The Lenovo IdeaPad Y480 is a 14-inch screen Intel Ivy Bridge powered laptop designed to offer both power and portability. The Y480 replaces the previously popular Lenovo Y470 by adding a few design updates and of course internal component overhaul. The Y series has become popular with the student crowd thanks to its size advantage of easily fitting on a desk, relatively light weight for carrying around campus and still having enough performance for just about any task you can throw at it. The Y480 we’re reviewing comes with a new Intel Core i7-3610QM 2.30GHz processor, Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE graphics and 8GB of RAM, here’s a full run down of the specs:
Screen: 14″ LED backlit display, glossy finish, 1366 x 768 resolution, 220-nits brightness, 500:1 contrast ratio
The Y480 will come with a couple of different design options, you can opt for either a black color case with patterned lid or a brush metal grey finish. The model being covered in this review has the grey brush metal finish. It’s a little more traditional and conservative than the black finish. The grey design has the same brush metal finish all over, while the black design has some orange accents and a funky pattern on the lid. The Y480 image above shows our model and for the sake of comparison we have pictured below a Lenovo media image of the black and orange colored finish.
In addition to the new color options, there are a couple of other design features changed compared to the previous Y470. Lenovo removed some of the touch sensitive media keys at the top of the keyboard, the Y480 has just a mute button and screen color adjustment button while the Y470 had volume up/down buttons in addition to those.
I like the fact the media buttons are now physical push buttons, but miss having the volume up and down controls you used to get there. At the top of the keyboard on the left are two more buttons, one for power and the other a Lenovo Recovery button, one push and you can restore your PC to original factory image.
One design touch I could do without is the glossy bezel around the screen, it tends to pickup fingerprints and show them, an annoying trait when you consider the fact you have to grab the screen to close the lid. On the plus side, the rest of the case is fairly resistant to fingerprints, though the lid did show some of my paw marks after a few opening and closings. Another thing to mention is that the top edges of the keyboard area are slightly sharp, you’re not going to cut yourself on the edge but it would have been nice to see the edges rounded off a bit.
We mentioned the brush metal finish on the Y480, and there is indeed a thin metal layer added on the lid and keyboard area to give the metallic look. However, the majority of the case is constructed of a rigid plastic material, not metal. Nonetheless, the overall laptop feels solid and durable. The build quality is very good and I’d feel comfortable throwing the Y480 in a backpack and carrying it along with a bunch of heavy books. The only area of noticeable flex is on the bottom of the laptop beneath the optical drive, but that’s typical of many laptops as it’s hard to reinforce the hollow space in the optical drive area. The one disappointment I have in regards to build is that the screen hinges on the Y480 are not as rigid as they could be. If you push on the screen it wobbles a bit, this is in contrast to the ThinkPad X220 I own that resists any wobble no matter how hard you flick or push the screen.
The Y480 has a 14.0” display with a glossy finish. The glossy finish helps to make colors pop, but on the downside it creates unwanted reflections from the screen when you have a strong lighting source from behind or above. The display on the Y480 is made by AUO. It offers nice and deep colors, blacks and whites appear both true and color accuracy is good when viewing straight on at a perpendicular angle to the eyes. Since the screen does not use IPS technology, like that used in the Apple iPad, the colors distort as the viewing angles widen. The view of the screen from different angles can be seen below:
You can see that when tilted back the screen colors distort greatly. This isn’t a big deal, most people view the screen straight on anyway.
Lenovo provides a screen color optimization feature and button called OneKey Theatre, you push the button located on the top right side and an on screen display allows you to toggle between Normal Mode, Movie Mode and Intelligent Mode. Movie mode presents the richest and brightest colors while normal mode screen colors made it easier for reading documents. If you switch to “Intelligent” mode the Y480 will actually detect when you’re playing a movie and switch to the movie mode colors, a pretty neat feature.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Y480 keyboard has not changed from the Y470 other than one important factor – it now has a backlight! The keyboard backlight feature is a real luxury, it makes seeing keys in dimly lit rooms so much easier, increasing the usability factor. Even if you’re a touch typist, you’ll sometimes need to look at the keyboard to find those out of reach keys or cursor movement shortcut keys, and if it’s dark then finding those is hard to do without a backlight.
In terms of usability, the Y480 keyboard is great. The keys are well spaced and have a good amount of travel and tactile feedback. It’s the same feel as the keyboard found on ThinkPads and not quite the same quality, but for a consumer notebook it is certainly above average. A chiclet style design is used, this offers both a modern look and increases key spacing thereby reducing mistyping. Lenovo calls the chiclet design AccuType.
The only quirk I don’t like about the Y480 keyboard is the fact it has the PgUp, PgDn, Home and End keys aligned on the far right side of the keyboard. This is an unnatural location and different to most other keyboards, and even worse is the fact Lenovo shrunk the right Shift key to fit these keys in.
The Y480 touchpad has received an update, it’s just one giant touchpad with integrated buttons, commonly referred to as a clickpad and something people are used to seeing in the MacBook lineup. There is a small vertical line at the bottom of the touchpad to indicate the border between the left and right mouse buttons. In practice the touchpad works well, you can register a left-click by pushing down anywhere on the touchpad. I do miss the dimpled surface the Y470 had, the Y480 surface is smooth and not as textured.
Lenovo Y480 Performance
This is the part people care the most about, buyers of the Y480 are looking for a portable laptop that has serious performance credentials. The Y480 sports Intel’s technology in the form of a Core i7-3610QM processor and Intel HD 4000 graphics. Also included is an Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE dedicated graphics card. This GPU is not using the new Nvidia Kepler architecture, but rather the old Fermi. The 640M in the Lenovo Y480 will therefore disappoint some users as it’s about on par with last years graphics card releases, such as the AMD 7690M and Nvidia GT 555M that came in the Y470. Later on in the year Lenovo should have configurations of the Y480 available with the faster Nvidia 650M or 660M graphics cards, but at this time those are not an option.
Our Y480 came with a generous capacity 750GB hard drive, but it’s a slow spinning 5400RPM. That’s a bit of a downer as the hard drive really is the performance bottleneck. We ran most benchmarks using the stock configuration hard drive, but also couldn’t resist putting in the new budget friendly Intel SSD 330 120GB that costs only $150 but offers a big performance boost relative to a 5400RPM HDD. For a full review and background on the Intel 330 SSD check out the review on StorageReview.com.
With all that said, let’s dig into some benchmarks we ran on the Y480 and analyze the performance.
HP EliteBook 8470p (Intel Core i7, Intel HD 4000, 8GB RAM)
ThinkPad X220 (Intel Core i5-2410m, Intel HD 3000, 4GB RAM)
Overall Computer Score
2D Graphics Mark
3D Graphics Mark
Super Pi calculated to 1M
Yes, we know how faulty the Super Pi benchmark is (it’s not multithreaded), but people still like to know the score! The Intel Core i7-3610QM calculated Pi to one million digits of accuracy in 11 seconds. Not bad! The Intel Core i5-2410m powered processor in my X220 takes 15 seconds for that calculation, so you’re looking at 25% processor speed improvement in single threaded mode, for a program that can utilize multiple cores the speed improvements are even great.
These results demonstrate that the Intel Core i7-3610QM is a screamer in terms of performance, the 8,634 PCMark Vantage score for the Y480 was nearly 2,000 points more than the Y470p with a Core i5 Sandy Bridge class processor. Then if you add an SSD such as the Intel 330 the score absolutely rockets to 18,170, this demonstrates the weak spot of the Y480 is the hard drive and if you upgrade to an SSD you have a serious performance machine. Also note that the CPU Mark score of 8,857.4 achieved by the Ivy Bridge Core i7-3610QM in the PerformanceTest 7.0 benchmark also more than doubles the 3,528.1 score the Intel Core i5 scored.
While the Ivy Bridge processor is undoubtedly impressive, the NVIDIA GT 640M LE turns out to be a middle range graphics card, unable to outdo the last generation Nvidia 555m graphics or AMD 7690M graphics. Indeed, the 1,333 3DMark 11 score is almost exactly the same as the Y470p scored with its AMD 7690M, but we have to consider the fact the processor actually helped bump this score a bit so in effect the AMD 7690M graphics are likely better than the NVIDIA GT 640M LE.
Input and Output Ports
The Y480 has a generous selection of ports for a 14-inch laptop. Let’s take a tour around each side to see what port you get and where.
On the left side of the Y480 is a VGA monitor out port, Ethernet RJ-45 LAN port, HDMI, and 2 USB 3.0 ports:
On the right side you get a headphone jack, microphone jack, and 2 USB 2.0 ports:
On the front side is located the the 6-in-1 media card reader for SD cards and the likes:
Lenovo claims 4 hours of battery life for the Y480 equipped with a 6-cell 48Wh battery. Usually manufacturers over quote the battery life, but in our testing we actually achieved better than the 4 hours under a light usage scenario. With the screen dimmed to 1/3 brightness, Windows power set to “power saver”, wireless on and the laptop idling the Y480 was able to achieve 5 hours of battery life. Now, that’s a very optimistic usage scenario. Under more normal conditions of having the screen brighter, streaming video and doing a lot of web surfing you can expect closer to the 4 hour battery mark. However, if you really want to stretch the battery out then dimming the screen, using the power saver mode and switching to integrated graphics can extend the life.
The speakers on the Y480 are certainly above par for a 14-inch laptop. The sound from these JBL branded speakers can fill a room, the audio offers booming lows and clear highs. There’s no annoying tinny noise that is present in many laptop speakers. If you push the OneKey Theatre button and switch to movie mode the surround sound feature is enabled.
Also included is Dolby Home Theatre v4 audio which helps to give more of a surround sound effect, since the built-in speakers obviously cannot be positioned behind you the claims of 5.1 surround sound are somewhat misleading, but all the same it’s a nice added feature and does allow you to power a 5.1 surround sound home theatre if you plugin via HDMI to a receiver.
Heat and Noise
One important aspect of laptops that is often overlooked is how well they do in regards to staying cool and minimizing fan noise. This is especially a concern with smaller laptops that have powerful components packed inside, the worry is that the laptop will overheat due to its small size and inability to dissipate heat well. We’re happy to report that the Y480 does not suffer from any type of overheating or annoying fan noise symptoms. In fact, the Y480 should be commended for its ability to stay cool and keep fans running to a minimum amount. The Y480 has a very large cooling system, and bigger vents and heat syncs is definitely better when it comes to cooling. The warmest the Y480 got was 96F around the heat vent area and (somewhat unfortunately) in the middle of the keyboard. However, 96F is not bad as that’s still below human body temperature. It took running demanding 3D benchmarks for extended periods of time to warm the Y480 up and force the fan to spin up to a higher level, something you won’t be doing all the time. Under normal usage the fan will be all but inaudible and temperatures will stay well below that 96F peak we reached. The palm rests stayed cool under every usage scenario we threw at the Y480, and since your hands sit on the palm rests much of the time you’ll be free of sweaty palms.
The Y480 is similar to the Y470 in that it offers easy access to components for upgrades. If you’d like to put in an mSATA SSD, all you have to do is remove the bottom panel to get access to the mSATA port. You also get access to the hard drive, wireless card and RAM slots by removing this panel. All it takes is the removal of a couple of screws to gain access.
Lenovo also makes it easy to find teardown guides for the Y480 so you know exactly what’s inside your laptop and make repairs on your own if you wish.
The IdeaPad Y480 is a worthy successor to the acclaimed Y70 and Y470p. For the most part Lenovo has stuck to the winning formula of the Y470 – that being producing a mobile 14” laptop that has all the performance of larger 15 – 17” laptops while keeping the price under $1,000. The new Intel Core i7 Ivy Bridge processor is a nice improvement, offering around a 20% performance boost of similar previous generation Intel processors. The Nvidia 640M LE graphics card is similar in performance to the AMD 7690M, but once Lenovo starts rolling about more configurations of the Y480 there should be more powerful options available, such as the Nvidia 650M. Even with all that power packed into a small 14” chassis the heat and noise were a non-issue, Lenovo engineers should be commended for developing a cooling system that works well.
As with anything, not everything is perfect about the Y480. Some people will be disappointed not to see a higher resolution screen option, for now Lenovo is sticking to just a 1366 x 768 screen option. The glossy screen and bezel will deter some more conservative buyers. The Y480’s battery life has actually decreased relative to the Y470 that was able to achieve six hours, not what we expected with Intel touting the power saving abilities of Ivy Bridge.
For the most part though, the Y480 is an improvement. The backlit keyboard alone is enough to make this reviewer choose the Y480 over the Y470 given the choice. The Y480 should especially appeal to students who want something both powerful and mobile. Ultrabooks are all the rage now, but they can’t touch the power and performance you get with the Y480 for the same price.
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Powerful performance for a 14” laptop, add an SSD and you’re off to the races