The phrase “gaming powerhouse” is not typically associated with Lenovo. However, that’s exactly the phrase you’ll find at the top of the Lenovo IdeaPad Y50’s official product page. Clearly, Lenovo wants to be taken seriously by gamers.
On the surface, the Y50’s specifications appear to be capable of backing up the company’s aspirations. All versions of this laptop pair an Intel Core i7-4700HQ processor with an Nvidia GTX 860M graphics chip, alongside a 1TB hybrid hard drive. Base models have 8GB of RAM, but our upgraded review unit arrived with 16GB. There’s also an optional UHD (3840×2160) display on the way but, for the moment, 1080p stands alone.
The MSRP attached to our review unit is $1,249, and the entry-level model with 8GB of RAM starts at just $1,149. That’s reasonable pricing for a gaming laptop, but can you really buy a competent gaming notebook for barely more than a grand?
Lenovo IdeaPad Y50p video review
The smallest giant
Lenovo’s Y50, like most gaming laptops, features a 15.6-inch display. This of course means that the system is large relative to a 13-inch Ultrabook, but the Y50’s 24mm profile is among the thinnest in the segment. Only the Razer Blade provides comparable power in a smaller frame.
Affordable and reasonably quick, but it does more to damage the company’s gaming reputation than to enhance it.
In short, the Y50 looks a bit boring, but it’s at least well built. Panel gaps are tight, and the chassis doesn’t allow much flex, despite its slim size. The lack of an optical drive, and the system’s light weight, no doubt help contribute to its solid feel.
Connectivity includes three USB ports, two of which are 3.0, along with HDMI, Ethernet, a memory card reader, a combo headphone/microphone jack, and S/PDIF. Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11ac are included, as well. This is a strong selection, though we’d like to see another video output (like DisplayPort), and additional audio outputs.
Forgetting the keyboard legacy
The Y50, like many other recent IdeaPads, is equipped with typical island-style keys. They provide reasonable feedback, but not any more than competitors do. We also noted a vague bottoming action that sometimes made us miss keys while touch-typing. A key would feel as if it activated, but no character would appear, introducing extra errors.
We also had issues with the layout, a traditional Lenovo weak point. The included numpad eats into space that would normally be occupied by the right-side shift and backspace keys, both of which are smaller than normal here. Other undersized keys include CTRL, ALT and the arrow keys.
Keyboard backlighting is standard. The LEDs are red, and only red; color customization is not an option as it is on some more expensive gaming systems. Two brightness settings are available, but only the dimmer of the two is useful in a dim room.
The touchpad gave us serious trouble. Our issues centered on manipulating small interface elements, which was difficult because the cursor often failed to stay in place even after we stopped moving our finger. Multi-touch gestures also felt sensitive, and often did not start or stop in the fashion we desired. Anyone looking to buy a Y50 should plan to use a mouse.
The screen flops
We knew the Y50’s screen would be a problem the moment we laid eyes on it. Everything about it except its matte coat reminds us of the bad-old-days of terrible laptop displays. Viewing angles are tight, perceived contrast is low, and fine detail, be it in images or fonts, lacks the crisp look you’d expect from a 1080p display.
Objective testing backed up our perceptions. We recorded a contrast ratio of 90:1 alongside extremely poor black levels, and a gamut that spans just 57 percent of sRGB. These are the worst scores we’ve seen since the Acer Aspire E1, a $600 laptop. Most gaming laptops manage a contrast ratio of at least 600:1, and 90 percent of sRGB.
These readings result in a poor gaming experience. Colorful games are sapped of life, while dark games lack contrast and shadow detail. At times, the screen’s black level performance is so poor that necessary detail is lost. For instance, at one point in Battlefield 4, we had trouble figuring out how to move forward because a dim, shadowy doorway was indistinguishable from the wall surrounding it.
Audio performance is a different story. Maximum volume is very loud, the mid-range is crisp, and some bass can be felt through the Y50’s slim frame. Overall performance can beat some larger, more expensive gaming rigs like the Origin EON17-S.
Intel’s Core i7-4700HQ is one of the company’s least powerful mobile quad core CPUs, featuring a 2.4 GHz base clock, and a 3.4 GHz Turbo Boost maximum. This is still enough to provide strong performance, however, though how strong it is depends on your perspective.
As you can see, the Y50 is much faster than the dual-core Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Series, but also much slower than the MSI GT60 Dominator Pro or Clevo P157SM. In short, Lenovo’s gaming system isn’t the quickest, but it is still a major step up from a typical desktop replacement or Ultrabook.
7-Zip, which is more heavily reliant on multi-threaded performance, helped the Y50 reach a score of 18,790. This is better than the Clevo P157SM’s score of 18,557 and the MSI GT60 Dominator Pro’s score of 18,690. Realistically, these scores are so close that they can be considered a tie, but the results show that the Y50’s performance will depend on the application you throw at it.
The weak link in the Lenovo’s performance is its hard drive. The Y50 uses a large mechanical drive paired with solid state cache in an attempt to provide the best of both worlds, but PCMark 8’s storage test reached a score of just 2,123. While this doesn’t impact in-game framerates noticeably, it does contribute to long load times.
To see what the system’s GTX 860M graphic card has to offer, we fired up 3DMark, which reported a Cloud Gate test score of 13,364, and a Fire Strike score of 3,473. These obviously won’t beat GTX 880M-based systems like the Clevo P157SM, which reaches scores of 18,731 and 5,523 respectively, but they’re far ahead of a multimedia notebook like the Dell Inspiron 15 7000, which scores only 1,774 in Fire Strike.
We gauged real world gaming performance with our usual test suite, which includes Total War: Rome II, Battlefield 4 and League of Legends. All three games were tested using FRAPS at the laptop’s native 1080p resolution.
Total War: Rome II
This game tends to demand as much from the processor as the GPU, but the Y50’s quad-core CPU was up to the task. We recorded an average of 59 frames per second, with a maximum of 76 and a minimum of 44, with detail set at Medium. Bumping the graphics up to Extreme reduced the average to 37 FPS, with a maximum of 44 and a minimum of 27. The game felt reasonably smooth, even at Extreme detail.
The Lenovo Y50 handled DICE’s modern shooter well at Medium detail, achieving an average of 76 FPS, with a maximum of 86 and a minimum of 45. Turning the settings up to Ultra, however, cut the average to just 33 FPS, with a maximum of 44 and a minimum of 25. Still, the game remained enjoyable, and showed little signs of stutter or excessive tearing.
League of Legends
League of Legends, by far the least demanding game in our test suite, proved to be no challenge for the Y50. At Medium detail, we measured an average of 118 FPS, with a maximum of 155 and a minimum of 79. Even turning the visuals up to Very High only decreased the average to 81 FPS, with a maximum of 107 and a minimum of 57. Gameplay was buttery-smooth, even in the most intense 5v5 battles.
Small laptop, small battery
We hoped the Y50’s portable dimensions and modest 5.3 pounds of heft were indications that it could serve as a road warrior. Alas, that’s far from true. The Peacekeeper Web browsing benchmark drained a full charge in just three hours and three minutes, which puts the Y50’s endurance an hour behind the MSI GT60 Dominator Pro, and 50 minutes south of the Clevo P157SM.
Power draw is part of the problem. We measured up to 31 watts of consumption at idle, which is higher than the Clevo P157SM’s 28 watts. At full load, the Lenovo takes the lead, drawing only 87 watts to the Clevo’s 157 watts, but any benefit this might have provided is marginalized by the Y50’s smaller battery.
Cramming a powerful GPU into a thin system leads to drawbacks aside from lower battery life. Heat is also an issue. We recorded a maximum external temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit at idle, a figure that rose to a toasty 106 degrees at load, which can make the Y50 a bit uncomfortable to use on your lap. Thicker systems like the Clevo P157SM, MSI GT60 and Origin EON17-S are cooler at full load than the Lenovo is at idle.
The high temperatures might be blamed on the fan, which isn’t as aggressive as the competition’s. Noise levels hover around 38 decibels at idle, and rise no higher than 47dB at load. That’s a decibel less than the Clevo, and 12 decibels less than the MSI GT60 Dominator Pro.
Lenovo’s Y50 is affordable and reasonably quick, but it does more to damage the company’s gaming reputation than to enhance it. The system’s unforgivable flaw is the display, which would be disappointing on a system sold at half the price. A low-contrast panel with poor viewing angles has no business being part of a gaming laptop. Lenovo’s optional Ultra HD panel might be better, but it will cause another problem; the Y50’s GTX 860M graphics chip isn’t quick enough to handle games beyond 1080p.
There are other issues, as well. The touchpad is finicky, the keyboard is frustrating, and the battery gives out far too quickly. Ultimately, though, these are just nitpicks compared to the display, which disqualifies the Y50 from a recommendation by itself.
And that’s a shame, because the hardware inside is solid. The Y50 achieved at least 30 FPS at maximum detail in the three games we tested, which is no small feat for a gaming laptop that costs barely more than $1,000. This notebook could be a reasonable choice for gamers on a tight budget who are willing to make sacrifices at the altar of framerate, but it’s not the well-rounded, portable powerhouse it could have been.
- Fast CPU and GPU
- Slim for a gaming notebook
- Loud speakers
- Very low display quality
- Finicky keyboard and touchpad
- Short battery life
- Runs a bit warm
- Boring exterior