Lenovo announces 12.1-inch, Ion-powered netbook

Nvidia's MCP79 chipset has been on quite a journey. After debuting in Apple's MacBooks last year, it started playing together with Intel's Atom processors, and we later found it in Acer's AspireRevo nettop under a new identity: Ion. The journey isn't over, because Lenovo has now announced a cheap little laptop based on the Atom-Ion combo.

The Lenovo IdeaPad S12 has a 12.1" display with a 1280x800 resolution, and Lenovo intends to offer it with a choice of either Intel GMA 950 or Nvidia Ion integrated graphics. The latter will boost the asking price by $50. Nvidia says the Ion is powerful enough to propel the S12 into the full-blown "notebook" category, but Lenovo is more conservative, calling the system a plain netbook. Semantics geeks can pick a side after looking at Lenovo's "draft specs" list:

Display: 12.1 WXGA (1280 X 800) LED 200 nit, 250g
Processor: Intel Atom N270
Graphics: Intel integrated GMA 950, Nvidia ION
Memory: Up to 1GB DDR2 533 MHz
Hard Drive: Up to 160 GB SATA (160, 250, 320)
Battery Life: 3 hours with 3-cell, 6 hours with 6-cell
Weight: 1.4kg with 3 cell, 1.55kg with 6 cell
Dimensions: 292 X 216 X 22-28.9mm
Connectivity: 10/100m Ethernet, Broadcom 578M, Intel WiFi Link 5150 1X2 AGN, Intel WiFi Link 5100 1X2 AGN, Non-Intel wireless b/g, Non-Intel wireless b/g/n, Bluetooth
Other: 3 USB, 1 Expresscard slot (Intel and VIA platforms), 4-in-1 card reader, VGA, RJA45, HDMI
Software: XP Home SP3 (32 bit)

(For the metrically challenged, the IdeaPad S12 weighs either 3.09 or 3.42 lbs depending on the battery size, and it measures a slender 11.5" x 8.5" x 0.87-1.14".)

According to Lenovo's press release, the Intel-only flavor of the IdeaPad S12 will become available next month at $449. You'll have to wait until "later this summer" to get the pricier Ion-based version, which will add an HDMI output and superior graphics capabilities.

The Ion IGP should let you play casual games and some high-definition video content smoothly on the S12, but don't expect any miracles—the Atom still constitutes a relatively tight bottleneck for more demanding applications. Our tests have shown the Atom-Ion duo chokes on titles like Half-Life 2, Quake Wars, and Call of Duty 4 even at low resolutions and detail levels. Nevertheless, the Ion can run many more games than the Intel chipset, and it can speed up select non-gaming tasks by offloading general-purpose processing from the CPU.

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