Excellent keyboard and navigating experience. ExpressCard slot. Nice speaker system. Affordable. Spacious, 500GB hard drive.
Dated look. No other color options. Only 3GB of RAM (every other laptop has 4GB).
Take away the glamour and the fancy technology, and you end up trimming the cost of a laptop significantly. The Lenovo IdeaPad Z560 ($750 direct) is your prototypical, blue-collared desktop replacement. It won't seduce you with a provocative design or catch-terms like Blu-ray and 3D-gaming graphics. What it does well is hit on all the fundamentals, including an excellent user experience, good processing speeds, and decent battery life—all for one low price. But what if you want the fundamentals, plus all the trimmings? The Samsung R580 ($830 list, ) or HP Pavilion dv7-4053cl ($830 list, ) are worth their small premiums.
Looking at the Z560 is like taking a ride in the hot tub time machine, back to when shiny plastics lacked the decorative patterns, and all you had was a black glossy top and maybe the maker's logo. Indeed, the Z560's dated look lacks the multi-colored appeal of the Samsung R580 and grace of a metal-clad HP Pavilion dv6-3033cl ($900 list, ) or HP dv7-4053cl. Piano black isn't the most flattering color either, as it tends to pick up fingerprints, smudges, and other unsightly marks. And there aren't any other color options. At 5.5 pounds, the Z560 is as heavy as the Samsung R580 (5.5 lbs) and slightly heavier than the dv6-3033cl (5.3 lbs) and Gateway NV59C09u ($800.00 List, ) (5.3 lbs).
View Slideshow See all (7) slides
The 15.6-inch widescreen is large enough to handle multiple windows and take in a movie without squinting. The next step up would be a 17-inch widescreen, such as the one found in the HP dv7-4053cl. Fifteen-inch laptops in this price range all settle on a 1,366 by 768 resolution, which, in high definition jargon, is capped at 720p. The user experience is the kind laptop users can fall in love with. The keyboard is similar to the chiclet keys found in the HP dv6-3033cl, UL50VF-A1 ($850 street, ), and Gateway NV59C09u, but with a compelling twist: Lenovo gave the keys some curvature, shaping each one so that it fits the contours of a finger. There was also enough room to add an adjacent numeric keypad. Lenovo curved the quiet mouse buttons in a similar fashion and paired them with a roomy, responsive touchpad. Together with the keyboard, the Z560 has a better executed user experience than that of the Samsung R580, HP dv6-3033cl, and Gateway NV59C09u.
The feature set is what you would expect from a $750 laptop. One of the 3 USB ports doubles as an eSATA port, so that a compatible hard drive can extend storage capacity and reap the speed benefits of SATA. Though it doesn't spin as fast, the internal 500GB, 5,400rpm hard drive is as spacious as the one found in the HP dv6-3033cl (500GB, 7200rpm). The Z560 comes with an ExpressCard slot, a feature that many laptops are excluding nowadays. With it, you can slide in an expansion card that has extra USB ports, a FireWire port, TV tuner, or mobile broadband.
The speaker system does an exceptionally good job of delivering volume and fidelity. Bass levels were decent, too. The Z560 has an HDMI port and a multimedia card reader, and the DVD burner is as standard as it gets on a laptop. Still, desktop replacement laptops like the Samsung R580 and HP dv7-4053cl include Blu-ray drives for not that much more than the Z560.
It's not a desktop replacement unless there's enough processing power to tackle any multimedia task. The minimum should be a standard-voltage processor, which the Z560 has. The 2.27GHz Intel Core i3-350M processor isn't as fast as the Intel Core i5-450M CPU found in the HP dv6-3033cl and the Intel Core i5-430M CPU in the SamsungR580, but it's speedy enough so that all your high-end applications won't miss a beat. It's a faster machine than the HP dv7-4053cl, which runs on AMD's latest dual-core Phenom processor. Processor-intensive tasks, like our video encoder test, placed the Z560 somewhere in the middle of the pack: Its finished the test in 54 seconds, beating out the HP dv7-4053cl (58 seconds) and Gateway NV59C09u (57 seconds), but trailed the Samsung R580 (49 seconds) and HP dv6-3033cl (47 seconds). In PCMark Vantage and Cinebench R10 tests, the Z560 finished slightly behind the Samsung R580 and HP dv6-3033cl. The gap could have been narrowed further had the Z560 come with 4GB of RAM, given that every other laptop comes with this memory configuration.
It lacks a 3D gaming chip, the kind that will let you play 3D-intensive games like Crysis and World in Conflict. The Samsung R580 and HP dv7-4053cl, on the other hand, have either an Nvidia or ATI graphics chip that can handle these games at full resolutions. The Z560's integrated Intel graphics is perfectly capable of handling everything else, though, and it's more energy efficient.
Even with a small battery (48WH), the Z560 scored 4 hours 3 minutes, which outlasted the Samsung R580 (3:42) and Gateway NV59C09u (3:42) in battery tests. Desktop replacements like the HP dv7-4053cl and Asus UL50VF-1A come with bigger batteries; thus, they yielded better battery scores.
With its throwback design, the Lenovo IdeaPad Z560 doesn't offer anything fancy about this desktop replacement, but it gives you exactly what you need for $750. A well-crafted interior and more than adequate features are its strengths. But what if there's wiggle room in your spending budget, say for an extra $50-$80? The Editors' Choice Samsung R580 and the HP Pavilion dv7-4053cl have the glamorous look to go along with their Blu-ray drives and 3D-capable gaming chips.
BENCHMARK TEST RESULTS
Check out the test scores for the Lenovo IdeaPad Z560