Are VR-ready laptops really worth the money?

One of the best parts of writing for Mobile Nations is reviewing new and upcoming hardware, including laptops. Lenovo has recently been going through a refresh of their laptop lineup, and one gaming model, the Legion Y720, recently fell into our lap (hurr hurr). It's labeled as a VR-ready gaming laptop, but we waited for real testing before we got too excited. Here's what we found.

The VR-ready laptop in question

The Lenovo Legion Y720 (you can read the full review over at Windows Central) we tested came with an Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor (CPU) with a clock speed up to 3.80GHz, 16GB of dual-channel DDR4-2400MHz RAM, and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card (GPU) with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM.

Legion Y720 with a Rift hooked up

Needless to say, this thing is a beast and outperforms a lot of the affordable gaming laptops that were on the market even a year ago. This specific model costs about $1,450, and that includes a few extra features, like a zoned RGB backlit keyboard and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) as an addition to the 1TB hard-disk drive (HDD).

For a configuration of this laptop with hardware that closer matches the Rift and Vive's minimum specs, including an Intel Core i5-7300HQ CPU, 8GB of DDR4-2400MHz RAM, and the same badass NVIDIA GTX 1060 GPU, you're looking at spending about $1,050.

That's a reasonable price for a laptop with this level of performance, and you can no doubt find similar models, with regard to both performance and price, from many other manufacturers. There are still cheaper gaming laptops that scrape the Rift's minimum requirements, like the Legion Y520.

See at Lenovo

Big performance, big laptop

Surface Pro 4 on top of the Legion Y720

The Legion Y720 is not small. The chassis holds a 15.6-inch display available in either FHD or UHD and weighs just over seven pounds. This thing is nowhere near ultraportable, but it's so much better than lugging around a desktop PC and monitor. To take Rift on the road, all we had to do was pack up the headset, sensors, and Touch controllers in their carrying case and slide the laptop and (enormous) charger into a messenger bag. Not bad at all. A note on displays — if you're using a laptop primarily for VR, opting for a 4K display will only cost you more money and drain the battery faster than a standard 1080p option.

The size of the laptop is no doubt mostly due to the amount of hardware and ports packed into it, but it's also partly due to the dual-fan cooling system, one for the CPU and one for the GPU. They don't run independently, so you'll always be able to hear both if one comes on, but they aren't so loud that VR headphones or the big, loud forward-facing speakers won't drown them out.

Surface Pro 4 on top of the Legion Y720

What we're getting at here is that while the laptop does get hot when under a heavy load, it's kept in check. The case doesn't get so hot that it becomes uncomfortable, and, in worst case scenarios, there's an Extreme Cooling feature that can be enabled to make the fans really loud and also drop temperatures between about five and ten degrees.

Not bad, and we didn't even have to enable it while in VR. Many other gaming laptops have a specially designated cooling system, and, coupled with new hardware that draws less power and puts off less heat, we're seeing less of a hit to performance when this much hardware is packed into a tight space.

Benchmarking the Legion Y720

We tested the Legion Y720 with some of Futuremark's benchmarking software, including VRMark and 3DMark.

Test Result (Higher is better)
VRMark Orange Room 5,795
3DMark Time Spy 3,469
3DMark Fire Strike 9,017

To put these results into a bit of perspective, a standard VRMark Orange Room result for a VR-ready PC sits somewhere around the 5,000 mark. The Legion Y720 also hit an average of 126.33FPS in the VR test, which is pretty much as good as it gets.

A 3DMark Time Spy result of about 3,362 and a 3DMark Fire Strike score of 9,200 are what's expected from gaming PCs that can run VR. As you can see, our awesome real-world experience with the Legion Y720 wasn't just our imagination or wishful thinking.

Plugging in your Vive or Rift

Thanks to the rather large chassis Lenovo was able to jam in plenty or ports, including three USB-A 3.0, one USB-C Thunderbolt 3, and one HDMI 2.0. If you're counting, yes, that's one less USB-A port than what's required for a Rift room-scale setup with three sensors. That's a real shame, especially since the recommended USB 3.0 expansion card from Oculus isn't easily added to a laptop. The likely solution for long-term users would be to grab a USB-A to USB-C adapter.

For a two-sensor Rift setup, however, it worked great. There were none of the compatibility issues that have plagued many users in the past — it was a plug in and play scenario here.

The Vive, thanks to its Lighthouse sensors not requiring any ports, connected without any issue and even had open ports remaining. Like the Rift, there were no compatibility issues. Again, this was pretty much a plug and play scenario.

Using a laptop with VR is our new favorite thing

Legion Y720 with the Vive

During our time with the Legion Y720, we took our Rift and Vive with us to show it off to friends and co-workers alike. Showing up somewhere with a bag over your shoulder and another in your hand was quite unassuming, and the resulting question was quite common: That thing can run VR?

Indeed it can run VR, and it runs VR quite well. If you've been thinking about splurging on a new PC but have had laptops in the back of your mind, it might be time to seriously consider the more portable option. Thanks to the ever-evolving technology behind GPUs, CPUs, and SSDs, gaming laptops keep getting slimmer and lighter while the performance ramps up.

While the Legion Y720 was the basis of our first-hand experience, there are plenty more VR-ready laptops from a myriad of manufacturers that can no doubt offer a similar experience. Happy gaming, and happy VR!

See our choices for the best laptops for VR