This week, Lenovo launched its S12 netbook with an Nvidia Ion graphics processor as an option. Though I haven’t had a chance to play with one yet, I’ve just completed two weeks using the Acer Revo Aspire, which is a similar configuration in a mini desktop. Combining the two, I have a pretty good sense of just how blurred the lines between netbooks and notebooks are becoming, and whether you could live on one of these hybrid products.
Netbooks usually have 10-inch or smaller screens, which relegates most of them to relatively light use. This means e-mail, short documents, picture viewing and some light video viewing. You could up the graphics, but the screen is so small, you’d have to go to an external monitor to get the benefit.
The 12-inch screen has, for some time, been the smallest useful size for a notebook. The Lenovo S12 is a netbook with a 12-inch screen, which means, if it has the power, it can function as a full notebook. It’s also thin, sexy, fully loaded , has over four hours of battery life (in realistic usage scenarios, not maximum), and comes in just under $500. Like most of the laptops in its class, it also has no optical drive, which helps both battery life and keeps that very thin look.
Performance: Lovin’ Windows 7
The Acer Revo Aspire came with Windows Vista loaded, and Acer changed the base configuration shortly after I received my system to add more memory. Vista is too slow on this generation of system, which is likely why the Lenovo Notebook ships with Windows XP. The single-core Atom processor appears to be where the system bottlenecks. It is capable of playing Blu-Ray movies (though you don’t want much running in the background), and the game performance is up to things like World of Warcraft, but not high-resolution first person shooters.
Putting the release candidate for Windows 7 on the Revo made a huge difference. If you don’t mind running pre-release software, or doing a clean install of the final release of Windows 7 once it ships, this class of system loves Windows 7, and once it cache’s your applications, you can go in and out of sleep very quickly. If you do need to reboot, with a single core processor, you don’t see the huge boot time improvement you get on a multi-core system, but Windows 7 is leaner and noticeably faster than Windows Vista.
If you don’t want to move to either Windows 7 or Vista any time soon, this is likely the last run of systems that ship with XP, so you can move at your leisure.
Before we move on: If you do put Windows 7 on one of these, pick up a USB ReadyBoost-compliant 2GB flash drive. You’ll see a noticeable jump in performance if you use it in a system configured like the Lenovo is with 1GB of memory.
There is this idea that you can’t live on netbooks and nettops, and without something like an Nvidia Ion and at least a 12-inch screen, that idea is likely valid. However, once you add Ion, suddenly you get the promise of something that is small, sexy, low-power and widely usable. In a market looking for value, second PCs, PCs for kids, and low-cost PCs to replace aging hulks, these hybrid netbooks and nettops fill a unique and valuable void. You can get something fun, cool to use, and you won’t go broke doing it.
When Apple put Nvidia graphics across its entire line, it showcased how important graphics performance is (and in the case of the MacBook Air, made it usable). With Ion, you can get nearly the same thing at under 30 percent of the price, and that, my friends, is a really good deal. With a 12-inch screen and Ion GPU, this new Lenovo isn’t a netbook. Lenovo is setting its sights on Apple with a very portable, low-cost notebook, and one of the best values in the segment.