Lenovo's latest IdeaPads offer Intel, AMD, and an Nvidia mystery

Choose between Ryzen and RX Vega, or Core i7 and a mystery GeForce MX graphics.

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Lenovo’s latest Ideapad laptops offer a lot of choices—and one mystery. Announced Monday morning at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the mainstream product line will let people pick between AMD’s newest Ryzen mobile chips with Radeon graphics, or a Whiskey Lake Core i7 with Nvidia’s newest GPU, about which little is known. Lenovo will also offer a range of price points for the laptops when they go on sale in April, from $370 to $880. 

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The IdeaPad S540 will offer either Whiskey Lake Intel CPUs and GeForce MX graphics, or Ryzen and Radeon RX Vega graphics.

Lenovo IdeaPad S340

The IdeaPad S340 will come with four specific new models: two with 15-inch screens, and two with 14-inch screens. Storage options range from pure SSD builds (128GB to 256GB) to 2.5-inch hard drives.

The most affordable of the bunch looks surprisingly satisfying. While $370-range laptops can often tap Intel’s more entry-level Pentium N or Celeron N chips (essentially derivatives of the performance-challenged Atom product line), Lenovo is spec’ing the S340 with Whiskey Lake-based dual-core Core i3-8145U CPUs up to quad-core Core i7-8565U chips. With the Intel chips, the S340 is offering the option of Nvidia’s newly launched but still mysterious GeForce MX250 graphics (more on that later).. 

For fans of AMD, Lenovo is offering up to a quad-core Ryzen 7 3700U with Radeon RX Vega 10 graphics aboard. 

Screen resolutions for the various models range from a pedestrian 1366x768 (HD) to the more common 1920x1080 (Full HD). Touch will only be offered on the 15-inch version, though. Screen brightness is a notable compromise, with the panels rated at 220 nits to 250 nits—not horrible, but not great. The good news is both TN and IPS options are available.

Lenovo said the Intel laptops will hit 10 hours of run time with discrete graphics or 8 hours with integrated graphics. Battery life of the Ryzen-based laptops was not disclosed. The laptop series will weigh in at around 3.7 pounds, depending on the options. 

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Lenovo IdeaPad C340

If clamshell laptops are old hat for you, Lenovo’s convertible C340 may be the better choice. New to the series is a narrower bezel. As with the S340, you get to pick your CPU.

On the Intel side of the aisle, choices range from a quad-core Core i7-8265U to dual-core Core i3-8145U, as well as a dual-core Pentium Gold 5405U. And yes, unlike laptops that used N-series of Pentium chips, the Pentium Gold 5405U is based on Intel’s faster Core architecture. 

Graphics options are Intel’s integrated, or Nvidia’s new and mysterious GeForce MX230 (more on that later). The Intel-based IdeaPad C340 will come with 14-inch and 15-inch display options.

While the AMD-based C340 only comes with a 14-inch panel, it will offer a wider range of CPU offerings, from Athlon 300U to Ryzen 3 3200U, Ryzen 5 3600U, and Ryzen 7 3700U.

Storage on the 14-inch C340 series seems limited to M.2 SSDs, while the 15-inch version offers a 2.5-inch hard drive option.

Screen resolutions range from 1366x768 (HD) to 1920x1080 (FHD) to in both TN and IP. Lenovo doesn’t call out touch support, but convertible laptops are almost all universally touch-based. As with the IdeaPad S340, panels run a bit on the dim side, from 220 nits to a tolerable 250 nits.

Lenovo offers optional fingerprint reader and active pen support for the IdeaPad C340 line. The 14-inch version weighs about 3.6 pounds, while the 15-inch version pushes it to 4.4 pounds. Prices of the C340 convertibles range from $450 to $500, depending on the options.

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Lenovo IdeaPad S540

Pushing the price to closer to a grand, Lenovo’s new clamshell IdeaPad S540 features a narrow bezel design and “dual-action fans” for better cooling and better performance, and a generally better fit and finish.

The Intel version will offer either 14-inch or 15-inch displays with glass-coated IPS screens and brightness up to 300 nits. 

CPU choices range up to Intel’s newest Whiskey Lake Core i7, with graphics options ranging from Nvidia’s MX250 in the 14-inch version and up to a GTX 1050 in the 15-inch version.

If you opt for AMD, you’re again limited to only the 14-inch version with a 1920x1080 IPS panel. The CPU on the AMD version is a Ryzen 7 3700U with Radeon RX Vega 10 graphics.

Battery life is rated at 12 hours for the Intel version (it’s not clear if that’s the 15-inch or 14-inch version), with the AMD model rated at 8 hours of run time. The 14-inch IdeaPad S540 weighs 3.3 pounds, while the 15-inch version is 4 pounds. The Intel 15-inch S540 starts at $850, while the 14-inch Intel model costing about $880. If you opt for the 14-inch AMD version, the price drops to about $730.

All of the laptops are expected in April except for the 14-inch Intel IdeaPad S540, which won’t hit the streets until June.

whatisinthischipwhothehellknows Nvidia

What’s in Nvidia’s new GeForce MX250? No one knows.

About those GeForce MX230 and MX250 chips

While the AMD-based laptops all get Radeon RX Vega graphics on the chip, Lenovo is mostly offering Nvidia’s newest GeForce as an optional upgrade.

One problem: No one has any idea what’s in the chips. The GeForce MX250 and MX230 popped up on Nvidia’s website last week, with the only real specs being their “GeForce Performance Scores.” That score claims the new GeForce MX250 delivers 3.5X the game performance of an Intel Whiskey Lake with UHD620 graphics. The MX230 is rated by Nvidia to offer 2.6X the graphics performance of a Whiskey Lake Core i5- 8265U with UHD620 graphics.

What confuses us, though, is that the MX150 that precedes these two chips is rated at 4X of a “UHD 620” graphics core. So, is the “newer” MX250 actually slower than the MX150, or has Nvidia changed how it judges the UHD 620?

Both new chips support GDDR5, and all indications are that they are based on Nvidia’s Pascal chip, just as the MX150 was.

To make this even more confusing, it became a minor issue last year when it was discovered that there was a low power 10-watt version of the MX150, and a higher-performance 25-watt version of the MX150, with no easy way for consumers to tell the difference.

So, how many cores the MX230 and MX250 have, how much heat they dissipate, and how much memory bandwidth they have is still unknown. When we asked Nvidia,  officials declined to provide further details, citing the chips' use only as preinstalled laptop components.

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