Lenovo Q180 31102BU
This is our first submission from Lenovo, and the company surprised us with some of the Q180's attributes. First, it's available without an optical drive for as little as $340 from Newegg, including an operating system and wireless remote/keyboard. In that trim, it's best described as a nettop. However, you can get it with an attached optical drive and have it function as a home theater-oriented PC, too.
Our sample is equipped with the optical option, along with Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit and a full-sized keyboard/mouse. Configured like so, the machine sells for $430 from lenovo.com (though it's worth noting a $100 discount on the company's site at the time of writing, bringing the price down to $330).
Inside, you'll find an Atom D2700 (dual-core, Hyper-Threaded, and running at 2.13 GHz). It's notably faster than the 1.8 GHz Atom D525 we’ve tested in the past, and a CPU we've previously found to be quite sluggish. The extra 333 MHz makes a notable difference, and this platform is more responsive than its predecessor. Moreover, the Q180 sports a discrete Radeon HD 6450A GPU running at 625 MHz and complemented by 512 MB of DDR3 memory set to 800 MHz.
The Q180 is housed in a plastic enclosure with glossy black sides and metal-colored perimeter. The optical drive appears to be part of the unit when it's attached. But it's removable if the USB dongle is taken off and the nettop pried away. Be careful: this involves considerable force.
Despite its plastic, the Q180 looks very well put-together. The door covering front-mounted I/O opens easily, but snaps back into place perfectly with the help of magnets. Measuring 7.5” x 6” x 1.5” (7.5” x 6” x 0.75” with the optical drive removed), Lenovo's effort is quite small, and only Zotac's tiny Zbox is more diminutive.
The Q180 can sit flat or upright on a stand. The stand is built so that you can attach one side to accommodate just the nettop. The other fits with the optical drive connected.
The back of the PC hosts HDMI and VGA outputs, four USB 2.0 ports (the optical drive monopolizes one of them), gigabit Ethernet, optical audio output, and a power supply interface.
Up front, a small door hides a memory card reader, two USB 3.0 ports, and 1/8" speaker/microphone jacks. The slot-load optical drive is visible as well. System power and disc-eject buttons are on the left side of the machine, made of clear black plastic and illuminated when the system is running.
Lenovo's bundle is the round-up's most robust, even including a mouse and keyboard. Like the Q180 itself, these are high-quality peripherals, conveying demonstrating good tactile response. They're not cheap add-ins the company is trying to pawn off.
In addition, you get plenty of documentation, the stand, and a VESA mount. This is also the only configuration in our story that includes a copy of Windows 7. While some Q180 models do come with a wireless remote, the 31102BU doesn’t (although Lenovo sent one for testing anyway).
Lenovo sells an optional N5902 multimedia remote with keyboard for $80 off of its website. It features a full QWERTY keyboard that lights up when you're using it, along with a touch-based mousing surface. Most unique, all of that fits comfortably in the palm of one hand.
Unlike most of the value-added remotes we see come through the lab, this one is RF-based, working equally well in front or behind the receiver. We had no problem using it from anywhere in a 15-foot radius around the Q180. It’s a great little remote and keyboard combo. My only gripe is that the mousing surface requires a number of swipes to cover the width of a 1920x1080 screen.
The Q180 doesn’t come with instructions for taking it apart. But it's not a difficult process, as long as you have small Phillips and standard screwdrivers.
Opening it up first requires removing the optical drive. Then, three of the rubber footpads have to be pulled out for access to the screws beneath them. Two screws holding the VGA port in place must also be removed. And finally, two screws under the front door must be taken off (these are covered with case-colored stickers). After all of that, tug on the top to lift it, giving you access to one SO-DIMM and the 2.5” SATA drive. Lenovo includes a single 4 GB stick of 533 MHz memory and a Seagate Momentus 5400.6 hard drive.
The firmware is primarily used for turning peripherals and features on or off. There are no performance adjustments of which to speak. Considering the hardware contained within, we're really not concerned (or surprised).