The Lenovo N100 is a new mid-sized offering from Lenovo in the 3000 series line of notebooks. The N100 will come in 14.1" and 15.4" widescreen sizes. Prices will start at $999 for Core Duo based models. Lenovo is positioning the notebook as one for small business and mobile professionals. To me it looks more like a consumer notebook with the silver skin, glossy screen and plastic case. There are plenty of people who are mixing business with pleasure today or people who use business notebooks for personal use, like me. The fact that Lenovo is going after both segments with this notebook makes sense. The N100 has lots to offer and a few less worthwhile qualities, all of which we will get into in more detail in this review.
The 15" segment is one of the most competitive of all notebook segments, which is a good thing. Being one of the few with a WSXGA+ glossy screen helps set the N100 apart from other notebooks in this class. I included some business and consumer class notebooks here as the N100 features indicate it has a foot in both worlds.
Specs of Notebook Being Reviewed
Build and Design
When I first saw the N100 on NotebookReview.com, I thought it would be black being from the new maker of ThinkPads, but the pictures I saw of it only showed the inside. When I opened the box I found, much to my surprise, the outside is almost all silver with a strip of black along the sides and on the front. I prefer darker colored notebooks so the N100 didn't do a lot for me. I like the color scheme on something like the Fujitsu N3530 better, but it is a personal preference. Aside from the color, I found the shapes and curves to be pleasing. One thing I noticed about it right away is how thick it is, coming in at around 1.7" including the feet on the bottom.
The extra thickness didn't add any weight as it felt about the same as my ThinkPad, maybe a little more. Using the highly scientific method of my bathroom scale, it weighed three pounds. Seeing how useless that was, my educated guess is that it is around 6.5 pounds as I had no way of weighing it short of sneaking it into the produce section and we don't want to go there again. I think the 15.4' version has a bit too much girth for everyday travel for most people. Perhaps the 14.1" will be more suited to fill that role.
The N100 feels sturdy and the chassis is rock solid. You can pick it up by the very corner and it does not protest in the least. The case on the N100 is made of plastic. When pressing on the center of screen from the back, the screen distorts noticeably. The sides of the screen are better protected. The case material is the kind that will get scratched under normal use. As I pulled it from the box the first time I opened it, I could see scratches through the plastic wrapper which must have been made while it was assembled or packed for shipping.
If you are the type who obsesses over little flaws, you might want to consider, at a minimum, a good sleeve. I wish notebook designers would put more effort here. Something that doesn't look used after a couple of weeks of use would be nice. Not being a materials engineer, I wouldn't know if it is cost prohibitive. Fit and finish were good on the N100. There were no unexplained gaps or misaligned parts that I noticed.
The screen on the N100 being reviewed is a WSXGA+ glossy screen. It will also be offered with a WXGA screen as well. It is one of the few WSXGA+ screens available with the Dell e1505 being the other I am aware exists. Despite being secured to the base using metal hinges, the screen was a little wobbly, but not under normal use. I could drop my ThinkPad on the floor and the screen wouldn't move, not that I would recommend it. I could open it with one hand. I do not consider myself to be muscular. The higher resolution screen will allow you to see more of the screen, which is a nice plus. I really dug the wallpaper Lenovo chose for the N100. It showed of the colors rather well.
There are seven brightness levels. The brightness level can be adjusted using Fn + F10 or F11. For watching DVDs or viewing photos any of the settings worked well. Reading text was more difficult on lower settings. There was a bit of leakage in the corners on the bottom of the screen, but it was only noticeable when the screen was black. I am someone who prefers a matte screen, but I thought the screen looked pretty good. Colors are deep and rich. It is not as bright as the Fujitsus and Sonys of the world, but the extra resolution more than makes up for it in my opinion. The glossiness did bother me a bit, mostly in well lit environs. Viewing angles were not particularly good which surprised me some since glossy screens generally tend to have better viewing angles. I did notice more blockiness when watching DVDs than other notebooks I have seen recently. It was most apparent when viewing older DVDs with poor transfers. Here is a shot of the N100 next to my ThinkPad T42:
You win the prize if you can correctly guess what the two movies are.
The speakers are located on the right and left side of the keyboard. With the speakers located on the sides of notebook, I had high hopes for good sound. I would describe the sound as poor. They did not get very loud, and the sound was muted and lifeless. Speakers on a laptop are never going to be a strong point due to their small size. I would rather see Lenovo invest the money elsewhere as a decent pair of headphones will always be better.
CPU and Performance
The N100 sports one of the newest of Intel's notebook CPUs, the Core Duo T2400. It is the first Core Duo I have seen beyond Best Buy.
It is a serious number cruncher. The CPU is almost 30% faster than my Dothan Pentium M based ThinkPad running Super Pi. I converted some Mp3 files into WMA files. It was very impressive. The CPU however is only one link in the chain which determines a notebook's performance. I felt my T42, with a 7200RPM hard drive and extra gig of memory, was in the same performance ballpark as the N100 for the things I do. I would not describe myself as a power user or heavy multi-tasker. The things I do most, internet, burning discs and office, are not CPU intensive tasks. The one area where my T42 lagged was doing Photoshop, where the Core Duo was significantly faster. I did get the Core Duo to bog down when I was installing OpenOffice while extracting the restore CDs, but that is most likely a function of the slower hard drive and lesser amount of memory which are upgradeable. Anything CPU intensive, the Core Duo will win hands down.
Super Pi is a good tool to judge CPU performance. As you can see from the results below, the Core Duo in the N100 and others is setting a new performance bar for notebook CPU performance.
Lenovo N100 (1.83GHz Core Duo)
Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo)
Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)
IBM ThinkPad T42 (1.8GHz Pentium M)
IBM ThinkPad Z60m (2.0 GHz Pentium M)
Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)
Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)
HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)
Toshiba Tecra A6 (1.66GHz Core Duo)
Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)
Here is the N100 stacked up against my T42. As the tests indicate, the Core Duo pretty much spanked the Pentium M in all but a few tests with a slower hard drive and a gig less of memory. I guess having an extra core comes in handy.
Futuremark PCMark04 Scores
IBM T42 (1.8GHz Pentium M)
Lenovo N100 (1.83GHz Core Duo)
Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression
Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption
Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression
Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing
Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning
Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check
Web Page Rendering
DivX Video Compression
Physics Calculation and 3D
Graphics Memory - 64 Lines
The 7300 go card, while not the prettiest girl at the dance, has acceptable performance. If gaming is your primary purpose, you should be looking at other notebooks.
3DMark 05 Results
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, 128MB ATI X1400)
2092 3D Marks / 4462 CPUMarks
Lenovo N100 (1.83GHz Core Duo, 128MB Nvidia 7300 Go)
1514 3DMarks / 5135 CPUMarks
ThinkPad Z60m (2.0GHz Pentium M, 128MB ATI Radeon x600)
1659 3DMarks / 3426 CPUMarks
Asus V6Va (2.13GHz Pentium M, 128MB ATI Radeon x700)
2530 3D Marks / 3749 CPU Marks
Quanta KN1 (1.86GHz Pentium M, 128MB Nvidia 6600 Go)
2,486 3DMarks / 4106 CPUMarks
HP dv4000 (1.86GHz Pentium M, 128MB ATI X700)
2536 3D Marks / 3557 CPU Marks
Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, 256MB ATI X1600)
4157 3DMarks / 4812 CPU Marks
Here is a shot from Half-Life 2, the only game I own which could be remotely considered new.
I am not much of a gaming guru so I can't tell you about frame rates and such. It looked and ran smoothly using the 7300 go card.
Below is a screen cap of the hard drive utility HD Tune. Everything looks in order.
Drives and Storage
The N100 comes equipped with the LG GMA-4082N Super-Multi DVD burner with the Super-Multi denoting the support for DVD-RAM. The drive is fixed to the chassis so there will be no modular options on the N100. DVD-RAM allows you to drag and drop within Windows Explorer which makes it an excellent choice for backups since you don't have to re-burn the disc every time. It also has very good error correction. I had some DVD-RAM media on hand from when I had a DVD-RAM drive on my ThinkPad. DVD-RAM worked well albeit a little slow at 3x. I burned some CDs for use in my car. A full CD burn took 6:09. It seems a little slow for a 24x burn, but more importantly I had no playback issues with the CDs. A full single layer DVD burn took 10:55. That is very impressive for a laptop drive. The only faster ones I have seen are NECs, which comes in around 10:30 for a full disc. As you can see below the burn quality is excellent, not something seen with regularity on laptop drives.
I used Taiyo Yuden discs which are the best. Other media will probably have lesser results. On occasion the drive did get a little noisy.
The N100 uses the Hitachi 100GB 5400RPM SATA. After Lenovo takes their chunk for the restore partition there is about 87GB left. Performance on the hard drive was good. It took about 30 seconds from turning it on to the Windows logon screen. For everyday use, it is more than enough for most speed wise. One notable omission is the lack of hard drive protection offered on ThinkPads. The drive was very quiet under normal use.
The notebook came equipped with one 512MB stick of DDR2 PC5300 memory. One nice feature of the memory is the fact that both slots are located under the panel on the bottom of the notebook.
Memory slots (view large image)
There is no need to remove the keyboard or case to upgrade the other memory slot.
Heat and Noise
There are three vents on the N100 to help dissipate heat from the notebook; one on the bottom, one on the left side and one in the back. The N100 got only warm under normal use. It was never uncomfortable to use, even while playing Half-Life 2. I didn't even adjust the power management software if there was any outside of control panel. The fan came on sporadically under normal use. The fan would come one for 10 seconds or less then go off for a while. While gaming or running benchmarks, it was on close to all the time. One area that did warm was right side wrist rest which is located directly over the hard drive. I found this peculiar considering its thickness and the hard drive sits at the bottom of the case.
Lenovo has covered all the bases in terms of connections. It has a 4-in-1 card reader on the left side.
Left side (view large image)
I carry around a card reader for use with my ThinkPad. After using this for a few days, it became painfully obvious how much I wish I had one. In addition to the card reader on the left side there is an Ethernet port, PC Card slot, four pin firewire port, a usb port and security lock. Of the right side there are three USB ports, line in and out jacks, and a VGA connector.
Right side (view large image)
The back on the notebook has a S-video connector, modem port and power connection.
Back side (view large image)
Keyboard and Touchpad Area
The keyboard on the N100 is good. It is not up to the ThinkPad standard, but still pretty good. The first thing that makes you aware that it is not a ThinkPad keyboard is the lack of a red eraser and UltraNav buttons. It feels a little cozy considering it is a 15.4" wide screen notebook. There is a bit of movement on the next key if you are really clacking away on it.
Key travel and feel are good. One thing I did not like about the keyboard on the N100, it does not have dedicated keys for home and end which I frequently use. You have to hit the function key in conjunction with one of the arrow keys to get the desired result. There are a few keys like the Windows key or the Alt key which are undersized, but it personally did not bother me very much. Lenovo chose orange for the function key which I thought stood out nicely against the black key. Ports are conviently marked along the edge of the keyboard.
The touchpad sits on center beneath the space bar. It works fine like most other touchpads I have used. The buttons sit farther away from the edge than I am used to. I was often pushing the plastic beneath them. I think if this were your regular notebook, you'd adapt quickly.
The buttons on it were fairly quiet. They feel was a bit clicky, but not as bad as others I have used. One odd thing about it, it has a scroll device on the right side of the pad which is not marked on the touchpad in any way. I had to almost run my finger along the edge of the touchpad to get it to work. I found it purely by accident.
The N100 comes equipped with a fingerprint reader something not seen on most consumer notebooks.. It is located on the right side below the keyboard. The reader worked well, better than my ThinkPad which has a tendency to read incorrectly unless you are spot on.
Fingerprint reader (view large image)
It uses OmniPass software to control the functions of the reader. It could remember passwords in Foxfire though it did not require a swipe to logon onto any password protected sites, but I did not delve into it too deeply. Firefox can perform this task.
Battery and AC
The battery included with the N100 is a six cell battery. It sits flush with the back of the notebook. Using medium settings with WiFi on, I was able to get 2:55 of battery life before the system went into standby. I consider this to be good in light of the larger sized screen.
The power adapter is on the larger side of average. It has a two pronged adapter which will make finding an outlet easier.
The N100 has the Intel 3945 A/B/G wireless card and Realtek Ethernet card. It also has a modem for those still using dial-up. Wireless/Bluetooth can be turned on or off using a switch on the front of the notebook. For the most part the wireless card worked well. I was having some problems when I first got it, but I uninstalled Norton and it worked better.
After that, I did have the occasional drop-out, but if I disconnected and then reconnected it would work. I took it to my neighbors about 100 feet away. It saw the network, but failed to connect.
The N100 also has Bluetooth 2.0 with support for Bluetooth Audio. My Kensington Bluetooth Pocket mouse worked well. I don't have any Bluetooth headphones so I could not test that. My only thought on it is more batteries to carry around.
The N100 comes with a good software bundle. Access IBM has morphed into Lenovo Care/ThinkVantage.
They are not as an extensive set of tools as Access IBM, but it comes with what most users need. There is a backup and restore utility, updater, Diskeeper, PC Doctor, etc. for system functions. Some other software highlights include WinDVD for DVD viewing, Corel for office productivity and RecordNow for burning. There are a few trial versions like Norton and Paint Shop Pro. There is also the obligatory Google Desktop which I think now comes on every notebook sold in the America.
Warranty and Support
The notebook I received has a three year warranty with one year on the battery. According to the manual, during the first year parts and labor are covered while the second and third year only parts are covered. You'll have to pick up the labor charge in the later years.
It seems like a reasonable trade-off to me as the parts are usually the most expensive thing. Also in the manual, it states the warranty is international as long as there is service available in that location. I didn't have to use support, so no help there. They have the IBM-Serv phone number listed on Lenovo's webpage for support of the Lenovo branded notebooks. Whether they are going to route you elsewhere I could not tell you.
The N100 has lots to recommend about it. From my vantage point, it looks more like a consumer notebook with the glossy screen and plastic case. A dash of the business side has been thrown in with the fingerprint reader, DVD-RAM and more extensive software bundle. I think the $64,000 question for the N100 is going to be price. If Lenovo can keep the price down for N100, it should do well. If the price starts to go too high, like over $1500, it is going to be a harder to justify the N100. At that price point there are notebooks, even Lenovo's own Z60, which will have better construction and features for the same price. It will be interesting to see when the Z60 gets Core Duoized how it stacks against the N100.
Pros and Cons
The N100 will be available on March 28th at Lenovo.com with a base price of about $999.
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