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Lenovo IdeaCentre Q110: Tiny ION Nettop

Lenovo IdeaCentre Q110: Tiny ION Nettop

November 16, 2009 by Lawrence Lee

Product Lenovo IdeaCentre Q110

Mini PC/Nettop
Manufacturer Lenovo
MSRP US$399

The recently reviewed Lenovo IdeaCentre
Q100
is a supremely small, quiet, energy efficient computer system,
albeit very underpowered. Its "bigger" brother, the Q110 boasts slightly
more impressive specifications but keeps the thin, compact chassis. The inclusion
of the much-hyped Nvidia ION chipset is the Q110's main draw — it adds the
ability to play most high definition video formats, making it a candidate for
the ultimate SFF media PC.



The Q110's dimensions and overall physical appearance are identical to
the Q100.

Along with the graphics upgrade, the Q110 sports a few other differences compared
to the Q100: 2GB of RAM instead of 1GB, a hard drive capacity bump from 160GB
to 250GB, and Vista Home Premium rather than XP. On the outside, it looks no
different from the Q100, but unfortunately it does not sound the same. The extra
heat produced by ION forced Lenovo to abandon the Q100's best feature: Fanless
operation.



Rear ports.



VESA mounting frame installed.

The exterior of the Q110 is identical to the Q100 with one exception: the VGA
port has been replaced with HDMI. It also ships with a VESA mount for the back
of a monitor, which the Q100 lacked. The Q110 slips into the frame effortlessly
and is secured using a single thumbscrew. So while the Q110 has a fan, tucking
the unit behind a VESA-compliant monitor could conceal most of the noise it
generates. For more exterior pictures, see our Lenovo
Q100
review.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Lenovo IdeaCentre Q110 device listing:

Memory Configuration:



2GB total running in dual channel (512MB allocated to onboard graphics).



CPU-Z detected only one 1GB DIMM, suggesting the other 1GB is soldered
to the motherboard.

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Our first test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power
consumption at various states. To stress CPUs we use either Prime95 (large FFTs
setting) or CPUBurn depending on which produces higher system power consumption.
To stress the IGP, we use ATITool or FurMark, an OpenGL benchmarking and stability
testing utility.

Our second test procedure is to run the system through a video test suite featuring
a variety of high definition clips. During playback, a CPU usage graph is created
by the Windows Task Manger for analysis to determine the average CPU usage.
High CPU usage is indicative of poor video decoding ability. If the video (and/or
audio) skips or freezes, we conclude the IGP (in conjunction with the processor)
is inadequate to decompress the clip properly. Power consumption during playback
of high definition video is also recorded.

H.264/VC-1 Video Test Clips




1080p | 24fps | ~10mbps
1080p H.264:
Rush Hour 3 Trailer 2c
is a 1080p clip encoded in H.264
inside an Apple Quicktime container.





1080p | 24fps | ~8mbps
WMV-HD:
Coral Reef Adventure Trailer
is encoded in VC-1 using the
WMV3 codec commonly recognized by the "WMV-HD" moniker.


x264/MKV Video Test Clips

MKV (Matroska) is a very popular online multimedia container
used for high definition content, usually using x264 (a free, open source
H.264 encoder) for video. The clips were taken from two longer videos —
the most demanding one minute portions were used. To play them we use Media
Player Classic Home Cinema configured to use DXVA (DirectX Video Acceleration)
for supported Intel/ATI GPUs, and CoreAVC with CUDA (Compute Unified Device
Architecture) support for Nvidia GPUs. For IGPs that support neither, CoreAVC
is used to help render the clips using CPU power alone.



720p | 24fps | ~11mbps

x264 720p: Undead Battle is a 720p x264 clip encoded from
the Blu-ray version of a major motion picture. It features a battle
between undead warriors.




1080p | 24fps | ~14mbps

x264 1080p: Spaceship is a 1080p x264 clip encoded from the
Blu-ray version of an animated short film. It features a hapless robot
trying to repair a lamp on a spaceship.

TEST RESULTS

System Power Draw

Test Results: System Power
Test State
Lenovo Q100
Lenovo Q110
Idle
13W
17W
CPU Load
16W
20W
CPU + GPU

Load
20W
32W

The ION powered Q110 pulled about 4W more from the wall than the Q100 when
the GPU was not actively used. When a GPU load was applied using FurMark, the
difference jumped to 12W.

Video Playback

Test Results: Video Playback
Test State
Lenovo Q100
Lenovo Q110
Avg.

CPU
System Power
Avg. CPU
System Power
Rush Hour

(1080p H.264)
92%
18W
20%
21W
Coral Reef

(WMV-HD)
60%
18W
71%
23W
Undead Battle

(720p x264)
86%
18W
50%
22W
Spaceship

(1080p x264)
100%
18W
48%
25W
Gray boxes: flawed but watchable

Pink boxes: failure, unwatchable

Of the four clips we played for comparison, the Q100 was only able to play
one of them without issue, a 720p x264 video. As you can see from the table
above, video hardware acceleration makes a huge difference — with ION the
Q110 played through our test suite with relative ease, with the exception of
the VC-1 encoded Coral Reef clip, which elicited high CPU utilization. VC-1
is a commonly found on Blu-ray movies, so a single core Atom probably isn't
enough for BD playback via an external Blu-ray drive. H.264 playback was a breeze
though and both our 720p and 1080p x264-encoded MKVs (the format popular among
file-sharers) played smoothly with only 50% CPU use when played with MPC-HC
with CoreAVC/CUDA.

3DMark Results

3DMark05 Score
Test
Lenovo Q100
Lenovo Q110
Score
220
2420

The Q110 doesn't make a stellar gaming machine, but it is still an order of
magnitude better than the third-rate SiS graphics on the Q100. Its 3DMark05 result
was more than 10x higher. For older games at lower resolutions it should be
sufficient.

Subjective Performance

On previous Atom platforms, we've felt the subjective performance and responsiveness
was a little slow, but tolerable. Unfortunately, because the Q110 ships with
Vista Home Premium instead of XP, this is no longer true. This choice allows
the system to qualify for a free Windows 7 upgrade, but it comes at the cost
of a very slow out-of-the-box experience. There was a noticeable delay when
launching programs and the system got bogged down with any sort of multitasking.
Installing/uninstalling programs was painful and the overall responsiveness
was poor even after disabling Vista's eye candy, indexing service, system restore,
etc. The Q110 also ships with a bit more pre-installed software than the Q100,
but less than most other brand new PCs: Adobe Air and Reader, Cyberlink PowerDVD
and TrendMicro Internet Security. Upon boot-up, TrendMicro ate up all the CPU
cycles for several minutes.

A dual core version would have handled Vista a lot better, but given the form
factor it might have been difficult to do without cranking the fan speed up
to very high levels. The system does have an extra 1GB of RAM, but the processor
simply isn't fast enough to deal with Vista. The Q110 is a casualty of Microsoft's
decision to exclude XP from its free Windows 7 upgrade program. Interestingly,
Lenovo still lists the Q110 as shipping with Vista, so even after a month since
Windows 7's release, Q110 buyers will still have to put up with some pain while
they await their copy of Windows 7 in the mail.

MORE TEST RESULTS

Thermals

System Temperatures
Test State
Lenovo Q100
Lenovo Q110
CPU
HDD
CPU
HDD
GPU
Idle
44°C
36°C
53°C
37°C
63°C
CPU Load
64°C
40°C
56°C
38°C
62°C
CPU + GPU Load
72°C
42°C
65°C
40°C
82°C
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

The fanless Q100 exhibited lower temperatures when idle, despite the fact that
the Q110 has a fan which is always on. The fan is fairly active, reacting to
any stress to the system almost immediately. The end result is 7~8°C lower
load CPU temperatures than the passively cooled Q100. The fan probably could've
been made to run slower though, as 60°C is a perfectly acceptable temperature
for an Atom processor.

Acoustics

System Noise
Test State
@0.6m (VESA)
@1m
@0.6m
Idle
16~17 dBA
18~19 dBA
21~22 dBA
x264 Playback
22~23 dBA
25~26 dBA
30~31 dBA
CPU Load
25~26 dBA
27 dBA
32 dBA
CPU + GPU Load
30 dBA
34 dBA
39 dBA
Measured at a diagonal angle to the vertically mounted
system at 1m and 0.6m. For the VESA mount, SPL was measured 0.6m directly
in front of monitor.

The system generated anywhere between 18 and 34 [email protected] in direct response to
the CPU temperature. The fan speed rarely stayed constant for more than 10~20
seconds at a time. The noise was soft and low when idling or doing simple tasks
like surfing the web, whether at 1m or 0.6m distance. As the fan sped up, it
generated a hissing type effect, but retained a smooth, broadband profile, and
a small degree of whine above 30 [email protected] x264 playback, which only results in
50% CPU utilization was enough to push the SPL to 25~26 [email protected], a level we don't
consider quiet. With full CPU and GPU load, it's unpleasant, especially at the
close distance one typically sits from a desktop PC.

Mounting the system behind a LCD monitor did not change its acoustic character,
but did lower the overall noise level a great deal, making the system quieter
at 0.6m than at 1m with the system out in the open. At 0.6m, the difference
was 5 dBA when idle, 8 dBA during x264 playback, and 9 dBA at full load. Subjectively,
it brought the noise produced down to a tolerable level. In idle and during
video playback, it was fairly benign and low enough to be unobtrusive.



Q110 at full load @1m.



Q110 at full load, VESA-mounted @0.6m.

Audio Recordings

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR's own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to
LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no
audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent
a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don't change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

Comparable System sound files:

  • Asus
    Eee Box B202 at idle, 18 [email protected] and 14 [email protected] (behind LCD monitor)

    -- The recording of the Eee Box was made with the unit at idle, and the microphone
    1m away, first on a table in the hemi-anechoic chamber, and then mounted on
    the back of an LCD monitor, and the microphone 1m away from the front of the
    monitor. It starts with the room ambient, followed by the product's noise.
    The acoustics of the Eee Box barely changes with load, which is why only idle
    noise was recorded; there's virtually no audible difference at full load.

FINAL THOUGHTS

ION gives the Q110 the functionality of a HD media extender and possibly a
budget gaming system (depending on the game/resolution). The higher power draw
odd the ION chipset forced Lenovo to abandon passive cooling to deal with the
extra heat output. The fan inside actually has a fairly good acoustic character,
but the overall noise level is only low when the system is idle or used for
simple tasks. If the CPU or GPU are pressed, the fan ramps up to quite audible
levels. Much of the noise can be mitigated by placing the system in the included
VESA mount behind a monitor. Muffled by a LCD screen, the Q110 is quiet enough
for most users except under heavy load. Mounting it this way also hides all
the cables.

Noise aside, our biggest beef with the Q110 is its 1.6 GHz single core Atom
processor, which is overwhelmed by Vista. The responsiveness and performance
can be arduous at times — we couldn't imagine using it on a daily basis
as a general purpose PC. It may be well worth waiting for the Q110 to ship with
Windows 7 rather than suffer through Vista and then endure the inconvenience
of upgrading the operating system at a later date. Our other complaints carry
over from the Q100 review:
the ridiculous blue power LED, the almost inexcusable lack of WiFi, and the
high price which seems unavoidable for devices of its size.

Lenovo IdeaCentre Q100
PROS



* Very small

* Quiet when idle

* VESA mount

* Full H.264 acceleration

* HDMI output

* Free Windows 7 Upgrade
CONS



* loud under load

* slow CPU running Vista

* no WiFi

* crazy blue status LED

* price

Our thanks to Lenovo
for the Q110 sample.

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* * *

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