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Lenovo Y540 Gaming Laptop Review

Lenovo Y540 Gaming Laptop Review

The Lenovo Y540 has been such a highly requested gaming laptop on the channel that I bought one just to review for you all, so let’s dig into the details and find out if it lives up to the hype in this review.

Starting with the specs, mine has the Intel i7-9750H CPU, 80 watt Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti graphics, and 16gb of memory running in dual channel, well I bought it with single channel but installed dual channel for testing.

For storage I’ve got a 512GB NVMe M.2 SSD, and a 15.6” 1080p 60Hz screen, but again that’s just because I cheaped out when buying this, you can get 144Hz too. For network connectivity it’s got gigabit ethernet, 802.

11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 5. There are a few different configurations available though, I customized this one through the Lenovo website, and you can find updated prices linked in the description. The lid is black plastic with a grooved finish, while the interior is matte black and some sort of rubberised material like the older Y530.

All edges and corners were smooth, and the overall build quality felt good. The starting weight is listed at 2.3kg on the Lenovo website, and mine was under this without the 2.5 inch drive bay populated.

With the large 230 watt power brick and cables included this rises by about a kilo. The dimensions of the laptop are 36cm in width, 26.7cm in depth, and around 2.6cm thick at the highest point. This smaller footprint allows for thinner screen bezels, which I measured at around 8mm on the sides.

The 15.6” 1080p IPS screen has a matte finish, good viewing angles, though no G-Sync like the more expensive Y740. We do however have the option of enabling or disabling hybrid mode through the Lenovo Vantage software.

Enabling hybrid mode will give us better battery life with Nvidia Optimus, as this will use the Intel graphics outside of gaming, while disabling hybrid mode will give us better performance by bypassing Optimus, but at the expense of worse battery life outside of graphical intensive tasks.

I’ve measured the colour gamut using the Spyder 5 Pro, and my results returned 93% of sRGB and 72% of AdobeRGB. At 100% brightness in the center I measured 293 nits with a 740:1 contrast ratio, so all aspects are a little lower compared to many other panels I’ve tested recently, though still fair and it looked fine.

It’s worth remembering this is one of the two available 60Hz panels, so expect different results with the other or 144Hz. You’ve also got the option of pushing the screen back pretty much a full 180 degrees.

Backlight bleed wasn’t too bad here, just some minor imperfections that I wasn’t actually able to notice while viewing darker content, but this will vary between laptop and panel. There was some screen flex despite it being thicker plastic, however it felt sturdy with the hinges being out towards the far corners.

Absolutely no problems at all opening it up with one finger, it felt quite well balanced and no problems using it on my lap. As the screen bezel is on the thinner side they’ve taken the nose cam approach.

The 720p camera just isn’t very good, it’s a nose cam so when you type your fingers kind of get in the way, and if I want to be properly in the frame I’ve got to move it right back, and it’s just not very good.

The keyboard has white backlighting which can be adjusted between two different brightness levels or turned off by pressing the function key and spacebar shortcut, and the lighting even lights up all secondary key functions.

The numpad is on the smaller side, but that sacrifice gets us larger than usual arrow keys for a laptop. Overall I liked typing with the keyboard, here’s how it sounds to give you an idea of what to expect.

There was more flex while pushing down on the keyboard than I’d like, though this wasn’t an issue during normal use. The touchpad has precision drivers, was smooth to the touch and worked pretty well considering it was on the smaller side.

The touch pad itself does not click down, however there are separate left and right click buttons below it which make a very audible click sound when pressed. Fingerprints showed up fairly easily on the black interior, and as a smooth surface they were mostly easy to clean, though as a rubberised material some dirt was harder to remove.

On the left from the back there’s an air exhaust vent, USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-A port and 3.5mm audio combo jack. On the right there’s just another USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-A port and air exhaust vent. The majority of the I/O is found on the back, from left to right we’ve got a USB Type-C port, no mention of Thunderbolt though, mini DisplayPort 1.

4, third USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-A port, HDMI 2.0 output, gigabit ethernet, power input and Kensington lock. Above the rear I/O there are little images of what each is so when you’re standing over the machine plugging something in you can get a rough idea of where it should go.

The front is just smooth plastic, and we can see the two speakers towards the left and right corners. I’d say the speakers were above average with a little bass present, while not too loud I thought they were loud enough, and the latencymon results looked alright.

The lid is pretty clean, just the Legion branding on the side with white lighting. This was not from the display’s backlight and it cannot be controlled. Underneath there are some air intake vents towards the back, and the rubber feet did a decent job of reducing movement.

The bottom panel can be easily removed by taking out 11 screws with a phillips head screwdriver, and the length of the screws varies so you’ll need to keep track of them when opening. Once inside from left to right, there’s the 2.

5 inch drive bay, single M.2 slot, two memory slots, battery and WiFi card on the far right. Powering the laptop is a 3 cell 57 Watt hour L shape battery. I’ve tested it with the screen brightness at 50%, background apps disabled, and keyboard lighting off.

While streaming YouTube videos I was seeing great battery life with hybrid mode enabled, so with Nvidia Optimus and using the Intel integrated graphics. I’ve also tested with this disabled, so with only the Nvidia graphics in use, and this burns battery faster as expected.

While playing the Witcher 3 with medium settings and Nvidia’s battery boost set to 30 FPS the battery lasted for 1 hour and 18 minutes, however after the first 48 minutes with 25% charge remaining the frame rate dipped to 10 FPS and was hardly usable any longer.

The 230 watt power brick that Lenovo includes with the Y540 was plenty for these specs, I was seeing some drain during my testing but it would stop at around the 95% mark which is pretty standard behaviour.

It’s worth noting the brick was quite large and heavy compared to most other 230w ones I’ve used. Let’s move onto the thermal testing. Just for a recap of the cooling design, air comes in through the bottom, and the rubber foot at the back raises it up a little to assist air flow.

Air exhausts out the two vents on the back corners, as well as the vents up the back on the left and right hand sides. Inside in terms of heatpipes we’ve got one shared between the processor and graphics, along with a couple of fans, it’s a very similar design to what we saw in the older Y530, let me know if you want to see a comparison between those.

The Lenovo Vantage software allows us to swap between three modes, quiet, balanced and performance. I found these modes to adjust the power limit on the CPU between these different levels. The software also notes that these modes adjust fan speed, however under combined CPU and GPU load, as you’ll hear later, I observed no difference.

Otherwise I did not find these modes to affect GPU performance at all. Thermal testing was completed in an ambient room temperature of 21 degrees Celsius, so expect different results in different environments.

At idle it was a little warm, however the fans were also silent in quiet mode. The rest of the results are from combined CPU and GPU workloads, and are meant to represent worst case scenarios as I ran them for extended periods of time.

The gaming results towards the upper half of the graph were tested by playing Watch Dogs 2, as I find it to use a good combination of processor and graphics. The stress test results shown on the lower half of the graph are from running the Aida64 CPU stress test with only the stress CPU option checked, and the Heaven GPU benchmark at max settings at the same time to fully load the system.

Let’s start with the stress test results, with the quiet profile enabled the temperatures are a fair bit cooler compared to the rest, however it’s also performing worse, as we’ll see soon, due to lower power limits.

In balanced mode we’re still power limit throttling due to the limit this mode puts in place, and as the fan was going the same speed as this test in quiet mode the temperatures rise up. Enabling performance mode boosts the CPU power limit further which raises temperatures more, and again fan speed was still the same as this test in quiet mode, and there was still power limit throttling here but also now some thermal throttling on the CPU.

When we apply the -0.15v undervolt to the CPU, while the temperatures hardly change performance does go up, as we’ll see in the next graph, however there was still intermittent thermal throttling on the CPU here.

Finally when we add a cooling pad we’re able to lower temperatures by a fair amount and fully remove the thermal throttling that was taking place. The gaming results showed a similar trend, however I did not observe thermal throttling in this particular game.

These are the average clock speeds for the same tests just shown. We can see with quiet mode enabled CPU clock speeds are way down due to the lower power limit this mode sets. With balanced mode these rise up, and then in performance mode they rise a little more, but not too far before we start hitting thermal throttling limits.

By applying the undervolt we’re able to hit the full 4GHz all core turbo boost speed of the i7-9750H CPU in this workload, though as mentioned there was still intermittent thermal throttling on the CPU here, which the cooling pad was able to remove, though we didn’t see it affect performance.

These are the average TDP values reported by hardware info during these same tests. Basically we can see the CPU power rise up as the different modes affect these power limits, which while under combined CPU and GPU load seemed to be 25 watts for quiet mode, 45 watts for balanced, and 50 watts for performance.

The GPU power limit was not modified at all with these different modes and was always running with an 80 watt limit. These are the average CPU clock speeds while under a CPU only workload. With Aida64 and just the stress CPU option checked I could basically hit the full 4GHz all core turbo boost speed in balanced mode.

This is because of the power limits, in a CPU only stress test I found both balanced and performance mode would allow the CPU to hit the 60 watt PL1, just as a reminder under the combined CPU and GPU load we saw the CPU cap at 45 watts in balanced and 50 watts in performance mode, so we get better CPU performance with the GPU inactive.

As they’re performing the same at these levels the temperatures were the same too, though we could lower CPU thermals by 11 degrees with the undervolt applied. To demonstrate how this translates into performance I’ve got some Cinebench CPU benchmarks here.

We can see that the score increases as we step up the performance profile as expected. With the performance profile the 2800 score is pretty average compared to other 9750H laptops I’ve tested so far, while the 3100 result once undervolted is about as good as I’ve been able to get.

As for the external temperatures where you’ll actually be putting your hands, at idle it was a bit warmer than the average 30c we usually see. While under combined CPU and GPU stress test in the balanced mode it’s getting to the low 50s in the center of the keyboard, fairly warm due to lower fan speeds.

When we enable performance mode this doesn’t seem to change anything, despite this boosting CPU TDP by 5 watts and raising internal temperatures a bit. As for the fan noise produced by the laptop, I’ll let you have a listen to some of these tests.

At idle with the quiet profile it was completely silent, which explains the warmer internals and keyboard, though realistically not an issue. While gaming or under stress test regardless of the fan profile in use it was running at the same speed, it didn’t actually change.

I will note though that while under a CPU only workload the fan speed did vary more between modes, I’m thinking it must have just constantly been above whatever threshold they’ve got set while under combined CPU and GPU load.

At the time of recording, there’s no option to boost fan speed manually. There were no options for fan control through the Lenovo Vantage software, outside of what it notes for the quiet, balanced and performance modes, which as we’ve just seen didn’t help.

In previous models, such as my Y530, you could manually set the fan speed to maximum by pressing the control shift and one shortcut, however this was not working with the Y540 with latest BIOS. I don’t know if it used to exist with older BIOS as I haven’t tried it, however with the Y740 this feature was recently removed, whether on purpose or by mistake I do not know, so not sure if that’s the same deal with the Y540.

Overall the results aren’t too bad, but could definitely be improved if Lenovo put back the option to max the fan out, as thermals start to become a limitation, well at least in my worst case scenario, the game test appeared ok.

Even with performance mode while under stress test or gaming the fans were sitting at around 49 decibels, and while noticeably quieter when compared to most other laptops I’ve tested, it does start to negatively affect performance.

Despite this downside, once we undervolted the CPU it was possible to gain back most of this lost performance, but this will of course vary based on ambient room temp, if you’re in a warmer room than me it’s going to be harder to control, but keep in mind these are worst case scenario tests.

I think it would be great if Lenovo applied default CPU undervolting like we’re starting to see from other options like the Acer Helios 300 and Razer Blade Pro 17. While the Y540 gaming laptop is also available in 17 inches, I’m not currently sure how it utilizes the extra space or if cooling would be any different.

Next let’s take a look at some gaming benchmarks. I’ve tested with performance mode enabled, so that’s boosting the power limit of the CPU to 50 watts, and I’ve also got hybrid mode disabled, so no Optimus overhead.

This is my first time testing the Division 2, I only just bought it as a lot of you have been asking for it. These are the results with the built in benchmark, and as my first time using it I don’t yet have context as to how the results stack up, though even ultra settings was averaging 60 FPS in this test.

Battlefield 5 was tested in campaign mode. The game was still running well at ultra settings with a decent average frame rate, and when combined with the 1% low that isn’t too far behind we can see it’s a nice stable result.

Apex Legends was tested with either all settings at maximum, or all settings on the lowest possible values, as it doesn’t have predefined setting presets. It was still playing well with maximum settings, still above 60 FPS for the 1% low, though minimum settings saw average FPS rise by almost 47%.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider was tested with the built in benchmark, the results from this test were looking good, we’ll see how this game compares with some other laptops later, but at highest settings it was close to the Dell G5 with RTX 2060.

Far Cry New Dawn was tested with the built in benchmark. This game seems to be fairly CPU heavy, and at ultra settings both the average FPS and 1% low are actually a little ahead of the Aero 15 I recently tested with more powerful 2070 Max-Q graphics.

Fortnite was tested with the replay feature. Epic settings still averaged above 100 FPS and it was running well, not too surprising, the game runs fine on basically any modern hardware, and we can get much higher frame rates at lower setting levels.

Overwatch is another well optimized game and was tested in the practice range. This game was also performing very well, and able to hit the 300 FPS frame cap at low in this test, and as usual epic settings was playing smoothly too.

CS:GO was tested using the Ulletical FPS benchmark, and like Fortnite and Overwatch I noticed this game was performing very well. I think this is a result of having the Intel GPU removed from the equation, many more powerful laptops I’ve tested get the frame rate high settings has in this test at low settings just for context.

Rainbow Six Siege was tested with the built in benchmark. Even with maximum ultra settings we’re getting 120 FPS with decent 1% lows too, while high settings gets us to the 144 FPS sweet spot for a first person shooter like this.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was tested with the built in benchmark, and from my experience this is quite a CPU heavy test. Despite this though the results at lower settings are pretty good, though the game doesn’t really need high FPS to play anyway.

Dota 2 was tested playing in the middle lane with an average amount of action going on, and there wasn’t really much difference between the setting levels in terms of average FPS, however there was a larger difference seen to 1% lows, though I still found the game to play fine at max settings.

Watch Dogs 2 is a resource heavy game that still plays fine for me with a solid 30 FPS, though we weren’t really getting that at ultra, with the 1% low being a fair bit down so it felt a bit stuttery at times, very high played much better and without issue, where even the 1% low was above the average coming from ultra.

The Witcher 3 was playing ok with hairworks disabled, and at ultra and high settings it did feel a little stuttery, similar to watch dogs 2. It still played alright for the most part, but we can see this reflected in the much lower 1% low results, which become a fair bit better at medium and low settings.

If you’re after more gaming benchmarks check the card in the top right corner where I’ve tested 21 games in total. Let’s also take a look at how this config of the Lenovo Y540 compares with other laptops to see how it stacks up, use these results as a rough guide only as they were tested at different times with different drivers.

In Battlefield 5 I’ve got the Y540 highlighted in red near similarly specced machines. It’s a little behind the Helios 300 with the same specs just above it, which is expected as the Helios undervolts the CPU, boosts CPU power limit, and overclocks the graphics in turbo mode.

The Y540 is hanging in there though, it’s getting a boost as the 1660 Ti is connected directly to the screen, no Optimus. Here are the results from Far Cry 5 with ultra settings in the built in benchmark.

I’ve found this to be a pretty CPU heavy test, and the results here are pretty good, with the Y540 beating both of the RTX 2060 laptops on the graph and performing closer to the 1070 in the GE75, all while having a higher 1% low too.

These are the results from Shadow of the Tomb raider with the built in benchmark at highest settings. The results seem fair, sure still below the Helios 300 with same specs, but that thing is a beast, and we’re only 1 FPS behind the thermally throttled Dell G5 with RTX 2060.

Overall the Lenovo Y540 is providing good gaming performance. Some games were less smooth than I’d like at maximum settings, which I think isn’t too surprising considering the hardware we’re dealing with.

For the most part though all games ran well even with higher setting levels, the 1660 Ti is a great sweet spot. Now for the benchmarking tools, I’ve tested Heaven, Valley, and Superposition from Unigine, as well as Firestrike, Timespy, Port Royal and VRMark from 3DMark, just pause the video if you want a detailed look at these results.

As we saw earlier we’ve got the option of using three different modes, but also undervolting for extra performance, so let’s see how these things actually affect games. I’ve tested Far Cry 5 with the built in benchmark at 1080p with ultra settings.

At the bottom we’ve got the results with the quiet profile in use, so while this is performing worse, the results are honestly not bad. There wasn’t really a difference between performance and balanced modes in terms of average FPS, though the higher CPU TDP seemed to boost the 1% low with performance mode.

Finally once we apply the -0.15v undervolt to the CPU and overclock the GPU by 100MHz on the core and 500MHz on the memory we’re seeing the best result in this test. It’s worth noting this result with our tweaks is extremely close to the Acer Helios 300, which has a lot of these improvements by default out of the box, so it will be interesting when I compare these two in a future video, if you’re new here you’ll definitely want to get subscribed for that one.

I’ve used Crystal Disk Mark to test the storage, and the 512gb NVMe M.2 SSD was performing quite well. For updated pricing check the links in the description, as prices will change over time. At the time of recording in the US with these specs it’s going for under $1300 USD, about $88 more than the Acer Helios 300 for comparison.

Here in Australia I bought mine through the Lenovo website it’s currently starting at $1680 AUD, though I got mine for $100 less than this on an end of financial year sale. Removing our taxes and converting that into USD, that’s less than $1000 USD, an extremely good deal for the specs.

So to conclude, overall the Lenovo Y540 is a pretty nice gaming laptop, though nothing is perfect and there are some important issues here to address, let’s review the good and the bad. The worst issue I found was the lack of higher fan speeds when swapping between quiet, balanced and performance modes.

While the machine was quieter compared to most other gaming laptops I’ve tested, there was some thermal throttling in my worst case tests, though as we saw we could improve on this with some simple changes.

The older Y530 allowed us to at least have the option of manually setting the fan speed to maximum, it would be great to see this return in a future update. Otherwise the machine was performing very well for the price, and this seems to be due to the combination of higher 50 watt CPU power limit and the option of disabling hybrid mode so that we bypass the Optimus bottleneck.

Once we overclock the graphics and undervolt the CPU in a similar manner to what the Helios 300 provides out of the box, the performance appears comparable. The battery life was quite good with hybrid mode enabled, though while gaming having the frame rate drop after 48 minutes puts it below average in that regard.

The screen was fine, though if you are using it for games in many cases you’d probably benefit from getting the 144Hz option. Compared to the more expensive Lenovo Y740 gaming laptop, there are some missing features like G-Sync and RGB lighting, however overall the Y540 does appear to be offering good value for money, I just hope they improve fan speed in a future update.

Personally I’m a fan of the more subtle design compared to most others that shout out “gaming laptop” from the rooftops. Let me know what you thought about Lenovo’s 15 inch Y540 gaming laptop down in the comments, and if you’re new to the channel consider getting subscribed for future laptop reviews and tech videos like this one.

Next up I’ll be working on the Y740 which has also received a lot of requests.


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