The ThinkPad name has long stood for excellence, and with good reason. Despite some controversial decisions over the years, the ThinkPad brand continues to represent the best in the market. The ThinkPad P5X and P7X devices are Lenovo’s modern workstation lines, and both machines routinely top “best of” lists for mobile workstations or powerful laptops.
That’s why I was excited to get my hands on the new ThinkPad P53.
It’s kind of like driving a customized sports car; I would never use one in my daily life, but I can appreciate and enjoy the insane power humming under the hood.
The P53 we have under review runs on an Intel Core i7-9850H and an Nvidia Quadro RTX 5000. That GPU is currently the second most powerful Quadro card on the market. To put it in perspective, the Quadro RTX 5000 is about on par with the consumer-grade GeForce RTX 2080. That means great performance in games, modeling, and GPU-dependent work, but it also means heat is a problem. I experienced some issues that I’ll touch on later.
Specs as reviewed – Lenovo ThinkPad P53
|Lenovo ThinkPad P53|
|Screen||15.6-inch FHD (1920×1080), 500 nits, HDR 400, non-touch, matte (Model: Lenovo LEN4183)|
|Processor||Intel Coffee Lake Core i7-9850H (6 core/12 thread, 2.6 GHz base, 4.6 GHz boost)|
|Graphics||Intel UHD 630+ Nvidia Quadro RTX 5000 80W 16 GB GDDR6 (Nvidia 440.97 drivers)|
|Memory||64 GB (32 + 32) DDR4-2666 ECC (two additional slots empty)|
|Storage||1 TB M.2 NVMe SSD, Opal2 (Samsung PM981) – 2x M.2 and 1x 2.5 bay available|
|Connectivity||Intel AX200 11ax WiFi (2×2), Bluetooth 5.0|
|Ports||2x USB-A 3.1 Gen 1, 1x USB-C 3.1 Gen 1, 2x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C), 1x RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet, 1x HDMI 2.0, 1x SD card reader, 1x SIM tray, 1x Smartcard reader (optional, not on review unit)|
|Battery||90 Wh, 230 Watt charger|
|Size||377.4 mm or 14.86” (w) x 252.3 mm or 9.93” (d) x 29.4 mm or 1.16” (h)|
|Weight||2.50 kg (5.51 lbs),|
|Extras||backlit keyboard, HD webcam, fingerprint scanner, IR camera, TPM, Intel vPro, NFC (optional)|
The P53 I reviewed sits in the middle of the possible configurations. If you need even more power, Lenovo also offers variants with either a Core i9 or Xeon CPU, although you’re looking at diminishing returns. Intel’s Core i9 hasn’t shown itself to be a good choice in other laptops, but I can’t comment on its effectiveness in the P53 (Update: You can find out more about how it behaves inside this chassis from our ThinkPad P73 review).
Design and construction
The P53 is meant for work above all else. As such, its design isn’t a priority. Rather, utility is favored over flair, as has been the case with workstation-grade ThinkPads for years. That said, the P53 looks like a typical ThinkPad. It’s black. It’s boxy. The display bezels are thick. It has the traditional grainy matte finish that covers most ThinkPads. If you like the black “boardroom” look of Workstation laptops, you’ll like the P53. Otherwise, you’re out of luck; Lenovo doesn’t offer any other colors or designs.
The case is very well-built, as is common for the ThinkPad family. The magnesium-aluminum chassis doesn’t flex under any amount of pressure. I can warp the lid, but it takes a concentrated effort. All said, I’m not worried about case integrity or stability over the long-term; the P53 is a well-built machine.
The trade-offs for the high build quality are weight and size. The P53 is pretty bulky, measuring in at 1.16″ at its thickest point. The machine weighs roughly 5 1/2 pounds, which rules out comfortable lap use. It’s not the biggest laptop out there, but the P53 is a chunky boy. Someone used to Ultraportables will find it cumbersome, but portability isn’t the point; power is.
Port selection is decent, but the P53 relies heavily on its dual Thunderbolt 3 ports. The rear-mounted TB3 ports seem positioned for docks. In that vein, a Thunderbolt dock of some kind is almost mandatory for IT professionals or engineers. Aside from the TB3 ports, the P53 has a single HDMI 2.0 port for video out, two USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 ports on the left for peripherals, and a single USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 on the right. (One of the USB-A ports is an always-on port for charging.) There’s also an SD card reader and a SIM slot. The dedicated Ethernet jack is a nice addition.
- Left: vents, HDMI, 2x USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-A, full-sized SD card reader, SmartCard (optional)
- Rear: vents, 2x Thunderbolt 3, DC in
- Right: Headset (mic/headphones), USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-C, SIM slot (optional), vents, Kensington lock
Another display connection and a few more USB ports would go a long way in making the P53 more portable. The P53 is intended to be plugged into a Thunderbolt 3 dock on a desk all day, not carried around to coffee shops and classes. However, the device has the room for more ports.
Keyboard, trackpad, and TrackPoint
The quality of a keyboard is a matter of preference, but the general consensus is that ThinkPad keyboards are the best in the biz. I agree with that sentiment, and the P53 helps solidify that conclusion. The keys feel snappy and have excellent feedback. Travel hits a “Goldilocks” zone – not too shallow and not too deep, but just right. I’ve been intentionally using the P53 exclusively for all of my work for the past two weeks, and that’s mainly due to the keyboard.
While I could gush on the keyboard at length, I’ll move on to the trackpad. It’s decent. The glass surface feels nice underhand, and tracking is accurate thanks to its Windows Precision drivers. The dedicated buttons under the trackpad (left click, scroll, right click) are usable, but they feel a little loose. That may be something particular to my review unit. I will note they never failed to register clicks. Overall, the trackpad and bottom buttons feel cheap considering the rest of the machine, but they get the job done.
The TrackPoint, on the other hand, is excellent. People either love or hate the TrackPoint, and I’ve long set up my tent in the first camp. Maybe it’s because I cut my teeth on older laptops with these nubby mouse pointers, but I find the TrackPoint to be far more precise than the trackpad and on par with a dedicated mouse. The TrackPoint buttons (situated above the trackpad) are miles better than the trackpad buttons. Each is clicky and feels solid and responsive. The orientation of the scroll button in the middle makes navigating these buttons by touch a snap. Overall, I love the TrackPoint, but if you’re not already a fan of controlling a pointer via eraser, it’ll do little to change your mind.
- Full-sized keyboard w/ Number Pad
- All hail the venerable TrackPoint
Since the ThinkPad P53 is meant for professionals and engineers, it’s packed with security features. There is a fingerprint scanner and an IR camera that immediately recognize my respective biometric. That is high praise for the fingerprint scanner; my fingers are on the oily side, and most scanners I use fail about 1/3 of the time. The P53’s scanner worked immediately every single time I used it. The IR camera was equally quick.
Lenovo also offers variants with NFC pads and SmartCard readers for added security. There’s also the usual bevy of security software and hardware typical for an enterprise-grade laptop, including TPM and Intel’s vPro.
The ThinkPad P53 can be configured with a standard Full HD (1920×1080) IPS panel rated at 300 nits, a Dolby-Vision HDR 400 compliant Full HD IPS panel rated at 500 nits, or a UHD (3840×2160) OLED display at 350 nits with support for touch input and Dolby Vision HDR 500 content. My review unit is the one in the middle (FHD 500 nit), and I think it strikes a good balance.
I don’t have any tools to accurately measure the backlight’s exact levels, but I can attest to the screen’s brightness. It has a matte finish that kills reflections, and it’s bright enough to use outdoors or near an open window. Viewing angles are typical for an IPS display. There is a slight grain on white backgrounds due to the matte finish, but I don’t notice it unless I intentionally look for it. Backlight bleed is nearly nonexistent.
I can’t accurately test color reproduction, but to my amateur eye, everything looks reasonably good. White backgrounds have a blueish tint to them.
- In shade
- Direct sunlight
- Minimal backlight bleed (exposure increased to show bleed)
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
TL;DR, the ThinkPad P53 I reviewed is a powerful beast, and it isn’t even the highest-specced model. The machine packs some of the better Intel and Nvidia components available in the laptop market, and it can (mostly) take full advantage of the hardware.
- Bottom panel off
- Two RAM slots available to end users.
- Three total M.2 drive slots
As reviewed, my P53 has an Intel Core i7-9850H (Coffee Lake, 6 core/12 thread) and an Nvidia Quadro RTX 5000 (80W version). There are a ton of configuration options available. CPU options range from a Core i5-9400H to a Core i9-9880H to a Xeon E-2276M. The GPU options range from the Nvidia Quadro T1000 up to the Quadro RTX 5000 in my machine.
Edit (A.G.): It’s important to note that the driver does not report the chip as Max-Q, so you might argue that this is not a Max-Q chip. However, this is nonetheless an 80W implementation and not the 110W variant expected from the full-power mobile RTX 5000, which is exactly what Max-Q was supposed to signal. For some reason, it looks like Nvidia moved away from this moniker on the Quadro mobile chips, and I for one consider that this confuses potential buyers.
Lenovo offers a ton of options for other components (RAM, storage, etc.), and users can upgrade most of the internals themselves by unscrewing the bottom panel and popping it off. The P53 supports up to 128 GB of DDR4 RAM across four DIMMs and has three M.2 drive bays.
One of those drive bays is pre-populated with a Samsung PM981 in my config, and it’s blazing fast. The NVMe SSD smokes through CDM6 and AS SSD. One of the drive bays can be used to set up a RAID 0 array for even faster speeds, and the third could be used for a redundant drive. However, you’re looking at a lot of cash for that privilege.
The P53 does extremely well in benchmarks:
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 16397 (Graphics – 18366, Physics – 17042);
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 6806 (Graphics – 7027, Physics– 5778);
- 3DMark 13 – Cloud Gate: 37956 (Graphics – 121978, Physics – 11128);
- GeekBench 4.3.3 64-bit: Single-Core: 5477, Multi-core: 23632;
- CineBench R15: CPU 1248 cb, CPU Single Core 195 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 2742 cb, CPU Single Core 463 cb;
- PCMark 10: 6421 (Essential: 9934, Productivity: 8269, Digital Content Creation: 8746);
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 214.25 fps, Pass 2 – 71.21 fps.
I was able to achieve a stable -100 mV undervolt. Here are the same benchmarks under that profile.
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 17014 (Graphics – 18975, Physics – 18139);
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 6978 (Graphics – 7028, CPU – 6708);
- 3DMark 13 – Cloud Gate: 40058 (Graphics – 125134, Physics – 11853);
- GeekBench 4.3.3 64-bit: Single-Core: 5487, Multi-core: 25055;
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 1335 cb, CPU Single Core 196 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 2917 cb, CPU Single Core 329 cb;
- PCMark 10: 6446 (Essentials – 9880, Productivity – 8445, Digital Content Creation – 8712);;
- x264 HD Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 214.29 fps, Pass 2 – 79.00 fps;
- AS SSD
- CrystalDiskMark 6.0.1
The P53 performs well in most benchmarks. Looping Cinebench R15 10 times shows fairly stable performance over extended workloads. The P53 is in line with other top performers, at least in this benchmark.
- CB R15 Loop @ stock
- CB R15 loop @ -100 mV UV
It appears that the Quadro RTX 5000 in my P53 is a lower-clocked variant, which suggests it’s the so-called Max-Q model. (UPDATE: Lenovo has confirmed that the ThinkPad P53 indeed uses the 80 watt Quadro RTX 5000. Buyers should be aware of this aspect. Aside from this, the RTX 4000 option is also a so-called Max-Q – 80W, while the RTX 3000 variant is Max-P – 80W).
Compared to the Asus ProArt StudioBook Pro X W730G5T, which also has a Quadro RTX 5000 (but at 110W), the P53’s GPU clocks are significantly lower. The P53’s performance is about 10-20% lower than the StudioBook Pro’s in certain benchmarks.
I should also make a point that the fans rarely turned on during these benchmarks. 3DMark (especially Time Spy) caused the fans to ramp up a bit, but they were still extremely quiet. I’ll talk about thermal management in a bit, but suffice it to say the fans could stand to be more aggressive. It seems Lenovo favors low sound over heat management.
Although the Quadro RTX 5000 isn’t really a gaming-focused GPU, gaming is a joy in the machine’s “Dedicated” mode (more on this below).
|FHD Low||FHD Med||FHD Max|
|Bioshock Infinite||268 fps||204 fps||179 fps|
|Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor||187 fps||153 fps||97 fps|
|Shadow of Tomb Raider||136 fps||105 fps||68 fps|
|The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt||206 fps||152 fps||75 fps|
- The Witcher 3 – recorded with Fraps in campaign mode
- Bioshock, Middle Earth, and Shadow of Tomb Raider used the in-game benchmark
I do need to mention that the system gets confused about which GPU to use, based on my experience with this particular sample. By default, the Intel UHD Graphics 630 iGPU is disabled. Users can re-enable the iGPU through the system BIOS (Lenovo even provides a guide for doing this), but this causes issues. For example, with the iGPU enabled (in “Hybrid” mode), The Witcher 3 defaulted to the iGPU rather than the RTX 5000. When I tabbed out of the game to check the sensors, the RTX 5000 would engage, but tabbing back into the game would revert to the Intel UHD Graphics 630.
Re-running this test, the dGPU properly engaged when the game launched. However, when I tabbed out to take a screenshot of the system logs, the iGPU engaged and seemed to confuse the machine. Once I tabbed back into the game, framerates plummeted (~15 fps). The dGPU looked like it was still engaged, but clock speeds were heavily reduced. As I continued to play the game, I would see performance spike up to about 40 fps before falling back to the 14-15 fps range. Reloading the game leveled out frame rates, but the game still hit only 40 fps. I also saw odd behavior in Shadow of the Tomb Raider; the dGPU was engaged, but clocks were heavily reduced with random spikes. Frame rates likewise suffered (~15-20 fps).
As a further note, this kind of behavior might be isolated. We’re also reviewing the ThinkPad P73 on the side, and we couldn’t replicate it on that one, although we ran into something else, but you’ll find about that from the review. Nonetheless, make sure to test for this kind of behavior once you get your unit, especially if you plan to keep it on Hybrid.
- Standard gameplay. The dGPU is fully engaged.
- The red lines are where I tabbed out for the screenshot and tabbed back into the game. Noticed the erratic GPU behavior.
- Shadow of the Tomb Raider in the Dedicated graphics mode.
- Shadow of the Tomb Raider – Hybrid graphics. The red line is where the game was loaded.
Here are those same games with a -100 mV undervolt under the Dedicated graphics setting:
|FHD Low||FHD Med||FHD Max|
|Bioshock Infinite||272 fps||205 fps||168 fps|
|Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor||160 fps||151 fps||98 fps|
|Shadow of Tomb Raider||138 fps||108 fps||66 fps|
|The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt||202 fps||152 fps|
Workstation performance is also excellent, as should be expected:
Here are the same benchmarks with a -100 mV undervolt:
On battery, the CPU and GPU clock down pretty liberally. As such, performance nosedives. Here are a few benchmarks run on battery power:
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 2252 (Graphics – 3077, Physics – 4636);
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 1265 (Graphics – 1197, CPU – 1870);
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 570 cb, CPU Single Core 184 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 2595 cb, CPU Single Core 445 cb;
- The Witcher 3 (FHD, Ultra): 15 fps
Bring the power adapter with you if you want to get any actual work done.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers, and others
The P53 is a silent machine. The fans are quiet and conservative, rarely turning on. Even when they’re working hard, the fans are low-pitched and quiet. They are loud enough to hear in a crowded coffee shop, so I would imagine office mates may look over should you load up The Witcher 3 during the workday.
So the fans are nice and quiet. How is the coil whine? In a word, terrible.
During some graphical workloads (Specifically SPECviewperf 12’s Catia, SPECviewperf 13’s Catia, and the menus of The Witcher 3 and Middle Earth: Shadow of War), the GPU would emit ear-piercing coil whine. It’s more than just a nuisance; my wife could hear the coil whine in another room (about 30 feet away) and asked me if the laptop was working too hard. I doubt it’ll settle under standard office noise, so it’s something to watch for.
Another issue with the P53 is thermal management. Here are the HWiNFO64 graphs for a few of the benchmarks I ran. Pay special attention to the CPU temps.
- Fire Strike
- Time Spy
- Cinebench R15 10-run loop
- PCMark 10 (at the end of the benchmark)
- PCMark 10 (during the spreadsheet tests)
- The Witcher 3
The processor runs hot, and it stays hot for long periods. I will note that these temps are within Intel’s guidelines (under 100° C), but they’re a little high for my taste. Lenovo should consider a more aggressive fan curve for the P53. While system noise would be a lot louder, I would prefer a louder laptop to one that throttles or experiences problems in the future due to heat issues. Keep in mind that the P53 is a work machine; end users are likely to push the machine for the majority of a standard workday, which could spell trouble down the road.
What would that workday look like? I ran an hour-long stress test by running Prime95 and FurMark to strain the GPU and CPU. The GPU handled FurMark well, but the CPU throttled not long into the test.
- 30 minutes
- 1 hour 20 minutes
The CPU runs fast and hot for the first 20 minutes of the stress test until it throttles. The CPU eventually recovered and popped back up to higher clock speeds and 30W, just like on the P73 test unit, but the heavy throttling seen halfway through is something to note. Keep in mind that Prime95 loads all threads up to 100%, which may not be reflective of real-world use. However, considering the target audience, the P53 may cause some frustrations in longer workloads.
We’ve further tested the system’s behavior in taxing loads in the ThinkPad P73 review, which shares the same platform, just in a bigger chassis. Head over there for more details.
Here are a few tests with the CPU undervolted -100 mV. While CPU temps are still high at times (but lower than with stock settings), performance is a fair bit better and more stable:
- SPECviewperf12 – undervolted
- SPECviewperf13 – undervolted
- Cinebench R15 Loop – undervolt
- Time Spy – undervolt
- Fire Strike – undervolt
- The Witcher 3
The Prime95 stress test returned much more stable results with the undervolt. CPU temps were still high, but the chip didn’t throttle until the very end of the hour-long test. When it did throttle, the CPU performed similarly to stock settings.
- 30 minutes
- One hour
Wireless and Bluetooth connections elicit no complaints. The P53 uses an Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX200 card for WiFi, and it is rock solid. Whether at home or a coffee shop, the only limits on speeds and connection strength were my router. I was able to connect to my home router (a Netgear AC1900 WiFi router) from the edge of my backyard. For context, there was an exterior brick wall and two interior walls between the computer and the router at a distance of about 150 feet. WiFi speeds were slow at that point, but I was able to get some work done.
The speakers are excellent. Music can easily fill a room with no distortion. Bass is weak but present; kick beats sound more like slaps than full thumps, but mids and highs are crisp and clear. I would put the speakers up against the best of the best in the laptop world; they’re that good.
Despite the large 90 Wh battery, the P53 doesn’t last very long when unplugged. I was able to eke out about 2.5 hours of work on a full charge under factory settings (iGPU disabled, Power Saver profile, 80% screen brightness, no undervolt).
Surprisingly, enabling the iGPU didn’t do much to improve battery life; the P53 could barely make it to 3.5 hours under the same settings with the iGPU turned on. Keep in mind I was using the P53 to browse the web and do some writing during these tests. Heavier workloads (gaming, modeling work) killed the machine in a little over an hour. Undervolting the CPU didn’t change these figures much, extending battery life by about 30 minutes in each use case except gaming, which was only possible for about 70 minutes.
The big killers here are the RTX 5000, which seems to engage fairly often even when the iGPU is turned on, and the bright screen backlight. A few users around the Internet have reported battery life between 7-10 hours when doing routine office work and turning the screen brightness all the way down, so it may be possible to get a full day’s worth of work out of the machine.
In my opinion, it’s worth the extra weight to bring the adapter along. Not only will you not need to worry about battery life, but your work also won’t be hindered by the drop in CPU and GPU clock speeds caused by running on the battery. The P53 is more of a portable desktop than a laptop and should be treated as such.
Price and availability
The Lenovo ThinkPad P53 isn’t cheap. Most workstations are expensive due to the high-end internals. The P53 is still competitively priced at around $3500 for a Xeon / RTX 5000/ 32 GB RAM / 1 TB storage, at the time of this post, with Core i9/RTX 4000 models starting at around $3000.
The machine starts at $2000 MSRP, but that only gets you a Core i5-9400H, 8 GB of RAM, a Quadro T1000, and a 256 GB NVMe SSD. While it’s probably cheaper for end-users to upgrade the RAM and storage, the CPU and GPU are soldered. I would recommend spending the extra cash on at least a Core i7 and a Quadro RTX 3000, which might actually offer you the best value out of all the available options.
However, it’s likely that a company will buy this laptop for an individual rather than the individual paying out of their own pocket. In that regard, my config works well and should be able to handle CAD and modeling work for a few years to come.
Follow this link for updated prices and configurations at the time you’re reading the article.
The Lenovo ThinkPad P53 is a mixed bag. There are quite a few things to like about the machine. The build quality and keyboard ooze that excellent ThinkPad quality, and the screen is bright and crisp. Performance is excellent for a desktop replacement, as long as the machine is plugged in.
It’s in the small things that the ThinkPad P53 falls apart. The loud coil whine is simply unacceptable, especially at this price range. Keep in mind that this problem may be unique to my unit; I would love to hear if any other P53 users have experienced coil whine. The heavily reduced performance on battery can also be an annoyance, particularly for mobile engineers and designers that need to move from workspace to workspace to collaborate. Those employees will need to make sure there’s an outlet nearby lest they suffer the pains of a crippled machine.
Lastly, thermal management is a bit concerning. Lenovo may be able to tune the fan curves with a software update, and they should. As it stands, the CPU runs way too hot for way too long. When the heat finally gets to be too much, the silicon throttles. Personally, I’d take louder fans over a throttled system.
I should also make the point a second time concerning the GPU selection. Lenovo opted for the 80 Watt variant of the Quadro RTX 5000 chip. Keep this in mind when shopping around; on the configuration page, Lenovo lists the machine’s GPU simply as the “Quadro RTX 5000”. For some reason, Nvidia moved away from the Max-Q moniker that used to signal lower-wattage variants of the GeForce chips, and I find this confusing and even misleading for the potential buyer.
The 80W chip is nonetheless an odd choice considering the target audience and the thicker chassis. I would expect the P53 to be able to cool the full-fledged RTX 5000, but that may not be the case. Lenovo focused on keeping fan noise low at the cost of thermal management and performance, which is a bad choice for a workstation. This is speculation on my part, but I can’t think of any other reason to use the 80 Watt RTX 5000.
I also hope that Lenovo offers users the choice of a powerful but loud machine or a weak but quiet machine using power profiles with the ThinkPad P54.
As it stands, I would wait on purchasing the ThinkPad P53 until more reviews come out. It also might be worth going up in size to the Thinkpad P73; the P7X laptops typically have better performance and thermal management than the P5X machines. We should have that review out in the coming weeks. It’ll be interesting to see if some of the same issues pop up with the P73 (Hint: Head over to our review to find out more).
Let us know what you think about the Lenovo P53 down in the comments. Also, let us know if you have any specific questions or would like any specific information about the Lenovo ThinkPad P53. We’ll do our best to answer your questions.
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