What's hot: Thin and modern looking, strong Lenovo software bundle, long battery life.
What's not: Screen has a very small viewing angle and glare.
Reviewed April 1, 2010 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
Among Lenovo’s IdeaPad notebooks, the IdeaPad U series laptops are the ultraportable ones that carry affordable prices. These notebooks also run exclusively on low voltage CPUs to gain longer battery life. The 15.6” IdeaPad U550 is the largest model in the U series and it has the right hardware configuration and software bundle to make this laptop a very capable productivity and multimedia machine.
At the first glance, the Lenovo IdeaPad U550 has the vanilla U series set-up: the low voltage Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 CPU running at 1.3 GHz with 4GB SDDR3 RAM, a 320GB hard drive and a DVD recordable optical drive. But the Lenovo IdeaPad U550 - 374955U version has a spicy kick: switchable ATI Mobility Radeon HD4330 dedicated graphics with 512MB memory on top of the integrated Intel GMA 4500M HD graphics. You can switch between the graphics using a hardware slider without restarting Windows. Very convenient! For video power-users and FPS gamers, this can be a deciding factor. We will show you how the notebook handles the latest FPS games in this review. The Lenovo IdeaPad U550 also comes with Windows 7 Home Premium OS, built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an HDMI port and optional 3G.
For a 15.6” notebook, the Lenovo IdeaPad U550 is very thin measuring 14.84 x 9.88 x 0.94/1.15 inch and it weighs a little over 5 pounds. The heavily textured cover has a very dark brown (like deep dark chocolate) color and a sculpted diamond pattern. Inside, the IdeaPad U550 has a bright, glossy 15.6” LED backlit display that has 1366 x 768 native resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio. The screen has very good color contrast and images and videos look very sharp on the screen, but the viewing angle is quite small. Two people can watch a movie on the notebook together only if they sit very close.
The standard keyboard feels very roomy and easy to type on, and there is a dedicated number pad on the right. The multi-touch touchpad is off the center to the left with two chrome mouse buttons below it. The fingerprint scanner is to the right of the trackpad.
Two small stereo speakers live above the keyboard, combined with built-in Dolby Room Sound technology, they sound very loud, but a bit tinny. The power button and the speaker mute button also live above the keyboard; and as with many Lenovo notebooks, there is a hardware button for launching Lenovo’s OneKey Recovery software. The 1.3 megapixel webcam sits above the display while the built-in mic sits just below the keyboard on the left corner.
The Lenovo IdeaPad U550 has two sliders under the keyboard where the notebook body curves up. The slider near the center is for switching graphics between the ATI Radeon HD 4330 dedicated graphics and the Intel GMA HD4500M integrated graphics on the fly (no need to restart Windows, but it’s a good idea to quit all programs before switching). The slider near the left edge turns on/off the APS hard drive impact protection.
Hardware and Performance
Like all current models in the IdeaPad U series notebooks, the 15.6” IdeaPad U550 offers two Intel low voltage CPU options: the older Intel Pentium Dual-Core SU4100 at 1.3GHz and the newer Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 CPU running at 1.30GHz with 3MB L2 cache and 800MHz FSB. The new CPU version costs a bit more, but the real attraction for the higher priced U550-374955U is the dedicated graphics and it’s not a bad one at that: ATI Mobile Radeon HD 4330 with 512MB graphics memory that can switch with the Intel GMA 4500M HD integrated graphics depending on how much graphics power you need. And thanks to this set up, the IdeaPad U550 is quite a decent gaming machine. The IdeaPad U550 has 2 memory slots that can take up to 8GB DDR3 RAM at 1066MHz speed, and ships with 4 gigs. The SODIMM RAM slots are easy to access under the notebook behind a screwed on door.
The Lenovo IdeaPad U550 comes with a 320GB (5400rpm) 2.5” SATA hard drive with ability to work with up to a 256GB SSD though Lenovo doesn’t offer the SSD option currently. The tray-style DVD recordable optical drive is removable. The Lenovo is well connected with built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet and WiMAX.
We put the IdeaPad U550 through PCMark Vantage X64 benchmark tests and provide a score comparison with the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge which runs on the same CPU but lacks the dedicated graphics. We also tested the Lenovo IdeaPad U550 with 3DMarks 06 and provide the results below.
PCMark Vantage Benchmark Results:
Lenovo IdeaPad U550:
PCMark Suite: 2961
Memory Suite: 1856
TV and Movie Suite: 1907
Gaming Suite: 2402
Music Suite: 3100
Communication Suite: 2850
Productivity Suite: 2080
HDD Test Suite: 2676
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge:
PCMark Suite: 3034
Memory Suite: 2029
TV and Movie Suite: 2213
Gaming Suite: 1461
Music Suite: 3439
Communication Suite: 2960
Productivity Suite: 2109
HDD Test Suite: 3599
3DMark 06 score: 2665
(Tested at 1280 x 768 resolution)
The Windows 7 Experience Index for the Lenovo IdeaPad U550: (on a scale of 1.0 to 7.9)
The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge benchmarked most tests slightly better than the IdeaPad U550, but the IdeaPad scored much higher in gaming tests. So we took the cue and tested graphics demanding games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Wolfenstein on the notebook, and the IdeaPad U550 did quite well as long as you turn off the fancy effects. Below you will see a demo video showing the IdeaPad U550 running these games. With all effects turned to “low” settings in Wolfenstein the game played at about 28 fps on average and the cutscenes at 30 fps which means the game was very playable. Modern Warfare 2 played at about 17-20 fps with effects turned on and 30-45 fps with most effects turned off except ragdoll and bullet impacts turned on. Here is the video:
Productivity software ran well on the IdeaPad U550 and IE was fast at loading web pages. DVD and music playback was smooth and even Hulu played at 30 fps. Another advantage for low voltage CPUs is that they run at cooler temperatures. The IdeaPad U550 registered 37 degrees Celsius after some intensive gaming with the zone temperature reaching 57 degrees Celsius.
The Lenovo IdeaPad U550 has the usual set of ports including 3 USB, VGA, HDMI and a card reader (facing front under the palm rest). For audio, the IdeaPad U550 has both mic in and audio out jacks. For connectivity, the notebook offers an Ethernet jack, 2 mini-PCI express modules and wireless WAN SIM card slot under the notebook behind a screwed on door.
The Lenovo IdeaPad U550 comes with a standard 6 cell Lithium Ion battery that’s 5200 mAh in capacity. The 11.1V 57Wh rechargeable battery made by Sanyo is quite compact, has design patterns etched on top and integrates nicely with the notebook. The battery life is excellent for both run times and especially standby thanks to the low voltage CPU and Lenovo’s power management. The battery charges super fast. For running productivity tools, surfing the web and working on your email, the IdeaPad U550 can last 5-6 hours with Wi-Fi turned on at default energy star power setting. When playing Hulu movies over Wi-Fi the battery lasted over 3 hours and DVD playback time was about 3.5 hours.
The Lenovo IdeaPad U550 has a good set of useful software as well as some bloatware. The laptop comes with Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit but no Microsoft Works. MS Office 2007 Professional edition 60-day trial and MS SQL Server 2005 software are onboard. Lenovo bundles a nice suite of software and tools including Lenovo VeriFace v3.6 for quick facial recognition login which works reasonably well, Lenovo Energy Management, OneKey Recovery, Lenovo ReadyComm 5.0, Lenovo EasyCapture and Lenovo Idea Notes. Third-party software includes Cyberlink Power2Go video and DVD software, Adobe Reader 9 and McAfee Security trial software.
For $679, you get a very capable notebook that can handle work, multimedia and even gaming with a relative ease. The low voltage CPU works well with Windows 7 to provide enough power for daily usage, and when you add the ATI graphics, the machine can excel at multimedia and gaming as well. The long battery life should please road warriors and students who desire mobility, and the thin body and good build quality add more appeal. Long time Lenovo notebook users will like the rich Lenovo software bundle, and the laptop has plenty of ports. The audio isn’t the best we’ve heard on a 15.6” notebook and while the screen looks great, it has a very small viewing angle.
Pro: Thin and modern looking, strong Lenovo software bundle, long battery life.
Con: Screen has a very small viewing angle.
Price: $849 for the model used in this review. $699 without ATI graphics.
Display: 15.6” Widescreen LED backlit display, 1366 x 768 resolution, 16:9 ratio. Intel GMA 4500MHD and ATI Radeon HD 4300 with 512MB graphics memory. The graphics are switchable.
Battery: 6-cell Lithium-Ion battery, 5200 mAh. AC charger 100-240V.
Performance: Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 1.3GHz with 3MB L2 cache and 800MHz FSB. 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz in 2 slots, 8 GB max. 320GB hard drive, 5400rpm.
Size: 14.84 x 9.88 x 0.94/1.15 inches. Weight: Starting at 5.29 pounds.
Drives: DVD recordable drive. Tray-in ODD (RAMbo/Combo).
Networking: 10/100 Ethernet (Atheros), Intel WiFi Link 5100 AGN and Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR. Webcam with built-in mic.
Ports and Slots: 3 USB slots, VGA, Ethernet RJ45, mic and headphone jacks, HDMI port and media reader.
Audio: Stereo speaker, Dolby Sound Room.
Software: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit OS. Microsoft Windows Media Player, IE8 and Microsoft Office 2007 trial (60-day). Lenovo VeriFace v3.6, Lenovo Energy Management, OneKey Recovery, Lenovo ReadyComm 5.0, Lenovo EasyCapture and Lenovo Idea Notes are included. Also included are Cyberlink Power2Go, Adobe Reader and 30-day trial of McAfee Security software.