REVIEW: Lenovo targets small biz with dual-core laptop

It’s not your father’s ThinkPad.

The new Lenovo 3000 N100 leaves the ThinkPad behind with a new form factor and new look designed to appeal to the small business user, and a small business-friendly pricepoint.

Lenovo Group Ltd., which also manufactures the IBM ThinkPad line of laptops targeted at the enterprise space, has also begun releasing its own Lenovo-branded line of laptops and desktops. The N100, released Tuesday, is aimed at the budget conscious, and not overly IT-savvy, small business space and is the company’s first dual-core notebook.

I tested the N100 for two weeks and couldn’t help but make comparisons with my old ThinkPad, which I bought in 2001 and which served me well for four years before I finally retired it with a Dell Inspiron 600M last fall.

The first thing that struck me was the look. It was sleek, silver and metallic; gone was the basic black of the ThinkPad. The keypad brought back the black, but the font evoked more of a retro, 70s kind of feel. The 14.1″ model weighs in at about 5.6 lbs.

Also immediately noticeable was the absence of the trackball, replaced with the touchpad that seems to be standard now with most vendors. Lenovo said their research told them the small business market prefers the trackpad. I found the mouse keys small and a bit tricky to use, but I rely on my USB mouse anyways, except on airplanes. The volume keys were also finicky, and took determined pressure to activate.

When I fired it up I was impressed by the quality and resolution of the display. I tested the 15.4″ model with optional XBRITE LCD technology, and it looked really sharp. The N100 comes with Intel’s CoreDuo processor and 512 MB of RAM standard, and Windows XP Professional Edition booted quite quickly.

A fingerprint scanner is optional on the N100, and it’s a handy security feature. Lenovo said they’ve shipped over one million laptops with integrated fingerprint scanners to date, so this may be an idea that is catching on. An integrated Web cam is also an option.

On the ports side, Lenovo said it recognizes that small business people will be using their laptops at home as well as at the office (so do people at large enterprises, they’re just not supposed to) so they’ve built in a range of ports to support that.

There’s an S-Video-out port to connect to a TV, a Firewire port, a 4-in-1 card reader to access memory cards from digital cameras and other devices, and four USB ports to connect assorted peripherals. Wireless and Bluetooth are also integrated.

Most of the ports are located on the sides of the laptop, including one USB port on the left side and three others on the right. The three ports are grouped together fairly closely, making it a bit tricky to connect multiple bulky devices, though most laptops I’ve used seem to be built that way. I would have liked one USB port on the back, though, for my mouse, as I found the cord could get in the way when I connected it on the side.

Lenovo is touting its Lenovo Care portal, a suite of utilities similar to its ThinkVantage tools but tailored for the small business market. It includes tools for restoring a crashed system, easier connectivity, and other utilities. It resides on a separate partition on the hard drive from Windows and has its own OS. If Windows has crashed, the company said this would allow someone to grab some important files from their hard drive before a meeting without having to restore Windows first.

The service is supposed to be accessible through a button next to the volume keys, but it didn’t work for me. I could however still access it through the taskbar in Windows.

Overall, I liked this laptop. Because of its size and weight, the 15.4″ model is more suited to being a desktop replacement than a travel companion.

But with dual-core power, a sharp display and a balance of work and home capabilities, all at a very attractive price point, it looks to be a good fit for its target small business market.

Availability: Available now through Lenovo and channel partners

Pricing: Starts at $999 URL: