Lenovo Ideapad U330 User Review

by admlam Reads (75,427)

The Ideapad U330 is Lenovo’s 13.3″ notebook built with Intel’s Montevina platform and AMD’s switchable graphics technology. The latter feature is unique to the U330 compared to other 13.3″ competitors such as the Dell XPS 1330, Apple Macbook based on Intel’s older Santa Rosa platform, and even the newer Sony SR series.

The model in this review is the U330-22672AU with the following specifications:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 Processor (2.00GHz, 1066MHz FSB, 3MB L2 Cache)
  • Windows Vista Home Premium with SP1
  • 13.3″ WXGA (1280×800) LED Backlight LCD
  • Intel GMA 4500 MHD, ATI Radeon HD 3450 258MB Switchable Graphics
  • 3 GB PC3-8500 (1066 MHz) DDR3 RAM
  • 320GB 5,400 RPM HD
  • DVD-RW
  • Intel 5100 abgn WiFi Card
  • Bluetooth
  • 1.3 MP Webcam and Mic
  • 6-cell Li-Ion 56 WHr Battery
  • 1-year warranty, 6 months for battery

Advertised dimensions: 12.5″ x 9.3″ x 0.9-1.1″ (WxDxH), 4.32lb
Actual dimensions: 12.55″ x 9.05″ x 1.19-1.37″ (WxDxH), 4.20lb

Reasons for buying

The U330′s main selling points are its combination of its hybrid graphics system, size, and pricing. The hybrid graphics system is a significant feature of the Intel Montevina platform as it allows for the computer to switch between the power-efficient Intel GMA 4500 integrated graphics to maximize battery life and a dedicated ATI HD 3450 256MB graphics card for moderate gaming. Moreover, with its dimensions and weight, the U330 is one of the lightest 13.3″ notebooks while costing a few hundred dollars less than its competitors.

As for my own personal reasons for purchasing the U330, I was originally interested in the Thinkpad T400. However, its non-flush 6-cell battery extending an additional inch out of the chassis dissuaded me from picking the T400. The flush 6-cell battery on the U330 in conjunction with its small form factor and attractive pricing 

Where and How Purchased

At the time this review was written, the U330 can be purchased from www.lenovo.com with a retail price of $1,199 to $1,299 depending on configuration. But with Lenovo’s perpetual sales and promotions, the U330 can be easily found for less than $1,000.

Only two pre-configured models and a myriad of optional service plans are available for sale. Eventually, Lenovo plans to make the U330 available at brick-and-mortar stores such as Fry’s and offer a greater variety of configurations with Blu-Ray, built-in WWAN, and IR media remotes.

Build and Design

For the experts, the U330 was built by the ODM Wistron. Lenovo claims that the U330 casing is built out of a magnesium aluminum alloy. Although the magnesium aluminum alloy does not feel like metal, the chassis of the U330 feels solid with no flexing or creaking. Pushing against the back of the lid does not produce any ripples on the screen. Nevertheless, the lid isn’t resistant to torsional strain due to the lack of a solid structure behind the screen like the Thinkpad’s rollcage. The optical drive, SD card, and 34mm express card holders sit flush with the rest of the chassis, which reflects the excellent fit and finish of the U330. There is no latch for the lid as it relies on a tension mechanism to remain closed. Rubber pads on the edges of the notebook prevent the keyboard from smearing against the screen when closed.

Aside from the lid of the U330, the entire notebook has a smooth matte finish. On the other hand, the top of the lid features a glossy finish susceptible to fingerprints and scratches. The actual bezel surrounding the screen is covered by an additional layer of glossy plastic to create the appearance of a continuous window, similar to HP’s Infinity View. Once again, the glossy finish on the bezels surrounding the screen creates another fingerprint hazard.

The U330 borrows the same hinge design found on the Macbook and XPS 1330. Consequently, the screen can only be pushed back a maximum of 120 instead of the full 180 on notebooks with a traditional hinge design.

Display

The U330 features an LED backlight LCD to improve color reproduction while reducing thickness and power consumption. There was no graininess, light leakage, or dead pixels. Horizontal viewing angles are acceptable at roughly 30 degrees left and right from the center. However, vertical viewing angles are nonexistent as you have to view the screen head-on to avoid distortion from the screen’s second glossy panel. While plugged in, I find the screen to be too bright, requiring me to reduce the brightness down to 60% for comfortable use. While using batteries, reducing the brightness to 10% to maximize battery life still provides acceptable viewing under indoor lighting conditions. I was able to achieve the same degree of visibility in direct sunlight by turning up the brightness to 50% despite the additional glossy panel on top of the screen. As a result, I don’t believe the glossy screen should cause too much difficulty for everyday usage in diverse lighting environments.

Speakers

The U330 has two speakers located across from the left and right hinges of the screen on the base of the notebook driven by a Realtek audio chipset. The sound does not become distorted at max volume. Yet like all other notebooks, bass is nonexistent and volume is weak despite the Dolby Home Theatre label on the speakers. The audio jack located on the front of the notebook does not suffer from interference from its internal components, providing good sound when connected to headphones or external speakers.  Finally, a microphone array is located on the top of the screen with the webcam.

Processor and Performance

At 2.00GHz, the P7350 in the U330 is a little slower than other Penryn Core 2 Duos. Nonetheless, the P7350 still provides enough computational power as evident in the SuperPi, wPrime, and MATLAB benchmarks.  With notebooks, the graphics card is usually the bottleneck in performance as evident in the 3DMark 06 and Vista Index benchmark scores. The U330 won’t be able to run graphically intense games like Crysis comfortably at high settings. But for the occasional game of Half-Life 2, CS:S, or DotA, the ATI HD 3450 with its 256MB GDDR3 RAM gets the job done relatively well. All benchmarks were performed at native resolution.

Synthetic Benchmarks:

wPrime comparison results (lower scores means better performance):

Notebook / CPU

wPrime 32M time

Lenovo Ideapad U330 (Core 2 Duo P7350 @ 2.00GHz)

39.281s

HP Pavilion HDX18 (Core 2 Duo T9600 @ 2.8GHz)

27.416s

Acer Aspire 6920 (Core 2 Duo T5750 @ 2.0GHz)

44.457s 

HP Pavilion HDX (2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9500, Windows Vista 64)

28.978s

Lenovo ThinkPad SL400 (Core 2 Duo P8400 @ 2.26GHz)

34.628s

HP Pavilion dv5z (Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80 @ 2.1GHz)

39.745s

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

Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz)

76.240s

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 (higher scores are better):

Notebook

PCMark05 Score

Lenovo Ideapad U330 (2.00GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350, ATI HD 3450 256MB)

4,465 PCMarks

HP Pavilion HDX18 (2.8GHz Intel T9600, Nvidia 9600M GT 512MB)

6,587 PCMarks

Acer Aspire 6920 (2.0GHz Intel T5750, Intel X3100)

4,179 PCMarks

HP Pavilion HDX (2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9500, Nvidia Go 8800M GTS 512MB)

6,921 PCMarks

Lenovo ThinkPad SL400 (2.26GHz Intel P8400, NVIDIA 9300M GS 256MB)

5,173 PCMarks

HP Pavilion dv5z (2.1GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80, ATI Radeon HD 3200)

3,994 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

Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)

4,153 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 represents the overall graphics performance of a notebook. (Higher numbers indicate better performance.)

Notebook

3DMark06 Score

Lenovo Ideapad U330 (2.00GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350, ATI HD 3450 256MB)

2,040 3DMarks

HP Pavilion HDX18 (2.8GHz Intel T9600, Nvidia 9600M GT 512MB)

4,127 3DMarks

HP Pavilion HDX (2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9500, Nvidia Go 8800M GTS 512MB)

8,791 3DMarks

HP Pavilion HDX (2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7700, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2600 XT 256MB)

4,205 3DMarks

Gateway P-171XL FX (2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo X7900, NVIDIA Go 8800M GTS)

8,801 3DMarks

Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, NVIDIA Go 8600M GT)

3,775 3DMarks

Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA Go 8600M GT)

2,934 3DMarks

Dell Inspiron 1720 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8600M GT)

2,930 3DMarks

Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB)

1,329 3DMarks

Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)

532 3DMarks

Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB)

1,408 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 (1.66 Core Duo, nVidia 7600Go 256 MB)

2,144 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

Sony VAIO SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)

794 3DMarks


HD Tune:

Windows Experience Index Score:


integrated GPU score

dedicated GPU score

MATLAB Bench: 

In-game Screenshots:

Heat and Noise

While plugged-in, the left side of the U330 becomes almost uncomfortably warm around the vent areas and the hard drive. These areas are warmer when in dedicated graphics mode. The fan is always on, but fortunately isn’t too loud as I can still hear the hard drive. Interestingly enough, the fan is more audible in integrated graphics mode than in dedicated graphics mode. As the notebook under review is part of the first batch of manufactured U330s, Lenovo should hopefully fix this peculiarity with future BIOS or software updates. Fortunately, the heat and noise are considerably reduced while running on battery with the bottom and left palm rest not exceeding lukewarm and the fan operating at a whisper.  See HWMonitor screenshots for temps under dedicated graphics and battery operation.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard has a matte finish and doesn’t have any flex to report of. Individual keys are easy to compress but have a mushy and quiet response similar to Dell notebooks.  But this is more a matter of personal preference as I am used to the crisp clickiness of the keyboard on my Averatec. As usual with Lenovo notebooks, the Ctrl and Fn keys are switched, but this is easy to adjust to.

TheU330 has a Synaptics touchpad brand with the same matte finish as the keyboard. Vertical scrolling areas are clearly marked on the right. Horizontal areas are not marked on the bottom but function as expected. The touchpad clickers have a smoother finish and have a quiet response when compressed. Indicator lights for power and WiFi are below the clickers.

Above the keyboard are the power button, Lenovo’s OneKey Recovery program buttons, and indicator lights for Num Lock and HD activity. Finally, a touch sensitive multimedia control panel is adjacent to these indicator lights with mute, volume control, DVD playback control, and miscellaneous audio equalizer presets.

Input and Output Ports

Ports are as listed. The U330 has the standard array of ports in addition to a HDMI connection. Having only 2 USB ports seems insufficient in an age where netbooks have at least 3. The hinge design also prevents the placement of input and output ports on the rear, leaving only a cooling vent on the back.

Front side: (from left to right): Dolby Home Theater Label, Indicator Lights, Media Card Slot, Audio In, Mic In, Wireless On-Off Switch

Right side (from left to right): Firewire, 2x USB 2.0, 34mm Express Card Slot, Optical Drive, AC in, Lock Slot

Left side (from left to right): Exhaust Vent, VGA, 10/100 LAN, HDMI

Wireless

The Intel 5100 wireless card is managed by a combination of Lenovo’s ReadyComm software and Vista’s wireless manager. The wireless card simply just works, with nothing exciting to report on its range or speed. Bluetooth is controlled by a separate software stack.

Battery

Battery life registers in at around 3 hrs 25 min before going to sleep at 10% brightness, integrated graphics, WiFi on, Bluetooth off, while streaming music from the web and typing in Microsoft Word. Power usage varies from 11W to 16W during testing as measured by RMClock. The 90W AC adapter can charge the battery from 10% to 100% in 3 hours. Removing the AC causes the computer to beep, but this can be remedied by muting sound.

Under similar settings with dedicated graphics, the battery life decreases to 2 hrs 20 min with a power draw of 19W. Switching between integrated and dedicated graphics can be done through the BIOS (requiring a reboot) or on-the-fly through software. At the moment, the graphics switching software is exclusive to Vista. Moreover, it requires you to close all graphically intense programs prior to switching and causes the screen to flicker for 3 seconds. Switching graphics cards is not dynamic based on load, but rather based on user input.

While battery results are decent, they fall short from the Thinkpad T400′s spectacular battery life of 6 hours with a similar capacity battery. I believe that the problem lies with the Ideapad’s power management software. The Ideapad power management software is not as comprehensive or aggressive as the Thinkpad’s Battery Stretch feature as users only have simple on-and-off switches for parts such as sound card and LAN.

Lenovo also needs to work more with the U330′s ACPI as power management goes out the door when booting from hibernation on battery. Power usage spikes to 22W and the fan revs up, effectively killing battery life. Again, I hope this will be addressed in the future with a BIOS or software update.

Operating System and Software

Upon first boot-up, I was greeted with an annoying musical tune at the Lenovo splash screen, which then loaded up to Vista Home Premium SP1, with 72 processes. But I can’t seem to find any options in the BIOS to disable the music on boot-up. Outside of the useless trial software, the Lenovo also bundles software to manage power usage, the webcam, and Bluetooth. For example, Lenovo’s EasyCapture software allows for users to record pictures and videos with the 1.3MP webcam. EasyCapture also has a feature to apply various aftereffects and borders to the pictures you take, similar Apple’s webcam software and photo booths popular in Asia.

But a more exciting and useful feature is the VeriFace software, which enables users to log into their computers by simply having the webcam scan their face. The entire verification process only takes a few seconds, making it a practical substitute to typing in a password.

Conclusion

The Lenovo Ideapad U330 is a decent consumer level notebook featuring a bright screen, switchable graphics, a thin form factor, and light weight. Moreover, some preloaded of software such as Lenovo’s VeriFace are actually nice and useful. Nonetheless, the U330 still feels a little rough around the edges as evident through some idiosyncrasies in its power management and fan behavior.  But hopefully, these issues should be resolved by Lenovo as production of the U330 progresses. For the enthusiast expecting Thinkpad quality and features, the Ideapad is still no substitute. As for the typical consumer, the U330 is a strong candidate against currently available 13.3″ Dell, Apple, and Sony notebooks, especially at the $1,000 price point.

Pros:

  • Can be found for less than $1,000 on sale
  • Thin-and-light for a 13.3″ notebook
  • Bright LED screen
  • Switchable graphics for graphics power only when you need it
  • Cool and quiet while on battery

Cons:

  • Only two USB ports
  • Warm and loud operation while plugged-in
  • Still doesn’t feel like a finished product as power management and fan control seems lacking

 




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