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Lenovo ThinkPad W550s

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Where to Buy

What's Hot: Great battery life for a mobile workstation class machine. Good 3K display, superb keyboard, relatively light at 5 pounds.

What's Not: Dual core i7 might not pack enough power for demanding users.


Reviewed April 17, 2015 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

Lenovo ThinkPad W550s

Mobile workstations with dedicated graphics, big screens and the power to tackle professional CAD work often aren't light and battery life isn't a strong point. Enter laptops like the Lenovo ThinkPad W550s that use ULV Ultrabook CPUs combined with NVIDIA Quadro graphics to lighten your bag and significantly improve battery life. Does a 15 watt dual core i7 still offer enough computing power for SolidWorks and video production? The answer is a qualified "yes".

The ThinkPad W550s is the lightweight and longer running counterpart to the ThinkPad W541 mobile workstation. It's not significantly less expensive, and Lenovo hasn't turned the W550s into a budget alternative. It has the same excellent build quality, magnesium alloy roll cage, spill-proof keyboard, high-resolution display options and excellent ThinkPad Precision keyboard as the W541. In Lenovo lingo, the "s" at the end of a laptop model number means it's the slim counterpart to their standard notebooks. If you like the ThinkPad T450 but need dedicated graphics and a larger display, the 15" W550s could be the perfect machine.

What's Inside?

The ThinkPad W550s is available with dual core ULV Intel Broadwell Core i7 CPUs (your choice of i7-5500U or i7-5600U). Lenovo offers three display options: 15.6" 1080p TN non-touch, 15.5" 3K non-touch and 15.5" 3K touch (all have a matte coating to reduce glare). The non-touch machine weighs 4.92 lbs. and the touch model weighs 5.47 pounds. The touch model's display is slightly thicker at 0.92" thick vs. 0.88" for the non-touch model. Intel 7265 dual band WiFi 802.11ac with Bluetooth 4.0 is standard and there's a 3G/4G LTE WWAN option for $149. The machine has two RAM slots for a max of 16 gigs of RAM (more on that later), your choice of an HDD or SSD and it has a backlit keyboard. There is no built-in optical drive, so you'll need an external USB DVD drive if you need to install software from discs.

Lenovo ThinkPad W550s

Ports abound thanks to the large chassis, and the ThinkPad has 3 USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, VGA, a full size SD card slot (the card doesn't stick out), mini DisplayPort 1.2, 3.5mm combo audio and an optional Smart Card slot. If you need HDMI, get a mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter for $20 from your local electronics store.

Build and Design

The W550s looks like a classic ThinkPad: an unassuming matte black rectangle that's not wildly thin. The good news is that it's sturdy as ever thanks to Lenovo's rugged design and materials including the metal internal roll cage and a spill resistant keyboard. There's little to no deformation if you press hard on various areas of the casing, and the display panel doesn't flex. The machine's matte black surfaces do attract fingerprint oils, but they're easily cleaned with a damp cloth (add a tiny bit of Soft Soap if it's really greasy). The laptop has an abundance of air intake ventilation grilles on the bottom and a side-exhausting fan. The ThinkPad weighs 4.92 lbs. unless you get the touch screen, which adds a half-pound to the weight.

The backlit ThinkPad Precision keyboard is a dream with roomy keys and plenty of travel (noticeably more than in the ThinkPad X1 Carbon). Even better, there's a number pad, which isn't common on 15" laptops. Thanks to that number pad, the Synaptics trackpad is offset toward the left to keep it centered under the spacebar. The trackpad isn't particularly large, but as with most ThinkPad trackpads, it's accurate and responsive. Those of you who lamented Lenovo's switch to buttonless trackpads will be happy to hear that Lenovo resurrected the top buttons for TrackPoint use (the little red pointer stick embedded in the keyboard).

Lenovo ThinkPad W550s

Horsepower and Performance

This is the most interesting and potentially confusing section since Lenovo went with Intel Broadwell 5th generation ULV 15 watt dual core CPU options rather than the usual quad core 28 watt mobile CPUs found in most 15" and larger mobile workstations. Clearly, with half the cores, the W550s lacks the computational power of the ThinkPad W541, Dell Precision M3800 and HP ZBook 15. It's closer to the ZBook 15u that also uses dual core Ultrabook CPUs. How much of a difference will you see in terms of performance? That in part depends on how well your programs use multiple cores; and many modern CAD, 3D modeling and video production programs do use all four cores on more powerful mobile workstations. But if you're working on a CAD design that has a few hundred parts, the dual core i7 with help from the NVIDIA Quadro K620M will do the job nicely. If you're working on a model with thousands of parts, you'll probably want a quad core. 2D designs for architecture are less demanding than 3D models, and the W550s should handle it well. Video editing and export for 1080p high bitrate video is pleasantly responsive and export times are good. 4K video? I'd rather have a quad core for professional work. Those of you who are buying this for software development will get good compile times and VMs run well with one or two running concurrently. If you need more VM instances, you might want to consider a quad core since you have to assign cores to each VM, not just RAM.

Lenovo ThinkPad W550s

Speaking of RAM, the W550s has two RAM slots for up to 16 gigs (officially). Intelligent Memory makes 16 gig DIMMs (RAM modules) that are compatible with most Intel Broadwell Core CPUs and we tested their RAM in the ThinkPad for a total of 32 gigs. It worked perfectly. These DIMMs aren't cheap at around $325 apiece, but if you feel you need that much RAM, it's a godsend.

Lenovo offers the laptop with your choice of a 2.5" SSD or HDD, and the drive connects via a standard SATA connector. Ours came with a Samsung PM851 512 gig drive and performance numbers were good by SATA standards. The notebook has an M.2 slot for the optional WWAN card or perhaps a caching drive on HDD models. Can you put an M.2 SSD in that slot? Probably, but Lenovo doesn't specify that it will behave well as the boot drive.


PCMark 8 (Home accelerated): 2842

3DMark 11: P2462

wPrime: 16.03 sec.

Geekbench 3 (single/multi-core): 3251/ 5953

Cinebench R15: Open GL test- 47.6 fps, CPU test- 281

SpecViewPerf: 1920 x 1080 SolidWorks test: 42.1 fps

Lenovo ThinkPad W550s 5301
HP ZBook 15 (Core i7-4800MQ) 5471
Dell XPS 15 (2014 edition) 5805
Lenovo ThinkPad T450s (Core i5, 256 gig SSD) 5283
MSI GT60 Dominator 3K (Core i7, SSD) 6249
Lenovo ThinkPad X240 4278
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2014) 5028
Sony Vaio Flip 15 (Core i7 ULV, hybrid HDD) 3537
Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A Touch (Core i5) 4670
Dell XPS 12 (Core i5, ULV) 4889


Deals and Shopping:


Lenovo ThinkPad W550s Video Review


Quadro Graphics

The W550s has switchable NVIDIA Quadro K620M graphics with 2 GB DDR3 VRAM. When not doing graphically intensive chores, the machine will use Intel HD 5500 graphics to reduce heat and power consumption. The K620M is a latest generation Maxwell graphics card that's significantly faster than the older K610M. This is a pro card that's engineered for 3D and 2D CAD work rather than gaming. If you're looking for a gaming laptop and have no need of the workstation level graphics, I'd go with an NVIDIA GeForce-equipped laptop that's tuned for gaming and gets driver updates frequently to support the latest titles. For those of you who need to do pro work and want to have a little gaming fun, the K620M is like a slightly faster NVIDIA GeForce GT840M and it can handle many current and recent games at medium settings with frame rates well above 30 fps. Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider and even Battlefield 4 can run decently at 1080p, but Dragon Age Origins and GTA V are a bit over its pay grade.

Lenovo ThinkPad W550s


We received the 3K (2880 x 1620) IPS touch screen in for review. Panasonic makes that panel, and it has Lenovo's anti-glare coating that adds a little grain and reduces our perception of contrast, but overall, it's an excellent panel that's also offered in the ThinkPad W541. You can get a non-touch 3K version or go with the base 1920 x 1080 full HD TN panel (anecdotally we hear it's not a bad looking panel though it will lack IPS' wide viewing angles). The 3K displays measure 15.5" while the TN panel is the more common 15.6".

Lenovo claims 315 nits of brightness, and ours slightly exceeded that at 318 nits according to our Spyder 4 Pro colorimeter (a sensor plus software that measures display characteristics). Color gamut is also quite good at 95% of sRGB and 74% of Adobe RGB. A wide color gamut and good color saturation representation are important if you'll be using the laptop for video production or professional image editing.

Lenovo ThinkPad W550s sRGB graph

Battery Life

Ah, here's the point of the ThinkPad W550s: uncannily long battery life in a 15" mobile workstation. Thanks to the power-sipping ULV dual core CPU and modestly powerful Quadro K620M in conjunction with Lenovo's Bridge Battery system, Lenovo claims 12.7 hours of battery life with the largest removable battery installed. There's a permanently installed 44 Whr front 3 cell battery and Lenovo offers 3 different removable rear batteries: 23 Whr 3 cell, 48 Whr 6 cell and the 72 Whr 6 cell that shipped with our review unit. The 72 Whr battery raises the rear of the machine at a comfortable angle, but for those who want a flat machine and don't need the longest possible runtimes, the lower capacity battery will do the trick. The notebook ships with a compact 65-watt charger that offered adequate power to run the CPU and dedicated GPU at full speed.

In our tests of common business tasks including MS Office, Photoshop, an hour of Netflix, web and email, the W550s with 72 Whr battery averaged 10 hours with brightness set to a still adequate 40% with WiFi on. If you're going full blast in SolidWorks or AutoCAD, or editing 1080p video for a few hours, expect shorter runtimes around 6 to 7 hours. That's quite good for a mobile workstation where battery life is sometimes measured in minutes rather than hours.


The Lenovo ThinkPad W550s is an unusual beast of a machine: it's the engineering and CAD laptop for road warriors who put battery life at a premium. The W550s succeeds at that with very long battery life with the 6 cell rear battery, and the laptop is more portable than most mobile workstations. The keyboard is classic ThinkPad, which is to say superb and it has plenty of key travel. The 3K display offers good color gamut with a non-glare finish that's easy on the eyes even if it doesn't look as compelling as glossy displays when watching videos. If you don't need quad core processing prowess but do need pro graphics and an upgradeable laptop with ample ports, the ThinkPad W550s is worth a look.

Price: starting at $1,150



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Intelligent Memory 16 gig RAM modules for Intel Broadwell Laptops


Lenovo ThinkPad W550s


Lenovo ThinkPad W550s


Lenovo ThinkPad W550s


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Display: 15.6", 1920 x 1080 matte TN display, 15.5" 3K 2880 x 1620 IPS matte display (available with and without touch). NVIDIA Quadro K620M 2GB DDR3 dedicated graphics with switchable Intel HD 5500 integrated graphics. Mini DisplayPort and VGA port.

Security: Fingerprint scanner with TPM.

Battery: Lenovo Bridge Battery system with internal front 3 cell, 44 Whr Lithium Ion front battery and removable rear battery (3 and 6 cell rear batteries available).

Performance: Intel Core i7 dual core ULV 15 watt CPUs, Core i7-550U and i7-5600U available. Intel 5th generation Broadwell. Two RAM slots for 16 gigs max RAM (32 gigs if using 3rd party RAM). Available with SATA SSD or HDD.

Size: 15 x 10.2 x 0.88/ 0.92 inches (non-touch/touch). Weight: 4.92 pounds (non-touch) and 5.47 lbs. for touch screen model.

Camera: 720p webcam.

Audio: Built-in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack.

Networking: Integrated Intel 7265 dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0. 3G/4G LTE optional.

Software: Windows 8.1, also available with Windows 7.

Expansion and Ports: 3 USB 3.0 ports, VGA, mini DisplayPort, Ethernet, 3.5mm combo audio and SD card slot. Smart Card reader is optional.



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