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Many companies use Intel or AMD’s yearly leap in processor generations as an opportunity to completely reinvent their laptops or desktops. Lenovo hasn’t gone that far with its 15-inch Legion 5i, but I’m not complaining too much. It’s still an attractive, yet plainly designed gaming laptop that I think could attract a broader audience than just gamers.
To give you a few examples of how low-lift the visible changes are in this year’s model, Lenovo simplified the naming convention from the clunkier Legion Y540. The ‘i’ in Legion 5i denotes an Intel-based processor. Lenovo also sells the Legion 5 with AMD’s Ryzen 5 and 7 4000-series processors as options. It also improved the trackpad this year by getting rid of the left and right mouse buttons, giving you more space to move the pointer around. It moved the webcam to the top of the display to avoid the nostril-view perspective that the Y540 provided.
If you’re looking for big year-over-year improvements, you’ll only find those on the inside of the Legion 5i. Lenovo brought the 10th Gen Intel Core i5 and i7 H-series processors to this machine, and each configuration has a dedicated Nvidia graphics chip. The model that Lenovo sent us is the top-end model that can be bought for about $1,350 (at time of publish, it’s discounted to $1,289). It features a 1080p IPS panel with a 144Hz refresh rate, Intel’s hexa-core Core i7-10750H CPU, an Nvidia RTX 2060 graphics card, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB NVMe SSD. If you want a laptop that can play most of your games at 60 frames per second without docking the visuals much, it’s the only configuration offered that’s worth any serious consideration.
I don’t want to gussy up the Legion 5i too much, though. The overall package is similar to Lenovo’s $989 IdeaPad Gaming 3 that I recently reviewed. It might be hard to tell them apart if you’re standing a few feet away, though the Legion 5i has the distinct advantage with double the RAM and storage, a slightly faster refresh rate in the display (144Hz from 120Hz), and the stronger RTX 2060. These specs make a noticeable improvement in the performance, and having now reviewed both machines, the $350 price hike that these specs incur seems acceptable, as much as I wish it offered the RTX 2060 in a cheaper configuration. I also wish Lenovo had included something else in addition here, like a Thunderbolt 3 port, to make the jump up more rewarding.
Alas, the RTX 2060 turns it into an excellent midrange machine. If you’re confused about the many graphics chip options on the market, this is the one to aim for if you don’t want to do much fiddling with the graphics settings in games. Unlike my experience with the GTX 1650 in the IdeaPad Gaming 3, or the Radeon RX 5600M in the Dell G5 15 SE, this laptop’s graphics card required far fewer compromises to run my favorite games, like Control, at a smooth clip above 60 frames per second. It’s not the most powerful GPU ever in a laptop by a long shot, but it’s capable enough to breezily run games with medium-to-high shadow quality and anti-aliasing — those are usually the first settings I immediately turn all the way down or off to get a smooth frame rate.
Grand Theft Auto V’s benchmark is getting old, though it’s still a good test for processing and graphical chops in a laptop. This machine made short work of it with all settings (excluding the long-distance textures and shadows) turned up to their highest, averaging at about 100 frames per second. This and other games I tried look great on the IPS panel, which is surrounded by slim bezels. Colors appear vivid and accurate with good viewing angles, and it manages all that with a fast 144Hz refresh rate that doesn’t exhibit any screen tearing or other artifacts. Also, it’s worth noting that the Legion 5i is one of the few all-plastic laptops that doesn’t creak when I lift up, or adjust, the screen. Lenovo, pioneer of the 2-in-1 laptop concept, is good at making hinges. Who knew?
The trackpad here has gotten a small upgrade. Instead of having two mouse buttons near the bottom like previous Y540 models have, it’s all one contiguous sheet of smooth plastic now. That’s by no means innovative, but it’s nice to have more space. And, with its Precision drivers, gestures and scrolling work as intended on the trackpad. Less has changed with the keyboard, though it’s still a joy to type on. It’s mostly identical to what you’ll find on Lenovo’s less expensive IdeaPad Gaming 3, but the keyboard here supports four-zone RGB backlighting as opposed to just blue backlighting, though you’ll need to pay an extra $30 when you configure it. Otherwise, you’ll get a white backlit keyboard.
Outside of gaming, this configuration with 16GB of RAM has no issue running a swath of my most-used applications at the same time without slowdown. My usual workload includes running over 20 Microsoft Edge tabs, Spotify, Slack, and Affinity Photo, to give you an idea. It’s a shame that base models of most laptops, including this one, come with 8GB of RAM by default. At least this one lets you upgrade it (along with the storage) yourself by unscrewing the bottom.
The components here make for decent export speeds if you use Adobe Premiere Pro for video production, and as it did during gaming, it keeps relatively quiet and cool when under stress. It exported a five-minute, 33-second 4K file faster than real time in just five minutes and one second. The app’s hardware acceleration takes advantage of Nvidia’s CUDA cores, and these results beat the AMD-powered Dell G5 15 SE by two and a half minutes. For context, it’s a few minutes slower than a few laptops that feature the octa-core Intel Core i7-10875H, more RAM, and even stronger GPUs. This isn’t a bad result, though I wouldn’t buy it just for video production.
Moving large files to and from this machine is a relatively speedy affair, since it has a USB-C 3.1 port located on its rear and a PCIe-based SSD with fast read and write speeds. Speaking of ports, this laptop has them scattered around its left, right, and back. There’s one USB Type-A port and a headphone jack on the left side, and a single USB Type-A port on the right. Everything else is on the back, including Ethernet, the aforementioned USB-C port that, unfortunately, doesn’t work for charging, two USB Type-A ports, HDMI, a power plug for its thin but still hefty 230W brick, and a horizontal lock slot.
To its credit, the Legion 5i does pack in a larger battery than the IdeaPad Gaming 3 despite being a similar size and weight. It’s a four-cell 60Wh battery that averages around four hours of consecutive screentime while multitasking during work. Considering that it’s powering a more capable GPU and a faster refresh rate display, this is decent performance for a gaming laptop. But if you plan to do any gaming during that time, you won’t make it long without the power brick, so don’t leave that behind.
This package is what I wanted the IdeaPad Gaming 3 to be: a powerful gaming laptop that doesn’t make heavy compromises in visual fidelity to get a fast frame rate. The Legion 5i is far from perfect, though. Its 720p webcam looks horrendous, and there are too few perks (specs aside) included with buying this over Lenovo’s more affordable gaming machine. A Thunderbolt 3 port and an SD card reader would have been appreciated. Alas, your main reward for spending more cash here simply results in a faster computer, and one that’s still relatively affordable compared to similarly configured 15.6-inch computers from competitors like Razer and MSI.
Photography by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge