This was the most exciting gaming laptop I reviewed in 2023

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An HDR demo running on the Lenovo Legion 9i.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

I’ve never used a laptop quite like the Lenovo Legion 9i. It’s the only laptop I’ve given a perfect score, which you can read about in my Lenovo Legion 9i review, and it puts many of the best gaming laptops to shame. It’s out of reach for most people — it’s certainly too expensive for me — but I didn’t touch another laptop this year that excited me as much as the Legion 9i did.

Sure, it’s a powerful laptop, but when you’re spending $3,000 (or more) on a gaming laptop, you expect peak performance. The Legion 9i stands out so much because it refines this class of laptop. It takes all of the elements that make 16-inch desktop replacements impractical and turns them on their head. It’s not a flawless laptop — no laptop ever is — but it’s the closest I’ve seen this year.

Slimmed down

A closeup of the Lenovo logo on the lid of a laptop.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

A big part of that is the size of the Legion 9i. There’s some fair criticism that the Legion 9i is too expensive, and a lot of that comes down to Lenovo’s other laptops. You can pick up Lenovo’s own Legion Pro 7i with similar specs for close to $1,000 less than the Legion 9i. But the Legion 9i justifies its price starting at $3,150 in a handful of ways.

For me, size takes the cake. It’s a quarter-of-an-inch thinner than the Legion Pro 7i and more than half a pound lighter, and that’s with the Legion 9i coming with a more power-hungry 24-core CPU. The Legion 9i firmly falls in the class of desktop replacement laptops, which are, historically, massive laptops that look to get the best performance at any cost.

If you look at the laptops the Legion 9i is competing with — machines like the MSI GT77 Titan and Asus ROG Strix Scar 17 — it looks downright tiny. Lenovo was able to cram the most powerful hardware money can buy in a laptop that’s shockingly portable. No, that portability doesn’t seem like a big deal when you’re looking at the spec sheet, but it matters real quick once you throw your laptop into a backpack.

Cyberpunk 2077 running on the Lenovo Legion 9i.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Size is only one axis Lenovo stakes portability on. In addition to the massive 330-watt power brick, Lenovo includes a 140W USB-C charger in the box. It’s not a paid extra; it’s just included. That’s huge if you’re traveling with your laptop and don’t want to lug around a massive power brick. It’s clear Lenovo actually thought about how people use laptops, rather than throwing caution to the wind with the most powerful hardware like so many desktop replacements do.

A smaller laptop is one thing, but the Legion 9i doesn’t sacrifice any power in the process. It even managed to beat the Asus ROG Strix Scar 17 in my testing, all while posting frame rates close to 100 frames per second (fps) at its native resolution of 3.2K in demanding games like Returnal, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. 

The liquid-cooled difference

The lid of the Lenovo Legion 9i.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

This is a proper desktop replacement, not one that’s crimped at the edges to meet a portable form factor like the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16. A big reason why is the liquid cooling system that the Legion 9i uses.

This system runs over the GPU’s memory, and it only kicks in when temperatures get too hot. If you just look at overall temperatures across laptops, it doesn’t seem like the liquid cooling is doing much. It doesn’t keep the Legion 9i cooler; it allows the Legion 9i to be smaller.

It’s easy to forget that the liquid cooling is at work, and that’s exactly how it should be. We’ve seen liquid cooling in laptops previously, but all of the implementations used a clunky exterior pump that kept you shackled to a desk. Lenovo applies liquid cooling on the Legion 9i in a way that allows it to be more portable, not less.

The charger plugged into the Lenovo Legion 9i.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The liquid cooling is the essential piece that makes the Legion 9i so exciting. It’s applying an enthusiast technique in a mainstream way, providing the benefit of portability rather than extreme overclocking prowess. The Legion 9i ends up about as thick as Razer’s highly portable Blade 14, which is insane for a gaming laptop packing an RTX 4090 and a 24-core Intel CPU.

Expensive, but not crazy

We need to talk about the pricing elephant in the room, though. Starting over $3,000, the Legion 9i is too expensive for most people, but it’s shockingly close to the competition. The most direct competitor is the Alienware x16. With the weaker Core i9-13900HK, the Alienware machine is about $150 more expensive when configured with the RTX 4080 ($3,300 at the time of writing). The tables oddly turn with the RTX 4090 configurations, with the Lenovo laptop coming in close to $500 more ($3,100 compared to $3,576).

There are plenty of laptops in this class that are more expensive, too. The Razer Blade 16 comes in at $3,600 for an RTX 4080, and the MSI GT77 Titan costs an astounding $4,900 with the RTX 4090. Even Asus’ ROG Strix Scar 17 comes in at $3,500 with the RTX 4090. The Legion 9i is expensive, no doubt, but it’s not unreasonable compared to the other options in this price bracket.

Keyboard on the Lenovo Legion 9i laptop.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The Legion 9i also goes above and beyond in a way these other laptops just don’t. As mentioned, you get a separate 140W charger included with your purchase, along with a set of replaceable keycaps. Nothing matches the screen, however. Lenovo packs in a 3,200 x 2,000 mini-LED display that’s certified with DisplayHDR 1000. It comes with 1,536 full array local dimming zones, and it looks fantastic.

These extras don’t justify the price of the Legion 9i on their own, but when you’re already spending more than $3,000 on a laptop, they help it stand out in a tough crowd. Other desktop replacements feel like powerful laptops. Lenovo provides not only a powerful laptop with the Legion 9i, but also a premium experience packed with goodies.

A glimpse of greatness

Lenovo Legion 9i front view showing RGB lighting.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

I wouldn’t recommend the Legion 9i to everyone. It’s just not that kind of laptop that hits a perfect ratio of price and performance like Lenovo’s own Legion Pro 5. It’s without a doubt the most exciting laptop I reviewed in 2023, however, and even a couple of months after reviewing it, I’m still checking Lenovo’s website to see if I can snag one on sale.

It’s one of the rare examples of true innovation in gaming laptops, which is a market where we see component swaps on years when there’s new hardware available and minor redesigns on years when there’s not. Lenovo took a risk with the Legion 9i, and it paid off. That makes it the most exciting laptop I’ve used all year.

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