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Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3i 15 review: A gaming laptop that's also good for productivity work

IdeaPad Gaming 3i 15
IdeaPad Gaming 3i 15 (Image credit: Windows Central)

Lenovo's Legion 5(i) and Legion 7(i) laptops are mid-range and high-end gaming options packed with a ton of extra features and high-end hardware. They're completely focused on gaming, and those looking for a laptop that can split time between fun and work might feel left out, at least on the productivity side. Enter the IdeaPad Gaming series, a refreshed addition to Lenovo's arsenal. It's a more affordable laptop with better battery life, a comfortable keyboard, a sizable touchpad, and a dedicated graphics card. I've been using the 15.6-inch Gaming 3i for a week for gaming, and productivity needs to see exactly what it's all about and whether or not it's worth saving some money over the Legion brand.

Specifications and pricing

IdeaPad Gaming 3i 15 at a glance

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Windows Central received a review unit of the IdeaPad Gaming 3i 15 from Lenovo, packing a 10th Gen Intel Core i7-10750H processor (CPU), 8GB of dual-channel DDR4 RAM, a 512GB M.2 PCIe SSD, an NVIDIA GTX 1650 graphics card (GPU), and a 15.6-inch FHD display with a 120Hz refresh rate.

This refreshed lineup of gaming hardware was announced April 2020, and while it's currently the only option, there is an expected AMD variant coming soon. The IdeaPad Gaming 3i 15 replaces the IdeaPad L340 15 that featured up to an Intel Core i7-9750HF CPU and NVIDIA GTX 1050 (3GB) GPU.

This exact model costs about $990 (opens in new tab) at Lenovo. For a better deal, you can get a model with Core i5-10300H CPU, 16GB of RAM, 512GB SSD, and NVIDIA GTX 1650 Ti GPU for about $989 (opens in new tab) at Amazon. A truly budget option with Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD, and NVIDIA GTX 1650 GPU costs about $750 (opens in new tab) at Amazon.

Following are the exact specs found in this review unit.

CategorySpec
OSWindows 10 Home
Processor10th Gen Intel
Core i7-10750H
Six cores
Up to 5.0GHz
RAM8GB DDR4-2933MHz
Dual-channel available
Upgradeable
GraphicsNVIDIA GTX 1650
4GB GDDR6 VRAM
Storage512GB M.2 PCIe SSD
SK hynix
Upgradeable
Display15.6 inches
1920x1080 (FHD)
Anti-glare
IPS
120Hz refresh rate
PortsTwo USB-A 3.1 (Gen 1)
USB-C 3.1
HDMI 2.0
RJ45 Ethernet
3.5mm audio
AudioDual 1.5W speakers
Down-firing
Dolby Audio
WirelessIntel Wi-Fi 6 AX201
802.11ax (2 x 2)
Bluetooth 5.0
CameraFront-facing 720p
KeyboardSingle-zone blue backlight
TouchpadPrecision
Buttonless
SecurityWebcam shutter
Battery45Wh
135W AC adapter
Dimensions14.13 x 9.83 x 0.98 inches
(359mm x 249.6mm x 24.9mm)
WeightFrom 4.8 pounds (2.2kg)
ColorChameleon Blue
Onyx Black

No rear ports

IdeaPad Gaming 3i 15 design and features

The IdeaPad Gaming 3i 15 has a PC and ABS plastic chassis that's sized to what most expect from a standard gaming laptop. It weighs in at just less than five pounds and measures about an inch thick, not notably large or notably small. It has a hard shell with minimal flex, though there is quite a bit of movement in the lid and display. Not alarming, exactly, but it is there. A single wide hinge runs along the center of the laptop, stamped with the IdeaPad Gaming logo in blue to match the keyboard's backlight. The chassis is cut with some offset angles to give it a bit of extra style.

Unlike the Legion series, there's no rear port hub on the IdeaPad Gaming 3i. All ports are positioned in a more traditional layout along the sides. In terms of cable management, it's definitely not as clean as the Legion laptops, and there's not as much space for as many ports. Here you get two USB-A 3.1 (Gen 1), one USB-C 3.1, HDMI 2.0, RJ45 Ethernet (drop-jaw), and 3.5mm audio. No SD or microSD card readers and no Thunderbolt 3; it would be nice to have a couple of extra USB-A. Once you plug in a gaming mouse you're down to just one USB without resorting to a docking station. I get that Lenovo is trying to distance the IdeaPad series from the Legion series, but the rear port hub is a far more elegant solution.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Down-firing 1.5W speakers are located on the front edges of the laptop. They do a decent job for music and voice, but for gaming, you'll soon want to pick up something from our best PC gaming headset list. There's not a whole lot of bass, and when the fans get going under load, they will interfere with audio even when speakers are at maximum volume. No surprises here for a laptop this price.

As for the 720p front-facing camera located above the display, Lenovo has added a privacy shutter as a welcome addition. The camera itself, like the speakers, is average for the price. Color seems true, and while there is some blur, it will do a decent job for video conferencing while you're hard at work. If you have streaming ambitions, however, a third-party webcam will no doubt be in order.

For a bit of future-proofing and to provide gamers with faster, more reliable wireless internet, there is Wi-Fi 6 in the form of an Intel AX201 chip. Also included is Bluetooth 5.0 for connecting wireless accessories when ports run out.

The IdeaPad Gaming 3i doesn't benefit from the same TrueStrike hardware with anti-ghosting and four-zone RGB backlight, but its keyboard is still comfortable. I used it for a few hours to type up some work, noting deep travel and smooth presses. A single-zone blue backlight comes standard. If you plan on working by day from this laptop, you should have no problem here.

A number pad is included, and it offsets the rest of the keyboard and sizable Precision touchpad. Your palm will be on the touchpad when using the WASD keys, but there's a dedicated Fn shortcut to quickly kill the touchpad. Overall it's a good setup for both gaming and productivity.

Lackluster

IdeaPad Gaming 3i 15 display

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I bemoaned the lack of a QHD display option and lack of just a bit more brightness in my Legion 5i 15 review. Compared to the IdeaPad Gaming 3i's display, it seems like a high-end option.

The Gaming 3i's IPS screen has a 120Hz refresh rate that makes sense for the GPU options, but the rest of the specs aren't particularly impressive. Response time, though I couldn't measure directly, leaves a lot to be desired. In fast-paced games, ghosting is sometimes noticeable. There's also no G-Sync tech to pair up with the NVIDIA GPU.

Color reproduction is really where the display drops off, showing just 64% sRGB, 48% AdobeRGB, and 48% DCI-P3 when measured with a SpyderX Pro colorimeter (opens in new tab). Contrast is decent so the display doesn't look washed out, but the color just won't look the same as something with higher percentages.

The display has a matte (anti-glare) finish on it to help with gaming in a well-lit space, but brightness gets up to just 306 nits. In most cases, that's enough to still see the screen, but don't expect to play outdoors or in a sun-filled room if the game is particularly dark.

Some CPU throttling

IdeaPad Gaming 3i 15 gaming

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Like the Legion series, the IdeaPad Gaming 3i features Lenovo's "Q Control" function that allows gamers to quickly swap between "Balance," "Quiet," and "Performance" modes. The LED on the power button doesn't change to show the mode like on the Legion, but you do get an on-screen notification when the switch is made. I ran some stress tests using AIDA64 to see how well the laptop manages heat across these power modes. The laptop was plugged in and charging, creating extra heat, while I performed these tests.

The Gaming 3i's power balancing allows the CPU and GPU to run together without throttling.

Starting with Lenovo's Balance mode, I stress tested the CPU without the GPU. The CPU hits about 55W power draw, with core temperatures hitting up to 90 degrees Celsius and leveling off around 85 degrees. The clock speeds sit at about 3.6GHz, and there is between 0% and 2% thermal throttling. Fans are full tilt at this point; if you're not using a headset, now's the time to put one on. The cooling layout is different from the Legion, with just two heat pipes and one relatively small exhaust vent.

Testing the CPU and GPU together, the CPU has about a 32W power draw and a clock speed around 2.0GHz. Temperatures level off at about 75 degrees Celsius for the CPU and 70 degrees for the GPU. There's absolutely no thermal throttling with both CPU and GPU at full load, but keep in mind the CPU is running at less power and less speed. Lenovo's "Dual Burn" feature — which allows hardware to run together without overheating — isn't advertised with the Gaming 3i, but it's clear that it's in effect.

Switching to Lenovo's Performance mode, I tested the CPU and GPU together again. The CPU's power draw went up to 39W, and the clock speed averaged out to about 2.5GHz, with temperatures staying the same. No thermal throttling again but slightly faster CPU clock speed.

Running the CPU alone does seem to push the dual-fan cooling system to its limits, and if you jump into a task that requires full CPU load, the Gaming 3i might take a bit too long for its cooling to catch up. Jumping into a stress test cold saw a lot of thermal throttling for a couple of minutes until the fans hit maximum speed. If you're gaming, though, the reduced CPU power and speed helps keep things balanced at the cost of performance.

I ran some synthetic benchmarks to see how the IdeaPad Gaming 3i 15 stacks up against other laptops we've recently reviewed.

3DMark

Time Spy

DeviceGPUScore
Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3i 15GTX 16503,689
Lenovo Legion 5i 15RTX 20605,835
ASUS ROG ZEPHYRUS G14RTX 2060 Max-Q6,224
HP ENVY 32 AIORTX 2060 Max-Q5,664
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2)GTX 1650 Max-Q3,190
Razer Blade 15RTX 2070 Max-Q6,325
Lenovo ThinkPad P53Quadro RTX 50006,760
Lenovo Legion Y740 15RTX 2070 Max-Q6,406
Lenovo Legion Y740 17RTX 2080 Max-Q7,128

Running the same benchmark with the Lenovo Performance mode enabled saw a result of 3,706, so not a big change there.

3DMark

Fire Strike

DeviceGPUScore
Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3i 15GTX 16508,642
Lenovo Legion 5i 15RTX 206014,371
ASUS ROG ZEPHYRUS G14RTX 2060 Max-Q14,709
HP ENVY 32 AIORTX 2060 Max-Q13,163
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2)GTX 1650 Max-Q7,198
Razer Blade 15RTX 2070 Max-Q14,944
Dell XPS 15 (7590)GTX 1650 Max-Q7,763
Lenovo ThinkPad P53Quadro RTX 500016,367
Lenovo Legion Y740 15RTX 2070 Max-Q14,669
Lenovo Legion Y740 17RTX 2080 Max-Q16,303

With Lenovo's Performance mode enabled, the IdeaPad Gaming 3i managed a score of 8,637. No real change from Balance mode.

Cinebench

Cinebench (R20) (Higher is better)

DeviceCPURange
Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3i 15Core i7-10750H2,771 to 2,818
Lenovo Legion 5i 15Core i7-10750H2,736 to 2,826
ASUS ROG ZEPHYRUS G14Ryzen 4900HS4,197 to 4,390
Dell XPS 15 (7590)Core i9-9980HK3,174 to 3,283
HP ENVY 32 AIOCore i7-97002,906 to 3,073
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2)Core i7-9850H1,730 to 2,495
Dynabook Portégé X30-FCore i7-8665U1,242 to 1,313
Lenovo ThinkPad P53Xeon E-2276M2,686 to 2,701
Surface Laptop 3 13.5Core i5-1035G41,584 to 1,606
Surface Laptop 3 15Core i7-1065G71,703 to 1,745

Running Cinebench multiple times in a row can show whether or not a laptop's CPU is going to suffer from thermal throttling. Not much of a performance dip at all for multiple runs.

Lenovo mentions the Xbox Game Pass for PC on the Gaming 3i's product page, and indeed this is a great laptop for playing indie titles that don't require a ton of raw performance. Along with a couple of select titles from Game Pass, I tested to see how well the GTX 1650 could handle heavy games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Call of Duty: Warzone.

Starting with Red Dead Redemption 2 set to Low in-game settings, the Gaming 3i averaged 62 frames-per-second (FPS) over the course of about ten minutes. The game doesn't look great at this graphics setting, but it's certainly playable at 1080p.

Next, I jumped into a Warzone match and played through to my death. The Gaming 3i averaged 52 FPS with Low in-game settings. Again, it's completely playable here, though if you value graphical fidelity, you're no doubt going to be let down.

The IdeaPad Gaming 3i will easily handle indie and esports games.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is a popular esports title that runs well on a lot of laptops. The Gaming 3i averaged 91 FPS with High in-game settings. Turning some settings down should allow you to hit the 120 FPS level perfect for the 120Hz display.

I also checked out the hot new game Grounded available on Game Pass for PC (opens in new tab). The laptop averaged 62 FPS with High in-game settings. Turning settings down a bit will keep the game looking good and will boost FPS.

And finally, I played some Neon Abyss, also available on Game Pass for PC, averaging 232 FPS with default in-game settings. Great performance for indie titles like this.

The takeaway here is that the NVIDIA GTX 1650 is much better cut out for low-impact gaming. Sure, it will handle games like Red Dead Redemption 2, but with graphics, settings turned way down. The Core i7 six-core CPU is a relative powerhouse, but paired with the GTX 1650; there's bound to be a mismatch. Even with the GTX 1650 Ti, the Core i7 is probably slightly overkill. Lenovo adding the option for an RTX 2060 or a GTX 1660 Ti would bring a better balance for those who prefer the Core i7 CPU.

The good news? You can opt for the more affordable Core i5-10300H CPU and either the GTX 1650 or 1650 Ti and still experience smooth 1080p gaming for indie and esports titles. A model with Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD, and GTX 1650 GPU can be had for about $750 (opens in new tab).

Upgradeable RAM and SSD

IdeaPad Gaming 3i 15 performance and battery