Lenovo ThinkPad P15 Gen 2 – Review 2021

After winning our Editors’ Choice Award for mobile workstations with the ThinkPad P15, what does Lenovo do for an encore? The ThinkPad P15 Gen 2 (starting at $ 1,709) serves refreshments in the form of Intel’s 11th generation CPUs, Nvidia’s “Ampere” class professional graphics and faster PCI Express Gen 4 storage. It’s heavy and very expensive – our test unit rang up to $ 5,382, and that’s it without one of the available 4K monitors — but it’s a prime choice for smashing giant datasets or handling hard 3D rendering and design jobs.

From (not so) mild to wild

While the base model is content with a six-core Core i5 processor and Nvidia T1200 GPU, our P15 Gen 2 is packed in an eight-core, 2.6 GHz (5.0 GHz turbo) Core i9-11950H and 16 GB Nvidia RTX A5000 Max-Q graphics, along with 32GB of memory and a 1TB NVMe solid-state drive. (The RTX A-Series graphics are the successor to the well-known Nvidia Quadro line.)

Lenovo ThinkPad P15 Gen 2 rear view

The RAM limit is 128 GB, with error-correcting code (ECC) memory available for Intel Xeon configurations, and there is room for three 2TB SSDs. Except for the 300-nit, 1,920-to-1,080-pixel basic display, all display options support Dolby Vision: our machine’s 500-nit, 1080p IPS panel; and 600 nit, 3,840 x 2,160 IPS; and a 500 nit, 3,840 x 2,160 OLED, the only touch screen at the bottom. Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth are standard, with optional 4G connectivity.

The ThinkPad P15 Gen 2 is a bruise among 15.6-inch laptops that measures 1.24 x 14.7 x 9.9 inches and weighs 6.32 pounds. It tops the Dell Precision 7550 (1.1 x 14.2 x 9.5 inches and 6 pounds) and makes the HP ZBook Power G8, an entry-level mobile workstation, look like a 0.9 x 14.2 x ultraportable 9.2 inches and 4.16 pounds.

Lenovo ThinkPad P15 Gen 2 Left Angle

Made of hard plastic and fiberglass with an internal magnesium frame, Lenovo has passed the MIL-STD 810G torture test for shocks, vibrations and extreme environments; there is almost no flex if you grab the corners of the screen or press the keyboard cover. The frames around the screen are outdated, though the top frame makes room for a face-recognition webcam with sliding shutter for privacy. There is also a fingerprint reader on the palm rest that gives you two ways to skip entering passwords with Windows Hello.

Lenovo ThinkPad P15 Gen 2 left ports

An HDMI video output and always on USB 3.2 Type-A port shares the left edge with an audio jack and optional nano-SIM slot. On the right side you will find another USB-A 3.2 port, SD and optional SmartCard slots and a Kensington lock.

Lenovo ThinkPad P15 Gen 2 real ports

Three USB-C ports — two with Thunderbolt 4 capacity — and one Ethernet port connect to the power connector on the back.

Lenovo ThinkPad P15 Gen 2 rear ports

A case of OLED envy

Between HP’s flagship DreamColor monitors and the growing number of OLED capabilities, our standards for rating mobile workstation monitors are rising. Our ThinkPad IPS screen was pretty impressive with ample brightness, good contrast and well-saturated colors, but it lacked poster paint of colors, black holes and overall gloss of the best portable panels we’ve seen this year. Fine details were as sharp as 1080p resolution could make them, although today we would recommend a 4K screen for serious design work.

(Although our test drive was not equipped with it, the P15 Gen 2 supports Lenovo’s most dazzling display: the $ 1,499 ThinkReality A3 enterprise glasses, which can put a virtual enclosing display trio over your desk or a walkthrough on a factory floor.)

Lenovo ThinkPad P15 Gen 2 front view

Laptop keyboards with a comfortable 1.5mm vertical travel are becoming rarer, but Lenovo boasts that the P15 Gen 2 offers a generous 1.8mm. Not surprisingly for a ThinkPad keyboard, it provides an extremely snappy typing feel with responsive touch and just the right amount of feedback (even an ideal, one-step-over-silent noise level). The TrackPoint mini joystick, with three buttons south of the space bar, connects to a smooth sliding touchpad for cursor control.

There are two levels of backlighting, a numeric keypad on the right and function keys in the top row, including shortcuts for starting and ending video calls. Purists may doubt that the Fn and Control keys are in each other’s locations at the bottom left, but you can swap them with the included Lenovo Vantage software that handles system updates and Wi-Fi security, as well as a variety of device settings. Another tool, Lenovo Quick Clean, briefly locks the keyboard and trackpad while using a cleaning cloth during these bacteria-conscious times.

Lenovo ThinkPad P15 Gen 2 keyboard

The 720p webcam captures well-lit and colorful images, even when the focus is soft and a little noisy or static. The sound from the speaker grille above the keyboard is loud and clear, never distorted or thin, even at maximum volume; there is not much bass, but it is possible to distinguish overlapping numbers. Dolby Access software includes dynamics, games, movies and music presets, and an equalizer.

Performance test: A workstation leads

The only other mobile workstation that has completed our new benchmark regime is the HP ZBook Power G8, so I filled out our benchmark charts with three other advanced 15- to 16-inch laptops. I chose a gaming-rich Alienware m15 Ryzen Edition R5 and two not-quite-workstations for content creators, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 and the Dell XPS 15 OLED. You can see their basic specifications in the table below.

Productivity test

The main benchmark for UL’s PCMark 10 simulates a series of real-world productivity and content-creating workflows to measure the overall performance of office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheets, web browsing, and video conferencing. We also run PCMark 10’s Full System Drive test to assess the load time and throughput of a laptop’s storage. (See more about how we test laptops.)

Three benchmarks focus on the CPU using all available cores and threads to assess a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads. Maxon’s Cinebench R23 uses the company’s Cinema 4D engine to render a complex scene, while Primate Labs’ Geekbench 5.4 Pro simulates popular apps ranging from PDF rendering and speech recognition to machine learning. Finally, we use the open source video transcoder HandBrake 1.4 to convert a 12-minute video clip from 4K to 1080p resolution (lower times are better).

Our latest productivity test is Workstation maker Puget Systems’ PugetBench for Photoshop, which uses Creative Cloud version 22 of Adobe’s famous image editor to evaluate a PC’s performance creation content and multimedia applications. It is an automatic extension that performs a variety of general and GPU-accelerated Photoshop tasks, ranging from opening, rotating, resizing, and storing an image to applying masks, gradient fill, and filters.

The P15 Gen 2 had the highest productivity score on PCMark 10, but all of these notebooks are spectacularly overkill for daily Microsoft Office or Google Docs work. The Lenovo workstation also boasted super-fast storage and colossal CPU power, leading the pack in our Photoshop benchmark. To put it simply, it’s a monster.

Graphic tests

We test the graphics of Windows PCs with two DirectX 12 gaming simulations from UL’s 3DMark: Night Raid (more modest, suitable for laptops with integrated graphics) and Time Spy (more demanding, suitable for gaming rigs with discrete GPUs) is).

We also run two tests from the cross-platform GPU benchmark GFXBench 5, which emphasizes both low-level routines such as texturing and high-level game-like image reproduction. 1440p Aztec Ruins and 1080p Car Chase test, rendered offscreen to accommodate various screen resolutions, training graphics and computer shadows using the OpenGL programming interface and hardware tessellation, respectively. The more frames per second (fps), the better.

Four graphics speed tests, four wins for the P15 Gen 2. Its Nvidia RTX A5000 is designed for professional CAD or CGI rendering, not gaming, but it can keep up with the fastest gaming GPUs if you’re looking for some entertainment timer.

Workstation-specific tests

We run two additional programs to simulate workstation applications. The first, Blender, is an open-source 3D suite for modeling, animation, simulation and composition. We record the time it takes for its built-in Cycles path tracking tool to reproduce two photorealistic scenes of BMW cars, one using the system’s CPU and a GPU (lower times are better). BMW artist Mike Pan has said he considers the scenes too fast for rigorous testing, but they are a popular benchmark.

Our main workstation test, SPECviewperf 2020, renders, rotates, and zooms in and out of solid and wireframe models using views from popular independent software vendor (ISV) apps. We run the 1080p resolution tests based on PTC’s Creo CAD platform; Autodesk Maya modeling and simulation software for movies, TV and games; and Dassault Systemes’ SolidWorks 3D rendering package. The more frames per second, the better.

For these tests, we could include results from last year’s first generation ThinkPad P15 if the Quadro RTX 5000 was Nvidia’s ISV flagship before the RTX A5000 generation followed.

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme surprised us by screaming through both Blender subtests, with the P15 Gen 2 hot on its heels. In the all-important SPECviewperf benchmark, Lenovo workstations led the way, with the original P15 somewhat surprisingly edging out the Gen 2 model. HP only has Nvidia’s fourth fastest professional GPU, so that was a step behind.

Battery and display test

We test laptops’ battery life by playing a locally stored 720p video file (open-source Blender movie Tears of steelTears of Steel) with 50% screen brightness and 100% volume. We make sure the battery is fully charged before the test, with Wi-Fi and the keyboard backlight off.

We also use a Datacolor SpyderX Elite screen calibration sensor and its Windows software to measure the color saturation of a portable screen — what percentage of sRGB, Adobe RGB, and DCI-P3 color scales or palettes the display can display — and its 50 % and peak brightness in nits (candelas per square meter).

The results of battery life were tightly packed, with all five systems showing good endurance for powerful desktop replacements. Getting through a full working day should not be a problem. All the monitors delivered fine color reproduction, though Dell’s OLED panel surpassed the others, and all were wonderfully bright, with the P15 Gen 2s narrowly the brightest.

Maybe not a Slam Dunk, but a high scorer

The Lenovo ThinkPad P15 Gen 2 skillfully fills its predecessor’s role as a heavyweight champion in the company’s mobile workstation lineup; with the Core i9 and RTX A5000, it’s powerful enough to run through jobs that would make most laptops whine and crawl. You will not find a better keyboard or port choice anywhere, and if you need more than 128 GB of RAM and 6 TB of storage, you will need a desktop workstation, not a notebook.

Lenovo ThinkPad P15 Gen 2 rear ports

We do not give the Gen 2 Editors’ Choice award that the first P15 received, mainly because we get nosebleeds at prices above $ 5,000 – our Gen 1 test unit was $ 500 cheaper and rocked a 4K screen – and we do not yet tested its top-of-the-line rivals, the Dell Precision 7560 and the HP ZBook Fury 15 G8. But make no mistake: If you need Mechagodzilla from professional laptops, the P15 Gen 2 succeeds with revenge.


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