A Gaming BEAST – Lenovo Legion 7i Review
Today I will be reviewing the Lenovo Legion 7i, which is the successor to the very popular Y740, which I reviewed last year. I was amazed at the performance that Lenovo was able to offer in a 15-inch chassis, it was really incredible. The price of the Y740 was also justifiable too before Ryzen entered the horizon.
This new 7i series from Legion is their highest performing gaming notebooks series. They have a mid-tier level, which is the Legion 5i series, and then the Legion five, which offers AMD Ryzen processors. What they have done with the 7i is tweaked a few things with the design, updated the hardware with Intel’s 10th gen Core H-series processors and NVIDIA’s RTX Super Max-Q graphics. As importantly they have also upgraded the cooling solution on this notebook, and I have to admit that this thing loves to flex its muscles as you will see in our closer look of the Legion 7i.
Price & Models
Pricing for the Legion 7i starts at $1,529 USD, and for that you get a Core i5-10300H, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB NVMe drive, a GTX 1660 Ti, and a 1080P IPS 144Hz display. The model that we have in lab is spec’d out to the brim. It comes with Intel’s fastest Core i9-10980HK CPU with 8-core/16-threads, 32GB of RAM, two 1TB SSDs in RAID, a RTX 2080 Super Max-Q GPU, and the same 1080P IPS 144Hz display as the cheaper model.
I wasn’t able to find the exact price for this flagship config since Lenovo doesn’t offer the Core i9 option on their site at the moment. However, I did find a model on B&H photo that was listed for $2,920 USD, but unfortunately it was backordered. You should expect to pay over $3,000 for this config when it’s available. Would that being said, how does the Legion 7i align with the rest of the competition? Well there is the MSI GS66 Stealth, which is actually priced similarly to the 7i if you were to configure it spec-to-spec, then there is the Razer Blade 15 Advanced, the Gigabyte Aero 15, and the Zephyrus S15 from ROG, all of which compete in the same higher-end gaming laptop realm.
Design & Build
Let’s start with exterior impressions, and as I mentioned earlier Legion has made a few tweaks here and there, but they still managed to keep it low profile. The Legion logo has been relocated to the top left-hand corner instead of the bottom on the Y740. They have also added a Lenovo badge on the other side, which is a nice touch. You will also find the addition of ring lighting at the bottom, which looks absolutely amazing. I’m certainly getting concept vibes with the 7i. This is an all-aluminum build for the most part, but there are some plastic bits here and there. Overall I think it’s built really well, though I would have preferred a unibody design considering the price point. The hinge is okay, it’s not the strongest that I have come across and there is a bit of wobble, but it does open 180 degrees flat just like the GS66.
Keyboard & Trackpad
The interior space does look different from the Y740. They replaced the standard layout with a full-size keyboard and I have mixed feelings about this. You see when I placed my hands on top of the palm rest I really don’t have a lot of space to work with, especially when I’m trying to use the WASD areas, particularly for gaming. My hand can easily fall over the edge of the laptop, there’s just not a lot of room. I would rather have a standard keyboard that looks cleaner and simple. I mean it’s great news for gamers who are also accountants and love using NUM pads, but I really want to know your thoughts about this. Would you prefer to have a standard layout on a 15-inch notebook or a full-size keyboard? Let me know. The other thing I should mention is that you lose dedicated keys on the left-hand side, which used to give instant access to Vantage software, game capture, a few macro keys, and lighting adjustments. The keys themselves are fantastic, Lenovo has really nailed it on the 7i. Each keystroke feels stable and there is a good amount of travel distance. This thing is just perfect for gamers and typists.
The cherry on top of that is the RGB lighting. Legion has partnered up with Corsair to deliver this beautiful lighting atmosphere. It’s right on par with my Blade 15 Advanced, and I love it. Not to mention Corsair’s IQ software comes with a million lighting effects that you can play around with, and you can customize them per-zone or individual keys. Although I will say that the LED logo on the lid struggles to display accurate colors. For instance, when you choose white it shows like a greenish tone, just something to keep in mind.
The trackpad is decent, they have made it about 40% larger than the Y740. They did this by eliminating the dedicated primary left and right buttons. To be honest, although it’s pretty good I expected more from the 7i, like a glass surface, but that’s not the case. It’s a smooth plastic finish that gets the job done, and it has support for Windows Precision drivers. However, it just doesn’t have that premium feel to it compared to other notebooks that I have tested. Now I’m a trackpad guy and this is a gaming laptop, and most of you will likely have an external mouse plugged in for gaming, but if you’re just using it for other tasks you most likely want to have a really nice experience using a good trackpad. Regrettably, this just doesn’t fall in line with those expensive gaming notebooks out there, so that’s something that you should be aware of.
Webcam / Speakers / Connectivity
This is the webcam test on the 7i. Lenovo actually moved the camera from the bottom to the top, which is the more appropriate location. What’s really awesome is that they have also implemented a physical privacy shutter button so you can easily block the webcam if you want to. That is a really cool and thoughtful feature. The microphone also sounds pretty good, it’s not compressed, so it should be perfect for a Skype conversations or just business meetings. The speakers are located at the bottom and they sound okay given the orientation, I expect a little bit bass, there is some treble and they do get loud. I would say that it is a little bit better than the GS66 Stealth from MSI.
Port selection is well thought out on the 7i, just like the Y740 the majority of them are located at the back, which just seems practical. You get a Kensington lock, power-in, two USB 3.1 Gen2 ports, gigabit ethernet, and HDMI 2.0. On the right hand side there is an extra USB 3.1 Gen1 port, and on the left you will find an audio jack and a couple of USB Type-C ports, with one of them supporting Thunderbolt 3 and the other being USB 3.1 Gen2. Unfortunately, it does not have an SD card reader.
Switching gears to the display, it is a 15.6-inch 1080P panel with a refresh rate of 144Hz. It is an IPS panel and it’s also factory calibrated by X-Rite. Gamers will be glad to hear that it supports G-Sync, which is great. It passed our display analysis test with flying colours, as it covers 100% sRGB, 76% Adobe RGB, and 79% DCI-P3. If you’re looking to create content this will not disappoint you. The best part is the screen gets really bright, we are talking close to 400 nits so outdoor visibility shouldn’t be an issue. It has a great contrast ratio and viewing angles. The gaming experience on this thing is fantastic, I have no complaints whatsoever. It is fast and there is a panel overdrive option in Vantage that tightens up the response time, which is awesome. All-in-all this is by far the best looking screen that I have ever encountered on a gaming laptop. There is also a 240Hz option that you can opt for a when you’re customizing the specs to your desire, which is nice.
Legion is also carrying over their GPU mux switch from previous generations, which allows you to either enable the discrete GPU full-time or have the system enter a more typical hybrid mode that dynamically switches between the GPU and the iGPU based on workload. Both of these modes are taken over by NVIDIA’s new Advanced Optimus. The 7i is the first gaming notebook that we have reviewed that uses this feature. Before Advanced Optimus people needed to make a tough choice, either a gaming laptop with G-Sync or the power savings of Optimus. You couldn’t have both since the iGPU ended up controlling what was being displayed on screen so G-Sync was impossible. Now it’s the discrete GPU and NVIDIA software doing all the heavy lifting, so the switchable graphics and G-Sync can be featured on the same device like the 7i. Not only that, but you can switch between Optimus and full-time discrete mode without having to reboot the system, which is nice.
Under the hood, Lenovo has made it fairly easy to access components. The memory sticks are covered with thermal padding to help cool them, maximum supported memory is 32GB, which I did find to be quite weird because my Blade 15 can support up to 64GB. The two NVME drives are scattered across both sides and the drive speeds are insane given that Lenovo configured them in RAID-0. The read and write performance is amazing, but severely limited by the 4GB/s limit of the CPU’s DMI Link. If you value redundancy you can opt out of the RAID-0 setup and use RAID-1 instead. They have also stepped up the cooling system. Legion is calling it Coldfront 2.0, it comes with an integrated vapor chamber and an updated thermal sensor array. It also has a dual fan system that has 73 liquid crystal polymer fan blades that pushes air through four dedicated thermal channels at high speeds. This certainly helps the CPU to achieve higher clock speeds without sacrificing temperatures. They have also upgraded the battery on the 7i, so now you are getting an 80Wh battery instead of a 57Wh on the Y740. They freeed up space for the larger battery by eliminating the 2.5-inch hard drive bay.
We performed our battery tests in Balanced Mode, and it’s honestly not that great. As you can see in our Light Load test it only lasted for about 6 hours, which is respectable, but not as good as something like the GS66 Stealth or the TUF A15, both of which have bigger batteries. Part of this has to do with the higher TDP on that Core i9 CPU and a really fast GPU, unlike the efficient Ryzen processors. You will also notice that we have added results with G-Sync enabled, and that certainly affects battery life, both during idle and heavy load scenarios.
CPU Temperatures & Frequencies
Time to get into performance, but before I get into the synthetic results let’s go over the CPU temperatures and frequencies over time. We want to see how Lenovo was able to cool Intel’s fastest power hungry Core i9 processor. In the highest performance mode it starts out at 4.0GHz, but then eventually settles down to an average of 3.7GHz on all cores. That’s actually pretty impressive given that the temperatures settled around 83°C. The i9-10980HK has a maximum configurable TDP frequency of 3.1GHz (up from its base of 2.4GHz), so it almost feels like Legion has enough confidence in their cooling solution that they are operating the i9 at a slight overclock. Now that we are aware of how the 7i performs in its highest performance mode – which seems to be the popular option among most of you when you have your devices plugged in – we figured this out from recent Twitter poll that we conducted – but there is more of that story because a lot of these devices do come with custom power plans. With just a flip of a switch it will convert a laptop to a portable monster with the best performance or a more efficient setup where it boosts battery life and gives you quieter operation. We are planning on investigating these custom power plan options in another article, so definitely stay tuned for that.
Let’s dive into the benchmarks. Starting off with Cinebench you will see the same theme carry throughout these tests. In multi-core Intel’s highest end CPU being used in a $3,000 laptop can barely keep up with a $1,200 device using a Ryzen 4800H. On the other hand, Intel still leads by a significant amount when it comes to lightly threaded applications. Another area where the Legion 7i really excels is when the RTX 2080 Super can flex its muscles like in DaVinci Resolve Studio. Handbrake once again shows AMD’s domination, while WinRAR benefits from the ultra-fast RAID-0 NVMe SSD array.
When it comes to gaming frequency, this is actually one of the first gaming notebooks we have come across that has super consistent results. It hits 4.4GHz and just stays there for most of the tests. Temperatures were a bit higher, but that’s probably due to some heat soak from the GPU into the CPUs cooling array, but there’s nothing to worry about here. The RTX 2080 Super Max-Q is one heck of a powerful graphics card to be crammed into such a thin notebook, but it looks like its heat is pretty well managed. Like all Nvidia GPUs, part of the heat management is done through gradually modulating clock speeds up and down over time. In this case, it’s moving from 1500MHz to about 1700MHz, both of which are well above NVIDIA’s 1230MHz Boost spec, so it’s obviously getting more than enough cooling.
In games that leads to absolute domination in every single title we threw at the Legion 7i. This is by far the fastest gaming notebook we have ever come across, period. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the fastest we are going to see this year. It looks like Legion have been able to seamlessly combine a slim chassis with great cooling and high-end components to create a desktop-class gaming experience. Sure you can build a faster desktop for less, but with component prices the way they are these days this seems to be a pretty good option if you want some portability.
Acoustics & Chassis Temperatures
The acoustic performance is pretty good, the notebook doesn’t sound like a jet fan during gaming loads, and during idle it’s very quiet. Although I will mention that when you’re in a completely silent environment, when you can’t really hear anything in the background, you will start to hear some inductor noise coming from the chassis.
And to wrap things up, surface temperatures are really good on the Legion 7i. There are not a lot of hotspots on the chassis and this is again thanks to the amazing Coldfront 2.0 cooling technology that Legion was able to implement into this chassis. Great job guys.
All right, so I think it’s time to wrap up my thoughts on the Legion 7i. I really like what they have done with the design, they have tweaked a few things compared to the Y740, but those are welcome changes. I especially love the cool ring lighting at the bottom. It definitely gives you those concept vibes and you can turn it completely off if you want to get that stealth simple looking laptop. You can easily take this thing to a business meeting because it doesn’t look like a gaming laptop, but it does when you turn on those RGB lights. The display is fantastic, it’s one of the best that we have encountered. It’s bright, it’s colour accurate, and works well with G-Sync. The keyboard is also fantastic, but only issue with it is the trackpad. I really wish that they improved upon that, but can hopefully expect that they will improve on that with the next revision. The battery life is not that great unfortunately, that is something to expect given these specs.
Finally, there is the performance, and that is where this thing shines because the numbers are off the charts. They do speak for themselves. You have a really fast GPU, a fast CPU – not the fastest – I really wish if it had a Ryzen CPU, but unfortunately we are not getting that yet. It also goes to show that Intel has a lot of catching up to do, because Legion was just so confident in their cooling system that they applied a slight overclock, but it still couldn’t keep up with the fastest that AMD has to offer. That definitely tells a story. If you’re in the market looking for the fastest gaming notebook I think the Legion 7i should be on the top of your list.