Introduction, Design Features
Top-shelf gaming notebooks like the audacious Razer Blade Pro might steal the headlines, but just like in most markets, it’s the value-centered products that make the bottom line and sell in much greater volume. In the gaming-notebook world, that means those priced south of a grand.
Take Lenovo’s latest in that space. Meet the new Lenovo Legion Y520, a 15.6-inch gaming notebook with Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics and a starting price of $849. We’ve been waiting some time for this notebook to become available for purchase, ever since we previewed its larger Legion Y720 cousin at CES 2017. “Legion” is Lenovo’s rebranding of its Y-series gaming laptops; earlier models have had similar designs but were subsumed confusingly under the company’s Ideapad family, with only model numbers differentiating the Ideapad gaming models from, say, ordinary Ideapad budget laptops.
The groundbreaking news with the Legion Y520, besides the new name, is that it delivers the wide viewing-angle goodness of an IPS display even at its base price point. That’s not true for its number one competitor, the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 GamingAsus Republic of Gamers Strix GL553VD-DS71 we reviewed didn’t offer a GTX 1050 Ti at all, just the non-Ti, and it was priced into the four-figure range.
All those numbers and prices lead us to one conclusion: The Lenovo Legion Y520 is already off to a good start, and we haven’t even finished our introduction.
Ideapad Y700. The design on the Legion Y520 is entirely redone, but you can tell both notebooks were made by the same company.
The Legion Y520 retains the Lenovo Y-gaming sub-brand’s black-and-red color scheme. The red accents are limited to the keyboard backlighting, plus the edges of the touch pad and the power button. They’re enough to break up the monotony of an otherwise all-black exterior. We think the design, overall, looks the part of a gaming notebook, especially the angled top of the lid and front of the chassis. The extensive cooling vents on the back of the chassis are another hint this notebook has high-performance roots.
The exterior is actually a step down in quality from the Ideapad Y700. The Legion Y520 trades the brushed-aluminum lid backing and chassis underside of that model for plastic with a faux carbon-fiber finish. We think it looks fine, but it just doesn’t impart the same solid feel as brushed aluminum. Chassis flex seemed fairly minimal, but the lid wasn’t strong enough to prevent ripples from showing while we pressed in from behind. To be fair, we had to use an abnormal amount of pressure to make that happen. (Don’t try this at home, please.) The soft-touch surfaces around the palm rest are a definite plus. The coating also masks fingerprints and dust.
The Legion Y520 is a half-pound lighter than the Ideapad Y700, at 5.3 pounds, and it also has a half-inch less depth. The chassis measures an acceptable 15×10.4 inches, both of which are typical for a 15.6-inch notebook. Its 1-inch thickness is a bit thicker than we’d expect a non-gaming 15.6-incher to be, but it’s right on target for a gaming machine.
As we said when we reviewed that monster, the layout of the main keyboard area is normal, but the number-pad layout is downright strange. It looks like, in order to accommodate full-size arrow keys, Lenovo pushed all of the number-pad keys one row up. Not only that, but there’s no Enter key in the number pad, the plus and minus buttons are lower than they should be. We aren’t sure why Lenovo chose this layout, as even for gaming, it doesn’t seem to have any obvious advantage over a traditional number-pad layout, other than the full-size arrow keys. (Ordinarily, we’re big fans of isolated arrow keys for those who prefer not to use WASD as their control scheme in games, but arrow-key loyalists will be thrown for a loop by what surrounds them here.) We suppose it is the consequence of a 15.6-inch laptop deck rather than a 17-incher. Trying to adapt to the layout is likely to be futile, unless you don’t plan on using any other keyboards.
If we can point out one positive aspect of the keyboard layout as a whole, it’s the full-size F1 through F12 keys. Those are almost always half-size on notebooks these days, and we definitely don’t mind them being full-size; dare we say, properly sized.
The keyboard fortunately offers a soft and friendly feel. The red backlighting is bright and visible in the daytime. It offers two levels of luminance, plus off, toggled by pressing the Fn key and space bar. Unless we tried to use the number pad, we had little to complain about here.
The touch-pad surface is on the small side relative to the 15.6-inch display on the Legion Y520. The pad isn’t rectangular, but it has angled edges for a sportier look. The glossy plastic edges may look attractive in our photos, but in reality they proved to be fingerprint and dust magnets. It became an ongoing game for us to see if we could use the pad without touching the glossy plastic edges and smudging them.
The left- and right-click buttons are actually a single piece of plastic. Only the outermost three-quarters of each edge is actually pressable. We found this disorienting, at first, but eventually got used to the fact that we couldn’t press down in the middle. Clicking the buttons makes a minimal amount of noise.
The IPS display that is standard even on the lowest-priced Legion Y520 is its trump card. In the interest keeping it all relative, we’ll go right out and say that when it comes to picture quality, this display isn’t the equal of some of the IPS panels we’ve seen on pricier notebooks. But it still looked quite good to our eyes.
Colors are vibrant, there’s enough brightness, and the anti-glare surface is an appreciable feature if you ever find yourself gaming where there’s ambient light, as opposed to the usual gamer cave. (Gasp!) The wide viewing angles are also welcome; you can tilt the display forward or back to suit your preference, instead of having to worry about being forced to tilt it a certain way so you can see the picture without distortion. Last, the panel’s 1080p (1,920×1,080) resolution is perfect for gaming. We wouldn’t want it any higher for that purpose, given that 1080p is about the limit of pixel-pushing that the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti GPU can handle.
Overall, the Legion Y520’s IPS display is fantastic for its price point. We said the same thing back when we reviewed the Dell Inspiron 15 7559. However, we didn’t say that when we reviewed the current (2017) Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming. The Legion Y520’s display is much better than the Dell’s washed-out TN-type panel. Dell said it was planning to offer a 1080p IPS touch display at some point on the Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming, but when we checked while writing this review, it still hadn’t rolled out.
The only bone we can truly pick with the Legion Y520’s display is its lack of Nvidia G-Sync support. This would have been an excellent feature to have in a system with GTX 1050 Ti, as that graphics chip is generally unable to maintain 60 frames per second (fps) in the latest titles without significantly lowering the settings. (See later in this review for our real-world gaming benchmarks.) G-Sync would smooth this out by synchronizing the fps output of the graphics card with the refresh rate of the monitor. The Legion Y520’s display has a 60Hz refresh rate, which is typical for a notebook, and a good match for its GPU.
Two Harman-tuned speakers sit in the Legion Y520’s display hinges. The upward-firing nature of the setup helps the speakers sound clear and full. The system struggles a bit to produce low notes, though. We’re disappointed to see that the subwoofer on the underside of the Ideapad Y700 wasn’t carried over. The maximum loudness could also use a boost, but it’s plenty for gaming or watching a movie by yourself.
The port selection is satisfactory on the Legion Y520. The left edge has the Kensington-style cable-lockdown notch, Lenovo’s USB-like AC power jack (which, although it looks like one, isn’t a USB port), the Ethernet jack, a USB Type-A 2.0 port, the headset jack, and a reset pinhole. The headset jack provided static-free sound all the way up its maximum volume.
The right edge of the Legion Y520 holds a USB Type-C 3.0, the four-format card reader (you get SD, SDHC, SDXC, and MMC format support), a pair of USB Type-A 3.0 ports, and HDMI video-out…
Internally, our Legion Y520 test unit had a Realtek 802.11ac wireless card with a 1×1 antenna array. The card also supplied Bluetooth 4.1 wireless. Connections to our wireless router proved trouble-free. The 720p Webcam above the display wasn’t the highest resolution, but it had sharp-enough image quality for online video chat.
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1050 Ti G1 Gaming 4G, for example.) In short, the “Ti” version of the card is well worth the extra money over the non-Ti, as it’s around one-third faster in real-world gaming. That’s a big difference, especially when you consider that the Ti is already on the edge of playability at a 1080p resolution in the latest titles, assuming you keep the in-game image quality turned up high. (It’s not like games are going to get any less demanding in the future.)
Fortunately, the GTX 1050 Ti is standard equipment on the Legion Y520, including the base $849 model. The card isn’t VR-ready, whereas the one-step-up GeForce GTX 1060 is. However, it’s still capable of providing very good image quality in the latest games.
The CPU choice in the Legion Y520 is between the Intel Core i5-7300HQ or, in the case of our review unit, a more powerful Core i7-7700HQ. Both “Kaby Lake” processors are quad-core variants, but of the two, only the Core i7-7700HQ has Hyper-Threading support for deploying up to eight processing threads at once. It’s also clocked slightly higher, running at 2.8GHz base, and up to 3.8GHz in Turbo Boost. The Core i5-7300HQ more than meets the requirements for modern gaming with AAA titles, so if you’re strapped for cash, don’t fret about not having the Core i7-7700HQ. In the benchmarks to follow, we’ll be comparing the performance of our Legion Y520 to that of the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming, which we reviewed with the Core i5-7300HQ. You can decide for yourself whether the performance difference is worthwhile.
The Legion Y520 has two memory slots for DDR4-2400 memory. Our review unit had 16GB in a two-8GB DIMM dual-channel configuration, the maximum Lenovo offers. For regular storage, this notebook offers an M.2 Type-2280 (80mm) slot for solid-state storage, plus a traditional 2.5-inch bay. The M.2 slot in our review unit had a 256GB Samsung SSD with a fast PCI Express-bus interface and NVMe protocol support. That’s the height of consumer-storage tech, here in mid-2017. We were mildly surprised to see a 2TB hard drive in the 2.5-inch bay; 1TB drives have been the norm for several years.
Naturally, you don’t get all the specs we just listed at the Legion Y520’s starting $849 price point. What you get in the $849 configuration is a Core i5-7300HQ CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive, and no SSD. Lenovo only sells pre-built configurations of this notebook, and the configurations on offer can change at a moment’s notice; as of this writing, the next step up from the $849 model was $1,179. We’d like to see a model that’s still under four figures that offered either 16GB of RAM or an SSD boot drive. (Or both; can’t hurt to ask, right?) Some of the latest games are starting to require 8GB of memory, so having double that is a good idea for future-proofing.
End-user upgrades on the Legion Y520 are possible, but you’ll have to work at it. The bottom panel of the chassis is secured by no less than 13 Phillips-head screws. You’ll need a skinny screwdriver to get into the recessed holes…
Once the screws have been removed, getting the bottom panel off might give you the jitters. We had to slide a credit card under the front edge to pop its clips loose, which didn’t sound good. We actually almost quit while trying to get the rear part of the panel around the cooling vents to disengage; it just didn’t seem to want to come apart. We eventually did it (that great solver of problems: extra force), and that effort rewarded us with access to the Legion Y520’s two DIMM slots for memory, the 2.5-inch bay, and the M.2 Type-2280 slot…
On the plus side, at least there were no surprises putting the cover back on.
The Legion Y520 concentrates its cooling in the rear-center of the chassis. The heatpipes for the CPU and GPU converge back there. Its two fans take care of sending the heat out the rear of the chassis.
We found the fan behavior in the Legion Y520 to be overzealous. The fans usually would be off while the notebook was idling, but sometimes they’d be running at an audible speed for seemingly no reason. The air coming out of the vents was room temperature, in those instances, so we didn’t understand why they were running. It was a safe bet that if we were doing anything remotely demanding, such as surfing the Web with a bunch of tabs open, that the fans would be spinning away. It wasn’t entirely unpredictable.
As you’d expect, then, the fans ran continuously while gaming. The noise level was easily drowned out by the Legion Y520’s speakers when they were set to half-volume. The combination of slim fans and high RPMs inevitably led to some fan whine. We found it possible to ignore, provided there was some active background noise to keep us company. Ideally, however, we’d like to see the fan behavior be a bit more forgiving and adaptive. With the exception of gaming and demanding tasks, we didn’t see the reason why the fans ran as often as they did.
During a 30-minute gaming session, temperatures on the top part of the chassis peaked at 102 degrees F. This was at the upper right of the keyboard deck. Everywhere else was at least 10 degrees cooler. Overall, it didn’t feel more than lukewarm. We can say the same about the underside, where, at the peak, we saw 103 degrees F in the center of the chassis.
On the inside, the Core i7-7700HQ processor topped 94 degrees C under stress. That’s higher than we prefer, though ultimately below the allowable temperature ceiling for that particular chip. The GeForce GTX 1050 Ti, on the other hand, hit just 65 degrees C. The reason for the large disparity in temperature between the CPU and the GPU is likely that the CPU is located in the center of the heatpipes, while the GPU is located further out toward the edge, away from the concentration of heat. In essence, the heatpipes, which are shared between the two components, have less thermal capacity by the time they reach the CPU, as the GPU has already warmed them to an extent. By the looks of things, the heatpipes have just enough thermal capacity remaining to keep the CPU cool enough.