As the pocket-protector version of the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, Lenovo’s ThinkPad P1 (starts at $1,679; $3,567 as tested) stands somewhat apart from its other mobile workstations. The 15.6-inch laptop is thinner and lighter than its ThinkPad P53 sibling, with lower memory and storage ceilings (64GB and 4TB, versus 128GB and 6TB), and its professional graphics options climb to Nvidia’s 4GB, not-VR-ready Quadro T2000 instead of the colossal 16GB Quadro RTX 5000. But those are still impressive specs, and the P1 is an impressive choice for design or engineering pros seeking a road-worthy workstation.
Filling a Niche
Like the X1 Extreme, the ThinkPad P1 is now in its second generation, with improvements ranging from new GPUs to brighter screens. The bare-bones base model features a Core i5 processor, Intel integrated graphics (so we’d refuse to call it a workstation), 8GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive, and a 1080p display.
My $3,567 test unit ladled on the options with Intel’s six-core, 2.8GHz (4.7GHz turbo) Xeon E-2276M, 32GB of memory, a 1TB NVMe SSD, the Quadro T2000, and an ultra-high-contrast OLED 4K (3,840-by-2,160-pixel) touch screen. Power maniacs who crave eight processing cores instead of six can get a Core i9-9880H CPU instead of the Xeon, though only the latter gets my unit’s Windows 10 Pro for Workstations.
Users who are the opposite of power maniacs can consider a third 15.6-inch Lenovo mobile workstation, the economical ThinkPad P53s, which is roughly the size and weight of the P1 but positioned well below today’s test system and the P53—it peaks with a quad-core Core i7 CPU and Nvidia’s 2GB Quadro P520.
Clad in a variation on Lenovo’s matte black theme with an aluminum base and carbon fiber weave lid, the P1 measures 0.7 by 14.2 by 9.7 inches and squeaks under the four-pound line at 3.99 pounds. That makes it definitely more portable than the P53 (1.2 by 14.9 by 9.9 inches, 5.5 pounds) or HP ZBook 15 G6 (1 by 14.8 by 10.4 inches, 5.8 pounds). Like other ThinkPads, it’s passed MIL-STD 810G torture tests for vibration, shock, and extreme temperature and humidity; there’s almost no flex if you grasp the screen corners or mash the keyboard.
The not-too-bulky AC adapter plugs into a proprietary port on the system’s left side. Also on that side are two Thunderbolt 3 ports, an HDMI video output, a mini Ethernet port (dongle not included), and an audio jack. On the right edge, you’ll find SD and SmartCard slots, two USB 3.1 Type-A ports (one always on to charge handheld devices), and a Kensington security lock slot.
Taking Care of (Serious) Business
The P1’s touchpad is buttonless, but its TrackPoint keyboard pointing stick has nicely tactile buttons below the space bar, including the middle button often used by computer-aided design (CAD) and other independent software vendor (ISV) apps. Both the stick and pad provide smooth, precise cursor control.
The backlit keyboard follows the familiar ThinkPad layout, with Home and End keys on the top row and Page Up and Page Down at bottom right by the cursor arrows (and the Fn key in the bottom left corner where Ctrl should be). It has a firm, slightly rubbery typing feel with comfortable travel and feedback. A fingerprint reader near the right edge lets you forgo typing passwords.
You can also skip passwords by using the face recognition webcam, which has a sliding shutter to block prying eyes online. The 720p camera captures soft-focus images with oddly varying brightness and contrast. (You can use the Lenovo Vantage utility to turn off auto exposure, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference.)
Small, bottom-mounted speakers pump out fairly loud audio, though it sounds hollow or boomy if you turn the volume up. Bass is minimal, but it’s easy to hear overlapping tracks. Dolby Atmos software lets you choose dynamic, music, movie, game, or voice presets or play with an equalizer.
The best part of the ThinkPad P1 is its OLED screen, which gives you inky blacks and extra-bright whites. Colors are richly saturated and pop like poster paints, and fine details are as sharp as 4K resolution can make them. There’s no built-in color calibrator as on our HP ZBook 15 G6 test unit, but there’s X-Rite Color Assistant software, which lets you switch among Adobe RGB, sRGB, DCI-P3, Rec. 709, or default color palettes—and, in a clever touch, reset the system by loading factory calibration info from the cloud.
A Mobile Workstation Performance Melee
In terms of raw horsepower, the ThinkPad P1 Gen 2 is sort of one rung down from the top of the ladder among 15.6-inch mobile workstations. So the three thicker and heavier models I chose for our benchmark comparisons—the Lenovo ThinkPad P53, the HP ZBook 15 G6, and the Dell Precision 7540—are likely to outstrip it, being more powerful and expensive. (The Precision is $5,227.)
The Razer Blade 15 Studio Edition is a more comparable competitor, as a slim system with a six-core CPU and a 4K OLED screen, though a much more potent GPU. (The ThinkPad P1’s Quadro T2000 is the weakest in the group.) You can compare the systems’ basic specs in the table below.
Two things denote a workstation: wild overkill for humdrum apps like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint and solid performance for the more demanding, ISV-certified professional apps for which it’s built. The ThinkPad P1 meets both criteria—it didn’t set any speed records, but it’s a highly capable contender, though it oddly balked at two of our benchmarks (the PCMark 8 storage measurement, which has thwarted workstations before, and the SPECviewperf 13 playback of viewsets from popular ISV apps). Its cooling fan also makes noticeable noise when the system is working hard, though it never became intolerable.
Productivity and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, Web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
Breaking the 4,000-point barrier in PCMark 10 indicates excellent productivity performance; breaking the 6,000-point barrier is something special. The P1 finished in the middle of the pack against mostly technically superior competition.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
A workstation that tops 1,000 points is well suited for video editing or 3D rendering; the ThinkPad P1 Gen 2 proved the fastest of the six-core systems, trailing only the two eight-core machines.
In our Handbrake video editing benchmark, we put a stopwatch on systems as they transcode a brief movie from 4K resolution down to 1080p. It, too, is a tough test for multi-core, multi-threaded CPUs; lower times are better.
Again, the eight-core Xeon E-2286M powered the Dell and HP to the front of the pack. The laptops with six-core CPUs tied for the bronze medal.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total (lower times are better). The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters.
Even impatient users can probably tolerate the P1’s extra four seconds per Photoshop filter operation, considering that its screen is a brilliant choice for photo editing. Still, its last-place finish is disappointing.
Graphics and Workstation-Specific Tests
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and lets high-end PCs and gaming rigs strut their stuff.
The Quadro T2000 isn’t a dog—it’s Nvidia’s fifth fastest professional mobile GPU—but it trails the Quadro RTX series, even in gaming simulations like 3DMark that are optimized for the company’s GeForce consumer silicon. You can play games on the ThinkPad P1, but it won’t excel.
In addition to our CPU measurement, Cinebench R15 has an OpenGL exercise that uses that popular vector graphics application programming interface (API) to tap the GPU for hardware-accelerated rendering of a brief animated movie of a car chase. Results are displayed in frames per second (fps); higher numbers are better.
We also use the POV-Ray 3.7 benchmark. The Persistence of Vision Raytracer is a free software program that flogs the processor and its floating-point unit during the off-screen rendering of a complex scene.
The first of these benchmarks emphasizes the GPU; the second, the CPU. The Lenovo P1 did pretty well in both, topping its Razer Blade Studio Edition rival despite that system’s superior graphics.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation short film Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system quits.
Battery life isn’t as important for a mobile workstation as it is for an ultraportable or convertible; these systems don’t venture away from AC outlets as often. Its dazzling OLED display makes the P1 power-hungry, though it did outlast the musclebound Dell by an hour.
A Creative Desktop Replacement
I can see designers and content creators being extremely tempted by the Lenovo ThinkPad P1 Gen 2, particularly when outfitted with the OLED display and maybe the Core i9 CPU. Its Quadro T2000 graphics processor is chewed up and spit out by the Quadro RTX 5000, but everything else about it is topnotch, and it’s far more briefcase-friendly than chunkier systems like the P53 or Precision 7540.
Against that, as I said in the battery benchmark section, portability isn’t a priority for mobile workstations, so the P1 probably serves a smaller niche audience. Think of it as a heavy-duty middleweight.