When you want no-compromise performance for CPU- and graphics-intensive tasks like 3D modeling, 4K video editing or running engineering software, you need a mobile workstation. With its optional Intel Xeon CPU and Nvidia Quadro graphics, Lenovo's 15.6-inch ThinkPad P50 is powerful enough to run cycle-sucking programs with ease but portable enough to take on the road. While other 15-inch workstations offer similar performance at lighter weights, this $1,322 laptop ($2,515 as tested) stands out for its best-in-class keyboard and all-day battery life.
The 5.8-pound, 1.16-inch-thick ThinkPad P50 is just compact enough to be squeezed into a typical laptop bag or be carried around the office, and is much lighter than Lenovo's 17-inch, 7.6-pound ThinkPad P70. However, other 15-inch workstations are much more portable, such as the Apple MacBook Pro (4.4 pounds, 0.71 inches thick), the Dell Precision 5510 (4.6 pounds, 0.66 inches thick) and the HP ZBook Studio G3 (4.6 pounds, 0.71 inches thick).
The P50's raven-black, rectangular chassis follows Lenovo's classy but staid ThinkPad design language, with splashes of color provided by the bright-red TrackPoint pointing stick and status lights on the lid and deck. However, a soft-touch surface on the lid -- something you don't see on most other ThinkPads -- makes this laptop more pleasant to grip. I just wish the palm rest had the same comfortable texture.
With a glass-reinforced plastic lid and magnesium/aluminum base, the ThinkPad P50 is designed to withstand some abuse. According to Lenovo, the laptop has passed MIL-STD 810G durability tests for extreme temperatures, humidity, sand blasts, vibrations and shocks.
Lenovo's workstation has the kind of security and manageability features that enterprise IT departments require. All of its CPU options come with Intel vPro management technology and TPM encryption. The P50 also comes standard with a single-touch fingerprint reader on the deck.
Keyboard, TrackPoint and Touchpad
The P50 has the kind of best-in-class, snappy keyboard we expect from a ThinkPad. The large, smile-shaped keys provide a deep 1.95 millimeters of vertical travel (1.5 to 2 mm is typical) and strong 60 grams of required actuation force. I felt extremely comfortable taking the 10fastfingers.com typing test, achieving a rate of 93 words per minute, which is in my typical range.
Like most other ThinkPads, the P50 has a TrackPoint pointing stick in addition to a touchpad. As always, I found that the little red nub provided extremely accurate navigation around the desktop and allowed me to move windows, highlight text or click icons, without lifting my hands off of the home row.
If you're not a big fan of pointing sticks, you'll appreciate the ThinkPad P50's 3.9 x 2.1-inch touchpad. During my testing, the matte-textured pad responded quickly and accurately to both simple pointer movements and complex multitouch gestures, such as three-finger swipe and pinch to zoom. I really appreciated its dedicated left, right and middle mouse buttons, which help it avoid the jumpiness we sometimes experience on other units, where you have to press down on the pad to click.
Display and Audio
The ThinkPad P50's 15.6-inch, 3840 x 2160 display provided extremely sharp images with vibrant tones and wide viewing angles. Every part of the Windows 10 user interface and software looked rich and lively, from the bright blue in the Edge browser icon to the deep green of the Xbox app. A desktop wallpaper of a bright, blue sky above orange-brown cliffs really popped.
When I played a 1080p trailer for Captain America: Civil War, colors like the red in Iron Man's suit and the slate blue in Steve Rogers' mask appeared very true to life, though not overly saturated. Fine details like the wrinkles in Robert Downey Jr.'s forehead and the ridges in Captain America's costume were extremely prominent. The picture remained true, even when I moved 90 degrees to the left and right.
According to our colorimeter, the ThinkPad P50's screen can output an impressive 183 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is even better than the desktop-replacement category average (121 percent), the Dell Precision 5510 (177 percent), the HP ZBook Studio G3 (169 percent) and the 15-inch MacBook Pro (89.8 percent). Any screen that can display over 100 percent is excellent.
The ThinkPad P50 comes with an optional color calibrator built into the deck that you can use to improve the display's accuracy. After I fired up the Pantone application and clicked a couple of buttons, the software prompted me to close the lid so the calibrator could do its work. After a minute or two, the laptop beeped to let me know that the process was complete and that the colors were just a little richer than before.
Though it provides strong viewing angles, the P50's display isn't quite as luminous as some competitors', registering 276 nits of brightness on our light meter. That number is almost identical to the brightness of the P70 (277 nits) and slightly better than the HP ZBook Studio G3 (241 nits). However, the MacBook Pro (317), the Precision 5510 (322) and the category average (293) were all brighter.
Sitting in a thin bar above the keyboard, the ThinkPad P50's speakers provided tinny but bearable audio that was only loud enough to fill a small room. When we played both the bass-heavy "Forget Me Nots" and guitar-laden "Smoke on the Water," the vocals, bass and guitar sounded fairly accurate, but the percussion was distractingly tinny. The preloaded Dolby Audio software offers equalizer presets optimized for Movies, Music, Games and Voice, but we prefer the Dynamic setting, which adjusts the output based on the content.
The top surface of the ThinkPad P50 stayed relatively cool throughout our tests. After the laptop streamed video for 15 minutes, the touchpad and keyboard measured 83 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. However, the bottom hit 104 degrees, which is quite a bit higher than our 95-degree comfort threshold but won't be a problem unless you try balancing this relatively bulky system on your lap.
Ports and Webcam
The ThinkPad P50 has a generous array of ports; we just wish that most of them weren't on the back, where we had to lower the lid or turn the system to get to them.
The back surface houses the power connector, an HDMI out port, a Thunderbolt/USB Type-C port, an Ethernet jack and two USB 3.0 ports.
The right side contains mini DisplayPorts, an audio jack and two more USB 3.0 ports, for a total of four.
The left side only has an SD card reader, an optional ExpressCard 34 port and an optional smart-card reader.
The laptop's 720p webcam captured decent images of my face, both under the bright fluorescent lights of our office and in my dark living room. However, as with most other webcams, there was more than a little pixelation in dark areas.
With its 2.8-GHz Intel Xeon E3-1505M v5 CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB PCIe NVME SSD and an Nvidia M2000M GPU with 2GB of VRAM, our review configuration of the ThinkPad P50 is more than fast enough to handle intense productivity work or even 3D modeling. When I ran a 4K offline video in one window and used Chrome with over a dozen tabs open, I didn't notice even a hint of lag.
The ThinkPad P50 scored a strong 13,378 on Geekbench 3, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance. That's comfortably above the desktop-replacement category average (12,796), just a tad higher than the Xeon E3-1505M-powered ThinkPad P70 (13,158) and about on a par with the Core i7-powered 15-inch MacBook Pro (13,352). However, the Dell Precision 5510 (14,316) and the HP ZBook Studio G3 (14,276), both of which have the same Xeon E3-1505M CPU, did slightly better.
Lenovo's workstation can crunch data with the best laptops on the market. It took the P50 just 3 minutes and 23 seconds to complete the Laptop Spreadsheet Macro Test, which involves matching 20,000 names with their addresses in OpenOffice. That's faster than the category average (3:43) and the Dell Precision 5510 (3:40). However, the ZBook Studio G3 and the ThinkPad P70 got the same exact time, and the MacBook Pro was 19 seconds quicker.
Our P50 configuration came with a 512GB NVME-PCIe SSD, which delivers speeds much faster than you'll get from a typical SATA SSD. It took the laptop just 11 seconds to copy 4.97GB of mixed media files, for a rate of 457.1 MBps. That's much faster than the MacBook Pro (282.7 MBps). However, both the category average (528 MBps) and competing machines with the same kind of drive were even quicker; the P70 (848.2 MBps), the ZBook Studio G3 (5090 MBps) and the Precision 5510 (565 MBps) were all ahead.
With its Nvidia Quadro M2000M GPU, the ThinkPad P50 has enough graphics prowess to run serious CAD software or do high-end video editing. Lenovo's laptop scored a solid 120,890 on the synthetic 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark. That's ahead of the category average (116,691), the Nvidia Quadro M1000M-powered Dell Precision 5510 (117,636) and the HP ZBook Studio G3 (117,745). However, the ThinkPad P70, with its Quadro M4000M GPU, scored an impressive 144,030.
Unlike most other mobile workstations, the ThinkPad P50 can last a full day on a charge. Lenovo's laptop endured for a full 8 hours and 25 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits of brightness.
That's about on a par with the 15-inch MacBook Pro (8:29) and much longer than the Dell Precision 5510 (5:34), the HP ZBook Studio G3 (5:08), the ThinkPad P70 (5:53) and the desktop-replacement category average (4:24).
Software and Warranty
Lenovo preloads the ThinkPad P50 with a handful of useful first-party apps and no bloatware at all. Lenovo Settings gives you fine control over a number of features, including the camera, wireless configuration, screen, audio, power consumption and touchpad.
Lenovo Companion runs hardware scans, searches for driver updates and provides links to user guides and support forums. REACHit helps you manage your cloud storage accounts, and SHAREit allows you to send or receive files directly from other devices, such as your phone.
Lenovo backs the ThinkPad P50 with a one-year "depot" warranty on parts and labor, which means that the company will pay for return shipping on a product that needs service. You can also pay extra to upgrade to on-site service, add accidental damage protection and extend the warranty to up to five years, with prices ranging from $19 to $649.
The ThinkPad P50 starts at $1,322.10, but with configure-to-order options on Lenovo.com, it can zoom up over $2,500. The base model comes with a Core i7-6700HQ, a 1080p nontouch screen, 8GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive and an Nvidia Quadro M1000M GPU with 2GB of VRAM. Our $2,515 review configuration came with a 4K display, an Intel Xeon E3-1505M CPU, Nvidia M2000M graphics, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB NVME-PCIe SSD.
If you buy through Lenovo, you can choose a Core i7 or Xeon CPU, a Quadro M1000M or M2000M GPU and up to 64GB of RAM. Unlike with the ThinkPad P70, you cannot choose an Nvidia M4000M card. You get to choose from a 1080p nontouch display, a 1080p touch panel and a 4K nontouch screen. You also get a choice of hard drives and SSDs, with the option to have one of each.
The ThinkPad P50 delivers workstation-class performance, a snappy keyboard and a gorgeous 4K display, as well as over 8 hours of battery life -- enough to leave its heavy power brick at home. Creative professionals may prefer the MacBook Pro, which is 1.4 pounds lighter and offers similar battery life.
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For a lighter Windows laptop, consider the Dell Precision 5510, which weighs 1.2 pounds less but has a lower-quality keyboard and lasts just 5 and a half hours on a charge. Professionals who want strong performance and don't care about portability should look at the ThinkPad P70, which is available with an even faster Nvidia Quadro M4000M GPU. However, if you want a long-lasting Windows workstation that can handle anything you throw at it, the ThinkPad P50 is your best choice.