Lenovo IdeaPad U110 Review

by Jerry Jackson Reads (117,276)

by Jerry Jackson

The Lenovo IdeaPad U110 is the latest addition to the IdeaPad family and has recently been garnering a lot of attention. Lenovo might be famous for the ThinkPad line of notebooks, but most average consumers don’t find the traditional styling of the ThinkPad line to be very attractive. Our First Look Review IdeaPad U110 showed you how gorgeous this compact notebook is. How did the U110 ultimately perform in our final review? Take a look and see whether this diva is a super model or destined for the D-list.


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Our IdeaPad U110 has the following specifications:

  • Processor: 1.60GHz Intel Core 2 Duo L7500 (800Mhz FSB, 4MB Cache)
  • Graphics: Intel X3100
  • Screen: 11.1-inch WXGA (1366 x 768, 370 nit) display
  • Memory: 2GB (up to 3GB configurable)
  • Storage: 120GB Parallel ATA HDD (4200rpm)
  • Optical Drive: None internal (external Dual layer CD/DVD recordable drive)
  • Wireless and Communications: Intel 4965AGN (802.11 a/b/g/n wi-fi), BlueTooth 2.0 EDR
  • Battery: 4-cell Li-Ion and 7-cell extended life Li-Ion batteries included
  • Ports: 3 USB 2.0 ports, IEEE 1394 Firewire, 5-in-1 card reader, ExpressCard/34, VGA monitor out port, AC adapter, headphone/line-out, microphone/line-in, Gigabit Ethernet
  • Dimensions: 10.8" x 7.7" x 0.72" – 0.88"
  • Weight: from 2.42lbs with 4-cell battery and 2.92lbs with 7-cell battery
  • Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium
  • Other Features: Integrated web camera with VeriFace application
  • Warranty: 1-year

The pricing on the U110 starts at around $1,899, and that is the configuration we are reviewing. Needless to say, this isn’t something the average consumer will be dropping their money on in place of an $800 Dell. Still, if having a stylish, compact notebook is important for you then the U110 makes an attractive choice.


Build and Design


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The IdeaPad U110 is surprisingly solid in terms of build quality. The aluminum etch display cover and magnesium aluminum chassis provide both strength and light weight. You can press as hard as you want anywhere on the body of the notebook and it simply will not flex. Like the ThinkPad line, the IdeaPad U110 is designed for (accidental) abuse and drops, and we’re guessing the U110 might be the most rugged laptop in the IdeaPad lineup. Unlike with the ThinkPads, you don’t get a double latch mechanism with button release to make sure the screen is held down when it is closed and being carried. Instead, the U110 uses hinge tension to hold the screen in place.


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The etched aluminum display cover (available in both black and red) is probably the most interesting design element on the U110. Lenovo calls this their "Tendril texture" and it looks like an intricate floral and vine pattern. The IdeaPad designers even went the extra mile with the design by extending the "Tendril" pattern onto the bottom of the notebook and the touch-sensitive media buttons. Even the heat exhaust vents feature an extra touch of class. This certainly isn’t a boring ThinkPad.

 


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Although the U110 doesn’t have an internal optical drive, Lenovo does supply an external USB Dual layer CD/DVD recordable drive with the purcahse of the U110. The drive itself is equally stylish with a rubberized ThinkPad-like black texture and polished silver vents on the sides. The drive is USB powered so there’s no need for a separate power adapter. That said, the drive requires two USB connections (one for power and one for data) so you will lose two USB ports if the drive is connected.



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Input and Output Ports

The number of ports the U110 has is fairly good, certainly much better than the Apple MacBook Air provides, but you’re still left a bit wanting. Here’s a run down of the ports:

  • 3 USB 2.0 ports
  • Firewire
  • ExpressCard/34 slot
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • 5-in-1 multi-card reader
  • Audio out, microphone in
  • VGA monitor out
  • Kensington lock slot

Key things missing are HDMI and a full-size ExpressCard slot. There’s also no option for a docking station, you have to go with a USB-based port replicator (or ExpressCard/34) to get the additional ports you would want at a desk. Obviously engineers had to make design trade offs and you can’t have it all on a notebook this small. Personally, I feel like the U110 provides an excellent balance of ports for its size. (The images below show the U110 with the larger 7-cell battery.)


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Performance and Benchmarks

Let’s be fair, the IdeaPad U110 was not built to compete with your desktop loaded with a quad core processor. Thin travel notebooks like the U110 use low voltage processors to conserve power and reduce heat build-up. The IdeaPad U110 uses an Intel 1.60GHz Core 2 Duo L7500 processor that’s quite capable of running office applications and performing any general web related tasks, but will not serve well for 3D graphics applications or any heavy duty rendering tasks.

Likewise, the Intel X3100 integrated graphics will allow you to play a few light games, maybe even Half Life 2 on low settings (see our Intel X3100 review for more details), but in general you’ll want to stick to e-mail, web browsing, Office and photo editing tasks. That’s enough for most average consumers … particularly if you already have a powerful desktop.

The hard disk storage could have supplemented performance if it was a 5400rpm or 7200rpm drive. Better still, a super fast SSD would have given the U110 some additional "snappiness." Unfortunately, the slow 4200rpm hard drive on the U110 only made the system that much slower during everyday use.

Let’s take a look at a few basic benchmarks so you can get an idea of how the U110 stacks up.

wPrime is a program that forces the processor to do recursive mathematical calculations, this processor benchmark program is multi-threaded and can use both processor cores at once, it measures the amount of time to run a set amount of calculations.

wPrime comparison results (lower scores means better performance):

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Lenovo IdeaPad U110 (Intel Core 2 Duo L7500 @ 1.60GHz) 52 seconds
Lenovo ThinkPad X300 (Intel Core 2 Duo L7100 @ 1.20GHz) 98 seconds
Apple MacBook Air (Intel Core 2 Duo P7500 @ 1.6GHz) 68 seconds
Asus Eee PC 701 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz) 200 seconds
Sony VAIO TZ (Intel Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz) 76 seconds
Dell XPS M1330 (Intel Core 2 Duo T7250 @ 2.20GHz) 38 seconds

You can see from the results in WPrime the L7500 processor in the IdeaPad U110 is slower than the typical Core 2 Duo processor found in larger notebooks like the Dell XPS M1330.

PCMark05 is a benchmark that measures the overall system performance, so it considers the processor, hard drive, memory and OS as part of the mix. Although the IdeaPad U110 has a slower hard drive it actually fairs pretty well with this benchmark:

PCMark05 benchmark results (higher scores are better)

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Lenovo IdeaPad U110 (Intel Core 2 Duo L7500 @ 1.60GHz, Intel X3100) 3,445 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X300 (Intel Core 2 Duo L7100 @ 1.20GHz, Intel X3100) 3,467 PCMarks
Apple MacBook Air (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7500, Intel X3100) 2,478 PCMarks
Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100) 3,283 PCMarks
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950) 2,446 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 4,153 PCMarks
Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,987 PCMarks
Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB) 4,189 PCMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks
Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 3,487 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 5,597 PCMarks
Sony VAIO SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400) 3,646 PCMarks

 

3DMark06 is a benchmark that measures graphics performance, or more accurately measures the notebook’s ability to play 3D computer games. The score is based in part on overall performance, but the single most important factor in this benchmark is the performance of the dedicated or integrated graphics. In the case of the U110, the integrated graphics performance wasn’t bad … but you certainly won’t be playing Crysis on this notebook.

3DMark06 comparison results for graphics performance (higher scores are better):

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Lenovo IdeaPad U110 (Intel Core 2 Duo L7500 @ 1.60GHz, Intel X3100) 620 3DMarks
HP 2133 Mini-Note (1.6GHz VIA C7-M ULV, VIA Chrome 9) 93 3DMarks
Averatec 2575 (2.2 GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-64, ATI RS690T) 377 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100) 545 3DMarks
Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100) 504 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB) 4,332 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA 8600M GT) 2,905 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,408 3DMarks
Samsung Q70 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and nVidia 8400M G GPU) 1,069 3DMarks
Asus F3sv-A1 (Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz, Nvidia 8600M GS 256MB) 2,344 3DMarks
Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB 2,183 3DMarks
Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi 1526 (1.66GHz Core Duo, nVidia 7600Go 256 MB) 2,144 3DMarks
Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200, ATI X1700 256MB) 1,831 3DMarks
Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB) 1,819 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks

 

HDTune measures the storage performance of a PC, the numbers from the HDD are pretty standard for a 4200rpm PATA drive, but performance is sub par compared to most 5400rpm and 7200rpm hard drives found in other notebooks. This benchmark goes to show why the IdeaPad U110 might not be as fast as some other notebooks when accessing data:


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Screen

The 11.1" WXGA (1366 x 768) screen on the U110 is nice and bright, but suffers from a significant degree of "graininess." There is a constant "shimmer" to the screen that makes reading text or watching movies a little frustrating. The U110 also suffers from the same "frameless" glossy display seen on the IdeaPad Y510. The screen isn’t just glossy, it’s a glossy screen covered with a second glossy plastic layer which sets slightly above the surface of the actual display. This causes major reflections and serious eye strain problems because your eyes are constantly shifting focus between the reflections on the glossy protective layer and the text/images displayed on the screen underneath. Below are images showing just how reflective the protective layer is:



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Other than the graininess and severe reflection from the protective layer, the screen performance was acceptable. The color was accurate, backlighting was even across the entire surface, and viewing angles were good.



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Still, the reflective protective layer over the screen genuinely makes this screen quite horrible to view on a regualr basis.

 

Keyboard and Touchpad


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The keyboard on the IdeaPad U110 has zero flex and excellent key travel with quiet presses. Lenovo has added a glossy "piano paint" finish to the keys so that they don’t wear and get all shiny over time … they start out shiny. Beyond the glossy finish on the keys, there’s little to complain about here other than the lack of separation for the keys. Touch typists may have problems with the keyboard on the U110 since the keys are so flat and close together that it’s hard to feel which keys you’re pressing.


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The palm rest area is pretty neat, it has a glossy paint finish so it both feels and looks nice. It’s very smooth and the touchpad is nicely textured with the same high-quality paint finish. Lenovo decided to omit the standard fingerprint reader in favor of their new "VeriFace" facial recognition application.

Speakers and Audio

The stereo speakers on the U110 are actually quite nice for a notebook of this size. You won’t be getting surround sound quality out of the dime-sized speakers located beneath the display hinges, but the quality is perfectly acceptable for video chat or short YouTube videos. The speakers are capable of getting nice and loud with minimal distortion, but like most small notebook speakers the sound is basically just highs and mid ranges … no bass.

The audio out port was free from any static or distortion and I recommend a good set of headphones or earphones if you plan to use the U110 for listening to music or feature-length videos.

Software and Security

While the IdeaPad U110 comes preloaded with a fair amount of trialware (bloatware) applications, most of these programs can be classified as helpful or only a minor annoyance. If you don’t like any of the bloatware that comes with the notebook it’s quite easy to uninstall the applications inside Windows Vista.

In terms of security, observant readers will notice that the U110 lacks a fingerprint reader common to most Lenovo notebooks. Instead of traditional biometric security, the IdeaPad series of notebooks uses the "VeriFace" security application. This is an innovative program that runs during startup and uses the laptop’s built-in webcam to scan your face and determine if you are authorized to use the notebook. I was actually quite impressed with VeriFace’s ability to identify me. However, the one unfortunate side effect of VeriFace is that it causes a significant delay of about 10 seconds during startup.

Heat and Noise

The thermal design of the U110 is surprisingly good. Keyboard and palmrest surfaces remained in the double-digit temperature range and the bottom of the notebook barely crossed into triple digits after stressing the system by running benchmarks. The temerature readings below are listed in degrees Fahrenheit:



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Battery

Lenovo supplies both the standard 4-cell battery and the 7-cell extended life battery with the U110. The 4-cell is lighter and has a quoted life of up approximately 2 hours while the 7-cell is heavier and has a quoted life of up to 6 hours. Our tests show these estimates are quite accurate. The 4-cell battery was drained after 2 hours and 9 minutes with the notebook set to "Balanced" power management in Windows Vista. With similar power management settings the 7-cell battery lost its charge after 5 hours and 48 minutes.

While most extended life batteries tend to be significantly larger than standard batteries, we were pleased to see that the 7-cell battery only adds a minor increase to the overall size of the U110. In fact, the increase in size is so minor that we will probably recommend that people just use the 7-cell battery all the time.


A view of the 7-cell battery on the
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Conclusion

Overall, the IdeaPad U110 is a nice notebook with an amazingly stylish design and reasonable performance in a small footprint. Consumers with some extra disposable income and a desire for an attractive laptop will be hard pressed to find a nicer overall choice than the IdeaPad U110. However, Lenovo made a few questionable choices with this notebook.

The display on the U110 is quite simply one of the worst we’ve seen in our office. Sure, color and brightness were fine, but the shimmering graininess and horrible levels of reflection made the screen physically painful to view for more than about 30 minutes. Likewise, while the keyboard feels fantastic and looks cool, the glossy surface picks up smudges from your fingerprints and the keys are too flat and too close together. Lastly, there’s the issue of price. At the starting price of $1,899 most consumers won’t be able to justify this purchase.

In the end, the IdeaPad U110 is an innovative notebook with some very attractive design elements and a solid feature set. Unfortunately, the display, keyboard and price make it an unlikely choice for most laptop shoppers.

Pros

  • Cool design

  • Light weight

  • Nice battery life with extended battery

  • Acceptable overall performance

Cons

  • Horrible screen

  • Slow startup (VeriFace causes significant startup lag)

  • Keyboard not good for touch typists

  • Expensive


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