Gaming machines are getting smaller, more portable and more capable, but they are not able to outperform equally-priced desktop computers. For most students, professionals and even gamers, a laptop is sufficient if not preferred. Afterall, laptops can be taken to class and LAN parties easily, while desktop PCs require separate keyboard, mouse and monitor. There has been a very strong surge in powerful laptops that are capable of multi-task management, video, photo and audio editing, and gaming. At the time of writing this article about two desktop gaming PCs, I’m also testing and tinkering with 2 laptop gaming PCs that are more expensive than the desktops, but not as powerful. I’m not writing to persuade you either way; rather, I hope to educate on why there is still relevance for desktop PCs. After several weeks with the X510, which includes a lot of hours in several of 2014’s best games, I’ve been entranced by the power of a desktop PC and find it hard to game on equally-priced laptops.
The great thing about building your own desktop PC is choosing the components you like. If you show off your PC then it’s critical you consider companies like Antec, Rosewill and Cooler Master to find the enclosure you like best. Buying a pre-built PC can lead to compromises in several areas, perhaps the most glaring is the enclosure. The X510 gives you a few trim options since it’s pre-built. The model I tested was Blizzard-themed with a Hearthstone logo near the overclock button and a few orcs on the left panel. All models have adjustable light sources that accent the front, bottom, and left sides. To turn them off or on, just press the button at the top. Near that button is the before-mentioned “overclock” button that actually doesn’t do anything on the model I tested. I assume there is some software from Lenovo that, when installed, will coordinate with this button to add a few extra horsepower to the the X510. Above this button is a 7-in-1 memory card reader (SD/SDHC/SDXC/MMC/MMC Plus/MS/MS Pro), two USB ports (one USB 2.0 and one 3.0) and a 3.5mm jack for your headset and microphone. The USB ports will continue to charge/power your devices when the PC is shut down. Behind these ports is a handle to help you carry the tower. Below the overclock button is a black door that swings open, providing access to an optical drive. Lenovo did not include a Blu-Ray drive, but instead opted for a dual layer DVD-RW. With Steam, Good Old Games, and other digital distribution sites, I no longer use an optical drive but would have been happy with a Blu-Ray drive for movies.
On the back of the tower you’ll find six additional USB ports (four USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0), a gigabit Ethernet port, two DVI ports, HDMI, DisplayPort and a slew of audio jacks including SPDIF for surround sound.
Inside the X510 is where I’m most impressed. For a pre-built system it’s actually quite well organized and well powered. The processor is an Intel Core i5-4670K running at 3.4GHz (3.9Ghz when overclocking is activated). 16GB of RAM are included to compliment a 1TB hard drive; some models have an SSD and MSATA to boost caching. The power supply is 610-watt. This will be under-powered if you want to upgrade to a second video card, which there is room for. U.S. models include an Nvidia GeForce 760 GTX. The model I have uses a Radeon R9 290, which is more powerful. What impresses me the most is how neatly organized it all is.
In June 2013, I made the decision to walk away from my desktop PC that I had personally built from chosen components (white-boxed) and absolutely loved. It was powerful; although only slightly more powerful than the laptop I replaced it with. I wanted to slim down my office and use one machine for home and travel. It mostly worked. The laptop was nearly equivalent in performance for gaming, slightly less so for audio and picture editing, and was only 6lbs. I was able to travel with it, despite what is now considered a heavy weight. In truth, I completely forgot what I was missing with a desktop PC. That is until I got my hands on a Lenovo X510 and a Y50; their top performing desktop and laptop, respectively. Both are well designed and can take on some powerful requirements from games such as Far Cry 4, Dark Souls II, and Marvel Heroes. After several hours with these machines, I wasn’t leaning heavily towards one over the other. I decided to run some standardized tests to wrap numbers around the experience. What I found was the x510 desktop PC was outperforming the Y50 laptops significantly.
The X510 performs well due to a strong combination of critical components. The CPU is powered by an Intel i5 4670k. Released in June 2013, this CPU’s clock speed ranges from 3.4GHz to 3.9GHz. It is built on a 22nm wafer. Unlike the i7-4710HQ inside the Y50 laptops, this processor must stay under 73 degrees Celsius The i7-4710HQ can handle up to 100 degrees Celsius making it a better fit for laptops that have fewer cooling options. But the i7 has a base clock speed of 2.5GHz. These two processors are from the same family of Intel Core processors. Consequently, we can throw all variables into a vacuum, or static state and draw the conclusion that the 0.9MHz difference in clock rate of the i5-4670K provides a significant advantage in terms of performance.
The other critical component is the AMD-powered graphics card, which really makes this machine sing. I’ve had good graphics cards in the past, but I’ve never owned one like this. It’s a high-end grpahics card with AMD’s new Hawaii Pro Core. The GPU runs at 947MHz and the memory runs at 1250MHz. It uses GDDR5 RAM and a 1MB L2 cache. There are 2560 shaders - that’s a lot. It’s maximum power requirement is 275W. If you were to buy this card aftermarket, I’d suggest at least a 700W PSU. Lenovo is running this machine with a 610W PSU.
This is a gaming machine, and there is no doubt about that. You’ll find it does the job well, particularly if you can find the model I have with the more powerful Radeon card. I haven’t hit a limit yet with any of the games I tested, and I haven’t experienced meaningful frame-rate drops or even many v-sync instances. Of course, games in 2015 and beyond will demand more horsepower; fortunately, unlike a laptop, this machine is easy to upgrade.
The X510 doesn’t have the thrilling designs of other gaming desktops, or of what you could build on your own, but it looks confident and doesn’t use cheap components. If you don’t want the hassle of building your own rig, this is a great option as it performs above the mid-level at a reasonable price (under $1500). For just a few dollars more, Lenovo could have included a Blu-Ray drive and a more powerful power supply unit to make upgrading easier in the future. Even without them, this is still an excellent machine that I strongly recommend.