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Lenovo Y500 Gaming Notebook Review: The Best Mobile Gaming Value Around?

Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Lenovo

Introduction and Design

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While Lenovo hasn’t historically been known for its gaming PCs, it’s poised to make quite a splash with the latest entry in its IdeaPad line. Owing little to the company’s business-oriented roots, the Y500 aims to be all power—moreso than any other laptop from the manufacturer to date—tactfully squeezed into a price tag that would normally be unattainable given the promised performance. But can it succeed?

Our Y500 review unit can be had for $1,249 at Newegg and other retailers, or for as low as $1,180 at Best Buy. Lenovo also sells customizable models, though the price is generally higher. Here’s the full list of specifications:

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The configurations offered by Lenovo range in price fairly widely, from as low as $849 for a model sporting 8 GB of RAM with a single GT 650M with 2 GB GDDR5. The best value is certainly this configuration that we received, however.

What’s so special about it? Well, apart from the obvious (powerful quad-core CPU and 16 GB RAM), this laptop actually includes two NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M GPUs (both with 2 GB GDDR5) configured in SLI. Seeing as it’s just a 15.6-inch model, how does it manage to do that? By way of a clever compromise: the exchange of the usual optical drive for an Ultrabay, something normally only seen in Lenovo’s ThinkPad line of laptops. So I guess the Y500 does owe a little bit of its success to its business-grade brethren after all.

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In our review unit (and in the particular configuration noted above), this Ultrabay comes prepopulated with the second GT 650M, equipped with its own heatsink/fan and all. The addition of this GPU effectively launches the Y500 into high-end gaming laptop territory—at least on the spec sheet. Other options for the Ultrabay also exist (sold separately), including a DVD burner and a second hard drive. The bay is easily removable via a switch on the back of the PC (see below).

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Continue Reading our review of the Lenovo IdeaPad Y500!

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Design

When compared to the flashy exteriors of most gaming notebooks, the Y500’s black brushed metal lid and matte plastic casing hardly stand out. That’s not to take anything away from its design, however; the metal adorning the lid provides for a sturdy protective barrier against the rear of the LCD, hardly yielding at all when pressure is applied. The plastic covering the hinges and the sides and bottom of the base unit, meanwhile, feels solid enough in its own right.

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Open the notebook up and things begin to change, however. The unassuming brushed metal extends to the top of the base unit, wrapping the palm wrest and surrounding the keyboard in convincing fashion. Accenting the sea of black are red speakers on either side atop the keyboard, which matches the sides of the keys themselves—and they look rather slick given the combination. The screen finish and bezel are both glossy (and the bezel is plastic).

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The aforementioned sturdiness of the chassis once again becomes apparent here. Hardly any flex at all is detectable at any point on the base unit, including across the keyboard and between the speakers at the top.

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About the only negative worth mentioning is the relentless assault of fingerprints which will soon become a part of your life with the Y500: the brushed metal which we so love collects these smudges effortlessly, and refuses to give them up unless subjected to a vigorous scrubbing.

May 21, 2013 | 12:23 PM - Posted by Justin Anderson (not verified)

I just picked one of these bad boys up. I immediately took the mechanical hard drive out and put two SSD's in for 500gb of solid state goodness. The machine is super fast, and looks great, but like any multi GPU set up micro stutter is a bit of an issue, especially when the game runs between 30-40 fps. I can really notice it when playing Farcry 3. The trackpad is not that great, but not horrible either, I use a mouse more anyway. The main gripe that I have with the Y500 is the Wifi adapter, the intel centrino 2230 is a hunk of junk, it is constantly losing connectivity. Even when placed right next to the router, I have updated the drivers, but the problem still exists. I am going to call Lenovo and find out what they are going to do about it, I might end up buying a different adapter. Other than that I love it, great mobile gaming machine.

May 21, 2013 | 01:57 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I would posit that perhaps Far Cry 3 is the issue, not just the GPUs.  FC3 has lots of "stutter" issues on NVIDIA and AMD graphics systems.

May 21, 2013 | 06:08 PM - Posted by Justin Anderson (not verified)

I could see that, I just got it a week ago. Crysis 3 has micro stutter too, but both games are really intensive. All out great buy though, I am blown away coming from a 6750m. Also, I am interested in the future of the ultra bay, I would love to upgrade my graphics capability a couple years down the line, don't know if that's possible. But seeing as Graphics are usually the first thing to go obsolete, it would sure be nice to have the ability to upgrade and stretch your laptops usefulness.

July 5, 2013 | 05:55 PM - Posted by spicel

I agree, the Y500 is great for gaming. Before I bought it, I considered also Y580 and Y400. After the research I've concluded that Y500's SLI technology gives more power to gaming, and made a comparison for others to see:

Y500 comparison with Y580 and Y400

How did you manage with the wifi ?

May 21, 2013 | 02:13 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

By way of a clever compromise: the exchange of the usual optical drive for an Ultrabay!

How about a line of gaming/workstation laptops that only come with a single more powerfull graphics card in The Ultrabay, swap out the mobile GT###M after gaming for a mobile Quadro ####M, and go to work, best of both worlds! A laptop with an updatable/changeable Descrete GPU! Offer this with AMD GPUs too! This kind of option from Levono may just force Apple, to offer Apple manufactured or third party Apple certified external thunderbolt PCI GPU expansion boxes for their Macbook pro laptops, just to compete! Even the lowly Intel integrated graphics could be put to use, via OpenCL, for gaming physics, along with the Intel CPU, for gaming and other GPGPU compute use!

May 21, 2013 | 04:33 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Or better ThinkPads

May 21, 2013 | 06:12 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Ryan I hope you get a kickback/affiliate fee, cuz I bought from your link to Newegg.

Excellent review.

Love,

Your mum.

PS: you should call more dear.

May 21, 2013 | 07:46 PM - Posted by terminal addict

It's unfortunate Lenovo seems to have discontinued the Y580. It used a single gtx660m so benefited from Optimus. I bought the 1080p model with the BD drive and 1TB hard drive, added a 250GB mSATA drive, upgraded the RAM to 16GB, and even bought the Lenovo laptop bag. Upgrades, shipping, and taxes for everything came to about $1400. Considering I'm in Ontario where we have a 13% sales tax, it was an amazing deal.

The worst thing about it was Windows 8.

May 21, 2013 | 10:44 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I agree the y580 is a beast. I have the 1080 1TB Bluray combo and am upgrading to a crucial msata 256gb. How did you install windows without an installation disk? This is the one thing that is hindering me.

May 22, 2013 | 05:45 AM - Posted by terminal addict

Well... I found the ISO online. That's about all I can say. :)

I suppose that is one other complaint. They can't either throw in the disk or at least let you create your own? Seriously?!

There was a thread on the Lenovo forums about how to install without messing up the OKR button/feature. Basically, do not repartition the hard drive at all. Put in the mSATA drive, install Windows to it, then reformat the Windows partition on the hard drive. Once again, do NOT delete any of the partitions, just reformat the Windows partition.

May 22, 2013 | 05:35 AM - Posted by Vampirr (not verified)

I laugh at this "gaming" laptop...

MSi GX70 3BE is far far better...

May 22, 2013 | 01:53 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Yep, just a few hundred dollars more and you get an 8790m gpu and quad core AMD APU... which holds it back.

January 3, 2014 | 02:00 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

i laugh at YOUR "gaming" laptop, the msi gx70 3be strong point is only the gpu, but the cpu is bringing down the whole system.

spend an additional 200 for that when you can get sli at 1100$ which kicks any mid-high end gaming laptop anyday when it is added an mSATA drive

May 22, 2013 | 07:58 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

want to upgradethis baby with an SSD but it didn't come with os disc or partition.

How do I reinstall the os without having to buy it again?

May 22, 2013 | 08:36 AM - Posted by camberry

Macrium reflect is a great backup tool. Get the free version and a SATA usb adapter and image the old system to the new one.

Something like this for the adapter
C2G / Cables to Go 30504 USB 2.0 to IDE or Serial ATA Drive Adapter (Black)

May 22, 2013 | 09:57 AM - Posted by Justin Anderson (not verified)

You can use any OEM windows 8 install disc. The CD Key is tied to the laptop, and there is no need to enter a key. I installed two SSD's and installed windows from a OEM disc. Then updated the drivers from the old HDD (made it a external drive), Much better than cloning as you don't have to deal with all the extra bloatware. You can get a install disc for free online if you dig a little. Remember your Windows 8 license is tied to the laptop itself so no worries about having to buy a new copy. Be careful when taking the back off there are clips all over and its one piece, use a plastic spudger and all your patience.

May 22, 2013 | 04:41 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Actually, I wanted to put in an SSD and DUMP win 8 and instead put in Win 7.

Any driver issues? Hard to get the drivers, everything works etc?

Ryan, mind chiming in on this one.

May 23, 2013 | 11:41 AM - Posted by Steve Schardein

IMO stick with Windows 8 (since there are in fact some advantages, and plus it's already preinstalled) and simply layer it with something like Start8 from Stardock ($5) to restore the Start Menu, etc. until 8.1 arrives.  If you are mostly worried about Windows 8's interface changes this ought to go a long way toward correcting those problems. :-)

Thanks to all for your kind feedback on my review also!  It is my first for PCPer and will probably be the first of very many to come.  My apologies for the rather thin selection of gaming benchmarks and the lack of comparative statistics; this is mostly thanks to the transitional nature of these first few reviews.  It will not be long before our new standards are more well-established and a database of benchmarks begins to grow for purposes of comparison.

If anyone has any other questions I would be pleased to try and answer them.

-Steve

May 22, 2013 | 01:52 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

No BF3 benchmarks? Curious to see how this game runs on SLI 650m

May 22, 2013 | 04:40 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Well since it's been verified that dual 650's on this outperform a single 670 you can lookup BF benchmarks for the 670 and go from there.

May 28, 2013 | 12:24 PM - Posted by Red Dragon (not verified)

can anybody could give me some advise regarding this PC? i am planning to buy next week and what can you say about its WIFI connectivity?... just want to know the disadvantage... or else i shift to ASUS G75, any suggestions please.

thank you very much

May 28, 2013 | 04:57 PM - Posted by zzzSleep (not verified)

Steve, what about issues with multi-GPUs?

The big concern I have with these types of laptops is that they end up with issues of SLI scaling - kind of like the 690 vs Titan debate.

My only other real complaint seems to be the monitor. Otherwise not a bad offering for the money.

June 21, 2013 | 08:46 PM - Posted by Michael Dombrowski (not verified)

Ryan and others:
Where are all of the ultrabay accessories for the y500 and y510p (which I just bought). The battery life is atrocious and a slice instead of the second gpu would be super helpful. Does anyone know where to get these or why they have been held up if they have?
Thanks all.

November 16, 2013 | 06:39 AM - Posted by Aziz (not verified)

The GPU, is it designed on PCI-e 3.0 or 2.0. ??

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