Lenovo Ideapad S10 Product Review
Preface or "so what's a netbook# anyway and 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.

These ultracompact 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 some degree.

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 almost from 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 with Windows.

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 reorganization.


IdeaPad Small

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 reading 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.

Arrival 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.

Other Stuff (battery 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 quickly.

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 cool-looking-indoors-but-completely-aggravating-almost-everywhere-else 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.

Keyboard and Touchpad

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.

Disk Storage

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 storage devices.

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.

Curiously, Lenovo 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.

Expansion and Ports

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 well.)

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.

Build Quality

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 seen my 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 directly.

Operating System

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 description.

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 crapware everywhere.)

Computing 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 purpose".

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 things up.

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 driveway.

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.

Other Pictures

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.

Small Stack of Laptops

Many Different Laptops shown in comparison to the Lenovo S10

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

It 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 Things Considered

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.

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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 can 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.