You may have noticed by another article with my byline (or somewhere else) that Apple introduced a bunch of new notebook computers today. That’s all well and good, but the prices for those computers start at $1300, which may be out of your budget. Plus, you might appreciate a FireWire port on such an expensive machine, or maybe you just want to have a touchpad with buttons. In either case, there are plenty of computers out there to fit your demands. Like the Lenovo IdeaPad Y430, for example.

I mention this computer because it was the model my family decided upon when choosing a laptop for my little brother, who will need a computer when he enters 8th grade next fall. Granted, it’s a bit early for such things, but he needs to learn to type and generally use a computer for anything other than gaming in the interim. My secondary, but more important, reason for mentioning this particular laptop is that I would be perfectly happy buying and using it for myself; it’s cheap, it seems to perform well, it’s chock full of extra features, and it’s just an all-around solid workhorse without weighing down your backpack or lightening your wallet to an alarming degree.

You may be wondering wh in the world Lenovo is. In short, IBM. The long story is that, a few years ago, Lenovo (a chinese company) bought the computer division of IBM, including their excellent engineering team. That’s why we’re talking about an IdeaPad computer, basically the consumer analog of the business-class ThinkPad series.

The Y430 is the second-generation 14.1″ screen IdeaPad, and it’s a lot of computer for a very low price if you buy it at the right place. Circuit City had the model that I got for my brother, for $580 plus tax. The specs on that patricular model are a 2 GHz processor, 3GB of memory and a 250GB hard disk. A DVD burner, webcam with microphone, 802.11n wireless, Windows Vista Home Premium and Intel’s newest generation of integrated graphics (the X4500…significantly better than the last generation, I’ve heard) come standard.

Visually, the IdeaPad is understated on the outside, average on the inside. The computer is black, with blue and orange accents on the inside. The back of the screen, which seems bright enough for most applications (though not blindingly amazing like the LED-backlit Macbooks), has a weave texture to it, increasing grippiness and, in my opinion, stylishness. Build quality is very good, though not quite perfect. There is a little bit of flex under the DVD burner, and the hardware WiFi toggle switch feels a little on the flimsy side, but it’s obvious that this computer is from the same folks who designed the Thinkpad.

A few special features set the IdeaPad, which uses the latest Intel Montevina platform, apart from the crowd. First, there’s face recognition: your results may vary, but in a few minutes I was able to log in to the computer by simply sitting in front of it (three cheers for a built-in, high-quality webcam). Second, there’s a pint-sized subwoofer on the bottom of the notebook, in addition to the decently powerful stereo speakers. It’s not particularly gut-wrenching in its bass response, but on the other hand the IdeaPad y430′s speaker system isn’t tinny by any stretch. Third, the IdeaPad has all the ports and slots of a high-end notebook at one-third of the price: HDMI, FireWire, plenty of USB, ExpressCard and SD\MMC. Want to use a mobile broadband card inside your laptop while transferring photos from your digital camera? It’s possible on the Y430, with no external devices required. You can even download video from your average camcorder. Interestingly, the new Macbooks from Apple can’t accomplish the first two tasks without using up both available USB ports, and they flat-out can’t do the third. Yet the IdeaPad costs $580 before tax, and the Macbooks start at $1300..

Last, there’s the question of battery life. Though the 5.3-pound IdeaPad won’t run all day, a quick test leads me to believe that, thanks to the integrated graphics and modern chipset, the unit will survive for three to four hours, and maybe more, on a charge. The integrated graphics mean that you won’t be running Crysis at high detail on this machine, but they also contribute to respectable performance away from an outlet.

In conclusion, check this baby out if you’re on a budget and want a computer that won’t perform like a big pile of cheap. The configuration currently available at Circuit City should last the average person several years, at a price that won’t break the bank Granted, I only had use of the Lenovo IdeaPad Y430 for about an hour, but what I saw, I liked.

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