Not a fan of Windows 8? The Lenovo IdeaCenter B540's big touch screen makes working in the new OS a pleasure, plus the PC offers all the power and features your business needs.
It’s no wonder that PC sales have fallen off a cliff in recent years. The confluence of belt-tightening due to the Great Recession, the need to invest in fast-evolving mobile products like smartphones and tablets, and the lack of a pressing software need for faster office machines left many small business owners delaying PC upgrades. So if you’ve had a longer relationship with your PC than with your significant other, you’re not alone.
But given that 5 years is the breaking point for most relationships (PC-based, that is), it may be time to get back in the market. An ideal match: the Lenovo IdeaCentre B540. This all-in-one PC delivers easy setup, a sleek space-saving design, good processing power and plenty of features for your small business.
A Small Business PC with a Sleek, Simple Design
The IdeaCentre B540 features a beautifully simple design. Like other all-in-one desktops, the IdeaCentre B540 integrates the PC components and screen into one unit. That means the machine takes up the same amount of desk real estate as a monitor, and the wireless keyboard and mouse eliminate unsightly cable clutter.
Figure 1:The Lenovo IdeaCentre B540 is a sleek, space-saving all-in that looks terrific and functions just as well.
But unlike the others, no base protrudes from the bottom. Instead, translucent legs hold up the front edge of the monitor, while an inconspicuous kickstand holds the machine upright. Even better, the glass that covers the LED-backlit LCD panel runs all the way to the edges of the machine, which gives an upscale appearance similar to a high-end TV. It’s a clean, sleek look that makes the IdeaCentre B540 perfect for open office plans, a reception area, a home office or any spot where aesthetics matter.
Setup is a snap, too, since all you need to do is connect the power cable and insert the receiver for the wireless keyboard and mouse into a rear USB port. We had the PC unboxed and running in less than five minutes, our only complaint being that the rear stand is somewhat difficult to click into place. Pull hard, though, and it will swing out to one of two positions, letting you set the screen at an angle suitable to use either while seated at a desk or standing at a counter. Or you can remove the kickstand altogether and use the IdeaCentre B540’s mounting holes with a flat-screen TV bracket to hang the PC on a wall.
Fall in Like with Windows 8
Even though its app-like tiles and touch-screen interactivity seems perfectly aligned with today’s tablet/smartphone sensibilities, Windows 8 has failed to set the PC world on fire. Perhaps that’s because people haven’t tried the OS on the right screen.
On a smaller touch screen, such as those found on many Windows 8 laptops, navigating via touch can be less precise because the targets—menu entries, pick-list selections, hyperlinks in documents—can be tiny. However, the IdeaCentre B540's enormous 23-inch monitor makes driving Windows 8 with your index finger a pleasure.
It’s easy to forget the mouse and pointer when you can tap on menus and dialog-box prompts, swipe to scroll through Web pages, and rotate images with the turn of your wrist. Yes, you’ll have to get used to the new operating system’s quirks—such as the lack of a Start menu, the all-but-hidden Shut Down command, and lack of a "close" button on the tile apps—but at least an imprecise touch screen won’t be part of the frustration.
Creature Comforts in a Business World
In addition to good looks and functionality, the IdeaCentre B540’s 23-inch screen also offers excellent image quality. The panel delivers full 1,080p high-definition resolution (that’s 1,920 x 1,080 pixels for those of you who are counting), which makes for crisp text and superb high-res photo reproduction. And of course, HD video looks terrific, letting the B540 pull double duty as a personal cinema.
In fact, the viewing angle of the panel is wide enough that you can share it with a couple of friends. (If you will use the machine for work and play, be sure to get a model with a Blu-ray player as the optical drive, rather than the standard DVD burner.) The built-in stereo speakers deliver rich sound and enough volume to fill a room. While the sound quality isn’t a match for a good set of external desktop speakers—music playback could use more bass response—it is good for an all-in-one and should suit most needs.
Figure 2: The "kickstand" on the back of the IdeaCentre B540 adjusts to two positions, or you can remove it to mount the PC on a wall. Note the connector panel with LAN, USB and HDMI ports.
The roomy, video-friendly screen is also perfect for videoconferencing. There’s enough screen real-estate to have your GoToMeeting session open while also keeping an eye on your email Inbox off to the side. Oddly for such a video-friendly PC, Lenovo has equipped the IdeaCentre B540 with just a .3-megapixel webcam. That means your broadcasts and video captured with the camera will have a low-resolution "soft focus" effect. Most smartphones and tablets have much higher-resolution cameras these days. If better video capture is a must for your business, plan on adding an external webcam.
We also found the keyboard and mouse to be merely okay. We appreciate the fact that the set is wireless, since it keeps the clean look of the whole setup, but the keyboard and mouse don’t have the heft of the usual desktop PC input devices. The keyboard can rattle a bit if you tend to have a heavy finger when typing, and the keys feel spongy. The mouse, too, feels a bit lightweight, and is somewhat on the small side.
Connect to the World
The IdeaCentre B540 comes with 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless, as well as a wired Ethernet jack. On the left edge of the screen you’ll find two USB 2.0 ports, headphone and mic jacks, and a six-in-one memory card reader. Two more USB 2.0 ports reside on the back panel, along with two high-speed USB 3.0 ports, the LAN jack and an HDMI-out port—in case you need to connect to an even bigger screen. If the B540 will serve as an entertainment hub as well as a business PC, note that you can opt for a model with an integrated TV tuner.
Inside the IdeaCentre B540 you’ll find a 1TB hard drive, which should be plenty of storage. But should you need to upgrade the hard drive or RAM, the back panels of the machine slide apart for easy access to those components. This is unlike almost every all-in-one (not to mention many laptops), which tend not to have user-accessible components.
Plenty of Performance for Business
However you can’t upgrade the IdeaCentre B540’s processor and graphics subsystem post-purchase, so choose wisely at the onset. (If you’re the type who likes to open the case a few years after purchase and swap in faster components, then a business desktop, not an all-in-one, is the machine for you.). The B540 we tested came equipped with an Intel Core i3 CPU and integrated Intel HD graphics chip. The Core i3 CPU should prove fine for most business needs, the exception being heavy image- and video-editing.
The integrated graphics chip can handle typical Windows screen-drawing tasks, but it won’t let you use the B540 for intense 3D gaming when work is done. If you do have the need, you can choose models with a Core i5 CPU and a dedicated Nvidia GeForce 615 graphics engine.
Figure 3: The left edge of the IdeaCentre B540 houses two USB ports, a memory card reader, and headphone and mic jacks that are all easy to access.
Lenovo preloads the IdeaCentre B540 with Rescue System 3.0, a utility that can help you back up the system and return it to a previous state should software/OS problems arise. You also get PowerDVD 10 (by CyberLink) for music, video, and DVD playback, along with CyberLink’s Power2Go for creating DVD and CD discs. That software even supports writing data Blu-ray discs should you decide to connect an external BD burner. You also get a 30-day trial for McAfee Internet Security and a trial for Microsoft Office 2010.
The All-in-One Cost
Pricing for the IdeaCentre B540 starts at $749, although that's for a model that does not have a touch screen. Since touch is so essential for the Windows 8 experience—and this 23-inch screen begs to be touched—we recommend stepping up to a model with the touch screen. Best Buy has an exclusive configuration for $899 with the touch screen, a Core i3 CPU, integrated Intel graphics and a 1TB hard drive. If you don’t mind spending upwards of $1,100 you can go directly to Lenovo’s site to up the ante to a Core i5 processor, Nvidia graphics, 2TB drive, and a Blu-ray optical drive.
Granted, you pay a premium for the all-in-one design. You can get a mini-tower PC with similar performance specs for $400 to $600, and add a large monitor for another $200 or so. But then you’re stuck looking at a mini-tower PC for the next 5 years. The IdeaCentre B540 is easy to setup and use now, and will still be easy on the eyes for years to come.
Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with more than 20 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.
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