The Lenovo IdeaPad U400 extends their designer-look IdeaPad U260 ultralight notebook and U300s ultrabook into a more mainstream size. This 14" notebook is indeed very stylish, unique looking and lightweight at 4.36 pounds. It's in a laptop segment that's not very crowded: a highly portable machine that's not tiny and not underpowered. It runs on full second generation Intel Core i CPUs rather than ULV low powered CPUs, and it has an optical drive and switchable graphics. Its nearest competitors are the less stylish but capable Dell XPS 14z and the new Samsung Series 7 Chronos notebook in terms of features and price (around $900 for the 2.4GHz Core i5 with switchable Intel HD and AMD Radeon HD6470M graphics).
The Lenovo brings more metal to the table with their aluminum unibody design. The surface is sandblasted then anodized for texture and durability. It's well put together and you'll like it if looks count in your shopping decision. The U series laptops are designed to look like a bound journal book, and it's a clean and distinctive look that's not flashy or gaudy. No, it's not a MacBook Pro clone. The notebook features Lenovo's "breathable keyboard" design, and it takes in air from the rear end (under the robust display hinge area) and shoots it out the left rear side. The keyboard area never gets hot, nor does the wrist rest zone. The bottom gets warm but not uncomfortably hot. Lenovo uses the fan aggressively to keep things cool. There are no vents on the bottom, so your bed, pillow or an ample belly aren't off limits with respect to cooling and ventilation.
Performance and Horsepower
Our review unit runs on an Intel Core i5-2430M clocked at 2.4GHz, and you can order it with a 2.7GHz Core i7-2620M if you have a serious need for speed. Some stores stock a Core i3 model as well, though we'd gently nudge you toward the Core i5 for its much stronger performance for little extra cost. The machine has switchable Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics and AMD Radeon HD6470M graphics with 1 gig of dedicated VRAM. That's a midrange graphics offering that will just barely get you into 3D gaming (we're not talking Crysis, but Left 4 Dead 2 and World of Warcraft are a go). The CPU and dedicated graphics make this a much more powerful computer than last year's IdeaPad U260 and the new IdeaPad U300s ultrabook with its ULV CPU and integrated graphics.
Deals and Shopping:
The machine ships with a 500 gig 7200 RPM drive or a 750 gig 5400 RPM drive in the standard configs offered on Lenovo's website. There is a 64 gig RapidDrive SSD option and you can get spinning drives up to 1TB. We suggest going with a 7200 RPM drive, you'll notice the difference in performance and boot times (our machine takes 45 seconds to boot with a conventional drive).
The switchable graphics isn't just a plug it into power and see it switch to dedicated graphics system. If you place the notebook in performance mode in power settings, it will generally use the dedicated GPU. You can also specify which apps run with integrated or dedicated graphics using an included software utility. The Radeon HD6470M isn't going to set the world on fire, at least not if you're a gamer, but it adds a decided boost over Intel's dedicated graphics. The GPU is really there to help out with Adobe apps and other 2D and 3D graphics programs. It's slower than the fairly common Nvidia GeForce GT540M found in 15-16" desktop replacement notebooks.
The IdeaPad U400 with the Core i5-2430M is in line with the 14" to 15" category average for benchmarks. Keep in mind that ultrabooks like the U300s and Asus Zenbook UX31 score higher thanks to their extremely fast SSD drives, but their processing power and graphics capabilities fall below the full Core i CPU and Radeon in the U400. Our machine used in these tests has a 750 gig 5400 RPM hard drive and the 2.4GHz Core i5. Here are the details:
The IdeaPad u400 has a 14" glossy display of average brightness. It runs at 1366 x 768 and is decent enough but it doesn't boast wide viewing angles or extreme brightness. The notebook has Intel WiDi (Wireless Display), and that means with a WiDi TV adapter you can stream the contents of the notebook's display to a TV. There is no matte display option. The DVD burner and a pair of 1 watt stereo speakers with SRS Premium Surround Sound software turn the notebook into a mobile movie station, and the sound is passably loud and full for a 14" machine. When streaming Adobe Flash content (Hulu, YouTube), the fan will kick in. It doesn't roar, but it's not super subtle. Likewise if you're playing a demanding 3D game, the fan will run at moderate volume.
Keyboard and Trackpad
We really like Lenovo's IdeaPad keyboards on the U series, though they could have stretched the keyboard to fill more of the deck on the 14" U400. The Chiclet keys are tactile and have good travel and we had no trouble typing at full 70wpm speed within 5 minutes. Alas, there's no backlighting, so you'll be touch-typing solely by memory in the dark.
The trackpad is again similar to the U300s, and it supports multi-touch gestures and has a buttonless design. Basic multi-touch for things like two-finger scrolling work fine, but as with most Windows machines, anything beyond two fingers is dicey. The entire trackpad moves and clicks when you left or right click, and we had no problem with this. In fact, as PC trackpads go, we like the U400's quite well.
Lenovo IdeaPad U400 Video Review
Directly above: The Lenovo IdeaPad U300s ultrabook on top of the U400.
For a laptop on a diet, the 0.89" thick Lenovo packs two USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, full size HDMI out, a combo mic/headphone jack, gigabit Ethernet and a 1.3MP webcam. Sorry, there's no eSATA or VGA port, and you can't upgrade to a Blu-ray drive.
The Lenovo IdeaPad U400, like some other design-conscious thin and light notebooks, foregoes the removable battery. The 4 cell, 54Wh Lithium Ion battery is sealed inside the case, and Lenovo claims it lasts up to 7 hours. And it might if you stared at one Word document for 7 hours with brightness set to 20% and wireless off. In more practical cases, the battery lasted us 5 to 5.5 hours with brightness set to 50%, WiFi on and working with MS Office documents, browsing web sites and checking email in the background via Outlook. If you stream Hulu, expect shorter runtimes. If you're into extended Autocad sessions or work with large RAW files in Photoshop for hours, expect 4.5 hours on a charge.
The Lenovo IdeaPad U400 brings the new U series stylish look and aluminum unibody design to a more mainstream size. But it's still one of the thinner and lighter 14" laptops on the market, and the U400 plus its smaller and light charger are easy to take anywhere. The notebook packs a full size notebook punch into one of the most attractive notebooks on the market and you get a good selection of basic ports plus an optical drive. For $900, the U400 is easy to recommend for those looking for a high quality look, good performance and a portable design.
Price:Starting at $800 for the Intel Core i3, $900 for the Core i5 and $1,000 for Core i7.
Display:14", 1366 x 768 LED backlit display. Switchable Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics and AMD Radeon HD6470M with 1 gig dedicated VRAM. HDMI port. Has Intel WiDi.
Battery:4 cell Lithium
Ion rechargeable, sealed inside. Claimed runtime: up to 7 hours.
Performance:Intel Core i5-2430M (2.4G, turbo to 3.0G, L3 3MB). Intel Core i7-2620M (2.7G, up to 3.4G, L3, 4MB) and Core i3-2330M (2.2G, L3 3MB) options available. 6 gigs PC3-10600 DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz (8 gigs max). 500 gig, 750 gig and 1TB conventional hard drives available, 64 gig SSD option.
x 9.05 x 0.89 inches. Weight: 4.36 pounds.
Camera:1.3MP 720p webcam.
in stereo speakers, combo mic and 3.5mm stereo headphone
Intel 1030 BGN+BT Wireless (WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR). Gigabit Ethernet with RJ45 jack.
7 Home Premium 64 bit. Lenovo OneKey recovery, Windows Live Essentials, CyberLink YouCam 3.0, Google Chrome browser and toolbar, MS Office 2010 Starter Edition, Adobe Reader and WinDVD.
Expansion and Ports:One USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports, headphone-mic 3.5mm jack, HDMI and Ethernet.