The Lenovo Y series has been a value leader for moderately priced gaming laptops with some punch. It's also less chunky than hardcore gaming laptops, and the Lenovo Y50 is the sleekest model yet. At 5.3 lbs. and 0.9 inches thick, it's similar to many non-gaming 15" laptops on the market, yet it packs a quad core Intel Core i7 CPU and dedicated NVIDIA GTX 860M graphics. The Y50 is the value proposition to the Dell XPS 15, 15" Retina MacBook Pro, 2014 Razer Blade and MSI GS60 Ghost series. You'll save a few hundred dollars or more, and in return you'll get an acceptable but duller look and a mediocre 1080p TN touch display on our Y50 Touch model (don't fret, there's a much better looking QHD display option). The Y50 Touch starts at $1,099, while the non-touch 1080p model starts at $949. The UHD model (non-touch) starts at $1,199 and the UHD Touch starts at $1,249.
The laptop has Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160 for decent but not high end wireless performance, Bluetooth 4.0, a 720p webcam, two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 port, HDMI, RJ45 Ethernet, an SD card slot and a combo audio jack with SPDIF. For those who want something smaller, Lenovo offers the 14" Lenovo Y40 with AMD Radeon R9 M275 2 GB graphics and ULV Ultrabook dual core CPUs that are significantly less powerful than the full mobile M series quad core in the Y50. For the 17" fans, there's the Lenovo Y70 Touch that's outfitted identically to the Y50 other than display and chassis size.
Design and Ergonomics
The Y50 has a thin black Aluminum layer on the lid and bottom cover that somehow manages to look more like plastic. It's an unassuming looking machine but the red backlit keyboard and more aggressive hinge area design give it some flair. At this price you won't get a programmable or RGB backlit gaming keyboard, and we suspect that quite a few folks who buy the Y50 and its bigger brother the Y70 are using it equally as often for multimedia and work anyhow. We love the soft touch matte black keyboard deck that's silky smooth yet somehow offers just enough grip to stop your hands from sliding around.
Given the powerful quad core CPU and upper mid range dedicated graphics, we're pleased that it's fairly quiet and cool though the keyboard area gets quite warm when gaming--as hot as 101F, which is toasty but not hot enough to harm you. We saw no thermal throttling, even when playing Tomb Raider for an hour and the Y50's dual fans never sounded shrill or annoying. In the name of slimming and making the Y50 the most compact Y series laptop yet, there's neither an internal DVD drive nor a bay for a second graphics card in SLI as with the Y500.
The typist-friendly Accutype keyboard with red backlighting has a number pad, which is great for number crunchers and gamers who prefer numbers to WASD input. But there's no space between the main keyboard area and number pad, which is a bit disconcerting (another concession to the small footprint). Key travel isn't high but tactile feel is good and the keyboard deck doesn't flex. The Synaptics trackpad is serviceable and is neither stellar nor poor. It works well with single touch and multi-touch gestures, but it's too easy to trigger swipe actions from the side, and the right and left click button zones sometimes missed a click.
The laptop has full and fairly loud stereo JBL speakers plus a subwoofer that fires from the bottom. The subwoofer is covered by a red grille beside the vents, so you can't miss it. If you want to upgrade or service the laptop (including the battery), you'll need to remove several Phillips head screws to remove the bottom cover.
The very glossy TN touch screen has plenty of glare and mediocre viewing angles. Brightness is just OK at 215 nits (we like to see closer to 300 nits on a higher end machine like this). It manages just 46% of Adobe RGB and 60% of sRGB, while competitors average 98% of sRGB color coverage. We recommend the UHD 3840 x 2160 Samsung PLS panel option that looks much better. While I don't really feel a strong need to have better than 1080p resolution on a 15.6" laptop given Windows 8.1 and programs mediocre handling of scaling on the desktop, for viewing angles, colors and contrast the UHD panel is a must. We wouldn't recommend gaming at UHD resolution since the GTX 860M (and most mobile graphics cards) aren't strong enough to play demanding games at 4K resolution, but you can set the resolution to 1080p and avoid gaming issues and Windows scaling. As with the 2K 1080p display, the UHD 4K panel is available in touch and non-touch versions.
Performance and Horsepower
Like most higher end, powerful 15.6" laptops meant for demanding tasks like gaming, compiling code and editing 1080p or 4K video, the Lenovo Y50 Touch runs on the Intel Core i7-4710HQ (when it first came out it shipped with the 2.4 GHz 4700HQ). The 4710HQ is clocked at 2.5GHz with Turbo Boost to 3.5 GHz, and it's one of the fastest CPUs you'll find in a laptop. The Y50 and Y50 Touch ship with 8 or 16 gigs of RAM in two RAM slots. Most configurations have a hybrid 1 TB 5400 RPM HDD with 8 gigs of flash memory cache, as did our review unit. It's a slow drive, and we often found ourselves waiting for programs to load, and game scene changes seemed to take forever to load. I'd replace the 2.5" standard SATA HDD with an SSD. The machine has a standard 2.5" SATA drive bay, 2 RAM slots and a socketed wireless card.