The gaming laptop has been somewhat of a revelation in the South African market. While global sales have slowed, although not slumped, sales have continued to show growth in the local market. One of the major driving factors has been the increased level of competitiveness of the gaming laptop when compared against the more traditional desktop, as well as the reduction of weight, making it a lot more portable.
Despite the fluctuation of the Rand against global currencies, pricing of the gaming laptop has continued to show positive indicators to the fans. Back in March, Lenovo brought two new gaming laptops into the market to compete in two different categories. I was pleasantly surprised by the Lenovo Legion Y520, a budget gaming laptop. It’s amazing to see what it is able to achieve and deliver on a tight budget, while still being able to compete in gaming performance.
The Lenovo Legion Y-range has been around for some time now, even within the South African market, slowly building up a dedicated group of fans and followers to form a gaming community in which the company aims to better understand the features gamers require and value most. The Y520 unit is an indicator of just that, while lacking in certain areas, more than makes up for it where it matters most.
Build and Design
- Plastic Kevlar Design
- Good Mix of Ports
- Portable and Lightweight
When you first uncover the Y520 after unboxing the unit, you aren’t struck by any spectacular design, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For most manufacturers, there’s almost an expectation to emphasise that the unit in use is a gaming device, often times with an over-the-top and elaborate design and just adds to the weight and clunkiness of the device. That isn’t the case in this instance.
The Y520 is subtler in its approach, offering up some flair in the form of a plastic Kevlar design on the lid. The black lid with its woven pattern, along with a few angled, raised lines on the lid provides sufficient distinction of its gaming prowess – subtly aggressive. However, as with most other gaming units, there is some emphasis placed on the hinge, with the speakers on the outer part, which run all around from top to bottom with fairly large openings, and the fans in the centre complete the same grill appearance, albeit not as pronounced.
The low-profile design choice continues to the interior of the device once the lid is opened, with a smooth finish around the screen and keyboard. Unlike the outside of the lid with its pattern and angled approach, there aren’t very many markings to note otherwise. There are four diagonal lines to make note of a slightly sunken keyboard. The angle isn’t all that pronounced, and only appears that way with the intentional angular lines.
In terms of the specifications, the unit measures 380x267x26mm and weighs 2.524KG. It isn’t the smallest and lightest laptop around, but considering that this is a gaming unit, those specs are more than reasonable. You won’t have too much trouble fitting the unit into most 15.6″ carry cases or bags, making your gaming as portable as you need it to be. When it comes to connectivity the Y520 includes an Ethernet port, USB 2.0 port, and headphone jack, all on the left-hand side, which also includes the Kensington lock and power input. The right-hand side houses a USB Type-C port, and SD-card reader, two USB 3.0 ports, and a full-size HDMI port. By today’s standards, this meets the criteria for most users.
For most gamers, however, the ports may not be sufficient when considering the number of peripherals you may require to connect. It could do with a Display Port or a second HDMI port for multiple monitors. It’s also worth noting that the SD-card reader only caters for half of the actual storage device, which means it doesn’t travel well, and, thus, has to be removed when on the go.
As for the build itself, the unit feels very solid, despite its predominantly plastic finishes. The plastic shouldn’t be a deterrent for those interested, firstly due to the device’s budget status, and that the build quality remains good irrespective of that fact. There aren’t any noticeable creeks and squeaks to mention, with the unit being quite compact, and no room at all for any play on the lid or any other part.
Audio, Keyboard and Touchpad
- Standard Red Backlit Keys
- Wildly Sensitive Touchpad
I’ve never been a fan of most laptop speakers, with only a handful that has hit the mark, or been above average. The Y520’s dual speakers, fitted to the ends of the hinge, won’t do much to convince anyone. There’s a lot amiss about the quality, from the loudness to the lack of clarity, the speakers just don’t fully deliver on expectations. The unit does support Dolby surround sound and comes with the Dolby Audio apps, from which you’re able to choose a few profiles to make some small changes, but still not quite sufficient to change my mind.
In terms of the keyboard, there are a few notable mentions. For starters, the backlit keys light up in red with two brightness levels. I would’ve enjoyed seeing the options of a colour spectrum. In addition to this, the keys are non-programmable, which means that you won’t be able to customise the keys to your preferred gaming setup. Both of these exclusions may be as a result of the reduced build cost, so it’s not a complete surprise. The keys themselves are nicely spaced and won’t take much getting used to when typing or playing games. The only issue I had with the actual keys was the fact that I wasn’t able to easily spot some of the function keys such as “numlock” or “prntscrn”.
As for the touchpad, another one of my pet peeves when it comes to laptop reviews, its default setting was extremely sensitive. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the touchpad itself was extremely glossy, which was designed to aid sliding, but I found it a bit overboard in the end, even with the settings tuned for more reasonable speeds.
Screen and Display
- Not Very Bright
- Decent Colour Representation
The Legion Y520 is fitted with a 15.6″ panel, which has a default resolution of 1920x1080px. The IPS anti-glare panel delivers a mixed bag of results. The first and most notable aspect of the screen is its lack of overall brightness. On maximum brightness, the screen has decent lighting, but just barely. Anything less than that makes it harder to view critical detail.
For most laptops, operating on battery power receives an automatic dimming of the screen, which minimises power consumption. On the Y520, however, this isn’t ideal, as you’re required to run at maximum brightness irrespective of mode of operation.
In addition to the darker brightness of the onscreen reproduction, the actual light output is also a bit down, which is no surprise. The unit measures around 220 nits, which also falls below an industry standard around the 270-300 nits mark. That’s some 20%+ down on light reproduction.
When it comes to viewing videos or playing games, the results differ slightly in terms of viewable detail. Darkly lit movies tend to suffer as a result of the brightness issue, as turning the screen to maximum brightness affects the contrast and saturation just a tad. For most games, however, these types of settings can be adjusted more intricately, which allows users to get the most out of the game’s overall aesthetics.
In terms of the sRGB colour gamut scores, the Y520 makes a poor showing with a 68% score. Considering that the average screen is expected to feature in the range of 90-100%, with the better screens around the 120% mark, there isn’t a lot to write home about here. That said the colour representation, however, for some part, is accurate despite the darker appearance. The screen has a Delta-E score of 0.2. This surpasses the average score of around 2, for which 0 would be ideal.
Performance and Battery
- Multiple Builds Available
- Great SSD Read/Write Speeds
- Great GPU Performance
- Average Battery Life
What’s awesome about the Legion Y520 is that there are numerous builds for your requirements, which allows you to choose your RAM and storage medium. The base model features an Intel Core i5-7300HQ CPU, 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD and a Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti graphics card with 4GB of VRAM.
For those who are more serious about their gaming specs, the RAM is available up to 32GB, as well as options to include an SSD from 128GB up to 1TB and an additional 2TB HDD. The unit we received included 16GB of RAM as well as a 128GB SSD and 2TB HDD combo, along with a 7th-generation Intel Core i7 CPU.
The basic benchmark tests were performed on Geekbench 4, which had a score of 13,012. The industry standard for the budget gaming laptops in similar price ranges is below the 12,000 mark, which makes the Y520’s score quite impressive. These results, however, may not mean much to many. Further testing, which included opening multiple tabs (more than 20) across 3 difference browser instances, while still watching a movie and running a few other applications in the background didn’t produce any lag or jitter, which was a very welcome result. What’s more, the Y520 continued to run relatively cool during these tests, for which I need note an increase in the fan speed that was audible, but not severe by any means. The unit was more than safe to use on my lap even while gaming on higher settings and really pushing the CPU performances during stress testing.
The increased workload also formed part of the battery tests, which were also very good considering the reasonable temperatures generated by the unit. The unit is fitted with a 3-cell, 45Wh Li-Polymer battery with a factory specification of 4 hours. Under normal working load, the unit averaged around the 4-hour mark and dropped to around 3 hours and 10 minutes under heavier loads, which included the stress testing and/or gaming. A 4-hour battery life is a decent haul but isn’t going to be topping any charts when you consider that the higher-end gaming units breeze through 7 hours under normal workloads.
When it comes to the SSD testing, the results proved very positive thanks to the 128GB M.2 integrated SSD. This resulted in sequential read and write speeds of 2600MB/s and 1300MB/s, respectively. Using the AS SSD benchmark tool, the unit also produces R/W speeds of 48 and 135Mb/s for 4K, and 915MB/s and 525MB/s for 4K-64 tests. This was a very impressive feat, which allowed for bootup times of just over 3 seconds. This is good enough to rival that of any of the leading gaming laptops on the market today.
The Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti GPU fitted to the Y520 is the middle ground between the 1050 and 1060 GPUs, and can easily produce gaming resolutions of 1080p at medium settings, making for a solid gaming performance. For many gamers, the GTX 1060 is the best option between cost and performance, but the GTX 1050 Ti seems to have thrown its hat into the ring on that one.
At times, I managed to turn up the graphics settings in-game for better results, which included games like Fortnite and Injustice, which don’t require such huge overheads. For games like GTA V and the likes, the medium settings will do just fine, with an increase in settings only reduces the frame rates to unwanted levels. If you’re looking for a GTX 1060, the Y520’s big brother, the Y720, includes the card – which we’ll be reviewing in the not too distant future.
- Lenovo Nerve Sense Only Useful Software
The unit I received for review had been factory reset due to exchanging of hands between the different reviewers. As such, I wasn’t able to directly test the software on the Y520. I was, however, able to test the Lenovo software suite on a different Lenovo device, which has the same default setup for their Legion gaming range.
The software package includes the Lenovo Companion, Lenovo Settings and Lenovo Nerve Sense. The Companion software provides your basic update functionality, including system and driver updates, support and some diagnostic tools. It isn’t the most detailed or sophisticated build, but it gets the job done. The Settings package provides a central hub for battery management, input devices, as well as audio, webcam and display settings. This, again, isn’t the most ideal, but it too gets the job done, despite being on the sluggish side. For more technical users, the software isn’t a big requirement, as these settings can be changed and updated via Windows if you know how to. For most gamers, I would suspect that this would be easy to maintain, making the software disposable.
The Nerve Sense software is where more important features are toggled on the Y520, which allows you to tweak some of the gaming settings for your use. These settings include control of the cooling system, network prioritisation especially while gaming, as well as for which apps should be considered as such. You’re also able to toggle whether to automatically turn off the Windows key and touchpad when running a game and enabling the Dolby sound enhancement features for those same detected games.
Apart from the automated approach of the Nerve Sense software, one could easily do without the standard Lenovo setup for gaming units. The other inclusions are simply iterations that start on bootup.
The Lenovo Legion Y520 Gaming Laptop may not be the best all-around performer or have the best looks, build or features, but what it does it does well. The unit focuses primarily on gaming, and will more than make up for its lack in other departments.
For the beginner or enthusiast gamer, the Y520 is a very solid, and very capable unit, whether as an upgrade to an older machine or as a first time buy. It won’t be the ideal match for the more avid to pro gamers but does offer quite a lot in terms of its portability when you’re away from your desktop PC build.