After a slow start, consumers are now inundated with an embarrassment of Ultrabook choices. The latest offering is the Lenovo IdeaPad U410, a handsome 14-inch system wrapped in a brilliant red aluminum chassis. Although it starts at $759, our $799 configuration combines a Core i5 Intel Ivy Bridge processor with discrete Nvidia graphics. You also get Lenovo's AccuType keyboard and Dolby-powered stereo speakers. But with so many affordable Ultrabooks hitting the market, how does this one stack up?
Click to EnlargeWith its Ruby Red aluminum chassis, the IdeaPad U410 is certainly a stunner. Employing Lenovo's Loop design, the U410 has gently rounded edges and an easy-to-open lid. A chrome Lenovo insignia graces the top right corner. Those looking for something more subdued can choose a Granite Gray lid, while the Aqua Blue model has just as much personality.
The notebook's silver interior, complete with a large touchpad and recessed black keyboard, is reminiscent of a MacBook Pro.The only other embellishment is a spun-metal backlit power button in the top left corner.
Weighing 4.2 pounds, the 13.5 x 9.3 x 0.8-inch IdeaPad U410 is on equal footing with the 4.2-pound, 13.7 x 9.5 x 0.83-inch Dell Inspiron 14z. The 13.4 x 9.7 x 0.81-inch Acer TimelineU M5 481TG-6814 is slightly heavier at 4.4 pounds. Those two systems, though, also have optical drives, something the U410 lacks. The 13.3 x 9.3 x 0.78-inch HP Envy 4-1030us also lacks an optical drive, and weighs in at a lighter 3.7 pounds.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to EnlargeThe island-style AccuType on the U410 features smile-shaped keys that delivered strong feedback in our testing. During the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, we notched 55 words per minutes with a 1 percent error rate, which is higher than our normal 50 wpm/1 percent error rate.
However, the keyboard exhibited some flex as we typed, and we're not fond of the undersized Tab, Caps Lock and Right Shift keys. There's also no backlighting for the keyboard.
Click to EnlargeThe 4.2 x 2.75-inch glass Synaptics touchpad provided plenty of room for gliding our fingers. Selecting text in our Word document was fairly smooth, but initially, the cursor jumped around while typing. Increasing the palm rejection in the Control Panel alleviated this problem.
Two-finger scrolling and rotation worked smoothly, but pinch-zoom stuttered a bit. Three- and four-finger flicks proved reliable.
Swiping four fingers to the right launches Lenovo Easy NotePad, and swiping to the left allowed us to swap out the desktop background using some of the preloaded sample images in the Pictures folder or our own images we saved.
MORE: Laptop Buying Guide 2013: 8 Essential Tips
Click to EnlargeThe U410's 14.1-inch 1366 x 768 display delivered crisp text but somewhat dull colors on CNN.com, VGCats.com and Clutchmagonline.com. As we watched the trailer for "Beasts of the Southern Wild," we were impressed with the detail of the auroch cave painting tattooed on one of the character's thighs. We could also see the myriad tiny coils in Hush Puppy's large afro. Viewing angles were also nice and wide-enabling, allowing three people to watch a movie in relative comfort. However, the lackluster color detracted from the overall experience.
With a brightness reading of 155 lux, the U410's display falls short of the 204 lux thin-and-light average. However, that was more than enough to top the Envy 4's 142-lux display. The Acer M5-481TG is a little brighter at 185 lux, but the Inspiron 14z outshines them all at 254 lux.
Click to EnlargeLocated right in front of the display hinge, the U410's stereo speakers delivered loud but harsh audio, despite having Dolby Home Theater v4 software. Anita Baker's normally smoky alto sounded hollow and distant on "Body And Soul." The guitars on the Nirvana classic, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," were tinny and distorted, and bass was hidden. The Acer Timeline M5-6814 continues to be the 14-inch Ultrabook to beat in terms of sound.
After 15 minutes of streaming a full=screen video on Hulu, the IdeaPad U410's touchpad measured 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys and the underside of the notebook registered 81 and 84 degrees, well below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
Click to EnlargeThis Ultrabook's 1-MP camera delivered rich, warm color and sharp detail. There was some graininess along the edges, but not much. Using CyberLink YouCam 3, the webcam can capture stills and images in 1280 x 720.
Using Lenovo VeriFace 4.0 face recognition software, you can also log into the U410 with just your mug. After creating a Windows password, we were instructed to look at the webcam.
Click to EnlargeFrom there, a funky blue circular icon spun around our right eye in the VeriFace screen as the camera scanned our face. The software was a bit exacting, forcing us to find just the right lighting and angle for the webcam to scan our face. We prefer Toshiba's more intuitive Face Recognition software.
Click to EnlargeA pair of USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, Ethernet, a 2-in-1 card reader and a jack for the AC adapter sits on the U410's right. The left side houses 2 USB 2.0 ports, a combination microphone/headphone jack and a button to launch Lenovo One Key Recovery.
The Lenovo IdeaPad U410 delivered formidable performance in our testing, thanks to its 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive with a 32GB SSD cache. When we ran our real-world tests, the U410 easily streamed an episode of "Luther" with eight open tabs each in Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox with a full system scan running in the background.
On PCMark07, the U410's scored 2,938, on a par with the category average. The Dell Inspiron 14z, the Acer Aspire TimelineU M5-481TG-6814 and the HP Envy 4-1030us, which also have a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor, scored 2,984, 2,824 and 3,836, respectively.
We duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files with the U410's 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive in 2 minutes and 45 seconds, which translates to a rate of 30.8 MBps. That's slightly faster than the 29.8 MBps average. The similarly equipped Acer M5-481TG and Inspiron 14z were evenly matched at 29.9 and 29.8 MBps. The Envy 4 and its 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive delivered a slightly swifter 31.4 MBps.
Thanks to the U410's 32GB SSD cache, we booted Windows 7 Home Premium in a speedy 26 seconds. That's 29 seconds faster than the 0:55 thin-and- light average. The 14z and the Envy 4, which also have 32GB SSD caches, loaded Windows in 0:28 and 0:31. The Acer M5-481TG and its 20GB SSD cache brought up the rear with 0:36.
On the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro, the IdeaPad U410 paired 20,000 names with their matching addresses in 5 minutes and 55 seconds. That's 9 minutes faster than the 6:04 category average. The M5-481TG completed the task in 6:11 while the Envy 4 finished in 5:51. The 14z was a hair faster, at 5:47.
MORE: 8 Essential Tips for Your New Windows 8 PC
In addition to its integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 graphics, Lenovo outfits the IdeaPad U410 with Nvidia's discrete GeForce 610M GPU with 1GB of VRAM. However, this card isn't all that much better than Intel's GPU.
The U410 scored 655 on 3DMark11, 92 points below the 747 thin-and-light category average, but enough to best the HP Envy 4-1030us and its integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU's score of 562. The Dell Inspiron 14z and its switchable AMD Radeon HD 7570M GPU with 1GB of video memory notched 902. The Acer Aspire TimelineU M5-481TG-6814's Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE GPU with 1GB of VRAM delivered a much more impressive 1,499.
During the "World of Warcraft" benchmark, the IdeaPad U410 notched 62 frames per second on autodetect at 1366 x 768, slightly above the 51 fps average. The Inspiron 14z scored 64 fps while the Envy 4 delivered just 38 fps. They were ultimately smoked by the M5-6814's 132 fps average.
When we cranked it up to maximum, the U410 dropped to 33 fps, enough to best the 25 fps thin-and-light average. The Acer M5-481TG continued to impress with 68 fps, while the 14z and the Envy 4 notched 32 and 19 fps, respectively.
During the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the Lenovo IdeaPad U410 lasted 6 hours and 32 minutes, on a par with the thin-and-light category average. The Dell Inspiron 14z and the HP Envy 4-1030us lasted 5:35 and 6:18, respectively. The Acer Aspire TimelineU M5 481TG-6814 clocked 6:27, and the Toshiba Sateliite U845 lasted 6:28.
MORE: 10 Laptops with the Longest Battery Life
Software and Warranty
Click to EnlargeLenovo packages the IdeaPad U410 with a useful set of apps and utilities. Lenovo One Key Recovery is a quick, relatively painless way to back up and recover system files. The Power Management utility, reminiscent of a car's odometer, is fun to look at, but, more important, easy to use as we switched power profiles.
We also like the ease of use the Smart Update utility delivers, allowing us to quickly create update schedules and parameters for sleep and download modes.
Third-party software includes Adobe Reader X, Google Chrome, Oovoo, Microsoft Office Starter and Windows Live. There's also a 60-day free trial of McAfee AntiVirus Plus software and a 90-day free trial of Absolute Data Protect.
The Lenovo IdeaPad 410 comes with a one-year warranty. Find out how Lenovo fared in our Best and Worst Brands Report.
Every version of the U410 Ultrabook has an Nvidia GeForce 610M graphics chip in addition to its integrated Intel HD 4000; the differences in each of the six preconfigured models comes down to CPU, RAM, and hard drive size.
Our $799 review unit features a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive with a 32GB SSD cache, Intel HD Graphics 4000 and Nvidia GeForce 610M GPU with 1GB of VRAM.
The $759 base model has a 1.8-GHz Intel Core i3-3217U processor, 6GB of RAM, and a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive with a 32GB SSD cache. The top-end model, which costs $899 after an eCoupon, comes with a 1.9-GHz Intel Core i7-3517U CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive with a 32GB SSD cache.
Click to EnlargeUnder that arresting Ruby Red chassis, the $799 Lenovo IdeaPad U410 has a lot going for it. Packed with Ivy Bridge and discrete Nvidia graphics, this sub-$800 Ultrabook is a mobile powerhouse that will appeal to both consumers and business users alike. Those looking for greater graphics power should look at the $779 Acer Aspire TimelineU M5 481TG-6814, which also has better audio, a brighter display, and an optical drive -- but poor port placement. However, the U410 is a solid choice for shoppers looking for an attractive and long-lasting Ultrabook.