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Lenovo IdeaCentre Q180: Big Thing, Small Package

s that most of us are at a loss without it. The full power of desktop computers has been compacted into laptops. With the proliferation of cloud-based computing, these have shrunk further to become netbooks, UltraBooks and the like.

One category of small PC that hasn t received much attention of late is the nettop   but maybe it should. Nettops are desktop computers that have an unusually small form factor. The Lenovo IdeaCentre Q180 is one such tiny powerhouse that promises all the functionality of a full-sized multimedia computer. Let's see how the Q180 meets the challenge.

Tiny, Versatile and Connected

Our initial reaction upon unpacking the Lenovo IdeaCentre Q180 was "how much computing power can really be packed into such a diminutive box?" The unit measures about 7.5 inches wide by just more than 6 inches wide. Our test unit was equipped with the optional DVD player/recorder that piggybacks on the computer, making the total thickness about 1.75 inches. Without that optical drive, the computer's thickness measures just half that. The assembly feels substantial, and the fit and finish are excellent. It's also attractive, with a glossy black top and brushed aluminum all around. You can place the unit flat on a desk or mount it upright on the included stand. A VESA mount allows you to connect the component to the back of a monitor or TV.

An intriguing t-shaped remote control is included. It combines the features of a keyboard, mouse and audio/video controller in one unique, handheld accessory. Its layout isn't exactly that of a standard keyboard, but it's close. Because of its size, it wouldn't be practical for heavy-duty typing, but it is perfectly adequate for web browsing and composing emails. The top-row keys are dedicated controls such as play, stop, pause, fast forward and similarly familiar media functions. A responsive, round track-pad provides mouse functionality, and we adapted to using it quickly.

mouse. The keyboard is basic, but we found that it works better than expected upon initial examination. The combination of the remote control and the wired peripherals struck us as a bit odd in that one places the emphasis on mobility while the other tethers you to the computer. A wireless keyboard and mouse are more logical for this application.

Both the front and rear sides of the computer feature more connection ports that we'd expect in such a small and rather low-priced computer. The back includes four USB 2.0 ports, HDMI and VGA outputs, a gigabit ethernet connection and an S/PDIF digital audio output. Fortunately, the front panel adds two USB 3.0 ports because all four rear connections are occupied in the computer's typical setup: one for the optical drive via USB jumper, one each for the mouse and keyboard, and finally, one for the wireless remote control dongle. The front panel also offers an 8-in-1 card reader and headphone and mic jacks. Wi-Fi networking is built in.

It's What's Inside That Counts

Our test unit was equipped with 4GB of RAM. Without the optional optical drive, the computer comes with 2GB of RAM. A Blu-ray Disc player is also available. Performance is enhanced to a degree by the inclusion of an AMD Radeon HD 6450A graphics card that adds 512MB of video RAM. Our unit came with a 500GB hard drive. A 750GB HDD or a 128GB SSD are available options.

Ultimately, does the Lenovo IdeaCentre Q180 live up to expectations? To a large extent, yes. However, opting for the end-of-life Atom D2700 processor is a corner that shouldn't have been cut. If Lenovo would just update it with at least an Intel i5, this multimedia nettop would indeed be a mighty mini.

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