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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2) vs. MacBook Pro: Which laptop wins?

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Photographers, videographers, business users — people who need enough computing power to run demanding programs — should probably buy a workstation or desktop. But what if that challenging work needs to be done on the road, at a coffee shop or while relaxing on the couch?

In that case, you need something like the 16-inch MacBook Pro or Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2), two incredibly powerful laptops that can easily be slipped into a backpack or carried around the office. 

Apple's latest 16-inch MacBook Pro impressed us in a big way when it launched last year. In fact, it nearly toppled our current favorite 15-inch laptop, the XPS 15, in an epic face-off between the two devices. Now, it has a new competitor in Lenovo's 2nd Gen ThinkPad X1 Extreme. With the same lightweight design as its predecessor but even more power, the sophomore X1 Extreme seems primed to take a bite out of the MacBook Pro. 

So, which of these two laptops, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme or 16-inch MacBook Pro, should you buy? Read on to find out.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme vs. Apple MacBook Pro: Specs compared

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 ExtremeApple MacBook Pro
Starting price (as tested)$1,721 ($3,066)$2,399 (3,899)
Display15.6 inches, 1080p or 4K (HDR or OLED)16-inch, 3072 x 1920 px
CPU9th Gen Core i5/Core i7/ Core i99th Gen Core i7/Core i9
GPUNvidia GeForce GTX 1650AMD Radeon Pro 5500M
RAM32GB (up to 64GB)32GB (up to 64GB)
SSDUp to 1TB1TB (up to 8TB)
Ports2 Thunderbolt 3, HDMI, RJ45 adapter, 2 USB Type-A, SD card, lock slot, smart card reader, headphone jack4 Thunderbolt 3, headphone jack
Size14.2 x 9.7 x 0.7 inches14.1 x 9.7 x 0.6 inches
Weight3.8 pounds4.3 pounds

Design

The X1 Extreme and MacBook Pro look very similar to their predecessors, but it's worth noting a few important design changes.

The MacBook Pro got the bigger overhaul, expanding from a 15-inch device to a 16-inch laptop while only slightly increasing its footprint. Apple pulled off that magic by trimming down the MacBook Pro's display bezels.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Apart from the larger display, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is practically indistinguishable from the MacBook Pros that came before it. You know the look: a refined, minimalist, unibody aluminum chassis with a dark, reflective Apple logo on the lid. On the deck is a massive touchpad and the polarizing Touch Bar flanked by top-firing speakers. The look is premium, functional and somewhat stale. 

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

When you think of iconic laptop designs, Lenovo's ThinkPads are right up there next to the MacBook. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme wears the look well, flaunting stylish matte-black surfaces with a soft-touch finish that feels great to the touch. New to the 2nd Gen X1 Extreme is a carbon-fiber weave pattern on the lid that accentuates the laptop's durable, yet lightweight material. The pattern also just looks cool. 

On the lid are some stylish X1 branding and the signature ThinkPad logo with its red, illuminated "i." If you've owned a ThinkPad before, then you'll know what to expect when you open the ThinkPad X1 Extreme's lid: Red trim lines, discrete touchpad buttons and a matching pointing stick that sits in the middle of the keyboard. On the right side of the deck are a fingerprint sensor and a circular power button.  

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Design is highly subjective, but I prefer the look of the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, even though it attracts fingerprints like moths to a flame. The X1 Extreme is also tested to military-grade durability standards, which means it can withstand extreme conditions, like high altitudes and challenging temperatures. 

At 0.7 inches and 3.8 pounds, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is slightly thicker than the MacBook Pro (4.3 pounds, 0.6 inches) but considerably lighter.

 Winner: ThinkPad X1 Extreme 

Ports

Apple failed to take advantage of the 16-inch MacBook Pro's size, choosing to equip this laptop with only Thunderbolt 3 ports. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The MacBook Pro has four Thunderbolt 3 ports split evenly on each side, along with a headphone jack on the right edge. 

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

In contrast, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme has tons of ports for connecting to a monitor or charging peripherals. On the left side of the X1 Extreme, you'll find two Thunderbolt 3 ports, an HDMI 2.0 input, an RJ45 adapter port (dongle required and not included) and a headphone/mic jack. On the right side, you'll see two USB 3.1 Type-A ports, an SD card slot, a Kensington lock and an optional smart card reader.

 Winner: ThinkPad X1 Extreme 

Display

Our ThinkPad X1 Extreme was configured with a 15.6-inch, 4K Dolby Vision HDR 400 anti-reflection display. Forget all the jargon — this is a seriously gorgeous panel. 

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Sonic's fur was a more vibrant blue on the ThinkPad X1 Extreme's display when I compared the two laptops side by side by watching a trailer for Sonic the Hedgehog. The speedy menace plays ping-pong (with himself) on a highway sign, which was a more saturated green tone on the Lenovo. The X1 Extreme's default Native mode looked a bit too saturated in some scenes, so photo and video editors might want to switch to the Standard mode, which looked much more accurate. 

The MacBook Pro's 16-inch, 3072 x 1920-resolution display is no slouch, exhibiting sharp details and vivid colors. But with True Tone turned off, certain objects, like Sonic's beige chest fur, looked a bit too pale. The MacBook Pro also has a glossy screen, so reflections were much more noticeable on the Apple machine. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

According to our colorimeter, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme's display covers an outstanding 163% of the sRGB color gamut, which is why the colors burst off the screen more than they did on the MacBook Pro's panel (114%). The ThinkPad X1 Extreme crushed the premium laptop average (124%), but the MacBook Pro fell short.  

Both laptop displays get plenty bright, but the MacBook Pro outshines the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, reaching 429 nits versus the Lenovo's 382 nits. 

 Winner: ThinkPad X1 Extreme 

Keyboard and touchpad 

Apple can keep improving its keyboard, but it'll need a miracle to compete with the ThinkPad on this front. The X1 Extreme's keyboard is the best in its class, bar none.  

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The ThinkPad's subtly curved keys offer surprisingly deep travel, and their tactile click made my fingers bounce effortlessly from one letter to the next. I can't type at my maximum speed on the X1 Extreme, because the keys have a high actuation force. But the keyboard is so comfortable to type on that I could spend all day writing reports without feeling any discomfort. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Apple swapped the troubled Butterfly keyboard for the company's traditional Magic keyboard. Not only is this more comfortable to type on, but it should also register every keystroke, not just some of them. The new keyboard uses a new key-cap structure, with a rubber dome underneath for support. This gives the keys a bit more clickiness than those on the Butterfly keyboard, and they even have slightly deeper travel. 

We're relieved that the 16-inch MacBook Pro's keyboard is such an improvement over the previous disaster, but it's still nowhere near as comfy as the one on the X1 Extreme. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Using the ThinkPad X1 Extreme's keyboard, I typed at 110 words per minute with a 97% accuracy rate on the 10FastFingers.com typing test. That's slower but more accurate than the 114 wpm with a 92% accuracy I got on the MacBook Pro. 

It's common knowledge at this point: Lenovo has the best keyboards, and Apple has the best touchpads. The 16-inch MacBook Pro's gigantic, 6.2 x 3.9-inch glass trackpad followed my swipes and taps, quickly executing gestures like pinch to zoom. I didn't have any issues with the ThinkPad X1 Extreme's 3.9 x 2.7-inch touchpad, but it doesn't offer nearly as much real estate to stretch your fingers. 

That said, I'm not a fan of the trackpad's Force Touch buttons or the MacBook Pro's divisive Touch Bar, which replaces physical shortcut keys. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme has solutions to those problems with its useful rubber pointing stick and satisfying discrete touchpad buttons. 

Winner: ThinkPad X1 Extreme

Performance

If the ThinkPad X1 Extreme and MacBook Pro aren't speedy enough for your needs, then buy a desktop because laptops don't get much more powerful than this. 

Our beastly X1 Extreme review unit, equipped with a Core i7-9850H CPU and 32GB of RAM, notched a 23,544 on the Geekbench 4.3 overall-performance test. As you might expect, that result is short of what the Core i9-9880H CPU- and 32GB-equipped MacBook Pro (31,178) netted. Both laptops crushed the premium laptop average (16,513).   

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Here's a surprising result: the X1 Extreme's 1TB M.2 2280 PCIe NVMe Opal2 SSD duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 2.5 seconds, for a rate of 2,035.7 megabytes per second. For the first time ever, a consumer Windows laptop nearly outpaced what the MacBook Pro's 2TB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD (2,116 MBps) scored on the BlackMagic Disk Speed Test. 

The MacBook Pro struck back on our video-transcoding test, converting a 4K video to 1080p resolution in 8 minutes flat. It took the ThinkPad X1 Extreme 10 minutes and 19 second to finish the task, although it still trounced the category average (20:06). 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Neither machine is designed for gaming, but they both have discrete graphics cards that can play most modern games at respectable frame rates. Case and point, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme's Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU played Rise of the Tomb Raider (1080p, Very High) at 25 frames per second, while the MacBook Pro's AMD Radeon Pro 5500M GPU played the adventure game at 24 fps. Those results are below our 30-fps playability threshold but not bad considering how demanding the game is. 

Winner: MacBook Pro

Audio

The MacBook Pro's six-speaker setup puts the ThinkPad X1 Extreme's quad speakers to shame. Actually, the MacBook Pro embarrasses every other laptop on audio quality. 

The difference in quality was instantly apparent when I played Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild." I could feel the song's instantly recognizable bass thudding in my chest when I listened to the MacBook Pro. There was something that resembled a low end on the X1 Extreme, but the difference in depth and quality was night and day. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The same goes for clarity. Kanye's auto-tuned voice was clean and detailed on the MacBook Pro, even when the laptop filled a medium-sized room on maximum volume. I didn't have any major complaints listening to the X1 Extreme on its own, but putting it next to the MacBook Pro revealed weak, hollow-sounding acoustics. 

The bottom line is that you'll want a Bluetooth speaker if you buy the X1 Extreme, whereas you'll want to replace your speaker with the MacBook Pro. 

Winner: MacBook Pro 

Battery life

If this were a boxing match, this round is a TKO. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme hits the canvas with a poor battery life of 5 hours and 28 minutes. I said this already in my X1 Extreme review, but it's worth pointing out again: If the MacBook Pro (10:55) had lasted one more minute, it would have doubled the X1 Extreme's runtime. These two laptops are on opposite sides of the premium laptop average (8:38). 

Winner: MacBook Pro 

Value and price

Start saving now because these two flagship laptops cost a fortune. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme starts at $1,721, coming configured with a 1080p display, a Core i5-9300H CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a GeForce GTX 1650 GPU. 

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

From there, you can spend $2,659 on a model with a Core i7-9850H CPU, 32GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD and a GTX 1650 GPU. Our $3,066 review unit came equipped with the same specs but a 4K HDR display. You can go a step further and spend $3,769 on a unit with a 4K OLED display, a Core i9-9880H CPU, 64GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. 

You'll need to spend $700 more than the base X1 Extreme to even buy the new MacBook Pro. The base model starts at $2,399, coming with a Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and an AMD Radeon 5300M GPU. A $2,799 model steps up to a Core i9 CPU, a 1TB SSD and a Radeon Pro 5500M graphics card. The configuration we tested costs $3,899 and comes with a Core i9 CPU, 32GB of RAM, a 2TB SSD and the Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB of VRAM. 

Winner: ThinkPad X1 Extreme 

Overall winner: MacBook Pro 

Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Extreme sped through the gates, winning the first four rounds thanks to its lightweight design, extensive range of ports, gorgeous display and class-leading keyboard. But the MacBook Pro punched back in the latter rounds, crushing the X1 Extreme in battery life and speaker quality. 

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 ExtremeApple MacBook Pro
Design (10)98
Ports (5)53
Display (15)1413
Keyboard/Touchpad (15)1412
Performance (20)1920
Audio (5)35
Battery Life (20)1219
Value (10)54
Overall (100)8184

In the end, the MacBook Pro defeated the ThinkPad X1 Extreme in large part for having twice the battery life. That six-speaker setup is also a game changer, and the MacBook Pro is still the most powerful thin-and-lightweight laptop around. 

If battery life doesn't matter to you or you're a business user who values security, durability and ports, then go with the X1 Extreme. The lightweight, yet-powerful laptop has a better keyboard and more colorful display than the MacBook Pro. In fact, if it weren't for poor battery life, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme might have won this showdown.