Lenovo H320: Slim and speedy on a budget

The H320 performs very well for its category, and features Blu-ray and HD support -- all for under $700.

The Lenovo H320 is a slim rig that greatly resembles the rest of the budget desktop pack. But although it's lacking a little in ports and graphics support, it brings a lot to the table -- including 6GB of RAM, a Blu-ray combo drive, and excellent performance for the category.

Our review model, priced at $699 (as of March 31, 2011), features a 3.2GHz Intel i5-650 processor, an Nvidia GeForce 310 discrete graphics card, and 6GB of RAM. This slender desktop also holds a Blu-ray drive and runs the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium.

The H320 is housed in a slim black chassis with matte-aluminum siding and metallic-orange trim. The case has a shiny, black plastic front that gives access to a vertically oriented tray-loading Blu-ray drive, a multiformat card reader bay, two USB 2.0 ports, and microphone and headphone jacks. The aluminum sides are mostly plain, save for some strategically placed vents and the Lenovo badge. You won't find any "feet" for sitting the computer on its side, which might be unfortunate, depending on your computing space. The back of the computer offers two PS/2 jacks for a mouse and keyboard, one HDMI port, one VGA connection, four USB 2.0 ports, one ethernet port, and support for 5.1 surround sound.

The Nvidia GeForce 310 graphics card provides an additional HDMI connection and an extra VGA port, for a total of two HDMI ports and two VGA ports on the system. Unfortunately, the video connections on the motherboard cannot be used at the same time as those on the graphics card.

The chassis is easy to open -- just slide the side panel off (but be aware that about an inch of the bottom of the case will also come off with it). Internally, the H320 has little to offer (aside from a large, and rather loud, fan), but we don't expect much from a slim, budget PC. The machine has one open PCI Express slot (x1), however.

Our model came with a mouse and keyboard, as well as an 18.5-inch Lenovo D186 monitor (priced at an additional $149, bringing the total cost of the system to $848). The mouse and keyboard match the system (as both feature minimal orange accents), but the mouse is USB while the keyboard is PS/2, robbing you of only one of your precious USB ports.

A light, two-button optical deal with an orange scrollwheel, the mouse is ergonomically designed and comfortable to use. The keyboard is flat, with matte-black keys that are very light and very loud -- they make an audible click when you type. The keyboard also has a few dedicated media buttons (volume up/down, play/pause, stop, fast-forward, and rewind). An orange 'LVT' button brings up Lenovo Vantage Technology, a utilities suite that includes Lenovo's much-touted OneKey Recovery option.

The 18.5-inch D186 widescreen monitor has a native resolution of 1366 by 768 pixels. The monitor is analog (the H320 has only VGA and HDMI ports, if you recall), and sports a matte finish with a black bezel. Five physical buttons are available on the monitor, for powering it on and navigating the menus. The D186 delivers a bright but oversaturated picture. Horizontal viewing angles are decent, but vertical viewing angles are much less impressive: Tilting the screen just slightly back produces a dark, muted picture. If you're interested in getting a bundled monitor, keep your desk's layout in mind.

The H320 earned a WorldBench 6 score of 129, which is very good for the category. (Our current top budget PC, the Gateway SX2840-01, reached a score of 118, while the number two budget PC, the Dell Inspiron 580s, achieved a mark of 119.) As for multimedia, gaming is about what you'd expect on a budget PC -- even a budget PC with a discrete graphics card. The H320 managed a scarcely playable 20.1 frames per second on our Unreal Tournament tests (1680-by-1050-pixel resolution, high quality settings). At a more realistic 1024 by 768 pixels, it generated a much smoother 41.9 fps.

Lenovo's H320 has some great features -- and some not so great features. We love the Blu-ray combo drive and HD support, as well as the speedy general performance. We're not quite as thrilled with the admittedly lacking port selection, or the absence of built-in Wi-Fi (which has become increasingly common amongst the competition's wares). The lack of feet for setting the computer on its side is also a bit annoying, but that's likely a matter of individual preference. If those drawbacks don't bother you, the H320 delivers solid, speedy performance for under $700 -- but I recommend skipping the dinky monitor.

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