Of the mobile workstations currently available, the ones I could strap to my back and go on a 5-mile run number at four. There’s only one that wouldn’t leave me wheezing like a grandpa badger with a collapsed lung. That’s the Lenovo ThinkPad W550s. It’s a 15″ lappy with an optional touchscreen, pro features, portability, power and the battery life to boot. So with so much good, is there any bad? Let’s take a look.
Lenovo has been on a roll lately with all manner of desktops, laptops and tablets. The W550s is part of Lenovo’s W series mobile workstations and has a unique spot in that line. It’s the love child of the W540 Workstation and the T450s Ultrabook, an amalgamation of Pro and Consumer–‘Prosumer’ as they say–making it the first 15″ ThinkPad with both Lenovo’s Power Bridge tech and a 3K IPS display touch display. Today, it sits alongside the W541 Workstation, but comes in at a lower price point and lower weight.
With a workstation you assume power. With a consumer laptop, you assume portability. The W550s has a bit of both. It’s not as strong as its W541 brother, but it is much more portable and the battery life simply can’t be beat. If you’re an engineering manager who doesn’t need to push large assemblies or a business owner who needs a bit more power and battery-life, these specs add up to the perfect fit.
Size: 15″ x 10.2″ x 0.92″ (15″ x 10.2″ x 0.88″ non-touch available)
OS: Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit (Windows 7 Professional 64, and free Windows 10 upgrade available)
CPU: Intel Core i7-5600U CPU @ 2.60GHz 2 Cores (4 Threads)
Memory: 16GB (Max) on 2 slots
Graphics: NVIDIA K620M 2GB (Max)
Storage: 512GB Samsung SSD (500GB HDD 7200RPM available)
Ports: 3 USB 3.0 (1 always on), Mic, Headphone, RJ45, VGA, mDP (Smart Card option available)
Design – You have Lenovo’s signature black box, but soft edges on a structure and carbon fiber shell made for an array of abuses. It passes ’11 Military Spec Tests’ to put it the top contenders for coming out the other side of a drop, spill or blistering day laughing. The USB and power port locations are kept out of the way whilst computering about. The backlit keyboard and numpad are compact, yet comfy, soft, yet responsive. With the rubbery, soft matte material on the exterior and only 5.47 lbs, it’s easy to grab and slide in a bag, but you will notice some fingerprints left behind after eating that bacon/mayo sandwich.
Power Bridge technology – With Lenovo’s Power Bridge Tech, you have an internal 3-cell battery that lets you swap the external (removable) 6-cell battery with a backup while laughing hysterically, easily getting you 12+ hours of regular use, 8+ of moderate use, and more hysterical laughter.
Touchscreen 3K IPS Display – You have the choice between a 15.6″ touch and standard HD (1080) or 3K IPS screen. I get asked why anyone would use a touch display for CAD work or with any desktop app. Of course I avoid punching them to simply say, when you first poke the screen to do something instead of the trackpad, you’ll know. While I didn’t use it at first, I quickly started and found it more convenient that I first imagined.
Ctrl/Fn Key Location – There’s a special place in the corner of a remote island for keyboards with the Fn key in the lower left spot. I’ll continue to badger Lenovo about this. The Ctrl and Fn keys are reversed from a standard keyboard–every keyboard I’ve ever used–and it makes for a frustrating user experience, if you’re highly dependent on Ctrl-key combinations (Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, etc). Fortunately, with all the backlash from users, they added a way to swap the Ctrl and Fn keys via the BIOS, which now comes standard.
- Reboot the computer
- Press F1 to enter BIOS setup
- Go to Config -> keyboard/mouse -> Fn and Ctrl Key swap
The W550s came out late 2014, launched from Autodesk University 2014, boasting the best battery life of any mobile workstation. That has certainly been my experience. The W550s is easily the first workstation I’ve used for extended periods without the need to be near an outlet. I can work uninterrupted. It was amazing when I realized what a difference that made.
This is also the first laptop I’ve had with a touch display. While the capability is nice, I wouldn’t recommend the added cost for people who have a workflow that is very keyboard/mouse/3d mouse intensive. But if you want to start exploring multi-touch capabilities within software like SolidWorks, this is a good choice. That said, the CPU power is lacking. You’ll miss the quad-core power of a desktop or higher-end mobile workstation and you won’t be doing any hardcore modeling or rendering.
I wouldn’t exactly put the ThinkPad W540s in the class of ‘Workstation’, but it does bring better performance for those who are working at ground level with 3D and graphics software in the creative, engineering and design industries. A beefier CPU, more GPU options and double the RAM would bring it up a notch, but then you’re buying a W541. All in all, this a great hybrid business/pro level laptop with great performance and wonderfully long battery life.