Lenovo's all new IdeaPad Y480 is a 14-inch multimedia notebook designed to give you a perfect balance between serious performance for work and multimedia power for play. Whether you're editing HD video for a school project or playing the latest video games, this laptop has you covered. Keep reading to find out if it's worth the price.
Build & Design
One of the first things you'll notice about the design of the IdeaPad Y480 is its simple, almost "old fashioned" lines and durable brushed aluminum lid with gunmetal black finish. The display lid and palmrest area sports the same brushed metal construction and black (dark gray) finish but the lower half of the chassis is made of thick, matte black plastic. The Y480 isn't the thinnest or lightest kid on the block with a thickness of 1.3 inches and a weight of almost five pounds. Still, what this notebook lacks in slimness it more than makes up for in terms of overall performance, durable design, and upgradeability.
Build quality is good but not up to the standards of Lenovo's ThinkPad business notebooks. The metal lid will protect the screen from the average bump or drop but the metal isn't very thick and you can create distortions on the screen if you press on the lid while the laptop is turned on. The metal palmrest and plastic lower half of the notebook feels reasonably solid with no squeaks or creaks when you pinch the palmrest or try to twist the notebook in your hands.
Bottom line, this laptop should survive typical student usage as long as the student in question isn't too abusive to electronics.
Lenovo was kind enough to stick to the tried and true solution of including an access panel on the bottom of the notebook so you can easily swap out the hard drive, RAM, or wireless cards if needed. In this day and age when most consumer notebooks are racing to get thinner and lighter it would have been easy for Lenovo to make the Y480 a millimeter to two thinner by using a sealed chassis. By building the notebook this way you don't have to completely disassemble the laptop if something goes wrong.
Ports and Features
The IdeaPad Y480 has a reasonably impressive selection of ports for a 14-inch laptop. Included is a 6-in-1 memory card reader, two USB 3.0 "SuperSpeed" ports, two USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet, HDMI and VGA ports for hooking it up to an HDTV or external monitor, and dedicated microphone and headphone jacks. Lenovo was also kind enough to include an 8X DVD SuperMulti optical drive for those who still insist on living in the previous decade.
To be honest, the only complaint we have about the ports on this notebook is a complaint we have about all current-generation notebooks: Why continue to include USB 2.0 ports? The new USB 3.0 standard is compatible with USB 2.0 (in other words, the faster USB 3.0 ports also work with older, slower USB devices) so there should be four USB 3.0 ports on this notebook instead of two of each kind.
Front: Activity lights and 6-in-1 memory card reader
Back: Hinges and battery
Left: Lock slot, exhaust vent, VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, 2x USB 3.0
Right: Headphone out/mic in, USB 2.0, 8X DVD SuperMulti optical drive, USB 2.0, A/C power
Screen and Speakers
Our review unit features the same 14.0-inch "HD Glare" display with LED backlighting that is used on all configurations of the Y480. The display resolution is a rather unimpressive 1366 x 768 (720p) and the screen is essentially unremarkable in terms of color, contrast and viewing angles. This isn't to say that the screen on the Y480 is bad ... it just lacks any type of "wow" factor. The glossy surface means you'll see reflections and glare on the screen when you use the laptop under bright indoor lights or direct sunlight. The lack of a 1080p display option means you won't get the full Blu-ray experience if you pay extra to get the Blu-ray drive option on the Y480. The fact that this is a TN panel instead of an IPS display means that the colors look washed out or inverted if you tilt the screen slightly forward or back.
All of these complaints could just as easily be leveraged against 90 percent of the 14-inch laptops on the market, but it's reasonable to expect more from a notebook with a sticker price that goes as high as $1,699.00 for a system with a 1TB 5400RPM hard drive and 32GB SSD.
One place where the Y480 exceeds expectations is the built-in speakers. Lenovo uses a pair of JBL-branded stereo speakers enhanced with Dolby Home Theater v4 software to deliver surprisingly impressive sound for a notebook that only has two small speakers. Each JBL speaker is rated at 1.5W but they produce greater than expected audio performance both in terms of maximum volume and clarity. Thankfully, Lenovo engineers placed the speakers above the keyboard so sound is directed up and toward the user unlike many budget laptops that have speakers located on the bottom of the notebook pushing sound into your lap.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Y480 has a full-sized Chiclet-style keyboard with LED backlighting to help you type in dark environments. Lenovo has earned a reputation for making some of the best laptop keyboards and at first glance the Y480 is pretty good. Unlike most Chiclet-style keyboards from other companies, the keys aren't perfectly flat but have a slightly concave surface that "hugs" your fingertip. The LED backlighting is nice and bright but there is quite a bit of backlight bleed around the keys.
Our only complaint about the keyboard on the Y480 is actually related to the keyboard surround ... the plastic trim piece that sits around and behind the keys. The keyboard surround doesn't snap firmly into place and actually "bounces" as you type with moderate or heavy pressure. This gives the false impression that the keyboard tray is flexing under pressure when in fact the keyboard support frame is very solid; it's just the plastic trim piece behind the keys that moves around and makes a less-than-perfect typing experience.
This would be an easy fix for Lenovo since the keyboard itself is great and all an engineer has to do is figure out a way to keep the plastic trim piece from moving as you type.
The Synaptics touchpad is pretty standard. This is technically a "clickpad" since the entire surface functions as a massive touchpad button and you can click anywhere to trigger a left click. As with all the Synaptics clickpads we've tested, this only presents a problem with the default settings because it's very difficult to trigger a right click. Lenovo placed a white line on the bottom edge of the clickpad to indicate where the traditional left and right clicks can be used but if your fingertip isn't perfectly positioned then you'll just make a left click when you are trying to make a right click. Thankfully, you can adjust the touchpad settings using the included Synaptics software.
Our Lenovo IdeaPad Y480 review unit has the following specifications:
Our review unit has a painfully high MSRP of roughly $1,500 and at that price we have a hard time recommending this purchase. That said, at the time of this writing Lenovo is selling this exact configuration on the Lenovo.com website for $869.00 with a coupon code. At that price the IdeaPad Y480 is a much more tempting value.
The Intel Core i7-3610M quad-core processor is part of the "3rd Generation Intel Core" family and has a standard clock speed of 2.3GHz (up to 3.3GHz with Turbo Boost). Thanks to hyper-threading technology this processor acts like an 8-core CPU. You also get Intel HD Graphics 4000 and the ability to play DirectX 11 games, but the real story is the NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M graphics ... well, actually, the GeForce GT 640M "LE."
Although it isn't made clear on the Lenovo website at the time of this writing, the dedicated graphics inside the IdeaPad Y480 are not the full GT 640M. The NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M LE is essentially the same as the standard GT 640M but the graphics clock is limited to 500 MHz and the memory bandwidth is limited to 28.8 GB/sec. (compared to 625 MHz and 64 GB/sec. with the GT 640M). This will negatively impact performance in some graphically intense games and make no difference whatsoever while watching HD video or playing other games.
For example, the old 3DMark06 gaming benchmark actually shows that the IdeaPad Y480 delivers better graphic performance than the Acer Timeline Ultra M3 (equipped with the GT 640M) thanks to the fact that the Y480 has a better processor and twice the amount of system RAM. On the other hand, the newer 3DMark 11 benchmark shows that the GeForce GT 460M LE inside the Y480 has notably less performance in DirectX 11 games. Still, the Lenovo provides a better gaming experience than the ASUS N53SM equipped with the GeForce GT 630M. After all is said and done, the IdeaPad Y480 delivers a pretty good multimedia and gaming experience.
Performance and Benchmarks
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark Vantage measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
PCMark 7 is a newer benchmark which measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark06 measures overall graphics performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark11 measures overall graphics performance in DirectX 11 games (higher scores mean better performance):
CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
Heat and Noise
The IdeaPad Y480 remains comfortably cool even when stressing the laptop by playing games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. The external temperature readings were "lap friendly" during prolonged use and the only hot spots on the bottom of the notebook were near the Wi-Fi card and CPU.
The cooling fan runs almost constantly at a low hum while the notebook is idle. The pitch of the fan noise isn't enough to bother most people but it is something you'll hear over background office noise if you're within two or three feet of the notebook. The fan itself doesn't get much louder at full speed when gaming but the sound of hot air rushing out of the left side of the laptop is similar to the force of a hair dryer on the low setting.
The Lenovo IdeaPad Y480 lasted for 5 hours and 53 minutes of continuous web surfing during our standard battery life test. For our battery life test, we set Windows 7 on the "Balanced" power profile, turn the screen brightness down to 70 percent, turn Wi-Fi on and refresh a text-heavy web page every 60 seconds (we disabled the keyboard backlight for this test). Approximately six hours isn't great for a modern 14-inch notebook, but it's worth mentioning that the Y480 uses a 6-cell battery with only a 48 Whr rating compared to most notebooks that use batteries with a 53+ Whr rating. Overall, it's still a very decent result for a 6-cell battery. For example, the HP Pavilion dm4 Beats Edition lasted 6 hours and 46 minutes but it uses a 6-cell battery rated at 55 Whr.
In short, battery life from the Y480 isn't great but it isn't horrible either. To Lenovo's credit, they advertise this notebook as delivering "Up to 5 hours" with "productive usage" so the official battery life claims are VERY realistic. Kudos to Lenovo for not over hyping your battery life claims.
Battery life test results (higher scores mean better battery life):
Students (and their parents) who are in the market for a reasonably portable 14-inch laptop with plenty of performance for school work and some gaming should seriously consider the Lenovo IdeaPad Y480. The combination of 3rd generation Intel Core i7 processor and NVIDIA graphics means you get a notebook with more than enough power for work and play.
There are just a few places where the Y480 disappoints. The screen isn't bad but it certainly fails to impress considering this is a "multimedia" laptop with a MSRP of around $1,500. For that price Lenovo should offer a 1600x900 display resolution or a higher quality IPS display panel. The keyboard itself is great but the plastic keyboard trim piece "bounces" under the pressure of your fingers while typing and is distracting to say the least.
As we mentioned earlier in the review the IdeaPad Y480 is painfully overpriced at the full MSRP of $1,499.00 but if you can find this laptop for less than $900 then it's a pretty good value for the money.
The IdeaPad Y480 might not be the standout winner among 14-inch multimedia laptops, but overall performance, solid construction, and great speakers deliver a very nice user experience.