Lenovo Legion 51: A Smart Refinement

Lenovo rebranded its midrange and high-end gaming laptops into the Legion line a few years back, and we’ve been fans of most of the Legion models since then. The Legion Y530 and the Legion Y740 were strong 2019 entries, and the new Legion 5i ($1,599.99 as tested) evolves the line further. Besides a streamlined naming scheme, the 5i features an evolved design with an updated keyboard, a more logically placed webcam with a privacy shutter, and a 10th Generation Intel Core i7 processor. The Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 GPU and the 144Hz display in our review model provided a smooth, full HD gaming experience, and it’s all rounded out by plenty of storage and ports. The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 edges it out currently as an unmatched value, but this is an appealing 15.6-inch midrange laptop that costs less than truly premium alternatives.

A CLEAN LOOK, WITH REFINED FEATURES
The Legion 5i shares a general design style with the previous generation of Legion gaming laptops, with just a few visual changes. It’s quite similar to the Legion Y530 and Legion Y740, which is largely positive, as we rated those builds nicely. While the design may be a little tame for some, it’ll be preferable to garish alternatives for others, and the quality of the construction is strong.

Though the chassis is plastic, its soft touch and sturdiness are satisfying and give you confidence in its quality. The lid is a polymer blend that has a decent feel, and the logo now has an iridescent shine to it when viewed at certain angles. The Legion 51 is compact and fairly portable at 0.93 by 14.3 by 10.2 inches (HWD) and 5.4 pounds. That means it’s hardly the lightest around (the 14-inch Zephyrus G14 and several premium gaming laptops beat it on both thinness and weight), but it’s right on the mark versus entry-level and midrange competition. (The Acer Predator Helios 300 is 0.9 inch thick and 5.1 pounds, while the Dell G5 15 SE is 0.85 inch thick and 5.5 pounds.) It’s still portable enough to throw in your bag and go, though it’s a tad heftier than you’d like on a daily commute.

Lenovo Legion 5i

PROS
The RTX 2060 GPU provides more than 60fps in demanding games. A 144Hz display for competitive multiplayer titles. Well-made, compact build, and good battery life. Comfy revamped keyboard. 1TB of SSD storage and plenty of ports, including Ethernet and USB-C.

CONS
Some may find the design plain. Not especially lightweight for its screen size.

BOTTOM LINE
The Lenovo Legion 5iisa smart refinement of last year’s Legion gaming laptops, delivering practical design updates, anew CPU, and solid 1080p gaming performance at a fair price.

Careful observers will note some physical layout changes compared with past Legions, chiefly involving the keyboard and camera. The keyboard now includes a full number pad on the right side, absent from the Legion Y740 and a welcome inclusion. The keyboard itself has also been improved, and it’s really comfortable and responsive. It employs Lenovo’s “soft landing” switches that do what the name implies, even when

you re bottoming out your keys. The keyboard is also lit across four customizable zones.

With 1.5mm of travel, sculpted keycaps, and larger arrow keys, it’s a satisfying typing experience. The presence of the number pad makes the rest of the keyboard a little condensed, but you adapt to the shape pretty quickly. The touchpad is also larger than before (by 39 percent), and has changed style from dedicated left- and right-click buttons at its base to a single clickable piece. It’s placed slightly off-center and ran up against my left palm somewhat while I was typing. It didn’t cause accidental presses; it just felt a bit odd.

The keyboard now includes a full number pad on the right side, absent from the Legion Y740 anda welcome inclusion.

As for the camera, Lenovo has improved it over past Legion laptops by making it more normal. The Legion Y530 and Y740 both had their webcams under the display on the bottom bezel. Most of the industry has decided this is a subpar solution to getting thinner bezels, and Lenovo has followed suit, placing it back up top. In this time of widespread remote work (and potential game streamers who may want to look better as opposed to chin-camming it), it’s a good change. There’s also a physical privacy shutter that you can flip into place to block the lens with a switch along the top bezel. The camera resolution is 720p and produces average picture quality.

Now, on to what’s between those bezels. Our unit is equipped with a full HD 144Hz display, a perfect fit for gaming (especially with the components in this model). We’ll get into frame rates a bit later, but the GPU can push above 60 frames per second (fps) on plenty of games, and approach the 144fps ceiling on less-demanding multiplayer titles, making this screen a good match. The IPS panel is adequately bright at 300 nits.

Finally, for the physical port layout: It’s a strong selection, with most on the rear block. The left and right sides of the laptop each host one USB 3.1 Type-A port, and the left also includes the headset jack. The rear is where youll find two more USB 3.1 ports, a USB Type-C port, an HDMI output, an Ethernet jack, and the Lenovo-specific power jack.

COMPONENT CHECK: MIDRANGE INTEL AND NVIDIA POWER
Most important for a gaming laptop, we come to the components. As noted earlier, prices start at $1,099.99, with our $1,599.99 review unit the most expensive option. These figures range from upper entry-level to midrange— no version of this laptop is either super cheap or overly expensive.

There’s alsoa physical privacy shutter that you can flip into place to block the lens witha switch along the top bezel.

Our test model carries a Core 17-10750H processor, 16GB of memory, a GeForce RTX 2060 GPU, and a 1TB solid-state drive. At the time I wrote this, it’s the standard listing at B&H Photo, with limited stock at a sale price of $1,299. The $1,599.99 model on Lenovo.com is the same as ours aside from the storage, with a 512GB SSD and a 1TB hard drive. So you’ll want to hunt at various etailers and Lenovo itself to find the best price for this machine.

The $1,099.99 model comes with a Core 15-10300H processor, 8GB of memory, a GeForce GTX 1650 GPU, and a 128GB SSD. The two middle models on Lenovo’s site offer Core 15 and i7 options, as well as varied storage capacities and GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics. In all cases, I’d avoid the 128GB SSD configurations, as that storage capacity is just way too skimpy for modern game requirements.

PERFORMANCE TESTING: STRONG HD GAMING PROFICIENCY
To provide context for the Legion 5i’s performance, I’ve put together a batch of competing laptops. Most are other 15-inchers, though the ROG Zephyrus G14 has really broken the mold on value and performance, so it’s included as well. We don’t review as many midrange gaming laptops—roughly $1,300 to $2,000 models—as we do entry-level and premium machines (in part due to the configurations manufacturers choose to send for review), so there’s a mix of lower- and higher-priced models. The Acer Predator Helios 300 ($1,199.99 as tested) represents the best entry-level value over $1,000; the Dell G5 15 SE is an all-AMD alternative at the same price. The Zephyrus G14, as mentioned, is a superb midrange value at $1,449.99.

Last, the Legion Y740 is Lenovo’s 2019 equivalent model. We tested it in a higher $1,919.99 configuration, so even though it’s a generation behind our Legion 5i, it has a more powerful Nvidia GPU. On certain CPU-centric tests, the improvements of the 51 should show in its newer-generation processor, even though the GPU is a step down in our particular configurations.

Productivity, storage, and media tests: PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet jockeying, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both tests yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.

The Legion 51 wasn’t the top performer in PCMark 10, but all these laptops show an aptitude for zipping through everyday home and office jobs and multitasking. Similarly, all of these SSDs are snappy, so you’ll be able to boot and load files and games quickly.

Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render complex images. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.

Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video-editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) toa 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.

We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and add up the total. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here.

The Legion 5i and its processor are decent performers here, with notably good results in Photoshop. As we’ve seen before, AMD’s Ryzen 4000 processors in like- priced machines tend to be a notch above Intel’s offerings in thread-aware media tasks, so you may favor those options if you intend to do media editing on the side. None of these machines is a specialist media workstation, though, and ultimately the Legion 51 and its cohort are just serviceable for these tasks. It’s all about gaming and, as youll see, the AMD Ryzen chips here cannot assert superiority on that front; gaming is mostly about the GPUs.

Graphics tests:
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.

Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario for a second opinion on each laptop’s graphical prowess.

All the scores were strong, demonstrating capable performance for 3D tasks and gaming. There isn’t much separation in the results, though, so it’s hard to draw firm conclusions among the laptops. The in-game benchmark results do a better job of that.

The Legion 5i and its cohort are just serviceable for specialist media tasks; ultimately, it’s all about gaming.

Real-world gaming tests:
The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world gameplay at various settings. We run them at 1080p resolution at the games’ medium and best image-quality presets (Normal and Ultra for Far Cry 5 under DirectX 11, Medium and Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider under DirectX 12).

The 51 achieved pretty great results. On one hand, it stuck very close to the GeForce RTX 2070 in the Legion Y740, likely because that was the down-tuned Max-Q version of that GPU. On the other, it bested the AMD-based machines, even the Zephyrus G14 using the same GPU. That could be a part down to CPU and part to improved thermals (Lenovo’s so-called “ColdFront 2.0” thermal design does seem effective, and the G14 has less room for cooling with its 14- inch chassis), but it’s worth a few frames per second either way.

The Legion 5i also beat out the Helios 300 and its GeForce GTX 1660 Ti, though that machine hung close and represents good performance per dollar. I also found that the Legion 51 ran reasonably quiet and didn’t get especially warm, for which we can again thank the thermal design. You’ll hear the fans more with the higher-performance setting available in Lenovo’s software, and that trade-off is worth a couple of frames per second.

Outside of these head-to-head GPU comparisons, the frame rates here are objectively good. The RTX 2060 is perhaps better than some may think as Nvidia’s entry-level RTX GPU, even without considering its addition of ray- tracing capabilities over the GTX series. It produced well above 60fps in these tests, in fact closer to 100fps in AAA titles, while less-demanding games will approach the 144fps ceiling.

Battery rundown test: After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the same Tears of Steel short we use in our Handbrake test— with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system quits.

The Legion 5i outlived its competitors. This result means the 51 can serve as your daily driver, lasting off the charger for school or a commute through most of the day. It doesn’t come close to rivaling the 15- or 20-plus-hour life of some ultraportables, but it’s long for a gaming laptop.

A SOLID ALL-ROUNDER AT A REASONABLE PRICE
There’s plenty to like about the Legion 5i, from its sturdy build to solid gaming performance. It’s not the lightest or most exciting design, but it feels well made and includes some advanced features. The keyboard is improved over past iterations, and the webcam placement is more sensible. Add a GPU that just about matches the performance of a more expensive option from previous- generation Legion laptops, as well as a superior processor, and this is an overall better value than before.

It’s not quite an Editors’ Choice, as the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 offers an as-yet unbeatable midrange value, and some premium gaming rigs deliver more power on the high end, but it strongly occupies an appealing space between.

HARDWARE
Starts at $2,599.00, $2,999 as tested