Lenovo, a brand best known for its conservative ThinkPad laptops and flexible Yoga hybrids, also makes some killer gaming laptops, even if few people are aware of them. That's a shame, because they generally look much nicer than the brick-like boxes from, , and other gaming specialists, and they offer decent enough performance for mainstream gamers who just want to play the latest games away from a living-room console.
The newest entry in Lenovo's gaming lineup is the Y50 Touch, a 15.6-inch laptop that combines a slightly geeky style with decent (but not top-of-the-line) gaming components. First profiled at CES 2014, the Y50 is easily one of the computers I've received the most emails, tweets, and inquiries about from CNET readers. That says to me that there's a real hunger out there for a gaming laptop that can work as a full-time midsize home or work computer, balancing gaming and nongaming tasks equally.
A few different versions of the Y50 are available, with changes to the screen, storage, and other features, but the base configuration, consisting of an Intel Core i7 CPU and Nvidia GeForce 860M graphics card, remains the same.
Our test unit was the Best Buy configuration, combining an Intel Core i7 4700HQ CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB HDD/8GB SSD storage combo, Nvidia GeForce 860M graphics, and a 1080p touch display, all for $1,149. If you look at the Lenovo website, you'll find several slightly different configurations, most without the touchscreen. The single touch config costs $1,399, while an intriguing option to add a full 4K resolution display starts at $1,299.
In the UK, the Y50 starts at £1,000, but isn't available with a touchscreen. Lenovo launched the Y50 just before Christmas in Australia, also without the touchscreen and costing AU$2,199. That price does include the 4K display, however.
If you're searching on the (often-confusing) Lenovo site, note that the Y50, Y50 Touch, and Y50 UHD models are all on separate pages, so you'll have to click around a bit to see all the options. Frankly, the Best Buy configuration feels like the best overall value, especially if, like me, you think Windows 8 really needs a touchscreen to work for non-gaming tasks.
Sadly, there's one thing holding this otherwise excellent system back from being close to perfect. The display is clearly not one of the newer IPS (in-plane switching) panels that we're seeing in more and more laptops this year. Off-axis viewing angles are poor, and even dead-on, the display appears more washed-out than the best laptop and tablet screens.
That may be a deal-breaker for some. But the other aspects of the Y50, including the powerful overall performance, excellent design and build quality, touchscreen, and price, all combine to make it a great overall value. It won't compete with $2,000-plus specialty rigs, but instead leads the small field of crossover systems that can satisfy mainstream gamers who want to skip clunky, thick gaming laptops that sacrifice portability.
|Lenovo Y50 Touch||Maingear Pulse 14||Razer Blade 14 RZ09-0116|
|Price as reviewed||$1,149||$1,399||$2,399|
|Display size/resolution||15.6-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 touch-screen||14-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 screen||14-inch, 3,200 x 1,800 touch-screen|
|PC CPU||2.4GHz Intel Core i7 4700HQ||2.2GHz Intel Core i7 4702MQ||2.2GHz Intel Core i7 4702HQ|
|PC memory||8GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||4GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 860M||2GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 850M||3GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 870M|
|Storage||1TB + 8GB SSHD||500GB HDD||256GB SSD|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)|
Design and features
Having just spent a few weeks looking at several giant, boxy, heavy, 17-inch gaming laptops (including a pair from Origin PC and Digital Storm built into the exact same retro-looking, off-the-shelf chassis), the 15-inch Lenovo Y50 was a welcome break.
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 move 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 Ctrl keys -- all frequently used in PC games. But, partially because there's a full numberpad to the right, some of the keys take a little getting used to finding by feel, such as the Backspace and right Shift keys.
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 (again, thanks to the numberpad next to the keyboard).
Lenovo packs this system, as it does most of its PCs, with a ton of proprietary software. Frankly, most of it can safely be called bloatware, and you're unlikely to ever take the time to learn to use it, but I liked the apps for tweaking power settings and for troubleshooting and installing system updates.
One thing I've asked for in the past from gaming laptops in general, and Lenovo's previous gaming laptops specifically, is a touchscreen. It's not so much that you need touch for gaming, but even a serious gamer will still spend a lot of time on non-gaming tasks, and Windows 8 is simply a gigantic pain to use without a touchscreen.
I got my wish, as the Y50 Touch combines a 1080p touchscreen with an Nvidia 860M GPU for gaming, but perhaps I should have been more specific. In previous years, this 15.6-inch display with a 1,920x1,080 native resolution would have been perfectly acceptable, but especially in 2014, we've been spoiled by the wide distribution of IPS displays, which use a technology called in-plane switching.
According to Wikipedia, "In-plane switching involves arranging and switching the molecules of the liquid crystal (LC) layer between the glass substrates," but in practical terms it means a laptop (or tablet) screen with excellent off-axis viewing angles.
What you get in the Y50 Touch is a display that looks decent head-on (yet still not as bright or crisp as other premium laptop displays), but that causes the image to degrade very quickly when you look at it from off to the side, or even tilt the screen hinge a tiny bit.
It's a real black mark for the system, which prevents it from getting my highest recommendation. But before you go ahead and buy that 10-pound Alienware instead, note that I still felt it was fine for general gaming, and I had several other excellent displays, includingand to directly compare it to. For a reasonable additional investment, Lenovo has a version of the Y50 with a 4K display, and that version may indeed look better, but I haven't had a chance to see one of those in person yet.