The model I tested has a list price of $990 and can be found online for $969, placing it safely within the budget category. Compared with the baseline model, this step-up configuration bumps you up to a Core i7 CPU, a 120Hz display, and a larger SSD. Sadly, a GPU upgrade is not in the offering; you must stick with the GTX 1650 GPU.
Here are the specifications of the $969 Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3i I’m evaluating:
The IdeaPad Gaming 3i isn’t likely to turn heads, but it boasts a solid build quality and a couple design flourishes to distinguish it from a run-of-the-mill home laptop. The most striking visual element of the otherwise all-matte-black plastic chassis are the blue accents. Instead of using the usual white for the symbols on the keys, Lenovo has opted for blue as well as blue backlighting. It gives a bit of an edge to the overall appearance, and the light blue color used for the key symbols still provides enough contrast that non-touch typists won’t be lost. Also, the edges of the laptop are beveled and the four corners of the laptop are angled to help the machine break away from the basic, rectangular laptop look.
The blue keyboard backlighting has two brightness levels, and the keyboard itself is roomy and comfortable. Lenovo manages to squeeze in a dedicated number pad without shortening any of the keys.
The keys feel snappy and are quiet even under the fingertips of a thunderous typist like myself. Other than the power button centered above the keyboard, there are no dedicated keys for volume or media control. One nitpick: the illuminated blue dot on the power button is always on; I wish it turned off when you disabled the keyboard backlighting.
The touchpad integrates the mouse buttons and is generously proportioned. It recorded my swipes and gestures accurately and without delay. It also offers the perfect amount of travel for clicks with the same snappiness of the keys.
The 15.6-inch, non-touch, IPS display features a crisp 1,920×1,080 resolution but is better for gaming in a darkened room than, say, matinee sessions because it doesn’t get very bright. It’s rated for only 250 nits of brightness, but it does feature an effective anti-glare finish that keeps annoying glare and reflections from interfering with your fragging.
The laptop’s 1.5-watt stereo speakers are passable for YouTube videos but you’ll want to use headphones listening to music or to plug in a wired gaming headset. The speakers also suffice for video chats. Above the display sits a 720p webcam that delivers a rather noisy image for Zoom calls and the like. There’s a privacy cover you can slide over the webcam with a fingernail to lend some peace of mind when the camera is not in use.
The IdeaPad Gaming 3i measures 14.13 inches wide by 9.83 inches deep by 0.98 inches thick and weighs 4.5 pounds. Those are fairly standard weights and measures for a 15-inch laptop but makes the system rather svelte among 15-inch gaming laptops, especially budget models that can be big and bulky. By comparison, the Acer Nitro 5 is a budget 15-inch laptop and slightly thicker, wider and deeper while weighing a bit more at 4.8 pounds. You wouldn’t want to commute every day with the IdeaPad Gaming 3i on your shoulder, but it’s no great hardship to tote it to a friend’s house.
The IdeaPad Gaming 3i provides a useful selection of ports, most of which are located on the laptop’s left edge where you’ll find an HDMI 2.0 port, a USB Type-C port, a USB 3.1 Gen 1 port, an Ethernet jack, a mic/headphone combo jack, and the power connector. On the right side sits another USB 3.1 Gen 1 port. The laptop provides the latest wireless standards with 802.11ax Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0.
Remove ten small screws and you can take off the bottom panel, where you’ll find a surprising number of expansion options. More and more laptops are opting for soldered-on (read: not user-replaceable) RAM, but the IdeaPad Gaming 3i bucks this trend and offers two DIMM slots, one of which was unoccupied on our test system. There are also two M.2 slots, one occupied by the laptop’s 512GB PCIe SSD and the other open. There’s also a free 2.5-inch SATA drive bay.
Our IdeaPad Gaming 3i test system features the 10th-gen Intel Core i7-10750H processor, 8GB RAM, a 512GB SSD, and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 graphics. The Core i7-10750H CPU offers six cores and 12 processing threads with a core frequency of 2.6GHz and a max Turbo frequency of 5.0GHz. The GeForce GTX 1650 is a midrange GPU from Nvidia’s previous-generation of graphics processors that lacks support for real-time tracing you get from current GeForce RTX GPUs.
For comparison, I pitted IdeaPad Gaming 3i benchmark performance against that of another budget gaming laptop, the $670 Acer Nitro 5. It features the same GeForce GTX 1650 GPU and 8GB of RAM but uses an AMD Ryzen 5 4600H. These two budget gamers were neck and neck throughout testing.
On our synthetic tests, the IdeaPad Gaming 3i edged the Nitro 5 on PCMark 10 but finished just behind the Nitro 5 on our three 3DMark tests. On our gaming benchmarks, the IdeaPad Gaming 3i finished with higher framerates on the Heaven benchmark but posted lower framerates than the Nitro 5 on both Total War: Three Kingdoms and Borderlands 3.
I also played Fortnite and CS:GO, two less demanding games that are better fits for a midrange GPU. At 1080p, I was able to run at 55-60 fps on Fortnite with settings at Epic, and routinely hit 120 fps on CS:GO with High settings. The IdeaPad Gaming 3i delivers playable framerates at 1080p with AAA titles if you dial back the quality settings a notch or two, and it allows you play games like Fortnite and CS:GO at full 1080p resolution with settings at their highest. That’s pretty good performance for a sub-$1,000 laptop.
Battery life is one area where the IdeaPad Gaming 3i struggled. Lenovo estimates it will run for up to 7 hours, but it managed to run for only 5 hours 32 minutes on PCMark’s battery test while the Acer Nitro 5 easily outlasted it with a time of 10 hours 1 minutes. Battery life is less important on a gaming laptop that is usually plugged in during use than a general-purpose laptop, but the IdeaPad Gaming 3i would have some crossover appeal if not for its poor battery life.
I commend Lenovo for the relatively clean install for the IdeaPad Gaming 3i. Outside of the usual preinstalled Windows games and apps, the only bit of trial software I found was McAfee.
Lenovo bundles its own Lenovo Vantage utility, which lets you monitor and manage system settings. With it, you can monitor the current load on the CPU, GPU, and memory. You can also prioritize network traffic for games, set certain applications to close when you launch a game, pick a thermal mode that prioritized performance or acoustics, check for updates, and more. The app is well designed and easily navigated.
The Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3i we reviewed is available at a starting price of $969 at Walmart and direct from Lenovo.
The Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3i is a supremely affordable gaming laptop that’s also versatile enough to double as a general-purpose, home laptop as long as you don’t intend to stray from a wall outlet for too long. If you are only interested in gaming, however, the Acer Nitro 5 is even more affordable and delivers roughly the same performance and better battery life but only a 60Hz display.