How Lenovo pushed the laws of physics to put a supercomputer in your backpack | Exclusive

‘More people can afford a gaming laptop now than ever because the performance has gone mainstream.’

Lenovo Legion 5i Pro

Lenovo launched a slew of laptops across a wide range of categories—from lifestyle to gaming— in India on Tuesday. The list includes the entry-level IdeaPad Gaming 3i, more premium Legion 5i, Legion 5i Pro, and what’s being billed as the “world’s most mobile 16-inch gaming laptop”, aka Legion Slim 7i. The Yoga line-up got a refresh, too, with the Yoga 9i, Yoga Slim 7i Pro, and Yoga 7i.

Regardless of the model, two things remain common— they all have sleek, minimalist designs and pack the latest 12th Gen Intel Core processors. All of them share a common ground, too, in terms of core philosophy. Lenovo seems to be in pursuit “to push the laws of physics” and put “a supercomputer in your backpack.”  

In an exclusive interview with Financial Express, Ian Tan, AP gaming lead for Lenovo takes us through the nitty-gritties of the new Legion and IdeaPad machines, while offering key insights into the current PC gaming landscape including existing stereotypes and misconceptions. Excerpts.  

— There’s been a huge shift in how people buy PCs, laptops. Diverse use cases. Gaming is one of them. Can you talk a little bit about the trajectory over the last two years, how it has changed and evolved and, also, pushed brands into getting serious about gaming?

The gaming industry has been growing very strongly, especially in India. The pandemic helped people to understand why they needed PCs more than ever. For many years, people kept saying the PC industry was declining. I’ve never believed that. PCs are essential to our lives today. PC is the heart of work and it has always been the heart of gaming. Today, gaming is a mainstream activity across all platforms, whether it’s PC, console or mobile. A lot of gamers in India today play on mobile first because it’s a low barrier entry. But at some point, they realise that there is a more immersive experience that they can have from a PC. It offers more flexibility, too.

When people discover power, the sense of immersion in games, and the flexibility, not just in work but while playing, then they start to get really interested. That’s why a lot of people go and check out our Legions and our entry-level models like IdeaPad Gaming 3i, as their first foray into what I would call a supercomputer in your backpack.

There are other things that have helped this trajectory of change as well. A lot of people who want to break into the creative industries now find that the tools have become very affordable or even free. The learning has become democratised, also, through platforms like YouTube. What we need now is hardware power. Any laptop can be used to create content but gaming PCs offer you high speed content creation. So, when you render something, it’s just a lot faster on the gaming PC due to the graphics processor.

— How does Lenovo go about fitting a supercomputer inside a backpack? How does it all come about in design, hardware, and experience?

Legion is a young brand. One of the most critical things the company did in the early days, about four years ago, was to do a worldwide survey of gamers where we asked them what they wanted from their gaming laptop (and what they didn’t). They told us they didn’t want gaming laptops that were loud and noisy, or had gaudy designs. They told us that they wanted the best possible performance at all times. This then formed the basis of our design philosophy. Every year we conduct a similar survey. Every year we go to customers and show them all sorts of potential designs, colour schemes, form factors and we ask them to choose what they like and take feedback. The customer knows best. 

After we gather the customers’ feedback, then we spend a lot of time on engineering. Sometimes people wonder why we take a bit of time to come to market. It’s because we spend a lot of time pushing the limits of physics to see what can we do with the technology that’s available today and how can we max up the performance. We probably spend the most time getting the best performance out of today’s technology and hardware than our competitors. Our laptops our tested to go running unthrottled for hours at maximum power because our engineering allows, for example, our thermal management system to work in a very efficient way to move air at very high volumes throughout the laptop. 

Once we’ve listened to a customer and engineered the best product for them, then we need to look after them and that’s why, we have different customer support programs. One of them is called Legion Ultimate Support. We’re the only ones in Asia and some other parts of the world, to offer a customer support service dedicated for gamers. We also have 24-hour on-site support.

— Lenovo’s aesthetics are completely different, more minimalist, from what exists in the gaming landscape. Your machines are also generally sleeker. How do you balance things out?

The truth is when you’re playing games, you don’t think about how your laptop looks. You only look at how it performs. Unfortunately, even though gaming has gone so mainstream, people still have stereotypes that someone who plays games may not have a life, or they may be stuck in the basement and so on, which is not true. 

The Legion customer tends to be over 25 years old. They are a good mix of male and female genders and because they are over 25, they tend to have jobs and they tend to have families, so they would use their laptop at work majority of the day and then after work, they’ll play games on it at night. That’s why our design works so well for us and for them. Nobody wants to be stereotyped into anything, right? And you can never go wrong with a minimalistic design.

It’s not just our customers who’ve given us consistently positive feedback about our designs and they want us to keep it that way, but we are seeing other brands starting to come up with minimalist designs as well. As they say, imitation is the best form of flattery.

— But how do you balance all this with performance?

Different types of games require different treatment, meaning some games would be very heavy on the CPU usage, some would be very heavy on the GPU. We have something called Lenovo AI engine. It is built into the firmware of every Legion laptop and can auto-detect some of the most popular games out there and then route more power automatically to the CPU or GPU depending on need, to give you more frames per second. An ordinary laptop, without this sort of AI, would just blindly give maybe equal amounts of power to both CPU or GPU or max out one and not the other. That’s one way how we help the customer have the best experience without having to do anything.

— How does Lenovo approach thermals in some of its new machines?

Even before the technical bit, people want to see what the cooling looks like. Our thermal design is mix of science and art. The science is in getting the most efficient movement of air. Every year we try to make the fans even more efficient, make the fan blades even thinner than ever so that they can move more air. The setup is very similar to a car engine. Yet we have to do it in a way that it’s not so obvious. Our design teams take feedback from across the board—whether it’s in the aesthetic area, whether it’s the hardware, or procuring the right materials. We even measure how hot each of the keys gets.

— You mentioned procuring materials, that’s something that people are really curious about, because there are these conversations now that GPUs are finally going to get a bit more affordable because of the demand-supply thing improving. Do you see gaming laptops getting cheaper, more affordable?

Here’s something that people may not have realised: in the desktop GPU space, the GPU prices have gone off the roof because of all sorts of factors like shortage of supply, crypto mining. In the laptop space, the GPU prices have always been the same. It’s the supply of GPUs in general that caused us to have a shortage of laptops. But I can tell you that we are not scalpers. Our gaming laptops have always been priced according to the cost that we have [to make them]. There is a misconception that gaming GPUs have become more affordable. Yes, definitely on the desktop front, but if you track the prices of gaming laptops in the last few years, you’ll find that they have been around the same levels. 

— While we are on the subject of affordability, one of the major changes happening in the market right now is that brands are increasingly getting into that affordable space. Gaming laptops are becoming more mainstream.

In gaming, high-end technology becomes mainstream over time. It’s very natural and the performance that you can get for an entry price point today of say $800, it would of course be far greater than of a similar laptop, say, five years ago. At the same time, the demand for power and performance continues to increase, so there are many customers out there who want to spend above say $1000 for a laptop. Cost may not be an issue to them, so we want to design those products as well. 

But the most important thing is because the performance has gone mainstream, more people can afford a gaming laptop than ever. That’s why a lot of people are choosing Ideapad Gaming 3i for their first laptop or their first family laptop, or their first foray into the gaming laptop space. Yet at the same time, more and more people are upgrading their laptops to a Legion 5, 5i Pro series or Legion 7 series because they want to have an even more immersive experience or they just want even more power to work faster.

So, two things are happening at the same time: more power is becoming available at entry level price points to all consumers and that’s great, and even higher levels of power is becoming available at the higher price tier to people who demand it. That’s why the gaming industry is growing so fast.

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