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)