What’s not to like about the Lenovo IdeaPad Y500? Imagine a 2.4GHz Core i7-3630QM CPU notebook armed with two GeForce GT 650Ms, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive with a 16GB caching SSD, all for $1,250!
If the impressive specs weren’t enough, the Y500 is also quite handsome with its sharp angles, rounded corners, and brushed aluminum finish. It eschews the “extreme” gaming laptop design in favor of a simple and clean aesthetic, but a flaming-red, LED-backlit keyboard adds just enough flare to keep things interesting. Its 15.2x10.2x1.4-inch chassis also makes it much smaller and more portable than our 15.6-inch MSI GT60 zero-point laptop, and the Y500 weighs in at just six pounds, 6.8 ounces. Although it may not be Ultrabook-light, it’s lighter than the very-slim Razer Blade gaming laptop (reviewed Holiday 2012), but it’s much heftier power brick does increase its carry weight by more than a pound.
One unique design feature is the Y500’s modular ultrabay underneath the notebook, which allows you to swap in different components. Our unit came with a second 650M GPU, but you can easily unlock this and swap it out with Lenovo’s expanded 750GB HDD tray ($190), a DVD burner ($70), or cooling fan ($30). The extra flexibility is appreciated, as it allows you to transform the gaming laptop into a workstation or entertainment system.
You’ll be able to enjoy each configuration with the Y500’s excellent JBL speakers and sharp 15.6-inch display. Even though the 1920x1080-resolution screen is a TN panel, it offers very good viewing angles all around, and the audio is loud and crisp, partially thanks to Dolby’s Home Theatre V4 software. While it can’t quite compare to a dedicated 2.1 setup, laptop speakers don’t get much better than this.
We also really liked the chiclet keyboard and found the keys to be quiet and responsive. Unfortunately, the trackpad was a big letdown. It supports all of Windows 8 multitouch gestures, like swiping in the Charms bar and pinch-to-zoom, but we often found ourselves triggering these gestures on accident. Though we were able to disable these features, which largely fixed the annoyances, but there were still occasions where the trackpad proved unresponsive. In addition, because both click buttons are clunkily integrated beneath the trackpad rather than being separate buttons, we often found ourselves unintentionally sliding the cursor when clicking.
Fortunately, the internal components performed quite well—beyond what we’d expect given the Y500’s affordability. This is the first time we’ve reviewed a laptop with two 650M GPUs in SLI and we’re happy to say it had no problems blowing away our zero-point’s single GeForce 670M. In both our STALKER and 3DMark 11 graphics benchmarks, it smoked the zero-point by more than 20 percent. The only issue we experienced was that we had to enable SLI in the Nvidia control panel, as it was disabled by default. The Y500’s Core i7-3630QM’s100MHz advantage over the GT60’s Core i7-3610QM gave the former a marginal advantage—Lenovo’s biggest lead here was 2.5 percent in the multithread-hungry x264 benchmark.
In our experiential gameplay tests, the Y500 handled Portal 2 like a piece of cake, as it were, and achieved average frame rates in the 130 range. On the much more graphically formidable Far Cry 3, it achieved a 40fps average at 1080p on the default medium settings, which we consider to be in the realm of playable. But the laptop does falter when it comes to battery life, as it only lasted 163 minutes in our test—24 minutes less than the GT60.
While we’re withholding a Kick Ass rating on account of the lackluster battery and frustrating trackpad, those issues can be mitigated if you carry a mouse and charger with you. In general, this is a handsome, portable notebook that can compete in performance with laptops that cost hundreds more. True to its name, the IdeaPad sounds like a great idea to us.