Lenovo IdeaPad U330 Review

by Kevin O'Brien Reads (132,569)

by Kevin O’Brien

The IdeaPad U330 is the stylish 13.3” consumer oriented notebook from Lenovo. With a slick chassis and thin frameless LCD, the U-series notebook is a huge step away from the popular ThinkPad series. Offering power-saving switchable graphics, HDMI out, touch sensitive media controls, and the Intel Centrino 2 platform the Lenovo IdeaPad U330 packs a big punch.

Lenovo IdeaPad U330 (2267-2BU) Specifications:

  • 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 (1066Mhz FSB, 3MB Cache)
  • Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium w/ SP1
  • Graphics: ATI Radeon 3450 with 256MB DDR3/Intel X4500 Integrated
  • Screen: 13.3-inch LED-backlit WXGA (1280 x 800, 300 nit) glossy display
  • Memory: 2GB DDR3 (4GB Max)
  • Storage: 250GB SATA HDD (5400rpm)
  • Optical Drive: DVD-Recordable
  • Wireless and Communications: Intel 5100AGN (802.11 a/b/g/n wi-fi), BlueTooth 2.0 EDR
  • Battery: 6-Cell 57Wh Battery
  • Dimensions: 12.5″ x 9.3″ x 0.9″ – 1.1″
  • Weight: from 4.28lbs with 6-cell battery
  • Warranty: 1-year
  • Price: $1,249.00

Build and Design

The design of the Lenovo U330 is very visually pleasing, with a low profile chassis, super thin LCD, and high gloss display cover. On the inside it has a pinstripe paint scheme with glossy touch-sensitive media controls. The frameless display looks really nice, with a smooth seamless finish side to side. These screens all tend to look great when the system is off, but they do introduce a ton of glare in a bright environment.

Build quality was average, with a good design, but having some components that could be improved. The thin screen while visually pleasing was very flexible, but did seem to protect against ripples in the screen when tapping the back of the cover. The paint scheme looked nice, but the finish could be improved. We saw many areas which looked like dusts had been trapped in the paint surface during the painting process, leaving defects and imperfections on the palmrest. The overall feel of the notebook is nice, but the little things really add up.

Display

The “frameless” display, while highly reflective in nature, looked very nice on our review machine. Colors and contrast were exceptional, and black levels were very good with the LED backlit. Viewing angles were above average, with a broad sweet spot for easy viewing. Vertical viewing angles spanned from roughly 30 degrees down or 20 degrees up before colors started to become washed out or inverted. Horizontal viewing angles were much better, easily spanning to the steepest angles before colors started to wash out. In bright viewing conditions, at steeper angles you start to have nearby surfaces reflecting off the screen and dimming your view of what is on display. This is one limitation of the all-glass panels across the board though.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard was very easy to type on, and had relatively good support under strong typing pressure. The style looks similar to what is found on the business grade ThinkPad notebooks, but with more of a consumer vibe. Individual key action is smooth with a soft click on each press. For long typing sessions the keyboard was wonderful and very easy on the fingertips.

The Synaptics based touchpad had great sensitivity and had little to no lag during use. The surface texture had a soft matte finish which was easy to slide your finger across, even if slightly sweaty. One problem we noticed which was slightly odd was a bubble underneath the surface, which may have just been a manufacturing defect. The touchpad buttons were large and had great feedback. Each button had a long throw, with a soft quiet click when pressed.

Performance

System performance with the ATI Radeon 3450 dedicated graphics and the Intel P7350 Core 2 Duo processor was excellent. The system handled mild gaming without a problem and normal acitivity was without any lag (once you removed most of the bloatware). One advantage of having a switchable graphics system is one minute you can be playing around in a game, and another you are sipping slowly off battery power using integrated graphics. Lenovo handles this transition without needing to reboot the system with a simple right click on the desktop and selecting “Configure Switchable Graphics.” The switch takes only a few seconds and power usage drops significantly. Besides gaming, I found leaving it in the Intel graphics mode worked out best. The system consumes less power, puts off less heat, and still ran all of the 3D features of Vista without a problem. The PCMark Vantage synthetic benchmark returned a reasonably impressive score of 3,232.

WPrime 32M comparison results:

WPrime is a benchmark similar to Super Pi in that it forces the processor to do intense mathematical calculations, but the difference is this application is multi-threaded and represents dual core processors better. Lower numbers indicate better performance.

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Lenovo IdeaPad U330 (Core 2 Duo P7350 @ 2.0GHz) 38.222s
Dell Inspiron 13 (Pentium Dual Core T2390 @ 1.86GHz)   44.664s 
Dell Studio 15 (Core 2 Duo T5750 @ 2.0GHz) 41.246s
HP Pavilion dv5z (Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80 @ 2.1GHz)
39.745s
Toshiba Satellite U405 (Core 2 Duo T8100 @ 2.1GHz)  37.500s  
Dell Vostro 1510 (Core 2 Duo T5670 @ 1.8GHz) 51.875s
Dell Inspiron 1525 (Core 2 Duo T7250 @ 2.0GHz) 43.569s
Dell XPS M1530 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)
37.485s
HP Pavilion dv6500z (Turion 64 X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 40.759s
Sony VAIO NR (Core 2 Duo T5250 @ 1.5GHz) 58.233s
Toshiba Tecra A9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 38.343s
Toshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.299s
HP Compaq 6910p (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 40.965s
Lenovo T61 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.705s
HP Pavilion dv6000z (Turion X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 38.720s

 

PCMark05 measures overall notebook performance based on processor, hard drive, operating system, RAM, and graphics (higher scores are better):

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Lenovo IdeaPad U330 (2.0GHz Intel P7350, ATI Radeon 3450 with 256MB DDR3) 4,801 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad U330 (2.0GHz Intel P7350, Intel X4500) 4,224 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 13 (1.86GHz Intel T2390, Intel X3100)   3,727 PCMarks
Dell Studio 15 (2.0GHz Intel T5750, Intel X3100) 3,998 PCMarks
HP Pavilion dv5z (2.1GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80, ATI Radeon HD 3200)
3,994 PCMarks
Toshiba Satellite U405 (2.1GHz Intel T8100, Intel X3100)  4,145 PCMarks  
Dell Vostro 1510 (1.8GHz Intel T5670, Intel X3100) 3,568 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100) 4,149 PCMarks
Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB) 5,412 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA 8600M GT) 4,616 PCMarks
Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100)  3,283 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


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

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Lenovo IdeaPad U330 (2.0GHz Intel P7350, ATI Radeon 3450 with 256MB DDR3) 2,056 3DMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad U330 (2.0GHz Intel P7350, Intel X4500) 851 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 13 (1.86GHz Intel T2390, Intel X3100) 470 3DMarks
Dell Studio 15 (2.0GHz Intel T5750, Intel X3100) 493 3DMarks
HP Pavilion dv5z (2.1GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80, ATI Radeon HD 3200)   1,599 3DMarks
Toshiba Satellite U405 (2.1GHz Intel T8100, Intel X3100)  539 3DMarks  
Dell Vostro 1510 (1.8GHz Intel T5670, Intel X3100) 519 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100) 545 3DMarks
HP Pavilion dv6500z (2.0GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60, NVIDIA 8400m GS)  1,551 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
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks

 

HDTune results:


Speakers

Audio performance of the U330 was average compared to other notebooks of its size, with limited bass and midrange being the main weak points. Volume levels were adequate, but not as loud as larger notebooks. For watching movies or listening to music they would be fine, but for near perfect audio a good pair of headphones would be best. The headphone jack produced clean audio, with very high volume levels. The one complaint I have with the speaker and heaphone system on this notebook is the very loud beep the notebook makes when you switch power profiles between battery and AC power. It is loud and distracting through the speakers and “gives me a heart attack” while wearing headphones.

Ports and Features

The port selection was a little light on the Lenovo U330, with only two USB ports and no eSATA. I think Lenovo could have easily taken away the HDMI port to make space for something else. That being said the port selection was not that bad with VGA, HDMI, Firewire, LAN, two USB, and headphone/microphone jacks. The U330 also included a 6-in-1 multicard reader located on the front.


Front: 6-in-1 card reader and headphone/mic


Rear: Screen hinge


Left: VGA, LAN, and HDMI


Right: Firewire 400, ExpressCard/34, two USB, optical drive, AC-power, and Kensington lock slot

Battery Life

With the switchable graphics set to power-saving integrated mode, the power profile in Vista set to “balanced”, wireless active, and screen brightness set to 60 percent, the U330 managed to stay powered on for 3 hours and 58 minutes. If you enable the dedicated graphics, battery life dips to 2 hours and 40 minutes. I would love to see an extended battery for the U330, but with the screen hinge design it would need to extended below the bottom of the notebook to add additional cells.

Heat and Noise

Thermal performance of the Lenovo U330 was very nice, keeping its cool in both integrated and dedicated graphics modes. System fan noise is minimal under light use, staying at a constant low speed. Under higher levels of stress the fan kicks up in speed, but doesn’t get that loud.

Conclusion

The Lenovo IdeaPad U330 is a nice consumer notebook with a solid look and feel, but had a few areas that could be improved. The paint quality on the model we received had dust stuck in the paint and an odd small bubble underneath the touchpad surface. Chances are it is an early production quirk, but it is still worth mentioning in this review. The frameless screen panel looks great and adds to the overall look of the notebook, but in use it does add a high level of reflection. The switchable graphics that didn’t require a reboot to switch modes is great, as most notebooks that incorporate it need to fully reboot.

Pros:

  • LCD has good contrast and great colors
  • Solid performance in dedicated and integrated graphics mode
  • Switchable graphics doesn’t require a reboot
  • Good cooling system

Cons:

  • Some paint defects (could be a limited problem with our particular review unit)
  • Frameless screen is very reflective




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