When you need a notebook with high-end graphics performance for 3D modeling, video editing, animation or engineering applications, you want a mobile workstation. Lenovo's 15.6-inch ThinkPad P51 can handle all of those demanding tasks and more thanks to gaudy components such as an optional Intel Xeon processor, an Nvidia Quadro M2200 GPU and a vibrant 4K display. Starting at $1,340 ($2,807 as tested), this chunky laptop doesn't come cheap, but if you require lots of extra oomph for your workload, it's worth every penny.
The ThinkPad P51 isn't exactly the lightest laptop on the block, and, at 5.82 pounds and 1.02 inches thick, it's significantly bulkier than the Precision 5520 (4.4 pounds, 0.7 inches thick), Apple MacBook Pro (4 pounds, 0.61 inches thick) and HP ZBook 15 G4 (5.13 pounds, 1 inch thick). However, Lenovo also makes the slimmer ThinkPad P51s, which weighs just 4.3 pounds and is only 0.79 inches thick, but that laptop doesn't have a Xeon processor or Nvidia Quadro M2200 graphics.
The P51's power brick weighs 1.2 pounds all by itself. So, if you carry both the AC adapter and the laptop with you, that's a full 7 pounds.
The aesthetics on the P51 are all classic ThinkPad, and nothing stands out visually. It's raven-black, with a matte finish on all of the surfaces except for the lid, which has a soft-touch texture. Though it feels like plastic, the bottom is made of magnesium and aluminum, and the lid is composed of glass-fiber-reinforced plastic.
Durability and Security
The P51 is built to survive its share of abuse. Lenovo says that the laptop has passed 11 different MIL-STD 810G durability tests, including those for humidity, vibrations, shocks and extreme temperatures. It also endured Lenovo's own proprietary bump and stress tests.
IT administrators will appreciate the ThinkPad P51's built-in dTPM encryption and Intel vPro remote-management capabilities. There's also a single-touch fingerprint reader for logging into the OS via Windows Hello.
Display and Audio
The 15.6-inch, 4K panel on our configuration of the P51 offered vibrant colors and sharp images in our tests. When I watched the Ultra HD movie Tears of Steel, fine details such as the threads in a shirt or hairs in a beard were easy to make out, and colors such as the red light on a character's eyepiece or the green and purple buttons on a control panel were rich. Colors on the matte display stayed true but faded a bit at viewing angles wider than about 35 degrees.
According to our colorimeter, the ThinkPad P51's 4K display can reproduce an impressive 172 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is much more vibrant than the category average (126 percent) and the scores of the MacBook Pro (126 percent) and Precision 5520 (113 percent). The panel on the ZBook 15 G4 achieved the same exact score.
The panel registered a modest 271 nits of brightness on our light meter. That's a little dimmer than the category average (289 nits) and far behind showings by competitors such as the MacBook Pro (460 nits), Precision 5520 (335 nits) and ZBook 15 G4 (305 nits).
If you're working as a professional photo or video editor, the screen's default color temperature may not be ideal for you. Fortunately, Lenovo includes a calibration sensor in the deck and X-Rite Pantone software to use with it. After I launched the app, I was presented with the option to choose from among four white points: D50, D65, D75 and Native (aka, normal). I also had the choice of three different tone response levels: 1.8, 2.0 and 2.2 (the default). After I picked my settings and hit the Next button, the software asked me to close the lid, took a couple of minutes and then issued a final beep to let me know it was finished.
I found the D65 setting, which is designed for photos, much more vibrant than the default settings, but oversaturated. Graphics professionals may want to work in this mode to simulate daylight.
You can watch videos on the P51, but I wouldn't recommend using its built-in speakers for music or for presentations to large groups of people. When I streamed some of my favorite tunes from Spotify, the audio was hollow, distorted and barely loud enough to fill a small room. The guitars and drums on AC/DC's "Back in Black" sounded more like tinfoil than heavy metal. Earth, Wind and Fire's bass-heavy "September" seemed less harsh, but the percussion was still weak, and the whole thing sounded distant.
Lenovo's Settings app allows you to choose from among four sound profiles: Music, Voice, Movies and Dynamic. While I noticed l little difference in quality among these profiles, disabling the Dolby audio enhancement altogether made the music sound like it was coming from a mile away.
Keyboard, TrackPoint and Touchpad
The ThinkPad P51's keyboard offers a good typing experience compared to most laptops, but it isn't up to the standard I expect from a ThinkPad. The keys have a relatively deep 1.7 millimeters of travel and require a strong 68 grams of force to actuate. However, they felt a little stiffer and less responsive than those on other ThinkPads I've used recently. I was still able to achieve a rate of 102 words per minute on the 10FastFingers.com test, with just a 2.3 percent error rate, both of which are at the high end of what I usually score.
Like almost every other ThinkPad, the P51 has two forms of navigation: a TrackPoint pointing stick and a touchpad. As on other models, the TrackPoint provided extremely precise movements, without forcing me to waste time and energy by moving my hands off of the home row.
However, if you don't like nubs, you can use the 4 x 2.2-inch Precision Touchpad on the ThinkPad P51. Made of a matte material that Lenovo calls "crystal silk," the pad provided smooth navigation around the desktop and responded accurately to gestures such as pinch-to-zoom and four-finger swipe. Instead of making you click down on the surface, the P51 provides three discrete buttons, with the middle button used for scrolling.
With its Intel Xeon E3-1535M v6 CPU, Nvidia Quadro M2200 graphics, 512GB PCIe SSD and 16GB of RAM, our review configuration of the ThinkPad P51 handled everything we threw at it and then some. Even with over a dozen tabs open and a 4K video playing, I didn't notice a hint of lag.
On Geekbench 4, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall system speed, the ThinkPad P51 scored a strong 15,332, far better than the 12,861 desktop-replacement category average, but within a few hundred points of scores from competitors such as the Xeon E3-1505M v6-powered Dell Precision 5520 (15,309), Core i7-enabled Apple MacBook Pro (15,170) and Xeon E3-1535M-powered HP ZBook 15 (15,728).
Lenovo's laptop completed our spreadsheet macro test, which involves matching 20,000 names with their addresses, in a speedy 3 minutes and 1 second. That time is quicker than the category average (3:25), just a few seconds slower than the Precision's time (3:08) and faster than the ZBook's (2:59).
The 512GB PCIe SSD on our review configuration took just 11 seconds to copy 4.97GB of mixed-media files. That's a rate of 463 MBps, which is very fast and the same as the Precision 5520, but a bit below the category average (518 MBps) and scores from the MacBook Pro (654 MBps) and ZBook 15 G4 (509 MBps).
With its Nvidia Quadro M2200 GPU, the ThinkPad P51 is built for 4K video editing, 3D modeling and computer animation. Lenovo's laptop scored a strong mark of 137,005 on 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, a synthetic graphics test. That number is comfortably ahead of the category average (128,747) but slightly behind scores from the Precision 5520 (143,124), which has a Quadro M1200 GPU, and the Quadro M2200-powered ZBook 15 (151,677).
You don't buy a mobile workstation in order to play games, but the P51 certainly has enough performance to keep you entertained. Lenovo's laptop got an impressive 228 fps on Dirt 3, which is nearly four times the category average (64 fps) and a little quicker than the ZBook 15's mark (219 fps).
The ThinkPad P51 has every port you need, but too many of them are located on the back. The right side contains a mini DisplayPort connector, two USB 3.0 ports, an audio jack and a Kensington lock slot.
The back surface has a Thunderbolt 3 port, Ethernet, HDMI out and two more USB 3.0 ports for a total of four. The left surface holds an SD card reader and the optional smart card reader.
Despite its large size, high-res screen and power-hungry components, the ThinkPad P51 offers all-day battery life. Lenovo's notebook lasted a full 8 hours and 2 minutes on the LAPTOP battery test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi. That's nearly double the category average of 4 hours and 14 minutes and well ahead of the HP ZBook 15's time (3:31). However, the Dell Precision 5520 (11:57) and 15-inch MacBook Pro (10:59) both last a lot longer on a charge.
The ThinkPad P51 stayed pleasantly cool throughout our tests. After I streamed video for 15 minutes, the keyboard hit a reasonable 86.5 degrees Fahrenheit and the touchpad measured a cool 83.5 degrees. The bottom reached 96 degrees, slightly above our 95-degree comfort threshold, but most people aren't going to use a notebook this large on their laps for long.
The laptop's 720p webcam captured bright, colorful images in my tests. When I shot an image under the flourescent lights in my office, colors like the blue and gray stripes in my shirt appeared accurate, and there was a lot less visual noise than we see on most internal webcams.
Software and Warranty
The P51 comes preloaded with a handful of first-party utilities and the standard array of Windows 10 bloatware. Lenovo Settings gives you fine control over components like the Wi-Fi card, webcam and sound system, while Lenovo Companion checks for software updates.
A relatively new utility that we haven't seen on a ThinkPad before, Lenovo App Explorer is the company's own app store, complete with a searchable database of software that you could probably have found on your own or seen in the Windows Store. Among the spotlighted apps, I saw familiar utilities such as VLC, alongside major software suites such as WordPerfect Office X7.
Lenovo backs the ThinkPad P51 with a standard one-year depot warranty in which the company pays for shipping both ways if your laptop needs service. You can pay extra to extend the warranty term to up to five years or add on-site service and accidental-damage protection. Prices range from $19 for an on-site upgrade to $699 for the complete five-year package.
The ThinkPad P51 starts at $1,340.10. For that price, you get a 1920 x 1080 screen, a Core i7-7700HQ CPU, an Nvidia Quadro M1200 graphics card, 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive. Our $2,807 review unit featured a 4K screen, a Xeon E3-1535M v6 CPU, an Nvidia Quadro M2200 GPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB PCIe SSD.
Lenovo.com lets you custom configure the laptop with up to a 4K display, a Xeon E3-1535M CPU, Nvidia Quadro M2200 graphics, 64GB of RAM and multiple storage drives. The P51 has a built-in Pantone color sensor for calibrating the display, which comes standard with the 4K or 1080p touch panels, but is a $70 option on the base-model 1080p, nontouch screen.
The ThinkPad P51 combines workstation-class general performance and graphics with a colorful display, durable design, wide port selection and all-day battery life. We wish that the laptop were lighter, that its screen were a bit brighter, and that we could access the power and Thunderbolt ports without reaching around to the back, but power-hungry users can easily deal with these trade-offs.
If you're looking for a more portable laptop and can settle for a Xeon E3-1505M instead of a 1535M, and for Nvidia Quadro M1200 graphics in lieu of an M2200 GPU, the Dell Precision 5520 is a great choice, because it weighs just 4.4 pounds and lasts nearly 12 hours on a charge. However, if you need all the performance you can squeeze out of a 15-inch mobile workstation, the ThinkPad P51 is a great choice.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag