These days, it’s easy to find a serviceable mainstream notebook for less than $650. But in this price range, you often have to settle for a bulky, cheap-looking machine, with a short battery life. Lenovo’s IdeaPad Y450 is a welcome exception, offering a strong combination of design, portability, and features at a price ($619) typically reserved for bargain-basement systems.
The IdeaPad Y450’s design is similar to that of its larger siblings, the Y550 and Y650. Outside, the chassis is fashioned from smooth, matte black plastic, with a slim ring of copper-colored trim. On its lid, the elegant imprint with an interlocking 3D hexagonal pattern reminds us of the game Q*bert. The keyboard, wrist rest, and touchpad are all glossy white, while a tasteful set of white indicator lights and volume buttons, and four touch controls (for Lenovo utilities) line a glossy media bar that houses the speakers.
The 4.6-pound, 1.4-inch–thick body could never be confused with that of a MacBook Air, but it is much thinner and lighter than other notebooks in its price range. For example, the $499 15.6-inch Gateway MD2601u, which we gave an Editors' Choice for its strong performance and low price, weighs a heavy 6.6 pounds and hardly fit on our lap. Similarly, the 14-inch Gateway TC7804u has a larger footprint at a tad heavier at 5.4 pounds
The Y450’s recessed hinge gives the system a conveniently low profile. With the lid at a full 90 degrees, the top of the screen is just 9 inches high. Students participating in class discussions will appreciate the ability to work on these computers without having them obstruct their view of the teacher.
Plenty of Ports
With a generous array of ports, Lenovo has left no consumer need unfilled on the Y450. In addition to such industry standards as three USB ports, audio jacks, VGA, Ethernet, and a 6-in-one memory card reader, this notebook also has an HDMI port for outputting video to large-screen TVs, an eSATA port for connecting to high-speed backup drives, a FireWire 400 port for attaching video cameras, and an ExpressCard/34 slot for installing expansion devices such as mobile broadband modems.
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Keyboard and Touchpad
The IdeaPad Y450’s keyboard provides strong feedback without any noticeable flex. Using the Ten Thumbs online typing test, we comfortably zoomed through Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy with a minimal one-percent error rate. The touchpad, unfortunately, is not as accurate. We liked the traction offered by the pad’s coarse surface, but found it difficult to navigate around the desktop as quickly or accurately as we would have liked, even with the pointer speed set at maximum.
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Click to enlargeUncomfortably high temperatures on the Y450 sometimes mar the typing and navigating experience. While the keyboard remained at a temperate of 87 degrees, the wrist rest reached an unpleasant 95 degrees, and the left side cooling vent reached 100 degrees during our transcoding test.
Display and Audio
The 14-inch, glossy 1366 x 768 screen provides bright and vibrant colors when viewed head-on. High-definition 720p video streamed from Fox.com was sharp and attractive, but DVD movies did not look as good. While the colors were true and motion was smooth when we played discs of both Dark City and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones in Windows Media Player, at full screen, we noticed a lot of pixilation and noise in darker areas. The colors remained true and the images were sharp at 45 degree, but they washed out significantly at wider viewing angles.
The speakers provided accurate though muted sound when we streamed music from Napster.com. The bundled Dolby Control Center software offers allows you to adjust the speaker settings and use bass boost, but even at full volume, Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” sounded distant.
Webcam and Facial Recognition
The 1.3-megapixel Webcam captured sharp, colorful images, even in low light. The Y450 comes bundled with facial-recognition software (VeriFace), which allows users to log into their Windows accounts by staring at the Webcam, rather than typing in a password. While facial recognition is a nice “gee whiz” feature that may impress your friends, we found it is both slow and inaccurate in practice,
We created a facial profile at work and then tried unsuccessfully to use it at home. After six attempts, the program still failed to recognize our face and, even if it had worked, it was a waste of time. Each failed attempt took much more time than it would have taken to type in a short password. Finally, after creating a new profile at the office, we were able to get the VeriFace app to recognize us in the same room and wearing the same clothing we created it in.
If you are planning to share your notebook with friends or family, one feature Veriface is truly useful. It allows you to leave 30-second video messages that play for them the next time they log in. In testing, we were able to leave a 10-second screen warning our coworkers not to use BitTorrent on the notebook.
Click to enlargeThe Y450 booted Windows Vista Home Premium in a quick 50 seconds, 12 seconds faster than the category average for thin-and-light systems. Its 250GB, 5,400 rpm Western Digital hard drive completed our LAPTOP Transfer Test, in which we copy 4.97GB of mixed media files from one folder to another, in a speedy 3 minutes and 41 seconds for a rate of 23.0 MBps, which is well ahead of the 17.6 MBps thin-and-light category average.
Although the IdeaPad Y450 is available with discrete graphics and a speedy Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, our value-priced unit came with a low-end 2.0-GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core processor and integrated graphics. As a result, our test system produced respectable yet unimpressive scores on synthetic benchmarks for processing and graphics power.
The Y450 got 2,729 on PCMark Vantage, a synthetic test for overall performance; this score is just below the category average of thin-and-light notebooks and way below average for all mainstream systems. But, when compared to the value-priced $499 Toshiba Satellite L305 (2,518) or the $699 Gateway TC Series (2,471), the IdeaPad Y450 comes out on top.
Real-world performance on processor-intensive tasks was acceptable but unremarkable. The Y450 took 8 minutes and 6 seconds to transcode a short MP4 video into an H.264-compressed AVI using Handbrake. While this was a minute longer than our mainstream notebook average, it was faster than the times offered by the $499 Gateway MD2601 (10:09) and within a few seconds of the Toshiba L305 (7:57). When the same transcoding test was performed while zipping 4.97GB worth of files in the background, it took a lengthy 25:40, which was slower than the MD2601u (22:18) but faster than the L305 (28:40).
On 3DMark06, which measures graphics performance, the Y450’s score of 774 fell well short of both the mainstream and thin-and-light averages. When surfing the Web, using Microsoft Office, and watching videos, a lack of video performance was not apparent. But don’t plan on playing action games with this system. Running Far Cry 2, the Y450 managed an unusable 5 frames per second at 1024 x 768 resolution, 21 fps below the category average, but on a par with the Gateway TC Series’ 5 fps average.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
On our LAPTOP Battery test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi, the Y450 lasted a reasonable 3 hours and 55 minutes, just below the 4:08 average for thin-and-light systems, but well above the 3:13 average for mainstream systems. It’s nearly four hours of endurance simply blew away similarly priced systems, eclipsing the Gateway TC7804u by 30 minutes, and both the Gateway MD2601u and the Toshiba Satellite L305 by an hour and a half.
The IdeaPad Y450 had no problem maintaining a speedy wireless connection. Its Intel WiFi Link 5100 802.11n card transferred data at 20.8 Mbps from 15 feet and 16.6 Mbps from 50 feet, well above the category averages for both thin-and-light and mainstream notebooks.
Click to enlargeIn addition to VeriFace, this notebook comes bundled with CyberLink Power2Go for burning DVDs and Lenovo OneKey Recovery, which allows users to easily create full system backups and rescue discs. It also has a number of other Lenovo utilities, including ReadyComm for managing Wi-Fi connections, Easy Capture for taking pictures with the Webcam, and Media Show for managing video, photos and music; several of these features are available directly from the media bar.
Lenovo offers six different preconfigured Y450 options, ranging in price from $579 to $899. At the low end of the scale, you get a 2-GHz Intel Core Duo T4200 processor, integrated graphics, 2GB of RAM, and a 160GB hard drive. For $899, you get a 2.13-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7450 CPU, an Nvidia GeForce G 105M graphics card, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, and Bluetooth.
Lenovo bundles the Y450 with a standard one-year warranty on parts and labor. But users have the option of upgrading both the length and coverage for prices ranging from $29.40 for one year of at-home service to $239 for three years of at-home service and accidental damage protection. Click here to see how Lenovo fared in our Tech Support Showdown.
None of the value-priced systems we’ve reviewed provide the design, features, portability, and strong battery life of the Lenovo Ideapad Y450. At $619, it’s a great notebook for students, families, or anyone on a budget who needs a highly portable computer with plenty of features. Even the cheapest configurations are powerful enough for the most common computing tasks: using Office software, editing photos, watching movies, and surfing the Web. But if you plan on editing video or playing high-speed games, you’ll want to consider a more powerful (and expensive) configuration.