The Bottom Line
Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
We have looked at a few of Lenovo's workstation-type notebooks and PCs, and today we are looking at a ThinkPad designed to be more of a mobile workstation hybrid notebook. Under the ThinkPad brand, the P51 can be configured in multiple ways.
You can get it with a consumer Core i7 CPU or an E3 Xeon, with up to an NVIDIA Quadro M1200 4GB GPU, mobile broadband, and even 64GB of memory.
Let's take a look at one very equipped notebook; the ThinkPad P51.
The ThinkPad P51 we used came with an Intel Xeon E3-1505v6 CPU (4C8T up to 4GHz, 45W TDP), a 15.6" 1080P 10-point multi-touch IPS display, an NVIDIA Quadro M2200 GPU, 16GB of DDR4, and a 512GB M.2 SSD.
Our unit also came with a 6-Cell 90WHr battery, Thunderbolt 3, a Qualcomm Snapdragon X7 LTE-A wireless modem, and X-Rite Pantone color calibration. The notebook is 14.86"x9.93"x0.96-1.02" (LxWxH) and weighs 5.6lbs (2.5Kg).
The ThinkPad P51 starts at $1,340, but our version is closer to $2,300.
The Lenovo ThinkPad P51 packaging is pretty straightforward. The notebook is well protected in the box, as are the accessories. The battery is not installed in the notebook when it's shipped, you will find it in the accessory box.
Accessories include a firstname.lastname@example.org 170W AC/DC power supply. Lenovo Active Pen with battery, 90Wh battery, and manuals.
The top and bottom of the unit use a strong plastic composite that doesn't pick up fingerprints as easily as a rubber-coated metal surface, but it will pick up oil. The notebook feels very durable, and the hinges are tight and sturdy. The "I" in ThinkPad lights up when the notebook is turned on. The bottom of the notebook features four rubber feet and many vents for cooling.
The notebook features exhaust vents at the rear and sides. At the rear of the notebook, we find two USB 3.0 ports (one is always on), 1Gbit LAN, Thunderbolt 3.0, HDMI, and DC power input. On the left side, we find a 4-in-1 card reader and an ExpressCard/34mm slot. On the right side, we find two more USB 3.0 ports, mini-DP 1.2 port, Kensington lock slot, and headphone/mic jack.
The Lenovo ThinkPad P51 has a beautiful display, and although it is 1080P, I felt that the quality of the picture was quite good. I will say it does not get as bright as I would personally like. The active pen and touchscreen go together well in case you want to write or draw with the pen. The QWERTY keyboard also has a number pad attached to it, and you get two sets of mouse buttons as well as the soft dome TrackPoint cap.
The keyboard has many shortcuts, and you can find out everything the notebook has to offer through the Lenovo Companion application. I don't like how the "Ctrl" key isn't all the way in the lower left-hand corner, and there is a specific option to swap the functionality of both the "Fn" and "Ctrl" keys. The keyboard does have a backlight, and it's as bright as many other keyboards, but you can't change the color of the light.
A 720P HD camera and dual-array microphone are located at the top of the lid. An X-Rite Pantone color calibration sensor is built into our unit and can calibrate the colors on the display.
Physical Overview Continued
We get a fingerprint reader under the arrow keys. In the battery bay, we find the SIM card slot for the LTE modem.
Did I mention that the keyboard is spill resistant? If you spill liquid on the keyboard, it will drain through the little hole on the backside of the notebook.
A docking connection is also present and will work with Lenovo's custom docks. The ExpressCard 34mm slot has a protective dust blocker in place.
The display can rotate an entire 180 degrees. The notebook is also designed to be easily upgraded, removing a few screws and pulled the cover off the back of the notebook reveals easy access to storage and RAM.
Our notebook has 16GB of DDR4, but the two top slots facing us are not occupied, they just have black stickers on them. Our 512GB M.2 drive can be accompanied by a second M.2 drive and a 2.5" SATA drive. The CMOS battery is also easily accessible.
Software and BIOS
X-Rite's Pantone color calibrator has a software application that is customized for the notebook. You can use it to calibrate the colors on your screen, but all I see is that the grays got a bit darker, but my screen might have already been calibrated. You can customize the keyboard's special function keys through Keyboard Manager.
The Lenovo Companion can change hardware settings, update your system, and help diagnose problems. Lenovo's App Explorer centralizes some applications.
You can even swap the Fn and Ctrl keys through the software, which is a godsend because I would assume most people who learned how to use a computer in the past 20 years always had the control key in the bottommost left corner. I assume it's a holdover from the original ThinkPad.
You can even optimize cooling and battery charging. Lenovo's active protection system is also intact, but I have never seen an SSD get damaged by a fall.
If you press enter during startup you get a menu where you can access the BIOS, diagnose hardware faults, recover the system, and even enter Intel's ME BIOS extension manager program. The BIOS itself has many configuration options and is very high on security.
If you want to access MEBx, the default password is admin, and you will need to set a password more than eight characters long and with at least one upper case letter, one number, and one nonalphanumeric symbol. You can also disable individual features.
System Performance Benchmarks
CPU, Memory, and System Benchmarks
These benchmarks are run using default settings and configuration.
AIDA64 AES and HASH
Handbrake 4K and 720P Transcoding
UNIGINE Heaven 4.0
The Lenovo ThinkPad P51 we have isn't using the strongest CPU Lenovo offers in this model, but it's performing quite well, especially when the application requires high single-threaded performance. The Xeons offered are typically in the 45W TDP range, so they do use a bit more power and output a bit more heat, but they also offer solid performance for that power increase over the 15W U-series CPUs used in thin notebooks.
The Quadro and Xeon work well together in certain applications such as HandBrake, but the Quadro isn't optimized for gaming, it's designed for professional use, and many of our 3D benchmarks don't capture that.
System IO and Battery Performance
System IO Benchmarks
Internal Storage Read Test:
Internal Storage Write Test:
ixChariot Network Throughput:
The Samsung NVMe SSD used here is super-fast in both reads and writes. Network performance is also very good, but we weren't able to test WAN capabilities, just LAN.
The battery performance is great, and it's really surprising that the Battery Eater results are extremely high, but the PCMark Home Battery test isn't as high as it should be. If we look at the Dell Rugged notebook, it has almost the same Battery Eater time, but a much higher PCMark battery test time.
I believe that this is due to the Quadro being more efficient at rendering the 3D scene in Battery Eater, showing that battery time compared to consumer parts is increased when dealing with tasks the Quadro is more optimized for.
Thermal Performance and Noise
Thermal Imaging and Noise
The screen of the notebook doesn't get extremely hot, and the keyboard does get a bit warm after 30minutes of stressing synthetically, but it's not that uncomfortable.
We can see the fans really rev up at load, but at idle we barely see the cool area where the fans' air intake is, meaning they are probably not running or are running very slowly. The notebook has very good noise levels, and the fans do not typically howl. The notebook has very acceptable noise levels.
What's Hot, What's Not & Final Thoughts
Here are key points about the Lenovo ThinkPad P51.
Mobile Xeon and Quadro: Lenovo's ThinkPads are all about getting the job done, and here the ThinkPad is about getting workstation-type tasks done on the go. With the Mobile Xeon, you get security, and the Quadro helps improve the performance when dealing with CAD and professional rendering software. Both the Quadro and Xeon also should provide increased durability and reliability. Some people require both of these in a relatively portable package, and for them, a mobile workstation such as this if the way to go.
LTE Connectivity: If you are in the field and need to access the internet, it's not always possible to find a trusted WIFI hotspot, and that's when an LTE modem makes sense. While you can easily buy these types of modems from your cell phone carrier, they are external devices, here you have it integrated, which has many advantages.
Thunderbolt 3 and USB: If you are in a professional editing environment and work with very large files, Thunderbolt 3 is the way to go for backup and transfers. It's much faster than most LAN setups, and the port is backward compatible with USB 3.1 and other type-C devices. The notebook also offers a good amount of USB ports, and I like their position at the rear of the device. One of the USB ports also stays on when the notebook is off.
Usability: Battery life rocks, it lasts pretty much all day. The notebook isn't that heavy either, so you will be able to carry it around with ease and even without a case or backpack. Lenovo also offers many options in regards to input control. You have a touchpad with two sets of buttons, TrackPoint, and even an active pen. If that wasn't enough, you also can customize many aspects of the keyboard.
Quiet Operation: Stressing the CPU and GPU with synthetics for a while will make the fans ramp up, but during normal use, we found the notebook noise to be quite bearable when it comes to fan noise. The cooling system is well optimized to provide a quieter than usual experience.
Speakers: The speakers aren't the best; if you want to play a game or watch Netflix with the built-in speakers you might not be super impressed with their loudness level.
Screen a bit dim: The screen isn't the brightest. While it offers great viewing, it's not bright enough to be easily viewable in a bright situation such as under the sun.
Construction quality of the ThinkPad P51 is excellent; the notebook feels solid, like a tool. It is well thought out and offers a wide variety of physical features we liked such as a spill-resistant keyboard, removable battery, and simple upgrade capabilities. It is great for business and enterprise where you need high security and manageability.
The performance was excellent as well, and the notebook cools itself down efficiently without crazy annoying fan noise. Battery life was also impressive, at least with the 1080P display. The notebook offers some of the latest modern features such as Thunderbolt 3 and an LTE modem.
If you want a notebook to double as a true mobile workstation with solid performance at a reasonable price, you should give the Lenovo P51 a close look.
The Bottom Line: Lenovo's ThinkPad P51 offers a high degree of manageability, excellent performance, and high-quality construction in a truly portable package with solid battery life.
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