Review Index:

Lenovo IdeaCentre Q180: Atom's Wake

Author: Matt Smith
Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: Lenovo

General Performance, 3D Performance


Atom processors have proven in the past that they have little difficulty with basic computing, but even the most basic multimedia tasks can overwhelm them. Our last review of an Atom based system, the ASUS Eee PC 1215N, found that HD YouTube was not an enjoyable experience. There simply wasn’t enough processing power on tap to handle it.

This new Atom may change the story, however, due to its 2.13 GHz clock speed. Throw in a Radeon HD GPU (albeit a basic one) and you have a performance picture that has potential.

Normally, we like to use competitive systems for comparison in a system review. However, due to the unique nature of this system, we don’t have any benchmarks that can be directly compared. To provide a limited perspective we will be using the HP dm4, a mid-range Core i5 laptop, the ASUS K53, which is equipped with an AMD quad-core mobile processor, and the Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3, which has a 1.6 GHz low-voltage Core i5 processor.

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We’re also going to be using some video benchmarks that we do not normally use with other systems. The Q180 claims to be a small media center - and we wanted to test it with some of today’s most popular media services

General Performance

Let’s start by throwing the Q180 into SiSoft Sandra and seeing what numbers the Atom can grind out.

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While there is some improvement over the Atom dual-cores we tested in older netbooks, the low per-clock performance of this architecture means that large increases in clock speed net small improvements in this benchmark. Any way you look at it, this is still a slow processor.

What about web browsing? Let’s throw the Q180 into Peacekeeper and see how it manages.

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What I find most interesting about this result is that it’s only 20% better than the result you will receive from a new Tegra 3 tablet or the iPad 3. The Core i5 powered HP dm4 stomps it - a normal desktop Core i5 would only increase the gap. 

Subjectively, browsing performance seemed adequate, but there were some noticeable differences between it and systems equipped with more powerful processors. Initial load times for new tabs were sluggish and JavaScript or Flash page elements could cause some lag while the browser rendered them.

Now let’s use one of our more recent general performance benchmarks, Sunlit Green BatchBlitz. This is a freeware batch photo editing program. We batch edit the same photos in the same way on review systems, then compare the time required to complete the task.

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Here is the real-world implication of the poor SiSoft benchmark scores. The Q180 takes over twice as long as the next-slowest system to perform the task, and is nearly three times slower than the HP dm4. 

I wanted to include Windows Live Movie Maker results as well, but that software repeatedly failed to work correctly on this system. Attempts to load our usual high-resolution clip either froze the software or resulted in a file corruption error. I can’t say with 100% certainty that the Atom processor’s performance is the culprit, but I can say that low-resolution (360p) clips did load successfully.

3D Performance

No one is pretending that the Q180 is a gaming system, but it is equipped with a discrete GPU. This means we should test its performance. Let’s start off easy with 3DMark 06.

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This result of 3054 is worse than a modern Intel HD 3000 system, but not useless. By that, I mean it indicates the system can handle older 3D games and some new, basic titles. We’re talking things like Half-Life 2 or Audiosurf. Even a game like Dawn of War 2: Retribution isn't enjoyable on the Q180, no doubt due to the poor processor performance.

What about the more demanding 3DMark 11? Let’s give it a whirl.

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Again, this result is easily among the low end of current discrete graphics solutions, but it’s better than nothing (Intel HD 3000 can’t run 3DMark 11 because it does not support DirectX 11). 

May 11, 2012 | 07:21 PM - Posted by deowll (not verified)

For what most people do computing power is hardly an issue except for the GPU. How did it do running streaming video, playing DVD/BlueRay and playing games?

Please be aware that there are a lot of free on line games that kids are happy to settle for.

Office and similar products actually run fine on the older single core machines so I'm not actually worried about them and yes this might meet the needs of many with Media Center at least for now even if MS is not interested in upgrading it. I have a feeling Win 7 is going to be supported for a while.

While I've seen no evidence of adoption of same for this purpose this looks to be to be a perfect secretary's computer. They take up no space and can be stuck in a drawer or something and forgotten except for the monitor, mouse, and keyboard. At worst they shouldn't take up more space than a small stack of paper backs.

May 13, 2012 | 07:17 AM - Posted by dragmor (not verified)

I can't see why you would choose this over the current nettop HTPC champ XS35GS V3. The shuttle isn't that much bigger and is completely passive.

I'm running the original XS35GT (ion2) version as my main desktop and TV interface. Its not fast, but it runs better than most would give it credit for. No fans and it survived 40c ambients last summer.

September 6, 2012 | 09:39 PM - Posted by almost_bought_one (not verified)

Dear Mr. Smith,

Just wanted to thank you for a very nicely done review. I sincerely appreciate your having done the work of setting up and filming the real world experiences with the video streaming services, as that was exactly what I was hoping to use this unit for.

Your work adds real value and goes well above the coverage provided by the hacks at the CNETs or PCMAGs of the world who mostly re-phrase the contents of the manufacturers' own press releases.

Thank you again for this.

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