Lenovo Legion C530 Cube

Is the Legion C530 Cube a square deal for gamers? The starter model in a series of Cube PCs from Lenovo, our $ 879.99 tester features a six-core Intel Core i5 “Coffee Lake” CPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics, and 8GB of DDR4 memory, driving adequate 1080p gaming at moderate settings. This mainstream gaming desktop will let you add a basic 1080p LCD panel or a handful of AAA games, and still spend under a grand. It’s a fair value and packs a roomy terabyte boot drive, as well, backed by an Intel Optane Memory acceleration module. Its appeal, though, lies mainly in its compact, moody-looking case. The similar-looking Legion C730 Cube we tested amps up the performance a bit on several fronts and adds some RGB mood lighting. We prefer that model, especially for its added pep for virtual reality and the latest games.

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The Definition of a Cube

Most gaming PCs are housed in classic tower-shaped cases that take up too much of your desk. Lenovo took a different tack with the Legion C530 Cube, though the chassis isn’t technically a cube at all.

Instead, it’s oblong, measuring almost square (9.5 by 9.1 inches) on the face but 13.1 inches deep. The company outfitted the system with a handle on the top for easy transport, a quick-access latch on the back to enable component swaps, and a tempered-glass top that offers a clear view of the graphics card, with an ambient red haze beaming all around the card.

The result is quirky and unique. In its favor, the stylized front panel offers a distinct look without falling into gamer stereotypes, though the red glow up top negates some of that. In practice, however, the Legion C530 Cube’s design is perfect for gamers who move their systems around periodically for LAN partying, cleaning, or simple around-the-house shuffling. Indeed, this luggability might have made for a great PC for VR, but the GTX 1050 Ti video card is only marginal for the requirements of current Oculus and HTC head-mounted displays. You can pay more to get the C530 Cube in versions with slightly better Nvidia GeForce and AMD Radeon RX cards. (See our guide to the best video cards for VR.)

Indeed, the chassis as a whole is not too heavy, at just 24.3 pounds, and the handle is sturdy enough should I take the Cube out of the house and into the car.

It’s also nice to use a desktop PC that I can tuck away in a corner, in a cabinet, or in a desk niche, instead of taking up a big chunk of table space. I have just two complaints about the chassis. The first: I wish it weren’t restricted to red lighting. Right now, all the doomy red glow is missing is a sticker that says “Designed by Sauron.” The second: All the ports are on the back of the case or under a lip on the bottom of the chassis’ front. Quickly accessing a USB port for a thumb drive or to swap out a peripheral is clumsier than it needs to be.

Then again, having too many things plugged into the Legion C530 Cube would somewhat defeat the purpose of a relatively small PC with a handle for easy toting-about. I suspect that’s why the PC is Wi-Fi-enabled out of the box, too. From experience, there’s seldom an Ethernet cable or jack where you need one. The Legion C530 Cube does have an Ethernet port, though, for those who plan to leave it on their desks all the time.

As for the other ports, as you can see, on the back you get six USB ports (two USB 2.0, two USB 3.0, and two USB 3.1 Gen 2, all of them Type-A) and a single headset jack (no separate mic, line-in, or surround jacks back here). The front face has two more USB 3.0 ports and separate headphone and mic jacks under the lip I mentioned. The GeForce GTX 1050 Ti card that Lenovo employs here is a single-slotter with just three video-outs: one each of DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort. (Ticked-up models of the C530 Cube come with a Radeon RX 570 card, or a GeForce GTX 1060 with 3GB of memory. Neither is a monster, but the GTX 1060 should be a bit better for 1080p play and is a safer pick for VR.)

A Plain Set of Peripherals

Lenovo packs a mouse and keyboard in the box with the Legion C530 Cube. These won’t impress hardcore, discerning gamers—the keyboard doesn’t feature mechanical switches, and neither item has RGB lighting, nor anything resembling a premium feature—but they work fine in a pinch.

Between the two, I’m more impressed by the mouse. It’s surprisingly comfortable, the buttons have a satisfying click texture, and the scroll wheel doesn’t feel as flimsy as some. The only real drawback is how basic it is: no DPI switch or side buttons.

The keyboard is more contentious. It doesn’t quite feel like a shallow laptop keyboard, but it’s not far off, and many folks, especially gamers, have firm opinions about their keyboards. This one won’t elicit much fervor, with its full number pad, inoffensive switches, and soft keycaps that have just a little bit of grip to them. Will that satisfy everyone? Not by a long shot. But it’s fine for day-to-day use until you can do better.

I have noticed that I’m more error-prone when typing on it, though, and the “Aesop’s Fables” test at bears that out. Most of the time I hover around five errors per minute, whether that’s with my Logitech G Pro daily driver or with laptop keyboards that I’ve tested in recent months. But with the Legion C530 Cube’s keyboard, I recorded 113 words per minute (wpm) with 14 mistyped words, for an effective 99wpm. That’s good, but not great.

All told, the bundled peripherals will suffice for folks who tend to settle for what comes in the box with their desktops. As soon as I changed my usual key shortcuts (I’m acclimated to having side buttons on my mouse), I stopped feeling like either peripheral got in the way of my gameplay. Still, those used to better gear will swap these out, and anyone with strong opinions about their peripherals already has something to plug in without unwrapping the bundled offerings.

Testing Confirms: Mainstream Gaming, Tops

And so, on to benchmarking. I compared the Legion C530 Cube’s performance to several mainstream-strength, gaming-focused machines PCMag has recently reviewed, in addition to its larger Legion T730 Tower sibling. These comparison systems comprise the pricier, GeForce RTX-based Corsair Vengeance Gaming PC 5180, HP’s all-AMD Ryzen/Radeon Pavilion Gaming Desktop 690 (the only other budget-minded model in this lot), and MSI’s fierce tall-and-thin compact, the Trident X.

Here’s a cheat sheet of the core components in these PCs, most of which top the C530 Cube’s outright…

None of the video cards in play in these systems is an inferior to the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti, so bear that in mind. Even the lower-cost HP model with its Radeon RX 580 should ring up somewhat better graphics performance. Let’s see.

Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests

PCMark 10 (Productivity Test)

PCMark 10 is a performance suite developed by UL (formerly Futuremark) that simulates real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet wrangling, web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary score; higher numbers are better.

Lenovo Legion C530 Cube (PCMark).JPG

The Legion C530 Cube performed as expected, in part given the pecking order of the CPUs in play here. This is a mainstream gaming PC, to be sure, but it’s also capable enough for most everyday productivity work. (A 4,000-plus showing is more than satisfactory for this kind of workload.) That said, PCMark 10 tends to reward PCs with fast boot drives, and you can see the clear tier-below status here of the C530 Cube (which uses a hard drive backed by Optane Memory) and the HP Pavilion (a straight hard drive), versus the other models with SSD boot drives.

Cinebench R15 & Photoshop CC

Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.

Lenovo Legion C530 Cube (Cinebench)

We also run a custom image-editing benchmark using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop. This test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, with a bit of assistance from the GPU. The test comprises running a standard JPEG test image through a series of 10 complex filters and effects. We time each operation, then add up the total execution time, with shorter times besting longer ones.

Lenovo Legion C530 Cube (Photoshop)

The CPUs tell the clear tale in the Cinebench test. The Core i5-8400 in the C530 Cube is a six-core chip without multi-threading, whereas the other Intel chips here are six- or eight-core ones that do support Hyper-Threading. The thread-doubling makes all the difference here, so for highly threaded apps you will see a major boost from those latter systems. The Ryzen chip in the HP supports thread-doubling, but it’s a quad-core/eight-thread CPU, so the boost is less dramatic. The same dynamic played out, as you can see, in the Photoshop trial.

Graphics Tests

3DMark Sky Diver and Fire Strike

3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs; Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs. (Both use the DirectX 11 API instead of the newer DirectX 12.) The results are proprietary scores.

Lenovo Legion C530 Cube (3DMark)

On a relative scale, no surprises here. On the lower-end Sky Diver test, the C530 Cube stays in the running against the Radeon RX 580; against the GeForce GTX 1060 in the Legion T730 Tower, it appears the Cube’s GTX 1050 Ti might be CPU-limited. But once the Fire Strike test kicks in, it’s clearly outstripped by all the cards here on GPU power. As PC Labs’ stand-alone tests of the Radeon RX 580, the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti, and the GeForce GTX GTX 1060 have shown in the past, the RX 580 and GTX 1060 are the plateau on which very solid high-detail 1080p gaming rests.

Unigine Superposition

Unigine Superposition, another synthetic graphics test, renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. Everything’s rendered in Unigine Corp.’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, which gives us a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess. I ran Superposition at the 720p Low and 1080p High presets. For lower-end systems, maintaining at least 30fps is the goal; higher-end PCs should ideally hit at least 60fps at the test resolution.

Lenovo Legion C530 Cube (Superposition)

Superposition confirms the graphics pecking order that the 3DMark tests suggested; the GTX 1050 Ti in the C530 Cube performs as expected, at the low-to-lower-middle end of the spectrum, with near-30fps frame rates in the demanding 1080p test. That will be good enough for some buyers, given that Superposition approximates a demanding game at stressful settings. But how about some real games?

Real-World Gaming Tests

Synthetic benchmarks are useful for establishing baseline performance expectations, but they don’t perfectly represent the ways in which a game taxes a system, so next are some honest-to-goodness video games. Far Cry 5 was one of of 2018’s biggest releases, while 2015’s still-demanding Rise of the Tomb Raider has been a benchmarking staple for years. Both are modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world video games at various settings.

These game tests are run at the maximum graphics-quality presets (Ultra for Far Cry 5, Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider) at 1080p and 1440p to suss out a system’s power. Far Cry 5 is DirectX 11-based, while Rise of the Tomb Raider can be flipped to DX12, the setting used here. Play at 4K was not in the cards, so those numbers were excised here.

Lenovo Legion C530 Cube (Far Cry 5)
Lenovo Legion C530 Cube (ROTR)

The results aren’t shocking: The Lenovo Legion C530 Cube couldn’t maintain 60fps—the minimum expected by many PC gamers—or close to it in either title at high detail settings. Turning down the detail might get you to the 60fps promised land in demanding games at 1080p, but you’ll have to compromise just to get to 30fps, in some cases, at 1440p. In short: Unless you’re playing older, less demanding games, expect to stick to 1080p, tops, with the GTX 1050 Ti SKU tested here.

So…Is This Cube a Square Deal?

Despite its flashy design, the Legion C530 Cube is no rival for today’s boutique or high-end gaming PCs—nor would we expect it to be for the price. It uses mainstream-at-best hardware, and the bundled peripherals are essentially filler. But that’s okay; not everyone has four figures to blow on a pre-built system packed with today’s most powerful components.

All of this adds up to a PC that’s a fine fit for anyone looking for something more portable than your typical mid-tower for basic gameplay. It’s a good beginner machine, too, especially since Lenovo offers easy access to the components. Future-looking shoppers could experiment with new parts one at a time—CPU, GPU, and RAM—instead of building a PC with high-end components right away.

Still, we strongly favor PCs with a true SSD boot drive, and, for today’s minimum gaming monitor resolution, at least a GeForce GTX 1060 or a Radeon RX 580 video card. If the chassis design and size strike you, look a little further up the Legion C530 Cube line, or even to the C730 Cube. And if price is a bigger factor than size, check out the latest revs of the more conventional Dell Inspiron Gaming Desktop (5680), a value-minded tower-style budget gamer that we’ve given top marks to in the past.

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