Review: Lenovo's A600 blurs the line between consumer, business PCs

The all-in-one IdeaCentre A600 PC shows that Lenovo can combine substance, style and functionality

Lenovo is not known for product aesthetics. Instead, the company has focused on straightforward designs that get the job done, for the most part leaving flash and style to competitors like Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard. But with the A600, Lenovo is sauntering down the style runway with a new take on what a desktop PC should be.

What is it? Lenovo's IdeaCentre A600 PC is an all-in-one desktop PC, which means the PC and monitor are melded into one unit. While the concept of all-in-one is not new -- just take a look at any desktop replacement notebook -- Lenovo has added a few twists that refresh the idea and look cool at the same time.

The most notable feature of the A600 is the 21.5-inch frameless screen that dominates the unit. The display has a 16:9 aspect ratio and a native resolution of 1920 ? 1080, making it 1080p compatible and ideal for high-definition content -- which works nicely with the optional integrated digital TV tuner that supports HD-TV and a Blu-ray drive.

Standard features include integrated sound -- with high-quality speakers and a sub-woofer -- gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi b/g (upgradable to the Intel WiFi Link 5100 Series a/b/g/Draft-N), 6-in-1 card reader, six USB 2.0 ports and two FireWire ports.

The basic configuration of the A600 (SKU A600-3011-2AU) retails for under $700 and features an Intel T4200 CPU (2GHz), 2 GB of RAM, GMA graphics, a 320GB hard drive and DVD +/- RW optical drive. (By way of comparison, Apple's iMac, a leader in the all-in-one market, starts at $1,200 for a 20-inch model with roughly similar specifications.)

Loading the unit with options and top-of-the-line components increases the retail price to $1,399 (SKU A600-3011-4BU). That unit -- which was the unit I received for testing -- comes with an Intel P7450 2.13GHz CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 1 Terabyte hard drive, an ATI Radeon HD 3650 graphics card, a Blu-ray optical drive, 4-in-1 remote control, a wireless mouse/keyboard and Bluetooth wireless support.

What's cool about it? Just look at it -- who wouldn't want this sleek 1-inch-thick PC sitting on their desk?

Beyond aesthetics, the A600 offers some interesting features, like the 4-in-1 remote, which can double as a wireless VoIP handset as well as work as a motion-sensitive controller. The screen's clarity and brightness are excellent, thanks in part to a piece of glass that covers the screen and provides an anti-glare coating.

The higher-end A600 features a 2-megapixel Webcam, which works very well for Skype videoconferences. It also adds another nifty feature: face recognition capabilities. Using the integrated Webcam and Lenovo's VeriFace facial recognition utility, the unit can automatically log you in whenever you sit in front of the computer. When I tried it, the utility worked quite well and was not easily fooled. Although Lenovo recommends that users remove hats and sunglasses for the utility to work properly, I didn't encounter any problems when wearing a baseball cap or sunglasses.

The A600 is also a very speedy system. The high-end test unit offered a PCMark05 score of 5597 and a 3DMark06 score of 4305, both very respectable. I also tested performance using the 64-bit version of PerformanceTest 7.0 from PassMark, and got an overall PassMark rating of 801.3, which is very good. 3D performance was also very good, with the system showing high frame rates during all modes of testing.

As might be expected, the A600was very easy to set up -- you need only to connect the power cable when using the wireless mouse, keyboard and network options. A setup wizard brings the user through all of the initial steps and configures the bundled software, making the system ideal for a newbie PC user.

The A600 sports all of the green certifications that many are on the lookout for these days. Purchasers will find Restriction of Hazardous Substances ( RoHS) and Energy Star certifications, as well as all of the typical PC power savings features. The unit is powered by an external brick, which is rated at just 150 watts, showing that Lenovo is serious about keeping power use down. (A typical, high-end desktop computer will sport a 750-watt power supply, not to mention a separate power supply for the display.)

What would make it better? First off, the unit can be a little noisy -- the hard drive can be heard chugging away at its chores, while the constant hum of the cooling fans never completely fades into background noise. While that may be a minor nit to pick, today's high-end PCs are expected to be very quiet.

Second, although A600 is not technically a portable system, a nice touch would be to add a carry handle. Currently the unit is a little unwieldy for users to, say, carry into a meeting room for a videoconference or into their living room to watch a movie.

Finally, offering the system with Linux (or no OS at all) could make it more appealing to business users. Small and medium businesses may not be served well by Windows Vista Home Premium Edition and would probably welcome more operating system choices.

Final verdict: For a first try at an all-in-one PC, Lenovo has done an excellent job. The company has incorporated ergonomics with style to create a stunning piece of desktop hardware, which delivers on its promise of performance. The company has also balanced consumer needs against business requirements, blurring the line between those environments.

Frank J. Ohlhorst is a technology professional specializing in products and services analysis and writes for several technology publications. His website can be found at www.ohlhorst.net.

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Frank J. Ohlhorst

Computerworld

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