Review Lenovo IdeaPad S12 ION Netbook
The small, white one.
Stylishness is a must for all netbooks. Why? Simply put, most buyers are not computer experts who want all the specifications, but instead they are simply people who wish to have a netbook so as to surf on the web. So it is necessary for the product to be stylish as it would be more likely to attract the eye of such buyers. Lenovo realised this and designed the IdeaPad S12 to accomodate the needs of such buyers. The netbook is a trendy white and has a few clever features. We will discuss these further in our in-depth review.
The release of the new series of consumer laptops from Lenovo, the IdeaPads, on the open market in the January of 2008, divided Lenovo fans into two groups with totally opposite opinions. The first group believed that the release of these laptops signalled a fall in the laptop production standards of Lenovo which would lead to lower quality ThinkPads. On the other hand, the second group rejoiced and hoped that the new, cheap laptops were similar to the ThinkPads in quality.
It seems that both groups were partially right, as the soon-to-be-released ThinkPad Edge series is a cheap, design-oriented variation of the ThinkPad. However, the first IdeaPads were respectable due to their reliable quality. The only problems which marred the otherwise respectable quality of the IdeaPad series were the short battery life and the low display quality of the IdeaPad S9 and S10.
Our test model, the IdeaPad S12 has a 12.1 inch screen and is, thus, caught between the boundary separating netbooks and subnotebooks. The S12 will be equipped with an Atom CPU and the NVidia Ion-platform; a combination which will certainly result in decent performance.
Our test model is a white S12 with a shiny, silver Lenovo logo and a pattern of shiny circles on the back of the screen. The netbook is also available in black with the same design and pearl-white display hinges. The design is pleasing even if it is not amazing like that of many other netbooks.
Another noticeable design characteristic of the S12 is the battery of the netbook. The battery is basically two cylindrical forms stuck together so that when it is put into the netbook the second cylinder sticks out of the back of the S12 in such a way so as to support the netbook. In this way, the battery tilts the IdeaPad slightly towards the user. However, removing the battery leaves a hole under the display which the user will just have to get used to.
All the parts of the netbook, except for the monitor cover, have a slightly rough, matt surface which is made of a synthetic material. Due to the bright colour of the netbook, fingerprints are only perceptible under specific lighting conditions.
The workmanship of the netbook is very good. The individual parts of the S12 are connected firmly with each other. However, the display cover can give way under pressure from behind and it can also be bent slightly. The battery locking mechanism does not do a very good job as the battery is still wobbly even when locked in. The keyboard sits firmly inside the case but can bend inwards when certain keys are pressed. However, this is barely noticeable and does not impede the user during typing.
The screen is held up by two firm hinges which make a rather loud scraping noise when the display is opened. However, they do their job well. They manage to hold the display in position without any problems. Opening the netbook with one hand is a very hard task due to the inflexible hinges. When the battery is in the netbook, the display can only be opened up to 30 degrees away from the perpendicular (120 degrees). The screen does not go any further even when the battery is removed.
When it comes to connectivity, Lenovo has pulled out all the stops for the S12. Although, the ports are only placed on the sides, there are still many of them as the IdeaPad S12 is a generously-sized netbook.
The ports on the left side are (from front to back): a card reader (for Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, SD cards and multimedia cards, the names of which are inscribed in the hand-rest regions so that they can be found easily), two USB ports, a hardware switch for wireless communication, the cooling vent for the cooler fan and the power outlet.
The ports on the right side are: a HDMI port, audio and microphone ports, an additional USB port, a VGA interface, a LAN port, and a Kensington Lock.
The positioning of the various ports is also very good: As both sides have USB ports, neither left- nor right-handed users will have any problems with cables on a small table. However, right-handed users could have a problem with the HDMI cable as the HDMI port is placed very far up front. So those users who wish to connect an external monitor should think about this.
Lenovo offers the standard Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR and WLAN for any wireless needs the user might have. Thus, Lenovo manages to reach the desired class standard, however the Broadcom WLAN card in the S12 can only use 802.11 b und g. The modern 802.11 n-standard is sadly missing.
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium is the operating system of the new Lenovo netbook. However, as the Atom processor does not support 64-bit processing, the OS installed on the netbook is the 32-bit version of Windows 7.
Lenovo does not install various trial versions of software, which means that the system is thankfully clean of annoying trial programs. However, it would have naturally been nice to have a few useful full version software. The user must satisfy him/herself with VeriFace, the single, useful full-version program on the netbook. This software allows the laptop to check the users face and thus ensures that no unauthorized person accesses the laptop.
Additionally, the netbook also has OneKey Recovery, which can restore an earlier version of the system via a special button. Of course, the obligatory trial versions of McAfee Security and Microsoft Office are also installed.
Lenovo has also installed the so-called Quick Start Software. This software is actually an operating system which can be started via special button. Instead of loading Windows 7, the netbook will load a nicely designed user menu which will allow the user to access all the basic programs and files such as web browsers, pictures, music players or internet chatting services like Skype.
Windows allows the user to quickly and comfortably configure this "Quick Start Software", and the software loads very quickly. Plus the user can also quickly switch to Windows from it with just the press of a button, however this will first restart the system and then launch windows. The missing video player is the only lacking feature of the software. However, this is probably due to the fact that the Lenovo S12 does not have an optical DVD drive.
The keyboard of the IdeaPad S12 is well-dimensioned due to the fact that the netbook has a rather big case when compared to other netbooks. Most of the keys are big, and the only ones which are smaller in size are the rarely-used square brackets, the number keys, and the plus key.
For some reason the manufacturers chose to assign Pos1, End, and the F12 keys as the function keys (which are supposed to be used with the Fn-key). The Fn combos allow the user to adjust display brightness, volume, and use a variety of other features such as touchpad and wireless activation, and multimedia tasks.
The volume controls are special keys which are set above the keyboard. Other special keys such as the Quick-Start key, for the Quick Start OS, the OneKey Recovery key and the power button are also positioned next to each other there.
Back to the actual keyboard: the keyboard is white just like the case of the netbook. The key combinations are colored orange so as to make them more noticeable. The keyboard is firmly seated in the case, but, as already mentioned, it bends inward at certain spots.
The stroke of the keys is muted and somewhat indirect, but the keyboard still allows the user to easily type longer texts. The keys are far enough away from each other so the user can type comfortably.
The small touchpad of the S12 is positioned under the spacebar and is separated from the rest of the case by a bordering groove which surrounds it. The surface of the touchpad is very smooth, so smooth in-fact that sometimes the finger glides over the surface. However, once the touchpad sensitivity has been reduced one can no longer reach the edge of the screen in one go. The touchpad is unfortunately too small for that. Still the touchpad is a suitable substitute for an external mouse when one has configured the settings properly.
On the right side of the touchpad there is a scroll bar which is both tangible and visible. It allows the user to scroll as the touchpad is not able to recognise multi-touch gestures.
The two keys under the touchpad feel comfortable and easy-to-press. They are both palpable and give a good sound when pressed.
The 12 inch screen of the Lenovo IdeaPad S12 has a resolution of 1280x800 pixels, which means that the aspect ratio is 16:10. The maximum brightness of the screen can be found at the center of the display and has a value of 229 cd/m². However, in the bottom right corner the brightness can only reach a mere 170 cd/m², and, thus, the total illumination is 74.2 percent. Even the average brightness of 206,8 cd/m² is mediocre.
The contrast ratio is a mere 183:1 due to the moderate black value of 1.25 cd/m². These values are not exceptionally high, and depending on the user, the colours are bright and the contrast is okay. However, in the case of big colour areas the uneven brightness leads quickly to dark spots.
The screen also has a glare coating, which makes it hard to work with the laptop outdoors in broad daylight. As soon as the environment becomes bright, the display of the netbook starts reflecting heavily.
The viewing angles of the netbook display are similar to that of most other consumer laptops. Horizontally the display is fine but as soon as one pushes the screen upwards or downwards the colours change rapidly.
All-in-all the display of the IdeaPad S12 is typical of this class of netbooks. The screen has the same weaknesses, which most other netbooks have: low black value, mediocre brightness, glare coating and a vertical viewing angle. In this case, the pressure of the pricing is just too high.
The current Atom generation is not being used in the IdeaPad S12: the Intel Atom N270 processor with a clock speed of 1600 MHz belongs to the previous generation of Intel and is codenamed Diamondville.
The small, single-core processor can use "Hyper Threading" which allows it to process two separate threads at the same time. However, the performance of the CPU is not exactly amazing during "Hyper Threading" as is shown by the result of the "Multi-Thread-Rendering" in the Cinebench R10 benchmark: the CPU scored 482 points when processing two separate threads simultaneously, and a slightly higher 499 points when processing a single thread.
NVidia provides the Ion platform, which has the processor built in on it. A Geforce 9400M graphics chip is also installed on the platform which allows the platform to deliver a slightly higher graphics performance than Intel chipset platforms. The graphics chip does not have its own graphics memory, and so it must instead use the main memory, which can lead to up to 256 MBytes of the RAM being used as graphics memory. Still, the graphics chip does manage to reduce the workload of the CPU when the netbook is used for video coding and or for playing games. So older games and HD videos from the internet should not be a problem for the IdeaPad S12.
We tested this with a current movie trailer in Full-HD resolution, which we downloaded from the Internet.
Unfortunately, the system of the IdeaPad S12 was unable to deal properly with the video even though the platform has a separate graphics chip. The audio output was faster than the video playback, even when we maximized the performance of the netbook and attached the power cable. We were also unable to play the HD-Flash videos at, for example, gametrailers.com as here once again there was a problem with the playback: the video did not play fluidly.
Upgrading the flash plugin to the latest version did make the playback of the HD videos at Gametrailer.net more fluid, so the user should constantly update so as to be able to better utilize the full potential of the graphics chip in the netbook. The performance of this system is clearly better than that of Intel Atom systems with Intel graphics chips, however, as shown by this small video test, the system of the IdeaPad S12 is not yet perfect. In many cases, HD videos can not be played fluidly, but this problem is also evident in other Ion netbooks such as the Asus EeePC 1201N, so it is by no means a singular fault.
The performance when using programs on the netbook is typical to its class: 1488 points in the PCMark05 benchmark and 1233 points in the PCMark Vantage test allow us to conclude that the user can work comfortably on the netbook but it would be recommended not to execute any complicated programs on the netbook. The graphics card does a good job of reducing the CPUs workload where it can but, as shown by the HD video test, its performance limits are easily reached.
|PCMark 05 Standard||1488 points|
|PCMark Vantage Result||1233 points|
The game performance should lie higher than that of other systems with Atom processors as this system is designed for higher graphics needs. The synthetic benchmarks confirm our theory: the netbook scored 5439 points in the 3DMark2001 benchmark, and thus should not have a problem with games which are 9 years or older. Even in the 3DMark03 benchmark, the netbook reached 3616 points which is pretty good.
We wanted to know how the system would perform when playing modern, but not too demanding games, and so we installed Anno 1404. To our surprise: When the graphics are put to the lowest level and the resolution is set at 1024x768 pixels, the game was actually playable. Even though the loading times were very high, the game still reached 15.8 frames per second. The graphics details can be even put on the highest, but at this level the game runs at about 6.2 frames per second on average so it does not really make any sense playing.
|3DMark 2001SE Standard||5439 points|
|3DMark 03 Standard||3616 points|
|3DMark 05 Standard||2348 points|
Lenovo is using a 250 GB hard disk from Fujitsu, which reads and writes data at a maximum speed of 5400 rpm. After using the HDTune tool we ascertained the following: the data transfer rate, the access time, and the CPU usage.
The hard disk has a moderate transfer rate of 68.3 MBs per second, which is pretty good. Near the end of the hard disk the speed is of course lower at 31.8 MBs per second, but at the beginning the speed is a very high 89.8 MBs per second.
To access a certain file, the hard disk needs, on average, 18 milliseconds which is a moderate value. As the Atom processor is very weak, the CPU usage is relatively very high when the hard disk is accessing data: the CPU usage due to hard disk usage lies at a maximum of 7.8%.
Any user who wishes to transfer data from his/her PC to an external device should first check the DPC latency times of his/her system. The DPC latency indicates roughly how much time it would take to transfer data. If these latency times rise above 2000 microseconds, which is usually caused by faulty drivers, then the data transfer can suffer lapses, which is especially disturbing when streaming audio or video files.
The IdeaPad S12 has too high latency times and the user should have the driver structure of the system thoroughly checked before using it for professional use.
The noise emission is barely audible at 29,4 dB(A). This is also the minimum level reached by the IdeaPad S12 in our noise emission test. Sometimes, when the netbook is idle, the cooler fan switches off completely and the only thing which is still making noises is the hard disk. However, even the hard disk is barely audible: a maximum of 32.1 dB(A) in this case.
Sometimes the cooler fan increases the number of its rotations while the laptop is idle so as to push the warm air out of the netbook and reaches a maximum of 35 dB(A), and thus remains quiet yet audible.
The netbook emits the same level of noise even when the CPU is under heavy usage. The cooler fan runs at 34.4 dB(A) in this case and can reach up to 37.8 dB(A).
A noise emission rating of 92% speaks for itself. Especially since the cooler fan emits barely audible noises.
29.4 / 31.8 / 35 dB(A)
||34.4 / 37.8 dB(A)|
min: , med: , max: (15 cm distance)
During heavy CPU usage, the small laptop can reach up to 46.5 degrees on the bottom. At this temperature, the user can most definitely feel the heat but it is not too bad. Even the top of the laptop, especially the hand-rest regions, can reach a maximum of 35.7 degrees Celsius. However, at this temperature the top of the laptop is not uncomfortable to touch.
When the CPU usage is very high, the surface of the laptop can reach up to a maximum of 30.1 degrees Celsius near the back of the netbook. The bottom of the laptop stays at a maximum of 33.5 degrees and is cool enough to allow the user to put the netbook on his/her lap.
The power adapter, however, heats up significantly: 56.6 degrees is very high and one should be careful when handling the power adapter.
The loudspeakers are placed under the skewed front edge of the netbook. So placing the netbook on a soft surface can mute the sound slightly. Despite that, the loudspeakers can deliver very loud output even if the bass is not very high.
The headphones outlet on the right side of the case did not cause any problems and would be the best choice for music enthusiasts.
Sanyo has built in a 6-cell battery with a 48.8 Wh capacity. With this battery, the IdeaPad S12 can reach moderate run times, even when it performs far less than other netbooks. The maximum run time lies at 4 hours and 36 minutes, and for this battery life it would be necessary to switch on all energy-saving options and only do one simple task, such as, for example, reading a text.
When the CPU is under heavy usage, the netbook runs for 2 hours and 9 minutes. When using the WLAN to surf on the internet, one can use the netbook for 3 hours and four minutes before it needs to be charged again.
The IdeaPad S12 can be described as a very mobile device, which can not have the same runtime as other netbooks and subnotebooks due to the higher power-consuming graphics chip. However, one can not play games while travelling with those other netbooks or subnotebooks.
The power usage is clearly higher in the IdeaPad S12 than in other netbooks without the Ion chipset. The minimum power usage lies at 8 W and the average power usage while the idle laptop is 10.6 W. These are both good values, but they are almost double the values in other netbooks, such as, for example, the EeePC 1005PE.
The tiny, white mini-laptop can reach up to 29 W during times of heavy CPU usage, and on average it lies about 21.3 W. When the netbook is switched off it barely consumes any power: 0.1 W is the usual power consumption when switched off and when in standby mode the netbook consumes 0.3 W.
|Off / Standby||0.1 / 0.3 Watt|
|Idle|| 8 / 10.6 / 11.7 Watt|
21.3 / 29 Watt|
Key: min: , med: , max:
The IdeaPad S12 is a relatively big and well-designed netbook which lies at the borderline between subnotebook and netbook. Due to the Ion-platform the netbook has some graphics power and the user can play older games on the netbook, but despite Nvidias promise that the system could handle HD videos we are disappointed to report that the netbook has many problems with them.
Just like the other members of the IdeaPad family, the S12 has its own weaknesses. The display is typical to the class of the netbook but it is by no means great: low contrast values, uneven illumination, and narrow horizontal viewing angle. All these make the use of the screen at best mediocre to use. Additionally, the glossy display is unpractical for travel for which the netbook is intended.
The temperature rise is pretty high during times of heavy CPU usage. In such a case it would be recommended not to put the netbook on a soft surface which would hinder the dispersion of the heat even further. However, the noise emissions are so low that even noise-sensitive users can use the IdeaPad S12 without complaint.
Although the netbook has many good features, the battery life, when compared to the netbooks of other manufacturers, is very short and the price is also very high. These factors might discourage buyers. However, this netbook will definitely deliver more performance than other netbooks without the Ion platform, so in the end, every buyer must decide for themselves whether or not it is worth the buy.
So for those who are looking for a bit more 3D power, because he/she would like to play the game classics once more, or because the user wishes to do a bit more graphics intensive work, should consider the IdeaPad S12 as a potential candidate for purchase. The keyboard is sturdy, the case is well-designed and the netbook offers a multitude of ports. However, for those who are looking for a classic netbook with long battery life and low surface temperature should look around for some other netbook.