Lenovo ThinkPad W550s review

Workstation-grade performance with Ultrabook-class battery life

Lenovo ThinkPad W550s review

As the ThinkPad W550s is not considered a direct successor to last year's powerhouse workstation in Lenovo's lineup, benchmarked performance doesn't quite match the venerable W540 model.

There are a couple reasons for the slightly degraded performance found when testing the W550s, but Lenovo made its design choice to provide for longer battery life and a slimmer design.

Read more: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme

The first reason is that, even though the W550s is equipped with the latest Core processor, Intel's mobile Broadwell series is only available in dual-core configuration at this time. Compared to last year's model, Intel's older Haswell processor is available in a quad-core configuration, delivering stronger CPU performance.

Lenovo ThinkPad W550s review

Second, Nvidia's Quadro K2100M GPU on last year's model delivers stronger performance than the discrete Quadro 620M graphics on W550s. Still, performance on the W550s isn't too far off from last year's model, especially considering the added bonus of a 17 hour-rated battery life.

Benchmarks

  • PCMark 8: Creative 2,201; Home: 2,182
  • PCMark 8 Battery Life: 8 hours and 15 minutes (50% screen brightness)
  • 3DMark: Fire Strike: 1,426; Cloud Gate: 5,246; Sky Diver: 4,830
  • Cinebench: GPU: 59.74 fps; CPU: 279
  • SpecWPC: Media & Entertainment: 1.61; Product Development: 1.81; Life Sciences: 1.9; Financial Services: 0.89; Energy: 1.65; General Operations: 3.02

Performance

Even though the final benchmark scores reflect the fact that Nvidia's GPU was used, a few of the tests were not able to identify the discrete graphics and just showed the integrated Intel HD 5000 graphics.

Lenovo confirmed that our SpecWPC results matched what's being produced with the Nvidia Quadro K620M processor, even though the test could only identify the integrated Intel graphics. Similarly, 3DMark was not able to properly identify the GPU, a reason that could be attributed to the Quadro K620M's newness on the market.

Even though the benchmarked numbers don't quite match last year's ThinkPad W540s with a quad-core processor, the new dual-core Broadwell architecture and Nvidia Quadro K620M graphics hold their ground.

Lenovo ThinkPad W550s review

Comparing the SpecWPC results between the W550s and the W540 from last year, I got a score of 1.61 versus 2.99 for the Media and Entertainment test, 1.81 versus 2.52 for the Product Development test, 1.9 versus 2.09 for the Life Sciences test, 0.89 versus 2.66 for the Financial Services test, 1.65 versus 2.89 for the Energy test, and 3.02 versus 4.29 for the General Operations test, respectively.

As the MSI WS60 comes with a similar quad-core Intel Haswell Core i7 processor and Nvidia Quadro K2100M graphics as the Lenovo W540, performance numbers between the systems are similar using 3DMark and PCMark benchmarks.

The MSI mobile workstation delivered 3DMark scores of 1,670 on Fire Strike, 9,630 on Cloud Gate and 5,987 on Sky Diver compared to the W550s's scores of 1,426, 5,246 and 4,830 respectively. Both sets of scores beat the Ultrabook average scores of 706, 4,160 and 2,437 respectively, showing the discrete GPU at work on the mobile workstations.

For the PCMark test, the MSI WS60 delivered a score of 2,656 for the home test compared to the W550s's 2,182.

With Cinebench's results, the GPU scores are roughly identical with 55.71 fps achieved by the MSI unit versus 59.74 on the ThinkPad. The biggest difference is in CPU performance, with the ThinkPad generating a score of 279, while the MSI unit achieved 411.

Lenovo ThinkPad W550s review

In real world usage, general performance on quad-core Haswell systems with Quadro K2100M graphics and the dual-core Broadwell ThinkPad W550s with Quadro 620M graphics is roughly the same. I observed no noticeable lag, stutter or delay while using the W550s when streaming videos, transferring large files between the PC and a USB drive, browsing the web, performing light Photoshop edits and working inside Office documents.

Where it matters with systems with quad-core Haswell CPUs and K2100M graphics is with heavier graphics work. I noticed that video encoding finished faster on the MSI WS60 compared to the ThinkPad W550s. Likely, users who use heavy 3D graphics with CAD rendering, perform advanced Photoshop edits, or make and edit videos will appreciate the faster performance of the quad-core CPU coupled with the Quadro K2100M GPU.

A big benefit when compared with the MSI WS60 is that the ThinkPad W550s runs extremely quiet. Whereas the WS60's fans were constantly spinning, the fans on the W550s only kicked in when needed. Once the ThinkPad is sufficiently cooled, the fans spin down, making for a very quiet mobile workstation.

If you're a light user who spends most of your time inside Microsoft Office and internet browsers with the occasional need to open Photoshop or Adobe Premiere, then the ThinkPad W550s is more than adequate for your workflow.

Battery life

If you don't need the raw power, the Lenovo ThinkPad W550s more than makes up for the small sacrifice in performance for much longer battery life. The W550s has a rated battery life of 13 hours if you're using the internal three-cell battery coupled with a second removable three-cell unit. That number increases to 17 hours if you combine the internal battery with an extended six-cell pack.

Like the ThinkPad T450s, the ThinkPad W550s comes with Lenovo's Power Bridge battery technology. Power Bridge allows you to maintain your workflow without interruption. You can swap the depleted rear battery for a fresh one. The internal battery will maintain your work state, so you don't need to shutdown the system.

Lenovo ThinkPad W550s review

In real-world usage, battery life is admirably good, though nowhere near the numbers that Lenovo quotes. With an internal three-cell battery and a swappable six-cell battery, battery life is closer to 11 hours with Photoshop editing, running multiple Chrome browser tabs and windows, and the occasional viewing of short YouTube clips with Microsoft Word either in use or in the background.

That number is remarkable, given that my colleague Kevin Lee achieved just five hours and 17 minutes last year with the W540.

If you carry a spare battery, you can go even longer without recharging, which is great for road warriors, frequent travelers, or those working in athe field where power outlets aren't readily available. Batteries that can be hot-swapped – or even just removed – isn't something that's found anymore on consumer laptops.