Lenovo Legion Y740 review: A laptop built for the future has a few issues in the here and now Credit: Adam Patrick MurrayIDGIDG
Business Management

Lenovo Legion Y740 review: A laptop built for the future has a few issues in the here and now

The Lenovo Legion Y740 is the first gaming laptop we’ve tested at PCWorld with an Nvidia RTX 2070 Max-Q, one of the family of ray-tracing-capable mobile GPUs introduced by Nvidia at CES. 

Generation changeovers are always an interesting time. It feels like anyone could pull ahead, like every laptop is potentially heir to the throne. So this review, while mostly about the Legion Y740, also focuses a bit more than usual on GPU benchmarks, as we put the RTX 2070 through its paces and see how the price-to-performance ratio measures up against both previous-gen and current-gen alternatives.

Spoiler: The RTX generation continues to be more complicated than you’d expect.

Lenovo Legion Y740: Basic specs

For once, Lenovo’s kept things fairly simple and limited itself to only a handful of Legion Y740 variants. The model we reviewed costs $1,920 officially (available on Lenovo.com), though a discount to $1,540 was active at the time of this review. Here are the basic features:

  • CPU: Intel Core i7-8750H 
  • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q
  • Memory: 16 GB of DDR4/2667
  • Display: 15.6-inch 144Hz G-Sync display at 1920x1080
  • Storage: 256GB SSD, 1TB HDD

For the most part, these specs carry over across the other models. The display is always the same for instance, as is the CPU. The model we reviewed is the only one with an RTX 2070 Max-Q, however—the other three sport normal RTX 2060s. Storage is also subject to change, with the cheapest model featuring only a 256GB SSD (a pittance for a modern gaming laptop), and another model featuring a 512GB SSD.

Design

Lenovo just refreshed its aesthetic with the Legion Y730, so it’s no surprise the Legion Y740 carries over the same look as its predecessor. It’s sleek, with a flat-gray lid. The only exterior hints that it’s a gaming machine are the lights that glow behind the ‘Y’ shape in the Legion logo and the rear vents. While glowing vents may strike some people as silly, the default clean, blue light is less aggressive than the red-and-black color scheme you find on most gaming laptops.

lenovo legion y740 lid Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Taken as a whole, the Legion Y740’s neither particularly attractive nor particularly offensive. We called the Legion Y530, which features the same aesthetic, a “generic business laptop,” set apart by the logotype on the lid. That still feels fairly apt, to my eye. Unlike, say, Razer or Alienware, there’s little recognizable design language here—unless in absentia, as if the lack of eye-catching elements is itself a statement. 

It’s nice and portable, measuring 14.2 x 10.5 x 0.88 inches and weighing in at almost precisely 5 pounds. That’s not Razer Blade-thin, but it’s still decently compact for a gaming laptop. And like the Legion Y7000 we looked at recently, the Legion Y740 hides its bulk well, opting for sharply tapered sides and an offset hinge that make it seem smaller.

Not that I love the hinge placement, mind you. There’s about an inch of plastic jutting out of the rear of the laptop, which makes it more difficult to use the Legion Y740 in cramped conditions. That’s doubly true in this case, because Lenovo’s opted to place nearly all the ports rear-facing. The left side of the laptop has a 3.5mm jack and a single USB-C port, while the right side has a single USB-A input. Everything else is on the back, including power, two more USB-A ports, ethernet, HDMI-out, and Mini DisplayPort.

lenovo legion y740 rear panel Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

If you’re planning to use the Legion Y740 as a so-called desktop replacement, then great. Rear ports keep the clutter down, allowing you to hide wires and run them behind your desk easily. If however you plan to use this laptop as a laptop? Rear ports are pain to access. Lenovo’s made it slightly simpler by adding a light-up icon for each port on the hinge, facing upward, so you can theoretically slot cables in blind. I’d still prefer inputs arrayed down the sides.

Anyway, the hinge lifts to reveal the aforementioned 15.6-inch display. The 144Hz refresh rate and G-Sync capabilities are the most noteworthy features here. As a 144Hz monitor adherent, I’m intrigued to see that trend making its way into laptops—though it does come with some drawbacks. More on that later.

The screen itself is nothing special, though, which is odd because Lenovo boasts “software enabled Dolby Vision HDR” on its website. Let’s be clear: The Legion Y740’s built-in display is in no way HDR-ready. Color reproduction is so-so, and the screen tops out at 300 nits, far below the 1,000 nits necessary for HDR. I assume Lenovo’s saying you can attach an external monitor and play HDR-enabled content, but that’s certainly not how it looks on Lenovo’s site.

lenovo legion y740 keyboard detail Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Legion Y740’s keyboard is pleasant, though a little stiff. I typed quite a few articles on it over the course of this review and found the travel to be a bit shallow, which led to more typos than usual. It’s fast though, and the ten-keyless layout’s a lot better than the cramped situation on the Legion Y7000. There’s full RGB backlighting as well, provided by Corsair’s ICUE software.

There’s also a row of utility keys down the left-hand side. Two of them are labeled as macro keys, two control the keyboard brightness, one’s set to record game footage, and the last half-sized key launches Lenovo’s Vantage settings software. At best I found them useless, at worst problematic. Too often I reached for the bottom-left Ctrl key or Esc, only to go one column too far and turn the keyboard brightness down or pop open Vantage, respectively.

The trackpad is a relief, with physical buttons for left- and right-click. Given their absence on the Legion Y7000, their presence here was by no means assured and I’m happy to have them. I don’t often game on a trackpad, but when I do, tap-to-click is the death of me.

Lenovo’s included a fancy Dolby Atmos speaker system, “with Soundbar and integrated subwoofer” according to its website. In actual usage? Well, they’re certainly loud, though the bass is still subpar, integrated subwoofer or not. They’re some of the better laptop speakers I’ve tested, but throwing around the Dolby Atmos label is a stretch. You’re still better off with a gaming headset unless you’re in a pinch.

lenovo legion y740 right side Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Last and certainly least, the webcam is an unremarkable 720p afterthought crammed into the bottom bezel, below the Legion logo even, guaranteeing it will always have a gorgeous view of your chin and not much else. The bezels on the sides and top of the display are thin and crisp, but the webcam always loses out in these situations. Even Dell’s XPS, which I associate with starting this terrible trend, fixed the problem for 2019. I can only hope Lenovo follows suit.

But what about that RTX 2070 Max-Q's performance? Keep reading to find out.

Legion Y740 Performance: All eyes on RTX

Let’s talk performance, because the Legion Y740 is the first RTX 2070 Max-Q laptop we’ve tested in-house, and that makes it a bit of a curiosity. There’s plenty to test here, at least on the GPU side.

On the CPU side, we're on familiar ground with the Intel Core i7-8750H, and running it through Cinebench R15 confirms that point. The Legion Y740 put up a score of 1,216, well within the margin of error for basically every Core i7-8750H laptop we’ve tested.

Lenovo Legion Y740 - Cinebench R15 IDG / Hayden Dingman

Same goes for our more intensive HandBrake test, wherein we re-encode a 30GB MKV file using the Android Tablet preset and measure how long it takes. This test is great for revealing any thermal throttling, given its lengthy runtime. Again the Legion Y740 puts up a score comparable to that of its peers, completing the task in just under 30 minutes.

Lenovo Legion Y740 - Handbrake IDG / Hayden Dingman

Enough about the CPU, though, eh? The RTX 2070 Max-Q is the main event, and we wanted to see how it stacks up against the RTX 2060 on one side and the RTX 2080 on the other, as well as the previous-gen GTX 1070 and 1070 Max-Q.

Our preferred artificial benchmark is 3DMark’s FireStrike Extreme. The Legion Y740’s score of 7,710 handily beats out the GTX 1060, 1070 Max-Q, and RTX 2060. It’s worth noting that performance is about equal to the full-sized GTX 1070’s, illustrating yet again that Max-Q loses in performance what it gains in portability.

Lenovo Legion Y740 - FireStrike IDG / Hayden Dingman

Even more amazing is the gap between the RTX 2070 Max-Q and the RTX 2080. The GTX 1060, GTX 1070, RTX 2060, and RTX 2070 Max-Q are all within a very narrow performance range, but the Alienware Area-51m and its desktop-grade RTX 2080 blows them all away—though that’s a $4,000 laptop, so you’d certainly hope it’s worth the money.

The same gap is present in Rise of the Tomb Raider, where the Area-51m nearly doubled the Legion Y740’s score. Pretty amazing, if you’re Alienware. The RTX 2070 Max-Q again beats out the RTX 2060, albeit with a much narrower gap this time around—and the full-size GTX 1070 significantly outpaces the RTX 2070 Max-Q, by 15 to 20 frames per second.

Lenovo Legion Y740 - Tomb Raider IDG / Hayden Dingman

With Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, the RTX 2070 Max-Q is even less remarkable. The difference between the RTX 2060-equipped Acer Predator Triton 500 and our Legion Y740 is a mere two frames per second, and again the full-sized GTX 1070 leads by 10 to 15 frames per second.

Lenovo Legion Y740 - Shadow of Mordor IDG / Hayden Dingman

So where does that leave the 2070 Max-Q? Sure, it makes sense for ultra-thin laptops like the Razer Blade, where Max-Q is an engineering necessity. But with the Legion Y740, I’m not so sure. Ray tracing is a nice bit of future-proofing in theory—see my colleague Gordon Mah Ung’s breakdown of who should and shouldn’t buy an RTX laptop. But GTX 1070-equipped laptops are essentially the same price right now as RTX 2070 Max-Q laptops for good reason. Given the gap in performance between the RTX 2070 Max-Q and the full-sized GTX 1070, I think the latter is absolutely the better bang-for-your-buck card, despite being a hardware generation older. 

If years-old hardware isn’t exciting enough for you, then I’d argue the RTX 2060 is potentially (depending on the deal you get) a more cost-effective option than the RTX 2070 Max-Q as well. The benchmarks are slightly worse in the 2060’s case, but with a 2070 Max-Q you’re paying more for a model number than a substantial performance increase. At best we’re talking a couple of frames per second.

Sadly, we'll end on a down note with the Y740's terrible battery life. Gaming laptops are notorious for their poor stamina, but even by those standards the Legion Y740 is dismal. It lasted a mere two hours in our test, where we start with a full charge and loop a video with the display set to 250 nits’ brightness and headphones plugged in at medium volume. Keyboard backlighting is turned off, too.

Lenovo Legion Y740 - Battery IDG / Hayden Dingman

We’re not stacking the deck, either. While most of the other laptops in this chart have batteries of 80Whr-90Whr capacity, the Legion Y740 has the same smaller, 57Whr size as its cousin the Legion Y7000, which lasts four hours longer. The culprit is probably the 144Hz display—remember how I said there were some drawbacks? Because the screen refreshes more than twice as often as your standard 60Hz display, it sucks down battery life even while doing something as simple as watching a video. If you're looking for a 144Hz display in a gaming laptop, it might be better to hunt for one with a larger battery.

Bottom line

The Lenovo Legion Y740 feels emblematic of this GPU generation changeover. Nvidia’s pushing ray tracing, but the content’s not really there to make good on it yet, and it leaves cards like the RTX 2070 Max-Q in a strange spot. Sure, the RTX generation is theoretically better, but only in specific instances. Ray tracing is years away from mattering much to the average user. In traditional benchmarks, the RTX 2070 Max-Q is about on a par with its predecessor—or worse, if you compare the RTX 2070’s Max-Q version to a full-size GTX 1070.

The Legion Y740 is a decent enough laptop, aside from the battery life—though you’ll presumably keep it plugged in most of the time anyway. The keyboard and trackpad are standout features, and the overall design is either unassuming or at the very least inoffensive, depending on your tastes.

It’s mostly a letdown on Nvidia’s end. The expectation is obviously that manufacturers (and thus consumers) move on to the new hardware, but there’s not much reason to when GTX 1070-equipped laptops continue to proliferate and cost about the same as the RTX 2070 Max-Q models.

At the very least, check the price of any RTX 2070 Max-Q laptop against the GTX 1070 supply. Make sure you’re getting a good deal before you buy, and don’t be tricked just because the model number went up. That’s not the whole story, in this case.

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