The ThinkPad P1 is Lenovo’s MacBook Pro rival with a better screen and lots of design innovation

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  • Price When Reviewed: Base price £1,949. Model reviewed £3,772.60

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The ThinkPad P1 is a 15-inch mobile workstation that’s unchained by not being a souped up gaming or business laptop.

Most ‘workstation-class’ models targeting pro artists, designers and editors are based on chassis designed for other purposes. Dell’s Precision 5530, for example, is based on its XPS 15 gaming laptop. Lenovo’s new ‘thinnerst-and-lightest ever’ mobile workstation has been designed from first principles as being for creatives – whether Digital Arts readers, architects or product designers – so there elements that you’ll really appreciate.

For example, no gamer is going to care that that you can push the P1’s screen all the way back so it lies flat on your desk or table. But for us, this turns the touchscreen from being a better way to interact with your apps’ interfaces when in tight spaces like this flight to Siggraph I’m on right now, into a Cintiq-like drawing surface. It’s not quite as neat a design as 2-in-1 models like HP’s ZBook x360 that can flip the screen all the way around, but it’s a lot thinner.

We first had a preview of the P1's chassis last month, but now we've got our hands on a working model. It's quite the performer, matching and sometimes even beating both top-spec Apple's MacBook Pro and Dell's Precision 5530 in our benchmark tests (read our MacBook Pro 15-inch review) – and doing so at a lower relative cost than either.

At first glance, the P1 looks very much like any other Lenovo laptop – but the details reveal that this is something different. It’s a deeper shade than most ThinkPads, more black than dark grey. There’s a glass trackpad. We’ve no idea if it makes it more responsive, but it looks lovely. The whole chassis has been made better resistant to oil, so you should see fewer fingerprints on it than previous models.

There’s been a real effort on Lenovo’s part to create a product that has the aesthetics to match its performance. As Lenovo put it to us when showing us the P1, “look-and-feel matters”.

Under the hood will be 8th-gen Intel Core i5, i7, i9 and Xeon quad- and six-core processors and up to 64GB of RAM – twice that of the MacBook Pro . There’s a choice of graphics chips topping out at the Nvidia Quadro P2000 (if you don’t want Quadro graphics, you can order the P1 with a GeForce GTX1050).

As with the MBP, storage tops out at 4TB – though few will be able to afford a model with that level of drive space. Like most Windows-based mobile workstations, there’s as full set of ports including two Thunderbolt 3, two USB, HDMI, mini-Ethernet and a headphone jack.

There are two screen options: a pretty-standard HD display or a 4K touchscreen with 10-bit colour and 100% Adobe RGB output. I think we know which one you’d prefer.

As with Lenovo’s latest pro monitor (read out ThinkVision P32u review), there’s a real sense of practical usability to the ThinkPad P1’s design. Lenovo says that it's quiet – under 40dB – and that it doesn’t get unbearably warm when on your lap, even after sustained heavy use due to where its placed the CPU and GPU.

When writing about laptops, we don’t generally devote much attention to charging – but the P1 has a couple of very useful innovations. When plugged into the mains, Lenovo says that it will charge to about 80% power in around 30 minutes. You can also ‘trickle charge' it off an in-flight USB connection – much more slowly of course, but useful during long flights like this one.

Lenovo has also created a small power supply for the P1 that shouldn’t weigh you down too much, despite giving you 135W for rapid charging.

With one eye on the MacBook Pro’s built-in voice assistant, the ThinkPad P1 has Amazon’s Alexa built in. In my opinion, both are a gimmick – I don’t think I’ve intentionally triggered Siri in the weeks I’ve had the latest MBP – but others may disagree.

Other features include Dolby Atmos sound and a fingerprint sensor.

Pricing begins at £1,949/US$1,919 with a Intel Core i5-8400H processor, 8GB RAM, an Nvidia Quadro P1000 graphics chip with 4GB of RAM, a 1TB NVMe SSD and the HD screen.

Our review unit was a high-spec model that'll set you back £3,772.60, which features a 6-core, 2.7GHz Intel Xeon E-2176M processor, 32GB of ECC RAM, two 1TB NVMe SSDs striped as one 2TB RAID O drive, an Nvidia P2000 with 4GB RAM and the 4K screen.

For comparison, we've benchmarked this against a top-spec MacBook Pro and Dell Precision 5530.

The Dell 5530 has the same Intel Xeon E-2176M processor, 32GB of ECC RAM, Nvidia P2000 with 4GB RAM and 4K screen – but a single 512GB NVMe drive drive. There's no option to include a second large drive, only a 32GB Optane drive. It costs £3,200. This is less than our test ThinkPad P1, but a P1 with a similar spec would cost you only £3,050. 

The MacBook Pro has a 6-core, 2.9GHz Core i9, 32GB of non-ECC RAM, an AMD Radeon Pro 560X graphics chip and a 2,880-x-1,800-pixel resolution screen. It also has 2TB of storage, which – like the P1 – is two 1TB drives striped together for additional speed and performance. This will set you back a whopping £4,409.

ThinkPad P1 benchmarks

Overall performance

Here we're using our own After Effects test that processes some GPU-rendered 3D from Cinema 4D inside a scene with multiple layers of HD video and effects. This test is in minutes, so shorter bars are better.

We're also using the SPECwpc 2.1 test, which combines results from tests spanning 3D modelling, rendering and video encoding across Blender, Handbrake, IOMeter, LuxRender and Maya. Unfortunately this benchmark is Windows-only. It's in its own proprietary units, so longer bars are better.

Here we can see that the dual-drive solution offered by the ThinkPad P1 and MacBook Pro makes a real difference to the overall performance – with the Dell suffering by comparison.

Real-time graphics performance

Here we're using our own test based around Cinema 4D R19's ProRender real-time rendering engine, plus publicly available benchmarks based on Cinema 4D R15 and the GPU-based version of Chaos Group's V-ray renderer (which only works on Nvidia GPUs).

The ProRender and V-ray tests are in seconds, so shorter bars are better. The Cinebench test is in frames-per-seconds (fps), so longer bars are better.

Here the P1 showed 5-10% lower than its rivals.

Verdict

The ThinkPad P1 shows that Lenovo is more than just a brand for accountants. The company is capable of creating a stylish, powerful laptop with a better screen than a MacBook Pro and better storage options than a Dell Precision 5530.

From our tests, its graphics capabilities let it down a little bit compared to its rivals, but coming in at a noticeably lower price next to them, we can't complain too much.

Comments

Bill said: "With one eye on the MacBook Pro’s built-in voice assistant, the ThinkPad P1 has Amazon’s Alexa built in" or Cortana, which has been part of Windows long before Siri or Alexa and works very well for me. It is Apple playing catch up with virtual assistants on their laptops.

Dave Kennedy said: Couldn't agree more

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