Friday, July 3, 2009

First look: the Ion-powered Lenovo Ideapad S12

Lenovo’s Ideapad S12 is one of the first netbooks we’ve seen to use Nvidia’s Ion platform, which can allegedly “turn a netbook into a notebook” thanks to its combination of Intel Atom CPU and Nvidia GeForce 9400M GPU.

It’s a new part that’s only been used by Acer up until now, in its netbooks and A-Listed Aspire Revo R3600.

That ambitious claim comes courtesy of Matt Wuebbling, a senior manager in Nvidia’s notebook division, who’ll understandably talk up the chances of his own product in the face of endless scepticism. However, having been hands-on with Lenovo’s latest offering and seeing the Ion in action, we’ve seen plenty of evidence to support his claims.

Our own testing on the Acer Aspire Revo has shown that Blu-ray playback can be handled with barely a whimper from the Ion, as most of the work is shifted onto the GPU - a trick that was repeated by the new S12 - and accomplished far easier than the old Intel integrated parts, which delivered results that were almost always too juddery to be watchable.

Video encoding had been added to the S12’s box of tricks: the ION-powered machine encoded a 1080p movie trailer for smartphone playback in approximately four minutes, with an Atom-powered equivalent struggling through the same task in almost 15 minutes.

It’s clear that the Ideapad will have more power than most of its Atom-equipped netbook rivals, then, and we’re pleased to report that the rest of the package looks just as solid.

Intel’s Atom N270 processor partners with the GeForce 9400M graphics chip and, in a break away from most of its netbook rivals, 2GB of RAM is included rather than one, which should make the operating system that little bit more responsive.

There’s also HSDPA and a 320GB hard disk, so connectivity and storage looks to be about as good as we’ve seen from any netbook, and the native resolution of 1,280 x 800 is larger than most netbooks on the market today.

The chassis felt rock-solid, too, with the wrist-rest showing no flex at all and the back of the screen barely twisting as we tugged at its glossy rear. The keyboard felt just as comfortable as those included with Samsung’s A-Listed NC10 and NC20, and was sat above a responsive trackpad with an excellent pair of buttons.

In fact, Wuebbling’s prediction seems to be coming true: the netbook does seem to be turning into a notebook: this one, for instance, sports Nvidia’s more powerful components, plenty of storage and RAM, a notebook-sized screen resolution and build quality that shames many laptops that cost twice as much.

If Lenovo can provide this specification at a reasonable price – say, near the £326 you’d be paying for a Samsung NC20 – then the Ideapad S12 could be a contender. We’ll let you know when the S12 arrives at the PC Pro Labs and it gets the full review treatment.

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