The 15-inch Y50 Touch gaming laptop swaps its bland original screen for a sharp-looking 4K version.
Lenovo, best known for its business-friendly ThinkPads and transforming Yoga hybrids, is actually one of the best-kept secrets in PC gaming. The company makes some excellent gaming laptops and mid-price gaming desktops.
The current object of our gaming affection is the 15.6-inch Y50 Touch , a mid-size laptop that doesn't look too hideously gamer-like, and combines a touchscreen with a mainstream Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M graphics card, making it work for both gaming and non-gaming tasks.
That system's big weakness was its 1,920x1,080 touchscreen display. It simply looked dull and washed out, with poor off-axis viewing angles, marring an otherwise top-tier product. Fortunately, Lenovo also makes a version of the Y50 with a full-UHD 4K display, as reviewed here, and the display in that version fixes all biggest problems we had with the original.
The only real catch is that the mid-level Nvidia 860M GPU can't actually play most games at 4K resolution. Older or more casual games will work, but even then, you'll have to dial down the detail settings to very low levels. Despite this, you'll still get a big benefit from this new screen, even if your games are set to lower resolutions, because the brightness and viewing angle issues have been fixed. And, the higher screen resolution means that no matter how close you look, you won't see the screen's individual pixels, making game graphics look better even at standard resolutions.
In typical Lenovo fashion, there are many versions of the Y50 floating around, some on Lenovo's website, others seemingly only available from Best Buy or Amazon. This configuration, with 4K resolution and a touchscreen, is both the best combination of Y50 features we've seen, and also one of the hardest to find. We found only it on Amazon, for $1,499, which includes 256GB SSD and 16GB of RAM. Versions with a standard 1080p non-touchscreen start at $1,099. In the UK, the 4K version of the Y50 is £1,099, but isn't available with a touchscreen. In Australia, the 4K version of the Y50 is AU$2,199 but, like the UK, no touchscreen.
Serious gamers will likely want something with a little more muscle than the included Nvidia 860M provides, so they may look towards gaming laptops from Origin PC, Asus, or others that already offer the very powerful next-gen GeForce GTX 980M GPU . For everyone else just looking to do some high-end gaming while also having a premium mid-size laptop that works for everyday use, the 4K version of the Y50 Touch looks great, performs well, and is an excellent value, making it one of my favorite laptops of the year.
|Price as reviewed||$1,449|
|Display size/resolution||15.6-inch, 3840x2160 touchscreen|
|PC CPU||2.4GHz Intel Core i7 4700HQ|
|PC Memory||16GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||2GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 860M|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)|
This 4K version of the Y50 Touch is physically identical to the 1,920x1,080 version we reviewed earlier this year, and the same observations apply. This is a sharper, more modern-looking laptop than what you'd find from specialized gaming PC makers such as Alienware, Origin PC, or Digital Storm, but also still not as thin and mainstream-looking as most non-gaming laptops.
The angular design is built around brushed black metal that's embossed in a crosshatch pattern, and there's a subtle chrome Lenovo logo on the back panel. Dark red accents add some color, with wedge-shaped red speaker grilles at the top left and right edges of the interior tray, and more red touches on the USB ports and subwoofer grille under the body.
The boldest design feature is the deep red backlit keyboard, easily the visual highlight of the system. Many other gaming laptops offer backlit keyboards, usually in a rainbow of user-adjustable colors, but this version is built around that single red color. The effect is heightened because the side shafts of the island-style keys are made of translucent red plastic, and the light shines through the actual key bodies, rather than simply leaking from around the key cutouts, as in other backlit laptops.
The keyboard itself is fine, not as custom-made for gamers as, for example, an Alienware keyboard, but I appreciated the large Shift, Tab and Control keys -- all frequently used in PC games. As most PC gaming is done via external mouse, you may not spend a lot of time with the touchpad. It's a buttonless, clickpad-style one, and offset to the left in order to line up under the spacebar (thanks to the number pad next to the keyboard).
In the original Y50 Touch laptop we reviewed, the 1,920x1,080 touch-enabled screen was a sticking point. It lacked the crisp sharpness we look for in a high-end display, and had especially poor off-axis viewing, causing the image to degrade quickly as your head moved.
In this case, the 4K panel not only offers a much higher resolution, it also fixes the visual problems we had with the standard screen. And while you're not going to be cranking many games up to 4K resolution, you still get the benefit of the better display. Video content in 4K is likewise scarce, but viewing regular HD video still looked better on this display, with deeper blacks and richer colors, than on the 1080-resolution Y50.
If that standard 1080p screen were a sharp-looking IPS display, I'd suggest sticking with that. But the visual quality difference between these two models is such that, if you're interested in the Y50, the extra investment to get the 4K display is well worth it.
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks, SPDIF audio out|
|Data||2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
As with the non-4K version of the Y50, a decent set of ports and connections are included. Full-size Ethernet jacks are quickly vanishing from smaller laptops, but it's still especially important for gaming systems, as you'll want to plug directly in for quicker downloading of giant game files, which can get up to 20GB or more these days.
In our benchmark testing, the 4K version of the Y50 Touch performed nearly identically to the non-4K version, and both matched our expectations for any high-end laptop with a current-gen Intel Core i7 processor. For everyday computing, it's more than fast enough, and can even handle serious Photoshop and some HD video editing without a hitch.
When it comes to gaming, the performance area you may be more interested in, the system starts to show its limitations. With the same GeForce GTX 860M graphics card in both Y50 models, our gaming scores were very close. For example, the 4K Y50 system ran our BioShock Infinite test at 1080p and high detail settings at 49.7 frames per second, and our very challenging Metro: Last Light test, also at high settings, at 18.6 frames per second. The non-4K Y50 ran the same two tests at 48.7 and 13.3 frames per second, respectively. So, if you plan on running games at 1,920x1,080 resolution, you should be able to use medium-to-high graphics settings and get a very good experience.
Cranking in-game resolution up to 4K, however, is not for the faint of heart. The BioShock test, at the same high-end settings, ran at 16.2 frames per second at 3,840x2,160. Dialed down to the lowest visual quality preset, it ran at a more reasonable 28.1 fps.
If you're looking for the very latest in laptop gaming, a system such as the Asus G751J, with the new GeForce 980M, might be what you're looking for, especially as that GPU is surprisingly 4K-friendly for a laptop card.
The Y50 Touch, in either its 4K or 1080p versions, doesn't break any new ground in battery life for gaming laptops. In our video playback battery drain test, the 4K version of the system ran for 4:10, which is only a few minutes less than the regular HD version. In either case, that's less than you'd expect from a non-gaming 15-inch laptop. Running a game without dialing the settings way down, you can expect about 90 minutes of life or less.
Asking for a 4K display in a 15-inch laptop may be a bit of stretch, and we've only seen a couple of other examples to date. In this case, the included graphics card isn't up to the task of high-end UHD gaming, but you still get the benefit of a better-looking screen, plus touch for all those times when you're not playing a game (trust me, a touchscreen makes Windows 8 much more tolerable).
At $1,500, the 4K version of the Y50 isn't the steal the $1,150 model we previously reviewed was (although that version had only half the RAM and a non-SSD hard drive), but the difference in screen quality means you're still getting a lot of value, and the combination of decent gaming performance, impressive display quality, a touchscreen, and Lenovo's predictably excellent design and build quality make this my favorite mainstream gaming laptop by a large margin.
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