Outside of its mobile-workstation-grade machines, Lenovo already has a “Think”-branded laptop aimed at creative professionals: the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, which competes with elite systems like the Apple MacBook Pro 16, the Dell XPS 15, and the Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED. But kit those machines out, and all cost more than $2,000—way more, in the case of the $3,899 Apple and the near-$4,500 HP ZBook Create G7. Lenovo’s small-business-minded ThinkBook 15p (starts at $954.85; around $1,350 as tested) offers creative power and a handsome 4K display at a considerably lower price. Its CPU and GPU aren’t the absolute fastest in its class, but it’s a great value for designers and video editors on a budget who don’t need all the deep manageability and security of a top-end ThinkPad.
A Top Value in Two-Tone Aluminum
The ThinkBook 15p doesn’t qualify as a mobile workstation because it has Nvidia GeForce rather than Quadro graphics, and it lacks independent software vendor (ISV) certifications for specialized design, rendering, and scientific apps. And it doesn’t match the ThinkPad X1 Extreme for a host of reasons. For one, it hasn’t passed MIL-STD durability torture tests as ThinkPads have. Also, its screen uses IPS instead of the more brilliant and expensive OLED technology, and it has no Thunderbolt 3 or 4 port for exotic drive arrays or external graphics. Furthermore, its processor lacks Intel’s vPro manageability for corporate IT departments.
But our test model 20V30020US—between $1,300 and $1,400 at etailers like Walmart, Newegg, and CDW at this writing—is nevertheless a bargain. It gets you a six-core Intel Core i7-10750H CPU, 16GB of memory, a 512GB NVMe solid-state drive, 4GB GeForce GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q graphics, a 3,840-by-2,160-pixel non-touch screen, and Windows 10 Pro. Also at this writing, the only configuration at Lenovo.com offered inferior (Core i5, 256GB SSD, 1080p) hardware for a higher “web price” of $1,469, though it was on sale for $954.85. So, like with many Lenovo and competing laptops, you may find the pricing fungible when you look.
At 0.78 by 14.1 by 9.8 inches, the ThinkBook is a match for the Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED (0.78 by 14 by 9.8 inches), though a few grams lighter at 4.2 pounds. The Dell XPS 15 is a bit more compact, at 0.71 by 13.6 by 9.1 inches and 4 pounds. Its aluminum case features two shades of gray with monochromatic Lenovo and ThinkBook logos (no flashy chrome) on the lid.
The 15.6-inch screen has medium-thin side borders and thicker top and bottom bezels. The top bezel holds a webcam with a sliding privacy shutter. The camera lacks face-recognition capability, but the power button doubles as a fingerprint reader for Windows Hello. (You can turn the PC on and sign in with one press.)
We’re disappointed to see an over-$1,000 laptop without a Thunderbolt 3 or 4 port, but the Lenovo otherwise offers good connectivity. On the left are HDMI and Ethernet ports, USB 3.2 Type-A and Type-C ports, an audio jack, and the connector for the AC adapter. Another USB-A port, an SD card slot, and a security-cable locking notch are on the right. Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth are standard.
One of the Brightest
We hope to see 400 nits of brightness from a laptop screen but often settle for 300, so the ThinkBook’s 600-nit panel is a sunny surprise—it’s one of the rare displays that doesn’t look dim if you dial the backlight down a few notches.
Colors from this screen are rich and well saturated—the company says the screen is calibrated to 100% of the Adobe RGB gamut—and contrast is high. Wide viewing angles and crisp details, thanks to 4K native resolution, add to the appeal.
If the screen is a match for its ThinkPad cousins (well, all but the OLED models), the keyboard falls a bit short of that standard. On the upside, the key backlighting is bright, and the numeric keypad and top-row shortcut keys are handy. (The latter bunch includes microphone mute, video call start and end, and access to online support.) The typing feel is snappy, if a bit shallow. A smallish, buttonless touchpad glides and taps smoothly and takes gentle pressure to click.
On the minus side, you must team the Fn and arrow keys in key combinations to make up for the absence of dedicated Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys. Also, the cursor arrows are in the clumsy row I eternally excoriate on HP laptops—with half-size up and down arrows sandwiched between full-size left and right—instead of the proper inverted T.
The 720p webcam captures reasonably well-lit and colorful images, but its focus isn’t sharp and there’s a bit of digital noise. Bottom-mounted speakers produce adequate audio, not particularly loud and missing bass but with clean highs and midtones; you can make out overlapping tracks clearly enough. Dolby software lets you choose music, movie, game, or voice presets or play with an equalizer.
A Lenovo Vantage utility centralizes system-update and security options and hardware settings. Lenovo preloads a McAfee LiveSafe trial and backs the ThinkBook 15p with a one-year warranty.
Performance Testing: Creative Pros Compete
In constructing our benchmark charts below, I chose the MSI Prestige 15 so the ThinkBook 15p wouldn’t be the only contender with a six-core processor. (That said, the Prestige uses a U-series low-power chip, versus the ThinkBook’s heavier-hitting H-series.) The Apple MacBook Pro 16, the Dell XPS 15, and the Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED XC all have eight-core CPUs (and the last has a mighty GeForce RTX 3070 GPU that makes it the overdog in our graphics tests). All have high-resolution screens—4K for the ThinkBook, the Prestige, and the Aero; 3,840 by 2,400 pixels for the Dell; and 3,072 by 1,920 for the Apple. You can see their basic specs in the table below.
Productivity and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better. (See more about how we test laptops.)
All four Windows laptops breezed past the 4,000 points that indicate excellent productivity in PCMark 10—they’re overkill for Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. Today’s swift SSDs all deliver similarly fast results for everyday tasks in PCMark 8’s storage measurement.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing benchmark, in which we put a stopwatch on systems as they transcode a brief movie from 4K resolution down to 1080p. It, too, is a tough test for multi-core, multi-threaded CPUs; lower times are better.
Six processing cores are rarely a match for eight, but the ThinkBook acquitted itself well in our processing tests. It can’t keep up with the fastest workstations, but it won’t make you wait impatiently for media editing operations.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each task and add up the total. (Lower times are better.) The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters.
The Lenovo wasn’t the quickest laptop ever to complete this exercise, but its brisk performance combines with its bright 4K screen to make it a first-rate image editing platform.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and lets high-end PCs and gaming rigs strut their stuff.
The Gigabyte’s bleeding-edge GeForce RTX 30 series GPU predictably clobbered the competition in this gaming simulation, but the ThinkBook can deliver decent gameplay at 1080p resolution.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene, this one rendered in the eponymous Unigine engine for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
With the Dell balking at this test and the MacBook Pro not running our Windows benchmarks, we have only three sets of results to compare. The Lenovo edged out the last-place MSI, far behind the overpowering Aero but fast enough to handle a little after-hours gaming if you’re so inclined.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation short film Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system quits.
Can a ThinkBook Undercut a ThinkPad?
The much-better-equipped ThinkBook 15p available from a host of online retailers, with a lower price than the model at Lenovo.com, is quite a find, and the 15p as a whole is good enough to make buyers considering a ThinkPad X1 Extreme think twice.
Since it’s intended for content creators, its poor support for multiple monitors is a minus—there’s an HDMI port, but no Thunderbolt connectors, and the USB-C port lacks DisplayPort functionality—but its own screen is extremely attractive. The ThinkBook comes up shy of Editors’ Choice honors, but it is well worth a look from wallet-conscious creatives who need a bright, color-accurate screen, a little GPU muscle, and H-series CPU power at a midrange-laptop price.
Lenovo ThinkBook 15p Specs
|Laptop Class||Business, Desktop Replacement|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-10750H|
|Processor Speed||2.6 GHz|
|RAM (as Tested)||16 GB|
|Boot Drive Type||SSD|
|Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)||512 GB|
|Screen Size||15.6 inches|
|Native Display Resolution||3,840 by 2,160|
|Variable Refresh Support||None|
|Screen Refresh Rate||60 Hz|
|Graphics Processor||Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti (Max-Q)|
|Graphics Memory||4 GB|
|Wireless Networking||802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6)|
|Dimensions (HWD)||0.78 by 14.1 by 9.8 inches|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Pro|
|Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes)||11:07|