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Lenovo S21e review: For those on the tightest of budgets, there's this sub-$200 laptop

Hayden Dingman | Aug. 18, 2015
I must admit--looking at the Lenovo S21e triggers a small bit of nostalgia in me. Nostalgia for a time when laptop manufacturers were seemingly obsessed with miniaturizing laptops. A time of pre-iPad, pre-ultrabook. A time when netbooks reigned supreme.

The specs

The Lenovo S21e is small, but it holds its own. The specs are actually very similar to the Lenovo IdeaPad 100. Inside, we have an Intel Celeron processor (the N2840, clocked at 2.16GHz), integrated Intel HD Graphics, and 2GB of RAM.

And those specs helped keep the S21e pretty much tied up with its larger cousin, as far as benchmarks are concerned. In PCMark 8, the S21e hammered out a Home Conventional score of 1,278. That falls short of the 2,527 score set by our sub-$500 performance frontrunner, the Toshiba C55-C. But it's also a perfectly fine score for your day-to-day tasks--browsing email, typing up documents, and the like.

In fact, the S21e even outscored the IdeaPad 100 in one benchmark, the Work Conventional test. The S21e put out a score of 1,750 to the IdeaPad 100's 1,631. How is that possible?

Well, here's where things get a bit weird. Remember when I said the S21e is a netbook? Yeah, well...I wasn't joking. And one of the core conceits of the netbook was, if you'll remember, that it relied pretty heavily on the Internet. Mostly for storage.

The S21e isn't really packing any storage, in a conventional sense. Unlike the IdeaPad 100, with its 500GB hard drive, the S21e features a single 64GB eMMC, or "embedded MultiMediaCard." Basically, think of it like an SD card inside the laptop.

So why did the S21e score better than the Ideapad 100 in one benchmark? Well, the S21e's eMMC read speed is 171MB/s according to CrystalDiskMark, while the IdeaPad 100 can only manage 99MB/s at best on its slow 5,400 RPM hard drive. That's most likely the source of the discrepancy, though it could also be better ventilation/less throttling on the S21e.

Plus there's the obvious drawback of a 64GB eMMC which is that 64GB is not very much storage. In fact, we couldn't even run our standard 30GB Handbrake transcode benchmark because we ran out of space on the card. The Acer Aspire Switch 10 E uses a 64GB eMMC also, but in that case it's backed up by a life-saving 500GB hard drive.

The bloat

Thankfully Lenovo hasn't bothered wasting a ton of space with unnecessary software. Lenovo Bluetooth, Lenovo EasyCamera, Lenovo Solution Center, and...that's it. Not even antivirus software. Pretty awesome. This is as close to stock Windows 8.1 as you're liable to get from any manufacturer.

The verdict

Netbooks fell out of fashion for a reason--there's only so much you can do with them, and there are better-performing laptops on the market now that are just as portable, to say nothing of tablets or hybrid tablet/laptop designs.

But there are advantages to netbooks: Solid battery life, compact size, an actual computer processor instead of one designed for mobile devices, and (unlike most tablets) a full version of Windows 8.1. Plus it's under $200. That's nothing to scoff at.


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