19 March 2009

Lenovo IdeaPad Y530

Media master packs good sound, great value

THE $949 LENOVO IDEAPAD Y530'S 15.4-inch (1,280x800) glossy screen, textured Light Weave lid, excellent speakers, and HDMI port all make for an excellent multimedia experience. Weighing 6.6 pounds and measuring 1.4x14.2x10.3 inches (HWD), the Y530 is light enough for most commuters. It sports a textured material on the lid that sets it apart from Lenovo's business laptops.

A brushed aluminum plate surrounds the keyboard, adding a distinct bit of style while keeping fingerprints at bay, and the orange volume button—along with orange backlit touch buttons for controlling media playback and the EQ presets—is functional. The Y530's keyboard works well enough for productivity, but it isn't backlit. Our biggest beef with the keyboard is the Function key, which Lenovo placed in the bottom-left corner where the Ctrl key is supposed to be. It might not be a deal breaker, but touch typists will find it annoying.

We were also surprised when the plastic section above the keyboard, which houses the touch-sensitive buttons, popped out on the right side. No amount of prodding could get it to stay down, and considering that we barely moved this regular production unit around our office, that's not a good sign. We hope it's just a fluke, as Lenovo is typically known for its solid build quality.

The frameless screen has a glossy finish that goes all the way to the edge of the lid. It looked great at first, and it was certainly up to the task of making games and movies look good. But when we watched Terry Gilliam's Brazil, it became obvious that this screen works best for a single viewer. Tilting the screen just a couple of degrees resulted in major glare, and off to either side, colors quickly washed out. Because of the IdeaPad's foldover hinge design, the screen wouldn't lay flat, either.

Aside from HDMI, the left side of the Y530 sports a VGA port, two USB ports, an Ethernet jack, and an ExpressCard slot. Up front is a six-format multimedia card reader, and audio jacks, a third USB port, a FireWire connector, and a phone jack accompany the 8x optical drive on the right. A 250GB hard drive is housed inside.

The Y530's sound was superb for a laptop, thanks to its five speakers: two below the screen, two along the sides of the keyboard, and one small, downward-facing subwoofer that actually manages to push out a fair amount of bass. Don't expect to rock the house, but there's plenty of volume to kick out some serious living-room jams.

On our tests, the laptop never got more than slightly warm to the touch, but it didn't exactly burn up the Futuremark tests, either. The Y530 scored 3,161 in PCMark Vantage, which is below average, but not by much. On 3DMark06, the laptop managed a score of 2,084 at 1,024x768 resolution. The Y530 averaged just 16 frames per second (fps) at that resolution in our F.E.A.R. test and 12fps in Company of Heroes with all the bells and whistles turned on. With a 1.66GHz Core 2 Duo processor and Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS graphics, we didn't expect to be wowed; serious garners will definitely want to opt for the somewhat beefier 9500M G graphics option.

We would prefer at least a 2GHz processor, but Lenovo includes a hardware video decoder, which makes that a bit less of an issue. The laptop's score of 4,036 in Cinebench 10 is surprisingly above average but still not stellar. It finished our Mines conversion test in 4 minutes and 48 seconds and our Windows Media Encoder test in 7 minutes and 42 seconds. The battery lasted 2 hours and 4 minutes in our DVD rundown test, slightly below average and 11 minutes less than the $999 Gateway MC7803u's score, though that laptop sports a larger, eight-cell battery.

On the software side, exclusives such as VeriFace, a security feature that uses the Webcam to identify your face, and the OneKey Rescue System, a one-touch factory reset button, are nice enough. You also get a 90-day trial of Microsoft Office, and the one-year warranty on parts and labor is standard. For $949, the Lenovo IdeaPad Y530 is a capable multimedia laptop with excellent sound and a good-looking screen, provided you can live with a fair amount of glare. Its specs are on the low end for a multimedia laptop, but so is the price. If you own a Y510, the HDMI port is the only reason to upgrade. If you don't, you'll be hard-pressed to find an option with better-performance for less than $1,000. —Matt Safford

Computer Shopper March 2009


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