyboard surround, the U410 uses multiple elements, which makes it appear a little less refined. The lid and base of our sample were blue, but there are red and sober graphite grey options if your tastes differ.

Like the Asus Zenbook Prime UX32A, the U410 incorporates a processor from Intel’s latest Ivy Bridge range. But in this case it’s the Core i3 3217U version. This is a 17W ultra-low voltage CPU running at a nominal 1.8GHz. It incorporates Hyper-Threading, so its dual physical cores are divided into four virtual ones. However, the Core i3 doesn’t support Intel Turbo Boost. So whilst the processor can drop its frequency to conserve power, it can’t increase speed when required, so won’t have quite the same overall performance as the Core i5 3317U in the Asus, even if its nominal frequency is higher. Lenovo has partnered the Core i3 with the now standard 4GB of DDR3 memory, which cannot be user-upgraded, although 8GB is an option at the point of purchase.

The Intel Core i3 also supplies graphics, and as this is an Ivy Bridge version, the graphics are Intel’s HD 4000. The specifications are exactly the same as the Core i5 version, with a 1050MHz top frequency and an identical low power mode. But taking advantage of Nvidia’s Optimus technology, Lenovo has also added Nvidia GeForce 610M graphics, which will be called into play when more serious graphics acceleration is required. This is a DirectX 11 graphics chip with 48 CUDA cores, which is more than the Intel integrated graphics can muster, if not exactly an enthusiast gaming wonder.

Main storage is taken care of primarily by a 500GB Seagate Momentus M8 5,400rpm hard disk. But there’s also a 32GB Samsung 830 series solid state disk lurking in the background. This is mostly invisible to the operating system, as it provides caching for the mechanical hard disk to conserve power, so the latter can spin down more often. It also gives the access time and throughput advantages of a solid state disk without the huge cost of a large Flash memory drive, although only for frequently used software. As is the norm with this class of machine, no optical drive is supplied.

The thicker chassis does give some advantage when it comes to expansion ports. The left-hand side hosts twin USB 3 ports plus a combination headphone and microphone. The right incorporates a SD memory card slot, two USB 2 ports, full-sized HDMI and Gigabit Ethernet. So you won’t need any kind of adapter to hook the U410 up to your HDTV or a wired network. If you don’t want to use physical cables, there is of course 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Intel’s WiDi is available for connecting the laptop to a TV wirelessly, assuming you have the appropriate adapter. Bluetooth wasn’t available in our particular model, although some U410 specifications do offer this.

Adding to the MacBook feel, the black Chiclet-style keyboard contrasts with the brushed metal chassis. The keys are more shaped and contoured, however. They are also a little bit less defined in action, so typing isn’t quite as comfortable as on a MacBook, but it will be pleasant enough for extended typing sessions. The large trackpad yet again is highly reminiscent of Apple’s MacBook, in terms of size, shape and function. As this is a Windows system, there is a defined button area at the bottom with a line showing the separation between left and right. However, you can also select with a single click anywhere on the pad, and press with two fingers for a right-click, amongst other multi-touch gestures.

The screen is slightly larger than the 13.3in Ultrabooks we have been looking at recently, with a 14in diagonal. But the resolution is still the 1,366 x 768 that is common in this form factor. Viewing angles are decent enough and colours are quite vibrant, but the surface is quite shiny, so reflections can mar viewing pleasure, particularly in bright lighting.

With its Core i3, the U410 can’t quite match the Core i5-equipped Ultrabooks we have reviewed over the last few months for brute performance. As predicted, the Maxon Cinebench R11.5 rendering score of 1.79 is a little behind Ultrabooks with Core i5 processors sporting nominally slower clock speeds. Conversely, though, the Nvidia GeForce 610M makes this a more capable machine for graphics than many Ultrabooks. The Cinebench graphics score of 15.59 is the best we’ve seen from an ultrabook, as is the result of 651 in the Futuremark 3DMark11 Performance benchmark. So it will be up to a little light gaming with notably smoother frame rates than the Intel HD 3000-equipped Ultrabooks we have reviewed. It’s worth noting, however, that these scores are only slightly ahead of the Asus Zenbook Prime UX32A, with its Intel HD 4000 graphics only. Battery life is pretty respectable, too. As with virtually all Ultrabooks, the battery cannot be replaced, but it endured 215 minutes of our gruelling 100 per cent load test, implying that it will provide at least a couple of movies’ worth of video viewing, and considerably longer with less demanding tasks.

Verdict

Lenovo’s IdeaPad U410 may not have the immediate gob-smacking appeal of the slimmest Ultrabooks. But at £649 it’s also one of the cheaper options in its class. It doesn’t quite have the everyday performance of Core i5-equipped Ultrabooks, either, but conversely the graphics ability is better, and battery life is still competitive. So this is a more general-purpose portable, with a little more entertainment potential and a little less showiness. If you don’t fancy forking out a fortune but still want something you can carry with you all day, it’s worth considering.

Manufacturer and model

Lenovo IdeaPad U410

Processor

1.8GHz Intel Core i3 3217U

RAM

4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM

Graphics

Intel HD 4000 / Nvidia GeForce 610M

Hard disk

500GB Seagate Momentus M8 hard disk / 32GB Seagate 830 solid state disk

Optical disc

None

Display

14in TFT with 1,366 x 768 pixels

Networking

802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi

Interfaces

HDMI, 2 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, SD card reader, combo audio

Width x Depth x Height

344 x 235 x 21mm

Weight

1.85kg

Warranty

1-year collect and return