OMG SO SHINY
Seeing as my better half and I will be moving overseas early next year I recently decided to do away with my main desktop PC in favour of a reasonably powerful laptop. Being a geek I wanted the most amazing machine in the world, but I’m also on a budget, so I settled for something with a pretty reasonable spec and a design that screams “gamer”: the Ideapad Y500 from Lenovo.
Lenovo were clearly looking toward the likes of Alienware when it came to designing the Y500. The sharp lines and contours work well with subtle details around speaker mounts, etc. to create a Lamborghini-esque look.
There’s a perfect combination of high grade plastic and brushed aluminium panels which works well and feels very well made. The top casing (at the back of the screen) is a beautifully machined piece of brushed aluminium, as is the area around the keyboard and trackpad. The bottom part of the casing looks more or less the same from a distance, but is actually plastic rather than metal. It’s a strange combination, but it works well. The plastic shell should be quite hard wearing, and it doesn’t detract from the overall look.
The design and detailing of the keyboard and surrounding area are as impressive as I’ve seen on any performance laptop. The keys themselves are backlit with red LEDs, and the space between keys is finished with high-gloss black plastic which really helps the Y500 look the part. The same high-gloss detailing can be found around the twin JBL speakers, which adds to the look.
To the left hand side you’ll find the main air vent, the power jack, twin USB3 ports, a VGA port, HDMI port, network port and Lenovo’s one touch recovery button. On the right hand side you’ll find the optical drive, microphone and headphone jacks, a Kensington lock slot and an “always on” USB port for charging.
As with any laptop model there are subtle variations across a range of sub-models. According to Lenovo, the Y500 ships with a whole range of Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 processors, and a range of RAM and storage options. The particular model that I bought contained the following:
- Intel Core i7-3632QM 2.4GHz
- 6MB Cache
- 16GB DDR3 1600Mhz (max)
- Configuration 2 x 8GB
- 2 x SODIMM slot
- 1TB SATA 5400rpm
- 16GB Solid State Drive
- Blu-Ray Player
- Operating System: Windows 8 64bit
- 15.6” display, 1920 x 1080
- NVIDIA GeForce GT650 – 2GB
- Dolby® Home Theatre V4 audio enhancement
- JBL® designed speakers
- Keyboard and Touchpad
- 1G LAN
- Up to 3hrs productive usage
- Width 387 mm
- Depth 259 mm
- Height 15.5 to 36 mm
- Weight 2.7 kg
- 1 x USB 2.0
- 2 x USB 3.0,
- 1/8″ Stereo Headphone Output Jack/SPIDIF,
- 1/8″ Input Jack Microphone,
- 1 x HDMI
- 6-in-1, (SD/SD-pro/MMC/MS/MS-pro/XD ),
Warranty / Miscellaneous
- 1 Year Manufacturer Warranty
The price for all this tech was a penny shy of £1000, which isn’t bad when you consider that equivalent models from the likes of Alienware come in at about 30-40% higher than that.
It’s worth pointing out, also, the “Ultrabay” technology which allows you to swap out the optical drive for a second graphics card, or to add additional storage. It’s a novel idea, with the additional Nvidia 650m expansion card costing around £160 if you know where to look. Running two cards in tandem will yield about a 60-80% performance boost to games that support dual cards, so it’s worth considering if you’re looking to use this machine for gaming.
Living with it
The Y500 ships with Windows 8, which lasted about 5 minutes on my machine before I wiped it and installed Windows 7. Some people may like the simplistic nature of 8, but I’m not one of them. If you’re like me then you’ll be happy to know that Lenovo supply Windows 7 drivers via there website, so if you have access to a Windows 7 license then you’ll have no issue setting up this machine.
If you choose to stick with Windows 8 then the Y500 does unfortunately ship with quite a lot of “bloat-ware” installed, and it may take you some time to clear it off and get your machine to a state that you’re happy with. It’s also worth noting that you don’t receive a Windows recovery disk or license key with this machine; if you need to rebuild it then you simply press the recessed recovery button on the side of the machine which will launch Lenovo’s recovery tool and reinstall Windows 8 from a backup partition on the hard drive. Systems like this annoy me as you never know when you might need to swap out the hard disk, but at least this one allows you to backup to an external drive in case your drive fails.
In day to day use the Y500 fares pretty well. The screen is clear and crisp, the speakers are as you’d expect from JBL and the backlit keyboard is a dream to type on. Unfortunately the track pad in the Y500 is one of the worst I’ve ever had the misfortune to use. Sensitivity is at times quite poor, and when you actually push the pad down to right click or drag something it feels like it might actually break. At all times I tend to use a Bluetooth mouse rather than suffer with this abomination; it’s really hard do describe just how bad it is.
The only other thing worth mentioning at this point is that the Y500 seems to be some kind of magical fingerprint magnet. Within a couple of hours use the metal surfaces were caked in fingerprints and grime, and I pride myself with having relatively clean hands. In general use don’t be surprised to find yourself reading for a microfibre cloth more than you’d care to.
Those two small gripes aside, the Y500 is proving to be a great laptop for general use.
As mentioned previously, the Y500 comes in a variety of configurations when it comes to processor type, RAM, hard disk, optical drive and screen resolution. This particular variant is quite well specced, and as such it doesn’t really have an issue with any software package out there.
Video and photo editing suites like Serif MoviePlus X6 and Adobe Photoshop run and are perfectly usable, though the limited screen resolution (1920×1080) might get on the nerves of some professionals.
When it comes to gaming, the Y500 fairs pretty well with the single Nvidia 650m GPU. Games like Saints Row the Third will run at around 18-22 FPS on the highest settings, and older titles like Fallout: New Vegas will run at 60 FPS on “Ultra” settings. When you add a second 650m via the Ultrabay slot and configure the two cards for SLI, you can expect some pretty decent performance boosts. Once I’d managed to source the Ultrabay module (from Hong Kong) I found that Saints Row the Third ran much smoother, at around 28-35 FPS on the highest settings. If you buy the second graphics card then you’ll also get a whopping 180W power supply, which is needed to keep the battery charged when running the two cards together.
Serious gamers should definitely consider investing in the Ultrabay graphics card, as should anyone seeking to futureproof their machine as much as possible. Unfortunately, the Ultrabay system is not a “hot-swap” system, and you are required to turn off the laptop completely to swap out modules. Lenovo have hidden the latch for the Ultrabay underneath the battery, so there’s no risk of you accidentally ejecting your graphics card mid game.
While we’re talking about power, the battery in the Y500 is typically good for around two hours of general use, or about 40 minutes of intense gaming. Casual users might be able to stretch to three hours if they turn off the keyboard back-light, turn off WiFi and turn the monitor brightness right down, but realistically this is not a machine that will allow you to work without wires for more than 90-120 minutes, especially if you’re work involves processor heavy programs like Photoshop. It’s worth noting, also, that if you’re using the second GPU in the Ultrabay slot then you can easily discharge your battery within about 30 minutes of gaming.
The Lenovo Y500 is (at this spec level at least) pretty good value for money when you consider the roles that it can fulfil. In terms of performance it has more or less filled the gap left by my year-old desktop system without any need for compromise. Gaming performance is on a par with what I had experienced with my desktop, and video/photo editing is just as straightforward.
In general use I’ve found the Y500 quite comfortable to use for long periods at a time. The keyboard is among the best I’ve used, and the addition of a full number pad is great when working on spreadsheets. The only thing that does annoy me, as previously mentioned, is the god-awful trackpad that Lenovo have chucked in. It really should only be used as a backup when you’ve no external mouse available for use, and even then you’re going to be limited to basic web browsing and navigation.
Personally, I’m really impressed with this machine. It feels well built, it looks the part and it’s performing as well as I’d expected. It’s not mind blowing, by any means, but it does do the job on a budget, and do it well.
A word to the wise, though; be sure to check for the exact specs of this machine when choosing to buy online. Several versions of the same machine were shipped with 1366×768 screens (as apposed to 1920×1080), and processor and memory configurations differ also. In fact, some non-UK markets are already showing a new version of the same machine that features a newer Nvidia 750m graphics processor, which will offer marginal performance benefits over the 650m chipset in this machine.