The one big thing that separates a gaming laptop from a regular ol' workaday machine is the presence of a good, discrete graphics card inside it. Lenovo is a PC maker with a line-up dedicated mostly to straight-laced professional notebooks, but it also has a bit of a fun side, too. The Lenovo Y50 is a mainstream Windows 8.1 laptop that also has some pretence at gaming.
What Is It?
- Display: 15.6in, 3840x2160 pixel
- CPU: Intel Core i7-4710HQ, 2.5-3.5GHz
- RAM: 8GB DDR3, up to 16GB
- GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M 2GB
- HDD: 1TB 5400RPM, up to 512GB SSD
- Dimensions: 387x263x24mm
The $2199-plus Lenovo Y50 is a 15.6-inch, mainstream laptop which has a little bit of gaming power. The Y50 comes in two specs; there's a base $2199 model with a Core i7-4710HQ processor, Nvidia's GTX 860M GPU, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB spinning disk hard drive, and a Ultra HD 3840x2160 pixel display. If you spend $200 more you'll get twice the RAM and a 512GB solid-state drive.
The design of the Y50 is a little bit out there; it has a vaguely normal and professional top lid and base, with a brushed metal finish and a solitary Lenovo logo. On the base, you'll notice a circular 'subwoofer' — it's nowhere near big enough to reproduce actual, proper bass of course but it does add a bit of aural oomph to what would be otherwise an already good sound system.
What's It Good At?
The Lenovo Y50's display is lovely. It's a 3840x2160pixel Ultra HD, moderately glossy LCD screen and it hits all the right notes for an all-round good laptop panel; it has excellent viewing angles, great colour accuracy out of the box, an excellent range of brightness from a dark-room-friendly minimum to outdoor-usable maximum, and an excellent contrast ratio that means blacks actually look black and whites look bright, clear and clean. It makes Web pages look crisp, and it makes high quality video look great — although you'll want at least 1080p rather than DVD or 720p footage if you can wrangle it.
The entire laptop's design is solid, actually. Lenovo is the company behind the legendary ThinkPad line, and there's a bit of production line smarts clearly filtering down to the brand's lesser notebooks as well. Keyboard travel is good, the brushed metal finish on the lid and base looks stylish, and there are a few (purely visual) styling cues like the fake exhaust grilles on the rear that add a bit of flair.
The Y50 runs cool and quiet, too. It doesn't have the most groundbreaking components inside, but a single unified intake and exhaust port at the laptop's base means that there's no audible fan noise, and as long as you don't cover said port by placing it on a soft surface like carpet or a plush bedspread, everything will run coolly and consistently — even with a spot of 3D gaming.
Having a discrete graphics card rather than an Intel integrated jobbie means the Y50 can handle a moderate amount of gaming. It's not hugely powerful, but it's a big step up from an integrated graphics chip. That's a bit of a selling point, if you're the kind of gamer that hops on Steam or Origin occasionally and buys an older title like Left 4 Dead 2 on sale. Unless you're buying significantly older and non-bleeding-edge titles, you won't be able to run games at the Y50's native Ultra HD resolution, though — more on that later.
What's It Not Good At?
The Y50's Ultra HD display is great in terms of the detail it can display for Web work or photo/video editing, but it's not the smartest choice for gaming — because its super high resolution makes it incredibly demanding in terms of outright graphical power. The Y50's GPU doesn't have the grunt to play any modern game at 4K — that's a task for something like the MSI GT72 — so you'll have to play at lower resolutions and lose a lot of that potential detail. Apparently the lesser 1080p screen option is not nearly as good in terms of colour or contrast, though, so it becomes a bit of a difficult choice between the two.
The fact that the Y50 uses an Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M, rather than the newer 965M or 970M, means it doesn't have a huge deal of graphical grunt in the first place, too, when compared straight-up with a technologically newer device like Gigabyte's P35 or P34Wv3. If you're looking for a laptop that will spend a relatively large amount of time gaming, you'll want something with more power.
Battery life, too, is not as good as some of the Y50's mainstream competitors. I clocked the laptop's non-gaming battery life at around 3hr 14min playing 720p video at half screen brightness — around a half an hour or so behind a broadly similar device like the MSI GS70 Stealth Pro. If you're gaming, it'll drain faster.
It's also true that the Y50 is comparatively expensive for the specs that you get; at a minimum $2199 and at $2399 for the top-spec model I tested, it's not far from the price of some pretty serious gaming-focused laptops from brands like Gigabyte, MSI and ASUS, and that's before you start to look at the Alienwares and barebones Metabox and Clevo brands out there. It's not outrageously expensive, nor is it too expensive for what you're getting, but it'd be better value at a few hundred dollars cheaper.
Should You Buy It?
The $2199-plus Lenovo Y50's Ultra HD screen is beautiful for watching movies, despite the fact that most of what you'll be viewing will be upscaled from 1080p. It's a beautiful, bright, vibrant display, and it makes Windows look pretty damn good. As a content-consuming machine, the Lenovo Y50 is great, as long as you can make its battery last.
The rest of the hardware is almost as good, too — it's very well put together, with a bit of gamer-friendly flair and fancy red-on-black styling cues all over. Sound is one particular area in which the Y50 stands out, with a surprisingly good subwoofer and stereo speaker system that makes it even more of a movie- or TV-watching powerhouse.
It would have been nice to have more options to choose from in the Y50's specifications list, though. As it stands, you're left to choose between a markedly inferior system with 8GB of RAM and a 1TB mechanical hard drive and a 16GB, 512GB SSD monster for only a couple of hundred dollars more; that's a no-brainer but a configurator would have been nice.
At the end of the day, there are objectively better gaming laptops on the market, although you'll have to shell out at least a few hundred dollars more to get them. There are also cheaper similarly specced notebooks out there, although you'll probably have to make compromises in build quality or in other areas to get the machine you're looking for. That puts the Lenovo Y50 in a difficult position, but if you pick one up you won't be disappointed.