Decent value, good mid-range GPU that can handle just about any game
Limited maximum screen brightness, fan stays on all the time, slightly dodgy trackpad
Buying a gaming laptop can get expensive. The sort of expensive that’ll make you wince and have you scoping out your cupboards for things you can flog on eBay. The Lenovo Y50 is designed to be an antidote to that kind of financial anxiety.
For as little as £849/$1,274 it gets you a classic gamer laptop look, powerful GeForce GTX 960M graphics card and an impressive basic spec. An Alienware 15 of a similar spec would cost you well over a grand.
So what’s the catch? Well, the Lenovo trackpad is a bit quirky and the lack of proper SSD storage means it doesn’t feel like a rocket when you’re not gaming. However, the Y50 is a big improvement over the 2014 version thanks to its superior IPS screen. Is it the near-affordable gaming laptop to opt for?
The 15.6-inch Lenovo Y50 isn’t a hybrid, something that tries to be a portable laptop as well as a gaming powerhouse. But, at 2.4kgs, it is a lot lighter and less bulky than one of its obvious rivals, the Asus G751. Hardly a featherweight, but that’s as much as a kilogram lighter than some of the competition. Just taking it from one room to the other isn’t going to make your groan.
It’s 24mm thick too, getting us dangerously close to the sort of shape and weight that makes it seem you could slip it into a rucksack and use the Lenovo Y50 as a proper portable machine. Let’s be clear: it’s not one. If an Ultrabook is what you’re after, then go buy one.
We’ll cover the practical sacrifices of a gaming laptop later, but now let’s take in the Y50’s look. With a red-trim keyboard and angular red JBL speakers above it, this Lenovo has some of the classic visual traits of a gaming laptop. Are gaming laptops red-obsessed these days because it’s the colour of Ferraris, blood and decidedly not the green/blue usually associated with the Xbox and PlayStation consoles? Something like that.
The Y50 isn’t the loudest-looking gaming laptop around, though. Perhaps we’ve just been desensitised by stacks of laptops that look like they’ve had supercar exhausts bunged onto them, but we wouldn’t be worried to pull this thing out in public as if it were a standard laptop. The Lenovo Y50 has a hint of gamer style, but it’s not to excess.
Its lid is cross-hatched metal, as is its underside. The inner bits are soft-touch plastic, which feels nice on the fingers. There’s not much in the way of obvious design compromise, although the metallic bits do feel like an ultra-thin veneer on top of a plastic frame when compared to something like a MacBook Pro. Still: how else do you get a gaming laptop this thin and light?
The downside of making a laptop with a serious CPU and GPU combo this petite is how to deal with heat. The Lenovo Y50 is very much a case of when the screen’s on, the fan’s going on too. Even the lightest of tasks sits on a bed of subtle whirring caused by the fan. Its sound isn’t offensive, but it’s something to bear in mind if you’re going to be working in quiet rooms half the time.
It’s reasonably good at dispersing heat evenly, though, with outlets in the hinge and a big grille on the bottom ensuring there are no worrying hot spots. Just make sure there’s room for that bottom grille to breathe, ok? It’s also fairly happy with a bit of on-the-knees gaming, the grille seemingly positioned to avoid that area.
One part of the gaming laptop’s setup that can often be overshadowed by the specs of the GPU is the display. This spec matters, a lot.
Screen quality was perhaps the biggest issue with the 1920 x 1080 panel in the 2014 Lenovo Y50, but that has been radically improved by switching to IPS panels across the board for the 2015 model. None of that TN rubbish to be found here.
There are two options: a 4K (3840 x 2160) screen and a regular Full HD (1920 x 1080) one, the latter lower-resolution one which we’re looking at here. Like an awful lot of game machines, it’s a matte finish and is not touch-sensitive.
The big improvements over the older 1080p Y50 versions are in colour fidelity and angled viewing, having gone from pretty dreadful to pretty good. Colours look natural and while there’s a bit of brightness loss at the steepest angles, what’s being displayed is still visible from any angle you pick.
There are just two bits that could be better. Maximum brightness isn’t going to sear any eyeballs, so we ended up using maximum brightness even with normal indoors conditions. Anything much lower just looks dim. This isn’t a killer flaw when the Lenovo Y50 has a reflection-reducing matte screen, but its matte finish isn’t quite the best we’ve seen at defusing those light sources either.
So this is a good screen, just not a perfect one.
Specs and performance
Upgrading to the 4K version is tempting, but a 1080p panel is actually a pretty good pairing for the hardware here. The Lenovo Y50 has a GeForce GTX 960M GPU and an Intel Core i7-4720HQ quad-core 2.6GHz CPU, enough to play just about any game at 1080p with high or medium settings, at a good (30fps-plus) frame rate.
Real gaming nuts might want to upgrade to the GTX 980M, but good luck finding such a laptop for under £1,500/$2,250. This will do the trick for most of you.
What it doesn’t have, though, is a proper SSD. Instead, the Lenovo Y50 uses a 1TB 5400rpm (i.e. slow) hard drive with an 8GB SSD partition to help grease up its performance when booting up and coming out of sleep. We’ve been spoilt by using so many SSD options over the last couple of years, and a hybrid drive just isn’t the same. Booting up is a touch slow, as is returning from sleep.
It’s funny to think that, while incredibly powerful, the Lenovo Y50 can at times seem slower than a much less capable machine. Still, if you care more about playing high-end games and editing video than how quickly it loads Windows 10, then this laptop is a great deal.
Having such a power-focused processor means the Y50 doesn’t last too long off a charge though. We got around three hours before it shut off, which just isn’t close to enough if you’re after a portable work computer. Go with 4K and we suspect that’ll be even less. Gaming performance is also severely throttled when not plugged-in.
So it’s slim-ish and light-ish, but the Y50’s portability is limited.
Keyboard and trackpad
There are just a few other little niggles you need to consider before taking the Y50 plunge too. First, while the keyboard is pretty neat in some respects, with an attractive red backlight and decent key action, in fitting-in a numerical keypad it has had to seriously chop into some of the important keys. The shift keys are small, as is the backspace. You’ll probably get used to it before too long, but it’s not every typist’s dream.
Then there’s the trackpad, which we found a bit more of a long-term niggle. The size, the texture and the feedback of the click are all fine. However, a combo of picky zoning and that it’s shifted a bit too far to the left of the Y50 mean it can feel unresponsive in use unless you shift your right hand unnaturally close to your left. Next to a good Ultrabook pad or a gaming one with properly contoured buttons, it’s just a bit annoying and feels fiddly. This Lenovo, therefore, works best with a mouse attached.
There are also no ultra-hardcore macro buttons on the keyboard, used to programme sequences of key presses for tasks you’ll have to repeat a lot. Still, the Lenovo Y50 isn’t really a laptop for that crowd.
It even caters for those older gamers out there who, shock horror, still own a collection of disc-based PC games. Nope, there’s no optical drive on the Lenovo Y50’s side – instead there’s an external drive in the box that just plugs into a USB port without needing its own separate power.
There are also plenty of connections on the Lenovo Y50’s sides. There are three USB ports, a full-size SD card slot, HDMI and Ethernet. That’s more than enough to let the thing work as the brain of a desktop-style setup.
If the Lenovo Y50 is going to sit on a table or desk somewhere as a home gaming rig, you’ll probably want to get a headset or some speakers involved, though. While a little sub unit at the bottom of the laptop gives the sound a good thud of low-end output, the actual sound quality is just OK, without the bass/treble integration, balance or simple fidelity of the best laptop speakers.
The Lenovo Y50 is a good-value gaming laptop, and a pretty aggressive competitor to other laptops in this class like the Acer V Nitro and the various MSI options around the price, including the GS20.
Last year the Y50 was a bit of a dodgy option given its limited screen quality, but in the 2015 upgrade to IPS panels (for both the 1080p and 4K resolutions) and the bump from a GTX 860M to GTX 960M GPU (a slight but worthwhile upgrade) Lenovo has solved some, if not all, of its problems.
We don’t love the trackpad or the battery life, but if you’re after a sub-£1,000/$1,500 gaming laptop with a bit of gamer-style design flair, this is one of your best bets.