While direct download services like Steam and GameFly have made gaming on your notebook easier than ever, the steep cost of high-end rigs from manufacturers like Alienware and Origin puts PC gaming out of reach for those on a budget. Enter the $1,299 Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p, which sports Intel's fourth-generation Core i7 processor, dual Nvidia GPUs and a gorgeous 1080p display for hundreds of dollars less than most gaming laptops. Put simply, this system is a steal.
Like its predecessor, the IdeaPad Y500, the Y510p features a brushed black aluminum lid and deck with a subtle horizontal striping pattern. An embossed Lenovo logo in the upper right corner of the lid adds a small amount of flair to an otherwise unadorned exterior. Similarly, the red-tinted keys and speakers liven up the notebook's melanistic design.
At 15.2 x 10.2 x 0.6-1.4 inches and 6.4 pounds, the IdeaPad Y510p is significantly heftier than both the $1,299 13-inch MSI GE40 2OC-009US (13.3 x 9.4 x 0.8 inches, 4.2 pounds) and the $1,427 15-inch MSI GE60 2OE-003US (15.09 x 9.83 x 1.27-1.46 inches, 5.6 pounds). On the other hand, the Y510p feels nearly featherweight compared to 17-inch gaming notebooks, which weigh 9 pounds or more.
Like the IdeaPad Y500, the Y510p features black-and-red JBL speakers in slight indentations in the upper left and right corners. The clickpad rests slightly off-center below the G and H keys, and the spacious deck provides plenty of room on which to rest your wrists. However, the edge of the deck is quite sharp, which makes typing for long periods somewhat uncomfortable.
As expected from a gaming notebook, the IdeaPad Y510p boasts a crisp and vivid display. The 15.6-inch LED-backlit screen sports a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and significantly outshines the competition with a measured brightness of 321 lux. This beats the category average and the MSI GE40 by almost 120 lux (207 and 204 lux, respectively), and the MSI GE60 (260 lux) by more than 60.
Colors and contrast proved equally eye-popping. Watching a 1080p trailer for "Pacific Rim," the metallic reds and blues of the Jaeger suits popped off the screen, and we could make out tiny pieces of machinery beneath their armor. Viewing angles were also excellent: we could move almost 45 degrees in either direction before losing clarity.
Lenovo's Onekey Theater software allows you to adjust the display and sound settings from the taskbar. Switching from Normal to Movie mode, for instance, increases the bass and the contrast, making the movie you're watching sound and appear much darker.
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Unlike many Windows 8 notebooks on the market, the IdeaPad Y510p lacks a touch screen. Given that most gamers will spend their time using an external mouse, however, this may not prove to be a great loss.
Dell may have traded its JBL speakers for Skullcandy, but audiophiles will be glad that Lenovo stuck with the brand. Despite their small size, the 1.5-watt, Dolby Home Theater-certified JBL speakers pumped out volume loud enough to fill a large apartment and annoy neighbors. When we listened to the "Hymn to the Red October," the voices of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra rang out almost as clearly as if we were listening to them on a stereo system. Even with the volume turned up to the maximum, we noticed very little distortion.
Users who want to pump up the jam can switch the notebook from Normal to Music in Onekey Theater. While this increases the sound dramatically, we noticed a distinct echo effect when we turned the volume up higher than 50 percent in this mode.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The IdeaPad Y510p features a backlit, island-style keyboard with a cool red glow. The keys themselves are slightly -- and pleasantly -- concave, and provide plenty of tactile feedback. Similarly, the keyboard suffers virtually no flex, thanks to its sturdy construction.
The notebook also features a full number pad on the right. Unfortunately, to accommodate the pad Lenovo shrank the Backspace, Enter and Right Shift keys, which greatly increased the number of typing errors as we wrote this review.
Lenovo similarly failed to provide any separation between the keyboard and the number pad, or provide any tactile markers such as bumps or ridges to help users differentiate between the two with their fingers. We found ourselves frequently pressing the NumLock key when trying to press Backspace, for instance, or typing numbers when trying to use the arrow keys.
Thankfully, the 4.2 x 2.75 inch-inch clickpad proved much less error-prone. The cursor glided across the screen smoothly as we swiped from one corner to the other, and multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, edge swiping and two-finger scrolling worked correctly. A small red line separates the left and right mouse buttons.
Like many gaming notebooks, the IdeaPad Y510p gets warm when playing games, but this system fared better than most. After playing "Bioshock Infinite" for 15 minutes, the touchpad registered 89 degrees Fahrenheit, the underside 93.5 degrees, and the space between the G and H keys 97 degrees. The far left of the bottom, beneath the second GPU, reached 99.5 degrees. We consider anything above 95 degrees to be uncomfortable.
The MSI GE60 was a stove by comparison, registering 120 degrees on the underside after playing the same game for 15 minutes. Even when watching Hulu videos, the underside reached 104 degrees.
Sadly, the Y510p's 1-megapixel camera failed to impress. Images and video captured in 720p appeared colorful but grainy, and fine details such as individual hairs in our beard became lost in a blur. On the plus side, video playback was smooth and did not suffer from stuttering or motion blurring.
The IdeaPad Y510p sports a standard selection of ports, including VGA, Ethernet, HDMI-out and two USB 3.0 ports on the left, and a headphone jack and microphone jack. You'll also find an always-on USB 2.0 port that allows users to plug in and charge their gadgets even when the laptop is powered down.
The right side of the notebook also features a removable drive called an Ultrabay. Users can easily swap out an optical drive for a second graphics card or an additional fan. Our review configuration featured another Nvidia GeForce GT 750M GPU with SLI support.
Graphics and Gaming
Powered by dual Nvidia GeForce GT 750M GPUs with 2GB of VRAM each, the Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p stands toe-to-toe with affordable gaming notebooks from competitors like MSI. On 3DMark 11, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall graphics performance, the Y510p scored 5,092. This crushes the category average (1,233), and easily outpaces the scores of 3,498 achieved by the MSI GE40 (Nvidia GeForce GTX 760M GPU with 2GB of VRAM) and 4,453 by the MSI GE60 (Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M with 2GB of VRAM).
When playing the latest games like "Bioshock Infinite," the Y510p fell behind the average set by high-end gaming systems but still held its own against notebooks in its price range. With the graphics set to Low and the resolution at 1920 x 1080, the Y510p averaged 67 frames per second. This is slightly slower than the MSI GE60 (73 fps). When we cranked the graphics up to Very High, the frame rate on the Y510p plummeted to an unplayable 27 frames per second. The MSI GE60 fared no better, however, averaging 26 fps.
The Y510p achieved similar results on less demanding games like "World of Warcraft," where it averaged 176 frames per second with the graphics set to Good and the resolution at 1920 x 1080. This edges out the 168 fps achieved by the GE60.
The notebook achieved a blazing frame rate even after we turned the graphics up to Ultra, with an average of 81 frames per second. This narrowly beats the GE60 (79 fps).
The IdeaPad Y510p delivered similarly excellent everyday performance, thanks to its 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-4702MQ quad-core processor, 16GB of RAM, 1TB 5,400-rpm HDD and additional 24GB SSD. The notebook achieved a healthy 4,871 on PCMark 7, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance. This beats the category average by more than 1,800 points, but falls short of the 5,654 turned in by the MSI GE60 (2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ CPU, 8GB of RAM and 128GB SSD).
Unfortunately, the Y510p's 5,400-rpm hard drive proved much slower than the competition. On the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, the notebook copied 4.97GB of mixed media files in 1 minute and 9 seconds, for a rate of 46.6 MBps. The MSI GE60 averaged 188.5 MBps.
The notebook proved similarly slow when booting into Windows 8. While its boot time of 19.3 seconds beats the category average of 32 seconds, it failed to match the MSI GE60 (a blazing 6.3 seconds).
On the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test, the IdeaPad Y510p matched 20,000 names and addresses in 4 minutes and 15 seconds. Although this beats the category average by almost 30 seconds, it falls just shy of the MSI GE40 and MSI GE60, which completed the test in 4:13 and 4:05, respectively.
You won't get far on the Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p's 6-cell lithium ion battery. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous surfing on the Web via Wi-Fi), the notebook lasted a mere 3 hours and 8 minutes. However, the MSI GE60 (3:41) suffers a comparably short battery life.
Software and Warranty
The IdeaPad Y510p ships with a number of third-party applications, most of which are from Lenovo. Lenovo Companion helps new users acclimate to Windows 8 with a Getting Started Guide, an App Showcase and other helpful links. Lenovo Support provides links to a User Guide, Hints and Tips, Knowledge Base and a Discussion Forum. OneKey Recovery System allows you to create a backup image file of your hard drive in case of a crash.
Other Lenovo applications include Lenovo Photos, which allows users to create greeting cards, calendars and posters and canvases; and free online storage using Lenovo Cloud Storage by SugarSync.
The Y510p also ships with apps for AccuWeather, Evernote, Rara streaming music player and Nitro 8 PDF reader. Microsoft-branded apps include Skype, SkyDrive and a trial version of Microsoft Office 2013.
In addition to the configuration we reviewed ($1,299 for a Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, Dual Nvidia GT 750M GPUs, 1TB 5,400-rpm HDD and additional 24GB SSD), the IdeaPad Y510p can also be configured with less expensive components. All models ship with a Core i7 CPU, but can be downgraded to 8GB of RAM, a single Nvidia GeForce GT 750 M GPU and a 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive. The cheapest configuration costs $1,099 ($819 after using an eCoupon on Lenovo's site).
Gamers looking to buy a powerful system without breaking the bank will find a lot to love in the Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p. For only $1,299, the notebook comes loaded with a speedy Haswell quad-core processor, dual Nvidia GPUs in SLI configuration and a 1TB drive to install all of your Steam games with room to spare. We also appreciate the bright and crisp 1080p screen and JBL speakers. The only notable drawback is that some keys are shrunken to accommodate the number pad.
If you're looking for a lighter 15-inch gaming notebook, the MSI GE60 is worth a look because it offers a similarly impressive gaming punch along with a built-in SSD. However, we prefer the IdeaPad Y510p because it has a more reliable touchpad and more storage space. Overall, you won't find a better gaming notebook value than the IdeaPad Y510p.