Introduction, Specifications, Pricing and Availability
Lenovo, the world's fourth largest vendor of personal computers, purchased IBM's PC division in 2005 for the handsome sum of $1.75 billion, and along with it the widely recognized ThinkPad moniker. Lenovo has picked up the ball and run with Think branding, christening its business-focused PCs with some iterations of the name-ThinkServer, ThinkStation, ThinkCentre, etc. Lenovo's "Lifestyle" line of PCs use a similar naming convention, substituting "Think" for "Idea," as in IdeaPad and IdeaCentre.
With the A70z's integrated Intel GMA X4500 graphics processor, 3D gaming is all but out of the question. But its All-in-One (AIO) form factor lends itself to installation in places where a full-size desktop wouldn't be practical, meaning it might make a good network server or computer for the spare bedroom or kitchen.
Let's take a look.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
The Lenovo A70z is widely available from online retailers such as Amazon, Office Depot, Sears, TigerDirect, and NewEgg. Prices hover in the $500-750USD range, depending on options. Our unit, which has a Core 2 Duo E7500 running at 2.93GHz, lists for $735 USD at Newegg.com.
Packaging, Internals and Set-Up
The A70z comes in a box not much bigger than standard laptop packaging.
The A70z comes wrapped in this cloth sack, in case you want to, umm, take it on a picnic or something.
The clean-looking front panel, constructed of classic ThinkPad-like matte black plastic, resists fingerprints. The 19" TFT screen is also matte in its appearance.
The left side of the machine (looking at it head-on) houses the vertically oriented DVD drive.
The right side holds three readily accessible USB 2.0 ports and the headphone & mic jacks. Towards the top, we find two buttons that control the screen's brightness.
One the back, we see the bulk of the machine's I/O. 3xUSB 2.0, serial port (remember, this is a business-class machine), and Ethernet. There are no Firewire or USB 3.0 ports on the A70z we tested.
Also on the rear, a plastic lip juts out from the panel to form a carrying handle, and the somewhat awkward to use kickstand connects just below it.
Our test unit came with a wireless full-size keyboard and a mini mouse, as well as batteries for both.
System documentation consists of a "Safety and Warranty Guide" (not to be confused with an owner's manual), a regulatory notice, and a single-sided quick start guide.
General Hands-On Usage
Here's a CPU-Z screenshot showing some detailed specs of what's running under the ThinkCentre's hood:
And a GPU-Z screenshot, just for grins:
Setting up the machine is as simple (or so we thought) as connecting the power cable and installing the included batteries in the keyboard and mouse. However, after the machine booted, we noticed that the keyboard and mouse weren't connecting to the system. Unable to do any troubleshooting in this predicament, we connected a spare USB keyboard and mouse we had on hand.
We searched the A70z's control panel looking for a Bluetooth or other wireless connection to activate to get the keyboard and mouse working, but came up empty. It was only after some Googling that we hit upon the answer.
It turns out that the mouse's battery compartment houses a tiny Bluetooth dongle, which we missed while installing the batteries. There's a small pictogram representing the dongle on the battery compartment cover, but its meaning is far from obvious. To our eyes, the image looks more like a sheet of paper emerging from a printer.
In fairness to Lenovo, a quick-start guide folded up amongst the system documentation reveals the dongle's location, but a small sticker on the mouse or paper insert in the compartment where the mouse resides perhaps would have made things easier.
Once that was sorted, we explored the ThinkCentre Message/Productivity Center icon embedded in the taskbar next to the system tray.
It's basically a system utility that provides diagnostics, backups, and a link to Lenovo's tech support.
Apart from the Recycle bin, the only other icon on the desktop was a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office. The software load includes an installation package for Norton Internet Security, but it's up to the user to install it.
The hard drive had a 4GB backup partition on it. Clicking on the partition brought up a window prompting us to burn this partition to a blank DVD to use as a recovery disk. Although the prompt walked us through a rather straightforward set of steps to burn the DVD, we'd really prefer the ability to restore from the partition itself, or for Lenovo to just include a hard copy of the restore image on a DVD. As it is, if the system crashes before you've gotten around to making your own restore disc, you're on your own.
The machine has a nice physical heft to it-it feels like a rather heavy monitor. However, we had a couple of gripes with its ergonomics. First, the spring that keeps tension on the kickstand has a tendency to contract the stand when you don't want it to; not to the point where the machine falls over, but rather to where the slightest forward pull on the case causes the system to snap into a more upright than desirable position.
Second, the way the optical drive is tucked underneath a lip formed by the monitor bezel makes it very difficult to see the eject button, and said button is so small that locating it by feel proves equally problematic. The drive's vertical orientation on the side of the system makes it difficult to snap a CD or DVD onto the spindle with one hand. Lenovo might want to take a page from Apple's all-in-one iMac design book and use a slot-loading drive.
The integrated speakers won't pump out booty-shakin' bass lines, but they do sound pretty good and don't suffer from the "tin can" sound we sometimes hear from small speakers. It would also be nice to have a dedicated volume control on the front or side of the system.
Overall, the A70z performs quite well when handling single tasks, such as opening an Excel spreadsheet or encoding email attachments. However, when tasked with performing multiple operations at once, such as switching between programs while unzipping a large file, the machine's performance suffers considerably. A Core 2 Duo processor should be able to handle such basic multitasking without issue, and we wonder if the slowdown is a function of having only 2GB of RAM.
Home users might also bemoan the inclusion of a 32-bit version of Windows instead of the 64-bit variety.
Where the A70z really shines is with its matte 19" TFT screen, which provided some of the sharpest image quality we've seen on a non-glossy screen, despite its relatively low resolution of 1440x900.
The ThinkCentre A70z boots in approximately 45 seconds.
The A70z draws 43.1 watts at idle, bumping up to 80.6 watts under load.
We ran the ThinkCentre A70z through the standard media encoding test regime here at TweakTown, which includes music and video transcoding.
All systems are tested "as is", which means operating systems and drivers can and do vary and some come pre-installed with applications that may or may not affect performance.
Any anti-virus or security applications are disabled and uninstalled before any testing is started, as they can affect test numbers.
For the iTunes encoding test we took the White Stripes - Under Great White Northern Lights album in MP3 format and encode it to AAC format using iTunes and time the results with a stopwatch.
The system performed this task in 70 seconds.
For the movie-encoding test, we took the Microsoft Magic of Flight VC-1 WMV (1080p HD) video with six-channel audio and transcode it to XviD (1080p HD) with LAME MP3 two-channel audio and an MP4 container using MediaCoder 0.7.3.4616 32-bit edition.
The A70z took 212 seconds to complete this task.
The system proved quite adept at playing DVDs. We watched a few scenes from Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, which looked great on this machine. Matte-finished screens sometimes shortchange DVDs in the area of picture sharpness and color depth, but happily this was not the case with the ThinkCentre.
Benchmarks - CINEBENCH R10 64-bit
CINEBENCH R10 64-bit
Version and / or Patch Used: Release 10
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: http://www.maxon.net
CINEBENCH is a real-world test suite that assesses your computer's performance capabilities. MAXON CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's award-winning animation software, CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.
MAXON CINEBENCH runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-Bit) and Macintosh (PPC and Intel-based).
The A70z took 149 seconds to render the bike in multi-core mode.
Benchmarks - Super Pi
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.5 Mod XS
Developer Homepage: http://pw1.netcom.com/~hjsmith/Pi/Super_Pi.html
Product Homepage: http://pw1.netcom.com/~hjsmith/Pi/Super_Pi.html
Developed by some folks from the University of Tokyo, Super PI is a small utility that does just as the name implies. It figures PI to a set number of decimal places. Since PI is an infinite number to the right of the decimal point, the utility measures the time it takes to figure a set number of places. It runs the calculations a set number of times and gives a time for the completion of the task. This is a simple and effective way to measure the raw number crunching power of the processor being used to compile the results.
The A70z calculated pi out to the 1 millionth digit in 18.17 seconds.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage
Version and / or Patch Used: Nov 2007 Hotfix
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmark-vantage//
Buy It Here
PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.
The ThinkCentre achieved a score of 4507 in the 32-bit version of PCMark Vantage.
Though the ThinkCentre A70z is part of Lenovo's business line, it offers plenty of functionality for the home user. The system's compact footprint, quiet performance, and reasonable price make it a good choice for everyday computing. However, with things in the PC world rapidly moving towards 64-bit, the 32-bit operating system seems almost anachronistic. We think this system would benefit from a bit more RAM, as well.
The carrying bag (sack, really) the machine comes with is a bit silly. If you're buying this system for its portability, you'll definitely want a case that offers some padding and compartments for peripherals and cords. The system has a built-in carrying handle anyway, making the bag not only gimmicky, but redundant.
The A70z has one of the sharper matte screens we've seen of late, which means you get good image quality without the glare problems often associated with glossy screens. The 1440x900 screen resolution, though on the low end in today's marketplace, is frankly fine for a 19" screen.
The optical drive's placement doesn't really lend itself to easy use, and finding the eject button by touch takes a bit of practice.
However, for the price (the models with less powerful processors provide an even better value), the A70 offers reliable performance in a compact package for everyday users.