While Lenovo courts hardcore gamers with its Legion line, more affordable gaming laptops are available under the IdeaPad brand. The IdeaPad Gaming 3i (starts at $839.99; $989.99 as tested) is a wallet-friendly offering with the latest parts from Intel and Nvidia. (Lenovo will also sell an AMD-based version, which drops the “i” from the model name.) The 3i’s physical build is solid, its keyboard is comfortable, and its CPU is up to the task, but its Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU is a bit underwhelming. Comparable or lower-priced gaming rigs deliver the same or better graphics performance, while some slightly pricier laptops deliver substantially higher frame rates. The MSI Bravo 15 is a superior value at the same price point, while the Acer Predator Helios 300 is our pick at the top end of budget pricing.
Simple Styling and a Solid Build
The IdeaPad Gaming 3i’s design isn’t remarkable, but solid basics are perfectly acceptable for an entry-level gaming laptop. I prefer its understated all-black look to an over-designed one trying to compensate for an under-$1,000 price with flashy flourishes. A few angled corners and lid lines add some style, but overall it’s restrained and inoffensive.
The physical construction is sturdy despite being fully plastic, with no flex or weak points to speak of, an important box to check at this price point. The whole system measures 0.98 by 14.1 by 9.8 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.8 pounds. That’s pretty compact and acceptably svelte, even if it doesn’t quite match the trimmest and more costly gaming laptops like the Razer Blade 15 (0.7 inch thick and 4.6 pounds) or the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (a 14-inch laptop that weighs just 3.52 pounds). Compared to other budget machines like the Dell G5 15 SE (5.5 pounds) and Acer Predator Helios 300 (5.1 pounds), the IdeaPad Gaming 3i comes out looking good.
The screen should appeal to gamers with its full HD resolution and 120Hz refresh rate. Due to the abovementioned GPU, you probably won’t be topping out most games at 120 frames per second (fps), but some less demanding multiplayer titles on lower settings may hit that mark (or at the very least exceed 60fps), so it’s a good inclusion. Full HD resolution is similarly a good fit for the modest power, as it will allow better frame rates than 1440p or 4K.
Otherwise, the display is fairly standard. The thin bezels help it look a bit more sleek, and contribute to the compact footprint while maintaining a 15.6-inch screen. There’s also a 720p webcam on the top bezel, with a physical slider switch to shutter it closed for privacy.
A Comfy Keyboard and Plenty of Ports
The keyboard quality is as solid as the chassis build. Lenovo has a penchant for comfortable keyboards, and the IdeaPad’s is no different.
The keys are nicely sculpted and have enough travel without feeling unstable or mushy. They’re also lit by a light blue backlight, which gives off an appealing glow. The lighting is not color-customizable, but the cool blue definitely looks better than some gaming rigs that opt for garish all-red lighting, in my opinion.
There’s a bit less to say about the touchpad, but it’s stable and responsive. It is, however, placed toward the left side of the chassis rather than in the center. It’s aligned with the space bar and main layout, but it’s a tad off-putting and would feel more comfortable centrally located. Instead of fitting between my wrists, the pad got slightly in the way of my left hand while typing—not enough for me to press it accidentally, but enough to be a small annoyance.
Finally for the external build, we come to the ports. The left side of the chassis is home to a USB 3.1 Type-A port, a USB-C port, an HDMI connection, an Ethernet port, and the headphone jack. Those are most of the connections; the right side has just one additional USB 3.1 port.
Parts and Performance Testing
Now, on to the parts and performance. Our $989.99 model includes an Intel Core i7-10750H processor, 8GB of memory, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU, and a 512GB solid-state drive. The latter’s capacity is a bit small, in a big-picture sense, for modern gaming, but it’s not bad for a budget gaming laptop. You may have to pick and choose which favorite games you install. As you’ll see, the GPU is modestly capable, but it can’t hang with some entry-to-midrange alternatives.
Our test unit is actually the most expensive Intel-based configuration Lenovo offers. The $839.99 base model gets you a Core i5-10300H and drops the storage capacity to 256GB, but is otherwise the same. There are two more versions in between, as well as a host of AMD-based alternatives. As mentioned, the AMD models drop the “i” from the product name, but were not yet available from Lenovo.com at the time of writing.
To pass judgment on the IdeaPad Gaming 3i’s performance, I gathered a group of competing laptops to compare benchmark results. You can see their names and specs in the table below.
The Acer Predator Helios 300 and the Dell G5 15 SE are the most expensive in the bunch, both sitting at the peak of entry-level pricing at $1,199.99 as tested. The MSI Bravo 15, our most recent Editors’ Choice in the category, is $999 as tested, and the MSI GL65 9SC is an extreme budget option at $699. The pricing context is important here, as the Lenovo is a couple of hundred dollars less expensive than the first two machines, so keep that in mind. (See how we test laptops.)
Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the 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 PCMark 10 result shows that this laptop is more than capable on everyday tasks, even if it’s not a chart-topper. The AMD-based machines take the cake, which you’ll notice as a trend in the CPU-bound tests. Those higher scores here translate to a bit snappier performance, but the gap isn’t big enough for you to base your buying decision on it. As far as storage speed goes, all of these SSDs deliver roughly equally prompt boot and load times for files and games.
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 a complex image. 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) to a 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.
As mentioned, the two AMD machines stand out, with Photoshop the exception. Outside of that ranking, the IdeaPad Gaming 3i holds its own here, if anything doing better than the other Intel machines. It’s hardly a dedicated multimedia workstation—the AMD laptops get closer to that mark—but will do in a pinch, or if you have side projects to complete. If you’re a creative pro and time is money, a professional laptop or workstation is a better fit.
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.
This is where the IdeaPad Gaming 3i starts to lag behind the others due to its GPU. The GTX 1650 is a fine entry-level GPU for cheaper machines, but at around $1,000, it begins to look less impressive against both other Nvidia offerings and AMD competitors. In these two gaming simulations, only the very inexpensive MSI GL65 is behind or on par with the IdeaPad, which starts to tell you that this may not be the best value for 3D performance. But let’s check the next test results.
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 settings (Normal and Ultra for Far Cry 5 under DirectX 11, Medium and Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider under DirectX 12).
Unfortunately, the trend continues here, with the IdeaPad Gaming 3i bringing up the rear. In a vacuum, its performance here is okay—just under 60fps for an under-$1,000 gaming laptop—but it suffers by comparison. In less visually demanding multiplayer games, the frame rates will be high enough to make use of the 120Hz screen more often than not, even if they don’t hit the ceiling.
This isn’t outside of what we’d expect the GTX 1650 to do; it’s just difficult for the laptop to separate itself from the pack with this 3D performance. The more expensive laptops offer superior graphics performance (and in the case of the Predator, a nicer build), and even the laptops that cost as much or less do as well or better in these tests.
The MSI Bravo 15, for example, is about the same price and delivers between 15fps and 19fps more in these in-game benchmarks. The MSI GL65 is about $300 less and matches the IdeaPad’s performance (though I’d call the Lenovo’s build superior). That makes it hard to recommend the 3i if you’re primarily concerned with in-game frame rates.
To its credit, the machine ran relatively quietly, even during gaming, thanks to Lenovo’s thermal design. There are a few different power modes; the “performance” setting will squeeze a few extra frames out of your games but does make the fans more audible.
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.
One area where the IdeaPad does excel is battery life, matching or beating all comers. If you play games while off the charger, the battery life will diminish greatly, but for general use the system should last you through most of the day. Lenovo also includes Rapid Charge, which I noticed juices up the laptop faster than average.
Solid, But Needs More GPU Power for the Money
The IdeaPad Gaming 3i starts strong with a sturdy and restrained physical build, but it doesn’t hold up as the best value on the graphics-performance side. It’s not a bad laptop, just tough to recommend in a competitive field. At this price, the MSI Bravo 15 is our Editors’ Choice for a superior value, while the MSI GL65 9SC and Acer Predator Helios 300 are our top picks at the lower and higher ends of entry-level pricing, respectively.
Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3i Specs
|Laptop Class||Gaming, Budget|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-10750H|
|Processor Speed||2.6 GHz|
|RAM (as Tested)||8 GB|
|Boot Drive Type||SSD|
|Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)||512 GB|
|Screen Size||15.6 inches|
|Native Display Resolution||1920 by 1080|
|Variable Refresh Support||None|
|Screen Refresh Rate||120 Hz|
|Graphics Processor||Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650|
|Graphics Memory||4 GB|
|Wireless Networking||802.11ax, Bluetooth|
|Dimensions (HWD)||0.98 by 14.13 by 9.83 inches|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 10|
|Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes)||7:33|