DesktopReview.com
Lenovo IdeaCentre A600 Review
by J.R. Nelson -  5/27/2009

Much like Dell until recently, Lenovo hasn't been known for being a forward thinking company in terms of aesthetic design. They did a couple of things well, and that was good enough; while the Thinkpads as a line might not always win a beauty contest, they have functional, conservative design that stands up heavy use. Lately, though, the OEM has been trying to reinvent some of their products to take a bite out of the consumer market, and the new all-in-one Lenovo IdeaCentre A600 is definitely a departure from the norm. Read on for our full review.

Specifications

Lenovo's new IdeaCentre A600 starts at $699; the suggested retail price of this configuration is currently $1399.

Build and Design
The A600 is Lenovo's first step into the all-in-one fray, but they certainly know how to make up for lost time. Every aspect of the computer is well designed, with lots of little touches here and there that add a polished and finished feel to the overall look. The machine is striking, and cuts an interesting figure -- while many all-in-ones seem to curve forward, the A600 does the reverse. The screen, protected by a sheet of glass, sits perpendicular to the desk or table, with the base flaring down and behind. It's an interesting and definitely noticeable effect, but it does preclude the option of mounting the A600 directly to the wall, something many all-in-one owners enjoy doing.

Openings on the IdeaCentre, like those for speakers and air vents, aren't covered by simple grills. Stylish yet whimsical carvings serve in their place, giving the machine a more refined feeling unmatched by most desktops. The A600 measures an inch thick at its thinnest point, giving Lenovo initiative to claim that it's the world's thinnest all-in-one desktop. As a result of this unique design, with a thin, flat screen on top of a thicker, curved bottom, the A600 needs a stand on the bottom that juts forward in order to maintain its balance. Fortunately the stand itself is pretty functional, with a heavy-duty hinge letting users tilt the all-in-one forward a few degrees. That might come in handy if users were to end up mounting it on a shelf or something higher up. Unfortunately, the way things are attached makes the A600 unwieldy to carry at best; some sort of handle or indentation in the back, similar to their ThinkVision displays, would go a long way to making this all-in-one easier to move around.

Lenovo, A600, all-in-one

Lenovo added a webcam to the top middle of the display, a device that's increasingly being added to notebooks, desktops and even monitors. Stereo microphones sit next to it on either side and stereo speakers sit at the bottom. What's interesting, however, is the way in which Lenovo takes advantage of the webcam's capabilities. One of Lenovo's strengths has always been its own branded software that it includes on every computer it sells; in this respect, the A600 is no different. Bundled with the webcam drivers is a VeriFace facial recognition utility that lets users log in just by sitting in front of their computer. To my utter surprise, it works exceptionally well. Although the software recommends users take off things like hats, it worked find with or without it and ignores the fact that you might forget to shave. Additionally, the A600 monitors the webcam for room brightness and automatically adjusts the backlighting of the display to what it thinks is comfortable for your eyes, though this can be overridden. As part of its added health software, Lenovo monitors how close you sit to the A600 -- again, through its webcam -- and if you get too close for too long, a box pops up in the lower right hand corner asking you to adjust your posture. Yes, mom!

Lenovo, A600, all-in-one

Looking at the A600 head on, no buttons are visible. This is because there's only one physical button on the entire computer -- a power button, on the left hand side. Lenovo did add four capacitive touch "buttons" to the lower right on the front of the display: raising and lowering brightness, cutting off the backlight, and ejecting a disc from the optical drive. The left side of the machine shows off the inputs, card reader and power button. There's also a hard drive access light, which is somewhat mystifying since no one's going to be able to see it when they're sitting in front of the computer, and no one's going to care when they're not. The right side features a slot-loading optical disc drive; in this case it's a combo Blu-ray read / DVD+/-RW. Much as Kevin mentioned in the first look of the A600, it's very easy to miss when glancing over the machine since it blends in well with the overall design.

Lenovo, A600, all-in-one

The back of the machine is just about as sleek as the front, with the carving designs continuing at the top and bottom. An orange band sits along the top of the display's rear, an interesting but attractive design choice that matches with the orange trim around the keyboard and mouse. In addition to the rest of the ports, there's also a small subwoofer; audio performance isn't amazing but better by far than most all-in-ones. As it sits, unless users need to hook up an Ethernet or coaxial cable (for the tv tuner), only one cord is needed to get started: plug in the power and you're good to go.

Lenovo, A600, all-in-one

Display
The display, as mentioned earlier, is covered with a sheet of glass that runs edge to edge. It's nice that Lenovo went with a glass solution instead of plastic; while it does add weight, it also adds a feeling of luxury where plastic would cheapen it. Unfortunately, the glass does add a fair amount of extra reflection to the screen as well as some slight optical distortion. Viewing angles are pretty good, and while there is inversion at extremes, tilting the display forward takes care of some of it.

Lenovo, A600, all-in-one
Lenovo, A600, all-in-one Lenovo, A600, all-in-one
Lenovo, A600, all-in-one

Inputs and Expansion
Despite being a space efficient all-in-one, the A600 doesn't suffer from a shortage of ports and expandability. Aside from the Blu-ray capable optical disc drive on this particular model, Lenovo also stuffed in six USB2.0 ports (two on the side, four on the rear). The left side also features audio in and out connectors, a FireWire port and a memory card reader. In addition to the USB ports in the back, there's also a gigabit Ethernet jack and coaxial in that serves the hybrid TV tuner. Lenovo was wise enough to use a tuner that can access both NTSC and ATSC so whether users are stuck on basic cable or already making the digital transition, it'll work out fine.

 

Lenovo, A600, all-in-one

Lenovo, A600, all-in-one

Performance
Most all-in-one desktops suffer in the performance arena. In order to fit both a display and all of the traditional computer components into such a small area, manufacturers are forced to use lower-power notebook components which are rarely the equal of similar components used in most desktops. Fortunately, though, the A600 doesn't disappoint. System performance with the Intel Core 2 Duo P7450 processor and ATI Mobility Radeon HD3650 is very good for both regular users and power-users that might enjoy using the computer for typing documents in the early evening, and switching to some light gaming or HD movie watching late at night. The system can handle most previous generation games without a problem as long as the resolution is scaled back from 1920x1080 down to 1280x720 and minor tweaks are made to the detail settings. For its intended market the system is more than capable for what it will be put through on a day-to-day basis.

wPrime CPU performance comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):

Desktop Time to complete wPrime 32M
Dell Studio Slim (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 16.301s
Dell Studio Hybrid (Core 2 Duo T8100 @ 2.10GHz) 35.582s
Lenovo A600 All-in-one (Core 2 Duo P7450 @ 2.13GHz) 37.363s
Apple Mac Mini (Core 2 Duo P7350 @ 2.0GHz) 38.754s
HP TouchSmart IQ506 (Core 2 Duo T5850 @ 2.16 GHz) 39.544s

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

Desktop PCMark05 Score
Dell Studio Slim (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 6887 PCMarks
Lenovo A600 All-in-one (Core 2 Duo P7450 @ 2.13GHz) 5589 PCMarks
HP TouchSmart IQ506 (Core 2 Duo T5850 @ 2.16 GHz) 5189 PCMarks
Apple Mac Mini (Core 2 Duo P7350 @ 2.0GHz) 4593 PCMarks
Dell Studio Hybrid (Core 2 Duo T8100 @ 2.10GHz) 4305 PCMarks

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

Desktop 3DMark06 Score
Lenovo A600 All-in-one (Core 2 Duo P7450, ATI HD3650) 4265 3DMarks
Dell Studio Slim (Core 2 Quad Q8200, ATI HD3450 256MB) 1820 3DMarks
HP TouchSmart IQ506 (Core 2 Duo T5850, NVIDIA 9300M GS) 1714 3DMarks
Apple Mac Mini (Core 2 Duo P7350, NVIDIA 9400M) 1552 3DMarks
Dell Studio Hybrid (Core 2 Duo T8100, Intel X3100) 528 3DMarks

HDTune results:

Keyboard and Mouse
The included wireless keyboard (with touchpad), wireless laser mouse, and 3D motion controller all feel great compared to some of the "free" components usually included with some computers. The keyboard is one of the nicer wireless units we have seen in the office, sporting a very thin profile, and featuring mouse controls with an onboard touchpad. The keyboard is designed to work on your lap or being held with both hands for navigation, with the touchpad on the right side (with left and right buttons) and a button on the left side that works as a left mouse button for selecting items. The coolest feature of the A600 IdeaCentre by far is the media remote/gyroscopic mouse/VOIP handset/game controller. It can work as a presentation controller, moving the pointer around the screen with basic gyroscopic control, with left and right mouse buttons located near the center of the remote. It also has full controls for Windows Media Center and can function as a wireless handset to make calls through VOIP software, with a microphone and speaker built into it. Finally it acts as a Wiimote style controller for various included games, using the gyroscopic control to interact with games.

Unfortunately, the "Wii"-esque games were a bit of a letdown, with the motion being jerky at best and completely unresponsive at worst. That isn't to say the remote doesn't work well, however, since every other function it possesses performs superbly well. Considering that one of the target audiences for this desktop is as a multimedia computer or HTPC, including a remote at all is a brilliant strategy; the fact that it's a gyroscopic mouse is well is, frankly, awesome.

Lenovo, A600, all-in-one

Power, Heat and Noise
The A600, despite being a capable machine and possessing a 21.5" 1080p display, manages to be fairly power efficient. With the backlight at minimum, the machine pulls down just 54 watts of power; idling with max brightness, that jumps up to 82 watts. Under a full load, the A600 will use up to 96 watts of power and with everything maxed out, around 116 watts. That still isn't too bad since most users will rarely max out the brightness, CPU and GPU. Along with not using too much power, the A600 doesn't put out too much in the way of waste heat. Unlike some very hot displays we've tested recently, at max brightness, the middle of the screen was a cool 84 degrees Fahrenheit, and that was just about the warmest spot on the machine. Things aren't quite as rosy when it comes to noise; the A600 uses a full-on 3.5" hard drive, which is simply noisier than most notebook drives. As a result, you can hear the drive being accessed from time to time. Additionally, the fans in the unit never kick off completely; in an utterly quiet room you'll definitely hear it.

Conclusion
The Lenovo IdeaCentre A600 is one of the freshest desktops we've seen in some time. It has a great design, and cuts a striking view, especially in profile. The combination of a full HD (1080p) display as well as a hybrid ATSC/NTSC television tuner give extra value to this all-in-one; you can use it as a computer, TV, DVR, media center or any combination of the above. The peripherals like the wireless keyboard and mouse set are very high quality and offer some surprising features: a touchpad and extra left mouse button on the keyboard and switchable DPI on the mouse. The 4-in-1 remote control, an optional accessory, isn't perfect by any means, but it goes a long way to making the system easier to use from a distance and is still a lot of fun.

The system isn't perfect, though, and carries a few flaws. A downside to its unusual design, the A600 is awkward to move around. The glass covering the screen is beautiful and protective, but bounces reflections back and forth, so using it in a room without much in the way of light control may be a difficult task. Additionally, it would be nice to see Lenovo offer something like the TV tuner as an option on one of the slightly-lower priced models; with prices ranging from $700 - $1400 US there's definitely room for further stratification. Still, overall the A600 is a fantastic machine and represents a good value for the price. Regardless of whether you'll use this in your living room, bedroom or office, the IdeaCentre is a great buy.

Pros

Cons