Review: Lenovo IdeaCentre Q180 Home Theater PC

The Lenovo IdeaCentre Q180 is a small, beautiful HTPC (home theater PC) that looks perfect sitting next to your television. That is, unfortunately, all it is good for. The Q180 is poorly constructed, under-powered, and a huge disappointment. Don’t buy it.


A few years ago, I plugged an old Windows PC into our television, and we have used it as our primary entertainment hub ever since. Between Netflix, Hulu, PBS, and iTunes, we rarely watch network TV anymore, and we haven’t had cable in years. But having a big, loud tower with bright blue LEDs sitting in the living room is far from ideal. We have been talking about replacing it for a while now. We were leaning towards a Mac Mini, since it is attractive, silent, and energy efficient, but when Lenovo announced the Q180 for less than half the price of a Mac Mini, we decided to give it a try.

HTPCs don’t need to be particularly fast. They need to be able to play audio and HD video, and that’s about it. So while we knew a Mac Mini would do the job, we also knew it was overkill. That’s why it made sense to try something cheaper, but still specifically marketed as a HTPC.

All told, we kept the Q180 for about a month. We went back and forth on whether to keep it, but in the end, the cumulative issues we experienced were too much. We sent it back, bought a Mac Mini, and have been much happier

Price and features

The price of the Q180 is very attractive, which is why we bought one almost as soon as it was announced. With the optional DVD drive, it starts at less than $380 with the DVD drive (the list price is $450, but Lenovo computers are perpetually “on sale”).

The feature list is basically what you would hope to get from a HTPC: good-enough speed (all come with an Intel dual-core Atom 2.13 GHz processor and 2 or 4 GB of memory), a decent hard drive (500 GB), a good graphics card, and great sound. There are four USB ports on the back, and two in front, plus a card reader. You can even add a Blu-ray player, if you are into dying technology. Importantly (because I didn’t find it to be true), Lenovo brags about “full HD support.”

Form, fit, and finish

If I were only judging the Lenovo Q180 on its form factor, I would give it a solid A-. It’s a very pretty little computer, and my only complaint is that the power and eject buttons are on the corner, where you will accidentally press them whenever you move the machine. But since you aren’t likely to move it often, that’s not a big deal. Bottom line: this is a great HTPC form factor.

Except that mine wasn’t put together very well. It came with a noticeable gap between the DVD unit and the CPU. They are basically just separate units glued together, after all, but whoever assembled mine forgot to glue most of the unit together.

Nearly every picture on Lenovo’s website shows the IdeaCentre Q180 in its vertical orientation. This would be a neat way to mount it, except that if you do, you won’t be able to eject CDs or DVDs from the disc drive. For some reasons, discs always got stuck in the drive when I tried to use the computer vertically. I didn’t mind too much, since the bottom of the unit is far from attractive. It looks better sitting horizontal.

In short, the form, fit, and finish are mediocre, at best. Not the quality I am used to seeing from Lenovo.

(Lack of) performance

A 2.13 GHz dual-core Atom processor really ought to be able to handle general computing and do a reasonable job with multimedia. I say ought to because the Q180 is slower than my wife’s five-year-old Macbook, even though the Macbook has a slower (and older) processor. Starting up iTunes takes a couple of minutes—and iTunes is basically the only software I installed other than Google Chrome for browsing and access to Netflix.

Watching movies is a frustrating experience. Forget HD; the Q180 has trouble watching any movie downloaded from the iTunes store. We tried to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 the other night, and I had to keep restarting the movie because the video and audio kept getting out of sync. Ditto for Netflix streaming. We had to turn off HD streaming because the Q180 couldn’t handle it (our internet connection is perfectly fine streaming HD to, say, my wife’s five-year-old Macbook).

The Q180 also had trouble keeping music in sync between the speakers in the living room and kitchen over an Airport Express. Sure, part of the blame lies with Apple for turning iTunes into a disgustingly bloated application, but any computer that claims to be a media center PC had better be able to handle iTunes.

In general, the Q180 struggled with everything, from opening a browser to browsing the iTunes Store and playing music and movies, whether we used iTunes, Windows Media Player, or VLC Player, to backing up our files with Crashplan. I would call it unsuitable for use as a HTPC.

Summary

Lenovo IdeaCentre Q180

Reviewed by Sam Glover on .

Summary: The Lenovo IdeaCentre Q180 is poorly constructed, under-powered, and a huge disappointment. Don’t buy it.

The Q180 is poorly constructed, under-powered, and a huge disappointment. Don’t buy it. Get a Mac Mini, instead.

Rating: 1.5 (out of 5)

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  • What am I missing here? Other than playing iTunes songs through your home stereo speakers, which doesn’t really seem of value to me, why not spend $200 and get an XBox360?

    It has Hulu, Netflix, DVD (plus the ability to do gaming!). It also has a store to compete with iTunes for renting or downloading digital versions of movies.

    Why would you spend 2-5 times as much for the same (actually less) functionality?

    • Actually, it’s pretty important to us to be able to run iTunes. We use an Airport Express to pipe music wirelessly to other rooms in the house, and when the weather improves, to the backyard. We can pick any combination of rooms to play music in, and we can also access all those speakers from our iDevices using AirPlay. It’s pretty awesome, and I’m not aware of any way to do it with an Xbox or Playstation.

      We also do want a full browser so we can watch shows on PBS, Comedy Central, etc. We also want to be able to rip our DVDs to iTunes so our movies are easier to store and watch. And we use it for home movies and photos, which also need to be backed up (we use Crashplan).

      For us, an Xbox or Playstation just doesn’t cut it. Neither does an Apple TV, for that matter. At some point, I can imagine one of the various media centers getting enough features and apps to do everything we need, but none of them are there, yet.

      • If this is about playing music, you would be MUCH better served transitioning to a Sonos. It’s amazing.

        You just want to be able to keep watching pirated F1 races from the internet on your TV. I can respect that.

  • Zach Baker

    Just curious why you think the BlueRay disk format is dying? Seems for rental purposes they are on the rise. Even though they have not acheived the ubiquity of DVD, I would think that people are buying BD players more than ever.

    Also curious if you maybe got a bad unit. From what I am reading elsewhere, it should be able to handle the tasks you gave it.

    • Blu-Ray will persevere up until the point you can download whatever movie you want. We’re pretty close—my wife and I haven’t used a physical disc of any kind to watch a movie in well over a year.

      As for whether I got a bad unit, it’s possible but note that “playing HD video” and “playing HD video in iTunes” are different things that have different requirements. The Q180 can handle the former, but not the latter.

  • Ricardo

    I can not believe you think the processor on the lenovo ideacentre q180 is faster than the processor inside any macbook.

    Even if the processor of the macbook was clocked at a frequency of half of 1 GHz (less than half of the Atom used in the ideacentre) it would still be faster.

    • I compared it to the Macbook Air. And in any case, I obviously don’t think the Q180 is faster, or I wouldn’t have given it such a poor review.

  • anthony

    Mine has absolutely no problem playing 1080p whatsoever. Just use a real program like vlc or media player classic. Itunes is a waste of computer space.

    • Says you. I want to use iTunes, not reconstruct my entire media library in some other app just because the computer is underpowered.

  • Bogdan

    Hi Sam,

    At this time there are not so many reviews for Q180, so thanks.

    I have now a Foxconn NT-A3500 (AMD Fusion E-350 and Radeon HD6310) and I can tell you, this thing can play any HD format – including flash. I said flash because ION2 had a big problem when playing HD Flash due to PCIE 1x bus.

    I had also a Shuttle XS35GT V2 (Atom D525 and ION2) and I had to return it because of the ION2 chocking on Flash. The Shuttle had a great plus for a HTPC – it was fanless.

    You blame the Atom CPU when you talk about lack of performance for multimedia.
    When decoding video the hard work is done by the GPU. The CPU is used less than 30% while palying full HD videos.
    Did the software you used for playing HD files enabled the GPU video decoding ? If not, then only CPU was used and indeed it could not handle smooth video playing.
    MAC software is optimized for Apple hardware.
    A great software for any HTPC is XBMC.

    I do not own a Lenovo Ideacentre Q180 yet, but I am almost 100% sure the Lenovo Q180 can play any HD format.
    For sure D2700 is much better than E-350 and Radeon HD6450A is better than Radeon HD6310.

    Can you please tell me if the noise made by the Q180’s fan was disturbing ?

    • The fan isn’t bad, but it’s definitely noticeable, and seems to run most of the time. The Mac Mini is much quieter, and the fan doesn’t come on (at least not so you can hear it) until the computer has been on and working for a few hours. I guess that makes sense, since the slower hardware in the Q180 has to work harder.

      As for HD, XBMC may be fine. I was able to play HD in VLC, but that’s not what we use to manage our media library. However, it wouldn’t work for streaming HD content from Netflix, so it wasn’t just iTunes.

      • JoeBurpy

        Netflix does not make use of any hardware accelleration, thats why none of these nettops or netbboks and play HD netflix content. Its a shame because they are all fully capable and silvelight does support hardware acceleration. Not sure what the holdup is.

        I have baught the q180 and as I would never use Itunes so have no problem with it. mpc-hc plays 1080p content with 5.1 surround sound through the optical out perfectly. Maybe not a machine for those who arent very tech savy as to be fair it does need quite alot of tinkering to get things running perfect.

  • Ari

    Interesting. Seems like you’re choking the machine with your Apple bloatware. I’m not having any of the problems you report but then again I’m not trying to use it as a Hi-Fi just a HTPC. I stream off the net (news / videos / tv) – play downloaded movies etc. All – if there are no latency issues – flawlessly. Why not just use – since you might be Apple folks anyway what I assume you already have – an iPod to stream your music to the Air? Lastly – somebody gave you bad info if you anticipate the CPU & DVD are “glued” together. They are separate components. They sit in the stand side by side and attach via the USB dongle. I speculate you’ve simply mismatched your needs and expectations while trying to save money and bought frustration.

    • It wouldn’t work for streaming HD video from Netflix, either, so it wasn’t just iTunes.

      In any case, I am a Windows user, and always have been, except for a two-year period where I used Ubuntu as my primary OS. Well, now that I have a Mac Mini HTPC, I guess I’m not exclusively a Windows user. In any case, while Lenovo didn’t promise me that I could use iTunes, they made the bold claim that the Q180 will play HD video. They did not include an asterisk saying that it will play HD video only from certain software, or that it will not stream HD video from Netflix. iTunes and Netflix are pretty common applications that people use if they want to consume media. To create a media center that can’t handle iTunes and Netflix as advertised is to create a pretty weak media center.

      The CPU & DVD sections actually are separate components that have been basically glued together, by the way. You cannot detach them even if you unplug the USB connector.

      • JoeBurpy

        They do include an asteriks stating that to play 1080p content hardware acceleration is required. This is on their site.

        • Well, that would explain it. Thanks for finding the small print for us. I’m not sure I would have understood that to mean “does not work with Netflix” even if I had seen it, though.

  • sebastian

    Your review is not so much accurate,i must say.
    Maybe your unit was faulty, or the lack of performance was caused by itunes.My unit work flawless with XBMC (1080p),even streaming 1080p from my network wirelessly,and not having any sort of problem with videos and codecs.
    Your review may induce people, in thinking that this product is a piece of crap.

    • I’m getting the impression that the Q180 is a great HTPC for people who want to use XBMC but aren’t interested in streaming HD video from Netflix. For everyone who uses iTunes and watches Netflix, though, it’s no good.

  • Dan Canham

    “Except that mine wasn’t put together very well. It came with a noticeable gap between the DVD unit and the CPU. They are basically just separate units glued together, after all, but whoever assembled mine forgot to glue most of the unit together.”

    They are two separate components held together by magnets and connected by usb. No glue. Plenty of video evidence on the net showing them being separated and put back together.

    I have to agree with the others if you use tat from apple. Expect problems.

    • No amount of pulling would separate the DVD unit from the CPU on the version I received. For example this is not how my unit was put together. It’s possible the magnets were just for the promo units, or else Lenovo changed the construction after the initial units shipped. Or some prankster glued mine together at the factory.

      I have to agree with the others if you use tat from apple. Expect problems.

      I have no idea what this means. What is “tat”?

  • Dan Canham

    No. You are just wrong. It wasn’t glued. None of them are glued. They are all separate units. Lenovo forums explain clearly that the drive is a completely separate device. It is nothing more than a USB drive designed to work with any PC. It always was and it always will be. Just admit you are talking rubbish. You are making yourself look a fool. If you cannot work out something so simple, you shouldn’t be publishing reviews.

    Tat means garbage. As in apple software not fit for purpose.

    • How hard would I have to pull to separate them, do you think? Because I pulled hard enough that I thought I was going to break something. Maybe it’s just another manufacturing defect in the unit I received, in addition to the DVD drive not functioning when vertical. I was pretty disappointed that it didn’t come apart, because we don’t need a DVD player very often.

  • Peter

    Hi,
    look at the Lenovo support site.
    I found some manuals. Which show detailed pictures for maintaining the Q180.
    I assume they managed to tie the CPU unit and the USB drive together with screws.
    Possibly they placed screws through the bottom plate of the cpu-unit to hold the DVD-drive.
    Yust my 2 cents.

  • Mike

    These guys are just hating you for this great review.The Netflix streaming is a killer for me. Good stuff

  • BigJim

    I would be using Media Player Classic not vlc or xbmc. MPC does not run on mac mini and Im not sure if mac mini can put high definition blu-ray audio into its HDMI output. Here are some reviews of similar form factor http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/vision-ht-321b-jbc700-q180,3231-14.html

  • Vinny

    This guy could not be any more wrong about the Lenovo Q180. I have the lower spec’d Atom D2550 @ 1.86Ghz (4mb RAM) with OpenELEC + XBMC (11.0 Eden) installed and it plays all my 1080p content flawlessly. It even downmixes DTS audio to AC3 on the fly for my old AV Receiver to understand. I also have it configured to download and catalog video files automatically whilst I’m watching something in 1080p, and whilst it’s doing all this the RAM & CPU never go above 50% usage.

    Clueless!

    • Fine. I’ll happily amend my review. If you install a different operating system, it plays 1080p just fine. If you try to use it as it ships from the factory, however, you’ll have problems.

  • Dave

    Hello Sam,
    At first glance at the article was beginning to put me off buying the Q180, but having finished reading it, and as you’ll know doubt be aware from the comments, trying to run iTunes and Netflix on this kind of hardware, and comparing it to running iTunes on a Mac, is a strange thing to do. iTunes is notoriously (and unforgivably, for a big company like Apple) slow on PC.
    You said you would amend your review – I would do it before it puts anyone off who doesn’t want to use iTunes! (and you don’t need to install a different operating system – XBMC, VLC and Media Player Classic all run on Windows).
    Thanks,
    Dave

    • If you don’t want to use iTunes, take your chances.

  • Chris

    Reviving an apparently old thread, but I could not agree more with the review.

    My company bought dozens of these units to use as video conferencing clients. Completely underpowered and unable to handle the workload (audio and video would frequently drop out). Two months later, we replaced them with 3 year old clunky desktops and haven’t looked back.

    Hard to believe it was just a “bad unit” when we’ve gone through dozens of them. Stay away.

  • Igor Gocalinski

    I am running OpenELEC 3.0.1 on the q180 and I could not be happier.

    The hardware handles and HD content I throw at it – 1080p included – without any problem. Very rarely I see CPU usage above 20% – so it seems it is not the hardware that is under powered, but software poorly written.

    It is quiet (although runs a bit warm – 60*C is quite common) and power efficient (but not as an ARM based box would be).