Notebooks with optical drives that can be swapped out and replaced with something more useful - like a secondary HDD or SSD - aren't exactly novel, but so far, they've also been somewhat limited in practicality. Generally a feature only seen in business notebooks, most offer a dummy faceplate for reducing overall weight, or at best, a back-up battery or secondary HDD for more storage. The most versatile option right now is probably Fujitsu's LH772 business notebook, which lets you swap out its optical drive for a back-up battery unit, a second HDD or, amazingly, a mini-projector but, unless you regularly want to screen presentations out of your notebook, you're probably not going to get a lot of mileage out of that.
Lenovo is taking a more pragmatic approach with its latest notebook, the IdeaPad Y500, by being the first consumer multimedia notebook to offer a swappable optical drive that can be replaced with a second GPU module, in this case, an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650M, providing better gaming performance through a 2-way SLI configuration. This means the notebook already has a primary GeForce GTX 650M module and adding the secondary GPU of the same configuration activates both of them in SLI configuration. If you want more traditional options, a 750GB HDD is also available (sold separately for S$179), as is a fan module for better cooling and reduced weight (sold separately for S$59).
Lenovo also makes a swappable Blu-ray drive for the Y500, however, it is not currently available in this region. Online, the Blu-ray drive appears to be sold for between US$99 - $149.
Our review unit is armed with a quad-core Ivy Bridge Intel Core i7-3630QM (2.4 GHz) CPU, a 15.6-inch full HD 1920 x 1080 pixels resolution display, Windows 8 OS and 1TB HDD. It's also extremely affordable (especially compared to some of the S$3000-4000+ gaming notebooks out there) at just S$1999 (which includes the swappable GPU module bundled in). So is the Y500 the king of bang-for-your-buck, or just a big bust? Let's find out.
Lenovo is normally quite understated in its notebook design and the Y500 is no exception, sporting a stealthy, all-black finish that Lenovo has dubbed 'Dusk Black'. The build is mostly plastic, with a panel of brushed, black aluminum covering the lid and another on the interior for a nice, sleek look. Overall build quality feels fairly solid, and we didn't notice any finish or fit issues.
There's a mild taper from back-to-front, but it's not very noticeable so essentially, the notebook is a rectangular block. You won't find any exotic grilles, glowing vents or other such gamer-chic here, but the look, while not particularly innovative or exciting, is clean and has no chance at offending anyone's aesthetic sensibilities (which can't be said for some of the gaming monstrosities out there).
On the inside, things are marginally more exciting, helped by an injection of color from the backlit keyboard which shines a very bright red, and can also be seen on the speaker vents.
The screen is surrounded by a super glossy, black bezel which is matched by an equally glossy keyboard well. Normally we're not too keen on glossy, black plastic, but it seems to work for the Y500, as it provides a contrasting texture to the brushed aluminum.
Sticking to the clean design philosophy, there are no media controls or other buttons on the interior, just a simple power button that sits flush to the surface.
The Y500 has a full-sized chiclet-style keyboard with a numberpad, although, due to its 15.6-inch form factor, it's a little bit cramped with a shortened right Shift and repositioned right Control key to make room for the arrow keys. The keys themselves have good height that allow generous amount of travel, but unfortunately feel quite soft and mushy, and we also noticed a bit of wiggle evident on each key.
Backlighting deserves a special mention as Lenovo have opted for a very nice surround lighting style, with the edges of each key illuminated, rather than just a light shining through the symbol printed on top. Lighting can be set to two brightness levels, or turned off altogether, via Fn + spacebar. The higher brightness level is one of the brightest backlights we've seen on a keyboard, notebook or otherwise.
The Y500's clickpad-style trackpad was a bit disappointing. For starters, it really should be backlit, which would have complemented the keyboard nicely, but for some reason, Lenovo decided not to do this. To further compound the problem, while the trackpad surface is quite large, it feels very similar to the wrist rest surrounding it which can cause some confusion if you're trying to feel your way around in the dark.
Additionally, both left and right click were quite mushy and, at least on our review unit, the left click also traveled noticeably further inward than the right click, which made it feel very cheap. On the plus side, we didn't encounter any problems with tracking, and multi-touch swipe and zoom gestures worked well on Windows 8's Modern UI.