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

Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Lenovo

User Interface, A/V Quality, Cooling, Portability, Software

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User Interface

While the ThinkPad crowd is still wrestling with the forced transition, most everyone nonetheless tends to agree that Lenovo’s AccuType keyboard is excellent in its own right. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Y500’s full-sized keyboard feels great; its keys feature comfortable spacing and size, with a sensible degree of travel and good feedback. Typing is as effortless as possible once you’re used to it—and suffice it to say this may be one of the best Chiclet-style keyboards currently available. The only thing that bothered us about the actual keys is the squeaky operation of the space bar, which was annoyingly audible during typing sessions.

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There’s also a full number pad included, as well as full-sized arrow keys. One minor niggle here is the cramming of the right arrow key into the bottom of the number pad, inviting confusion and making it somewhat difficult to locate without eyeballing it. Fortunately, since the keyboard is also backlit (red), you’ll be able to eyeball it even in the dark. It really looks sharp.

There is another problem with the keyboard, too, though it isn’t exactly the keyboard’s fault. After typing for any reasonable period of time on the notebook, the sharp plastic edge around the perimeter began to irritate my wrists. And I can assure you, these ain’t no girly wrists. It’s an unfortunate design decision that will likely bother anyone who periodically slumps their arms onto the notebook while typing.

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While the keyboard is excellent, the touchpad is another story. It isn’t terrible by any means, but it’s also far from ideal. Sensitivity, accuracy, and size aren’t much of a problem; the touchpad performs well under most circumstances here. The issue, rather, is the integrated buttons, which feel clattery and cheap and often fail to register without first resulting in unintended pointer movement. A driver update to Synaptics’ latest version does help to rectify this to some extent (after poking around in the settings for a bit), but the fact remains that this is no comparison to a well-made set of separate physical buttons.

Display and Audio Quality

The Y500’s glossy display sure is a looker. Its 1920x1080 resolution coupled with good brightness and color reproduction is only hampered by its glossy finish, which produces obstructive reflections in brighter environments (severely limiting the machine’s usability outdoors). Viewing angles are actually pretty decent horizontally (for a TN panel), but vertical deviations quickly result in brightness inversion and washed-out colors.

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Thanks to the standard JBL stereo speakers, the audio is equally impressive. Considering the fact that the Y500 doesn’t include a subwoofer, the low-frequency response of these drivers is quite good, producing a full-bodied sound that is generally only possible with a “.1”. The volume is also better than average, easily filling a medium-sized room at maximal level without much distortion.

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Cooling

While the Y500 certainly looks thick, the sheer fact that it houses two discrete GPUs (albeit each equipped with its own cooling system) almost guarantees that we should see some heat. And sure enough, while the notebook is perfectly comfortable when idle, things quickly get warm once you spend some time gaming. The warmest spot on the notebook was the left-hand side (right-hand side from the bottom), but it’s also worth mentioning that, since the keyboard and touchpad also become rather warm to the touch, this really can grow annoying.

However, it takes quite a lot to stress the system to this point—and although the underside’s temperature reaches uncomfortable levels as well, under most circumstances (even while gaming), the notebook can be operated on a table or hard surface without too much bothersome heat getting in the way. The only thing we regretted when gaming normally with an external mouse was the placement of the exhaust vent on the right side of the notebook, which manages to blow heat directly onto your hand unless you slide the notebook back away from you or move your hand outward a bit.

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Portability

At nearly 6½ pounds, the Y500 clearly isn’t meant to be lugged around on a frequent basis. Its weight compares to many 17” notebooks, in fact, and as such it approaches the fringes of the Desktop Replacement category. Factor in the absolutely enormous 170W AC Adapter (appropriately, it’s right around twice the size of the typical 90W adapter) and that’s precisely what this becomes.

The Y500’s battery life won’t turn any heads either. Since Optimus isn’t compatible with SLI configurations, Lenovo was forced to make do with the considerably hungrier discrete graphics instead, even when lighter tasks are at hand. As such, we find just 3:39 of battery life under minimal load (using the Battery Eater Reader’s Test with brightness at 70% and Wi-Fi on). We were able to squeeze another hour or so out of the battery with Wi-Fi off (4:36 total), but that’s it. On the other end of the spectrum, the system manages just 1:32 under full load (Battery Eater’s Classic Test).

Battery Eater Reader’s Test, Brightness 70%, Wi-Fi on:

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Battery Eater Reader’s Test, Brightness 70%, Wi-Fi off:

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Battery Eater Classic Test, Brightness 70%, Wi-Fi on:

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Software

The Y500 comes loaded with software, most of which is not very useful, but at least it’s easily removed. Leading the pack is McAfee SecurityCenter, which is always one of the first products I remove on any PC I set up. Beyond that, you’ll find Lenovo Photos and Onekey Theater (unoffensive supplementary apps that can be used to create and manage media) and SugarSync cloud backup software. There are a host of smaller items as well, but these are the major ones.

May 21, 2013 | 03:23 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 | 04:57 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 | 09:08 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 | 08:55 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 | 05:13 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 | 07:33 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Or better ThinkPads

May 21, 2013 | 09:12 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 | 10:46 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 22, 2013 | 01:44 AM - 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 | 08:45 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 | 08:35 AM - Posted by Vampirr (not verified)

I laugh at this "gaming" laptop...

MSi GX70 3BE is far far better...

May 22, 2013 | 04:53 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 | 05:00 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 | 10:58 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 | 11:36 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 | 12:57 PM - 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 | 07:41 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 | 02:41 PM - 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 | 04:52 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

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

May 22, 2013 | 07:40 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 | 03:24 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 | 07:57 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 | 11:46 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 | 09:39 AM - Posted by Aziz (not verified)

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

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