OK, right off the bat – this isn’t a gaming machine. Sure it’s outside of my normal range of hardware reviews, but Lenovo’s A940 caught my eye with a vengeance early this year at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It’s a massive all-in-one desktop with a 27″ tilting display equipped with some unorthodox peripherals that make it a solid choice for creatives as well as home enthusiasts. And with the addition of a pen to the touchscreen and USB control dial, this may be a solid option right next to Microsoft’s Surface Studio.
So as always before we dive in, here are the specs of my review model:
- OS: Windows 10 Home x64
- Proc: Intel 8th generation Core i7-8700, 6-core, 3.20 GHz
- Memory: 16GB, DDR4 2666Mhz
- Graphics: Radeon RX 560X, 4GB GDDR5
- Screen: 27″ 4K IPS multitouch (3840×2160), 100% Adobe RGB with Dolby Vision
- Storage: 128GB SSD, 1TB HDD
- Connectivity: Realtek Gigabit ethernet, Intel Wireless-AC 8265 (2 x 2), Bluetooth 4.2
- Peripherals: Active Pen, Precision Dial
- Other: IR Camera, Windows Hello
All-in-one desktops have always been pretty vanilla to me. On the personal side I never really had the urge to have one and on the tech pro side I recommend them to standard users who don’t do much with their home or small office PC’s. That is, until a couple years ago when I saw Microsoft’s Surface Studio. The biggest issue with that one was the crazy price tag. Lenovo’s A940 seems to have struck a balance between both – an extremely well put together all-in-one for creatives without the same sticker shock.
Design – The Base
This is a complicated desktop with a lot of parts, and the first review where I’ve had to separate sections of the unit because there’s just so much machine. The A940’s base is what’s holding the guts of the system to allow the full tilt for the monitor, and is chock full of features on its own.
One look at the base and you know it’s a Lenovo product. It follows a bit more with their Legion line for design with its miniaturized “perforation,” similar to the gaming cubes and towers, with a number of utility features. The base stretches for the entire width of the monitor, and it’s for far more than looking nice. About the left two-thirds of it is a Dolby Atmos sound bar. Just above the soundbar is a platform that is precisely the size of the included wireless keyboard, so it can be stored out of the way when the machine is either in drafting mode or not in use. The keyboard included is full size, so that means whatever keyboard you choose to use should fit neatly into the space.
The remainder of the base on the right is a pad with a groove cutout for pen storage meant to store the mouse when not in use as well. As if the opportunity for a neat and clean workspace wasn’t enough, the pad also provides Qi wireless charging for your phone, so you can set it down while working and get some juice in the process. It does support fast charging, and thankfully my Samsung Note8 was able to take full advantage of that feature.
The port layout is also designed for utility in mind, with commonly needed ports on the left side and rest of them on the back. The left side ports include a USB-C Thunderbolt 3, a USB 3.1 Gen 2, an SD card slot, and a 3.5mm audio combo jack. On the back are 4 additional USB ports (3.1 Gen 1), HDMI, Ethernet, and power. The HDMI supports both input and output unlike the video card ports provided on most desktops, which means you can pipe video out to a second monitor, or use the A940 as a pure 27″ 4K display, with the ability to plug in devices like a Google Chromecast or an Amazon Fire TV Stick.
And really on overall aesthetics I just like the way it looks.
Design – The Display
This is officially a 27″ 4K display with Dolby Vision, and lives up to the name. The screen and color representation are beautiful, and streaming media is fantastic. If you’re taking a break from working and/or creating, Netflix/HBO Go/Prime Video sessions are smooth and pretty. The same goes for games on this screen too, which we’ll get into a little bit further on. The screen also has an IR camera built into the screen bezel that can be blocked with a privacy guard. On the lower right is a happy little button I almost didn’t notice was there that has a couple of handy uses. Click it to turn on the LED lamp from under the display which may shed some light if you’re working in the dark, or hold it down to pair the speaker with another one of your devices, which is quite cool.
The display itself has 2 additional covered and recessed USB ports on the left and right meant for Lenovo’s Precision Dial. This lets you cover the side you aren’t using, and since the covers are magnetic you can stick them to the frame and not lose them. The placement of these ports lets both right-handed and left-handed users comfortably use the pen in their writing or drawing hand and easily control the dial with the other.
The machine’s dual hinge design lets you tilt the monitor with one hand to take it from a standard monitor into drafting mode, which sits all the way down at 28°. Bringing it down (and hiding the keyboard and mouse away) lets you take full advantage of the pen and dial method of control in lieu of mouse and keyboard, and for lack of a better phrase, lets you get your art on. Pen and dial control in drafting mode is the piece that makes the A940 a real contender against the Surface Studio, and enters a space for creative users that care more about Adobe Creative Cloud than Steam and Battle.net.
Control – Keyboard, Mouse, Pen, Dial
Included in the box are a super slim keyboard and matching mouse that operate wirelessly through a USB dongle. The keyboard is pretty basic but what surprised me was the mouse. Next to the standard “on/off” switch on the bottom of most wireless mice was another switch that provides manual DPI control. By default the mouse operates at 800 DPI, but can be switched into 1600 DPI and 3200 DPI. Completely useless for me, but probably useful for those who have those precision moves for creating digital art. I did find the right click to require a bit extra button press, and for my personal preference on keyboard and mouse control I would likely still use one of my Logitech combos and/or my Cooler Master MM830 (check out that review here) for both work and play. I haven’t gotten a chance to test drive Lenovo’s Legion line of peripherals yet to see whether or not I would use the complete matching set.
I mean come on I review games and gaming machines, don’t act like I’m not going to go for the set even if there’s potentially no set bonus.
The Active Pen works like, well, a pen. It connects via bluetooth and allows you to write, draw, sketch, fill, and do all the things a pen input would allow you to do. I’m used to a stylus and have traditionally used Samsung Note devices, so hopping over from my Note8 (while it charges, no less) to the Active Pen is a pretty easy transition. The difference of course is the massive increase in real estate on a 27″ 4K screen.
The Precision Dial is where the fun factor and extra control comes in. The controls on this dial include 2 wheels and a button on the end, and feels kind of like using your headlights on the steering wheel of your car. By default in Windows the dials can control volume and screen brightness, but holding the button will buzz and bring up a menu of built-in commands that can be assigned to them based on what app you’re running. When I pushed the dial button while in Photoshop, the options completely changed, and I was able to use the dial with my left hand to change brush styles and sizes while writing with the pen in my right. It’s fully integrated with Adobe’s suite of Creative Cloud software, so digital artists can have more control over their work.
Unfortunately the dial can’t really do much for games. I tried it using both Steam and Battle.net, but the dial in-game acts as it would in Windows. Which is cool. I think dial and pen would some weird controls in Overwatch.
Performance – Desktop Computing
The A940 churns through tasks the same way you’d expect one with an 8th-gen 6-core i7 and 16GB of memory to. It delivers great desktop performance and the RX 560X provided enough graphical power to do most of what I threw at it very well, including some editing in Photoshop and Illustrator. With the 1TB drive as the secondary, the infamous “scratch space” errors that can plague Adobe users is not really an issue, but that 1TB drive is only 5400rpm, so it’s more tuned to storage over performance. The primary 128GB SSD is what gives Windows and the desktop computing experience excellent performance.
Outside of being able to handle most things the creative sort would have to do, the A940 as also a very solid media machine. With the 27″ 4K Dolby Vision screen and Dolby Atmos soundbar, streaming is a joy and up close or across the room it does make binging your favorite episodes enjoyable. I’m absolutely not saying buy this if you need a media machine only – you have mannyyyy other options for that – I’m just saying that it’s a happy bonus.
The main downside on running this is that when I was running tasks that would slightly tax the system, the fans that kicked in to provide extra cooling were very loud. That kind of jet engine is something I would expect from Lenovo’s ThinkSystem servers, not this machine.
Performance – Gaming
I know, I know. But let me remind you what I said at the top of this review – this is not a gaming machine. The RX 560X is too small a card to run a lot of newer stuff, especially if you have the audacity to try to run it at full 4K resolution. I put this machine through its regular gaming paces using Rise of the Tomb Raider and some Blizzard games to see what it could handle, and wasn’t surprised. Overwatch was a breeze and able to be played with no issue – Diablo III was about the same. It was World of Warcraft from the Blizzard library that made the system start to falter. Trying to run graphics at level 7 (out of 10) at 4K resolution provided beautiful ri-res visuals, but choppy animation as well as long load times for textures and in-game elements. The game showed me my character in crystal clear beauty, but when it loaded up into Boralus Harbor I was walking around with most things invisible for roughly 2 minutes before the rest of the textures filled in. Lowering the resolution to 1920×1080 took care of that, but unless you’re zoomed in a bit there will be some unavoidable fuzz on models and character nameplates.
Rise of the Tomb Raider scored an average of 35.94fps and the newer Shadow of the Tomb Raider clocked in at 26fps. In both cases the resolution was dropped down from 4K to 1920×1080, with the settings on “high” and using DirectX 12. Truth be told I get better framerates on my i7-4770K / GTX 660 rig, but I shall repeat – this is not a gaming machine.
And that’s ok. I still like it.
The A940 vs the Surface Studio?
At the top of the post I mentioned this being able to potentially go toe to toe with the Surface Studio from Microsoft for creative users, and each system has their checkmarks in the win column. The A940 has better processing, opting to use Intel’s 65W 9th generation 6-core i7’s, while the current starter model of the Surface Studio 2 uses 7th generation quad-core processors. Microsoft wins on graphical power though, packing an NVIDIA GTX 1060 with 6GB DDR5 in their unit. They also chose to go for one single 1TB SSD, instead of a SSD/HDD combo like the A940. But the price is what makes this decision seem a bit easier.
The Surface Studio 2 starts at $3,499, and that’s without the additional $99 for the dial – the final total coming out to $3,598. The A940 starts at $2,349 and includes the dial and pen. That’s over a $1,000 difference, which is huge. It’s actually enough to buy an additional Lenovo Legion gaming laptop if you really wanted all for the same price of a starter Surface Studio 2. Given specs and the fact that the A940 covers most of what creatives need to use a PC for, I’d definitely be leaning Lenovo’s way for that kind of money.
Lenovo’s A940 is an all-in-one that caters hard to the creative user, giving them enough freedom and power to work through multiple control methods to create and edit their art. With the additional utility of the dial and ability to draw and write with the pen, artists can pick up a solid machine for under $2,500 to do their work. Being able to tilt the screen down into drafting mode might be able to replace tools like your Wacom at a price that’s far more reasonable than a Surface Studio 2. While it’s not a gaming machine, it isn’t meant to be one.
Final verdict on the Yoga A940? While I’m not the target market, I do really like this machine, and with a couple of my own preferences on peripherals, could see myself using as a home PC. Get more info here at Lenovo