We don’t usually review mobile workstations, but a significant trend has developed around laptops aimed at creators. These thin-and-light laptops, like the Dell XPS 15, are surprisingly good at accelerating demanding tasks like video editing. They also boast brilliant, color-accurate OLED displays.
So, when Lenovo offered us the ThinkPad P15 Gen 2 for review with a Core i9-11950H CPU and an Nvidia Quadro RTX A5000 GPU, we jumped at the opportunity to see how a more traditional approach to a mobile workstation would stack up.
Is the ThinkPad P15 proof that old-school workstations are a thing of the past? In some ways, yes. But because of its unique features, the audience for this expensive laptop remains very limited.
The ThinkPad P15 looks exactly like a ThinkPad should — only it’s incredibly thick and heavy. There’s the usual black aesthetic with just a few hints of red, including the iconic LED “i” in the ThinkPad logo on the lid. There’s also the same soft-touch surface and the usual red TrackPoint nubbin in the center of the keyboard.
The most prominent difference in look and feel from the typical ThinkPad is in the extra venting along the sides and back, which hints at the ThinkPad P15 being different. Oh, that, and the massive bezels around the display that look like the ones you’d find on a laptop from 10 years ago.
Then there’s that size. Where modern ThinkPads, at least the more premium consumer and business models, are thin and light, the ThinkPad P15 is just huge. It’s 0.96 inches at its thinnest point and 1.24 inches at its thickest, and it weighs 6.32 pounds. I thought the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 was a little larger than it should be, but the ThinkPad P15 dwarfs its 0.70-inch thickness and 3.99 pounds. It’s a little comical to set the two side by side — they’re almost identical in width and depth, and they have similar appearances, but the ThinkPad P15 looks like a balloon version that someone pumped up with extra air.
Not that there’s anything wrong with any of this. The ThinkPad P15 is a workstation-class laptop and doesn’t pretend to be a highly portable, relatively fast laptop like the ThinkPad X1 Extreme or the Dell XPS 15. Instead, it’s meant to offer plenty of room inside to move air around and keep things cool and fast, along with providing extra expandability. In fact, that expandability is what sets this laptop apart (see the performance section below).
You can configure up to 128GB of RAM via four SO-DIMM slots (and you can select error-correcting RAM for sensitive applications), which will make power-user creative types happy. There are also three SSD slots packed away inside — one PCIe 4.0 and the other two PCIe 3.0 — supporting up to 16TB of storage. And, the laptop can be upgraded by the user, meaning you can start with 64GB of RAM, for example, and a single SSD, and then add two 32GB RAM modules for 128GB of RAM and another SSD or two for more storage. You simply can’t pack all of that into a thin-and-light machine, and the ThinkPad P15 isn’t meant to be used by road warriors.
In terms of its durability, the ThinkPad P15 is close to the usual ThinkPad standards. An internal magnesium frame holds the bottom chassis together, with a plastic and glass-fiber material covering it to provide extra protection and that soft touch. The keyboard deck and bottom chassis feel quite sturdy. The lid is made of plastic and glass fiber, and it’s a bit more flexible than I like to see. The ThinkPad P15 isn’t quite up to the standards of the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 or the XPS 15, but it feels durable enough. Of course, it passed through Lenovo’s usual MIL-STD 810G testing, which provides some extra confidence.
Connectivity is a strength, as you’d imagine with this class of machines (and given all the room to fit connections). On the left-hand side is a full-size HDMI 2.1 port, a USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 port, a nano-SIM slot for optional 4G WWAN support, and a 3.5mm audio jack. On the right-hand side is a USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 port, a full-size SD card reader (which creators will appreciate), and an optional Smart Card reader.
Finally, in the back is an Ethernet port, a connection for the 230-watt power adapter, two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4 support, and a USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 port. Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2 provide wireless connectivity.
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Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
This isn’t a cheap laptop. As configured at retailer CDW, the ThinkPad P15 I reviewed costs a whopping $5,445 — scary when you consider my review unit has “only” 32GB of RAM, a 1TB solid-state drive (SSD), and a lowly 15.6-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) display. The laptop can be configured with up to 128GB of RAM, 6TB of SSD storage, and a UHD (3,840 x 2,160) OLED panel.
With all that upgradability, the ThinkPad P15 promises incredible performance for demanding creative tasks. We’ve reviewed several laptops recently aimed at creators, but those have been in the usual consumer-focused thin-and-light class. The ThinkPad P15 has the components and the thermal design to blow those laptops out of the water.
The ThinkPad P15 is fast, but it’s not as dominant as you might expect. It did very well in Geekbench 5, earning the highest score for a laptop in our review database. But it’s not as far ahead of the pack as I expected, with the Asus Vivobook Pro 16X OLED coming in reasonably close behind thanks to its AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX CPU, especially in the multi-core portion of the test. Even the Dell XPS 17 with its Core i7-11800H was in the same ballpark (surprisingly faster than the Vivobook Pro 16X).
In our Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video as H.265, the ThinkPad P15 was again the fastest laptop we’ve tested — and again the Vivobook Pro 16X was almost as fast. In fact, the ThinkPad P15 wasn’t that much quicker than the other laptops in our comparison group — certainly, not for a laptop that’s at least twice as expensive. Cinebench R23 told a similar story, with the ThinkPad P15 leading in our database, but with the Vivobook Pro 16X not far behind. And again, a few other laptops in our comparison group are within spitting distance of the ThinkPad P15. So far, the workstation hadn’t blown away the thinner, lighter, and much less expensive machines.
The ThinkPad P15 doesn’t perform well enough to merit its incredibly high price.
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that the ThinkPad P15 was once again the fastest in another test, PCMark 10, and that another thin-and-light laptop was close — this time, the MSI Creator Z16. That held across the Essentials, Productivity, and even the Content Creation portion of the test, where the ThinkPad P15 was again fast, but not so much faster.
I thought that certainly PugetBench, which runs in Premiere Pro, would let the ThinkPad P15 shine. After all, the laptop has Independent Software Vendor (ISV) certifications from several developers, including Adobe. ISV certification means that the hardware and software are developed to work together for the best performance and reliability. However, the ThinkPad P15 scored 724, less than the MSI Creator Z16’s 738 and not much faster than the Dell XPS 17’s 692. Once again, the ThinkPad P15 hadn’t shown any real advantage over laptops that cost — and weigh — half as much.
I’m not sure it’s a knock against the ThinkPad P15 or a testament to just how powerful thinner and lighter laptops have become, but the workstation underwhelmed in our benchmarks. You can upgrade it to a Xeon processor, which would certainly make it faster, and 128GB of RAM, which will let creators work with the largest videos and likely provide a significant speed bump. But in the configuration I reviewed, the ThinkPad P15 doesn’t perform well enough to merit its incredibly high price.
|Cinebench R23 (single/multi)||Handbrake (seconds)||PCMark 10||Pugetbench Premiere Pro||3DMark Time Spy|
|Lenovo ThinkPad P15 (Core i9-11950H)||1691 / 9250||1596 / 12207||84||6866||724||9045|
|MSI Creator Z16 (Core i7-11800H)||1540 / 7625||1444/9615||102||6486||738||6322|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 (Core i7-11800H)||1520 / 7353||1519/10497||106||6251||432||6691|
|Dell XPS 15 (Core i7-11800H)||1556 / 7692||1513/9979||103||6024||509||4540|
|Dell XPS 17 (Core i7-11800H)||1568 / 8801||1525/10145||109||6209||692||7039|
|Asus Vivobook Pro 16X (Ryzen 9 5900HX)||1544 / 8299||1486/11478||90||6486||571||4601|
You don’t buy a workstation-class laptop to play games, but that doesn’t mean you won’t game on occasion. So, I ran the ThinkPad P15 through a few of our benchmark titles to see how it would perform with the Nvidia Quadro RTX A5000. That’s not a gaming GPU, but it’s still pretty powerful and should be able to run modern titles at decent resolutions and frame rates. According to 3DMark Time Spy, it’s about as fast as a GeForce RTX 3070.
It may not be meant as a gaming laptop, but it acts like one.
The ThinkPad P15 also performed well in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, hitting 76 frames per second (fps) at 1080p and high graphics and 67 fps at ultra high graphics. The Lenovo Legion 5 Pro gaming laptop was slightly behind at 67 fps and 61 fps, respectively, while the Razer Blade 14 (also with an RTX 3070) was at 67 fps and 60 fps. In Battlefield V, the ThinkPad P15 managed 106 fps at 1080p and medium graphics and 59 fps at ultra graphics, compared to the Legion 5 Pro at 82 fps and 73 fps and the Blade 14 at 115 fps and 96 fps. Finally, in Fortnite, the ThinkPad P15 performed well at 138 fps at 1080p and high graphics and 104 fps at epic graphics, where the Legion 5 Pro was at 120 fps and 101 fps and the Blade 14 at 114 fps and 96 fps.
I also ran Civilization VI and saw 218 fps at 1080p and medium graphics and 155 fps at ultra graphics. The next fastest laptop in our database is the Lenovo Legion 5 Pro with a Ryzen 7 5800H and an RTX 3070, which hit 127 fps and 114 fps, respectively. Clearly, the ThinkPad P15 excels at this game that’s both CPU- and GPU-intense.
So, yes, you can game with the ThinkPad P15 and play modern titles at high graphics. It may not be meant as a gaming laptop, but it can fill that role when needed.
You can configure the ThinkPad P15 with several displays, all 15.6-inches in the old-school 16:9 aspect ratio. There are Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) anti-glare, Full HD with Dolby Vision (which my review unit had), UHD (3,840 x 2,160) IPS with HDR400 and Dolby Vision, and UHD OLED with Dolby Vision options. Creators will gravitate toward the UHD panels, which are likely to provide better colors and contrast — especially the OLED panel. The Full HD display on my review unit was plenty bright and provided good colors that seemed accurate to me, along with a decent contrast ratio. I found it fine for productivity work during my review.
According to my colorimeter, this is a good but not great premium display, and it’s not aimed at creative types. Brightness was excellent at 542 nits (we like to see 300 nits or better), and the contrast ratio topped our 1,000:1 threshold at 1,040:1. Colors were close to the premium display average at 76% of AdobeRGB and 100% of sRGB, with color accuracy of DeltaE 1.49 (less than 1.0 is considered excellent). Those are all fine results, in line with what you’ll get from laptops like the MSI Creator Z16 (although that laptop offers wider AdobeRGB) and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4. Of course, an OLED panel like the one on the latest Dell XPS 15 will provide vastly superior colors (99% of AdobeRGB and 100% of sRGB) and greater accuracy (0.46), with out-of-this-world contrast and inky blacks.
Again, I have to say: This is a fine display, but not for the price. Yes, it’s great for productivity work, but if you’re spending over $5,000 on a laptop that’s intended at least in part for creative work, then you’ll want wider and more accurate colors. You’ll want to opt for the OLED panel, which is likely to rival the other OLED panels we’ve tested that have provided superior colors and contrast across the board. Given Lenovo’s pricing right now, you could probably find a model with the OLED panel for less than what you’ll currently spend on my review unit.
The audio was weak, with low volume even when turned all the way up. Mids and highs were clear enough, and there was zero bass. There’s not much to say here — sound quality clearly wasn’t a priority with the ThinkPad P15, and you’ll want headphones or Bluetooth speakers for anything other than systems sounds and the occasional YouTube video.
Just like all ThinkPads, the ThinkPad P15 sports the same keyboard with superior travel (1.8mm), a snappy mechanism and a spacious layout with large, sculpted keys. Interestingly, I found the keyboard on the ThinkPad P15 to be lighter than the one on the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4, which I liked. The ThinkPad P15 required less force to depress the keys, reducing fatigue and keeping me up to my usual speed of around 90 words a minute. I’d rate this keyboard as close to my favorite, the one on the HP Spectre line, which is something I couldn’t say about the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4.
The touchpad is small given the laptop’s overall size, and it loses space to the TrackPoint buttons. It works fine, supporting Microsoft’s Precision Touchpad drivers (pretty much a given over the last couple of years) — it’s just too small. TrackPoint is there if you want it, and it works as well as usual. It’s standard for ThinkPads, but I do wonder sometimes how many people actually use it. Note that if you opt for an OLED display, then you get a touch panel and active pen support.
Windows 10 Hello support is provided by both a fingerprint reader and infrared camera with facial recognition. I tried both methods and they were uniformly quick and accurate. No complaints there. The typical ThinkPad ThinkShutter privacy screen is there to block the webcam when you don’t want anyone spying on you.
If there’s one area where I had low expectations heading into the review, it was battery life. No way did I expect the ThinkPad P15 to display anything approaching all-day longevity, even when running simple productivity tasks. Suffice it to say, I was a little surprised.
There’s 94 watt-hours of battery packed away inside the huge chassis, and that helps. As does the Full HD display. But even so, I was surprised when the ThinkPad P15 lasted 9.5 hours on our web-browsing test. That’s half an hour longer than the Dell XPS 15, and more than two hours longer than the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4. In our video test that loops a local Full HD Avengers trailer, the ThinkPad P15 lasted for about 11.5 hours, not a great score, but better than the XPS 15 by six minutes and the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 by more than two hours (again). That’s not bad for a workstation.
Things weren’t quite so good in the PCMark 10 Applications benchmark, which is the best test of productivity longevity. Here, the ThinkPad P15 lasted for just under 6.5 hours, less than the XPS 15’s eight hours and the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4’s 8.7 hours. And in the PCMark 10 Gaming test that pushes the CPU and GPU, the ThinkPad P15 lasted for just 56 minutes. That’s the lowest score in our database, with the XPS 15 and ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 both lasting for about a half-hour longer. Clearly, the ThinkPad P15 keeps up the performance while unplugged.
Overall, these are better scores than I anticipated. Certainly, you’ll need to carry around the bulky 230-watt power brick if you’re going to do workstation-level work. But if you have a light day planned of typical productivity tasks, you’ll probably make it through most of the day. That’s not bad for a workstation.
In the configuration I reviewed, the ThinkPad P15 feels outdated. It’s isn’t so much faster than the fastest thin-and-light laptops that either its price or its girth is justified. Why would you buy this laptop, then? The answer is simple: You’re a true power user who needs a machine that can support 128GB of RAM, you need that RAM to be error-correcting, you need a Xeon processor, and/or you need the flexibility and growth of three SSD slots with RAID support and up to 16TB of storage.
That’s a special kind of person, and that’s who this workstation is aimed at. We were curious to see how it would stack up against the typical laptops that we review, and the answer is that it really doesn’t. If you’re a typical consumer or business user, or even a creator who can live with the performance provided by an XPS 15 or 17 or ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4, then the ThinkPad 15 isn’t for you. We’ve only mentioned creators in this review, but the ThinkPad P15 will appeal to users running demanding 3D CAD, scientific applications, and A.I. workloads.
Are there any alternatives?
If you need to match the ThinkPad P15’s high-end specs, then you’ll need to look at other workstation-class laptops. Dell’s Precision 7760 can rival the ThinkPad P15 at the high end, albeit with a 17-inch display.
MSI’s WS65 Mobile Workstation also comes close. It, too, supports Quadro RTX A5000 graphics, but only up to 64GB of RAM, and it doesn’t have the same expandability as the Lenovo. It is, however, thinner and lighter.
If you don’t really need a workstation, then your choices are much broader. The Dell XPS 15 provides enough power for all but the most demanding creators, it’s relatively thin and light and incredibly well built, and it’s about half the price.
How long will it last?
The ThinkPad P15 is durable enough that it should last for years of carrying it from place to place. It also has modern components and incredible expandability. It’s insane, though, that a laptop costing over $5,000 should come with a one-year warranty.
Should you buy it?
Yes, but only if you need to max it out. This laptop is for extreme power users who likely won’t be satisfied with my review unit’s configuration.