Review

Lenovo ThinkPad P1 Gen 2 review: An incremental upgrade on an already awesome workstation

Lenovo's ThinkPad P1 Gen 2 has the same chassis as it did last year, but this year's model packs some fun improvements. Obviously, the usual spec bumps are there, as it now includes Intel's ninth-generation processors and the latest generation of Quadro GPUs, but there's now the option for an OLED display.

Unfortunately, the 4K OLED screen wasn't included in my review unit, but there's a good reason for that. You might also be familiar with the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, a device that I've also got my hands on. While both the P1 and the X1 Extreme debuted last year, they're pretty much the same thing, except the P1 is made for the workstation market. I'll be reviewing the OLED X1 Extreme when that arrives, just so there's more of a difference between the two reviews, and I don't feel like I'm just writing the same article twice.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 series is the premium lineup, and P1 was introduced last year as the X1 for the P-series workstation series. In other words, this is very much a premium PC, made to be thin, light, and powerful.

Specs

CPU Intel Core i7-9850H with vPro (2.60GHz, up to 4.60GHz with Turbo Boost, 6 Cores, 12MB Cache)
GPU NVIDIA Quadro T2000 4GB
Display 15.6" UHD (3840x2160) IPS 500 nits, anti-glare with Dolby Vision HDR 400
Body 14.2x9.7x0.7” (361.8x245.7x18.4mm), 3.74 pounds (1.69kg)
RAM 32GB DDR4 2666MHz
Storage 2TB PCIe SSD
Battery 80Wh, 135W charger
Ports

(2) USB 3.1 Gen 1 (1 always on)
(2) USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C / Intel Thunderbolt 3 (DisplayPort, Data transfer)
(1) HDMI 2.0
(1) Mini Gigabit Ethernet
(1) Audio combo jack
(1) Smart card reader (Optional)
(1) 4-in-1 media card reader (MMC, SD, SDHC, SDXC)

Windows Hello Fingerprint sensor, IR camera
Material

Display cover: Carbon fiber/graphite hybrid;
Bottom: Aluminum alloy

OS Windows 10 Pro
Price $3,509


The full price of this unit is $3,509, although it's currently being sold for $2,789, as there are always discounts that fluctuate on Lenovo.com.

This model has a Core i7-9850H, although you can have it configured with up to a Core i9-9880H, and of course, there are options for Xeon processors. If you go Xeon, it will come with Windows 10 Pro for Workstations.

Day one


Design

Lenovo used the same chassis for the ThinkPad P1 Gen 2 that it did for Gen 1, and it's also the same as the ThinkPad X1 Extreme. The one difference between the look of the P1 and the X1 Extreme is that the P1 doesn't have the X1 logo on it. Honestly, I'm surprised that Lenovo hasn't come up with more P1 branding assets, but that's neither here nor there.

It does have the premium ThinkPad logo stamped in the lid though. This is a glossy black ThinkPad logo, rather than the grayish silver one found on other devices. This logo is notable though, because it's reserved only for X1 and P1 machines, so the P1 is the only one that has it without any additional branding.

One thing that's different about the lid this year is that there's a carbon fiber weave option, rather than just the flat black that we're used to. This was introduced with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, and it's making its way across the premium lineup. After all, this is still a premium ThinkPad clamshell, so like the X1 Extreme, it's meant to be a bigger and badder version of the Carbon.

And of course, there are plenty of ports, all of which are located on the left and right sides of the machine. On the right side, you'll find two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports and an SD card reader. This is also where you'd find the optional Smart Card reader if you choose that option.

On the left side though, there's more. You'll find two Thunderbolt 3 ports, HDMI 2.0, mini Ethernet, a 3.5mm combo audio jack, and an AC adapter port. The nice thing about HDMI 2.0 and two Thunderbolt 3 ports is that you can hook up multiple 4K displays to this PC, and it has the GPU power to handle it.

The power port is Lenovo's USB Type-A-shaped proprietary port, although that's to be expected on a machine this powerful. It comes with a 135W power brick, which is too much for USB Type-C. The only company I've seen use a 130W USB Type-C charger is Dell, and I'm guessing it has a patent on that.

The bottom panel can be removed with seven Philips-head screws. This will give you access to the internals, where you can swap out things like the RAM, SSD, speakers, and more. For more details on replacing and upgrading parts, check out the user guide under Customer Replaceable Units, or the maintenance manual for something more in-depth.

Display and audio

The Lenovo ThinkPad P1 Gen 2 has a 15.6-inch display, which is offered in four flavors. The one that Lenovo sent me is 4K UHD with Dolby Vision HDR400 and 500-nit brightness. There's also a Full HD panel with the same brightness and HDR specs, and that will be a lot better on battery life. Of course, the best battery life will be the one that comes in the base model, an FHD 300-nit panel.

All of those are anti-glare and do not support multitouch. If you want touch, you'll have to go for the fourth option: OLED. The 4K UHD OLED option supports Dolby Vision HDR500 and comes in at 400-nit brightness. It's also not listed as anti-glare.

To be clear, I'll always choose OLED over anything else. It gives you true blacks and vibrant colors, and it's always just such a pleasure to use.

I have to say though that there's something for everyone here. The 4K LCD that I'm using with this unit is awesome. The colors look amazing and since it's anti-glare, it's easy to use in direct sunlight; the same goes for the fact that it's brighter than the OLED option. And of course, you can get the lower resolution for better battery life, which I'm reiterating since this is not a machine that will let you get too far away from a charger.

While the P1 has the same chassis as last year, the bezels are raised this time, rather than being flush with the screen with a single piece of glass. But the bezels are the same size, with narrow side bezels and a slightly larger top bezel, where you'll find the webcam and IR camera. There's also a ThinkShutter privacy guard, which you can use to physically block the camera.

As far as audio quality goes, it's really clear, and this is something that Lenovo has put a lot of work into over the last few years. ThinkPad audio used to be really terrible, and now we have a P1 with Dolby Atmos. The speakers are placed on the bottom of the machine, and they don't get as loud as I'd like, but the sound is clear, and that's what's really important. To me, loud sound is when I can turn the volume up to 100 and it makes me uncomfortable, something that the P1 Gen 2 does not do.

Keyboard and trackpad

This is one of those sections that I do feel like I'm writing over and over, because I review so many ThinkPads, and they all have such similar keyboards. This is a premium typing experience; it's precise and it's comfortable, something that I always say about premium ThinkPads. They just have great keyboards, and that's not a secret. I've typed many articles on this machine and I didn't get tired of it, and that's the main test that it has to pass.

One thing that you'll want to be aware of is that the depth of the keys is larger than most other laptops in 2019. I feel like other companies have evolved to shallower and shallower key throws, and ThinkPads haven't changed. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is entirely up to your preference, but I can say that Lenovo uses the proper amount of resistance in the keys to make it comfortable.

It's designed like most ThinkPad clamshells, with a circular power button on top of the deck. Oddly, this is something that Lenovo abandoned in this year's X1 Carbon, but as far as I know, every other ThinkPad clamshell still has it.

There's also a fingerprint reader to the right of the keyboard. It's a nice alternative to using the IR camera for Windows Hello, but I prefer facial recognition. Still, the fingerprint sensor is more standard on ThinkPads, as ThinkPads have had fingerprint readers long before Windows Hello was even a thing.

As usual, there's a TrackPoint between the G, H, and B keys, which can be used for moving the pointer on the screen, and then you can click with the physical buttons above the trackpad. Personally, I like to use the Precision trackpad for moving the pointer, but still use the physical buttons, which just make drag-and-drop operations easier. As far as the TrackPoint goes, many hate it and some people love it; if you're in the former camp, you can easily just ignore it.

Performance and battery life

The Lenovo ThinkPad P1 that was sent to me includes an Intel Core i7-9850H CPU and Nvidia Quadro T2000 graphics, along with 32GB RAM and a 2TB SSD. This is all meant to put a low of power in a package that weighs under four pounds, but remember, it's all about finding the right compromise and the right use case. Last week, I reviewed the ThinkPad P53, a beast with Quadro RTX 5000 graphics that's a lot thicker and heavier.

The P1 is nowhere near as powerful as that, and that's by design. This is all about a balance between premium performance and portability, and it totally achieves that goal.

The Core i7-9850H is a 45W hexa-core CPU with 12 threads, although you can have it configured with the octa-core Core i9 if you want the top end. But being that this is meant to be a workstation, you're probably more interested in the Xeon options. Sadly, Lenovo didn't send me a Xeon configuration, something that would have been nice since the Core i7 is the same that's in the X1 Extreme that I'm currently testing.

And then there's the GPU, an Nvidia Quadro T2000, replacing the P2000 that was found in last year's model. It still has 4GB GDDR5 memory, rather than the newer GDDR6 that's found in the Quadro RTX graphics cards, but it's built on the Turing architecture instead of Pascal.

As far as performance goes, it's great. I edited a few videos on there in the few weeks that I had it, and didn't run into any problems at all rendering 1080p 60fps videos. And of course, for my general work flow, it was more than enough.

That's what makes the ThinkPad P1 a pleasure. It can handle powerful tasks when you need it to, it's great for productivity, and it's not too bulky or heavy to where you wouldn't want to carry it around. I carried it around while I was walking around at Microsoft's Ignite conference in Orlando, and it got the job done.

As far as battery life goes, it's not great, but still better than I expected in a machine with this kind of power. Typically, if you've got a 45W CPU and dedicated graphics, you can just expect to have to carry a charger with you. This one will actually get you about four hours of real-world work; to be clear, don't hold me to that. A machine like this has such a wide variety of use cases, all of which will drain a different amount of power. Streaming 4K shows on Netflix, I got five and a half hours, so assume it's downhill from there, unless you're watching local videos.

For benchmarks, I ran PCMark 8, PCMark 10, 3DMark, and VRMark.

PCMark 8: Home PCMark 8: Creative

PCMark 8: Work PCMark 10

3DMark: Time Spy VRMark: Orange Room


The key thing to take away from this is that this is much more powerful than something without discrete graphics, but it's also not the most powerful. If mixed reality is part of your workload, you probably want something with a little more mustard.

Conclusion

The Lenovo ThinkPad P1 is an all-around awesome machine, and it's one of my favorite laptops on the market, along with the X1 Extreme. Again, the X1 Extreme is very much the same thing, except it has Nvidia GeForce graphics instead of Nvidia Quadro.

The only real sacrifice that you're making with the ThinkPad P1 is battery life, and even that isn't as bad as I'd expect it to be with these specs. Normally, a 45W CPU and a 4GB dGPU means two or three hours of battery life, and that fact that I could stretch it to almost six hours was pretty good.

I almost feel bad about saying this, but I can't think of any major negatives with this PC. It has the performance, a beautiful display with an OLED option, a fantastic keyboard, and it fits in as portable of a package as you can get with these specs.

When considering buying, I'd focus on the performance section. Take a look at what your workload is and figure out if this fits into it. If it does, it's a solid buy. You can find the P1 on Lenovo.com here.

 

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