Despite the prevalence of svelte laptops and space-saving all-in-one desktops, traditional desktops have still maintain relevance, especially in the gaming arena, where big, flashy systems toting mind-blowing price tags are the norm. For gamers on a budget, though, there’s the Lenovo IdeaCentre K430 ($1,049 as tested, list). It’s a solid entry-level gaming laptop that packs some decent hardware and comes with its share of nifty perks, like a tool-free chassis and a front-mounted USM socket. But the value of a gaming desktop boils down to one thing: performance. Accordingly, although the K430 has a lot going for it, better options exist for gamers looking to get the most bang for their buck.
Design and Features
Measuring 14.17 by 6.89 by 16.1 inches (HWD), the K430′s tool-free chassis affords plenty of room for upgrades. As is the case with gaming laptops, it’s also got more aesthetic flair than your average desktop. A brushed aluminum plastic enclosure adorning the front of the system complements the black metallic body and houses the K430′s DVD burner and a vacant expansion bay that can accommodate an additional optical drive, like a Blu-ray player; by contrast, users looking for a system with a Blu-ray player right out of the box should check out the Asus Essentio CM6870 .
Directly above the burner are two USB 3.0 ports and headphone and microphone inputs. There are also two card readers that can read nine different types of card types ranging from newer formats (MS, MS Pro, SD, SDHC, SDXC, MMC) to some of the older ones (CF I, CF II, MD). One of the niftiest features of the K430 is the Universal Storage Module (USM) socket mounted in the front of the system, which lets you take USM-compliant external drives (for all intents and purposes, Seagate is the main purveyor of such drives) and insert them directly into your system. This connection method results is a significantly faster data transfer rate than a USB connection since it allows the user to plug their hard drive directly into a SATA port.
The top of the chassis features a carry handle (for all those times that you need to take a 25-pound desktop on the go), a toggle that controls an LED light emanating from the front’s underside, and an external switch that lets users switch between three power settings: turbo for “heavy gaming,” auto for “optimized settings,” and cool for “quiet operation and power-saving.”
Ultimately, though, this feature is more cosmetic than practical. Although the notion of an external switch designed to vacillate between different power settings may sound good in theory, our testing revealed that, for the most part, there was very little discernible difference the three settings in terms of both performance or fan noise.
The left and right sides of the chassis are adorned with symmetrical grilles for airflow but don’t look nearly as flashy as the HP HPE Phoenix h9z’s side window panel. Lastly, the rear of the K430 features four USB 2.0 ports, a trio of display ports (HDMI, VGA, DVI), and audio jacks for 7.1-channel surround sound. The K430′s six USB ports falls a bit short compared to other systems in its class; both the Asus CM6870 and the Alienware X51 have a total of ten. That said, the K430′s USM socket does help remedy this shortcoming somewhat.
Unlike the cramped interior of the Alienware X51, the K430 can easily accommodate expansion thanks to a decent amount of internal real estate and a tool-free chassis that pops open after simply unscrewing two rear bolts. Inside, the motherboard’s four DIMM sockets can contain a maximum of 32GB DDR3 RAM; our test unit had three 4GB modules and a spare socket. In addition to the two free PCIe x1 slots, there’s also an available PCIe x16 slot, so you can install an additional graphics card that can work in tandem with the bundled Nvidia GeForce GT 545 GPU; the K430′s 450W power supply means that it can accommodate a fairly powerful GPU addition. Moreover, extra bays give the user the option of adding a supplementary optical drive or another hard drive.
The K430′s 2TB hard drive comes with a moderate amount of preloaded software, ranging from stuff you can get for free on the Internet (a Google toolbar) to the useful (a full version of McAfee AntiVirus Plus and Officer Starter 2010), as well as some programs that fall somewhere in the middle (namely Windows Live Essential). The K430 is covered by a one-year warranty.
For the most part, the K430′s combined 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-3770 CPU and 12GB RAM yielded solid scores. In two of its three power modes, its PCMark 7 scores (3,737 points in turbo; 3,663 points in auto; 2,475 in cool) led the pack, with the Asus CM6870 (3,304 points) nipping at its heels and the Alienware X51 trailing behind both by a wide margin (3,055 points). Likewise, the K430′s Cinebench R11.5 score of 7.88 points (in all three power settings) nimbly outmaneuvered the rest, with the Asus CM6870 (7.50 points) once again finishing in a close second and the Velocity Micro Edge Z40 (6.41 points) lagging not too far behind. The K430 was a fairly agile multimedia performer; the time it took to complete our Handbrake video-encoding test (1:04) came within striking distance of the class-leading Asus CM6870 (1:03) while easily outpacing both the Alienware X51 (1:20) as well as the HPE h9z (2:13). On the other hand, the K430 showed some signs of strain in our Photoshop CS5 test (2 minutes 46 seconds), coming up slightly short of the Velocity Micro Edge Z40 (2:45) and especially the class-leading HPE h9z (1:38).
As far as 3D rendering goes, the K430′s scores on our 3DMark11 benchmark test (turbo mode: 2,948 points in Entry-level settings, 525 points in Extreme settings; 2,918 points and 528 points, respectively, in auto mode; 2,733 points and 526 points, respectively, in cool mode) were closely aligned with that of the Asus CM6870 (2,832 points and 523 points, respectively) but fell short of the HPE Phoenix h9z (4,088 points and 841 points, respectively) and, to an even greater extent, the Alienware X51 (5,184 points and 1,059 points, respectively).
As the K430′s 3DMark 11 and Cinebench benchmark scores demonstrate, the system’s external switch makes very little difference in terms of performance. That said, we gave Lenovo the benefit of the doubt and ran our gaming benchmark tests in turbo settings. It is, after all, marketed as a gaming machine, so it was fitting to “max” out the system, however superficial it may be. Although the K430′s Nvidia GeForce GT 545 GPU pumped out admirable numbers in “heavy gaming” mode, it was nevertheless unable to cross the 30 frames per second (fps) playability barrier in higher quality settings. Consequently, the K430 uniformly fell short of both the Alienware X51 and the Velocity Micro Z40. In our Crysis benchmark test, for instance, the K430′s performance (76fps in medium-quality settings, 11fps in very high quality settings), while on par with that of the Asus CM6870 (76fps and 11fps, respectively), was still overshadowed by the Alienware X51 (88fps and 22 fps, respectively) and, to a more pronounced extent, the Velocity Micro Z40 (105fps and 33fps, respectively).
In our Lost Planet 2 benchmark tests, the K430′s scores (44fps in middle quality settings, 17fps in high quality settings) practically mirrored those of the Asus CM6870 (41fps and 17fps, respectively) but were still handily outgunned by the X51 (86fps and 35fps, respectively) as well as the Micro Edge Z40 (130fps and 49 fps, respectively). Although it’s forgivable for an entry-level gaming system to falter in higher-quality settings, gamers looking to get the most bang for their buck would be better suited by either the Alienware X51 or the Micro Edge Z40; both fall within the same price range and churned out blazing frame rates in even the most demanding of gameplay settings.
Although none of the systems in the K430′s class were tested with our new Aliens vs. Predator or Heaven gaming benchmark tests, we also ran it through them for the sake of comparing the K430 to future gaming systems running Windows 8. Accordingly, the K430′s performance in both Aliens vs. Predator (12fps with maximum-quality in 1,920-by-1,080 resolution) and Heaven (26fps with medium-quality settings in 1,366-by-768 resolution; 9fps with maximum-quality in 1,920-by-1,080 resolution) further demonstrated that the K430 is better suited for gaming in medium-quality settings.
Ultimately, the fate of the Lenovo IdeaCentre K430 boils down to what your priorities are. If you’re looking for an entry-level gaming desktop that can handle graphics on the highest end of the spectrum without burning a hole in your pocket, then the Editors’ Choice-winning Alienware X51 or the Velocity Micro Edge Z40 are the way to go. However, if you’re fine with playing in medium-quality settings and prefer something that can easily be upgraded (unlike the Alienware X51), the K430 is a solid choice that has plenty to offer.
BENCHMARK TEST RESULTS:
Check out the test scores for the Lenovo IdeaCentre K430
More desktop reviews:
|Primary Optical Drive||DVD-R SuperDrive|
|Processor Family||Intel Core i7|
|Graphics Card||nVidia GeForce GT 545M|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium|
|Storage Capacity (as Tested)||2000 GB|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc