In this article we’re taking a look at the 14-inch variant of the Lenovo IdeaPad S540, in it’s competitively priced AMD Ryzen variant. We’ll go over all its features and traits, to help you figure out if this is the portable laptop for you or not.
The IdeaPad S540 is an excellent value ultrabook for those of you shopping on a more limited budget, and makes for a competent everyday computer or notebook for school. At the time of this article, the AMD IdeaPad S540 goes for under $600 in the US and under 500 GBP in the UK.
And while there are definitely cheaper options out there, it’s important to consider that this one doesn’t compromise on important traits as the build quality, typing experience, connectivity, everyday performance or battery life (much).
However, as you’ll find down below, it’s not without quirks, as it lacks certain features you’ll get with higher-tier devices and settles for a rather dim and washed out screen, as well as potentially buggy wireless. We’ll get in-depth on all these aspects down below.
Specs as reviewed – Lenovo IdeaPad S540 14
|Lenovo IdeaPad S540 14API|
|Screen||14.0 inch, 1920 x 1080 px, IPS, non-touch, matte (LG Philips LP140WFA-SPD1)|
|Processor||AMD Ryzen 5 3500U, quad-core|
|Vide0||Radeon RX Vega 8 2 GB, integrated|
|Memory||8 GB DDR4 2400 Mhz (4GB soldered + 1x 4GB DIMM)|
|Storage||512 GB M.2 PCIe x4 SSD (Samsung PM981 MZVLB512HAJQ-000L2), empty M.2 2242 slot|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC 2×2 (Realtek RTL8822BE), Bluetooth 4.2|
|Ports||2x USB-A 3.0, 1x USB-C 3.1 gen1, HDMI 1.4b, SD card-reader, mic/headphone|
|Battery||50 Wh, 65W charger|
|Size||323 mm or 12.72” (w) x 227 mm or 8.94” (d) x 15.9 mm or 0.62” (h)|
|Weight||~3.05 lbs (1.37 kg) + .75 lbs (.34 kg) for the charger and cables, EU version|
|Extras||white backlit keyboard, webcam, 2x 2W stereo speakers, finger sensor|
This is the base-configuration of the S540 14API, but Lenovo also offers a higher-tier variant with more RAM, extra storage and the more capable AMD Ryzen 7 3700U processor.
That aside, there’s also an Intel-based variant of the 14-inch S540, code-named IdeaPad S540 14IWL. That one is built on Intel Core i5 and i7 processors and optional Nvidia MX250 graphics, so it can be a superior performer in light games and other demanding loads. The Intel version also runs more efficiently and gets a different, brighter and richer 14-inch screen. At the same time, though, the IdeaPad S540 14IWL is a much more expensive product, going for 700-1000 USD/EUR/GBP based on configuration, so it competes in a different segment, with the bigger fishes.
That’s why the AMD versions are the better value options for most people.
Design and construction
Aesthetically, thE S540 looks much like the Ideapads we’ve seen in past years. The laptop comes in a light-grey color and looks professional and very clean, but is also friendly to use and hides smudges and scratches well.
Metal is used for the entire outer chassis, including the underbelly, and Lenovo didn’t skimp on the quality. They opted for thick pieces of aluminum for the main-deck and the lid-cover, and that’s why the laptop feels well-built. In all fairness, though, I still noticed a little flex in the keyboard deck and some squeaking and creaking coming from the bottom-panel when grabbing the laptop or adjusting the screen angle. But let’s not forget this is not a premium $1000+ ultrabook, and properly adjust our expectations here.
While we’re still nitpicking, I have to mention that the hinges are fairly stiff and you’ll need both hands to lift-up the screen and adjust its angle. On the other hand, they do allow it to lean back flat to 180-degrees, which will make the product versatile on the lap or on the thighs, something I greatly appreciate in an ultraportable. Finally, the industrial design leaves a fairly aggressive front lip that might dig into your wrists in certain typing positions, despite the big arm-rest and low profile.
These aside, the IdeaPad S540 is a fairly compact and light notebook, with narrow bezels around the top and edges of the screen and a total weight of a little over 3 lbs. Again, it’s not as light or as small as other higher-tier ultraportables, but it’s more than portable enough for its class and for what most people would want and expect.
I was glad to see that Lenovo actually put the space to good use, implementing up-firing speakers flanking the keyboard, an ample palm-rest and clickpad, as well as a fair selection of ports on the sides.
You get the standard USB-A slots, an USB-C, HDMI, card-reader and headphone jack, so pretty much what you’ll need to get you covered. Yes, the HDMI port is only the older 1.4b version, the USB-C doesn’t support DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 3 or charging, but come on, even I can’t complain about these details on a sub-$600 ultrabook.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard os the Ideapad S540 is once more the same we’ve seen on past IdeaPads/Yogas and even the newer ThinkBook 13s reviewed recently.
That means the keyboard gets short-travel and rather shallow chiclet keys, with a slightly rounded bottom shape and smooth coating. There’s little to complain about the layout, aside from the fact that the Up and Down keys are shorter than the others.
I’ve typed a few thousands of words on this keyboard and got along with it just fine. It’s on the shallower side, so not particularly fast or accurate, but it’s OK once you get used to it. I also found it very quiet, perfectly adequate for library-use, schools or pretentious offices.
The keys are backlit with white LEDs, and there are two brightness levels to choose from. The light creeps out quite annoyingly from beneath the upper Function keys, but that aside, the illumination is even and well implemented. There’s even a physical Caps Lock indicator, and the lights turn on by swiping your fingers over the clickpad.
The clickpad is a plastic surface of average size. It worked fine with daily use, but I found it a little cheap on my fingers and noticed that it rattles with taps. The physical clicks in the corners are also rather clumsy and loud.
Finally, the S540 also gets a finger-sensor, placed on the palm-rest as on the older IdeaPads. It worked well, with rare misreads.
As the naming suggests, the IdeaPad S540 14API gets a 14-inch display, with a matte IPS panel.
Lenovo went with a lower-tier option here, though: the LG Philips LP140WFA-SPD1. It’s not as bright, as color-accurate or as contrasty as the panels on higher-tier ultrabooks, but the regular user should still find it good enough for everyday use.
Details below, taken with a Sypder4 sensor:
- Panel HardwareID: LG Philips LGD05EC (LP140WFA-SPD1);
- Coverage: 59.5% sRGB, 41.2% AdobeRGB, 42.3% DCI P3;
- Measured gamma: 2.41;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 252 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 588:1;
- White point: 7200 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.42 cd/m2;
- Average DeltaE*00: 0.54 calibrated;
- Response time: ~40 ms GTG;
- PWM: No.
Calibration helps address the white point, gamma and color imbalances, but don’t plan to use this for any activity that requires high color accuracy anyway. That aside, I’d also suggest keeping this indoors, as it will struggle in bright environments and you’d need a brighter panel for that.
Finally, you should make sure to test your unit for light bleeding on dark backgrounds. We noticed some on our test unit, and I’ve also seen a few buyers complaining about it on the forums.
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
Our test version is a base-level configuration of the Lenovo IdeaPad S540 14API with the AMD Ryzen 5 3500U processor, Radeon RX Vega 8 graphics, 8 GB of RAM, and a 512 GB PCIe x4 SSD.
It’s also a retail version, identical to the ones you can find in stores, running on the latest BIOS and drivers available as of early November 2019.
I was surprised to get a fast Samsung PM981 SSD on this unit, but from what I’m seeing, the base level variants ship with a 256 GB PCIe x2 option. Both should be plenty fast for everyday use. Higher tier variants of the S540 14API get the 512 GB SSD and ca be specced up to an AMD Ryzen 7 3700 U APU with Radeon Vega RX 10 graphics and 12 GB of RAM.
The CPU and GPU are soldered on the motherboard, but the Wi-Fi, RAM and storage are upgradeable. Getting inside is easy and requires to remove the back-panel, hold in place by a handful of screws.
Once inside, you’ll notice a few interesting details. First, the DIMM is further hidden beneath a metallic cover that you’ll have to pull out, and part of RAM (4 GB) is soldered on the motherboard. That aside, the wi-fi slot is also upgradeable, and it’s something you might consider replacing if you run into problems with your unit (we’ll touch on that in a further section). Finally, you actually get two M.2 slots for SSD storage, a standard 2280 slot that houses the Samsung PM981 on this sample, but also an additional M.2 2230 slot nearby.
Overall, it’s nice to see the ability to still upgrade the memory and storage on a 2019 ultraportable. That means you can buy a base-level variant and upgrade it yourself, which allows for flexibility and savings.
Back to our Ryzen 5 variant, it is perfectly adequate for everyday use: browsing, movies, music, text-editing and such.
The Ryzen 7 processor is not required even if you plan to multitask and run occasional demanding software, as the main difference between the 3500U and 3700U is in the integrated graphics. More than 8 GB of RAM might help, though, especially since the Vega graphics within the APU can reserve up to 2 GB of that RAM, leaving you with as low as 6 GB for actual use. The laptop supports up to 12 GB of RAM, and some top-tier configurations ship with 12 GB out of the box.
In all fairness, I wouldn’t necessarily get such a laptop for demanding loads, anyway. That’s why we didn’t run our standard Cinebenh loop test on this sample. We did run the 3DMark Stress test, which it failed, and that suggests that the performance in this sort of CPU+GPU combined loads is not consistent and degrades over time, as the laptop heats up.
This is also backed-up by our gaming tests, where the GPU kicks in hard, but quickly settles for frequencies of around 800 MHz, down from its maximum potential of 1200 MHz. It is, nontheless, surprising, and hopefully something that Lenovo can tweak with future software, as the thermals allow plenty of headroom for higher performance.
We ran a couple of DX11 and DX12 titles on our test-unit, on FHD resolution and Low details, and compiled our findings in the following table. We’ve also added our results from the Core i7/MX250 based ZenBook UX434FL, for a comparison of what you get with that sort of configuration, but keep in mind that’s a more expensive option. In fact, the Intel alternatives at the same price range would only get a Core i5 processor with UHD graphics, and that scores about 50-70% of what the Ryzen 5 did.
|IdeaPad S540||ZenBook UX434FL |
|Bioshock Infinite (DX 11, Low Preset)||52 fps||77 fps|
|Far Cry 5 (DX 11, Low Preset, TAA)||18 fps||23 fps|
|NFS: Most Wanted (DX 11, Lowest Preset)||46-54 fps||– fps|
|Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (DX 11, Lowest Preset)||32 fps||50 fps|
|Rise of Tomb Raider (DX 12, Low Preset, FXAA)||18 fps||32 fps|
|The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (DX 11, Low Preset, Hairworks Off)||17-21 fps||27-38 fps|
- The Witcher 3, NFS – recorded with Fraps in campaign mode
- Bioshock, Far Cry 5, Middle Earth, Tomb Raider games – recorded with the included Benchmark utilities
The logs below provide more details on the CPU/GPU performance and thermals in some of these games.
I’ll also add some benchmarks results before we wrap this up, for those of you interested in numbers:
- 3DMark 11: P4020 (Graphics – 3942, Physics – 6360);
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 2005 (Graphics – 2228, Physics – 8236);
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 854 (Graphics – 766, CPU – 2499);
- PassMark: Rating: 2929, CPU mark: 8200, 3D Graphics Mark: 1767;
- PCMark 10: 3799 (Essentials – 7651 , Productivity – 5777 , Digital Content Creation – 3367);
- GeekBench 4.4.2 64-bit: Single-Core: 3592, Multi-core: 11065;
- GeekBench 5.0.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 758, Multi-core: 2888;
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 579 cb, CPU Single Core 127 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 1309 cb;
- x265 HD Benchmark 64-bit: 95.85 s.
Unlike with Intel ULV platforms, there’s no way to further tweak the performance of the AMD Ryzen APUs through undervolting, so you’ll have to settle with what you’re getting out of the box.
Nonetheless, the Ryzen 5 based IdeaPad S540 is a solid everyday notebook for browsing, movies, and other daily tasks. Just don’t plan to run very demanding chores. It’s also not a gaming ultrabook by any means, but it can handle older titles better than a standard Core i5/i7 Intel version with integrated HD graphics, which is what you’ll get with similar priced Intel options.
That might vary with the newer Ice Lake configurations, but the most capable IceLake SKUs won’t get their way into this price range. We’re comparing this AMD platform with the base-tier IceLake Core i5-1035G1 in our Swift 3 SF314-57 review, but quick spoiler, the AMD option is still the more capable in terms of graphics.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers, and others
This IdeaPad S540 gets a surprisingly beefy thermal module, with two fans and a thick heatpipe.
The thermal behavior could be improved through software, though. As it is, these fans do a good job at keeping the hardware at bay at the higher-end, while keeping quiet, at up to 38-40 dB at head-level in our measurements.
However, they also remain active all the time with daily use, despite the fact that this would well do with passive cooling. At 35-38 dB, the fans are hardly audible in a normal room in this case, but you will hear them in quiet environments or at night when watching a movie. On a more positive side, we didn’t notice any coil whine or electronic noise with this computer.
*Daily Use – running Netflix in EDGE for 30 minutes, fans 35-38 dB
*Load – playing Need for Speed: Most Wanted for 30 minutes, fans 39-40 dB
For connectivity, there’s a Realtek RTLRTL8822BE on this laptop, with Bluetooth 4.2. In performed OK on this implementation, both near the router and further away with obstacles in between, but you will find faster wireless on other ultrabooks.
However, the Lenovo forums are filled with people complaining about poor wi-fi performance, short-range and drop-outs on the S540, so even if we didn’t run into any of these, they’re something to keep in mind. I can’t tell if that’s a random problem with some wi-fi chips, it could be, since Lenovo source their components from different manufacturers. At the same time, those issues are mostly driver-based, so perhaps Lenovo managed to figure them out recently.
Either way, you’ve been warned: make sure to properly test the wireless on your unit, and return the product if not satisfied. If that’s not an option, you could also consider replacing the Realtek chip with an Intel 9560, the process only requires to get inside, pop-out the old chip and throw the new one in its place.
As far as the speakers go, there’s a set of them firing through those grills that flank the keyboard. Lenovo went with some long and narrow chambers and they sound OK; having them up-firing definitely helps with the perceived audio, but don’t expect much, they’re still rather tinny, with bass noticeable from 110 Hz. I also wish they were louder, we only measured volumes of up to 70-71 dB at head-level, but at least they don’t push vibrations into the chassis and can be used at these higher settings.
Finally, we’ll mention the included 720p camera. It’s placed at the top of the screen, where it should, but the quality is mediocre at best.
There’s a 50 Wh battery inside the IdeaPad S540, larger than you’ll get with most other ultrabooks in this segment. The AMD implementation, on the other hand, is not nearly as efficient as the Intel options, so you’ll only end up with rather short runtimes.
Here’s what we got on our review unit, with the screen’s brightness set at around 120 nits (~70 brightness).
- 11 W (~4 h 30 min of use) – text editing in Google Drive, Better Battery Mode, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 9.5 W (~5+ h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 8 W (~6+ h of use) – Netflix fullscreen in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 20 W (~2 h 30 min of use) – browsing in Edge, Better Performance Mode, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON.
The laptop comes with a 65W charger that plugs-in via a classic barrel plug. It’s a two-piece design with a standardly sized brick, and a full charge takes about 2 hours, but there’s also RapidCharge to quickly fill up the first half of the battery. The S540 can’t charge via USB-C.
Price and availability
The Lenovo Ideapad S540 is widely available in stores in most regions as of November 2019.
The base-level variant reviewed here, with the Ryzen 5 3500U processor, 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD, goes for under $600 on the US, under 600 EUR in Germany/France and under 500 GBP in the UK.
A higher-tier variant is also available, with the more graphics capable Ryzen 7 3700U processor, 8/12 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage, for around $750 in the US, and 700 EUR/GBP in the other regions.
Prices and configurations vary over time, so follow this link for updated info at the time you’re reading this article.
This 14-inch IdeaPad S540 has what it takes to be one of the most popular budget ultrabooks of its generation.
It’s built well and looks nice, it gets an IPS screen and a fast and quiet backlit keyboard, it handles everyday activities without hiccups and lasts for a few hours of use on each charge. But on top of all of these, this is excellently priced in most regions, and that greatly helps potential buyers look past its quirks.
There are quite a few of those, in fact. My major nit is with the fairly dim and washed out panel that Lenovo went with, but even that one is better than you get with other similarly priced ultrabooks. Then there’s the rather clunky clickpad, the always-on fans, the fairly quiet speakers and the surprisingly short battery life, as well as the potential wireless problems that many have reported on the forums. We haven’t run into any on our sample, but it’s not something we should ignore.
Finally, my other nit is with the AMD platform as a whole. Yes, it’s a decent all-rounder, solid performer with daily use and better with games than similarly priced Intel-based alternatives, but the loss in efficiency bothers me greatly. Perhaps you’re fine with 3-5 hours of use on a charge, but I’m not, and based on our experience with the ThinkBook 13s, an Intel-based version of the IdeaPad S540 will run for significantly longer than this AMD variant. Up to you if that’s worth paying extra and sacrificing the gaming performance for.
Before we wrap this up, I must mention that while one of the better value 14-inch ultraportables on the market, the IdeaPad S540 14 is not without rivals. Look into the Asus Vivobook 14, Dell Inspiron 14 5000 or the convertible Lenovo Flex 14 before deciding on your purchase, just to know what else you could get out there.
That’s about it for our review of the 14-inch AMD-powered Lenovo IdeaPad S540. Looking forward for your thoughts and feedback, so get in touch in the comments section down below.
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