What does it really take to make a good, beefy, gaming laptop? Specs? Compatibility with a variety of devices in your home like wireless peripherals and your TV? Ability to customize and upgrade? What about price? For a capable gaming laptop, are we doomed to pay for something in the $2,000+ range?
The thing I like most about the Lenovo IdeaPad Y500 is the fact that it encompasses all the above, except for the price. For a fantastic gaming laptop, the Y500 retails for $1,179.99 (using the configuration in my reviewer’s unit; basic models can be found for under $1,000). This price gets you:
- Intel Core i7 – 3630QM, 2.40GHz (6MB cache), Turbo Boost 2.0 (up to 3.40GHz)
- 16GB DDR3 RAM
- Dual Nvidia GT 650M GPUs via SLI (2GB GDDR5 for each)
- 1TB hard drive, 16GB mSATA SSD
- 15.6” Full HD LED backlight screen
- Windows 8 64 bit
- HD 720p webcam, 1.0 MP
- Wireless and Bluetooth ready
- Li-Ion 6-cell battery
- 2x USB 3.0, Powered USB 2.0, VGA, HDMI, Ethernet ports
Not too shabby, but not perfect either. The thing about the Y500 is that it somewhat struggles to find its identity. While it’s a fantastic laptop for gaming, it has a hard time being an easy to use “daily use” computer.
We’ll start with daily use, since that’s the one you’re going to experience first anyway, regardless of whether you intend to game with it or whip up a Word document. The first thing you’ll notice is how beautiful the entire unit looks. The Y500 has a sleek, black, brushed metal exterior design, with sharp angles, red accents, and honeycomb vents to give the entire thing more than a passing resemblance to another popular gaming PC company. Let’s just say if the Y500 were adorned with a glowing, pulsating alien head, I wouldn’t think twice about it, It’s a great looking “chassis,” and glowing red backlit keys not only look fantastic, but they make typing in the dark a breeze as well.
Coming pre-loaded with Windows 8, I was excited to check out the Y500. I assumed that it would come with a touchscreen; after all, Windows 8 works best with a touchscreen. Here’s the interesting part, though; while Win8 works best with a touchscreen, it works equally as well with a keyboard and mouse, but it works extremely poorly with a touchpad. Guess which option the Y500 ships with?
Sure you can hook up a wireless keyboard and mouse, but out of the box, you are relegated to the laptop’s touchpad…a relatively poorly designed touchpad. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for touchpads. In fact, I have a Logitech T650 touchpad for my desktop, and it works beautifully because it was tailor-made for Windows 8 with a variety of Win8 specific gestures to help bridge the gap between touchpad and touchscreen.
While the Y500’s touchpad does have some of these gestures, three main issues rear its ugly head: 1) it doesn’t have all of them, 2) the touchpad is much too small even if it did include all the 4 and 3 finger gestures, and 3) the pad itself is either too sensitive or insensitive, even with tweaking the settings.
Unlike the other laptops I have owned, the Y500’s left and right buttons are built into the touchpad itself as opposed to existing as two independent buttons. This led to many occasions where I was scrolling around and accidently “clicked” something. Also, no matter how much I adjust the sensitivity of the pad, I can’t seem to “tap to click” without the cursor moving around. To be fair, it could just be that I’m a big oaf with fat fingers; who knows.
Touchpad issues aside, the Y500 functions beautifully as an everyday machine. Bootup time was virtually nonexistent, and the entire experience was fast, smooth, and snappy. The screen is powerfully lit and showed a beautiful contrast with deep blacks. Movies, websites, games, you name it, all looked wonderful on the screen. The downside to all this performance power is a battery that barely lasted three hours.
The keyboard also feels wonderful, as it should since it is being advertised as the AccuType keyboard. The keys are designed with ergonomics in mind and are rounded for greater accuracy when compared to other keyboards, particularly laptop keyboards. Combine that with a nice, springy response and the previously mentioned backlight, and you’ve got yourself one of the best keyboards to come stock with a laptop.
However, chances are you aren’t buying the Y500 for its day to day uses. After all, why would you pay over a grand if you’re not looking for any functions more than what a cheap Chromebook can offer? You’re buying the Y500 to game on, and gaming performance is where this machine truly shines. The Y500 can proudly hold its head up next to many other gaming laptops from companies like Origin, Razer, Alienware, etc. While Lenovo may not have made an impact in the gaming front in the past, it certainly has now.
My reviewer’s unit of the Y500 comes with two Nvidia GT 650M graphic cards via SLI. Combined with an i7 processor and nearly as much RAM as my gaming desktop has, you’ve got yourself a very powerful and compact gaming system. In fact, during my review time with the Y500, I hooked up the laptop to my 55” TV via HDMI, popped in the Logitech Unifying receiver into one of the USB ports (enabling a wireless mouse and keyboard), plugged in a Xbox 360 PC controller, and BAM! Instant Steambox.
I only transferred over a handful of games form my Steam account: Castle Crashers, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Tomb Raider, and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2. I figured these would give me a good range of games to test with. Interestingly enough, it was TFU2 that gave me the only issues, stuttering somewhat when I had the game set to max settings. Tomb Raider only gave me significant hiccups when I had TressFX enabled; disabling it allowed me to run the game on mostly high settings (not Ultra). I had all the games tested capped at 60 FPS, and other than the two issues mentioned above, everything ran smoothly.
Perhaps the single thing I liked most about the Y500 is its ability to upgrade components…to a certain degree. I’m no stranger to laptops, and while it is not a huge pain to flip it over, unscrew a bunch of panels, and switch parts around, it is more work than I would like to have to do. Also, with most other laptops I have used, the ability to add components is virtually nonexistent, since there is such a demand for space.
With the Ultrabay feature, Lenovo is looking to bring “pop and play” functionality to hardware additions and upgrades, though in practice it’s not as easy to access as it seems. With Ultrabay, users can pop out the Ultrabay and add extra components like another hard drive, an additional cooling fan, a second GPU, an additional optical media drive, etc. Upon first glance it would seem as easy as just popping a tray out, installing the additional piece, then popping the tray back in. Not so fast.
In order to access the Ultrabay slot, you need turn the laptop over, remove the battery, pull a release switch, then slide the Ultrabay out. Once you’ve inserted your component of choice, do everything in reverse to get your Y500 up and running again. It ends up not being any less time consuming than popping panels off a normal laptop, but to be fair, this shouldn’t be a process that should stump anyone. It’s pretty easy to figure out.
As I end my time with the Y500, I have to wonder who this laptop is really targeting. The majority of gamers already own a console of some sort. Dedicated PC gamers would probably already own a desktop rig. Those who don’t care about gaming would most likely never drop this kind of cash on a laptop that’s clearly aimed at gamers…unless they drop it on a Mac. Otherwise, I’m sure a Samsung or Acer laptop would serve their purposes just fine. So who is really going to buy the Y500?
I suppose the only way my one tracked mind can explain it is with a car analogy. You have Kia and Toyota for those who simply need a cheap, reliable car to get to and from work. For your ultra-wealthy enthusiasts, you have your supercars; Ferrari, Aston Martin and whatnot. Where does something like a $60,000 BMW M3 fit in? Or a $55,000 Shelby GT500? Or even a $90,000 Corvette Z06? Those are way too expensive for the first group, and probably not exotic and powerful enough for the latter group. What’s the target audience of the BMW M3, Shelby GT500, and Corvette Z06? I think the only answer is: those who know they specifically want a M3, GT500, or Z06. The same applies to the Y500; it’s for those who specifically want a powerful gaming laptop; whether it’s in lieu of a desktop and console, or in addition to one.
It’s a fantastic piece of hardware, loaded to the brim with power and enhancements that even desktop gamers should respect. It’ll handle even the most demanding games and programs mostly with no issues. Other than the touchpad issues I had, the overall build of the Y500 is very well done. Just look at it; it screams quality. So if you happen to be in the middle group of consumers that specifically wants a gaming laptop, it would behoove you to give the Lenovo Y500 a serious look.