Lenovo’s ThinkPad W550s Brings Mobility to the Workstation Market
Frank J. Ohlhorst posted on July 20, 2015 |
In computing, mobility and performance may be warring ideologies. Lenovo seeks détente with the Thin...



Say the word “workstation” to engineers and the first thought that comes to their minds is a big CPU tower case attached to all sorts of peripherals lurking in a cubicle. Normally, their assumptions would be correct, unless you consider Lenovo’s ThinkPad W550s. With just a quick glance, the W550s seems to offer something for everyone in the engineering community.


It will surprise most engineers what Lenovo has wrought. Others may have doubts that high performance computing could be crammed into a package measuring 15 x 10.2 x 0.92 inches and weighing in at 5.47 pounds. Some may be impressed by the claim of mil-spec durability.


Engineers, however, are not an easy crowd, and it will take more than a cursory overview to determine if the W550s can meet the needs of the typical engineer looking to ply his or her craft beyond the walls of a cubicle.


A Closer Look at the Lenovo ThinkPad W550s

Lenovo sent a well-equipped ThinkPad W550s over to ENGINEERING.com for testing and evaluation.


The unit sported a symphony of high-performance hardware, including an Intel Core i7-5600u processor, 16GB of DDR3-1600Mhz RAM, a 512GB SSD, Quadro K620M discrete graphics and a 15.5-inch 2,880 x 1,620 screen. With a retail price of $2,460 as tested, the ThinkPad W550s proves to be on the pricey side, at least when it comes to a mobile workstation. However, the real metric that should be used to judge affordability comes in the form of value, and determining value takes more than just looking at the sticker price.


Lenovo does offer other configurations of the W550s, some with lower performance processors and less storage space, others with touch screens and higher performance processors. Simply put, Lenovo can build the W550s pretty much any way you like, as long as you check off what you want on the options list.


For bargain hunters, Lenovo offers an entry level W550s for $1,130, which includes an Intel Core i7 CPU, 1,920 x 1,080 screen, 4GB of RAM, 500GB HDD and an NVDIA Quadro K620M GPU.


The design DNA of the W550s clearly shows that the device is closely related to the ThinkPads of the past, sporting a professional look with Lenovo's classic matte-black plastic body (reinforced by carbon fiber), a chunky steel hinge and a silver ThinkPad logo embedded with a blinking red LED. The keyboard deck is also surrounded by a matte-black bezel, as is the screen.


Other physical nuances include a fingerprint reader located below the arrow keys and an offset touchpad beneath the spacebar. Ports are placed along the sides, while the underside features multiple vents for the GPU and CPU.



The W550s sports military-standard 810G durability. In other words, the device has been tested to withstand temperatures ranging from -4 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, humidity up to 98 percent, UV radiation and more. The carbon-fiber-reinforced body is also designed to resist high acceleration and repeated mechanical shock. Above the display, an integrated webcam offers 1,280 x 720 recording resolution and supports video up to 30 fps.


As far as ports go, the W550s splits those between the left and right sides of the computer and hosts connections for power, VGA, headset, Ethernet, SD card and one USB 3.0 slot on the left side, while two USB 3.0 ports and a mini DisplayPort are located on the right side. Additional connectivity is provided by a connector located on the underside for Lenovo's ThinkPad Ultradock ($300), which adds multiple video connections (VGA, DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort), headset jack, 6 USB ports and pass-through charging for those temporally tethered to a desk.


The system bundles in an assortment of security and management features, ranging from a case-lock slot for physically securing the system to a built-in fingerprint reader for simple secure login. Wireless connectivity is also well represented with the system’s 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 radios, as well as support for Intel WiDi, which allows users to wirelessly stream HD video and audio. That proves to be a pretty nifty feature for those looking to do presentations with the system, collaborate on projects or just plain wow an audience.


One very interesting feature of the W550s is the keyboard, which is larger than what one would find on a typical ultrabook and also includes a separate numeric keypad. Those used to smaller, notebook-size keyboards may have some trouble adjusting to the larger key pitch and long, 2.3-millimeter travel distance offered by the W550s. However, those expecting a desktop keyboard look and feel will not be disappointed by the quality design of the W550s keyboard.


Much the same can be said about the spacious 4 x 2.2-inch touchpad, which works in tandem with three additional mouse buttons, and an old-style pointing stick. That combo provides a multitude of control options, yet cannot replace the preciseness of a high DPI mouse.


Perhaps the most impressive feature of the W550s comes in the form of battery life. The unit offers a combination of a 3-cell internal and 6-cell 72 watt-hour external batteries, which provide plenty of reserve power. The W550s easily surpassed 15 hours of use for web surfing, watching video and a combination of other day-to-day chores. However, running high performance applications such as AutoCAD, Adobe Premiere and other applications will drain the battery a little faster. That said, one should still expect a solid 12 hours of productivity out of the W550s and much more if all of the power-saving technologies are enabled.


Performance wise, the W550s did not disappoint, benchmarking the unit with PassMark’s Performance Test 8.0 gave the system an overall PassMark score of 2,725, which is on the upper end of portable system performance.


Testing with Geekbench 3.0 revealed an overall system performance score of 6,860, which demonstrates that the W550s is comparable to its main competitor, the HP ZBook 15u G2, which scored a 6,892 when equipped with an Intel Core i7-5600 CPU, 16GB of RAM and 256GB PCIe SSD.


Thanks to the included discrete GPU (NVDIA Quadro K620M), the W550s posted some decent scores with 3DMark (Fire Strike Extreme), scoring a respectable 706. Other graphics tests told much the same story, with CINEBENCH R15 offering a score of 274 and SPECviewperf V11, which is designed for testing 3D performance, offered 15.68 fps on the 1920 x 1080 Pro/ENGINEER subset test.


Naturally, performance is a somewhat variable element, and is impacted by the type of work the W550s is destined for. With that in mind, Lenovo has tried to offer enough performance for those graphics professionals who are looking to work on the go.


However, between the numerous ports on the device and an available docking station, the W550s may very well find a home on many a desk, especially when one considers the unit can drive two external monitors and sports numerous USB ports on the docking station for peripherals such as pointing devices, keyboards, scanners and so forth.



The ThinkPad W550s proves to have excellent battery life, coupled with workstation-level performance, meaning that those performing tasks requiring high performance should be able to be fully productive throughout the work day.


There are a few nits to pick, such as the unit being a little on the heavy side and lacking some capabilities, such as an integrated Blu-ray optical drive. What’s more, there is the specter of sticker shock, since custom configurations quickly add dollars to the price, making the W550s a pricey ultrabook.


Nonetheless, most engineers could do far worse when picking a portable workstation solution.


 Lenovo ThinkPad W550s

Pros: Strong performance for the money; military-grade 810G durability; bright, crisp and clear 15.5-inch 2,880 x 1,620 IPS display; excellent battery life; large, well-designed spill-proof keyboard and multi-function trackpad; three-year warranty.


Cons: Expensive when fully equipped; somewhat heavy by today’s standards; lacks integrated optical drive option; tinny, low-powered audio; low resolution web cam; thick bezels that make the system look less than stylish.



About the Author

Frank Ohlhorst is an award-winning technology journalist and IT industry analyst with extensive experience as a business consultant, editor, author and blogger. Frank works with both technology startups and established technology ventures, helping them to build channel programs, launch products, validate product quality, create marketing materials, and develop case studies, eBooks and white papers.

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