The Lenovo Legion Y520 wasn’t forged in the fires of Mount Doom. It wasn’t injected with super serum. It wasn’t sent here from the future, glowering, naked and semi-mute. It wasn’t trained by master ninjas. It wasn’t built in an underground laboratory by rocket scientists. It wasn’t meant to save the world.
Instead, the Y520 – Lenovo’s first laptop in its new Legion series – eats bologna sandwiches. It drinks PBR unironically. It enjoys Sunday afternoon baseball.
The Y520 is a working class hero.
Lenovo’s mid range gaming laptop is reliable, affordable, and has just enough snazz to keep it exciting. There are many devices in this category, like the Asus ROG Strix GL753 and Gigabyte Sabre 17 that are equal to the Y520 in reliability and panache, but few are as affordable. The Y520 won’t blow you away, but for gaming-on-a-budget, it’s one of the best gaming laptops on the market.
Price and availability
Our $1,099 (£1,199, AU$2,408) review unit brings a seventh generation Intel Core i7 processor, GTX 1050 Ti GPU and 16GB of memory to the tailgate, though this configuration is by no means the only one Lenovo packs in the cooler.
The Y520’s CPU, GPU, memory and storage are all tweakable: Core i5 or i7; GTX 1050 Ti or GTX 1060; 8GB or 16GB of RAM; no SSD to 512GB and 1TB or 2TB hard drive. It all depends on how much you want to punish your wallet: the Y520 ranges from as low as as $780 (£999, AU$1,499) to as high as $1,529 (£1,199, AU$2,727).
The ROG Strix GL753 and Sabre 17 have nearly identical stats to our review unit (outside of the Sabre 17’s 17 inch screen) and nearly identical prices. Asus’s mid-ranger costs $1,200 (£1,099, AU$1,522). Gigabyte’s is $1,099 (£816, AU$1,999).
Y520? More like B-2 Spirit. With its beaked, winged and thin profile, the Y520 looks more like a stealth bomber than a laptop. There’s no sneaking on the inside, though: red accents on the keys and touchpad call out for ultraviolence. Neither cartoonish (MSI) nor staid (Origin), the Y520 hits that aesthetic sweet spot that many gaming laptops can’t seem to find.
The Y520’s underside is, of course, bedecked with vents. These route heat to the back of the device, which keeps the base relatively cool during use.
This thermal management strategy is also fairly quiet. Sure, the fan lets its presence be known — it’s spinning its heart out under there — but it’s not so obtrusive that the Y520’s rear-mounted speakers are shouted down.
Speaking of speakers, the Y520’s are what you’d expect from a mid-range gamer: average. They can pump up the volume, but not the jams: the audio is tinny and bass-light.
The odd couple
The default color of gaming inputs is a real-tough red, and the Y520’s chroma keyboard is no different. Nor can you do anything about it. Its color palette is static, and the keys non-programmable — features that were likely cut in order to keep the device working class.
That said, in terms of comfort, this worker bee’s keyboard is fit for finger royalty. The keys are large and run deep, with 1.8mm of springy travel. Its setup, though, is a bit strange: above the arrow keys hovers a rather awkward numpad. Furthermore, the numpad looks like it spent a little too much time in the dryer — the keys are shrunk! Overall, it feels like a throw-in feature.
The touchpad is another stranger in a strange land: its trapezoidal shape will delight geometry teachers, but gamers not so much. They usually prefer their polygons in-game, not in-laptop. Odd shape aside, it works well enough. The ‘touch’ is responsive, as are its distinct left and right buttons. For gaming, it’s a bit clumsy, but so is every touchpad. For the fun stuff, you’ll want a mouse.
The Y520’s major flaw is its display. The colors are uninspired and often just wash out, a nearly unforgivable sin on a device that is meant to provide at least medium levels of bedazzlement.
Adding insult to color injury is the display’s brightness, or lack thereof. The only tolerable setting is maximum. Anything less, and you’ll need a flashlight to see whatever the hell is happening on screen.
One would expect at least middling display performance, but the Y520’s screen is decidedly low end. In this area at least, other mid-rangers far outpace it.
Even if the Y520’s GTX 1050 Ti isn’t a heavyweight, it still has knockout power. It yawns at medium settings. It throws 30-frame-per-second hooks on high settings.
And, every once in a while, it lands a jab on a game on ultra settings. Decent performance while not running hot or loud? Definitely worth the price of admission.
Of course, if you play a game consistently on ultra settings, the Y520 will hit the canvas. Running Deus Ex: Mankind Divided on ultra put the device into a standing knockout (read: 10 fps).
Less graphically intense games, however, the Y520 can handle. It ran Total War: Warhammer on ultra at an acceptable 38 fps.
It should be noted that for boring old web-browsing and multitasking, the Y520 is excellent: during testing, it never sputtered or froze.
Against the Strix and Sabre, the Y520 holds its own. When it comes to benchmarks, all three devices live in the same county – they all pack similar hardware, after all.
One can argue, however, that the Y520, with its quiet fan and low heat output, is the more well-rounded device. Yet it’s no more expensive than the Gigabyte, and cheaper than the Strix.
The Y520 mustered 2 hours and 25 minutes of battery life on PCMark 8’s multi-tasking taxing home test. On our decidedly less taxing TechRadar movie test (basically, we play Guardians of the Galaxy at 50% brightness and volume til death do us part), the Y520 at least breached the 4 hour mark, with 292 minutes of battery life.
Unimpressive? Yes. Average for a gamer? Sadly, also yes. Consider the competition. The Sabre 17 unplugged for 2 hours and 17 minutes of PCMark 8 fun, and just over 3 hours of GotG viewing.
The Strix had 2 hours and 46 minutes of PCMark 8 cordless time, and 4 hours and 28 minutes for battery-powered Groot and the Gang. In a market like this, the Y520’s numbers aren’t that bad at all.
The best part of waking up isn’t Folgers in your cup, it’s knowing that you still have some money left over after splurging on a gaming laptop. In this regard, the Y520 delivers. It competently runs modern games, its keyboard is comfortable, and it doesn’t fire up like a recalled hot plate — all in all, it’s a great gamer that’s cheap. Enough said.
But, with great price consciousness comes not-so-great features. Per-key customization is so common now on gaming laptops that when it’s missing, it’s side-of-the-milk-bottle missing. And we very much miss it on the Y520.
We also miss a decent display. The Y520’s is dim and color-poor, a big whiff for a gaming machine.
With the Y520, it starts and ends with price. Lenovo’s gamer is only a contender because of its price to performance ratio. It may lack many of the super features of a premium gamer (per key customization; bombastic speakers; vibrant display), but at the end of the day it does what it’s designed to do: play games cheaply.
The Y520 is also not completely featureless. It stays rather cool, rather quiet and it’s keyboard, outside of a wonky numpad, is comfortable enough to endear even enterprise users. It’s one major flaw – a dark, joyless, display – isn’t fatal either.
Gamers on a budget should take note: the Y520 is one of the best options out there. Lenovo got this first impression right. We look forward to seeing what else comes out of the Legion line.