A Hands-On Review of the Lenovo ThinkPad P52s
Michael Alba posted on June 01, 2018 |
The Lenovo ThinkPad P52s. (Image courtesy of Lenovo.)
The Lenovo ThinkPad P52s. (Image courtesy of Lenovo.)

If you’re looking for a high horsepower mobile workstation, the new Lenovo ThinkPad P52s might be the answer. The ThinkPad has been a staple of business power users since it was introduced by IBM in 1992, and has benefited from decades of refinement by two tech powerhouses (the ThinkPad line was acquired by Lenovo in 2005).

The latest edition to the ThinkPad P Series of mobile workstations is the ThinkPad P52s. We got our hands on the P52s to put it to the test.

The Specs

The Lenovo ThinkPad lineup is already bursting at the seams with options—from the premium lightweight X Series to the economical E Series—but each model is also individually configurable. Here are the min/max specs of the P52s, along with the specs of our review unit:

Minimum

Maximum

Our Review Unit

CPU

8th Gen Intel Core i5-8350U (1.70GHz, up to 3.60GHz, 6MB Cache)

8th Gen Intel Core i7-8650U (1.90GHz, up to 4.20GHz, 8MB Cache)

8th Gen Intel Core i7-8650U (1.90GHz, up to 4.20GHz, 8MB Cache)

GPU

NVIDIA Quadro P500 2GB GDDR5

NVIDIA Quadro P500 2GB GDDR5

NVIDIA Quadro P500 2GB GDDR5 + Intel UHDP P620

Display

15.6inFHD (1920 x 1080) IPS anti-glare (touchscreen optional)

15.6in4K UHD (3840 x 2160) IPS anti-glare (no touchscreen)

15.6in4K UHD (3840 x 2160) IPS anti-glare (no touchscreen)

Memory

8GB DDR4 2400MHz

32GB DDR4 (16 + 16) 2400MHz

16GB DDR4 (8 + 8) 2400MHz

Storage

500GB Hard Disk Drive, 7200rpm, 2.5in, SATA3, OPAL2.0 - Capable

1TB Solid State Drive, PCIe-NVMe OPAL2.0 M.2

1TB Solid State Drive, PCIe-NVMe OPAL2.0 M.2 (Samsung MZVLB1T0HALR)

The entry-level version of the P52s comes in at $1,189. If you splurge and spec it out, you’re looking at $2,564. In both cases, the price is quite competitive for a mobile workstation.

Let’s take a moment to discuss the graphics card in the P52s. This is one spec you can’t customize: you’re locked into the NVIDIA Quadro P500. A Quadro GPU is definitely what you’re looking for in an engineering workstation, as they’re optimized for CAD applications, but the P500 is far from the top of the Quadro line. It would have been great to at least see some higher-end GPUs as an option for the P52s. That said, if you are looking for a beefier Quadro, you can find one in other P Series ThinkPad models. The P71, for example, can be configured up to a Quadro P5000.

The Build

The ThinkPad P52s. (Image courtesy of Lenovo.)
The ThinkPad P52s. (Image courtesy of Lenovo.)

The ThinkPad lineup may look a little utilitarian compared to stylish laptops like the MacBook Pro or the Microsoft Surface Book. It’s not rocking a slick aluminum body or stylish hinge, but the P52s packs a punch where it counts—the keyboard and display are two of this laptop’s greatest assets.

Let’s start with the keyboard.If you care at all about the tactile experience of typing, you’ll find the P52s keyboard immensely satisfying. The keys have a deep travel and are generously spaced—which is impressive considering the P52s also packs a full numpad. If you’re working with spreadsheets or doing anything that involves lots of numbers, the numpad is a blessing. The keyboard also hosts the ThinkPad’s signature red TrackPoint button—that little nub you can use to position the cursor. We didn’t find ourselves using the TrackPoint much at all, but some users swear by it.

The ThinkPad P52s’s keyboard provides an exceptional typing experience.
The ThinkPad P52s’s keyboard provides an exceptional typing experience.

The top row of the keyboard doubles as your function keys and special hotkeys (for volume, brightness, etc.), which is the norm in compact keyboards. However, if you’re a fan of keyboard shortcuts (and anyone shopping around for a mobile workstation might just fit that bill), you’ll probably find yourself wishing for a dedicated function key row. Turning the function lock on and off gets pretty old after a while, but, really, that’s just a minor complaint.

The signature red TrackPoint button on the ThinkPad P52s.
The signature red TrackPoint button on the ThinkPad P52s.

On to the display. Our review unit had the 4K UHD screen, which packs a whopping 3840x2160 resolution, and looks incredible. Colors are sharp, blacks are black, and the screen suffers from almost no glare. It can also be tilted back a full 90 degrees while staying readable the entire time (why you would want your screen laying flat on the table, though, is a bit of a mystery).

The one drawback—at least of the UHD option—is the lack of a touchscreen. This may or may not matter to you, but it was a bit of an adjustment for someone who’s accustomed to tapping, pinching and scrolling directly on screen. If a touchscreen really is a must-have, though, the FHD display will provide that option—at the cost of a much lower 1920x1080 resolution.

Now for the not-so-great aspects of the P52s. The trackpad on the ThinkPad P52s leaves a lot to be desired. Compared to the best trackpads available (MacBooks and the Surface Book, in that order), the trackpad on the P52s is simply average. It works, but next to the beautiful display and fantastic keyboard of this workstation, the trackpad falls a bit flat.

The headphone jack, SD card reader, two USB 3.1 ports, HDMI port, and Ethernet port along the right edge of the P52s. (Image courtesy of Lenovo.)
The headphone jack, SD card reader, two USB 3.1 ports, HDMI port, and Ethernet port along the right edge of the P52s. (Image courtesy of Lenovo.)

The I/O ports are decent. You’re given two USB-C ports (one for power, the other Thunderbolt 3 to drive an external monitor), two USB 3.1 ports, an HDMI port, an Ethernet port, an SD card reader, an audio jack, and a Lenovo dock connector. Pretty good, but a third USB 3.1 port would have come in handy many times to avoid the classic game of “what can I unplug to make room for this flash drive?”

The Performance

Running SOLIDWORKS on the P52s. (Model courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)
Running SOLIDWORKS on the P52s. (Model courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

In our daily use of the ThinkPad P52s, we found a lot to appreciate. As you would expect from the specs, the machine boots up quickly, runs well, and handles numerous applications without trouble. We also had a smooth experience in the more graphics-heavy applications, like 3D modeling and video editing. However, mileage may vary—in our benchmark tests, the NVIDIA Quadro P500 GPU consistently obtained below average results. The Intel Core i7-8650U, in contrast, performed admirably in all tests. In other words, the P52s is great for standard tasks like surfing the web, playing videos, and working in Office, but don’t expect it to outperform a dedicated workstation when it comes to 3D modeling.

Another minor annoyance with the P52s is the sound of its fan when you start putting some strain on the machine’s resources. Even under the best of circumstances, you’ll hear a quiet background hum. In addition, there are vents along the left edge of the workstation’s base, so you’ll definitely notice some hot air next to the keyboard. Not exactly a huge deal, but it can be distracting all the same.

The ThinkPad P52s’s swappable battery.
The ThinkPad P52s’s swappable battery.

As for the battery life, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. In our numerous tests across different power modes (better performance or better battery), we never exceeded three and a half hours of screen-on time. The average session was just over three hours, despite the P52s being advertised as having “all-day battery life.” But here’s the good news: the P52s packs what Lenovo calls “Power Bridge technology,” which means it’s got both an internal battery and a swappable battery pack. So, if your battery is running low (and you have a spare charged battery), you can simply swap in a spare without having to shut down your system.

We also encountered a few annoying quirks in everyday use. For example, most of the time the P52s was connected to an external monitor through the Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port. Occasionally, after waking from sleep, the ThinkPad would not recognize the external display, requiring us to unplug and replug the connector. Additionally, on more than one occasion, unplugging the external display would cause the ThinkPad’s native display to shut off as well. The only solution we found to this problem was a hard restart. We also encountered trouble with the SD card reader—it turned out that it was disabled in the BIOS. An easy enough fix, but a waste of 10 minutes of troubleshooting all the same. (Of course, we can only speak to our specific review unit. We haven’t seen similar complaints, so we’ll give the P52s the benefit of the doubt on these points).

The Verdict

The ThinkPad P52s with the display tilted back. (Image courtesy of Lenovo.)
The ThinkPad P52s with the display tilted back. (Image courtesy of Lenovo.)

Overall, the ThinkPad P52s is a creditable laptop that power users will certainly appreciate. The gorgeous UHD display is among the best we’ve seen, and the numpad-equipped keyboard is an absolute pleasure to use. Throw in the powerful processors, swappable battery and customizability, and you’re looking at a mobile workstation that could complement almost any engineering role.

We’ll leave you with this summary of what was good, what was bad, and what was okay with the ThinkPad P52s:

The Good

In the Middle

The Bad

  • The display: the 4K UHD 3840x2160 screen looks amazing, reduces glare, and offers exceptional viewing angles
  • The keyboard: The keyboard provides one of the most comfortable typing experiences around, and the numpad is an excellent addition
  • The graphics card: We personally had no issues with the Quadro P500, but heavier 3D tasks might strain the P52s
  • The trackpad: Nothing to write home about here; it works, but you’ll probably want to plug in a mouse
  • The battery: While we only averaged around 3 hours of battery life, the P52s offers a swappable battery pack; if you come prepared, you won’t have any trouble
  • The fan: You might want to wear noise-canceling headphones around the P52s, because the fan can get pretty loud
  • The quirks: While we can only speak to our review unit, the occasional blips with the display got quite frustrating

Check out the video version of this review here. For another engineering.com ThinkPad review, check out Lenovo X1 Carbon is the Dream Laptop for the Engineering Manager.


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