Lenovo Y50 $999
26th Aug 2014 | 13:32
Lenovo's latest gaming laptop: lightweight in more ways than one
Introduction and design
There's no lack of options if you are looking for a 15-inch gaming laptop. Between the MSI GS60 Ghost Pro getting a new gorgeous 3K screen and newer, better packages like the Gigabyte P35W, this mid-size range of gaming machines gets more intriguing everyday. But amongst all the brands known for gaming – like Origin, Digital Storm and Razer – Lenovo has been a long overlooked brand despite creating the well-liked Lenovo Y510 and Y510p.
Now, Lenovo has truncated its leading gaming laptop in more than name. Known as the Lenovo Y50, this rig has lost its modular Ultrabay drive to make for a much slimmer and sleeker package.
While Lenovo's latest 15.6-inch gaming notebook is lighter, it has lost its signature expandability that allowed users to slot in a optical drive, additional cooling fan or second graphics card for extra power. Does the Lenovo Y50 still deliver the gaming goods, or has the business laptop maker crippled one of its best products in an effort to lighten the load?
First, let's see what the Lenovo Y50 gains (or loses, as it were). By lopping off the Ultrabay, the Lenovo Y50 weighs in at 5.29 pounds and only measures 0.94 inches thin. By comparison, the chunkier Y510p weighed 5.95 pounds and measured 1.41 inches thick.
Aside from slimming down the Y50's frame and internal loadout, it also looks far less blocky than its predecessor. Steering further from Lenovo's business background, the Y50 sports a more angular look that tapers off to the back and sides. The design is reminiscent of the Alienware 14, albeit with Lenovo's distinct flair, making the whole package look slimmer than it actually is.
Both the laptop lid and underside are fitted with brushed aluminum panels, again adding Lenovo's almost-trademark, cross-hatched pattern. The pattern is a small touch, but it helps make the laptop stand out from every other machine and manufacturer that simply goes for the horizontally brushed look.
On the inside, glossy black plastic covers the bezel around the screen and the small lip above the keyboard, which is also accented with two red, flaring JBL speakers. Bits of red are also incorporated into the backlight of the AccuType, island-style keyboard – which, by the way, is unsurprisingly excellent. You will be happy to know that a rubber finish covers the keyboard deck and wrist pads for a soft touch that's easy on wrists during extended typing and gaming sessions.
Despite that the laptop is mostly comprised of striated layers of metal to plastic and back to aluminum again, it feels completely solid. The screen lid's aluminum backing adds serious rigidity and prevents any flexing. The Y50's durable metal underside, meanwhile, should stand up well to any surface it's placed on.
Subwoofer for graphics
At the same time, the machine's shiny metal bottom will provide some extra passive cooling on top of the laptop's exhaust fans. More important is the newly-added subwoofer on the laptop's underside.
In scrapping the Y510p's Ultrabay, Lenovo did not simply just remove parts from the laptop. Trading extra modular parts for better sound, the Y50's new speaker doesn't pack enough bass to make the machine jump whenever explosions start going off in games. But the extra tweeter helps to fill in the gaps of the laptop's stereo sound system for a rather pleasant listening experience.
Unfortunately, the Y50's metal-lined body that helps it stand out from its all plastic competition also ends up making the machine bulkier and heavier than its rivals. The laptop tips the scales at 5.29 pounds and measures 15.23 x 10.37 x 0.9 inches.
Despite the added optical drive, the 15.6-inch Gigabyte P35W v2 ends up being the lighter choice, at 5.07 pounds and measuring a very similar 15.16 x 10.63 x 0.83 inches. On the other hand, gamers looking for an even more mobile machine could scale down to a smaller, 14-inch screen option, like the Maingear Pulse 14. You will sacrifice several lines of screen real estate, but the Pulse 14 is on another scale, at 3.8 pounds and 13.31 x 9.5 x 1 inches.
Here is the Lenovo Y50 configuration given to TechRadar for review:
- CPU: 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ (quad-core, 6MB cache, up to 3.4GHz with Turbo Boost)
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M (4GB GDDR5 RAM); Intel HD Graphics 4600
- RAM: 16GB DDR3L (2x 8GB, 1,600MHz)
- Screen: 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 FHD, LED anti-glare backlight
- Storage: 1TB HDD (5,400 rpm with an 8GB SSD cache)
- Ports: 2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, combination mic/headphone jack, HDMI, 4-in-1 card reader, Ethernet, SPDIF
- Connectivity: Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160, Bluetooth 4.0
- Camera: 720p HD webcam
- Weight: 5.29 pounds
- Size: 15.23 x 10.37 x 0.9 inches (W x D x H)
Ringing up to a grand total of $1,519 or £999 (about AU$1,631), this is the highest spec Lenovo Y50 money can buy. In the UK this is also the only configuration users can pick up. Meanwhile, it seems that the Y50 isn't sold at all in Australia. All in all, it's quite a deal. For the price, you get a massive hard drive with an SSD cache for an extra kick, more RAM than you'll ever need and the Y50's excellently designed body, which I already touched on at length.
Here's the only thing that I found lacking: the graphics card is limited to a GTX 860M on all configurations of this rig. The mobile graphics part packs enough power to plow through most modern games well enough on medium to high settings. But, if you want to kick it up a notch to Ultra settings in most games, you will have a much smoother ride with the $1,999 (about £1,188, AU$2,155) Gigabyte P35W v2. The more expensive gaming laptop comes with a headier GTX 870M, a slightly speedier 2.5GHz Intel Core i7 processor, plus a built-in, hot-swappable drive bay.
Users on a budget, meanwhile, should look at the Maingear Pulse 14's lower-end $1,399 (about £825, AU$1,497) price tag. It costs a smidge less, but buyers keep in mind that the Maingear machine offers half the storage through a 500GB hybrid drive and only 8GB of RAM. The Pulse 14 is a lower-end machine all around, with a less capable 2.2GHz Intel Core i7 CPU and GTX 850M video card.
At CES 2014, Lenovo also introduced a 4K variant of this laptop that starts at $1,499, but is only available in the United States for now. Other than the higher-resolution, 3840 x 2160 panel, the Ultra HD edition comes with practically the same specification as our review unit, albeit with half the RAM and video memory. If money is no object, the highest-end Lenovo Y50 UHD rings up to $1,799 with a 512GB SSD and otherwise the same aforementioned parts.
While the Y50 isn't the most powerful setup, it can hold its own playing a variety of modern games, like Sniper Elite 3 and Plants Versus Zombies: Garden Warfare. That said, this rig is not equipped to deliver the most consistent experience without tweaking graphics settings. Don't be surprised to see frames per second dip below 60 consistently in some games. Here's how the Lenovo Y50 fared with our synthetic tests:
- 3DMark: Ice Storm: 68,971; Cloud Gate: 13,639; Fire Strike: 3,650
- Cinebench Graphics: 96.71 fps, CPU: 488 points
- PCMark 8 (Home Test): 2,644 points
- PCMark 8 Battery Life: 2 hours and 49 minutes
- Bioshock Infinite (1080p, Ultra): 42.37; (1080p, Low): 132.22 fps
- Metro: Last Light (1080p, Ultra): 9.33 fps; (1080p, Low): 66.33 fps
As expected, the the Lenovo Y50 completely crumbled under the weight of Metro: Last Light on Ultra settings, registering just 9.33fps. The super demanding game has brought many laptops to their knees, including the Gigabyte P35W v2, which was not very far off with a 14fps performance. Despite toting a lower-end GPU, the Maingear Pulse 14 rendered the same Metro benchmark test at 11fps, but this can be attributed to its better performing CPU.
This Y50 sits smack the the middle between the Gigabyte P35W v2 and Maingear Pulse 14. Rendering a song of ice and fire in 3DMark's Fire Strike test, the Y50 put up an admirable 3,650 points. Meanwhile the better equipped P35W v2 put up a score of 4,297 while the Pulse 14 served up 3,363 points.
The Lenovo Y50 also seems to have the worst-performing CPU by far. In the chip-crunching Cinebench test, the laptop's onboard Intel Core i7 chip only scored 488 points. Both the Gigabyte P35W v2 and Maingear Pulse 14 performed much better on the same test, with 560 points and 577 points, respectively.
Running on a half tank
The removal of the Ultrabay is both the Lenovo Y50's reason for existing and its greatest weakness. The older Lenovo Y510 was never the best machine on the market, sporting a single Nvidia GTX 750M. But, thanks to the Ultrabay, the laptop could run two GPUs in SLI. While this rig's sole Nvidia GTX 860M is no slouch, it's definitely lacking when it comes to gaming.
The Lenovo Y50 has no problems multitasking a half dozen applications concurrently, including one seriously resource intensive image editor, while streaming tunes from Google Music all at the same time. Sadly, performance with games is inconsistent.
Wolfenstein runs at or near 51fps on Ultra, which is great. But in Sniper Elite 3, sniper rounds traveling in slow motion with tons of PhysX computations behind them throw the Y50 off its game, reducing a smooth experience on high settings from 53fps to 39fps.
Regarding the choice of GPU, size is clearly not a problem. The P35W v2 is an even thinner machine with a more gaming-capable Nvidia GTX 870M. For the Y50, the option simply does not exist, for whatever reason. The real shame is that gamers will have to look elsewhere to fill their power needs, and many other companies do not build a chassis as premium as the Lenovo Y50.
Not exactly a sight for sore eyes
The display Lenovo chose to stick inside the Y50 is, frankly, terrible. Color looks dull and lifeless, making the screen look unsightly for playing games outside of brown-and-gray shooters.
The same problem arises when streaming colorful TV shows and movies. The desaturated screen also makes it useless for photo editing – both professionally and for personal use – when users need a screen with decent color accuracy.
What's more, the screen is both lacking in brightness and black levels. I often find myself turning up the backlight well toward its maximum brightness even in a well lit room at night. As a result, any blacks on the display are washed out into pale gray blotches.
Better bring the plug
The Y50's other shortcoming is its battery life. The notebook only managed to stay on for a scant 2 hours and 49 minutes for the duration of the PCMark 8 battery test. Synthetic tests tend to a be a bit more taxing than real life use, but the Y50's performance still falls short compared to Gigabyte P35W v2's 3 hours and 19 minutes on the same test.
My own testing saw the machine hang on for an even shorter 2 hours and 45 minutes. Admittedly, I was running some fairly intense applications – including a resource intensive copy of Sigma Photo Pro 6 and Skype (which eats up a surprising amount of battery life) – but only for roughly 30 minutes each.
I then opened a handful of browser tabs split between Firefox and Chrome, plus piping Google Music on speakers with the volume at 15 percent, and a round of Hearthstone cut short by the laptop's dead battery. Meanwhile, all of this was done at with the screen brightness set to its near maximum (again a necessity with the Y50's dull screen).
Under a less stressful workload and dimmer screen, you might be able to stretch out the Y50's battery by another 45 minutes at most. With this laptop, always keep your power cord on hand and a keen eye for power outlets. The P35W v2 has a much more serviceable battery life, at 4 hours and 3 minutes. The Pulse 14 also hangs on almost as long, for 4 hours and 2 minutes.
Coming from a business background, Lenovo is usually good at including helpful business applications. However, the company has a lot of lessons to learn about filling its gaming machine up with unwanted clutter. What you're looking at here is a mix of useful and unwanted applications to down right junk eating up your storage space.
- Zinio Online Newsstand – A decent e-magazine reader with access to a wide spread of publications, but it ultimately feels a bit lacking on the touchscreen less Lenovo Y50.
- Amazon Kindle for PC – Another reader client for reading e-books and digital comics.
- Lenovo Reach – Lenovo's own cloud storage service. Another 5GB of free web storage never hurts.
- Evernote – A cloud based note-keeping applications that's also available for tablets, smartphones, and basically every platform under the sun.
- McAfee Internet Security (30-day free trial) – Nope, no thanks. Windows 8.1's built-in Windows Defender is a just as good an option that won't spam you with ads to buy a subscription once the 30 day trial is up.
- Lenovo VeriFace – A neat security feature, which automatically locks the laptop up when the webcam notices you're away from the computer for an extended period of time.
- Pro Lenovo Companion – One of your first stops as a new Lenovo Y50 owner. This dedicated tool lets you register your machine and check the warranty.
Lenovo set itself apart with in the gaming space with an (optionally) dual GPU-capable Y510p. While the Chinese computer company's latest Y50 machine is not as capable in terms of raw gaming power, it's a well built piece of technology, especially for the price, and an incredible deal when you really think about it.
Lenovo knows how to build a solid laptop, and it certainly shows with the Lenovo Y50. Unlike all the plastic gaming laptops out there, the Y50 has a much more tightly constructed body, a uniquely cross-hatched brushed aluminum design and a flawless keyboard and trackpad. You won't find many Windows laptops more well constructed.
It's not the most powerful machine, and I'd really love to equip this great platform with a higher end processor and GPU. As is, though, the Lenovo Y50 does well enough with what it has to play games at medium to high settings, plus most other applications.
I'm pretty particular about displays, and the Lenovo Y50's screen simply does not make the cut in any regard. From the desaturated colors to the lacking brightness and washed out blacks, it's a bummer to look at. Sadly, it really is the biggest flaw that detracts from what is otherwise a more than decently equipped laptop with an excellent design for a great price.
Similarly, going mobile with this machine will be a pain with the Y50's short 3-hour battery life. You will have to keep a close eye on that energy gauge and constantly be on the look out for power outlets when taking this machine out.
Save for the screen and somewhat limited computing horsepower, the Lenovo Y50 is a very good package for its $1,519 or £999 (about AU$1,631) price tag. In a field of laptops that focus on filling out an internal spec sheet and stuffing it into a flimsy plastic chassis, the Lenovo Y50 is a breath of fresh air in good design.
However, self-ascribed "hardcore" gamers that want a bit more oomph from their total desktop replacement should consider the $1,999 Gigabyte P35W v2. The GTX 870M-backed machine will simply run games better regardless, and it packs better battery battery life too boot.
All said, the Y50 is a solid platform with a great sound system, impeccable inputs and should be more than capable to play most games – albeit not on the highest settings – for the next two years coming. While a great value for the build quality, consider what level of power you need before pressing the "buy" button on this one.