AMD Ryzen – Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15 (2021) Review
Let’s start with two good—well, pretty good—things about Lenovo’s IdeaPad 3 15 ($399.99 for the model 15ADA05 we tested). It has 8GB of memory, while some rock-bottom budget laptops have an inadequate 4GB. And not long ago, such an economy model would have had a lowly 1,366-by-768-pixel display instead of the IdeaPad’s full HD (1,920 by 1,080) resolution. Otherwise, though, this 15.6-inch slab of silver-gray plastic is hard to get excited about. It will suffice for browsing, email, and homework, but its performance is tepid, and it lacks basic comforts ranging from a backlit keyboard to a USB Type-C port, seen in some other economy models we’ve tested in recent weeks. One, the Asus VivoBook 15 (F512JA), is a better 15-inch machine for the same price, while the MSI Modern 14 is an Editors’ Choice winner if you want to go a little smaller. Of course, upping your budget to $600 or $700 will get you a much more enjoyable notebook.
IdeaPad 3 15 Design: The $400 Question
No match for the $719.99 IdeaPad 3 configuration offered at Lenovo.com, our test unit features a dual-core AMD Ryzen 3 3250U processor, only half the storage you really want (a 128GB solid-state drive), and a non-touch screen backed by AMD Radeon integrated graphics. The operating system is Windows 10 Home in S mode, which limits your software library to apps from the Windows Store; a Settings option lets you switch that over to regular Windows 10 Home, as we did to install our benchmark programs.
(Photo: Molly Flores)
Measuring 0.78 by 14.3 by 10 inches, the IdeaPad isn’t much bigger than two other low-cost 15.6-inch laptops PC Labs tested of late: the VivoBook 15 (0.78 by 14.1 by 9.1 inches), and the Dell Inspiron 15 3000 (0.78 by 14.3 by 9.8 inches). It’s heavier, though—at 4.84 pounds, it has a full pound on the 3.75-pound Asus and 3.91-pound Dell. Also, its AC adapter is a bulky plug that hogs two spaces on a power strip.
Thick bezels surround the screen. Pressing your thumbnail against the edge of the top bezel slides a privacy shutter over the webcam. The keyboard includes a numeric keypad; you’ll be typing passwords since there’s neither a fingerprint reader nor a face-recognition camera for Windows Hello. Lenovo Vantage software centralizes system updates, Wi-Fi security and file transfer from your old PC, and hardware settings.
(Photo: Molly Flores)
The laptop’s left edge offers an HDMI port, a retro USB 2.0 port, two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, and the power connector. Most folks are right-handed, but you can’t plug an external mouse into the right side—there’s nothing there but an audio jack and an SD card slot. We certainly don’t expect a Thunderbolt 3 port at this price (or on an AMD laptop at any price), but a USB-C port would have been nice.
(Photo: Molly Flores)
An Uncharacteristic Keyboard
Lenovo ThinkPad keyboards are the industry’s finest, but this is no ThinkPad. The top row contains media control and microphone mute keys, but even with a numeric keypad included the designers couldn’t find room for Home, End, Page Up, or Page Down keys. Instead, you must pair the Fn key with the cursor arrow keys, and the latter are in a clumsy, HP-style row (hard-to-hit, half-size up and down arrows sandwiched between left and right) instead of the proper inverted T.
The keyboard has a flat, plasticky typing feel that’s dull and uncomfortable. We experienced a number of skipped and double letters. The small, buttonless touchpad glides and taps smoothly enough but has a stiff, hollow click.
(Photo: Molly Flores)
As for the display panel, white backgrounds are reasonably white instead of dingy, but the 1080p screen just isn’t bright enough. Colors look bland and washed out. Contrast is fair, and fine details are relatively sharp—letters don’t look too pixelated—but the display never looks like anything other than an economy-class panel.
(Photo: Molly Flores)
The sound system follows suit. Even at max volume, audio from the front-bottom-edge speakers is weak and hollow. Bass is faint and muffled at best; you can barely make out overlapping tracks. Driving piano and drum passages are hardly present. Dolby Audio software lets you choose from music, movie, game, and voice presets and try an equalizer with minimal effect. The 720p webcam captures relatively well-lit but bland, soft-focus images with a fair amount of noise or static.
Performance Testing: A Budget Quintet
For our benchmark charts, I compared the IdeaPad 3 15ADA05 to four other economy laptops. I’ve already mentioned two 15.6-inch competitors, the $399.99 Asus VivoBook 15 and $369 Dell Inspiron 15 3000. The $428 HP Laptop 14-dq2020nr has a smaller display and a quad-core Intel Core i3 CPU. The Asus VivoBook 17 M712 has the biggest screen (17.3 inches) and the highest price ($500 to $550) in the group; it’s an Editors’ Choice award-winner with the same Ryzen 3 processor as the Lenovo. You can see their basic specs in the table below.
Productivity and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL. 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 work, 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 yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better. (See more about how we test laptops.)
None of the five laptops here managed the 4,000 points that we consider to indicate excellent productivity in PCMark 10; the HP wasn’t far off and the IdeaPad joined the two VivoBooks a way back. It’ll get you through everyday operations without actually making you wait, but it won’t feel snappy or responsive, either. Today’s SSDs almost always do well in PCMark 8’s storage measurement, and that held true for the IdeaPad.
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 benchmark, in which we put a stopwatch on systems as they transcode a brief movie from 4K resolution down to 1080p. It, too, is a tough test for multi-core, multi-threaded CPUs; lower times are better.
The Dell’s AMD Athlon Silver is the lightest-hitting processor in the group. The Lenovo outran that system but was far from impressive—it took 36 minutes to process the Handbrake video clip, when most midrange laptops take around 15 minutes and the fastest need only seven or eight.
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 (lower times are better). The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters.
With only 4GB of RAM, the Inspiron and HP couldn’t run this test. The Core i3-powered VivoBook 15 easily beat the two Ryzen 3 notebooks. We wouldn’t recommend the IdeaPad for managing a photo collection, even if it were faster—its screen is lackluster, and its SD slot leaves cards jutting out to snag in your carry bag.
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. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and lets high-end PCs and gaming rigs strut their stuff.
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, this one rendered in the eponymous Unigine engine for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess. We present two Superposition results, run at the 720p Low and 1080p High presets and reported in frames per second (fps), indicating how smooth the scene looks in motion. For lower-end systems, maintaining at least 30fps is the realistic target, while more powerful computers should ideally attain at least 60fps at the test resolution.
In no universe is 4 frames per second close to 30. These are all poor results; owners will have to settle for browser-based games or stream audio or video for entertainment instead of playing demanding games. Integrated graphics processors (IGPs) can sometimes suffice for lightweight gameplay, but compare what these systems served up against some mainstream models with higher-end CPUs in our recent gaming-graphics tests with IGPs.
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 into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation short film Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50% and volume at 100% until the system quits.
Eight and a half hours away from a wall outlet isn’t bad for an inexpensive desktop replacement, though it’s nowhere near the stamina of modern ultraportables. The IdeaPad may not quite get you through a full day at the office or school, but it’ll survive an unplugged work session.
(Photo: Molly Flores)
Verdict: It’s a Tough Field at This Price
The 15ADA05 version of the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15 has no fatal flaws, but it has several disappointing ones, from a keyboard that’s no fun to a mediocre display and missing USB-C port. It’ll get the job done, but we’ve seen nicer economy notebooks on both the Windows and Chromebook sides of the aisle. We suggest checking out the Asus and MSI alternatives mentioned earlier if you’re resolutely pegged at $400 to $450 and must have a Windows-based machine.
Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15 (2021)
The Bottom Line
If you have only $400 to spend on a Windows 10 laptop, Lenovo’s IdeaPad 3 15 will get you a roomy screen and a little pep, but you can get better options for a close price.