It's hard to carry a bulky workstation on the road, but the ThinkPad P50s (starting at $839; $1,537 as tested) is Lenovo's effort to combine portability and performance. It weighs just 5 pounds, which is light for a computer of this size and perfect for road warriors. But it eschews a powerful Intel Xeon CPU for a Core i7 (though you still get a discrete Nvidia Quadro M500M GPU with 2GB of VRAM for AutoCAD or Photoshop). Whether the P50s is for you depends on how much power you need versus how often you need to take the machine away from your desk.
The ThinkPad P50s shares the same black, boxy design you'll find on every other ThinkPad on the market. The plastic and glass-fiber chassis is built solid, and I wouldn't think twice about throwing this workstation in a briefcase. The ThinkPad logo and Lenovo emblem are both stamped on the lid, but it's otherwise spartan.
Lifting the lid reveals the 15.5-inch, 2880 x 1620 display and the island-style keyboard with number pad. There's another ThinkPad logo printed on the palm rest, located to the right of the touchpad and fingerprint reader.
At 5 pounds and 16 x 10 x 0.9 inches, the P50s is larger and heavier than the 4.6-pound HP ZBook Studio G3 (14.8 x 10 x 0.7 inches). It's far lighter, however, than the regular, 5.8-pound ThinkPad P50 (14.9 x 10 x 1.2 inches) and the 5.6-pound Dell Latitude E5570 (14.8 x 9.9 x 0.9 inches).
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The sides of the P50s are lined with ports for peripherals, hard drives and other productivity accessories. On the left, you'll find the power jack, a single USB 3.0 port, a headphone jack, an SD card slot and an Ethernet jack. Along the right side, you'll find two more USB 3.0 ports, a Mini DisplayPort and a lock slot.
Durability and Security
Whether you're a desk jockey or a road warrior, the P50s is built tough to withstand your lifestyle. The machine is MIL-STD-810G-tested against humidity, extreme temperatures, drops and shocks. It also has a splash-proof keyboard in case you spill a drink all over your desk.
For security, the P50s has an optional, $20 fingerprint reader that works with Windows Hello to let you log in with just a swipe. The computer's Trusted Platform Module encrypts biometric data, and our review unit also supports vPro for remote management (not all configuration of the P50s offer vPro).
The 15.5-inch, 2880 x 1620 panel is nice and bright, with sharp details and vivid hues. When I watched a 1080p trailer for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, I could make out every drop of a soda can that exploded in the Angel Grove High School's cafeteria, and Jason's suit was a deep crimson that popped in a dark cave.
The P50s' panel covers an excellent 106 percent of the sRGB color gamut, though other desktop replacements are even more vibrant. The category average is higher, at 126 percent, and the Latitude (107 percent), ZBook (169 percent) and regular P50 (183 percent) offer more evocative hues.
But the colors on the P50s are more precise than those of the competition. The panel turned in a Delta-E score of 1.3 (zero is best), matching the category average and beating the ZBook (2.4) and P50 (3.6). The Latitude (0.7) had the best score of the group.
With an average brightness of 347 nits, the P50s is far more luminous than the competition. The category average is just 298 nits, and the ZBook (241 nits), Latitude (242 nits) and P50 (276 nits) weren't as radiant.
Keyboard, Touchpad and TrackPoint
I typed quickly on the ThinkPad P50s, but the keyboard didn't have the snappy responsiveness I expect from a ThinkPad. There was no flex, but the keys, despite having an excellent 2.2 millimeters of travel and requiring 63 grams of force required to press, felt a bit mushy. I reached my average of 110 words per minute, but my error rate hit 3 percent rather than my usual 2 percent.
The 3.9 x 2.2-inch touchpad is accurate, and it immediately responded to Windows 10 gestures including three-finger swipes and two-finger scrolling. Longtime fans of ThinkPads will appreciate the red TrackPoint, which lets you navigate without moving your fingers from the home row. Buttons for the TrackPoint are located above the trackpad.
The speakers on the ThinkPad P50s get nice and loud but don't produce rich, detailed sound. When I listened to Sum 41's "88," the vocals and lead guitar were exceptionally clear, but the bass was distant and the percussion occasionally got lost among the other instruments.
With a 2.6-GHZ Intel Core i7-6600U CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and an Nvidia Quadro M500M GPU with 2GB of VRAM, the P50s has no problem handling multiple apps at once. When I had 30 tabs open in Google Chrome, including one streaming a 1080p episode of Last Week Tonight, there was no noticeable lag.
The P50s earned a score of 7,213 on the Geekbench 3 overall performance test, falling far short of the desktop-replacement average of 17,520. The competition, outfitted with more powerful CPUs, left the P50s in the dust. The ZBook (Intel Xeon E3-1505M, starts at $1,800), original P50 (Intel Xeon E3-1505M, starts at $1,322) and Latitude (Intel Core i7-6820HQ, starts at $780) had scores of 14,316; 14,276; and 12,148, respectively.
On our file transfer test, the P50s took 23 seconds to copy 4.97GB of mixed-media files, or a rate of 221.3 megabytes per second. Again, it fell behind the category average (541.6) as well as the ZBook (508.92MBps) and original P50 (457.1MBps). Only the Latitude was slower, at 159MBps.
It took the P50s 3 minutes and 42 seconds to pair 20,000 names and addresses on our OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test. Again, that's slower than the average (3:35), ZBook and P50 (both at 3:23), and Latitude (3:29).
The Nvidia Quadro M500M GPU with 2GB of RAM isn't strong enough for intensive gaming, so put down your copies of Doom and Mafia III. The P50s should offer a boost in productivity programs like AutoCAD and Photoshop, though.
The P50s notched 90,874 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics benchmark. The category average is a much more powerful 130,600, and the ZBook and ThinkPad P50 came closest, with scores of 117,745 and 120,890. The Latitude walked away with 91,399.
The P50s is one of the few workstations that you can feel comfortable using unplugged. It lasted 7 hours and 49 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous browsing over Wi-Fi. Only the original P50 lasted longer, at 8:25, while the Latitude (7:17) and ZBook (5:08) tapped out sooner.
The P50's 720p webcam is color-accurate, but it's far too blurry for a business webcam. When I snapped a selfie at my desk, I could make out artifacts around the edges of everything in the picture, including my co-workers and a chair in the background. My beard looked like I had just messily eaten chocolate cake, and lights behind me were blown out.
We don't just call the P50s a desktop replacement because of its power. It also gets hot enough that you should keep it on a desk at all times. After I streamed 15 minutes of HD video from YouTube, the bottom of the laptop hit 108 degrees Fahrenheit, surpassing our comfort threshold of 95 degrees. The center of the keyboard was cozier, at 85.5 degrees, and the touchpad reached only 84 degrees.
Software and Warranty
With the P50s, Lenovo continues its tradition of including just a few preinstalled apps that are among some of the most useful we find on laptops. The Companion app runs hardware scans, displays your warranty status and helps update your system, and Settings lets you configure audio, battery, Wi-Fi and your display. Lenovo Solution Center makes it simple to submit service requests to support representatives, and SHAREit lets you wirelessly send files between your laptop and phone.
There's still some standard Windows 10 bloatware, including FarmVille 2: Country Escape, Netflix, Twitter and Candy Crush: Soda Saga.
Lenovo sells the ThinkPad P50s with a three-year warranty. See how it did on our Best and Worst Brands rankings and Tech Support Showdown.
Our $1,537 configuration of the P50s included a 2.6-GHZ Intel Core i7-6600U CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, an Nvidia Quadro M500M GPU with 2GB of VRAM and a 2880 x 1620 display.
The base model costs $839.25 and comes with an Intel Core i5-6300U CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB and 7,200-rpm HDD, an Nvidia Quadro M500M GPU with 2GB of vRAM, and a 1080p display.
Unlike the original P50, the P50s doesn't come with an option for a more powerful Intel Xeon CPU. That's the trade-off for how thin and light it is.
Whether the Lenovo ThinkPad P50s is the workstation for you all comes down to one choice: Do you need something more portable or something more powerful? This laptop is thinner and lighter than most 15-inch workstations, but it also lacks an Intel Xeon CPU. The result is a machine that's easier to fit into a backpack but not as speedy as the competition.
With its bright display and adequate keyboard, the P50s is a strong choice for working on the road. If you need something a bit more powerful, the regular ThinkPad P50, starting at $1,072, is the better choice. That system's 8-and-a-half-hour battery life, option for an Intel Xeon CPU and great keyboard will be more to your liking, but the display is dimmer.
If you're a serious road warrior who can give up power for the ability to easily fit your notebook in a bag, the ThinkPad P50s is the option for you.