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Lenovo IdeaPad S12 Review

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Lenovo IdeaPad S12 [2959] Review

 

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Official Shipping Specifications:

Intel Atom N270 @ 1.6 Ghz

Intel GMA 950 (ae27) @ 166 Mhz (note: desktop versions clock at 400 Mhz)

12.1 inch glossy led-backlit (@ 200 nits) LCD @ 1280 x 800

1 GB DDR2 SDRAM @ 667Mhz (note: fsb speed is only 533 Mhz)

160 GB Fujitsu Hard Drive @ 5400 RPM

6-Cell Sanyo Lithium Ion Battery @ 4800 mAh

Broadcom BCM4312 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi

Broadcom BCM5784M 10/100 Mbps Ethernet

3 USB 2.0 Ports

1 SD/MMC/Memory Stick/Memory Stick Pro slot

1 ExpressCard/34 slot

1.3 Megapixel Bison Webcam

 

All for just $449, unless you don't mind buying refurbished through the Lenovo Outlet Store. Then its only $303, and its just like new.

 

I have owned my S12 for just under 3 weeks and I am very happy with it. While it's nowhere near as powerful as my AMD desktop, it is powerful enough for mostly everything I need to do, with the exception of running advanced games or 3D intensive programs.

 

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The Lenovo IdeaPad S12 isn't a netbook in my opinion. It's a little too big to be a netbook, even though it shares all the basic components with its smaller counterpart and competitors. It also isn't a laptop. Even though it does have a larger screen with a higher resolution and a full sized set of keys on its keyboard, it's missing the optical drive. But not much else.

 

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What it does remind me of more than anything is my ancient Apple Powerbook 190. Lacking an optical drive, and having a footprint only slightly larger than a composition notebook, the S12 for me at least, is the spiritual successor to my aging and comparatively heavy (not to mention grossly obsolete) 190cs.

 

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Netbook, Subnotebook, what doesn't matter is what you call it, what does matter is the size. At 11.5 x 8.5 inches, and with a thickness varying from 0.6 near the touchpad to 0.9 at its hinges, its small enough to carry on top of or inside of a binder. The 6 cell battery only adds maybe 0.3 inches to that figure, and acts as a tilting device so that the keyboard has a slight slope while set on a table, something I find very comfortable and worth the extra girth. It only weighs in at 3 and a half pounds. That makes it comfortable to carry single-handedly while open, easy at your side while closed, and virtually unnoticeable in a backpack with a couple notebooks and binders. Another dimension worth noting is the power supply. Maybe this is standard on all netbooks/subnotebooks but it's only 3.5 x 1.5 x 1.0, which allows it to be conveniently carried alongside the S12 in a case leaving more room for other peripherals.

 

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Speaking of peripherals, the S12 can host quite a few. On the left side of the unit (from left to right) is the power adaptor connector, a cooling vent, a toggle switch to enable/disable the wireless devices installed, 2 USB 2.0 ports, and a memory card reader that accepts SD/MMC/Memory Stick and Memory Stick PRO flash memory cards.

 

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On the right (from left to right) is an ExpressCard/34 slot, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a 3.5mm line in/microphone jack, another USB 2.0 port, a DE-15 VGA port, an RJ-45 Ethernet port, and a handy Kensington lock slot.

 

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On the bottom are two removable panels. Underneath the left-lower panel is an open Mini PCI-E slot, accompanied by a SIM card slot. Popping in my T-Mobile sim card did nothing, and Windows 7 sees no modem so I'm assuming thats for the 3G/HSDPA modem available for the smaller S10 and S10-2. Under the right-upper panel is an available RAM slot and the Broadcom b/g wireless card. The BIOS on the Atom units only allows a maximum of 1GB in that slot, and the wireless range of the Broadcom card is comparable to my Mac Mini. Directly below that panel is a small vent, and at the lowest left and right are the two stereo speakers. The sound that comes from them is concise and clear, but lacks any serious depth.

 

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The keyboard is probably one of the best I have ever used. The key faces are large and full sized, with clean italicized Helvetica lettering. Overall, the feel is firm and even, with even resistance on each key, and with absolutely no flexing of adjacent keys during heavy typing. The mapping is good and easy to adapt to. My only gripe is that the FN mapping symbols and letters are printed in a dark orange, making them a little hard to read at a glance, but the benefit is that you get a less-cluttered looking keyboard, and it only takes a few extra seconds to focus on them to read.

 

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The trackpad is both well sized and full-featured. The texture is similar to the rest of the case: matte black and lightly textured, but hard and resistant to inward-flexing. The buttons are nicely sized, but can sometimes feel similar to the trackpad, creating brief moments when I'm expecting the cursor to move and nothing happens, especially when using my thumb. As an added bonus/convience, the trackpad can be hardware-disabled/re-enabled with FN+F6 to prevent any unwanted taps or accidental cursor drags, very helpful for anyone who plans to take lots of note, or do lots of writing. The scroll area adds some nice raised lines that make it easy to find, and it supports 2-finger scrolling as well (a feature that works flawlessly under Mac OS X, but that I have yet to figure out how to enable under Windows 7).

 

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Speaking of operating systems, the S12 contains lots of highly-compatible hardware. Ubuntu 9.04 picked up all my hardware and ran very nicely. But unfortunately for Linux, Mac OS X runs very well on it as well.

 

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After trying numerous attempts at a vanilla Snow Leopard install, and various Leopard attempts and distros, I settled on iAtkos v7 (10.5.7) as it worked well after install and needed very few kexts to get it to near-%100 compatibility. Out of all the hardware listed, the only things NOT working are the wired Ethernet port, the internal microphone (the line-in port works fine), video mirroring (meaning I can't display the same thing as the internal display on an external monitor, but spanning to create an expanded desktop works just fine) and the webcam (which does work under iChat, but not PhotoBooth for some reason). Everything else works as expected, even after sleep. The things that don't work are either unused by me or unimportant, and having everything else working easily outweighs them.

 

For those of you looking to take the same route as I did for leopard, I'll quote the same instructions I sent to someone who asked via a PM.

Using iatkos v7, install with the following packages selected:

Main System (duh)

Chameleon v2

/Extra directory

DSDT

AppleDecrypt

Disabler

Remove TyMCE

EFI string for Intel

GMA 950 rare

AHCI

Speedstep driver

throttling control

Cardbus driver (works for my expresscard34 slot and memory card reader)

Voodoo HDA driver

Voodoo PS2 with trackpad plugin

Laptop battery

NTFS-3G (if you ever plan on dual-booting with win7, which was a real pain to get running, this will be useful, but it does add about 5 seconds to the overall boot time)

Broadcom BCM43xx

Post install actions (duh)

 

These are all from memory, I installed about 2 weeks ago using this and it worked almost perfectly.

 

After the install, boot with "cpus=1 -x -f -v", and set up everything (name, account info, etc). Google for MSi_OSX86_Upgrade_Pack_v1.5.zip and run the pkg installer (ignore the wireless drivers folder, if you used iatkos v7 and you selected the bcm wireless drivers youll be ok). Unselect everything except Video 950GMA and install. Dont reboot yet. Edit your com.apple.boot.plist in Library/preferences/systemconfiguration to boot with the cpus=1 kernel flag (CPU multithreading causes issues with the sound driver, so you have to do this or you will get a kernel panic after a little while)

 

Now reboot again with -f -v (assuming you edited the boot plist you wont have to enter cpus=1 ever again) and if all boots well, you should be good to go. If sleep doesnt work, install sleepenabler.kext and clamshelldisplay.kext (google for them) with kexthelper b7.

 

Heres a keylayout that fixes an issue with the tilde key not working:

IdeaPad_S12.keylayout.zip

Just put it in Library/Keyboard Layouts and use the International prefpane to select it.

 

 

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Dual-booting with Windows 7 was an interesting task, and it taught me how useful GParted really is. Having Windows was important to me as I do depend on some CAD software like AutoCAD and SolidWorks, as well as for the properly working webcam and built-in microphone for the occasional conversation. The GMA 950 is also sufficient for some older games like Counter-Strike and Half-Life, and its capable of providing the power to comfortably run the Aero desktop effects in Windows 7.

 

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As far as the performance goes, the Atom N270 under Mac OS X feels similar to the final generation of G4 iBooks, and my Mac Mini CoreSolo 1.5 is only a little faster. Running a test using VisualHub to compress a large avi file to an mp4, the Atom posted a time estimate of 220 minutes, the Core Solo in my Mini posted 185, and my AMD 64 X2 4400 hackintosh posted an estimate of only 40 minutes. Under Windows 7 the performance is similar. Booting OS X is a little on the slow side at about 70 seconds from the point that Mac OS is selected in Chameleon 2 to the point it reaches a loaded desktop, however having working deep-sleep offsets that issue as I rarely have to shutdown between use.

 

The battery life is great. Running everything on the highest settings and keeping the CPU busy, I see battery estimates of around 4 hours and 30 minutes. With the wireless switched off physically and the brightness at about %50 and just running Pages, I get estimates of around 6 hours and 15 minutes. During normal battery use (%75 brightness, wireless on, %25-75 varying CPU load), I managed to work for a little over 5 hours before I got a low battery warning when it reached %5, but even then I still had another 8 minutes before it would go into deep-sleep.

 

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The overall build quality is superb. The plastics are hard and evenly textured, and the chassis is rigid unlike other laptops I've used and owned before. The pattern on the top was something I worried about looking a little too "feminine" online and before receiving it, but it isn't and it grew on me quickly. Unless you deal with carbon-fiber on a daily basis it does look a little like the stuff from a few feet away. The status lights on the front are small and purposeful.

 

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The final aspect to cover is the main reason I find it so hard to classify the S12. Mostly all netbooks share the common Intel Atom/GMA 950/1024x600 display combo. But unlike mostly all netbooks the S12 uses a 12.1 inch LED backlit LCD that has a resolution of 1280x800, a common resolution on laptops up to 15.4 inches but most common (or should I say native) on the 13 inch MacBook, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, making the IdeaPad S12 the perfect poor-mans HackBook Air.

 

A few more pics comparing the S12 to the 190cs:

 

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BTW, If anyones interested in the 190cs, PM me. It, along with a few other related goodies are for sale :unsure: .

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Hi ResX:

 

Thank you! This is really an awesome review - and I love the comparison between the S12 and the old cousin from Apple! :poster_oops:

 

Just one question: you write that installing Windows 7 and Leopard was a bit complex. Did you follow a specific tutorial? If so, can you post a link, please? Thanks in advance!

 

Warm regards,

 

Don.

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Hi ResX:

 

Thank you! This is really an awesome review - and I love the comparison between the S12 and the old cousin from Apple! :)

 

Just one question: you write that installing Windows 7 and Leopard was a bit complex. Did you follow a specific tutorial? If so, can you post a link, please? Thanks in advance!

 

Warm regards,

 

Don.

It wasn't too hard, just tedious and requiring alot of trial and error. Dual booting Windows 7 and Leopard is virtually the same as dual booting Vista and Leopard. Any tutorial explaining Vista and Leopard should work. One thing I did do that helped was I eliminated the "System" partition during the installation of Windows 7. All this info can be easily found by googling.

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Yes, I have the Intel Atom/GMA 950 combination, not the Atom/Ion combo. A little bit I wish I had waited to order the Ion version, but the price is a little more than I'd want to spend on a netbook ($599 new, I paid $303 from the outlet store and its basically new) and the 950 does precisely what I need (everything but 1080p video and modern gaming). AutoCAD 2010 and Solidworks 09 actually runs ok, but large files do seem to take a little longer to load and work with.

 

From the little bit I've read, the Ion is very similar to the Nvidia 9400m and if I remember correctly, theres an InfiniteMac post regarding an Ion nettop and using a patch for it that give QE/CI, but don't hold me to it.

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Hi ResX,

 

Your review made me think about getting the S12, I have a couple of questions though, if you don't mind:

 

Out of all the hardware listed, the only things NOT working are the wired Ethernet port, the internal microphone (the line-in port works fine), video mirroring (meaning I can't display the same thing as the internal display on an external monitor, but spanning to create an expanded desktop works just fine) and the webcam (which does work under iChat, but not PhotoBooth for some reason). Everything else works as expected, even after sleep. The things that don't work are either unused by me or unimportant, and having everything else working easily outweighs them.

 

Have you found some more things that do not work in the meantime?

What about two-finger scrolling on the touchpad, how usable is the touchpad at all?

Does hibernate work? I've read about problems with keyboard/tp after sleep, have you been experiencing any of these?

Is the card reader usable?

 

Overall, how stable is osx on your system, is it comparable to a "normal" mb?

 

I have been thinking about getting an ion-based s12, do you think there could be any special problems related to that?

 

Thanks in advance!

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Hi ResX,

 

Your review made me think about getting the S12, I have a couple of questions though, if you don't mind:

 

 

 

Have you found some more things that do not work in the meantime?

What about two-finger scrolling on the touchpad, how usable is the touchpad at all?

Does hibernate work? I've read about problems with keyboard/tp after sleep, have you been experiencing any of these?

Is the card reader usable?

 

Overall, how stable is osx on your system, is it comparable to a "normal" mb?

 

I have been thinking about getting an ion-based s12, do you think there could be any special problems related to that?

 

Thanks in advance!

 

I have not encountered any new issues. Two finger scrolling works wonderfully. Sleep has been working fine for me, no issues there, everything works after sleep. Deep sleep/hibernate does not work but it is unimportant.

 

Leopard is stable enough, and I have no plans to update from 10.5.7. If you want something as stable as a real MacBook buy a MacBook, you'll be happy you spent the money.

 

As I explained earlier, I do not know how well the Ion version will run Leopard. If you need the extra graphics power you're better off getting a X series ThinkPad, or better yet, a MacBook :(

 

I only needed something for note-taking and those other basic college tasks along with long battery life. Even still, it surprises me that AutoCAD/SolidWorks/Inventor run (albeit, slowly) on it, and how portable it is. I've been using a pocket in one of my binders as a carrying case.

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The BIOS on the Atom units only allows a maximum of 1GB in that slot

 

This is the only thing that is worrying me. I was planning on picking one of these up, and have extensive experience with the eeepc units, but prefer the form factor of the lenovo. So there is no way to upgrade this laptop to 2GB RAM?

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This is the only thing that is worrying me. I was planning on picking one of these up, and have extensive experience with the eeepc units, but prefer the form factor of the lenovo. So there is no way to upgrade this laptop to 2GB RAM?

There is already 1GB soldered to the motherboard, so yes, it can be upgraded to a maximum of 2GB.

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Thanks !

It was very useful and worked like a charm.

The link to the Keybpoard layout is dead though.

Life without Command Well i don't know how to Lenovo this sign !

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If youtube isn't working well (480 only, 720 lags a tad), you probably don't have graphics drivers working. As far as the keyboard goes just go to the system preferences and keyboard, and swap the option and command keys.

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Thanks for this great post! I installed 10.5.7 on my Intel S12 (same model as OP) using the instructions. It works well, but I can't figure out how to get sleep to work. When I put it to sleep, it instantly wakes up. I followed these steps:

 

install sleepenabler.kext and clamshelldisplay.kext (google for them) with kexthelper b7

 

I googled and found a 10.5.7 compatible version of the above kexts and installed them with kexthelper b7. Unfortunately this didn't help. Would anyone be able to provide me with links to kexts that are known to work with the S12? I love this little laptop; but it's not super useful without working sleep :-(

 

Also: Has anyone attempted or had success with Snow Leopard?

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