As both a college student and head of the IT for the North American Eagle, it’s my job to stay ahead of the game, even when that means being busy all day. One of the predicaments that I’ve always had with this is actually having a computer that can keep up with me. My work tends to vary from writing papers and coding complex school projects, to editing new videos and cloud infrastructure development for the North American Eagle. It tends to keep me on my toes. It also means that a computer has to be able to keep up with heavy duty software development and virtualization, while at the same time be battery friendly. I’m almost always on the go, and rarely find myself close to a power outlet during the day. This makes for a difficult combination to satisfy.
When I first heard about the Lenovo ThinkPad P50s, I was skeptical. I had previously used a ThinkPad W530 for a while, which was a great machine for power, but hardly for portability or battery life. The claim for the new P50s was that it was a workstation grade machine, but with up to 17 hours of battery life! That hardly seemed realistic to me. The compromise would certainly have to come from somewhere, either in limited processing power, or not being able to fully reach 17 hours. It was supposedly possible because of Lenovo’s Power Bridge technology, which incorporated two batteries, the first of which was integrated directly into the machine, and the second was a larger external removable battery. Nonetheless, when Lenovo offered the opportunity to try the machine out, I was more than willing to volunteer.
The first time that I powered it on, I was immediately struck with the thought that it wasn’t just fast, it was near instant. The computer wasn’t waiting for anything or anyone. I couldn’t wait to really be able to push it to its limits. From first impressions, the battery did seem to last quite a while, but it was difficult to tell because it only had a minimal charge on it. That’s when I had a thought that maybe I should push the computer to see what it could really do. To see if the battery could actually live up to the numbers, and if the computer would be able to keep up with me in general. I spent a good portion of that night loading all of my software, from Visual Studio to Adobe Premiere. Everything that I would need for my test.
My test of the machine followed as such. Sunday is commonly entirely consumed as a work day for me, from school assignments to the next marketing project for the North American Eagle. And that’s exactly what I planned to do. From the time that I woke up, I would use the P50s for everything, including coding, video editing, and writing papers. The reason for this was twofold. First, it would test the processing capability of the machine, and whether it could really do everything that I needed. Second, it would push the battery to its limit, because there would be no rest for the machine, which would have to keep going the entire time. While it wouldn’t exactly be scientific, I did set the following rules for myself.
- At no point during the day, could I have access to the charger until the machine died. If I went out, I had to leave the charger behind, it had to last all day after all. Even if I was sitting at my desk, I couldn’t top the batteries off.
- No matter what the work was, it had to be done on the computer, especially if it battery/processor intensive (in my case, video editing!)
- I had to use the machine like I normally would, such as listening to music, normal brightness, etc.
The night before I had fully charged the computer so that it would be ready for the day. I started my Sunday off at 8:30 in the morning, and the first thing I did was open up Outlook. Reading email first thing in the morning helps me to stay on top of what needs to be done for the day. With that out of the way, I began writing a paper for my information ethics class. It perhaps wasn’t the most exciting way to start my day, but certainly something that had to be done. My work began with Microsoft Word and iTunes. I set my music to shuffle, and began to work through all of the sources that I had compiled earlier in the week for my paper. With that, I began to write the introduction to my paper. That introduction, however turned out to be over two pages (of a 3–7 page paper, oops), and took me a little under two hours to write. What shocked me wasn’t the amount that I had written, but how much battery had been used. I had only consumed about 15% of the combined battery! That was weird to think about more than anything else. At this point, I normally would have already been getting ready to start charging my laptop so that it wouldn’t be dead when I had to leave later. Not only that, but the keyboard was pleasant to type on, and didn’t wear you down as fast a normal keyboard might. Needless to say, I kept going, as I had only written as far as the introduction. What followed was nothing short of amazing. I finished the paper by 3:30pm (with a half hour break for lunch), with it totaling out at 7 pages long (not including works cited of course). Surprisingly, in close to seven hours of work, the battery had only been drained to about 55%. I was impressed, and was beginning to believe in the claim of being able to run the machine all day (as a side note, the larger of the two batteries used in my test had not held a charge in close to a year, so I expected it to not store quite as much juice).
Having finished out that school assignment, I turned myself to a project that was a little more fun, video editing! After unboxing the new ThinkPad only days before, I needed to edit the video together, render it, and then have it published to YouTube. Where my earlier writing had been a test to see whether the battery life would live up to their claims, this test was meant to see whether the processor and graphics card could keep up. In keeping with the rules of my test though, all of the editing and rendering was done on battery power. Opening up Premiere, it was clear that the screen was certainly exceptional for this type of editing. The 3k screen meant that I could easily see all of the content as I worked through the different pieces. Despite my earlier worries about the machine being a compromise in some ways, it proved otherwise. With both Premiere and Photoshop open, the computer continued to be able to keep up with me as I made all of my edits, showing next to no lag in rendering the changes in preview. And yet it was still running on nothing but internal battery power. It took a little over an hour to finish all of the editing and renders, which totaled to about 20% usage on the battery, bringing it down to about 35% total at this point. The computer officially had my vote at this point. It had performed near flawlessly for both battery and processor tests. But the day still wasn’t done quite yet, and I intended to see the test through to the end.
After a brief dinner and some routine maintenance work on the North American Eagle website, the battery had finally been worn down to about 24%. The final test for the night would be a college group project meeting. That meeting meant that I would have to leave both the comfort of my dorm room (to embrace the downpour of Seattle rain, which has actually been rather uncommon as of recent) and the relative proximity of my charger. 24% power was certainly more than low enough to warrant bringing a charger with, especially for a group meeting that would likely last for close to two hours. But I decided to forgo the charger and instead keep using the computer until it died. As it turned out, the meeting lasted about an hour and a half, and only consumed about 15% of the battery, with the low battery warning flashing up as the meeting came to a close. A stark reminder was the interest that my group members showed in the computer. They seemed to not even believe me when I told them that I had been running the computer since about 8:30 that morning. One person pointed out that they usually couldn’t go more than a couple hours without having to charge their computer. It was unique in some ways, not having to fight everyone else for an outlet, even when there was one nearby, simply because I didn’t need it.
I started this test because as much of a fan as I am of getting to try different computers, I wanted nothing more than to see if the ThinkPad P50s could live up to expectations. Not only did it live up to expectations, it exceeded them. Using the last 10%, I was able to write half of this article before the battery finally came to a halt at a little after 9pm that night. All of that usage adds up to over 11 hours of usage throughout the day, without ever touching a charger. And while that isn’t exactly the advertised 17 hours, I would still agree with the given number. This is largely because the larger of the two batteries did not hold a complete charge after not being used for close to a year, and the video editing work drained a large portion of the battery very quickly, as I intentionally ran it all on internal power. With this in consideration, and the fact that the battery had only gone down to about 55% after 7 hours of writing (alongside iTunes and Outlook in the background), the idea of reaching 17 hours is certainly more than attainable. What’s really important to me though was that the battery really did manage to last all day. From 8:30 in the morning to 9 at night, the computer was going for almost that entire time. Don’t let the low voltage processor scare you away, the fact is that this machine is able to power through just about any workload it’s given, while still managing to keep you away from a wall outlet. In some ways, that blows my mind, as it delivers on its promise, and more. That’s something that is particularly unique in computers today, especially in workstations.
(This review is meant to cover a single day of usage, pushing both the battery and processing power of the machine. A more holistic review will be released after a couple weeks of usage, including a more in-depth review of both the hardware and software.)