Preface or "so what's a netbook#
why do I care?"
In March of 2005 I
bought a Dell Latitude D800 as a replacement for my
trusty-but-underpowered-and-ailing Compaq LTE 5000 laptop computer. The
D800 has--for the most part--been an absolutely great
computer, but its size does not make it conducive to hauling it around
and opening it up just wherever. So it's a stay-at-home laptop, for
that and other reasons.
Since I do computer
work, I came to realize that it would be nice to
have a smaller computer that I could take with me on jobs and not worry
as much about losing it or important data. I bought a black Macbook on
closeout in 2006 for that purpose. The Macbook really is--for the most
part--the perfect size for me to take on the road, but its glossy
screen is almost a deal breaker. It's a pain to use it in a car, or
anywhere else that dust is going to be in the air. It only takes a very
little amount of time for dust to get on the screen, and shortly after
that, I would try to wipe it off, leaving a smeary mess behind. Other
than that, it's great.
Around mid-to-late 2007,
Asus (a well known motherboard maker) brought
out an ultracompact notebook computer that they referred to as the "Eee
PC". The Eee PC was the miniature notebook that started it all*, and
almost overnight, the concept became very successful. Soon other
companies entered the market with their own products.
But let's back up a bit.
Truly ultracompact notebook computers wouldn't
be possible with any sort of desktop processor, and even a lot of
laptop processors might not work well enough to make the concept
plausible. What these computers needed were ultra-efficient, low power
consumption processors. The market for such processors has typically
belonged to VIA, but Intel decided to get into the game with its Atom
processor product line. There is also a Celeron part that is offered,
although it isn't as efficient as the Atom. Both of these parts
are available for use in desktop computers.
Where these low power,
high efficiency CPUs really shine, however, is
inside an ultracompact notebook computer. They offer the promise of low
heat output and energy usage while still being able to perform all but
the most intensive computing tasks with acceptable speed.
notebooks are referred to as netbooks, mainly
because their focus is on accessing the web and using web-based
applications. Interestingly, the term Netbook is a registered trademark
of Psion (remember them?) and they have been enforcing it to at least
When the netbook concept
first appeared, the concept was to provide a
computer that was really made to browse the web and run web-based
applications. Storage, memory and video capabilities were all limited
in the name of keeping power consumption, as well as size and weight
down. The operating system of choice was typically some type of Linux
with a customized dashboard to make working with the system easier.
However, there is nothing that stops a netbook from being a "real"
computer, capable of running most of the same software that other,
bigger computers do. If you're in the mood to be charitable, you could
say that this is why models with Windows preloaded instead of Linux
entered the market. Most software today is written for Windows, and
some of it simply isn't available elsewhere. If you're not so
charitable, you might say that Windows appeared in the netbook market
because Microsoft wanted to make sure they would have some offering in
a new and popular market.
It doesn't cost much to
buy a netbook, either. You can get one in some
cases for under $300 (USD).
That's the backstory
behind netbooks and their rise to popularity.
Let's go on to review the one I purchased, a Lenovo Ideapad S10.
I wanted a netbook
the word "go" when Asus first started marketing the Eee PC and I read
about it on The Register. I ended up wainting to get one, mainly
because of finances, but also because I wanted to see how the
competition would play out and if anyone would offer a system preloaded
I checked out a lot of
the competition when I finally felt ready to buy
one in late December 2008. I looked at and used netbooks from Acer,
Asus, Averatec, Everex, and Lenovo. Lenovo is (as of this writing) a
relative newcomer to the netbook market. They're also the former IBM
personal computer business. Lenovo markets a few different netbooks
under the name "Ideapad". They have 8, 9 and 10 inch screen size models
to choose from.
I ended up selecting the
Lenovo primarily because of price and standard
equipment. I bought my system from Circuit City, where they were
selling it for $350 with 1GB installed RAM and a 160GB hard drive. This
was a lot better than what I saw offered elsewhere, and it didn't
bother me at all to buy from a seller who is presently in Chapter 11
The Ideapad S10 comes in
a small box about twice the length and
thickness of the computer itself. Much of this is due to protective
packaging, put there in an effort to stop the Shipping People having
their way with the computers as they leave the factory. Inside the box
you will find the S10 itself, a power adapter, a thick manual and some
smaller informational papers. There is no software restoration media in
the box at all. I'll talk about that later as well.
For reasons I'll get
into later, I chose Windows XP Home Edition over
Linux as the preloaded OS.
I was surprised to see a
substantial manual included. In this day and
age, people just don't read manuals. (I was surprised enough that I had
to read it.) It came as less of a surprise as I started
it. Much of the information contained within was generic, and some of
it was not even relevant to the IdeaPad system.
With the manual out of
the way, I plugged the system in and let it
charge its battery completely before attempting to operate it. When the
battery was charged, the system started up normally and I went through
the Windows XP Home Edition first-run setup wizard.
At The Desktop
The desktop appeared
after completing the Windows setup wizard, and
much to my amazement, it was just about completely clear of superfluous
fluff. Even to this day, PCs loaded with pointless crapware are a
common thing, so much so that my first "knee-jerk" reaction is to find
a DBAN floppy and run it before letting the computer do anything else.
The Start Menu proved to
be pretty well fluff free, with only minimal
software installed on the system. Lenovo did see fit to include certain
things that would be useful to the average web surfer, such as Java and
version 8.0 of the Adobe Reader. I was a little surprised in this era
of alternative web browsers that I did not see Firefox or another
popular browser (such as Opera or Safari) offered for use. Instead,
Internet Explorer 7 had been preinstalled and set to be the only
browser on the system.
life, other thoughts)
Lenovo includes a three
cell battery with the S10 computer. There are
some rumors floating around that suggest a six cell battery may be in
the pipeline. It would be nice to have the larger batttery in some
instances, but the three cell battery does a respectable job. It will
run the system for the highly precision unit of measurement known as
two and three-quarter CSI: Miami episodes (as encoded in h.264 format).
Each unit of this measurement is equal to about 44 minutes each.
Under a gentler load, the system can manage to hang on for a little
over three hours. Its low battery indicator has not proven terribly
accurate. I found that even after the "critical" alarm went off, it
still ran for another half an hour on top of that before shutting down
from near-complete battery exhaustion. That might change as the battery
has time to age.
The battery charges at a
reasonable rate with the computer running. It
took about an hour and a half to bring the battery up to 80% and
probably another hour to finish the job. I didn't time it with the
computer shut down, although it did seem to complete the charge more
One thing I saw myself
doing with the Lenovo S10 was using as a high
end portable DVD player (during things such as boring business
meetings, car trips and the like). My intention was to use my Macbook
for things like this, but the audio and (especially) the glossy screen
really let it down in a car. Like other netbooks, the Lenovo S10 does
not have an optical drive. However, you can always plug one in to a USB
port or simply rip your movies with a DVD extraction tool, which is
what I am doing. I'm sure based on the CSI test above that it could get
through at least one feature film on the three cell battery.
The display panel itself
is said to be LED-backlit and runs at a
1024x600 resolution. I'm not sure if that's so...the unit I have seems to
show signs of using conventional fluorescent backlighting. Thankfully,
though, the display is blessedly equipped with a matte finish as
opposed to one of those
glossy finish display. I cannot thank Lenovo enough for making a matte
finish display the unit of choice on this computer. Out of the box,
however, the display panel is way, way, way too incredibly bright. I
found that I could turn the brightness down as far as it would go and
still have more than enough light to see. (As a side benefit, this will
help battery life and improve the lifetime of the backlight since it is
not being driven so hard.)
The 1024x600 display--at
least from looking at the numbers--seems like
it would be hard to read at only 10 inches measured diagnonally. It's
really not bad. The picture is sharp and clear at all times. I did find
that eschewing ClearType anti-aliasing improved the display quality
even more. You can turn down the resolution if you would like to, but
that makes things look blocky and possibly stretched, so I do not
recommend it. Surprisingly, you can also turn the resolution up. If you
do that, the GMA 950 video subsystem will make a "virtual" desktop that
fits into a 1024x600 window. You can scroll around with the touchpad to
the parts that you can't normally see.
There's really only way
to describe the keyboard. Unfortunately, I
think this is going to sound a lot harsher than I mean it to. The
keyboard simply isn't something you'd want to spend a lot of time
typing on. It's not so bad as to be unusable. Of all the netbooks I
tried, the Acer had the best keyboard out of any of them. I could touch
type on the Acer all day long.
The Lenovo S10 keyboard
comes so very close, but it falls down flat
because the main alphabet and number keys are, in a manner of speaking
"shifted" in relationship to other control, the shift and arrow keys.
It's almost like the main body of the keyboard was crammed
thoughtlessly too far to the left by the designers. Going by feel, it's
just not easy to stay on the right keys, even with the raised guides
present on the F and J keys. I found myself constantly and slowly
wandering out of the home position every time I tried to come back
after using a shift, arrow or control key. You're not going to write
the Great American Novel on this keyboard, but it could still prove
frustrating if you're one of those funny old fashioned people who care
about things like spelling words out completely, using proper
capitalization and punctuation.
The touchpad, on the
other hand, is really very good. Out of the box, I
made some adjustments by killing off the scroll zone, which has proven
annoying on any computer I've ever used. It's big enough to get across
the screen when you're dragging something, and the response to touch
seems to be very good, while at the same time managing to reject
accidental brushes of the pad while you're busy with the keyboard. If
you use the click buttons, they have a good, solid response that lets
you know when you've clicked one of them. They're also big enough to
use without a microscope.
Lots of disk and
diskless storage options exist for the average netbook
buyer to consider. There are conventional rotating hard drives
available in decent sizes, while those who want a system that is closer
to being totally silent can get a solid state disk (SSD) based on the
same kind of flash memory that is found in a lot of other removable
I opted to go with a
160GB conventional hard disk. Lenovo used a
Western Digital Scorpio 5400 RPM drive in the unit I got, which was a
nice touch. What I soon found out, though, was that only a fraction of
that was avaiable for regular use. Lenovo sets aside about 30GB worth
of that for use with a preloaded system backup and restore facility.
The concept behind this program (provided by CyberLink, better known
for making software DVD decoders) is that you make periodic backups of
your system with it, which can then be burned to optical disk and/or
restored from later on if the need should arise.
I appreciate the utility
that this program might offer. Unfortunately
for it, I appreciated the 30GB of disk space more, so I uninstalled it
and deleted the 30GB partition to reclaim the space it was taking up.
Lenovo also provides a
one-button factory recovery utility that boots
the system into a scaled down Windows Vista-like environment. This can
be used to restore your system to its factory condition. And while
Lenovo makes this partition difficult to whack, it can be done totally
within Windows XP if you don't mind resorting to the somewhat arcane
command line based diskpart
tool to get the job done.
Some people might feel
that it was really going too far to remove the
recovery partition. To be perfectly honest, I don't care for these
sorts of things. Once I had whacked all the superfluous partitions, I
glued the whole disk back together as one giant partition using EASEUS
partition manager software.
supplies the system with its hard drive formatted in
FAT32. This is not a problem. It's just odd that Lenovo decided to set
things up this way when there is no reason why you can't use NTFS.
Lenovo provides all the
ports you'd expect to find on any system in
this part of the market. There are two USB ports, an analog VGA output,
headphone and microphone plugs, a plug for the power adapter and a
multi-format card reader slot. Like some other entries into the netbook
market, you also get a built in webcam. (I'm not so thrilled about
that, and it's nothing to write home about it. But it works reasonably
Lenovo goes further than
that, however, and offers something that (at
least as of this printing in January 2009) that you simply will not
find on any other netbook. The Lenovo S10 actually has an ExpressCard
slot onboard, meaning that you can quickly and easily add features to
the system that would otherwise not be available. You could add
something simple like Firewire, or you could go all out and get a SATA
ExpressCard for that RAID array that you've always wanted to carry
around with your laptop. This was the reason I ended up selecting the
Lenovo S10 as the "winner" of the competition. I like the concept of
being able to add something that I really want in the future.
Any good mobile computer
review should talk about how well a system is
built. Laptops and other portable computing devices have to be built to
take a lot during their lifetimes.
The Lenovo does not
disappoint. It feels very solid in the hand (you
can carry it single-handedly with the lid closed) and like it should be
up to years of reliable service if you don't go out of your way to
abuse it. There's no flexing to the case, nor is there a whole lot that
can go flying apart in a crash landing.
Lenovo also gave some
thought to upgradability. They didn't think of
everything here--the hard disk is said to be inaccessible to the end
user. (These people have clearly not
computer tinkering tools.) The memory is readily
accessible for future upgrades if you ever desire to do so.
As is typical, the
Windows COA is exposed on the bottom of the system
and vulnerable. This is a general gripe--who hasn't seen these fade and
peel or otherwise degrade with time? Perhaps this is Microsoft's way of
making you buy a new computer sooner than you'd like. I wish that
Lenovo and other computer makers would put these things where they'd be
at least somewhat protected--like inside a door or memory expansion
compartment--with a note in the manual or on the outside telling the
end user where to find their COA if they ever needed to.
Or you could go Linux,
which negates the need for any COA business
I chose to go with
Windows XP Home, just because it's where a lot of
the software I want to use happens to run. Later on, I do intend to set
up a dual boot environment with a Linux distribution of some
Also, by comparison, the
major players in the netbook market also seem
to configure their Linux installations so that you can do
x-number-of-things-and-that's-it-without-major-tinkering with the
system. I don't like that. I like to use my computers for many tasks,
and I usually push the envelope here and there. When I do add Linux to
the system, it will be a noncrippled variety that I can use as I
please. And it's free to get that (with a decently fast Internet
connection) so I can do it at my leisure.
Everyone will have their
own preference here. The only thing I can
really think of to say that is relevant to this review concerns the
lack of crapware on this system. Lenovo and other computer makers are
getting the idea, and this is probably because computer hardware is
getting cheaper, as opposed to altruism on the OEM side of things when
including crapware helped defray some of the cost of building the
computer. (If that was still true, I reckon you'd still see plenty of
Power and Speed
I don't do hard and fast
benchmarks, so you'll want to turn to other
reviewers' creations if you crave that kind of information. I look at
the machine as a whole--how well it performs from the perspective of an
end user. That includes stuff like "will my program run acceptably
well" or "is the graphics hardware fast enough for this particular
The Intel Atom CPU is
designed to save power and operate efficiently
above all else. Performance with this CPU takes a back seat to low
power consumption. As with other netbook vendors, Lenovo opted to use
the recently released Intel Atom dual core CPU clocked at 1.6GHz. This
means you get a computer with two processors on one physical CPU
package. It definitely helps performance. I can tell that this system
is a good bit faster than the previous generation Atom CPU, which only
offered a single core and hyperthreading technology to help speed
You can expect that the
Lenovo S10 will run most basic programs
perfectly well. Web browers, office suites, iTunes and similar software
pose no problem for the system. I had no problems playing back h.264
re-encoded video full screen on the system. I didn't try to run Google
Earth, but I expect that it would run acceptably well based on my
experiences where I used it on the first generation Atom CPU and GMA
950 graphics. You can easily multitask, within reason. It is not
unreasonable to ask the system to play music in the background while
you browse the web or type a document.
Most people will use
their netbook in an environment where wireless
connectivity is available. The Lenovo S10 offers very capable wireless
hardware. In my tests, it managed to perform nearly as well as the
superb wireless hardware found in my various Apple Macintosh products.
I walked all over the house while letting the S10 play relatively high
bitrate compressed music from an iTunes share and it never faltered
once...not even in some areas where I'm right on the fringe of
coverage. It even managed to work well almost to the end of the
The wired ethernet
hardware also works well. Despite the fact that
Lenovo used gigabit drivers from Broadcom, the onboard wired ethernet
is only a 10/100 capable part. Still, it works right off the bat when
you plug in a cable, so you shouldn't have any trouble with that if you ever need to use it.
In fact, there's really
only one complaint I have. I could not figure
out how or if it is possible to turn off the wireless networking
hardware (in the name of saving battery life) when I was not going to
be using it for a long period of time. There appear to be keyboard
shortcuts for this. they did not work on my system.
Well, it ain't the
Philharmonic. But it's better than nothing. The
Lenovo S10 includes two speakers that fire out of the front of the
system, right at your lap. They do a decent job at producing sound for
what they are, and they will get passably loud without undue
distortion. But the output is not balanced--it has next to no bass to
speak of, fairly sharp midrange and plenty of treble. It's hard to
fault the machine for lackluster speakers--at this price and size, how
can you ask for more?
There is a built in
microphone in the palm rest to go with the webcam.
If you're not touching the machine, the built in microphone works
pretty well. It would certainly be more than good enough for web
chatting or videoconferencing. Lenovo picked a rather unfortunate
location for it. They chose to place the microphone in the left hand
palmrest. If you're using the computer while you conference or record,
this could lead to lots of unwanted noise being picked up from the
motion of your hands.
If you want to see
more...and yes, I know the '70s called and that they want their carpet
back. (I'll give it back if you come to install some new carpet.) If you
spent less time worrying about my décor, you'd notice that the
pictures below can be clicked to produce a larger version.
Oh yeah, the battery in that 486-50MHz Epson classic still
works well enough to survive a photo shoot! All the machines were
powered on, although you can't easily tell that with each one,
especially the Epson and the Macbook
Would Be Nice If...
I only find the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 to be lacking in two areas:
First of all, Bluetooth
would have been a really nice touch to add to
this system. I suspect a lot of people may forgo the trackpad in favor
of an external mouse. A Bluetooth mouse would mean less danger of
having something plugged into the machine and cracking it off or having
to remember it everywhere you go. It would also look better, because
there would be no unsightly receivers hanging off the USB ports.
Secondly, the fan
control algorithm is lousy. Rather than
running the fan smoothly, Lenovo set it up so that the fan runs hard
for a short while, shuts down and repeats this cycle. It isn't
super-annoying, but it does wear on a person after a while. I hope
they'll address this in a future BIOS update. The always wonderful
SpeedFan can see temperatures in this system, but it cannot control fan speed.
All in all, I'd easily
give Lenovo four out of five stars for the IdeaPad S10
netbook. It's said that you should never buy version 1.0 of anything,
but there are rare exceptions to that rule. I'd like to think that the
Lenovo qualifies as one of those exceptions. It's very good for a first
effort entering into what is already a crowded marketplace. If you are
looking to buy a netbook, the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 should certainly be on
your list of choices to consider. After all, nobody ever got fired for
buying IBM. Perhaps that is also true of Lenovo products.
2008-09 William R.
Walsh. All Rights Reserved. Last Updated 01/07/2009. Permission is
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*The Toshiba Libretto is
actually almost the same size as most modern
netbooks, and therefore, barring any other entrants who made it to the
market earlier (such as the Poqet PC, which I don't know to be spelled
correctly) is really the "grandaddy" of all netbooks and similar
devices. However, it did have a floppy drive, unlike every modern
netbook seen today. Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, Toshiba
was sued over the idiosyncrasies of the "Libretto Type A" FDC.
#Netbook, if you
believe it, is actually a registered trademark of the Psion Teklogix
Corporation. It was registered in the mid-90s and refers to a product
they actually marketed with the Netbook name. They've been sending C
& D letters to various web sites regarding the use of the term
Netbook in reference to products not manufactured by them. The author
of this page hereby acknowledges the trademark, does not intend this
page to infringe upon it, and feels that anyone suitably offended by
the use of the term can stuff it.