The Lenovo IdeaPad N581, for sale in Canada, is a 15-inch desktop replacement with a price that’s hard to beat, making it a top pick for value-priced laptops. With a design that looks understated rather than cheap, and performance to get work done or browse the Web, it’s a smart buy for anyone shopping on a budget. For under $500, the Lenovo IdeaPad N581 offers solid performance, ample storage, and a healthy feature set, making it an Editors’ Choice for value-priced systems.
The chassis is black plastic with a satiny soft-touch finish that adds a luxurious note to an otherwise drab design. The finish feels good under the fingertips, but doesn’t do much to prevent fingerprints and smudges, so you might want to wipe it down regularly to keep it looking clean.
Measuring 1.3 by 14.8 by 9.6 inches (HWD), the Lenovo is noticeably thicker and heavier than the Samsung Series 3 NP300E5E-A05CA (0.98 inch thick, 4.85 pounds), and heavier to boot, weighing in at 5.71 pounds. The 15.6-inch display offers the expected 1366 by 768 resolution, and when tested with the latest trailer for The Man of Steel, details were as sharp as expected in 720p, with clear, consistent colors. There is some color shifting when viewed from an angle, but it’s not so bad as to prevent two or three people from looking at the same screen.
The accompanying audio, on the other hand produces decent sound from the two 3-watt speakers—enhanced with Dolby Home Theater V2 software—but almost no bass. For a fuller, richer sound, you’ll need an external set of speakers.
The budget laptop benefits from Lenovo’s superb AccuType keyboard, which offers chiclet keys and a compact numeric pad that feel solid, and much more substantial than the lightweight keys found on competitors, such as the Samsung Series 3. The touchpad lets you swipe and flick with support for all the usual Windows 8 gestures—two-fingered scrolling, right-swipe access to the Charms Bar, left-swipe to cycle through open apps—and has two separate mouse buttons. What it doesn’t offer, however, is a touch screen. While that’s not something we’d expect in a laptop at this price, touch is ideal for Windows 8. If you’re looking for a laptop with a touch screen, be prepared to spend a bit more.
For a budget laptop, the Lenovo IdeaPad N581 is fairly well-equipped, sporting both USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports (two each), HDMI and VGA output for connecting to a monitor, HDTV, or projector, and an integrated card slot (SD, MMC). Between the built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet, your networking needs should all be taken care of. A tray-loading optical drive covers all of your DVD reading and writing tasks.
The IdeaPad N581 is equipped with a 750GB 5,400 rpm hard drive, which may not match the larger, faster hybrid drives found in premium systems, but offers plenty of storage space and is quite generous for a system in this price range. Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 8, is preinstalled on the drive, along with a few extras, like Skype, Evernote, and Amazon Kindle Reader. Microsoft Office Starter 2010 gives you limited versions of Word and PowerPoint for free, but for full functionality and Excel or other tools, you’ll need to purchase an Office activation code. Lenovo includes several other utilities for system recovery, online storage backup, and energy management, in addition to a one-year warranty on parts and labor.
The Lenovo IdeaPad N581 is outfitted with an Intel Core i3-3210M processor, at the low end of Intel’s current 3rd Gen (a.k.a. Ivy Bridge) processors. Paired with 8GB of memory, the Core i3 offers performance well suited to moderate computing tasks, such as heavy web-browsing and office tasks. In Cinebench, the Lenovo N581 scored 2.49 points, falling behind the Core i5-equipped Samsung Series 3 NP300E5E-A05CA (3.0 points) but edging past the HP Pavilion M6-118-CA (2.04 points) and the Acer Aspire V5-571P-6627 (1.77 points).
Like most budget systems, the IdeaPad N581 relies on Intel’s integrated graphics processing, and produced 3DMark 11 scores of 1,234 points (Entry Settings) and 224 points (Extreme Settings). By comparison, the Samsung NP300E5E-A05CA scored a similar 1,243 points (Entry) with integrated graphics and faster Intel Core i5 processor. This will be more than sufficient for most office tasks and web browsing, but gaming is largely out of the question without a discrete GPU—in our gaming tests, neither test provided playable scores at any resolution and detail settings. That said, the IdeaPad N581 should be ok with casual games like Cut the Rope and browser-based 3D titles.
In our battery rundown test, the Lenovo’s 6-cell battery lasted 4 hours 43 minutes, ahead of the Acer Aspire V5-571P-6627 (3:37 with a smaller 4-cell battery), but less than the Samsung Series 3 NP300E5E-A05CA (5:11 with a similar 6-cell battery). While that’s not long enough to get through a full day of work or school, it is enough that you can get by with a mid-day charge, though you will need to haul around the extra weight of the AC adapter.
As value-priced systems go, the Lenovo IdeaPad N581 is a solid laptop, providing the sort of performance perfect for use by students or around the home. With ample storage and a relatively robust selection of features, it’s our Editors’ Choice for value priced laptops. While you can find systems with better performance and portability, like the Samsung Series 3, it also cost more, and bargain hunters will definitely find the Lenovo IdeaPad N581 to be a great blend of performance and price.
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 8|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Processor Speed||2.5 GHz|
|Primary Optical Drive||Dual-Layer DVD+/-RW|
|Screen Size||15.6 inches|
|Storage Capacity (as Tested)||750 GB|
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