World Domination or World History: You decide…


This post is sponsored by Lenovo. The opinions expressed here are those of tech blogger Thaddeus Howze.

With school just starting up, parents and students are negotiating for a computer for college. But what parents want and what students want are often completely at odds. A student might care about how the device could be used for World Domination, the latest in social media, or World History 101 depending on their personal life choices.

Parents and students have completely different reasons for getting a computer. Their kids have one idea of what makes a good laptop and their parents another. The Lenovo IdeaPad U410 covers both sets of expectations quite nicely.

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What parents want:

Affordability: The Lenovo IdeaPad U410 is affordable and gives a great bang for the buck. The unit I reviewed cost approximately $799 and features a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive with a 32GB SSD cache, Intel HD Graphics 4000 and Nvidia GeForce 610M GPU with 1GB of VRAM. The device ran smoothly, had a decent power-conserving display, and even after prolonged use never got hotter than 75 degrees at the center of the keyboard.

Warranty and Support: What do parents know about fixing computers? Nothing, so they depend on a good warranty to protect their investment. Lenovo comes with a minimum of one year, extendable to three years in home repair. The system comes with the Lenovo One Key Recovery system designed to backup and restore critical system files. You can also purchase premium support using their Lenovocare(SM) services.

A webcam: So you remember where your money is going while they are away in college, a good Ultrabook should have a webcam so you can see your beloved offspring pretending they are being good students, engaged in moderate behaviors, studying diligently, responsibly making video calls to let you know they are alright. The U410 has a built-in 1 MP camera with rich color and sharp detail. Just don’t look around in the background while they chat.

Everyone can agree, the Lenovo IdeaPad U410 is light, weighing in at a little over 4 pounds, extremely thin, has a brilliantly-colored coating, a metallic inner finish and a slightly undersized but very smooth keyboarding experience. With it’s built-in power management software it has a respectable battery life of six hours, even when using the wireless connection the entire time.

What students want:

Weight: They choose an Ultrabook because it can’t be too heavy. They already have to spend the day hauling a hundred pounds of textbooks across campus.

Speed: It has to be fast enough and processor powerful enough to let you multitask your episodes of Luther while you are “doing your homework.”

Internet Connectivity: Need to be able to connect to whatever kind of network access is available, A, B, G, and N class wireless networks for those days when you want to work in the coffee shop with your IV drip of caffè macchiato.

Games: Not that you use your Ultrabook for games, or at least that’s what you tell the parental units, but when you decide to sit down for any kind of web browser game or modest resolution video game, you are able to get in a quick round of The Sims or Civilization V (seen above) without difficulties. Strictly for your Sociology and World History classes, of course.

Classwork: Yeah, we can use it school, and it comes with trial versions of MS Office, McAfee Antivirus Trial, and Google Chrome. We are going to load a bunch more interesting stuff right after we get it home.

PERIPHERALS

The saying goes, “you can never have too many laptop peripherals or be too thin” so with that in mind, here are a few you should consider when you get the Lenovo IdeaPad U410.

  • An external USB Optical Drive: like most Ultrabooks, there is no internal optical drive, but if you want to watch movies, backup files, install applications from a CD/DVD you will need one of these. Find a slimline version to keep its weight low. I recommend the Samsung USB 2.0 Super WriteMaster (External Optical Drive SE-S084D/TSBS). The outer case comes in a variety of colors and it comes bundled with the Nero Burning ROM software. Note: it takes 2 of your USB ports to run this unit since it uses no external power supply.
  • If you are not a peripheral hound, you will probably find the U410 has just enough USB 3.0 ports to satisfy (4) but if you need to connect a wider array of devices you should consider a 4 or 6 port mini-USB hub to give you a few more, just in case. Belkin makes an affordable USB 2.0, 4-Port Ultra-Mini Hub.
  • Protecting your investment in an Ultrabook means you should consider a primo backpack from Thule. Designed with the student in mind, it has molded shoulder straps, a main compartment for books, clothes and other gear. It has a padded rear region for your Ultrabook, to keep it protected, and power supplies and other accessories ride in specialized compartments. Durable and guaranteed for 25 years against defects in materials and workmanship.
  • Road warriors may want to consider the PV150 PowerVerter 150W Ultra-Compact Inverter, power converter unit capable of turning your car’s battery into a power source for your Ultrabook’s recharging. Converts 12V DC input into 120 V AC output and comes with a 3-foot cable plugging into a cigarette lighter. It also comes in a 375-Watt version with two power outlets.
  • Since the Ultrabook has a processor powerful enough to run advanced graphics programs, you might want to consider an alternative input device such as a drawing tablet for you artists, or a multi-function or wireless mouse. Gamers might want to consider a more accurate optical/multi-button mouse, or if you are dealing with repetitive stress issues, a trackball might be in order.

SOFTWARE

Yes, you can buy lots of software for your Ultrabook U410 but one of the best things about internet accessibility is the awesome collection of programs out there bringing functionality, coolness, fun, and oh yeah, help with your homework. The problem is the Internet is the ultimate Swiss Army knife, you can do anything if you know where to find the good stuff. Here are some tools and some paths to the best the Internet has to offer.

Ninite.com is the easiest way to install multiple programs you could use to extend your computer’s capabilities. The website lists some of the most popular programs in use by Windows computers and gives you the option to create a single installer to download them. One installation, one button, and a completely hands-off operation. Once the install is done, only those programs that need configuration have to be addressed.

If you decide to use Ninite.com, my recommendations are:

  • Anti-virus/Anti-malware: Malwarebytes, Microsoft Essentials, Spybot 1.62, and Avast
  • Document Management: Open Office (creates fully compatible files with MS Office), Foxit PDF Reader (smaller and faster than Adobe PDF reader), PDF Creator
  • Online Storage: Dropbox, Google Drive, and/or Skydrive; the cloud is here to stay and these three are the front runners.
  • Compression: 7-Zip and WinRAR. Yes, Windows comes with automatic compression tools, but I like both of these better.
  • Media (if you deal with a variety of online video formats, you need to consider these tools): VLC (a great online video player) and the K-lite Codecs, Sound and music utilities I recommend are Winamp for music playing and Audacity if you want to do podcasting or sound manipulation.
  • Other: Evernote is an online document capture, creation and storage tool. There is so much good that can be said about it, I am going to just suggest you get it and bask in its awesomeness; works with browsers, smartphones, and tablets.

Ninite.com has so many great tools listed, if you are bold and adventurous, you can find a variety of programs for almost any particular need. The program also comes in a Professional version designed to help you manage your updates and versions even across an entire enterprise. As a long-time IT worker, this program is simply one of the best ways to deal with the ever-increasing complexity of computer ownership.

See what you can do with the Book of Do, the IdeaPad® U Series Ultrabook™, at Lenovo.com.

 

REFERENCE

These websites provide up to date, friendly and useful information regarding hardware, software and training tools to help make your Ultrabook the best experience it can be.

  • CNET.com: a veteran of the Internet, CNET has grown over the decade to become the first review and reference site for users wanting to know about current consumer technologies. It has rated tens of thousands of devices, hardware, software and peripherals. When in doubt, check CNET first. CNET also boasts one of the Internet’s largest archive of virus-checked, not spyware-enhanced, public domain software and share-ware. The download site offers editor and user reviews of the products listed.
  • Makeuseof.com: a creator of some of the most well respected free tutorials, references and guides on the Internet. If you want to know about it, makeuseof.com has written about it. The site is topical updated regularly and has a regular email newsletter.
  • Tomshardware.com: Once upon a time, it was where hardware geeks went to heaven. Extensive reviews on the biggest, best and most powerful technologies were reviewed on Tom’s Hardware. Their solid reputation, clean, and concise coverage of the cutting edge tech makes Tom’s the place to go when you want detailed hardware information.

Deciding to buy a Lenovo IdeaPad U410 was your first step into a world of technology rarely seen by most computer users. It’s robust hardware, sleek form factor and long battery life, give you an excellent opportunity to take advantage of everything the Internet has to offer. Yes, your parents got it for school, so use it and discover just how much there is to learn.

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About Thaddeus Howze

Thaddeus Howze was a New York native and found his way to the West Coast as a consequence of his military service. He's a California-based technology executive and author whose non-fiction and online journalism has appeared in publications such as The Enemy, Black Enterprise Online, Urban Times, the Good Men Project, and Astronaut.com. Thaddeus Howze has published two books, Hayward's Reach (2011) and Broken Glass (2013). He maintains a nonfiction blog on science and technology at A Matter of Scale (bit.ly/matterofscale). He writes speculative fiction at hubcityblues.com.

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