Review

Lenovo ThinkPad P17 review: Intel Xeon and Quadro RTX power

Lenovo's ThinkPad P-series is for mobile workstations, and the 17-inch version is always a blast to review, because it's just a beast. I'll tell you right now, in my time with the ThinkPad P17, I simply used it like I would use a desktop. It had dual 4K monitors connected to it, I edited 4K 60fps video on it, and so on, and it never even broke a sweat.

That's the kind of power that we're talking about here, and actually, a whole lot more. With an Intel Xeon W-10885M, it's got some power and it's made to perform some complex tasks. If you're doing 3D rendering and stuff like that, this is for you.

And the other key part of that is the Nvidia Quadro RTX 5000 graphics card, which comes with 16GB GDDR6. That means that you get a ton of video memory, real-time ray tracing, and more.

Specs

CPU Intel Xeon W-10885M
GPU NVIDIA Quadro RTX 5000 16GB GDDR6
Body 415.44x280.81x25.11-33.25mm (16.36x11.06x0.99-1.31"), 7.7lbs
Display 17.3 inches, UHD (3820x2160) HDR400, Dolby Vision WVA Anti-glare – 500 nits
Ports (2) USB-A 3.2 Gen 1
(1) USB-C 3.2 Gen 1
(2) USB-C Thunderbolt 3
(1) RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet
(1) HDMI 2.0
(1) Microphone / Headphone Combo Jack
(1) Optional 4-in-1 Media Card Reader
(1) Optional nano-SIM Tray
Memory 2x16GB (DDR4 3200)
Storage 512GB M.2 2280 SSD PCIe NVMe
Battery 94WHr
Connectivity Intel AX201 11ax, 2x2 + BT5.1
Camera IR camera and HD720p camera, fixed focus with ThinkShutter
Input 6-row, spill-resistant, multimedia Fn keys, LED backlight
TrackPoint pointing device and multi-touch touchpad
Audio 2 x 2W Speakers with Dolby Atmos Audio
Security Power-on password, hard disk password, supervisor password, security keyhole
Discrete TPM 2.0, TCG Certified, optional Intel vPro technology, Match-on-chip FPR
Material Display cover: GFRP + PPS
Bottom: PPS + GF
Color Black
OS Windows 10 Pro for Workstations
Price $4,888.82


Note that Lenovo.com ThinkPad pricing is always subject to change, as there's always some discount or another running. The price before the current discount is $8,429.

Day one

Design

If you imagine what a ThinkPad is supposed to look like, and then you imagine it as a monster of a PC that's literally as powerful as mobile computers get, you'll land on what the ThinkPad P17 looks and feels like. It weighs in at nearly eight pounds, and I can't even fit it into my backpack. It's almost one and a third inches thick.

Despite all of that, Lenovo actually calls it thin and light in its reviewer's guide. The top is made out of Polyphenylene sulfide and glass-fiber, while the bottom is made out of polyamide and glass-fiber. These are light materials to use, and they're also durable. As is the case with all ThinkPads, this machine passed over a dozen MIL-STD-810G tests.

Top-down view of ThinkPad P17

From the top-down view, it's just a big ThinkPad, coming in all black with the silver ThinkPad logo. The logo isn't the one that Lenovo uses on premium X1 or P1 ThinkPads, but this is certainly more powerful than any of those.

Side view of ThinkPad P17

But from a side view, it's nice and thick, and just as you would expect, there are tons of ports. On the left, there's a USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A port, which sadly means that it only supports 5Gbps speeds, whereas USB 3.2 Gen 2 would have supported 10Gbps. There's also an HDMI 2.0 port, a 3.5mm audio jack, and a SIM tray if you configured this with cellular connectivity.

Side view of ThinkPad P17

On the right, there are two more USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports, along with an SD card reader and a Kensington Lock. There's also a slot for a Smart Card reader if you opted for it when you purchased the machine.

Side view of ThinkPad P17

That's not all though, because there are even more ports on the back. You'll find three USB Type-C ports back there, one of which is USB 3.2 Gen 1 while the other two are Thunderbolt 3. There's also an Ethernet port and a power port, because USB Type-C power delivery wouldn't support nearly enough wattage to power this beast.

Overall, the design is what I'd call unmanageable, which is common for 17-inch laptops, let alone 17-inch laptops that are as big as this one. I think that this is something that you buy if it's going to remain stationary for 75-90% of the time. If it stays on your desk 100% of the time, you should get a desktop workstation, and if you're taking it on the go more of the time, you'll want something that's a bit easier to carry like the 15.6-inch ThinkPad P15.

Display and audio

The ThinkPad P17 has, you guessed it, a 17.3-inch screen. There are two options, one of which is 1080p at 300-nit brightness and one of which is 4K UHD at 500-nit brightness, also supporting Dolby Vision HDR.

Front view of ThinkPad P17 screen

The one that Lenovo sent me has the 4K display, which is still 16:9, unsurprisingly. Personally, I think that's the one to get. I don't even want 1080p at 15.6, let alone 17.3 inches. And also, 300 nits is too dim for me on a laptop, as you never know when you need to take it on the road.

On a machine like this, I feel like the display is particularly important. You might be using it to edit high-resolution, high frame rate video like I did, or you can be using it for anything else. But whatever it is, you're going to want to be able to see it in its finest detail. Plus, the 2160p version comes with support for Dolby Vision HDR, so everything is just going to look better.

Angled view of ThinkPad P17 screen

Of course, 2160p has four times as many pixels as 1080p, and that means that the higher resolution comes at a cost to battery life. You can also keep in mind that the internals are already very powerful, so don't be surprised when the battery life isn't very good.

Close up of ThinkPad P17 speaker

One thing that's new this year is the Dolby Atmos speaker system, using two 2W speakers in a soundbar that's placed above the keyboard. On the ThinkPad P72, which is this device's predecessor, it had Dolby Audio. I'd say that the biggest difference this time around is that the sound is clearer, and overall, it's an impressive system.

Keyboard, touchpad, and TrackPoint

As usual, the keyboard is a winner, although Lenovo's full 1.5mm key throw is really starting to feel like too much to me. Still, it's accurate and comfortable.

Top down view of ThinkPad P17 keyboard

As I mentioned earlier, I very much used this PC in the same way that I'd use a desktop PC, with a couple of 4K monitors attached and doing heavy duty tasks. Naturally, the keyboard that I used was the one on the laptop. I typed all of my articles on it for a couple of weeks, I used it for chat, and I used it for everything else. I never had a single complaint, and frankly, that's the real test.

Close up of ThinkPad P17 TrackPoint

Just like on almost every other ThinkPad except for the ThinkPad X1 Fold, the P17 comes with a TrackPoint on the keyboard. Chances are that if you're reading a review about a ThinkPad, you're aware of the little red nub that controls the pointer, and you either love it or hate it. If you hate it, as many do, you can ignore it.

Top down view of ThinkPad P17 touchpad

The Microsoft Precision touchpad is positioned to the left of the center, and that should have replaced the TrackPoint by now. Frankly, I suspect that Lenovo keeps it not just for the die hard fans, but for the iconic design. Not only does the TrackPoint sit in the middle of the keyboard, but the clickable trackpad also has physical buttons above it that can be used with either one. Every ThinkPad keyboard deck has this look.

Performance and battery life

I keep comparing this to desktop usage and performance because I feel like that's what you have to need for this to be practical. You have to need workstation-class performance and a desktop-like use case, but for some reason, be unable to get an actual desktop PC.

This thing is absolutely a beast, and the model that Lenovo sent me is specced out with an Intel Xeon W-10885M and Quadro RTX 5000 graphics. This can be configured for a variety of use cases; for example, you have a choice between Xeon and Core processors. When comparing a Xeon to a Core i9, it's not that one is better than the other, but it's more about what your workload is about.

Angled view of Lenovo ThinkPad P17

It's kind of a similar story when it comes to graphics, although it's a bit simpler. The Quadro RTX 5000 has 16GB GDDR6 memory, and it offers things like real-time ray tracing, something that can really come in handy when rendering. But you might simply not need all of that power, and that makes it not worth the extra $3,000 that it costs to add it on when configuring your ThinkPad P17.

The P17 base model comes with a Core i5-10400H CPU and a Quadro T1000 GPU. There are eight different CPU options including six Core processors and two Xeon chips, and there are five Quadro GPU options, including the T1000, T2000, RTX 3000, RTX 4000, and RTX 5000.

Of course, all of this leads to terrible battery life, which is fine. The desktop use case that I envision for this type of PC means that it's plugged in all the time anyway. Honestly, if you're taking a ThinkPad P17 mobile workstation on the road, are you really planning on being far from a power outlet for long?

For benchmarks, I used PCMark 8, PCMark 10, 3DMark, VRMark, Geekbench, and Cinebench.

ThinkPad P17
Xeon W-10885M, Quadro RTX 5000
ThinkPad P72
Xeon E-2186M, Quadro P5200
ThinkPad P53
Core i7-9850H, Quadro RTX 5000
PCMark 8: Home 4,395 4,001 4,856
PCMark 8: Creative 6,258 5,406 6,030
PCMark 8: Work 3,385 3,321 4,021
PCMark 10 6,734 5,279 6,131
3DMark: Time Spy 8,794 6,525
VRMark: Orange Room 11,721 10,312
VRMark: Blue Room 2,678 1,121
Geekbench 1,341 / 8,229
Cinebench 1,313 / 9,941


If you want, you can compare this model to the ThinkPad P53 from over a year ago, since they have the same graphics. You can see that in some areas, the Coire i9 comes out ahead, and in others, the Xeon comes out ahead.

Conclusion

The ThinkPad P17, as I've said a few times, is a beast. My only problems with it are unavoidable, such as the fact that it's massive and that battery life is not good. It's also super expensive, but that's more a result of the fact that it uses such high-end parts.

Front view of Lenovo ThinkPad P17

In fact, the P17 actually offers four times as many CPU and GPU configurations as its predecessors, and thanks to the new design, it can handle higher wattage GPUs. That can be up to 90 watts in the P15 or up to 110 watts in the P17.

I mention that for a reason. The 15.6-inch ThinkPad P15 is definitely going to be more manageable, but if you need the most power, you still have to go for the P17. Like I said earlier, you really have to need desktop performance, but for some reason, be unable to go all-in on a desktop workstation.

Also, to be clear, Lenovo's ThinkPad P-series has been around for a while, and there's nothing wild that's changing. It's got the latest specs, the 17-inch model is the most powerful, and so on.

The bottom line is that this thing is as powerful as a portable PC can get. If you want to check it out on Lenovo.com, you can find it here.

 

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