Even if you aren’t opting for the last word in skinny portability, you still want a notebook that looks as decent as its specification implies. The Lenovo IdeaPad Z580 comes in an eye-catching red metallic finish, with a subtle check pattern on the lid. Whether you consider this stylish or garish is a matter of taste, and the metallic look is not actually metal, with a little too much flex in the lid. But at least this laptop has a bit more character than some mid-range offerings, which is the aim of the Lenovo IdeaPad Z series of which it is a member.
This is still very much a mid-range laptop, however. The 15.6in screen means the chassis is a relatively large 377 x 245mm and a portly 34.3mm at its thickest point - all pretty standard for a notebook in this class, as is the 2.65kg weight. Our Z580 has a slightly unusual blend of components, however. The processor is relatively high end. It's an Intel Ivy Bridge generation Core i7 3520M, which runs nominally at 2.9GHz, but offers a Turbo Boost 2.0 mode that allows one core to increase to 3.6GHz when required. This is not a quad-core processor, however, although the dual cores benefit from Hyper-Threading so do appear as four virtual cores to the operating system. Lenovo has partnered this relatively powerful CPU with a similarly generous 8GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM, which takes up both the SODIMM slots and is the maximum possible.
However, although the Z580 range is available with Nvidia GeForce GT635M graphics, our model relies on the integrated Intel HD 4000 chipset. This is much better than the HD 3000 chipset of Intel's previous processor generation, with almost twice the horsepower, but it's still not quite up with discrete graphics. So this Z580 will only be up to the occasional game and general multimedia usage, even if its 2D processing abilities are pretty capable. It's not the laptop to get if you or your kids fancy some serious 3D gaming on occasion.
To go with this is a Matshita UJ8D1 DVD-RAM drive, which will provide DVD video playback and DVD rewriting abilities. Being a mid-range laptop, there are no solid-state disk delights to be had, but at least the regular hard disk supplied has a generous 750GB capacity. This is a Hitachi Travelstar 5K750, so only offers a 5,400rpm rotational speed as well, making it not the quickest around, but there will be plenty of room for your multimedia collection and lots of software.
The Z580 may sport a 15.6in screen, but you don’t get any more pixels than most 13.3in laptops. The resolution is just 1,366 x 768, which will give you 720p video but not 1080p without downscaling. The screen itself is decent if not outstanding. Colours are rich and bright, but the slightly glossy finish means viewing angles are merely mediocre, particularly in the vertical direction. Audio quality is above average, however, with Dolby Home Theater v4 on hand. There is still a slight emphasis on treble, characteristic of laptop speakers, but the Z580 is well equipped for movie enjoyment and impromptu musical jukebox tasks.
The island-style keyboard is reasonably comfortable to type on, although the action is a little shallow. A separate numerical keypad is available on the right of the QWERTY keys, making use of the extra chassis width. There are touch buttons just below the screen, as well, for controlling audio volume, enabling and disabling the built-in 1-megapixel 720p webcam, and engaging sleep mode, although we didn't find the latter working in Windows 8. However, the media playback controls are secondary features of the function keys, rather than having separate buttons of their own. The large trackpad is sensibly offset to the left so it sits almost exactly below the space bar. The integrated buttons are subtly indicated by a small slot at the bottom of the pad. Multi-touch is smooth and responsive.
The port allocation is reasonable, if not particularly adventurous. On the left can be found a regular VGA port, wired Ethernet, HDMI, and two USB 3.0 ports. The right is home to a pair of USB 2.0 ports either side of the tray-loading optical drive, plus separate minijacks for microphone and headphones. The SD card reader lurks at the front in the right-hand corner. So nothing important is missing, unless you need FireWire or ExpressCard expansion potential. Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi wireless are also available.
The Core i7 processor means the Z580 makes efficient work of the Maxon Cinebench R11.5 rendering test, with a score of 3.38. This can't compete with quad-core processors, but is the highest we have seen from a dual-core CPU. The fast dual-core processor also gets the best out of its integrated graphics. The result of 19.5 in Cinebench R11.5's OpenGL test is the best we have seen from HD 4000 graphics, and in fact beats Dell's Nvidia-equipped XPS 14. The score of 747 in Futuremark's 3DMark11 is also the best we've seen from HD 4000, although here the Z580 does lag noticeably behind notebooks with discrete graphics. So the Z580 will cope with DirectX 11 games, but can't guarantee smooth frame rates.
Battery life is also quite reasonable. Bapco's MobileMark 2007 Productivity Test lasted 352 minutes (close to six hours), which is better than desktop replacements, but at least an hour behind the best true portables. The Z580 also managed 259 minutes of DVD playback, so would give you two feature-length movies on the move, which is decent for a mid-range laptop. The 48Wh battery is removable, too, so if you need greater time away from the power socket you can bring along a second one.
At £600, the Lenovo IdeaPad Z580 is not a budget laptop, but it has a few reasons to merit its price. The fast dual-core Intel Core i7 processor and decent battery life make this a good all-rounder, although discrete graphics would have made it a true jack-of-all-trades. For similar money, you could also purchase Asus's more Ultrabook-styled S56CA. But the Z580 is faster, with better battery life. As with most of our recent notebooks, our least favourite part of the Z580 is that it comes with Windows 8, which just doesn't seem appropriate for what is essentially a very standard notebook. That aside, this is a capable mid-range laptop with solid multimedia abilities and a little twist of style.
Manufacturer and Product
Lenovo IdeaPad Z580
2.9GHz Intel Core i7 3520M
8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Intel HD 4000
750GB Hitachi Travelstar 5K750 hard disk
Matshita DVD-RAM UJ8D1
15.6in LED backlit TFT with 1,366 x 768 pixels
Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
2 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, HDMI, VGA, LAN, headphone, microphone, SD card reader
Width x Depth x Height
377 x 245 x 34.3mm
1 year collect and return