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Lenovo IdeaCentre All-In-One 520 Review
Community SeniorMod

This review is an analysis of the 24” Lenovo AIO 520 computer.  The target audience is anyone wanting a full-featured desktop computer that doesn’t take up a lot of desk space.  In the past, many all-in-one computers have been under-powered and gave up normal desktop features, such as storage and memory, in order to save space.  Older all-in-ones frequently had low-resolution screens.  Today, hard drive sizes are often measured in terabytes, and a single memory stick can hold up to 16GB of memory, so most mainstream users could be well-served by the AIO 520. 

 

The machine being reviewed is based on an Intel i5-7400T seventh-generation Kaby Lake CPU and comes with 8 GB of DDR4 memory.  It has a bright 24” WVA FHD (1920X1080) Multitouch (10-point) screen.  Graphics functions relied on the Intel HD Graphics 630 functions built into the CPU.  There are five USB ports, two of which support USB3.  There is also a Gigabit Ethernet port, an HDMI video out port and an HDMI video capture port.  Along the bottom of the machine, there is a three-in-one card reader and an audio combo jack.  Wireless networking is handled by an Intel 3165 dual channel adapter that combines wireless AC with Bluetooth 4.1.  On the right side, there is a DVD read-write drive built in.  The machine I am reviewing came pre-loaded with Windows 10 Home.  For storage, the computer has a 1-terabyte, 7200RPM hard drive.  The machine also has a 1080P webcam that can be popped up to use, or down for privacy. 

 

Without the keyboard, mouse or power supply the machine weighs 6422 gm or 14 lbs. - 2 oz. 

 

back.JPGFigure 1: Rear

front.JPGFigure 2: Frontkeyboard and mouse.JPGFigure 3: Wireless Keyboard and Mouse

My first impressions were positive.  After unpacking, before I turned it on, I inspected the machine for any shipping damage or visible defects and found none. 

 

Following the included directions, I attached the stand.  No tools are required; the base attaches with a hand-tightened screw.  I plugged in the keyboard-mouse dongle.  I installed the batteries (included) into the wireless keyboard and mouse, and I connected the power supply.  I booted into the BIOS to set the date and time, and to confirm that the processor, memory and disk storage were as expected.  I then booted normally and connected the machine to my Lenovo ID and Microsoft ID.  I installed Office 365 and tested those applications.  As I expected, everything worked correctly; Office tends to run on any Windows computer.  The AIO 520 has a glossy (rather than matte) screen.  I find the colors sharper and more vivid on the glossy screen.  If I planned to use the machine in direct sunlight, I would prefer a matte screen, as matte screens eliminate a lot of glare, but where the machine will be used, it is not a problem. 

 

The camera supports facial recognition which worked without issue with Windows Hello.  This will be a very useful feature for anyone wanting to set up the machine for multiple users or who uses password security at logon or after resuming from sleep. 

 

I was impressed with the clarity and viewing angles from the WVA screen.  I noticed no backlight bleed and the colors were crisp.  I thought the blacks and whites were especially good.  I accepted the Windows default settings. 

 

I usually prefer a keyboard with more tactile feedback after a key-press and I have always tended to use USB-attached keyboard and mouse.  My experience had always been that wireless keyboards tend to miss keystrokes and that a wireless mouse can miss clicks or have jerky movements.  In fact, I had no problem with key bounces or extra, repeated letters.  The size was great for the kind of location where someone might want an all-in-one computer because of its small footprint.  I also liked the Lenovo Mouse a lot.  Its movement was smooth, and I had no problems with missed clicks.  I don’t have any idea what kind of battery life to expect from either the keyboard or mouse.  It worked fine for my testing, but I had no way to test how much of a charge remained.

 

The stand seems sturdy and offers sufficient range for different desk heights and for tall or short users.

 

People frequently ask me about “upgradability”.  Looking at the Hardware Maintenance Manual, it looks straight-forward to remove the rear cover, giving easy access to change memory or storage, which are the most common upgrades.  The machine has two DDR4 memory slots, and the Kaby Lake CPU can accept 16GB DIMMs, so the machine could use a maximum of 32 GB.  There is also an 80 mm. M.2 slot that can accept an SSD.  The hard drive is a Standard 3.5” SATA desktop hard drive.  The BIOS indicates that the optional M.2 drive could be used as the boot device. 

 

At this point in any review, I usually would remove the cover to photograph the inside of the machine highlighting the upgrade locations.  In this case, I decided not to do it.  I take machines apart all the time, and I have the kind of tools normally found at a computer repair shop.  Modern screens have no bezels and the screens are thin and less rigid than what was found on older screens.  In this case, the rear cover is snapped onto the screen, surrounded by a thin frame.  Removal of the cover would certainly involve straining and flexing the LCD screen.  I can usually do that kind of repair without a problem, but it is the kind of task where one might find it easier the second time, and I have never previously disassembled an AIO 520.  I decided to skip the picture, not willing to risk the slight possibility of damaging the screen.  You may have less experience than I have fixing computers and may have fewer tools than I do, so my advice is to buy the machine configured the way you need it to be, rather than buying a minimal configuration, planning to upgrade.  If you need to upgrade later, consider taking it to a professional that you trust.

 

I always want to be sure that I won’t run into a problem related to overheating or excessive fan noise.  For testing, I often use CoreTemp to monitor temperatures.  I ran IntelBurnTest to exercise the CPU and watched the temperatures.  After a full cycle, the temperatures were still in the low-to-mid 50s, which is very cool for this sort of test. Fan noise increased very little.

 

heat test.jpgFigure 4: Heat Test (CoreTemp and IntelBurnTest)

The AIO 520 I was testing had an HDMI-In port that allows the computer to be used as a presentation screen for another device.  It should work with anything that can send output to a television or other screen via an HDMI port or even a Thunderbolt port using a suitable adapter.  This is a feature I find particularly useful for my normal activities.  I repair laptops and I can test a motherboard that supports an HDMI external monitor, even if I don’t have a screen for the laptop.  I tested it using a ThinkPad P70, which has a normal HDMI-out port, a Mini DisplayPort™ 1.2 and a Thunderbolt™ 3 port.  I decided to try all three.  The process is simple:  you plug the cable into the “sending” machine and then into the video capture port on the AIO 520.  The 520 should behave like a normal external monitor.  When I used a simple HDMI-to-HDMI cable, it simply worked.  I unplugged the cable and added a Display Port-to-HDMI adapter for the P70 side.  I plugged it into the P70, and then into the AIO 520, and it worked without issue.  I had never tested the P70 Thunderbolt functions, but I have a generic Thunderbolt-to-HDMI adapter in my parts drawer, so I plugged the adapter into the P70.  I received a message saying that Windows 10 was setting up new hardware.  Nothing happened for a couple of minutes while Windows automatically searched for a driver.  Finally, a message popped up saying that my billboard device was ready for use.  I wasn’t sure what a billboard device was, but I plugged the HDMI cable into the adapter and then to the HDMI-In port.  The 520 immediately became an external monitor for the P70.  No further action was required on my part.

 

Encouraged by my success, I wondered if my phone (Moto Z Force Droid), which has a USB-C port, could talk to the video capture port.  This would allow a video on a phone to display on a larger presentation device.  I connected a USB-C-to-HDMI adapter and connected the cable.  The phone seemed to know something was connected and gave a message about external charging.  I tried various things, but I could never get it to work.  After trying for a while, I resorted to looking for documentation.  I searched the internet and as far as I could determine, nobody else got it to work either from any Android phone.  Perhaps, whatever phone I get next will have such a capability. 

 

At this point in a hardware review, I normally run benchmark tests, comparing the device being reviewed to a similar machine, perhaps last year’s model.  I generally test mobile devices and I have no desktop similar to the AIO 520 to test.  The desktop machine I normally use is a large workstation with a 95-watt, 8th generation processor, having 6 cores and 12 threads.  That machine also has 64GB of memory, an SSD and a discrete graphics card.  I don’t need to run any tests to know that it will be faster than a compact all-in-one with a 35-watt processor. 

 

Buyers often need to decide between running everything on a mobile device or using a desktop computer for tasks that are better-suited for its capabilities.  The parameters are fairly simple.  A desktop provides more processing power per dollar, while mobile devices offer portability.  I was interested in seeing how a mid-range desktop computer would fare when pitted against a high-end, low-power laptop.  The AIO 520 being reviewed uses a 7th generation Intel I5-7400T processor.  The I5 in my AIO 520 is a powerful processor that is suitable for a serious user.  Pentium and Celeron processors are cheaper and can also do real work.  I3 processors offer more capability and flexibility than the Pentium and Celeron, but for many more-demanding tasks, an I5 is better.  Intel says that I7 processors are intended for enthusiasts and game-players.  Overall, I thought the comparison between the desktop I5 and low-power I7 would be interesting.

 

I have a high-end, 7th generation X1 Yoga, which has a high-end i7-7600U processor that I can use for a comparison.  The laptop’s CPU is an I7, but is a 15-watt, low-power processor.  As you might guess, more electricity means more work done.  The AIO 520 has 4 cores and supports 4 concurrent threads with its 35-Watt desktop processor.  The X1 Yoga has a 2-core CPU, but being an I7, it can support 4 virtual threads. 

 

I was interested in testing CPU compute power.  The X1 Yoga uses an SSD, which is much faster than the AIO 520’s spinning drive, especially on startup and shutdown, and any SSD will always score much higher than any spinning drive on any benchmark test.  Once a machine has booted, the real-world speed advantage for an SSD is much less than one would expect from a benchmark comparison.  The advantage of a spinning drive is that it is much cheaper and is available in much larger sizes.  The AIO 520 has an 80mm M.2 slot, which can accept an SSD.  If boot speed is important to a buyer, they can install an M.2 SSD as the boot drive and have a large spinning drive for data.  With a speed test of memory access or graphics rendering, I would expect the higher clock speed on the X1 Yoga to yield slightly higher scores, because both machines have integrated graphics.

 

To test raw CPU compute power, I can use the results from the IntelBurnTest I already ran to check for thermal problems.  That program runs all available threads to do a complicated floating-point calculation. 

 

 compare burn test.jpgFigure 5: CPU Raw Speed Compare

 

Both the All-In-One and the light-weight laptop ran four threads; the AIO ran four real threads, while the laptop ran two real threads and two virtual threads.  The 35-Watt desktop processor could finish the test substantially quicker than the low-power laptop’s 15-Watt CPU. 

 

I then ran Furmark to compare graphics speed.  Furmark runs an extensive set of tests to exercise a GPU or integrated routines and determines how many frames per second can be rendered.  If I were a game player, I might use it to see how well a new game could be expected to run.  Neither of the machines being compared would be a great choice for someone who spent his day chasing zombies, but on the Lenovo Tech Support Forum, I see many inquiries on how to speed up game play on all sorts of computers.

 

compare furmark.jpgFigure 6: Furmark (graphics) Desktop vs. Laptop

The laptop had a higher-resolution screen than the AIO-520 (2560X1440 vs. 1920X1080).  With both computers, I ran Furmark at the screen’s native resolution.  As you can see, the laptop rendered 8 frames per second, while the AIO 5520 did 6 FPS.  I assume this was due to the higher clock speed, although the laptop also had double the memory of the AIO 520, which might contribute.

 

I then ran NovaBench to compare overall performance. 

 

compare novabench.JPGFigure 7: Novabench Desktop vs. Laptop

With this test, the laptop’s CPU scored higher, in contrast to the opposite result using IntelBurnTest.  This illustrates the reality of benchmark testing.  Some machines score higher with some testing software and lower with others.  As expected, the laptop scores somewhat higher in memory and graphics tests.  This is due to the higher clock speed.  As expected, the laptop’s SSD was faster in the benchmark test than the AIO 520’s spinning disk. 

 

Novabench also has its own internal comparison of multiple sets of results.  It included disk speed in the overall assessment, but does not show it separately.

 

compare novabench 2.jpgFigure 8: Novabench Built-in Compare

As you can see, the CPU and GPU scores are very close.  The internal comparison, for some reason, did not show the disk score.  The difference in the disk scores is the factor that accounted for the significant difference in the total scores.  My point is not that you should buy a desktop instead of a laptop, or a laptop instead of a desktop.  I think that different classes of machines are better-suited to different kinds of tasks.  The three-pound, carbon fiber x1 Yoga is a great tool if you need to run through airports, but if you do a lot of work in one place, a desktop machine might be a better choice, and there is no question that a desktop machine provides more computing power for a lot less money. 

 

The AIO 520 seems like a very practical, mid-range desktop for someone who spends much of their time doing normal, business tasks, such as office applications and web browsing.  Its small footprint would also be ideal for someone not wishing to devote a lot of desk space to a computer.  Someone who mostly uses a computer for email and accessing social media could get by with a lower-powered machine; someone who does large-scale video editing or who plays the latest full-motion games might prefer more power.  The point is that it is important to choose a computer that is suitable for your needs.

 

The only negative thing I can say is that the fan on the AIO 520 seemed louder than I might expect.  Under heavy load, the fan noise didn’t increase much, but at idle, I could still hear the fan running when the machine was in a quiet room.  The noise will not be an ongoing issue for me, because any machine will end up in a home office where there is another, larger computer, a laser printer, a copier and two network-attached storage devices, all of which have fans.  Someone with the AIO 520 left running in a quiet bedroom might find the sound excessive.

 

Overall, I think the IdeaCentre AIO 520 would be an excellent choice for any mainstream user wanting a desktop computer.  I thought the appearance was fine and the port location was well-thought-out.  I thought the touchscreen was clear and bright, and every piece of software I tried worked without issue.  The keyboard and mouse that were bundled with the machine were a pleasant surprise.  I routinely discard such things and replace them with wired ones, but, in this case, both the keyboard and mouse were quick and responsive, and the mouse felt good in my hand.  I found them both to be worth keeping and using.

 

 

 

 

 

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