Lenovo’s Newest IdeaPad Is A Near-Perfect Gaming-Focused Work Laptop

Photo: Joanna Nelius (Gizmodo
Photo: Joanna Nelius (Gizmodo

Lenovo just threw a gaming laptop into its IdeaPad lineup of productivity-focused devices, and, to be honest, we’re not mad about it.

The work-minded IdeaPad series has been around since 2008, but this is the first time the company has released a gaming version. Until now, the company’s gaming laptops have only branded as part of its Legion lineup, but it seems like the company is trying to capture a larger market by introducing a gaming-focused IdeaPad. The IdeaPad Gaming 3i has more than enough power to run basic programs and just enough enough power to run most games at the right graphics settings.

This laptop is probably be the most attractive to someone shopping for a work laptop who also happens to play PC games from time to time.

Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3i

WHAT IS IT?

Lenovo's first entry-level gaming laptop to its IdeaPad series

PRICE

$1,399 starting ($1,849) as configured)

LIKE

Chassis size, blue lighting aesthetic, price

NO LIKE

10th-gen Core i7/GTX 1650 combo, some CPU throttling

Looking at the components, the Gaming 3i isn’t that much different from the Legion laptops, which offer base models with nearly the same specs. The Legion lineup is upgradeable with higher-end graphics cards, processors, and displays with faster refresh rates — you know, the things that make a gaming PC a gaming PC.

The IdeaPad Gaming 3i I tested is outfitted with an Intel Core i7-10750H processor, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card, 8GB of RAM, 512TB of PCIe 3.0 SSD storage, and a 1080p 120Hz display. It’s about as basic as you can get, but it’s at the top end when it comes to the 3i options and retails for $1,849, which is pretty reasonable. That’s cheaper than the Lenovo Legion Y520 outfitted with similar components (GTX 1050 Ti, Intel Core i7-7700HQ) that I bought three years ago when new for $1,700 on sale at Costco.

I also appreciate the IdeaPad Gaming 3i’s more compact footprint and better-looking black chassis. The keyboard is also spaced better than the Legion — the keys don’t look like they are awkwardly far apart. The blue backlighting is also a nice change from the aggressive red lighting on the Y520. The chassis is a little on the thick side at just under an inch, and it weighs nearly five pounds, but it’s still less cumbersome than Lenovo’s gaming laptops. It’s also smaller, both in length and width, than similar laptops, which makes it easier for small-handed people like myself to carry around. The new IdeaPad also has a decent 720p webcam with a built-in shutter.

But even though the Gaming 3i is technically better-specced than my Lenovo Legion Y520, the Core i7-10750H and GTX 1650 combo on the 3i make for an odd combo. While it can play nearly any game, the GTX 1650 (Nvidia’s most budget-friendly graphics card) means you won’t be able to play games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider or Far Cry 5 on ultra or high and expect to get a consistent 60 frames per second. You’ll need to turn the graphics settings down to medium or low to get that rate. Here’s how our spread of test games fared at 1080p on ultra: Shadow of the Tomb Raider, 40 fps; Far Cry 5, 50 fps; Total War: Warhammer II, 37 fps; Metro Exodus, 25 fps; and Overwatch, 115 fps. Turning the graphics setting down in each game yielded about a 5-10 fps boost each time.

But even on ultra, those numbers are still about 10-15 fps lower than would you would expect out of its desktop counterpart, paired with something like an 8th-gen Core i7. According to HWInfo, the GTX 1650 ran consistently at 100% load while gaming, but the highest the CPU ever got was an average of 72% on all cores. It would appear that the GPU is bottlenecking, meaning it’s hitting its performance threshold, but the CPU can still go higher, which results in worse than expected performance.

This laptop also isn’t immune to thermal throttling. Like Acer’s Predator Triton 500, which has the same CPU, the Gaming 3i got up to 93 degrees Celsius on some cores, past Intel’s designated threshold, according to HWInfo. That means more performance was potentially compromised, as well. However, even though this laptop generates a lot of internal heat, the chassis temperature never went beyond 45 C, even after playing games for over an hour. You’ll stay comfortably cool even with this thing on your lap.

Photo: Joanna Nelius (Gizmodo), In-House Art

Photo: Joanna Nelius (Gizmodo), In-House Art

Photo: Joanna Nelius (Gizmodo), In-House Art

Photo: Joanna Nelius (Gizmodo), In-House Art

The IdeaPad Gaming 3i isn’t the longest-lasting laptop I’ve tested. Coming in a four hours and 24 minutes on the Gizmodo battery test, it’s not the worst laptop we’ve reviewed recently, but it’s definitely not the best. I’ve been sitting here for about 45 minutes now typing this review, and the battery is already down to 75%. I have the screen brightness turned down to 200 nits, and I started with a full charge. That’s something to keep in mind if battery life is high priority.

All of this should definitely be taken into consideration when there are other laptops with at least a GTX 1660 Ti that will get you better performance for nearly the same price. However, there are sometimes trade-offs, like a smaller SSD or an Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 4000 instead of an i7 to get to that same price. Or you’ll have to spend a few hundred dollars more because that RTX 2060-based laptop only comes with a base 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.

HP’s Omen 15 looks way more like a stereotypical gaming laptop, but it’s so close in price to the IdeaPad Gaming 3i — just $100 more on sale at time of writing — with an even better graphics card. I prefer the more traditional laptop look of the Gaming 3i, but I wish it came with at least GTX 1660 Ti so I could have the best of both worlds. The Legion 5is aren’t bad-looking (way better looking than my Y520, that’s for sure), and they’re still reasonably priced, but the IdeaPad Gaming 3i just looks better.

Plot twist: Lenovo recently announced an AMD version of the IdeaPad Gaming series. AMD laptops tend to be much cheaper than their Intel competitors, and although we haven’t had hands-on experience with many of them yet, I would recommend taking a look at the Gaming 3 with an AMD Ryzen 7 4800H, which goes on sale sometime this month. I expect the performance to be comparable to the Gaming 3i, but the Gaming 3 starts at $1,399, which makes it a better deal for those who need a laptop that can serve as a work machine first and a gaming machine second.

README

  • Some performance struggles due to thermals and GPU/CPU combo.
  • Overall design is a major upgrade from some of Lenovo’s past gaming laptops.
  • Short battery life.
  • Still one of the better machines that serve as both a work and gaming laptop.
  • It automatically turns on when you open the lid, even if you shut it down completely. Neat!