Last year I bought a Lenovo IdeaPad 5 14 on a great deal, curious about what the AMD Ryzen U hardware could deliver in an affordable and portable package. I ended up returning that laptop after a little bit, because I couldn’t get used to the poor-quality display that it came with, but still considered it an almost perfect budget ultrabook at that time.
Quick forward to this year, AMD appreciated my detailed review and sent me the updated 2021 IdeaPad 5 (code name 14ALC05), this time built on Ryzen 5000 hardware and tweaked in a few minor ways over its predecessor.
I’ve used this laptop earlier in the year, alongside its convertible IdeaPad Flex 5 variant, but I didn’t get to publish my thoughts on this series until now, in the Fall of 2021. I have a lot on my plate, so somehow this article was pushed back by more urgent matters, but I circled back to this because this IdeaPad 5 series still remains one of the better-value 14-inch portable laptops in the budget/mid-tier price segments.
But is it improved enough over the 2020 model to no longer get sent back? You’ll find out from the review down below.
Video review – Lenovo IdeaPad 5
This is a video review of the IdeaPad 5 I bought last year, but the updated model is identical in most ways, except for the exterior color, a different screen, and updated hardware specs, so you’ll still find value in this clip.
Specs as reviewed – Lenovo IdeaPad 5 14ALC05
||Lenovo IdeaPad 5 14ALC05
||14-inch 1920 x 1080 px IPS 60 Hz, 16:9, non-touch, matte, Chi Mei N140HCA-EAE panel
||AMD Ryzen 7 5700U, 8C/16T
||AMD Radeon Vega 7, 7 CUs, 1.8 GHz
||16 GB DDR4-3200 (soldered)
||1x 512 GB SSD (WDC PC NS530 – M.2 2230), one extra M.2 2280 free slot
||Wireless 6 (Intel AX200), Bluetooth 5.0
||3x USB-A 3.1 gen 1, 1x USB-C gen with DP and power delivery, HDMI 1.4b, SD card reader, headphone/mic
||57 Wh, 65 W USB-C charger
||322 mm or 12.66” (w) x 212 mm or 8.34” (d) x 19.1 mm or .75” (h)
||1.40 kg (3.09 lb), .33 kg (.72 lbs) power brick, EU version
||white backlit keyboard with NumPad, 2x 2W stereo speakers, HD webcam, finger-sensor in the power button
Design and build
On the outside, the 2021 IdeaPad 5 14 is almost identical to the previous generation, with the only difference being a change in the color options that Lenovo offer for this series. Previously, we had this unique-looking blue version, and this time around we have a more basic silver design, while other markets get an option for a dark-gray variant.
This silver variant that we have here is the dullest and most ordinary of the three, but at the same time also the most resilient and carefree. The finishing is no longer rubbery and soft like on that blue model from 2020, but this also means it will not scratch or dent as easily, and excellently hides smudges or finger oils. In comparison, the dark-gray variant is the same stronger finishing but shows fingerprints easier and you’ll need to clean it more often.
Color aside, the IdeaPad 5 14 remains a clean design with subtle branding elements. It’s also built well, with strong aluminum pieces on the lid, sides, and main chassis, and fairly ergonomic. The rubber feet offer good grip on the desk, the front lips are Ok on the wrists, the screen can be easily adjusted with a single hand and goes back to only about 145 degrees, and there’s a good selection of ports lined on the sides. Still not happy with that small always-on light next to the power button, which btw, integrates a finger sensor.
Back to those ports, there are 3x USB-A slots on this laptop, one USB-C with data, charging, and video DP, a full-size HDMI port, a full-size card-reader, and an audio jack. They’re conveniently spread on the sides, with the USB-C and HDMI ports on the left.
However, compared to the 2020 model, this generation no longer offers a barrel plug and ships with a USB-C charger. That might seem like an upgrade, and I agree with the convenience of having a USB-C charger, but it’s also a potential issue if you’re planning to connect peripherals via USB-C while also charging the laptop. Since there’s a single USB-C port here, you’ll need an external dock/adapter for that.
Keyboard and trackpad
The IdeaPad 5 gets a standard Lenovo keyboard, the same we’ve seen on the previous generation.
It’s a basic layout and doesn’t offer any extra column for function keys like on other 14-inch laptops, and that’s because this design utilizes the space around the keyboard for up-firing speakers. As a result, PgUp/PgDn/Home and End functionality as secondaries bound to the arrows keys.
The keycaps are plastic and not as soft to the touch as on the upper-class Lenovo models, but still OK.
What I appreciate about this series is the fact that Lenovo offers a black (dark gray) keyboard on all their color variants, and doesn’t opt for a silver keyboard on this silver model. This way, the keys remain easy to tell apart when activating the white illumination. The LEDs are still fairly dim and light still creeps from underneath some of the keycaps, but at least the backlighting is uniform and Lenovo included CapsLock and Numlock dedicated LED indicators. The illumination also activates by swiping your fingers over the clickpad.
As far as the typing experience goes, this is a standard ultrabook keyboard, a bit on the softer and mushier side, but overall a good and quiet typer.
The clickpad is plastic, averagely sized, and somewhat flimsy feeling, as it rattles with firmer taps, especially in the lower half. It tracks well, though, handles all the standard gestures, and implements fine clicks, just a tad on the clunky side.
As for biometrics, there’s a finger sensor integrated within the power button on this series, but no IR cameras.
The screen is the reason I’ve decided to return my IdeaPad 5 last year, and then the IdeaPad Flex 5 this year, and while this 2021 IdeaPad 5 gets a marginally improved panel, it will still not suffice for some of you (including me).
So what we have here is a 14-inch matte Chi Mei panel with 300+ nits of brightness, surprisingly good blacks and contrast, but still only a little over 60% coverage of sRGB. That means the colors are still washed out and muddy, especially the reds and the yellows. I’m not going to add it in here again, but I have a comparison between this kind of 60% sRGB panel and the higher-tier 90-100% sRGB options in this article, and I’d suggest having a look.
Now, in all fairness, this Chi Mei panel is a slight update over the AUO Optronics panel on the 2020 IdeaPad 5. Here’s what we got in our tests, with a X-Rite i1 Display Pro sensor:
- Panel HardwareID: CHI Mei CMN140A (N140HCA-EAE);
- Coverage: 61.9% sRGB, 43.5% AdobeRGB, 44.4% DCI P3;
- Measured gamma: 2.09;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 323.36 cd/m2 on power;
- Min brightness in the middle of the screen: 10.24 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 1673:1;
- White point: 6700 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.19 cd/m2;
- PWM: No.
Calibration was pretty good out of the box as well, with only a slight Gamma imbalance, and the panel turned out to be uniform in luminosity and color once further calibrated.
So all in all, if you’re coming from an older laptop and you’re not already used to a high-quality display, you’ll most likely find this screen good enough. This is a fair match for the lower-tier Ryzen 3/5 configurations of this laptop that sell for 500-650 USD/EUR/GBP. At this budget, you will find better screens in some devices, but not paired with the modern hardware available here.
At a higher budget, this screen is no longer competitive, as the market now offers plenty of choices with 100% sRGB panel in devices such as the Acer Swift 3 14s, Huawei MateBook 14, or the Asus ZenBook 14s, among the ones that I’ve tested. That’s why I still consider that Lenovo should have bumped this series to a 100% sRGB panel, even if that meant a slight increase in price. After all, they still have the IdeaPad 3 14 on the market at the lower tier.
As it is, this screen is still a potential deal-breaker here and enough of a reason for me to perhaps look somewhere else, despite this laptop being so good otherwise.
Hardware and performance
Our test model is a mid-specced configuration of the Lenovo IdeaPad 5 14ALC05 , with an AMD Ryzen 7 5700U APU, 16 GB of DDR4-3200 RAM, 512 GB of fast WD storage, and the Radeon Vega 7 iGPU graphics baked into the AMD processor.
It’s also a retail model running on the software available as of late May 2021; it was provided for this review by AMD and returned afterward.
Specs-wise, this generation of the IdeaPad 5 is based on the 2021 AMD Ryzen 5000 U hardware platform, with options starting with the 4C/8T Ryzen 3 5300U processor, continuing with the 6C/12T Ryzen 5 5500U, and going up to the 8C/16T Ryzen 7 5700U on this unit. As far as I can tell, only Zen2+ Lucienne platforms are available on this lineup, with Zen3 Cezanne hardware reserved for other Lenovo models.
Even with the improvements in IPC and various optimizations on the Zen3 platforms, the Lucienne hardware is still plenty fast for daily use, better optimized than the Renoir Ryzen 4000 platforms from 2020, and more capable in GPU loads with the updated Vega graphics.
Back to our review unit, the Ryzen 7 5700U builds on last year’s top Ryzen U 4800U processor, as an 8C/16T Zen2+ APU, with Vega 8 graphics with 8CUs running at up to 1.9 GHz. Our configuration comes with 16 GB of DDR4-3200 memory (soldered on the motherboard) and a middling 512 GB WD SN530 SSD in our configuration. There are actually two SSD drives inside, with the included one being a compact 2230 mm drive, which leaves the full-size 2280 M.2 slot open for ugprades. You can also update the wifi module on this laptop, but everything else is soldered on the motherboard.
Accessing the components is a basic task, you just need to pop out the back panel that’s held in place by a handful of Torx screws.
As far as the software goes, everything can be controlled through the Lenovo Vantage app, which offers access to the power profiles, keyboard customization options, system updates, battery settings, etc. I find this unified implementation one of the better system control apps in this segment.
There are three performance/thermal profiles to choose from, and you can switch between them by pressing Fn+Q:
- Battery Saving – limits the CPU at around 10W and keeps the fans noise at inaudible levels;
- Intelligent Cooling – limits the CPU at 20-25W, and ramps that fans to about 40 dB at head-level in sustained loads;
- Extreme Performance – further bumps the CPU to around 25-26W sustained, with the fan still around 40 dB.
I’ve kept my unit on Intelligent Cooling most of the time, and only switched to Extreme Performance for benchmarks and gaming. The fan rests completely silent with daily use on Intelligent Cooling, and rarely kicks in with heavier multitasking, which causes the laptop to run a bit on the warmer side, but that’s a compromise worth taking for a completely silent computer.
The next part of this article focuses on the laptop’s performance in demanding loads, benchmarks, and games. I omited to properly do the Cinebench loop test on this sample back when I tested it, but expect it to perform similarly to the Ryzen 7 5700U version of the IdeaPad Flex 5, since they’re almost the same design and power profiles. Down below you can find the IdeaPad Flex 5 next to a couple of other portable laptops in this class.
I did record the Cinebench R15 logs, and you can find them down below. On Extreme Performance mode, this implementation allows for ~30W of power for a few Cinebench loops, and then stabilizes at 25W sustained, with temperatures in the mid-70s and fan noise of around 40 dB.
I also noticed that despite the similar internal designs between the two, this clamshell IdeaPad 5 runs significantly cooler in these stress tests than the Flex 5 14, and that’s because Lenovo implemented taller rubber feet on the underside of this laptop, which allow for less obstructed airflow into the fan.
I also ran the more taxing Cinebench R23 and Prime 95 tests, which returned the same kind of consistent findings.
Finally, we also ran our combined CPU+GPU stress tests on this notebook, on the same Extreme Performance profile. 3DMark stress runs the same test for 20 times in a loop and looks for performance variation and degradation over time, and this unit barely failed it, which suggests that the performance degrades a little bit as the heat builds up and the power drops from 30W to the 25W sustained.
Next, here are some benchmark results. We ran the entire suite of tests and benchmarks on the Extreme Performance profile. Here’s what we got.
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 3040 (Graphics – 3362, Physics – 18596, Combined – 1023);
- 3DMark 13 – Night Raid: 13128 (Graphics – 13744, CPU – 10473);
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 1192 (Graphics – 1045, CPU – 5964);
- 3DMark 13 – Wilf Life: 6399;
- Uniengine Superposition – 1080p Medium: 2102;
- Uniengine Superposition – 1080p Extreme: 660;
- Handbrake 1.3.3 (4K to 1080p encode): 33.84 average fps;
- PassMark10: Rating: 4698 (CPU mark: 16877, 3D Graphics Mark: 2341, Disk Mark: 16613);
- PCMark 10: 5102 (Essentials – 9548, Productivity – 6787, Digital Content Creation – 5564);
- GeekBench 5.0.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 1183, Multi-core: 6063;
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 1767 cb, CPU Single Core 190 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 3369 cb, CPU Single Core 490 cb;
- CineBench R23 (best run): CPU 8710 cb, CPU Single Core 1255 cb;
- x265 HD Benchmark 64-bit: 40.92 s.
We also ran some Workstation related loads on the same Extreme Performance profile:
- Blender 2.90 – BMW Car scene- CPU Compute: 4m 28s (Extreme);
- Blender 2.90 – Classroom scene – CPU Compute: 12m 3s (Extreme);
- Luxmark 3.1 – Luxball HDR – OpenCL CPUs + GPUs score: CPU not properly recognized;
- SPECviewerf 2020 – 3DSMax: 14.19 (Extreme);
- SPECviewerf 2020 – Catia: 10.21 (Extreme);
- SPECviewerf 2020 – Creo: 25.32 (Extreme);
- SPECviewerf 2020 – Energy: 0.82 (Extreme);
- SPECviewerf 2020 – Maya: 44.89 (Extreme);
- SPECviewerf 2020 – Medical: 9.1 (Extreme);
- SPECviewerf 2020 – SNX: 32.82 (Extreme);
- SPECviewerf 2020 – SW: 22.82 (Extreme).
These are fair scores for the Ryzen 7 5700U platform, a bit under what we measured on the IdeaPad Flex 5 14 and a bit better than on the Acer Swift X 14, both running the same processor at similar sustained power levels.
The GPU performance is within 10% of what the platform is capable of, and still, less than a similarly-powered Intel Tiger Lake processor with Iris Xe graphics would deliver (see this i7-1165G7 implementation for comparison). Those Intel processors are also faster in IPC and single-core loads, but no match for the Ryzen Lucienne R7 in multi-threaded scenarios.
With that our of the way, we also ran a couple of DX11, DX12, and Vulkan titles on the Performance profile, FHD resolution, and Low/Lowest graphics settings. Here’s what we got:
|Ryzen 7 5700U + Vega
||IdeaPad 5 14,
Ryzen 7 5700U 25W
|IdeaPad Flex 5 14,
Ryzen 7 5700U 24W
Ryzen 5 5500U 15W
Core i7-1165G7 19W
|ZenBook Duo UX482,
Core i7-1165G7 25W
Ryzen 5 4600U 25W
Ryzen 7 4800U 26W
Ryzen 7 4700U 13W
(DX 11, Low Preset)
|75 fps (54 fps – 1% low)
||75 fps (56 fps – 1% low)
||70 fps (52 fps – 1% low)
||70 fps (40 fps – 1% low)
||83 fps (58 fps – 1% low)
||63 fps (50 fps – 1% low)
||81 fps (58 fps – 1% low)
||66 fps (50 fps – 1% low)
(DX 11, Best Looking Preset)
|55 fps (42 fps – 1% low)
||53 fps (41 fps – 1% low)
||49 fps (33 fps – 1% low)
||56 fps (44 fps – 1% low)
||64 fps (56 fps – 1% low)
||53 fps (40 fps – 1% low)
||39 fps (28 fps – 1% low)
|Far Cry 5
(DX 11, Low Preset, no AA)
|24 fps (19 fps – 1% low)
||24 fps (21 fps – 1% low)
||23 fps (18 fps – 1% low)
||26 fps (18 fps – 1% low)
||32 fps (26 fps – 1% low)
||21 fps (18 fps – 1% low)
||28 fps (24 fps – 1% low)
||21 fps (17 fps – 1% low)
|Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
(DX 11, Lowest Preset)
|45 fps (34 fps – 1% low)
||47 fps (38 fps – 1% low)
||48 fps (38 fps – 1% low)
||65 fps (47 fps – 1% low)
||83 fps (65 fps – 1% low)
||41 fps (30 fps – 1% low)
||33 fps (24 fps – 1% low)
||45 fps (36 fps – 1% low)
|NFS: Most Wanted
(DX 11, Lowest Preset)
|60 fps (54 fps – 1% low)
||60 fps (52 fps – 1% low)
||60 fps (49 fps – 1% low)
||60 fps (46 fps – 1% low)
||60 fps (56 fps – 1% low)
||33 fps (20 fps – 1% low)
||60 fps (46 fps – 1% low)
||56 fps (34 fps – 1% low)
|Shadow of Tomb Raider
(Vulkan, Lowest Preset, no AA)
|32 fps (23 fps – 1% low)
||28 fps (22 fps – 1% low)
||26 fps (15 fps – 1% low)
||28 fps (16 fps – 1% low)
||35 fps (22 fps – 1% low)
||28 fps (20 fps – 1% low)
||38 fps (22 fps – 1% low)
||27 fps (16 fps – 1% low)
(Vulkan, Low Preset)
|38 fps (33 fps – 1% low)
||36 fps (31 fps – 1% low)
||36 fps (31 fps – 1% low)
||44 fps (28 fps – 1% low)
||56 fps (46 fps – 1% low)
||33 fps (27 fps – 1% low)
||41 fps (36 fps – 1% low)
||37 fps (32 fps – 1% low)
|The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
(DX 11, Low Preset, Hairworks Off)
|24 fps (17 fps – 1% low)
||24 fps (18 fps – 1% low)
||22 fps (12 fps – 1% low)
||21 fps (16 fps – 1% low)
||28 fps (22 fps – 1% low)
||21 fps (14 fps – 1% low)
- Dota 2, NFS – recorded with MSI Afterburner in game mode;
- Bioshock, Far Cry 5, Middle Earth, Strange Brigade, Tomb Raider games – recorded with the included Benchmark utilities;
We’re looking at 60+ framerates in the older titles, but barely 30fps or even under in the more demanding AAA titles launched in recent years. Furthermore, the Iris Xe Core i7 chips running at a similar power score 10-30% higher in the tested titles.
That aside, the gaming logs down below show excellent performance and temperatures on this Ryzen 7 5700U IdeaPad 5 on the Extreme Performance profile. The Vega iGPU runs at full-blast with most games, and the temperatures on the CPU and iGPU are in the low-to-mid 70s, with the fan spinning quietly at around 40 dB max.
These are better results than we got on last year’s IdeaPad 5 model with Ryzen 4000 hardware.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers, and others
Lenovo went with a middling thermal design here, with one large fan and two heatpipes grouped together. This is marginally more complex than the single-fan single-heatpipe design normally found at this level.
This implementation allows the Ryzen 7 hardware to run smoothly at 25+ W in demanding loads and tests, with good internal and external temperatures and the fan ramping up to 39-40 dB at head-level. There is a hotspot in the middle of the laptop, on top of the processor, and around the radiator and exhaust, but both only average temperatures in the mid-40s in our tests.
This design also places the exhaust close to the screen, but the plastic hinge diverts the hot air down and onto the back and also soaks up most of the heat, so nor the bezel or the display heat-up in any noticeable way here.
Finally, with daily use, the laptop runs mostly silent, with the fan resting idle and no electronics noises or coil whine. However, because this is mostly passively cooled, the chassis does average slightly warmer temperatures in the low to mid-30s across the entire keyboard deck.
*Daily Use – streaming Netflix in EDGE for 30 minutes, Quiet Mode, fans at 0-33 dB
*Gaming – Extreme Performance mode – playing Far Cry 5 for 30 minutes, fans at 39-41 dB
For connectivity, there’s WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5 through an Intel AX200 module on this laptop. It performed very well with our setup and the signal and performance remained strong at 30-feet, with obstacles in between.
Audio is handled by a set of stereo speakers that fire through those grills around the keyboard, so the sound is not going to be muffled when using this computer on a blanket or on the lap. The internal speakers are fairly small, though, and only fire through the lower part of the grills, as the rest is just decor. Nonetheless, expect fairly punchy volumes, in the 76-78 dB at head-level, no distortions at higher volumes, and only average audio quality, with OK mids and highs, but little on the lower end.
The same can be said about the HD camera placed at the top of the screen. It’s fine for occasional calls, but the quality is muddy and washed out, so don’t expect much.
There’s a 57 Wh battery inside the IdeaPad 5, which is fair-sized for a mid-tier 14-incher these days.
Here’s what we got on our review unit, with the screen’s brightness set at around 120 nits (~60 brightness).
- 7 W (~6-8 h of use) – text editing in Google Drive, Quiet Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.8 W (~9-10 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Edge, Quiet Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.6 W (~10 h of use) – Netflix fullscreen in Edge, Quiet Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 10 W (~5-6 h of use) – browsing in Edge, Intelligent Cooling Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON.
The laptop comes with a 65W charger that plugs in via USB-C. It’s a dual-piece design with a compact brick and long cables, and a full charge takes about 2 hours.
Price and availability- IdeaPad 5 14ALC05
The IdeaPad 5 14ALC 2021-generation is available in stores around the world in multiple versions.
It’s not as widespread and a bit more expensive than the previous generation, though, with the Ryzen 5 5300U / 8GB RAM / 256 GB SSD configuration starting at around 500-600 EUR over here, while the same model with a 6Core Ryzen 5 processor starts at around 650-700 EUR. Higher tier models with 16 GB of RAM and more storage, identical to the configurations tested here, are also available.
Follow this link for updated prices and configurations in your region.
For some reason, this 14-inch version of the IdeaPad 15 is no longer available on the US or UK Lenovo webstores right now, as Lenovo seems to rather push the IdeaPad Flex 5 convertible model on those markets. That’s a pity, because I for one prefer this clamshell Ideapad 5 design.
Final thoughts- Lenovo IdeaPad 5 14ALC05 review
Much like last year, Lenovo did almost everything right with this 2021 IdeaPad 5 update, but still neglected that crucial feature that made me return the previous laptop: a higher-quality screen.
Yes, they have slightly updated the panel on this generation, and those of you not already used to high-quality displays with proper colors might find this good enough. Thing is, the competition offers 100% sRGB panels on their mid-tier 14-inch portable laptops these days, and that’s why this IdeaPad 5 only remains a competitive option in its lower-tier Ryzen 3/5 configurations, as long as you can get them for 500-600 USD/EUR or your local equivalents. Paired with the updated care-free materials used for the case and their competent performance/effciciency, these IdeaPad 5 variants make for solid options for students.
However, at a higher budget, I for one would rather sacrifice the specs to some extent and get a better display. There are plenty of options out there, including a few with OLED 100% DCI-P3 panels at around 700-800 EUR, or perhaps the IdeaPad 5 Pro series with 16:10 screens.
All this display fiasco is such a pitty considering what a great job Lenovo did with the rest of this laptop. This is built and designed well, offers good inputs and IO, as well as long battery life. Furthermore, this is a very well-balanced Ryzen 5000 hardware implementation, able to run the platform at higher sustained powers with still proper thermals and noise levels in demanding loads, or completely silent and efficient with daily use.
So bottom point, I’d still consider the lower-tier configuration of this Lenovo IdeaPad 5 14ALC05, but less so the higher-specced and more expensive models, as those are dragged down by the lesser screen that Lenovo still offers with this series.
Anyway, that wraps up my take on this 2021 Lenovo IdeaPad 5, but I’d love to hear your thoughts about it and whether you agree with my feedback on the screen or not. Get in touch down below.
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