Lenovo ThinkPad P50s Review

by Reads (12,008)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Software & Support
      • 7
      • Upgrade Capabilities
      • 6
      • Usability
      • 8
      • Design
      • 8
      • Performance
      • 7
      • Features
      • 7
      • Price/Value Rating
      • 6
      • Total Score:
      • 7.00
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Beautiful 3K display
    • Very good keyboard and touchpad
    • Excellent battery life
    • Runs cool under load
    • Dual battery support
  • Cons

    • Chassis not as rigid as expected
    • Ultrabook-class processor may be underpowered for demanding tasks
    • Only one storage drive
    • Difficult to upgrade

The ThinkPad P series is Lenovo’s mobile workstation lineup. The 15.6-inch ThinkPad P50s we’re reviewing is not to be confused with the standard ThinkPad P50, minus the “s”. The latter is a mobile workstation with desktop replacements specs, including a quad-core processor and more robust Nvidia Quadro graphics. The P50s is essentially an Ultrabook with a low-wattage dual-core processor and entry-level Nvidia Quadro graphics. It’s based on the ThinkPad T560, Lenovo’s top-shelf 15.6-inch business notebook.

While it won’t measure up to the P50 in terms of raw performance, the true aim of the P50s is to provide slightly improved mobility, and more importantly, the potential for greater battery life. Let’s take a look in this Lenovo ThinkPad P50s review.

Lenovo ThinkPad P50s

Lenovo ThinkPad P50s

Build and Design

The ThinkPad P50s has a familiar ThinkPad look, and most certainly not to its detriment. Its squared-off corners, all-black color scheme, and sturdy looks say quite plainly that this notebook is intended for a professional audience. The exterior footprint is 14.9×10.1 inches, making the P50s a normal size for a notebook with a 15.6-inch display. Its approximate one-inch thickness is also about normal, though a little beefier than some of the slimmer 15.6-inch models currently on the market, like the Dell XPS 15 (2016). It’s also a bit heavier; we measured our P50s review unit at 4.9 pounds, whereas the XPS 15 is about a half-pound lighter.

The exterior of the P50s is predominantly plastic. It’s of good quality, and thicker than usual, which is why we suspect it weighs a bit more. We like the soft-touch coating on the lid. The rest of the notebook’s surfaces are plain plastic with a slightly granular texture.

The chassis of this notebook is a bit more flexible than we expected. Laterally torqueing the chassis by its front corners (something that shouldn’t be done at home) results in visible flex. The lid, on the other hand, is rigid enough, if not impressively so. It provides good protection against bumps from behind, given we couldn’t get ripples to appear on the display while pressing back there with moderate pressure. The display’s hinges are stiff enough to prevent it from wobbling when the notebook is moved around or touched, but too stiff to allow the lid to be opened one-handed.

P1440441_1920 P1440457_1920

Servicing the ThinkPad P50s can be a frustrating experience. On the upside, its rear battery is easily removable. Because there’s an internal front-mounted battery, the rear battery can be swapped without powering down the system.

However, accessing the memory and storage is more challenging. There’s no dedicated service panel on the bottom of the P50s as we’d traditionally expect on a business-class notebook. Even after we loosened the Phillips-head screws securing the bottom of the chassis, we were only able to get the front part loose. The rear wouldn’t budge, and it felt as if we were going to break it. Assuming you do find a way to get it loose, the P50s has a two memory slots for up to 32GB of DDR3L-1600 RAM (2x 16GB), and a 2.5-inch SATA 6.0Gbps bay for storage drives. It lacks an M.2 slot. (More on the specs later.)

Input and Output Ports

This ThinkPad has a slightly above average selection of ports for a 15.6-inch notebook. The left edge holds the USB-like AC power connector, a USB Type-A 3.0, HDMI, the headphone/microphone combination jack, full-size SD card reader, and Ethernet. An optional smart card slot would be at the far right, but our review unit is not so equipped. There are no ports along the back or front of the P50s, with the remainder living on the right edge.

P1440460_1920 P1440461_1920

The ports on the right edge include two USB Type-A 3.0 ports, the first of which is powered; mini-DisplayPort, the cooling fan exhaust, and lastly, the Kensington cable lock slot.

Location-wise, the ports clustered towards the front of the right edge can be an annoyance if you’re a right-handed external mouse user. It’s possible to occasionally hit your hand against something plugged into those ports unless you move your mouse a bit further away. 

The only major port missing is USB Type-C. It’s notable, however, that the P50s supports snap-in docking solutions, as proper business notebooks should. Lenovo offers various docking stations that can greatly expand the connectivity of this notebook.

Screen and Speakers

Lenovo offers three display options on the P50s. The base model has an FHD (1,920×1,080 pixels) non-touch display with an anti-glare surface. The next model up adds touch support. Our review unit has the top-tier 3K (2,880×1,620) display, which lacks touch support. Its anti-glare surface is practical in an office environment with overhead lighting, and especially outdoors where reflections can be problematic.

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All three displays use IPS panel technology. The 3K panel on our review unit is vibrant, bright, and a pleasure to look at. The IPS panel permits 178 degree viewing angles, an important attribute for photo editing and other color-sensitive work. There is some brightness shift both vertically and horizontally, but it generally doesn’t affect the picture quality. The brightness is plenty for outdoor work in the shade.

The 3K resolution is somewhat odd. It’s too high for our eyes to make out text without Windows text scaling enabled to at least 150 percent. This is generally a non-issue, barring older apps like Adobe Photoshop CS5 that don’t support scaling. If that’s the case, you’ll be looking at some very small menus.

We have to admit the P50s has a decent-sounding speaker setup for a notebook. This is slightly more impressive in light of the fact this notebook is designed for a professional audience. The speakers fire downward under either side of the palm rest, using the surface below to amplify the sound. The bass is probably the weakest part of the sound, although there’s little distortion all the way up to maximum volume. There’s enough of the latter to fill a small-size room with sound, but the setup falls well short of being the center of the party.

P1440453_1920Keyboard and Touchpad

Lenovo has changed the beloved ThinkPad keyboard significantly over the years. It’s been converted to Chiclet or island-style keys for some time now, with extra spacing between the keys.

The tactile feedback on this keyboard is good, mostly thanks to the ample key travel. The bottom of the keystroke is nicely cushioned without feeling rubbery. The keyboard deck is rock solid as well, enhancing the confident feel. Each key press is relatively quiet.

The keyboard has two backlighting levels, toggled by pressing the Fn + spacebar keys. It can be turned completely off, as well. The white light gently spills around the edges of each key, and illuminates all lettering and symbols on the keys. Strangely, Caps Lock and Num Lock LED indicators are missing, forcing you to rely on the on-screen display. We’ve seen Lenovo add LED indicators back for these keys on some of its newer ThinkPad models, like the T460s; apparently the changes haven’t yet made it to the P50s as we wrote this. Despite these omissions, there’s an LED indicator on the F1 key for volume mute, and one on the F4 key for whether the microphone is disabled. Why there are indicators for these but not the others is puzzling.

A nifty feature of this keyboard is Function Lock, or FnLk, activated by pressing Fn + Esc. An LED on the Fn key indicates whether the feature is enabled or not. FnLk makes the Function row keys (F1-F12) primary, as opposed to the other printed functions like raising the volume (F2) and lowering it (F3). We like the ability to switch between these modes.

Another added bonus with this keyboard is that it’s spill-resistant. Drainage holes are visible on the underside of the notebook.

P1440465_1920The clickpad on the P50s is left of center in the palm rest to align with the main keyboard area. This positioning makes more sense than having it centered in the palm rest, which would cause your right palm to sit over it while typing.

The clickpad has a pressable surface. The right click zone is halfway over and extends about one centimeter up from the bottom.  It takes some getting used to, as we weren’t quite sure where the right-click boundary was for a while after we started using it.

The clickpad appears to be hinged at the top, as the clicks require marginally less pressure towards the lower part of the pad. That said, we think Lenovo nailed the overall execution, as the clicks require just the right amount of pressure, and provide good feedback. The anti-glare surface has no give or flex prior to clicking. The clicks themselves are a bit louder than we prefer, but are unlikely to annoy.

P1440466_1920The iconic ThinkPad UltraNav pointing stick in the center of the keyboard continues to be second to none. Its dimpled surface and sloped edges feel intuitive and natural. It has a dedicated set of right, left, and center-click buttons just underneath the spacebar. They’re almost inaudible when pressed, yet provide great feedback.

Performance

The ThinkPad P50s is somewhat unorthodox in its classification as a mobile workstation. This notebook isn’t in the same performance league as the considerably more powerful ThinkPad P50. The “s” model we’re reviewing is an Ultrabook with entry-level Nvidia Quadro workstation graphics. That latter is what really allows it to be classified as a mobile workstation.

Processing power in the P50s comes from an Intel 6th-gen “Skylake” dual-core processor, a Core i7-6600U in the case of our review unit. It has a 2.6GHz base clock, and can hit 3.4GHz in its Turbo Boost mode if power and thermal conditions permit. The base processor is the Core i5-6300U, with slightly lower 2.4GHz base and 3.0GHz Turbo Boost clocks. The difference between the two processors could be noticeable in applications that depend on the CPU, but they’ll otherwise perform similarly.

That said, despite being the fastest processor available in the P50s as of writing, the Core i7-6600U in our review unit pales in brute processing power next to the Core i7 quad-cores available in the regular ThinkPad P50. The P50s is less well suited to tasks that require a lot of processing power, like HD video and photo editing, although still capable.

The ThinkPad P50s has two graphics cards, consisting of the Nvidia Quadro M500M 2GB dedicated card, and the Intel HD 520 integrated graphics on the Core i7-6600U processor. This notebook automatically switches between these cards depending on the application, courtesy of Nvidia Optimus technology. The Intel graphics consume less power and are in use for the majority of tasks, but the system can instantly switch to the Nvidia card if a graphics card-dependent application like AutoCAD is running.

The Nvidia Quadro M500M graphics card is rather low on the performance charts, though undoubtedly a better performer than the Intel HD 520 integrated graphics. The OpenGL optimization and CUDA support on the Nvidia card are beneficial for applications that make use of those technologies.

P1440440_1920The P50s we’re reviewing supports “only” 32GB via its two memory slots. Our P50s is equipped with 16GB of DDR3L-1600 in a two 8GB DIMM configuration. This is plenty for most conceivable usage. The base configuration includes 8GB.

The 512GB solid-state drive (SSD) in our P50s is a 2.5-inch Samsung model with a SATA 6.0Gbps interface. This is somewhat of an oddity, as it seems most notebooks have been transitioning to M.2-format SSDs. Alas, the P50s lacks an M.2 slot. It consequently doesn’t support PCI-Express interface SSDs. We’re not too bummed about this, given the everyday difference between PCI-Express and SATA SSDs isn’t noticeable, but we would nonetheless like to see support, or least have an M.2 slot included. For such a large notebook, accommodation for just one storage drive is disappointing.

Next to the ThinkPad T560, on which the P50s is based, the P50s is about 12 percent more expensive as we write this, configured as closely as possible. The T560 is available with integrated graphics only, as opposed to the standard Nvidia Quadro graphics in the P50s. The cooling system in the P50s has likely been upgraded to handle the extra heat output from the dedicated graphics card, but otherwise there are few differences between the T560 and P50s. The cost difference is easier to justify if your applications benefit from a dedicated graphics card. It’s otherwise hard to see a reason to spend the extra.

The ThinkPad P50s performed fairly well in our benchmarks, though didn’t keep up with the standard P50.

Our Lenovo ThinkPad P50s review unit has the following technical specifications:

  • 15.5-inch 3K display (2,880×1,620 resolution, IPS panel, anti-glare surface, non-touch)
  • Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
  • Intel Core i7-6600U dual-core processor (2.6GHz, up to 3.4GHz Turbo Boost, 4MB cache, 15W TDP) w/ Intel vPro enabled
  • Nvidia Quadro M500M 2GB graphics card
  • Intel HD 520 integrated graphics via Nvidia Optimus
  • 16GB DDR3L-1600 RAM (2x 8GB; 32GB max. supported – 2x 16GB)
  • 512GB SSD (SAMSUNG MZ7LN512HMJP-000L7)
  • Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260 with Bluetooth 4.1
  • 3-cell 44Whr li-polymer battery (front)
  • 3-cell 23.2WH li-ion battery (rear)
  • 1-year limited warranty
  • Dimensions: 14.9 x 10.1 x 1.0 inches
  • Weight: 4.9 pounds
  • Starting price: $824.25
  • Price as configured: $1,521.75

Benchmarks

wPrime processor comparison results (listed in seconds – lower scores mean better performance):
P50sWPrimechart

PCMark8 Home (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for general activities from web browsing and video streaming to typing documents and playing games (higher scores mean better performance):
P50sPCMark8Homechart

PCMark8 Work (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for work-related productivity tasks (higher scores mean better performance):
P50sPCMark8Workchart

3DMark Fire Strike is a newer DirectX 11 benchmark that measures overall graphics card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
P50sFireStrikechart

CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
ThinkPad_P50s_CDM-1

Heat and Noise

The lower-powered components inside the ThinkPad P50s don’t warrant the heavy-duty cooling on the more powerful P50. The single fan and cooling exhaust on the right side of the P50s take care of the heat from its Intel processor and Nvidia graphics card. The fan was rarely on during our Lenovo ThinkPad P50S review process unless we started something demanding, such as a benchmark.

The fan has a slight whine when it’s on, but it’s faint enough not to be heard except in a quiet room. The difference in noise between the fan’s minimum and maximum speeds is relatively minimal. It’s a small fan, but it doesn’t look like it has to work particularly hard to keep the power-sipping components in the P50s running cool.

The right half of the chassis tends to get lukewarm to warm after running the notebook hard for extended periods of time. After a benchmarking session, we measured the highest surface temperature at just 91 degrees F, and slightly warmer at 95 degrees F on the bottom. This level of heat is more than acceptable.

Battery Life

We test battery life using our Powermark benchmark in Balanced mode. This benchmark runs a combination of automated web browsing, office productivity, gaming, and video playback workloads. We run the test at approximately 50 percent screen brightness. This test is significantly more demanding than a typical battery rundown test.

The ThinkPad P50s boasted an excellent time of 5 hours, 21 minutes in this benchmark. That time is no doubt helped by the notebook’s dual battery setup, Nvidia Optimus support, and power-efficient Intel “Skylake” dual-core processor. The Dell XPS 15, not exactly a fair comparison with the P50s, only managed three and a half hours in this benchmark. Lenovo’s own ThinkPad P50, however, ran for 5 hours, 12 minutes, practically tying the P50s.

Powermark battery life test results listed in minutes (higher scores mean better performance):
P50sPowerchart

Keep in mind that our P50s review unit has the least potent of all the battery setups. It couples the front-mounted 44WH battery with the flush-fitting 23.2WH rear battery. At the time of writing, Lenovo offered the P50s with at 47WH rear battery for just $5 extra, and a massive 72WH battery for just $15. The latter could potentially increase the battery life of the P50s by almost 75 percent, going by the battery ratings alone. The standard ThinkPad P50 is at the end of its leash, given it’s not available with an upgraded battery.

ThinkPad P50s power adapter

ThinkPad P50s power adapter

Power Adapter

The dedicated Nvidia Quadro graphics card in the P50s means it can draw slightly more power than the average Ultrabook. As such, it uses a 65W as opposed to a 45W adapter.

The adapter and its cables weigh 0.65 pounds, or about 13 percent of the weight of the ThinkPad P50s itself. The cables and adapter measure end to end 8 feet, 9 inches. The power outlet has a two-prong plug. The adapter becomes warm while charging the notebook, as expected.

Lenovo ThinkPad P50S Review Conclusion

P1440440_1920The Lenovo ThinkPad P50s is a relatively new class of mobile workstation, focusing on a thin and light design and long battery life over desktop replacement performance. Indeed, the P50s went for almost five and a half hours in our battery run-down, an excellent showing for a 15.6-inch notebook.

The keyboard, clickpad, and UltraNav pointing solution on the ThinkPad P50s still set the bar for excellence, as we’d expect from a ThinkPad. Its available 3K display, as our review unit is so equipped, is a treat for the eyes as well. Other notable upsides include a good cooling system, decent speakers, and dual batteries. The second battery can be swapped without turning the system off.

Value is where the waters around the P50s can get a little murky. As equipped, our Lenovo ThinkPad P50s review unit is $1,522 in a relatively top-end configuration, including the 3K display, Intel Core i7-6600U dual-core processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. We built a standard ThinkPad P50 with a much faster Core i7-6700HQ quad-core processor, stronger Nvidia Quadro graphics, and all else the same as our P50s (plus a higher-resolution 4K display) for $1,586. The P50 is only 0.7 pounds heavier, and a tenth of an inch or so thicker. If we stopped reading there, we’d be left wondering what Lenovo hoped to accomplish with the P50s.

The answer came when we ran our battery life test. Even with the smallest of the available rear batteries, the P50s managed to squeak by the standard P50 in unplugged stamina. Tack on the optional 72WH rear battery, and the P50s has the potential to last up to 75 percent longer than what we recorded. That’s an unprecedented amount of battery life for a mobile workstation.

If ultimate portability and unplugged stamina are your top priorities, the ThinkPad P50s might prove to be the right balance. However, if you don’t need more battery life than what the P50s offers in its base form, the standard ThinkPad P50 offers significantly better performance for a modest increase in weight and thickness for a very similar price.

Pros:

  • Beautiful 3K display
  • Very good keyboard and touchpad
  • Excellent battery life
  • Runs cool under load
  • Dual battery support

Cons:

  • Chassis not as rigid as expected
  • Ultrabook-class processor may be underpowered for demanding tasks
  • Only one storage drive
  • Difficult to upgrade


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  1. sooomitin

    Beautiful 3K display: Essentially, killls the purpose of a ULV.
    Ultrabook-class processor may be underpowered for demanding tasks: For demanding tasks, a ULV powered laptop is not recommended anyway!
    Only one storage drive: Not quite a con. The 2nd drive will add to the weight.
    Difficult to upgrade: Not quite a con. Laptops are not supposed to be (quite) upgrade-able. The business laptops should be “serviceable” though.
    Another bad combo is the co-presence of a dedicated graphics and a ULV CPU.
    Lenovo, what the heck are you trying to do? ULV-DGPU-3K…Is it a good mix??? Meh…