Lenovo IdeaCentre K210 Review

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While Lenovo has been known as a consummate business brand for well over a decade, their consumer lines aren’t as well known in the United States.  With the launch of the Idea brands just  last year, Lenovo has tried to design products geared toward home users.  With a quad core processor, interesting software and smart design, the Lenovo IdeaCentre K210 makes a solid case for your dollars. 

Specifications
Our review sample of the K210 came equipped with the following specifications:

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 @ 2.4GHz (8MB cache)
  • Memory: 4GB PC2-5300 DDR2 RAM @ 667MHz
  • Hard drive: 500GB SATA @ 7200RPM
  • Optical drive: Blu-ray ROM, DVD+/-RW combo drive
  • Sound: Integrated HD audio
  • Video card: NVIDIA GeForce 9300GE 128MB
  • Networking: Gigabit ethernet
  • Wired keyboard with antimicrobial finish and mouse
  • Operating system: Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit
  • Power supply: 280 watt Lite-On
  • Warranty: One-year limited warranty with parts and labor

As configured, the Lenovo IdeaCentre K210 carries a suggested retail price of $799.

Build and Design
Lenovo has typically always had solid build quality, and the IdeaCentre K210 is no exception.  The machine itself is built around a metal chassis, though it does have a plastic front attached.  The desktop isn’t a slim form factor machine, though it is small enough to sit comfortably on your desk – unless you have a very tiny desk.  It’s clear that Lenovo’s forte is business machines, as the K210 is a little staid, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The power button for the computer is actually on top, at the front, making for easy access if you keep your computer on the floor or shelf beneath your desk.  If you do, however, you may end up putting the front ports a little out of reach, as they’re actually on the bottom of the front, not up top with the power.  Turning the computer on makes the power button glow red, and I really think it would look snazzy if Lenovo had incorporated more of the red into the design of the chassis.  A border between the black façade and silver case would be nice.


The front of the machine is functional, with both optical drive bays covered with faceplates that match the rest of the case design.  While only one optical drive was included on this machine, both bays have buttons on the faceplates in case you need to install a second optical drive.  There are no external 3.5” drive bays, which I’m thinking is more of a design and cost choice than anything else since there is abundant space inside the case for one.  On the plus side, there’s not much of a need since the K210 has a full multi-card reader in addition to USB and audio ports.

The left and right sides of the chassis are pretty basic, though the left-hand side features an extra vent to accentuate cooling as well as a depression/handle for pulling the side off.  Speaking of getting inside the computer, my absolute favorite thing about the IdeaCentre K210 is the effort to which Lenovo went to make implement a toolless design.  I thought thumbscrews were fantastic when I first came across them, because you could easily get in and out of the case without having to bust out a screwdriver.  Lenovo got rid of the thumbscrews and replaced them with a simple sliding lock.  Push it down, and you can easily slide the door off. 


Inside of the case, things break down a little as the wiring is really messy.  With the way wires are bound to the 5.25” drive bays, it’s a little difficult to access the open bay.  Aside from that, however, the innards of the K210 are well designed.  The toolless theme continues here: the large drive bays at the top feature tabs that you can pull to remove a device.  The really nice touch, however, are the hard drive bays.  They’re oriented such that the connections on the drives face you when you pull the side off of the case, which makes adding or removing a drive so much easier.  Moreover, to swap a drive out, all you have to do is pull on the handy purplish lever and the drives slide right now.  I think I’ll have to judge every desktop on this from here on out, because it’s so much easier than trying to screw a drive into a slot that buts up next to the motherboard.  I just wish Lenovo had put more drive bays inside since there’s clearly more than enough room to do so.

It would also be nice to see a stronger power supply in here, though perhaps I’ve been spoiled by some of the gaming desktops we’ve had in here lately.  The included power supply can deliver up to 280 watts under standard operating conditions, and seeing as how I couldn’t get the K210 to pull down more than 135 watts or so, there’s a moderate cushion for putting in a new graphics card.

Inputs and Expansion
While not bristling with an overabundance of expandability, the IdeaCentre K210 isn’t exactly wanting.  The front of the machine offers up a Blu-ray ROM / DVD+/-RW combo drive, which is nice and still a bit surprising on sub-$1000 desktops and notebooks.  Lenovo also put a compact multi-card reader on the front in addition to two USB2.0 ports and audio in/out jacks. 

The rear of the machine is where the lion’s share of ports unsurprisingly lie.  What’s interesting is the large number of legacy ports Lenovo left on the machine.  For something aimed at consumers, I’m a little perplexed.  I’m betting they either used a board that’s also used in their business computer line (and business often require legacy ports for hardware reasons) or perhaps there’s still a lot of legacy hardware still being used in the Chinese market, where Lenovo is the #1 OEM.  Regardless, Lenovo includes keyboard and mouse PS/2 ports, VGA, serial, parallel, four USB2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet and microphone as well as audio in/out jacks.  The additional GeForce 9300GE gives DVI and another VGA port as well as s-video.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of space inside the K210, with Lenovo leaving open both a 5.25” drive bay and a hard drive bay.  There are two open SATA ports on the motherboard for filling those bays.  Additionally, there are a few expansion slots open should you need to add in extra hardware; while the PCI-E x8 slot is taken up by the included video card, there are two PCI-E x1 slots as well as an original PCI slot.

With many desktops, you have to unscrew holding plates from the case, pull the metal strip out, put in a new card and screw it back down.  Lenovo designed a much neater way of doing it: all you have to do is press on the purplish plastic and metal contraption to the left of the cards and a metal flap pops up on the back of the computer. Just slot in the new device and press the flap back down to lock it in securely. 

Performance
Despite the fact that the system has four gigabytes of RAM, Lenovo decided to put on a 32-bit version of Windows.  As a result, you don’t end up using much over 3GB.  Performance wouldn’t be greatly enhanced by moving to a 64-bit system and gaining access to the extra RAM, but it can make a difference sometimes, and it doesn’t really cost Lenovo anything more to do it.

wPrime is a PC performance benchmarking program that forces the computer to perform recursive mathematical calculations. This program is multithreaded, meaning we can take advantage of more than one core of a processor at a time, resulting in a more realistic estimate of a computer’s performance.

wPrime benchmark comparison results (lower numbers mean better performance)

Desktop wPrime32 time
Lenovo ThinkStation S10 (Intel C2E QX6850 @ 3GHz) 13.869s
Alienware Area-51 790i (Intel C2Q Q9450 @ 2.66GHz) 14.625s
Dell Studio Slim (Intel C2Q Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 16.301s
Lenovo IdeaCentre K210 (Intel C2Q Q6600 @ 2.4GHz) 17.299s
Gateway GT5670 (AMD Phenom 8400 @ 2.1GHz) 27.65s
HP Pavilion Slimline s3500f (Athlon X2 5400 @ 2.8GHz) 29.733s

PCMark05 overall system performance comparison results (higher scores mean better performance)

Desktop PCMark05 Score
Alienware Area-51 790i (Intel C2Q Q9450 @ 2.66GHz) 10,616 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkStation S10 (Intel C2E QX6850 @ 3GHz) 9,999 PCMarks
Dell Studio Slim (Intel C2Q Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 6,887 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaCentre K210 (Intel C2Q Q6600 @ 2.4GHz) 6,345 PCMarks
HP TouchSmart IQ506 (Intel C2D T5850 @ 2.16 GHz) 5,189 PCMarks
Gateway GT5670 (AMD Phenom 8400 @ 2.1GHz) 4,981 PCMarks

3DMark06 overall gaming performance comparison results (higher scores mean better performance)

Desktop 3DMark06 Score
Dell Studio Slim (C2Q Q8200, ATI HD3450 256MB) 1,820 3DMarks
HP TouchSmart IQ506 (C2D T5850, NVIDIA 9300M GS) 1,714 3DMarks
Lenovo IdeaCentre K210 (C2Q Q6600, NVIDIA 9300 GE) 1,476 3DMarks
HP Compaq dc5850 (Athlon X2 5000B, ATI HD3100 IGP)

1,041 3DMarks

HDTune results

While it’s definitely not a gaming system, the IdeaCentre K210 has some good roots in the quad-core processor and high RAM, so I decided to throw Left4Dead on there to see how well it performed.  I wasn’t expecting to get much out of it, but it proved to be surprisingly playable.  With a 1280×768 resolution and all settings set to medium, I managed to pull a little over 23 frames per second on average.  Thirty frames per second is typically considered to be the minimum for enjoyable gaming, but I thought Left4Dead played just fine.

Software


It seems like I mention this in every Lenovo review, but Lenovo does a pretty great job of developing additional software to make their computers a more pleasant experience and to set them apart from the crowd.  The K210 offers a feature called Veri Face that works like a fingerprint scanner, only it scans in your whole face.  It works automatically if you have a webcam or monitor with webcam attached, and once calibrated, you can use it to sign in at your computer instead of typing in a long, intricate password.

Lenovo also includes a built-in virus scanner that you can run from the recovery partition at boot, which is nice since it means you don’t need internet access to use it.  The K210 also comes bundled with the “Lenovo Vantage Technology Start Center”, which gathers all of the OEM software in one place.  From here you can access system maintenance options like software backups or driver and software installation, as well as something that Lenovo calls its “healthcare software”.  This includes two interesting little applications that both take advantage of an attached webcam.  Geared towards eye health, the Distance Setup function lets you set a viewing distance and time interval.  If the time ends and you’re still sitting close to the screen, the application warns you to move back from the display.  The Bright Vision software can also be set to automatically adjust the brightness of your display (if supported) to a level suitable for the ambient light levels in the room.

Noise and Power
Despite the fact that it isn’t a green system and uses a quad core processor, the K210 turned out to be surprisingly efficient, pulling down 68 watts when idling.  Even when completely maxed out it only managed to use 136 watts, which is pretty easy both on the pocketbook and the planet.  Consequently, the IdeaCentre stays fairly quiet; lower power means cooler parts which leads to reduced fan usage and quieter systems.  There’s a noticeable rush of air when the computer is first started though it rapidly dies out and offers a barely-present hum in its place.  Completely off, the IdeaCentre K210 will draw about a watt.

Conclusion
The IdeaCentre K210 was one of Lenovo’s first efforts at courting the consumer market after purchasing the computer division of IBM some years back.  While it’s clear that the IdeaCentre comes from conservative business roots, features like the completely toolless design and valuable Blu-ray optical drive make for compelling features.  It even comes with an antibacterial keyboard (the efficacy of which we’re currently testing) to keep you healthy.

The quad core CPU is more than enough to power through typical office and home user tasks and when paired with the low-end NVIDIA 9300GE can even do some very light gaming.  Moreover, there’s enough room for expansion that you can add on additional hardware to push its capabilities.  The IdeaCentre K210 is a solid machine with a solid value that carries with it Lenovo’s reputation for good build quality and great customer service.  It’s clear that while they’ve still got a ways to go, Lenovo is on the way to becoming a brand known not only for their dependable business computers, but for their consumer lines as well.

Pros

  • Blu-ray drive
  • Absolutely toolless design
  • Quad-core CPU
  • Sturdy build quality

Cons

  • Weak 3D performance
  • Lots of legacy ports


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