Lenovo has had a semisecret side business for years, selling decent gaming PCs at reasonable prices. The Lenovo Y-series gaming laptops have always been of interest to me, as they offered excellent value for a very mainstream combination of Core i7 processors and Nvidia 860M/960M mobile graphics cards, in a chassis that wasn't as outrageously ugly as most gaming systems.
The desktops have been less interesting -- similarly well-priced, but not as mainstream-looking, and gaming desktops just naturally appeal to a very small segment of the computer-buying public anyway. At least until now. There's suddenly a renewed interest in desktop PCs with high-end gaming parts inside, thanks to just-released Oculus Rift and HTC Vive virtual-reality headsets.
Lenovo's VR-ready offering is the Ideacentre Y900, a hefty dark gray tower that adds just enough gamer-like design touches that you won't mistake it for an office machine. It's available in several configurations, but the one reviewed here hits what we call the VR sweet spot. It's a $1,999 retail-only configuration with an Intel Core i7-6700K processor and an Nvidia GeForce 980 graphics card. Lenovo offers different configurations in the UK and Australia, starting at £1,499 and AU$1,999.
There's also a version of the Y900 Lenovo sells for a mere $899. That's essentially the chassis plus the Core i7 CPU, with just 4GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. It's intended for you to add your own graphics card, RAM, and extra storage (the keyboard and mouse found here are also not included with the DIY version).
You could spend less on a VR-ready desktop (such as the $999-after-bundle-discount Dell XPS 8900), but trading down to a Core i5 processor or an Nvidia 970 GPU is just asking for trouble if you want a VR rig that will last at least a few years. For the launch of the Vive and Rift, however, any of the systems profiled in our guide to VR-ready PCs will run the first generation of apps and games at the required 90 frames per second per eye.
Lenovo Ideacentre Y900
|Price as reviewed||$1,999|
|PC CPU||4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K|
|PC Memory||16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz|
|Graphics||4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980|
|Storage||256GB + 2TB 7,200rpm HDD|
|Optical drive||DVD burner|
|Networking||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)|
Many gaming desktops dress up their bulky towers with flashing, pulsing light shows (as do some laptops, such as the Razer Blade Stealth). Here, there's an attempt to add a bit of this, but it's a halfhearted one. Red accent lights form a subtle design on the front panel, and a lighting control app can dim them or shut them off, but aside from that, there's little in the way of lighting customization.
Editors' note: This review was originally published on March 31. It has been updated with links to related content but is otherwise unchanged.
Room to grow
A windowed side panel offers a glimpse inside the case, where there are four hard-drive bays and rooms for a second full-size video card (but for VR, stick with a single card for now -- the major VR headsets don't yet support multi-GPU setups). The panel pops off without a screwdriver, thanks to a button release on the top of the system, allowing for easy access. That's a plus if you plan on adding bigger storage drives later on, or if Nvidia releases a new generation of desktop graphics cards and you want to stay on the cutting edge.
There's no liquid cooling, a feature usually only found on specialized machines from boutique PC builders, and the chassis also lacks a top-mounted or opposite-side fan, but there is a top vent, however. Despite this, even in heavy use it never felt especially hot, as there's a lot of empty space inside the large interior compartment to mitigate heat buildup.
A handful of USB and audio ports are on the front panel, while everything else is around the back, including the HDMI port required for hooking up a virtual-reality headset. Of the VR-ready PCs we've tested so far, only the Velocity Micro Raptor installs a front-facing VR connection panel. A DVD drive is included, which seems a bit pointless these days, especially as it's not even a Blu-ray drive.
Bundled with the system is a surprisingly excellent keyboard-and-mouse combo. The heavy duty mechanical keyboard looks and feels like the expensive gamer-centric versions sold by companies like Logitech or Razer. It shares the same red backlit effect as the tower and has a handful of macro keys and ports built in. The mouse is Lenovo's standard gaming mouse, also with red accents and an angular gamer-centric design. Both are wired, as preferred by twitch gamers, but I found myself using a wireless Microsoft Xbox One controller more often in games.
Ready for games, virtual and otherwise
We're at the very start of the VR era, so tools for effectively testing how a machine will work with VR games and apps are rare. Oculus offers a VR-ready app, which checks system specs against a list of supported components. Not surprisingly, this system passed with a green check mark. Valve offers a more in-depth test, playing a short demo game clip in a simulated stereoscopic VR view. In that test, the Y900 also passed, with a score of 8.1 out of 11. Anything over 7 in this test is considered a very good score.
In standard game and application benchmarks, the system also performed well, as one would expect from this set of high-end parts. It was closest to the Acer Predator G6, which we tested in a configuration with similar components at a similar price. To get a real performance boost for VR, you'd have to jump to an Nvidia 980ti card, found only in a few higher-end systems.
By packing in the exact set of gaming components we'd suggest for an optimal VR experience at a decent price, and in a less-ugly-than-some tower, Lenovo makes a good case for being a go-to midrange virtual reality starter kit. If you shop around (or built it yourself from scratch), the same CPU/GPU combo can be found for a few hundred less, but the included accessories here add some real value, and the spacious, easy-to-access case makes upgrading less of a hassle than it could be.
|Acer Predator G6||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980; 256GB SSD + 2TB 7,200rpm HDD|
|Origin PC Chronos||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); OC 4.7GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 970; 250GB SSD + 1TB 7,200rpm HDD|
|Lenovo Ideacentre Y900||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980; 256GB SSD + 2TB 7,200rpm HDD|
|Dell XPS 8900||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-6400; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 970; 1TB 7,200rpm HDD|
|Origin PC Eon17-SLX||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4.5GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980; 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD|
|Velocity Micro Raptor Z55||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 Ti; (2) 256GB SSD RAID 0 + 2TB HDD|
|Falcon Northwest Tiki||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 3GHz Intel Core i7-5960X; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHZ; 8GB Nvida GeForce GTX 980 Ti; 512GB SSD + 6TB HDD 5,700rpm|