In our more recent “Why we love ThinkPads” article, I already announced that I had replaced my T440s with a new machine – the W550s. My T440s has served me well for the 1.5 years of usage, but it was time for me to move on. You may ask “Why the W550s, why not the logical choice T450s”. Well, first, I wanted to try something different. 14″ is my favourite size, but I do find the idea of a slim and light 15″ machine interesting. Also, I simply needed more GPU performance than the T450s had to offer with the HD 5500. So, I took the risk and stepped into the area of the unknown: I purchased the W550s on the 14th February 2015, and I got it exactly one week later. Lets jump right into the review! (well, not quite, first the specs of my machine, then the review).

The Fusion of Power and Mobility

Specifications of the W550s as reviewed

CPU Intel Core i7-5500u (Dual-Core, max. 2.9 GHz)
GPUs
  • Intel HD Graphics 5500 (Broadwell GT2, 24 EUs)
  • nVidia Quadro K620M (Optimus)
RAM 8 GB DDR3L (1.35 V) – 2 DIMM slots, one empty – 16 GB maximum (official)
Storage 500 GB 2.5 inch 7 mm SSHD + 128 GB 42mm M.2 SSD
Display 2880×1620 (FHD++) matte 15.5″ screen, IPS
Ports
  • 3x USB 3.0 (one powered)
  • VGA
  • mDP (1.2)
  • Combined Audio Jack
  • 4-in-1 SD Card-Reader
  • 2013 Docking Port
  • Smart-Card Reader
Connections Intel Centrino Wireless 7265AC, WWAN upgradeable, Gigabit Ethernet (Intel)
Battery 6 cell battery (3 cells as an integrated battery, 23 Wh, and 3 cells, 44 Wh, as an external battery), 67 Wh in total
Operating System Originally with no OS preinstalled, currently Windows 8.1
Keyboard Full size 6 row ThinkPad Precision Backlit Keyboard with numblock

Connections

W550s_ports right

From the left: 1x powered USB 3.0, 1x USB 3.0, 1x mDP, Fan vent, Kensington Lock

W550s_ports left

From the left: Charging port, 1x USB 3.0, VGA, Combo Headphone/Microphone, SD-card, Ethernet, Smartcard-Reader

The W550s has a solid array of ports for a modern day notebook/Ultrabook, and a pretty standard one when it comes to the T/W series. Compared with the W541, it drops the Optical Disk Drive in favor of a thinner and lighter design (since nearly no one uses DVD anymore often enough to warrant one), and also has one USB port less. Another sacrifice to the “thin & light” cult is the Expresscard (which is another case of “barely used”), and the mDP port is just that, a mDP, and not a Thunderbolt like on the W541, which might anger some people, though I guess a very small group, as Thunderbolt never really took off and is still very much a small, expensive niche – even Apple seems to lost faith in it now, but thats a different story…

With 3 USB 3.0 ports, one being powered, the W550s has the ideal selection of USB ports right now in my opinion, though thats going to change soon. The W550s is one of the last devices without USB type C, you can be sure about that. Skylake will change many things in this departement.

Another point where this is true is the display-output departement. With mDP and VGA, the W550s has the standard configuration of display-outputs for ThinkPads since 2012. Unfortunately for you if you have old monitors and beamers with VGA, the W550s is the end of the long road for VGA. With the next generation of ThinkPads and the Skylake CPUs, this port will cease to exist, as Intel (and AMD too) will no longer support VGA in any of their products. I don´t know that for sure of course, but my guess is that we will see mDP and HDMI as the future pair of display-outputs for ThinkPads.

The W550s has of course Gigabit Ethernet and also the newest, fanciest WLAN AC card by Intel, the Intel Centrino Wireless 7265AC, which replaces the Haswell model 7260AC. You might know about this: This card was one issue of the Haswell models, especially in the early months after release, since it would often loose WiFi connection. I am happy to report that the 7265AC is the solution to these problems. I have not had a singe connection dropout with it since I have my W550s.

Internally, the W550s has three M.2 slots, one in the 2232 format and the other two in the 2242 format. The 2232 slot is occupied by the WLAN module, and the other two are free to be used for your pleasure. One of them has WWAN antennas, which means you can put in a LTE / UMTS module here and have mobile internet like with any phone or tablet. The other one can be used for 42mm M.2 SSDs, which is what I use in my W550s, as I have a 128 GB SSD inside.

To round it up, the W550s has a 4-in-1 card reader and a smart-card reader. The charging port is the same as on all ThinkPads since 2012, a rectangular port thats easily mistaken for a USB port. There is a combined microfon/headphone jack and a kensington lock, which both are standard on all ThinkPads of course.

On the bottom we have a very important port for any ThinkPad: The docking port for mechanical docks. Namely for the 2013 docks, which are the the ThinkPad Basic, Pro and Ultra docks. The W550s is one of the only Ultrabook ThinkPads with a dGPU and a docking port, which sets it apart from the 14″ ThinkPad Ultrabooks like the T440s, T450s and L450, which all loose their docking port if you choose a nVidia model. As mentioned in the beginning a very important factor for me, as I need both.

W550s_bottom

Vents, Speakers, docking port, Emergency reset hole, water drainage holes

Design

W550s_lid W550s_TP_logo

As a Broadwell ThinkPad the W550s still follows the same CS13 (Clean Sheet 2013) design, that was first introduced with the T431s in early 2013. Clean sheet is actually the internal Lenovo name for a plattform design, T400s for example was the start of the CS09 design, that lasted until 2013. So its just natural that the CS13 design is still in use too – more significant design changes should happen with Skylake.

W550s_opened W550s_Lenovo_logo

The W550s is colored in Graphite Black, which is the color all ThinkPads since the T431s are colored in. Its a bit brighter than the “classic” raven black, and looks like a very dark grey, as the name says “graphite”. The color here seems to be a bit darker than it was with the T440s. The black chassis is accompanied by dark-silver hinges, the red TrackPoint between the B/G/H keys and actually, the one thing that has changed with the Broadwell models, dedicated TrackPoint buttons with red stripes on them (and even the old typical blue little dots on the middle button) – gone is the five-button, streamlined ClickPad. Insteads its back to a more traditional design.

The design is clean and streamlined, modern but true to the ThinkPad design at the same time. It is essentially a 15″ version of the T440s, and shares many similarities with it. You can read more about the CS13 design in my T440s review.

W550s_opened2

Apart from the TrackPoint buttons, the biggest difference is the addition of a numpad. The palmrest and keyboard deck really seems massive compared to 14″ models. Also the display bezels are bigger, which is a pitty, since the thin bezel makes T440s and T450s really attractive and modern looking ThinkPads. The bezel size of the W550s is certainly not the worst of all ThinkPads (out of all modern day ThinkPads, I think both the L430 and the original X1 deserves that title, as well as the T420), but as mentioned, I wish Lenovo would move to smaller size bezels in future models (even if that means sacrificing the numpad).

One thing you won´t find on the W550s are many indicator lights, as Lenovo decided with the CS13 design that they rather wanted a cleaner look with less lights. The W550s has two standby LEDs (the blinking i on the lid and the power button), which blinks when you connect the machine to the power adapter, a fingerprint reader LED, that lets you know when the reader is ready to be swiped, the green FN lock LED and 2 small orange LEDs embedded into the microphone-mute and speaker-mute buttons. Some may miss HDD or WLAN LEDs, but I don´t. The only one that I really miss is the CapsLock LED, which I hope will make a return in future generations.

Build Quality & Materials

The W550s is, alongside its T-series cousin, the T550, the first 15″ Ultrabook model in the “ThinkPad Classic” lineup, which consists of the T, W, X and L series. That alone makes it special when it comes to its construction.

W550s_max-open

A short history lesson on the construction of ThinkPads first: Ever since the T60 came around, every 15″ ThinkPad was based on its formula when it comes to the construction of the chassis: There is the mainboard, which is mounted into a Magnesium structure-frame. The structure frame with the mainboard is fitted into the base unit, which is usually made out of a strengthened plastic like Glass-Fiber reinforced plastic (T520 for example), Carbon Fiber reinforced plastic (T60) or High Elasticity plastic (T500). On top come the metal screen hinges (which are called “top mounted hinges”, because they sit on top of the base), the palmrest/keyboard bezel and the keyboard. That essentially how every 15″ ThinkPad T or W was built from 2006 until 2014, of course with small variations in the design of the keyboard bezel, the base cover etc., but the “grand design scheme” always was more or less the same. Even T540p and W541 are based on this simple concept, which made and makes ThinkPads so incredible durable – if you drop a ThinkPad, the base unit plastic takes the impact, while the mainboard is safe and protected within the structure frame, which is famously called “Roll Cage” by Lenovo. It also makes the system much more stiff and stable against flexing when lifting it with one hand.

WP_20150318_17_50_19_Pro

Magnesium underneath the keyboard

Thats the advantage of this design. The problem is: This design isn’t very easy to transfer into a thinner device. If you make the roll-cage too thin, the Magnesium might break (which happened with the T60). It also isn´t exactly light. It has shown its limitations with the W540, which is lighter than other classic models, but also has some small build quality issues (like flexing palmrest plastic). Thats why thin & light products like the X301, T400s and also the T440s are based on different designs. These were always 13″ and 14″ models though.

The W550s is the first 15″ model with a different construction. Its based essentially on the same construction as the T440s, only with different materials. As with the T440s, the palmrest is here the starting point fot the construction. Onto the palmrest assembly Lenovo directly bonds a thin yet strong Magnesium structure frame. Then the mainboard and all the components are screwed into this new plamrest/structure frame assembly. The screen hinges are still connected with the roll-cage, though not in the top mounted style like the classic T60 construction. Instead, they are “drop down” style, which means the screen opens behind the base. The system is closed with the big single-piece base cover, which is held by 8 screws and several small latches (be careful when removing the base cover).

This construction is not only thinner and lighter, but also in some ways more stable and durable than the classic one. There is virtually no flex anywhere, neither the palmrest flexes a mm, nor does the keyboard, since the thick Magnesium frame is underneath. The system is very stiff. It feels like a true ThinkPad should feel, and not flimsy, like the W540 unfortunately does in some areas (which doesn´t mean it is flimsy, it is very durable, but it just doesn´t always feel as “rock solid”). This good build quality not only has to do with the structure frame of course, its also the right choice of materials. Besides the Magnesium inside the base unit the chassis is made mostly out of Glass fiber reinforced plastic, which is light and strong (though not as light and strong as Carbon fiber reinforced plastic). Maybe its just an illusion, but it feels even more stable than the Magnesium base of the T440s. The screen is carbon fiber too, and solid as well.

Fit & finish: The screen cover is rubberized in a more traditional way than the T440s. It is less slippery, but also not as easy to clean. I preferred the T440s material, but this one is fine too. The base is not rubberized and feels slightly rough.

The hinges are very tight and stable, but you can still open the screen with one hand.

To sum this part up, I like the W550s build quality and materials. Its not as “luxury” as the T440s with its rubberized plamrest and satin display cover, but solid and practical, as I expected.

Display

As already mentioned in the short-specs, my W550s is equipped with the best screen option available for ThinkPads in this size: A 15.5″ 2880×1620 screen (which you could call either “3K” or “FHD++”), made by Panasonic, which is unusual for ThinkPads, because most ThinkPad displays are made by either AUO or LG.

More detailed specs and data of the screen (brightness, contrast and color gammut measured by me with a Spyder 4 Pro):

– Name of the panel: Panasonic VVX16T028J00

– Resolution: 2880×1620, normal pixel matrix

– Panel Type: IPS, matte

– Color Gammut: 95 % of sRGB / 73 % of AdobeRGB

– Brightness Min. : 3,7 nits / Brightness Max. : 336 nits

– Contrast: 554:1

With 336 nits, the screen is fairly bright – brighter than the T440s IPS display. With this relatively high brightness you can use it outdoors. But beware: The screen is indeed anti-glare, but there are some light reflections. Its more like semi-glossy/matte than purely matte. See these two pictures of outdoor usage:

W550s_display-glare W550s_dispay_outdoor

Colors are nice and really popping – this is not only due to the good contrast, but also due to the high sRGB coverage of 95 %, which makes this display perfect for photo editing on the go. The screen is just a pleasant experince – combine the high brightness and good colors with the immense sharpness of the 2880×1620 resolution, and you have a vivid and crisp viewing experince. Viewing photos or videos on this screen really is fun, which is of course also due to the almost perfect viewing angles. Only the bightness is being reduced slightly when looking from an extreme angle.

 

So while the 2880×1620 is great in many ways (sharpness, contrast, brightness, viewing angles), it might be a deal breaker in one way for some people: The high resolution on a 15.5″ display results in a ppi value of 213. Of course this depends on you eyesight and preference when it comes to DPI, but: For many people, 100 % will be way to small. This means you will either want to lower the resolution (which makes everything blurred slightly) or use scaling. Which also results in several problems: Although Windows is almost 100 % scaling optimized these days, some legacy parts are not, as well as many 3rd party legacy applications. It also is problematic if you want to use multiple screens at the same time: If you set scaling to 150 %, not only will your 2880×1620 scale to 150 %, but also the 1920×1080 or 1920×1200 monitor you might use. So, what does this all mean? The resolution creates some issues. For me, the solution was to just use it at 100% 2880×1620. This is just at the edge of what usable for me – 3200×1800 on 13.3″ (276 ppi) like with the Yoga 3 Pro is unusable for me. 2880×1620 is ok, but only when the screen isn´t to far away from me.

So, when sitting at my desk, the W550s sits closed in the Pro dock, while I use my two Eizo screens – and on the go, I use the internal screen, which is totally ok for me. I really like having 2880×1620. Its great when working with two windows side-by-side, because its like having two 1440×1620 screens. If you have good eyesight and like high resolution screens in general, like me, then the resolution is really great. Else, you might be more interested into the alternative FHD screen, which sadly is TN – if you want FHD IPS, look into the T450s or the ThinkPad Yoga 15 (the only 15″ ThinkPad with a FHD IPS screen).

Keyboard

The traditional high-point of any ThinkPad: The keyboard.

Being based on the CS13 keyboard design, it shares all the great strengths of the T440s keyboard: Great travel (1.8 mm), crisp, defined key-stroke, large, well spaced U-shaped Chiclet keys.  As mentioned in the build quality part, no flex to be observed anywhere, the keyboard is rock-solid. W550s provides a great typing experince, as expected from a ThinkPad.

W550s_keyboard

The layout of the main-part of the keyboard is the same too, 6 rows of keys, with the F-keys being primary Multimedia-keys and only secondary F-keys (which can be switched by pressing FN + Esc). So not much has changed, except for one thing: The numpad. As any 15″ ThinkPad since 2013, the W550s has a dedicated numpad – former 15″ ThinkPads had just the standard 14″ keyboard with much wasted space to the sides.

SONY DSC

The numpad does have a value, if you are a number cruncher – you can type in numbers much faster than you could without it. It also can be used in a secondary mode. When Num-Lock is disabled, the numpad acts as a navigational block with PgUp/Down, Home, End, etc. – so if you are a 7 row user and moan over the loss of the navigation-block on the top right of the keyboard, you might be more happy with a 15″ machine, since this layout is closer to the “Desktop standard” than the 14″ or 12″ layout. Another feature of the 15″ layout: There are 4 special keys above the numpad, one opens the calculator app, one locks the PC, the third opens the web-browser/new tab and the last one opens the file explorer – wheter or not you find these keys useful is up to you. They remind me a bit of the special media(browser keys that the A3x models had.

My W550s comes with a backlit keyboard made by Chicony (CHY). Unfortunately, I have to say. Similar to the T440s, the Chicony keyboard gets dirty and greasy really fast. Also, the backlit bleeds a bit under the sides of the keys. Both these small issues are not present with the keyboards made by LiteOn. So, I bought a LiteOn backlit keyboard as an upgrade – this keyboard is even better then the Chicony, typing is more comfortable, and it doesn´t get dirty at all. Again I can only recommend this upgrade. Its pricey though, the keyboard did cost 115 €. But its worth spending for. This keyboard is close to the legendary NMB quality.

Oh, and of course, the keyboard is spill-prove and has the drainage channels. I won´t test this feature though^^

TrackPoint/TouchPad

SONY DSC

The biggest change of the CS13 design was of course the new ClickPad with integrated TrackPoint and TouchPad buttons. After a lot of feedback throughout 2013 and 2014, Lenovo decided to reverse the change and settled for a compromise: Although the TouchPad is still a ClickPad without buttons, the dedicated TrackPoint buttons are back. Most people will like this change, as the UltraNav is essentially back to the version of the X1 Carbon 2012. Well, there are some small differences:

  • The TrackPoint buttons have a slightly different form
  • The buttons are hinged differently, and no longer a part of the keyboard assembly
  • The ClickPad no longer is clickable everywhere, only on the bottom

The buttons are very quiet and not mushy in any way, which I like – they feel better than, say, on a T420. Also, the ClickPad is quieter compared to the 2013 ClickPad. The W550s has a Mylar ClickPad, different from my former T440s, which had a Glass ClickPad. Honestly, I don´t really feel a big difference, although the Glass one feels somewhat cooler. The Glass version might wear of less, which I don´t know though, since I don´t ever use TouchPads 🙂

And this last statement is really a problem for me personally. You know, the buttons are back, yes, but: I personally was a fan of the five button ClickPad. I really liked this concept, which I still find to be innovative. Why? On the W550s, the TouchPad is a barren wasteland. Its not used and just collects dust. On the T440s, it wasn´t. I did use the TouchPad – and guess how, it did use it as a big TrackPoint-button. I could click anywhere! Now, I am back to the small, restrictive dedicated button design, which makes the TrackPad absolutely useless. Many of you will disagree with me on this (to each his or her own), but I would have preferred if Lenovo didn´t step back to the “old” design, and instead improved the new one (which had its flaws, I admit – but not unfixable flaws by any means). I guess its just a personal thing and the market has spoken differently…so I can´t really blame Lenovo here. And, by the way, the buttons not only restrict me in the clickable surface, but really wear of fast – after 3 weeks of usage, it already shows signs of gloss! This didn´t happen with the Glass surface of my T440s…

So all in all, most people will be very happy with the new UltraNav. I am fine with it too, although I would have preferred something different…oh well.

Mobility

All 15″ ThinkPads are of course not really mobile and are not really made for travel. All of them? No! The W550s defies that rule, a little bit at least.

Of course, it ain´t no T440s/T450s or X240/X250. The W550s has the typical 15″ footprint, its even some mm bigger than a W541. The weight was reduced greatly compared to the standard 15″ models however, with 2.26 kg instead of 2.48 kg (which may be heavier than other 15″ Ultrabooks, but the W550s is also business rugged and more stable), plus the 65 W power adapter is also much lighter compared with the W541 and its monstrous 170 W power adapter (176 g vs. 680 g). Its also much thinner than the W541/T540p, with only 22.5 mm height compared to 28.5 mm. That may not sound like much and you might think “Thinness is unimportant”, but: Handing the W550s is much easier and nicer than handling thicker, more traditional system. Its also much better when using as a laptop on your laps, and its better since the base height is lower (which is better for laying down your hands).

The second important part of “mobility” is of course battery performance. The W550s has 2 batteries inside, like all ThinkPad Ultrabook systems in the T / W / X series, besides the X1 Carbon. The internal battery has a capacity of 44 Wh, and the external battery has a capacity of 23 Wh, so combined you have 67 Wh of battery capacity. Both are 3 cell batteries, with the optional 72 Wh 6 cell battery you would have impressive 116 Wh. Lenovo says you can reach 12.5 hrs with the 3 + 3 cell battery configuration, and 21.3 hrs with the 3 + 6 cell config, but thats only theoretical of course. In reality, I managed 7 – 8 hrs with the 3 + 3 cell combination (normal workload with office, internet, some photo-work and videos – also WiFi on and reduced brightness to arounf 75 %). With the 3 + 6 cell config you should be able to get realistic 14-15 hrs. Battery life is truly one of the great strengths of the W550s, and much better than the W541, which will hardly get you 4 hrs with the 6 cell battery and maybe 6 hrs with the 9 cell battery option.

So is the W550s really mobile like a T450s? No, not really, naturally. But its certainly much less “painful” and you will be more likely to take the W550s more often with you, and although it has less power in the CPU department, you will be able to use the W550s much longer on battery than the W541.

Fan & Temperature

First off, the fan states:

  • 0: 0 rpm
  • 1: 2460 rpm
  • 2: 2670 rpm
  • 3: 2873 rpm
  • 4: 3170 rpm
  • 5: 3590 rpm
  • 6: 3990 rpm
  • 7: 4600 rpm

Unlike the T440s, where the cooling was very, very quiet and defensive, the W550s does get louder occasionally. I expected this since it contains faster (and hotter running) components (i7-5500U vs. i5-4200U, Intel HD 4400 iGPU vs. nVidia Quadro K620M dGPU). This might be slightly disturbing to some, so if you want the fan to stay quiet most of the time, you might want to use TPFancontrol.

In normal usage the chassis stays cool. Of course when using CAD software or when you play a game in your spare time, it gets hotter around the right side where the CPU sits, but nothing to worry about. The fan kicks in at 45° C, and the CPU does not get hotter than ~ 75° C even when the CPU is working to capacity.

Performance

As the title says: The goal of the W550s is a fusion of Mobility and Power, both at the same time. Not an easy task to do, but on the mobilitiy part the W550s certainly delivers. What about the power?

The W550s contains in all configurations a Broadwell U dual-core CPU, with a TDP of 15 W, ranging from Core i5 to Core i7 CPUs. This means the W550s falls into the „ULV/Ultra“ CPU departement, which is unusual for a W-series ThinkPad of course, as they were available always with Quad-Core CPUs since the W510. My W550s came with the Core i7-5500U, which is the second best CPU available for the W550s, with its base-clock and turbo slightly lower than the top-of-the-line Core i7-5600U. It also lacks vPro unlike the i7-5600U, which is not important for me, but might be important for company buyers.

CPUz-i7-5500U

In the GPU department, the W550s has, as every W-Series since the W520, an iGPU and a dGPU by nVidia in an optimus arrangement. Specifically, as you might know the Intel HD 5500 and the nVidia Quadro K620M. The HD 5500 is an Intel Gen 8 iGPU with 24 EUs (Executive Units), which is slightly better compared with the HD 4400, its predecessor (with 20 EUs). All the display-outpouts are connected to the Intel GPU (which means mDP, VGA and also all display-outputs on the dock), as well as the internal ThinkPad Display. It is like this since 2013 and the Haswell models, so the nVidia GPU only handles the processing when it is needed, and does not drive any of the displays. The good side about this is that the nVidia is only using energy when it is really needed. The “bad” thing is, you can “only” use 3 displays at the same time, which should be ok for most people – not many people need 4 displays at the same time, and for those, there is the W541, which drives 6 displays at the same time. The Quadro K620M on the other hand is a relatively new GPU based on the Maxwell Gen1 architecture, which is really a step forward. With 384 CUDA cores and a TDP of 25 W, its still nearly as fast as the much less efficient 45 W TDP Quadro K1100M.

GPUz-nvidia GPUz-intel

Storage-wise I have a 500 GB SSHD and a 128 GB M.2 SSD (ADATA Premier Pro SP900 128GB M.2 2242)  in my system. Nothing special to be seen here, both are connected with SATA 3 speed (not superfast mPCIe like the X1 Carbon. The OS is stored on the SSD of course.

DiskMarkSSD DiskMarkHDD

From the left: 128 GB SSD ADATA Premier Pro SP900 M.2 2242; 508 GB SSHD Seagate ST500LM000

With a single 8 GB SO-DIMM module the W550s runs with single channel speed, which might have a slight impact on the overall performance. This would be more of an issue if the W550s only had the Intel iGPU. You can simply extend the RAM with a second 8 GB DDR3L module to 16 GB RAM, which is the official maximum. The unofficial maximum is 32 GB, which is confirmed as working – you need two 16 GB modules, which are ridiculously expensive right now (350 € / $ each module).

CPUz-RAM CPUz-RAM 2

The overall system performance is stellar due to the powerful components. With the SSD, the reasonably fast CPU and the fast dGPU, the system flies in everyday use. I find 8 GB RAM to be the lowest RAM size a system should have as of today, and fine for my usage. Lets look at some benchmarks (Cinebench R15, PCMark 8, CrystalMark 2004):

– Cinebench R15: 261 (CPU), 58 FPS (OpenGL)

– PCMark 8: 2192 (Baseline), 2689 (OpenCl)

– Crystalmark 2004: Mark 204115, ALU 43634, FPU 40677, MEM 32087, HDD 43449, GDI 11826, DGL 32442 (D2D wouldn´t start)

As for a comparison, here are the Cinebench R15 CPU values of the W550s, the W540, the X1 Carbon 2 and the X1 Carbon 3:

Machine & CPU X1 Carbon 2 (i7-4550U) W550s (i7-5500U) X1 Carbon 3 (i7-5600U) W540 (i7-4700MQ)
Result 228 cb 261 cb 273 cb 651 cb

When it comes to more demanding tasks, the bottleneck here isn´t the GPU as with my T440s – its the CPU. Although this isn´t an issue for many GPU demanding tasks, like games (Games like Rome: Total War 2, Civilization Beyond Earth or Diablo 3 play very nice on this mid-range GPU). However, if you are an engineer who uses CPU heavy software (like 3dsMAX for example) or are a programmer that compilates big projects all day, the W550s is NOT a machine for this. For these usage cases, a W541 or a different Quad-Core machines fits much better. The W550s is an Ultrabook first, and a workstation second, with a very specific use case: GPU heavy CAD software that doesn´t require too much CPU performance, since the K620M is slightly more powerful than a K1100M.

Throttling: There is no thermal throttling. As I already mentioned, the CPU doesn´t get any warmer than 75° C. However, you will get TDP throttling when using both CPU cores under load – this is because the CPU clocks at 2.9 GHz for a few seconds and exceeds 15 W for a few seconds. This is allowed by Intel for the Turbo boost function. However, the CPU can´t do that for more than a few seconds. So after a very short “boost”, the clock falls to 2.8 GHz. After 30 seconds, it falls to ~ 2.5 GHz.

Audio and camera

As shown in the connection part, the W550s has two 1W stereo speakers at the bottom. They are louder than the speakers of the T440s, but their sound is overall not as good. Specifically, their sound distorts at the last 80-100 % too much. This problem can be solved by using the preinstalled Dolby v2 software. Yes, this software does affect sound somewhat negative, but not if you use the built in “VoIP” profile. With this one, only the distortion is removed (and the speakers are slightly less loud).

The 720p camera is nothing special. Its a typical low end laptop camera, with noisy and dark pictures. Its ok for a video chat maybe, but not more.

The dual stereo microphones are very good. Due to their position next to the Webcam in the screen bezel, they are also not as sensitive to the fan-noise as on old ThinkPads, where the microphone was somewhere in the palmrest (like R60, T400).

Conclusion

The title says “The fusion of power and mobility”. Is the W550s this fusion? In some parts, yes. For a W system, the battery life is exceptional, and the GPU is on par with the lower end K1100M GPU in the W541. The system is also the thinnest and lightest W model, which of course also helps on the mobility part. However, the CPU is nothing special and while not weak (its about as fast as a Ivy-Bridge 35 W M CPU), it certainly is the bottleneck here and for a W system very weak. So it it the fusion of power and mobility, but not without compromises.

I can recommend the W550s. Its a fine ThinkPad with a great screen, the usual fantastic ThinkPad keyboard, the TrackPoint, very good build quality and more. I can imagine its a good choice for many people who want a 15″ machine without sacrificing the complete mobility aspect. But as I mentioned not for everyone. For that, the CPU is not powerful enough.

What can be improved? The bottom case design. It would be nice to have a maintenance design, where there are no or less latches that might break if you want to upgrade the RAM or the HDD. Also, it would be nice to have the the great texture of the T440s chassis applied on all ThinkPads, as it really creates a premium feeling. At last, the Chicony keyboard gets dirty way to quickly. But thats not specific problem of the W550s, it applies to all current ThinkPads with Chicony keyboards. And of course, a more powerful CPU would make the W550s a better option for many, many people.

Pro Con
  • Keyboard
  • TrackPoint & TrackPad: return of dedicated TrackPoint buttons
  • Build Quality
  • 3K Display Quality
  • Nice port collection with Ethernet and VGA
  • GPU performance
  • Good upgradeablity (3 M.2 slots)
  • Relatively mobile for a 15″ machine
  • Good enough Speakers
  • Docking & dGPU
  • Maintenance could be easier
  • Chicony keyboard gets dirty too fast
  • ppi might be too high for some people, FHD screen option is only TN