Lenovo perhaps isn’t the first name which comes to mind when considering gaming laptops. But the company is seeking its own path, and a mix of bang for buck and design attention may help in revealing it. The Legion Y520-15 is one of its current champions, fitted with a Kaby Lake processor, a Pascal-powered graphics solution and a 15.6” 1080p IPS display. It sounds solid, but is it £1,120 well spent?
This is only the second time we’ve seen a Kaby Lake CPU in a laptop, and we’re happy to! The i7-7700HQ run at 2.8GHz, boosting to 3.8GHz and offering an effective 12% increase in performance over its predecessor. It’s one of Intel’s fastest mobile quad-cores, and an obvious boost for the potential of the Y520-15. Processing certainly won’t be a bottleneck here.
The processor is paired with NVidia’s GTX 1050, and the bare minimum discrete graphics solution manufacturers should be utilising for gaming laptops. That choice is unusual, because a powerful processor with lesser graphics support is generally the reverse of what we’d expect. Systems such as the ROG GL702VM pack the GTX 1060 as standard (even in the base model) offering and upgraded CPU for those willing to spend more.
It’s somewhat of an unusual move then. Because of (we’d assume) costs, Lenovo has eschewed the GTX 1060 6GB solution, instead favouring a 4GB option with lesser core and memory clocks. Given the dependency of modern games on efficient graphics processing, we’re getting an early idea this laptop may fit the ‘fine, but not ideal for gaming’ category.
This system’s cost constraints mean other specs are familiarly limited. At this price 8GB of DDR4 is standard, and Lenovo’s smartly opted for a single SODIMM of PC4-19200 (2400MHz) memory. On storage, a 128GB NVMe SSD takes boot and gaming duties, with a 1TB HDD available for mass media. The HDD is of the slightly slower 5400rpm type though, so purists take note.
- CPU: 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ
- Memory: 8GB 2,400MHz DDR4
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050M 4GB
- Sound: On-board
- Screen size: 15.6in 1,920 x 1,080 IPS
- Hard disk: Samsung 128GB PM961 M.2 SSD, 1TB HDD
- Weight: 2.5kg
- Ports: 3 x USB 3, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C, Gigabit Ethernet, 1 x audio, SD card slot, HDMI
- Dimensions: (W x D x H): 380 x 265 x 25.8mm
- Extras: Windows 10 Home 64-bit, dual-band 802.11ac WiFi
Warranty: 1yr RTB
Safe to say we’re impressed with the style of the Legion Y520-15. Compact and modest, the styling reflects a low-power jack-of-all with keys pricked by red detailing. The track pad and WASD keys stand out, while additional tweaks to the keyboard help deliver a clear but reserved sense of identity.
Yet reserved epitomises the system. It isn’t immediately obvious you’re in the presence of gaming-focused laptop. From any angle there’s a sense that the Y520 is capable, but bells, whistles (and LEDs) are notably absent. From the rear, the lid gives a suave business-like front, with only the copper fins of the exhausts providing some glamour.
What we have in the Legion Y520-15 is a well built, solid and ergonomically sound creation. The inclusion of a chiclet keyboard is standard fare at this price, and the experience is a decent one in the absence of
mechanical keys. That is to say chiclet keyboards aren’t the best for gaming, but after a period of adaptation we weren’t unduly troubled here. Key travel is fine, and the keys weren’t too soft either.
Also not soft are the track-pad buttons, providing an audible click and providing a good level of resistance. More resistive buttons may tend to last longer, although it does mean users light-of-touch may need to overcompensate to begin with. Pleasingly the track-pad is at odds with this: sensitive and highly-reactive, it’s a delight to use…once trackpad tapping is disabled.
Above the GTX 1050 is where the question mark hangs – and benchmarks show that’s where the system falters. A 15.6” display is a good match for the 1050’s power, but lower detail levels deliver the most comfortable 1080p experience. Lenovo suggests users should expect ‘capable frame rates’, and at medium settings that just bears out.
A highest average of 56fps in Fallout 4 was impressive. And 32fps in the Ashes of the Singularity DX12 benchmark is fine. Respective results of 30 and 25fps for Witcher 3 and BF1, flesh out the bones of what we’re hinting at: a GTX 1060 would make this a true games machine.
That’s reflected in 3D Mark too. Here the Legion Y520-15 set a score of 5,574. In comparison, the fairly similarly priced Asus GL702VM delivered a score of 8,456.
Yet a high-powered processor and a lesser graphics card mix doesn’t deliver great gaming. VR? Best left alone unless you opt for the more expensive Legion Y720 model.
Less clear was the performance of the laptop’s NVMe SSD drive, the 128GB Samsung PM961. While it delivered a good score of 585 in AS-SSD’s read category, the write test wouldn’t run smoothly – apparently due to an anomaly in 4K writing. Overall though we had no complaints, with the drive was super-quick in general use.
Battery life was decent. The Y520’s 3-cell option delivered just under an hour’s gaming, and a brief, but fair two hours in PC Mark 8’s accelerated test.
Finally, thermal results were well within safe parameters. Intel’s i7-7700HQ idled at 39c and peaked at 78 under load, while the graphics core idled at 36, peaking at 73. Strong thermal design from Lenovo saw the Legion Y520-15 kick its fans into full gear past 60 degrees, easily dispensing heat from the rear – doing so fairly audibly.
Screen and Sound
The 15.6” IPS display delivers a solid experience, it’s 1080p resolution never looking unappealing. A matte finish means little glare – a must for any laptop given a ‘gaming’ brief. But while gaming, movies and general use was pleasant, we were never wowed.
Two 2W Harman speakers tackle audio, backed by Dolby Audio Premium. Our sense is that the solution is fine, although a lack of sub-woofer means sounds and music aren’t and can’t be fully rounded. The resulting lack of depth isn’t uncommon at this price-point though.
The audio quality was sufficient to help immerse us in gaming, never jolting us out. Yet the speakers are better tweaked for gaming than music listening.
There’s only one real choice when it comes to alternative specs for this machine. That would be to the Lenovo Legion Y720-15 at £1,340. The extra money swaps the GTX 1050 for a GTX 1060, adds a display supporting a 3840 x 2160 resolution, adds thunderbolt support, an additional 8GB of RAM, and up to 2TB HDD or 1TB PCIe SSD storage.
Those changes should deliver an all-round gaming machine. Well worth a look if you like the smart style of the Y520, but want more than the gaming level offered by this model.
Lenovo Legion Y520-15 – Conclusion
We like the look of the Legion Y520-15. Physically, rather than on paper and in practice, because we don’t believe that the selection of parts delivers an overall experience best for gaming.
Undoubtedly this is a stylish, compact and strong system for general use (the i7-7700HQ at the heart of that). However, the priorities feel wrong somehow. Putting the processor power over graphics grunt doesn’t sit particularly well with us. And as much as we’re keen to see Kaby Lake cores in laptops, we’d rather see higher frame rates and more in-game detail.
That’s certainly not to say this is bad system. Lenovo has delivered a laptop which is ergonomically sound, responsive, thermally efficient and generally effective. But in gaming we want for more. Sure some may be happy with lower, capable, frame rates at this price point. But we’re sure that isn’t the majority. Who wants a gaming laptop that can get by? Some perhaps, but not us.
Update: In a subsequent review of a Lenovo Legion laptop, the system resolution was discovered as set to 3820 x 2160. This had a big impact on benchmarks. A similar issue may have affected the results in this review, but we are unable to confirm if this was the case.