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Lenovo IdeaCentre B320 all-in-one desktop

The Lenovo IdeaCentre B320 seems to be confused about its mission: is it a multimedia powerhouse, or low-frills budget all-in-one?

On its website, Lenovo bills the IdeaCentre B320 as a “sleek desktop” with “two extreme missions” — to be an HDTV and a PC. Unfortunately, like many things with several “extreme missions,” the B320 spreads itself too thin, and falls kind of flat on both.

Our review model, priced at US$899, features a Core i5-2500 processor, 4GB of RAM, and an AMD Radeon HD 6450A graphics card. It also has an impressively large 2TB hard drive–an interesting choice for a computer that’s supposed to double as an HDTV, but you’ll be able to fit plenty of your ripped movie files on it. There’s also a built-in webcam, microphone, speakers, and a DVD-RW drive. No Blu-ray drive, but this is a Budget All-in-One, after all.

In our benchmark testing, the B320 received a score of 126 — which puts it right at the top of the budget all-in-one category. Graphics performance is just okay: the B320 managed a frame rate of 32.7 frames per second in our high-quality Unreal Tournament test (1680-by-1050 pixel resolution), but just 13.1 fps in the same quality/resolution Dirt 2 test. It’s not excellent, but pretty standard for the category.

I don’t particularly like the B320’s design, mainly because I’m not a big fan of large, obvious speakers located below the screen. However, I admit that the B320’s chassis is sleeker than other all-in-ones I’ve seen with similar (obvious speaker) designs. A thin, shiny black bezel surrounds the 21.5-inch glossy touchscreen, and there are a few touch-sensitive buttons located in the lower right corner (as well as non-touch-sensitive indicator lights in the lower left corner).

The speakers, which are located directly below the screen, are large and angled. They’re matte silver, which means they’re highly visible below the screen. They’re not flush with the table top, however–the system is propped up on two small, wide metallic legs. The screen leans on a picture-frame like stand, which is thick, heavy, and very sturdy.

Ports are located on the side of the machine, as well as on the back. On the left side, there are two USB 2.0 ports, headphone and microphone jacks, as well as a multi-in-one card reader slot. The back has the rest–four USB ports (six total), Gigabit Ethernet, PS/2 (for keyboard), and a TV tuner. The right side of the screen has no ports, just a DVD-RW drive and several buttons for going into TV mode, changing TV channels, and adjusting volume. They’re essentially for turning your all-in-one into a bona fide HDTV. If you’d rather not turn your all-in-one into an HDTV, you can use the built-in Picture-in-Picture mode to watch TV programming in a little box in the lower right corner of your screen (there’s a dedicated PIP button on the side of the screen).

The B320 sports a glossy, 21.5-inch touchscreen with a full HD native resolution of 1920-by-1080 pixels. Images on the screen look good–colors are bright and clear, and text is crisp–but video is a bit tricky. In my testing, HD video playback (both streaming and native) showed a lot of blocky artifacts and general noise. The touchscreen itself is accurate–not the most sensitive, accurate screen I’ve used, but definitely up there.

Included with the B320 are a wireless keyboard and mouse, as well as a remote control. The keyboard is basic in terms of functionality–it offers your typical media control buttons and the Lenovo vantage technology (“LVT”) button, which offers some custom Lenovo utilities. The keyboard sports a brushed metal background and orange accents. The brushed metal is very attractive; the orange accents, not so much. While the keys are widely spaced and easy to type on, in my testing I found that they sometimes don’t register, especially if you’re a quick typer.

The mouse is not your typical optical wireless mouse–it’s thin, light, and it has a bunch of extra buttons, and, oh yeah, it also doubles as a pointer. Pretty convenient, but not the most effective mouse I’ve ever used. For one thing, the mouse/air-pointer is much thinner than your typical mouse, which makes it a little uncomfortable to use. I also found the mouse/pointer to be a little too sensitive to movement–I understand that, as a pointer, it needs to be ultra-sensitive, but as a mouse–well, let’s just say I found myself using the touchscreen a lot.

The Lenovo IdeaCentre B320 is interesting, to say the least. I’m not entirely sure why Lenovo has included a mouse that doubles as a pointer–this seems like more of a business machine feature to me. The machine itself sits in a strange place–the 21.5-inch screen, so-so video playback, no Blu-ray drive, but a big focus on being a media centre.

The US$900 price tag makes it a good fit for cash-strapped college students in a small dorm room. If you’re looking for a stronger media experience and have a bit more coin to spare, a larger machine like the Lenovo IdeaCentre B520 will be a great investment.