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Lenovo S10 Netbook

Lenovo S10 Netbook

 

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Lenovo S10 Netbook

Introduction

My first computer - a desktop IBM Aptiva S45 - came in a huge box that required two men to carry it. It was a big lump and, by today's standards, a real poor performer. I have always liked small computers.

Before I left the UK, I was looking around for a suitable laptop and was struck by the IBM 240X. This was the precursor to the ThinkPad X Series but even back in 2003 it was old technology. I loved the size but the specs were poor.

I hung on and finally bought an X21 ThinkPad. It was about the same size as the 240X but used better technology. Then I bought an X31, and followed that purchase with an X41. I like IBM ThinkPads for their reliability, and for their TrackPoint pointing devices.

 

Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook

Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook

 

The first Netbook I saw was made by Asus and it was an exciting product. It made even the ThinkPad X series machines look large and it seemed just about the perfect size for travelling around with. However, there were some obvious problems. The photo above shows the S10 sitting beside an X31.

None of the specs were really sufficient. It didn't have enough hard disk space or memory, and its 800 pixel display wasn't adequate for a lot of applications. I'm sure the Linux Operating System it came with is very good, but I am used to Windows and didn't want to learn how to use another OS.

However, it soon became clear that a lot of people were interested in such a machine and it wasn't long before other manufacturers starting releasing their own versions. I watched as more machines appeared, while specs improve as prices dropped. A couple of times I came close to making a purchase but something told me to hang on a little longer.

In September 2008 I saw my first Lenovo Netbook and I knew it was time to buy. The spec was almost perfect and buying a Lenovo machine gave me a little more confidence than buying from a manufacturer who I had no experience with.

I saw that first machine in Singapore but made my purchase in Thailand. I type in Thai, as well as in English, and a Thai keyboard was a bonus for me.

The first machine I bought had some major problems. I compared an S9 with an S10 and the specs were identical apart from the fact the S10 had a slightly larger display. There was a big saving on the S9 over the S10 so I plumped for the cheaper S9. I owned that machine for one day.

The reason the S9 was cheaper (apart from having a smaller display) was because it originally came with Linux. The model I looked at was running XP Professional but I found out later this was an illegal copy that had been installed by the shop to make it more saleable.

If the pirated version had been good maybe I wouldn't have realised, but it was a disaster and I compiled a long list of errors. I took it back to the shop and told them I wanted to exchange it for an S10. Further, I wanted the S10 straight out of the box as it arrived from the factory with no pirated software installed.

I got what I wanted and have been extremely pleased with my purchase.

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How Small Can You Go?

The technology is available to make extremely small computers but we are limited by the size of our fingers and our vision. Who wants a keyboard that is so small you need a stylus to operate it? And who wants to work with a tiny display that hurts your eyes and gives you a headache?

In my comments below for ways to improve the S10, I actually suggest making it a little larger and give reasons why.

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Specs

Here's the basic spec:

  • Processor - Intel Atom Processor N270 (1.6GHz, 533MHz FSB, 512KB L2 Cache)
  • OS Preloaded - Genuine Windows XP Home
  • Chipset - Mobile Intel 945GSE Express Chipset
  • HDD - 160GB SATA HDD (5400 rpm)
  • Memory - 1GB DDR2 SDRAM
  • Display - 10.2" WSVGA
  • Colour - Gothic Black, Pearl White and Frosted Pink
  • Graphics - Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950
  • Audio & Speakers - 2 x internal stereo speakers, single built-in microphone with echo cancellation and noise reduction
  • I/O ports - 1 x 34mm Express Card Slot, 4-in-1 card reader slot (SD/MMC/MS/MS Pro), 2 x USB 2.0 ports, RJ45, VGA, mic-in, headphone (stereo)
  • Communications - 10/100 Mbps Ethernet, Lenovo b/g wireless, Bluetooth
  • Webcam - Integrated 1.3 Megapixels
  • Weight & Dimensions - (LxWxH) 250.2mm x 183mm x 22 - 27.5mm, 1.25kg with hard disk and 3-cell Li-ion Battery
  • TouchPad - 2 x buttons (Multi-touch enabled TouchPad)
  • Software - OneKey Rescue System, Lenovo Energy Management, Adobe Reader, Windows Live Suite, Norton 2008
  • Warranty - One year regional (ASEAN) + China
You can get the full S Series specs from the Lenovo web site.

I don't play video games and the specs are more than sufficient for my purposes. The 160GB hard drive is actually the largest hard drive I have ever had in a computer.

The S10 comes with 500MB of memory built in, plus one expansion slot which has a maximum capacity of 1GB. My machine came with a 500MB memory module in the expansion slot.

I bought a 1GB DDR2 667 memory module to replace the 500MB module, thus giving a total memory of 1.5GB. However, the standard configuration seemed to run my applications perfectly well. Upgrading the memory module is very simple.

 

Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook

Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook

 

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Software

The S10 comes with a licensed copy of XP Home Edition. Prior to this I had only used XP Professional so I had a few concerns. It seems the same though. I'm not a Windows expert by any means but I understand that the differences between the two versions only really affect advanced users and administrators.

Just like Lenovo ThinkPads, the S10 IdeaPad comes with some proprietary Lenovo software for recovery purposes: OneKey Rescue System 6.0. This allows you to make a full backup of your system partition; and subsequently you can make incremental backups.

The default location for the backed up data is on the D: partition of the internal hard drive but you can select another location if you wish - internal or external. You can back up using no compression, or you have the option to use light or maximum compression. Apart from the obvious saving with file size, I'm not sure what the benefits of each option are.

After making the system backup, you can burn the backup image to CD or DVD using an external CD/DVD writer. If you have a software problem you can restore from your backed up data on the hard drive or you can restore the factory default. If you have a hard disc problem and replace the hard disk, you can backup from the recovery CDs or DVDs - provided you made them - as they are bootable.

This all seems easy and intuitive to use. I backed up my system and made recovery CDs but have no experience of restoring backed up data. The indicators to show time remaining are lousy. The time stayed the same for several minutes and then the program told me it had finished when a few seconds before it had indicated there was another hour-and-a-half to go. The backup also take up a lot of disk space. However, with a 160GB total capacity there is still plenty left over for my needs.

One of the first things I did was to remove Norton Internet Security which comes pre-installed. In the past I have found this software to be a resource hog and counter-productive. I use Windows LiveCare for security and really like it.

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Ports

You can see exactly which ports are available by clicking on the links for specs above. Here are just a few personal comments.

 

Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook

Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook

 

USB ports are by far the most useful and there are just two. This is enough most of the time but there are occasionally circumstances when a third might be useful. Due to the fact I dislike the TouchPad, I use a USB mouse which uses one port permanently. Perhaps a solution would be to use a Bluetooth mouse?

There is a built-in multicard reader but my cameras use Compact Flash cards which the multicard reader won't accept. The X21 and X31 ThinkPads both came with a built-in CF card reader which was fantastic (IBM moved to a built-in SD card reader for the X41 and onwards which wasn't so fantastic for me).

I bought an Apiotek CF III PCI-E ExpressCard CF card adapter but it was quite difficult to get hold of where I am located, and the transfer rate is quite slow even though it is rated at 2.5 GB/s. Perhaps it is my CF cards that are slow and not the adapter?

Another 'problem' is that when I plug a CF card into the system using the ExpressCard slot, I don't get an 'Eject' option in Windows. Windows recognises the device and it works perfectly well but when I want to remove the CF card I can't eject it so that Windows tells me the device can be removed safely.

If I plug a CF card into my X21 or X31 using the built-in CF card reader, I can eject the card. Simply pulling out the CF card from the S10 without first ejecting it doesn't seem to cause any problems but over the years I have become so accustomed to ejecting devices first before I disconnect them that this makes me feel a little uncomfortable.

 

Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook

Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook

 

There are sockets for a microphone and headphones, and also for a VGA external display.

 

Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook

Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook

 

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Communications

There is an Ethernet socket and there is a wireless adapter. Both work. I am no networking genius but when I plug a LAN cable in it works, and I have successfully connected to lots of Wi-Fi networks. That's all I care about.

One comment I saw (I can't remember where) implied the wireless adapter used in the S10 was a little unusual for some reason but I haven't experienced any problems.

It also has Bluetooth capability. Again, I am very weak in this area but I'm sure it is very handy if you want to transfer data to the machine from another Bluetooth device. A button on the keyboard simultaneously turns the wireless LAN and Bluetooth devices on and off.

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DVD/CD Drive

There isn't one, of course, but neither do my X Series ThinkPads have DVD/CD drives. It's not something I miss, and not having one means a big size and weight reduction.

I use a LaCie external DVD/CD drive when I need to. It's light and it works very well. On my first attempt at making recovery CDs, the external CD writer caused a power overload failure on the USB port.

To resolve this I used the external power supply for the CD writer. My X31 has never complained about a power overload when using the external CD drive but presumably it has a larger power supply than the S10. I will remember in future to use the power supply when I use this drive with the S10.

 

Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook

Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook

 

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Keyboard

Considering the overall size of the machine, the keys aren't a bad size but typing is a little tricky. I'm not a touch typist but I can rattle along with two fingers quite quickly. The keys have a good feel to them but even though I have fairly small fingers, I find myself hitting wrong keys accidentally quite often.

Because of size limitations, all keys share functions and until you get used to it, keys like 'Page Up' and 'Page Down' aren't in the obvious locations.

On my other machines, the 'Page Up' and 'Page Down' keys are top right but on the S10 this is where the 'Del' and 'BackSpace' keys are. If you aren't careful, this can cause obvious problems.

On my other machines, if I want to type a question mark I press and hold the right-hand shift key and the key right next door to it. However, on the S10 the 'Cursor Up' key sits in between these two keys.

This causes me to press and hold the 'Cursor Up' key instead of the shift key and that causes another obvious problem.

The confusion is made worse because I keep changing machines. If I was just using the S10 all the time I'm sure I would get used to the keyboard layout quickly.

There is no keyboard illumination light at the top of the display as there is on IBM X series ThinkPads. However, with my S10's white keyboard and the light reflecting from the display it is possible to type in complete darkness. This was an unexpected bonus.

I'm not sure how this will work with a black S10. When I bought a white one I wasn't thinking about the ability to type in dark conditions but this is one possible advantage that the white keyboard may have over a black one.

If you are stuck on a bus at night with no lights on inside and want to use your computer this is very useful.

 

Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook

Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook

 

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Display

The display resolution is 1024x600. The width is fine but 600 isn't quite deep enough. The first time I looked at my e-mail on the S10, Yahoo complained that the screen resolution didn't meet its minimum requirements. This, however, was just a warning message and I was able to carry on.

A lot of web pages are designed for 1024x768 and therefore stuff that should appear 'above the fold', appears 'below the fold' on the S10. It just means that you have to use the scroll keys a little more often than usual.

This type of minor irritation won't prevent you from doing anything, but - as a result of the screen resolution - you are prevented from working with certain applications.

If you process RAW files from a digital camera using Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), the ACR application requires a minimum screen resolution of 1024x768. If the resolution is less than that you get a warning message.

If you choose to continue after the warning message, ACR appears in a non-resizeable window that doesn't fit in the S10's display. The worst part about this is that the buttons to close the window aren't visible, and so far I haven't figured out a way of getting at them.

You are left in a situation where you can't continue because the buttons you need to click aren't visible, and neither can you close the application unless you close it forcibly using the Windows Task Manager.

I had never intended using the S10 for serious photo editing but had this worked it would have been useful while travelling. A slight increase in overall size of the S10 would be a small price to pay if the display resolution could be increased to 1024x768.

That small increase in screen resolution would make the machine so much more useable. I really hope Lenovo address this with future S series IdeaPads.

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Battery

The standard S10 comes with a three cell battery that appears to be good for a couple of hours of normal use. I have read lots of criticism about this. The idea of a machine like this, people say, is ultimate portability and for that you need excellent battery life.

 

Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook

Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook

 

Initially, my view was different. I intended to take the machine travelling but only intended to use it in places where a power supply was available. The battery was only important to me as a built-in UPS so that I wouldn't lose my unsaved work if there was a power blip.

However, shortly after acquiring the S10 I took it on a 15 hour bus trip. It was then that I realised the limitations of the three cell battery. There was nothing to do on the bus; I had work to do on my computer; but I could only work for a couple of hours.

I therefore bought myself an original Lenovo six cell battery.

This provides about four hours of use so now I can work for six hours on the road. The six cell version is a clever design and the extra cells are used to raise the laptop slightly at the back of the machine. This tilts the whole machine and makes it slightly more comfortable to use.

 

Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook

Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook

 

If you need more battery capacity, you can even get an OEM nine cell version. Lenovo doesn't make these and I can't vouch for the quality of the manufacturer.

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Pointing Device

One of the reasons I gave above for buying IBM (Lenovo) ThinkPads is because of the wonderful TrackPoint. The S10 doesn't have one. Instead, it has one of those awful TouchPads.

With a TrackPoint I can move the cursor to diagonally opposite corners of the screen in an instant. With a TouchPad it takes several brushing actions to do the same thing. But that isn't the worst thing about them.

If you touch with slightly too much pressure it is interpreted as a double left click. If the cursor happens to be over a hypertext link and you go to move it but touch too hard, it clicks. This is frustrating as hell.

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Unwanted Noises

The noisy and erratic internal CPU cooling fan seems to be the number one gripe among owners. I didn't notice this at first but there is a problem.

The problem isn't so much that the fan is noisy (although it isn't the quietest CPU cooling fan you will ever hear), but that there are times when the fan runs continuously for no apparent reason. Sometimes when I wake up the computer from stand by, the fan starts running immediately even though the processor isn't hot.

It continues to run for no reason and won't stop. This happens even though I'm not running any applications, the processor isn't doing anything, and when I feel the air coming from the machine it is cool.

If I put the machine back into stand-by mode and wake it up again for a second time the fan stops. When the fan is running you get used to the noise but when the fan isn't running, the silence makes you aware just how loud and annoying the sound of the fan is when it is running - especially when it runs continuously and won't stop.

In a quiet environment the noise of the fan is quite noticeable but if it only ran when it actually needed to run there wouldn't be a problem. It would cut in, cool the CPU to the required temperature, and cut out fairly soon after it cut in. The fact that it runs continuously for no reason is the real problem.

I don't know why it does this. I thought at first it might have been an Intel or Microsoft problem but according to the on-line forum postings I have read it does seem to be a Lenovo issue.

The other annoying sound is the warning beep when you plug in or unplug the AC adapter while the machine is switched on (or if there are interruptions to the power supply while you are using the AC adapter). It is far too loud. In a public place it can be a little embarrassing because the sound will cause people to turn round and stare; it is that loud.

I always try to remember to plug in the AC adapter before I power on the computer so as to avoid this. A warning sound is useful but it just doesn't need to be this loud.

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Ways To Make Improvements

Excellent as it may be, the S10 could be improved. I love the fact it is so small but I wouldn't mind if it was a little bigger so I could have a 1024x768 display, an improved keyboard (without so many keys sharing functions), and - most importantly - a TrackPoint pointing device.

Lenovo, are you listening?

Any increases in CPU speed, disk size, memory and battery life would of course also be welcome but I don't find performance to be an issue for the applications I run.

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Use

Specs are OK but what is the S10 like to use? Despite being a great machine for travelling because of its weight and size, could you use it full time?

Speed and performance hasn't been an issue so far. I find that I have to concentrate more when typing because of the small keys and unusual keyboard layout; and also that I spend more time correcting mistakes from mis-hit keys than on my X Series ThinkPads.

The TouchPad is OK for short periods but using it all day would drive me nuts. An external mouse easily fixes that problem though.

I find I can do most things on the S10 perfectly well but the small screen isn't ideal for photo editing. This is something that I do on larger machines but if I needed to I could always purchase an external display.

Overall, it's a fantastic little machine and for the first time ever I feel I have a laptop that is truly portable. The X Series machines were small compared to standard laptops but I always felt that even they were too big to be really portable.

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Colours

According to the official specs, the S10 is available in black, white, and pink. The first S9 I bought (the one with the problems) was black. It looked a bit boring but I figured it wouldn't look as dirty as a white one over time.

When the shop replaced it with an S10, they said only pink and white were available. I opted for white even though it will probably look dirty in a year's time.

Thai girls say my S10 is naa-ruk (cute/lovely) but that wasn't why I bought it!

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Power Supply

The S10 comes with an AC adapter that seems to be colour coded; at least I have a white one to match my white machine.

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On-line Forums And Support

There are lots of good discussions and advice at the IdeaPad S series Netbooks forum.

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Summary

The introduction of this class of 'Netbook' computer was a major step towards truly mobile computing. My IBM 'X' series notebooks are smaller than most notebooks but I still consider them to be too large to carry around with me all the time.

On the other hand, I can just slip the S10 into the side pocket of my camera bag and carry it around all day quite comfortably without really noticing it.

Lenovo were late into the Netbook market but they seem to have come up with a fairly competitive product. The Wi-Fi capabilities of the S10 are good and allow me to make use of the many free Wi-Fi networks available in restaurants and coffee shops these days.

If you plan to use the machine on battery power then the standard 3 cell battery may be a little limiting. The 6 cell battery gives a big improvement, and no doubt OEM 9 cell batteries will give an even bigger one.

The small keyboard takes a bit of getting used to and I spend more time correcting typing errors on this machine than I do on others. If you have large hands (which I don't) this will be an even bigger problem.

I love TrackPoint and hate TouchPad but that is just a personal preference. Most other people seem to be the other way round and it appears that TrackPoint will eventually die out altogether. That's a real shame.

Probably the biggest gripe with the S10 is the 600 pixel deep screen resolution. With some applications this is limiting but with others it will actually prevent you from working with them (Adobe Camera Raw, for example).

Just by making the S10 a little bigger, Lenovo could increase the screen resolution to 1024x768 and at the same time improve the ergonomics of the keyboard.

A small increase in overall size (maybe another 1.5cm to 2cm deeper) would retain the convenience and mobility of the machine, but would vastly increase the usability and turn the S10 into a computer you could use all the time for everything.

At the moment it is a compromise solution. The S10 is great for travel but when I need to do photo editing - or just for the comfort of using a slightly larger keyboard - I switch to another machine at home.

I then have the hassle of synching data between machines so that I don't lose updates. By addressing the problems I have outlined, Lenovo could produce a truly mobile machine that isn't a compromise solution.

I am really hoping this will happen with future 'S' series machines so that I will then be able to throw away my IBM 'X' series ThinkPads.

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