Updated: Correction, not all ThinkPads are going to be pure black again, only those with a new chassis.
Happy new year 2016! The ThinkScopes team hopes you all have a great year, equally good or better than the last one.
As it always happens around this time of the year, the annual Consumer Electronics Show, in short CES, is staged in Las Vegas. And for the third time since 2010, Lenovo uses this opportunity to announce the latest generation of ThinkPad notebooks, the ThinkPad Tx60 line, or simply, their ThinkPad 2016 portfolio.
This article is there to give a general overview over changes made to the lineup as a whole, as well as the underlying technology trends. For more in-depth views on the individual models and series, please visit our individual articles for them:
The ThinkPad 2016 Portfolio
First of, I want to list the entire ThinkPad 2016 portfolio here:
- T-Series: T460, T560, T460p, T460s
- X-Series: X260, X1 Carbon (Gen 4), X1 Yoga (Gen 1), X1 Tablet (Gen 1)
- P-Series: P40 Yoga, P50s, P50, P70
- L-Series: L460, L560
- E-Series: E460/E465, E560/E565
- ThinkPad Yoga: ThinkPad Yoga 260, ThinkPad Yoga 460
- Tablet: ThinkPad 10 (Gen 2)
- Budget/Education: ThinkPad Yoga 11e (Gen 2), ThinkPad 13
Compared to last years lineup, we have lost a few models, but we also have gained a few. Last years lineup, which was mostly a very, very small upgrade of the 2013 Haswell ThinkPad lineup, consisted out of 20 models (ok, depending on how you count) this years lineup has 21 models, which is the biggest ThinkPad lineup up until now.
One could easily argue that things are getting out of hand, and in a way, yes, maybe a slightly smaller lineup would be better, as Lenovo could concentrate more on perfecting each model.
Completely new (= models that don´t have a direct predecessor in the 2015 lineup) are the following models:
- X1 Tablet, X1 Yoga
- P70, P40 Yoga
- ThinkPad 13
Models which do not get a successor and are being discontinued:
- ThinkPad Yoga 15
- ThinkPad Helix (Gen 2)
The changes and trends this year
Ever since Intel started promoting Ultrabooks in 2011, the notebook market had one clear direction: Thinner and lighter. Thinkpads are no exception. This trend continues, although Lenovo is careful not to accelerate the push towards the Ultrabook standard too fast. Many of the new models share the same footprint and chassis as their Broadwell predecessors. Most of them, although significantly thinner then the old 25-30 mm standard of Thinkpads from 2012 and before, are still far away from being considered super thin. Still, it is a trend thats being represented with the new portfolio:
- Models like the P50, the Yoga 260, T460s, T460p and X1 Carbon 2016 are all more or less thinner than their predecessors
- Thicker models like the T540p or L440 are discontinued or succeeded by thinner, Ultrabook type follow up models
All new ThinkPads are based on the Skylake plattform of course. Skylake however, as always, is available in several different flavours: There are models with Core i3 – i7 U CPUs (Low Voltage, 15 W TDP), which are currently Intels mainstream dual-core chips, and ThinkPads with Core i3 H and Core i5 – i7 HQ CPUs (High Voltage, 35 – 45 W TDP), which are Intels mainstream quad-core chips. Also, there are the Core M CPUs, which are Ultra Low Voltage CPUs for very thin tablets and convertibles.
U CPU ThinkPads:
- T460s, T460, T560
- X260, X1 Carbon, X1 Yoga
- P50s, P40 Yoga
- E460, E560
- Yoga 260, Yoga 460
- ThinkPad 13
HQ CPU ThinkPads:
- P50, P70
Core M ThinkPads:
- X1 Tablet
As you can see, the majority uses U CPUs, so you can consider this the “standard”. With the exception of the T460p, HQ CPUs are exclusively used on the ThinkPad P-series.
Note that this is the first ThinkPad lineup without any Core i7-xxxxM / i7-xxxxMQ CPU options, as these CPUs are no longer offered by Intel. This also means all ThinkPads have soldered down CPUs now, as U / HQ / H CPUs are always soldered down, unlike the socketed M / MQ CPUs of former generations.
In the GPU department, there are only relatively small upgrade compared to last years lineup. The dedicated GPU option last years lineup were already based on nVidia Maxwell, which still is the current nVidia GPU microarchitecture – Pascal, its successor, will be out sometimes in 2016 or 2017, which is too late for this ThinkPad generation. Nontheless, there are some small improvements, as nVidia has refreshed some of their GPUs (like the step up from the GeForce 940M to the 940MX).
The biggest upgrade this year is are the new Quadro GPUs used in P50 and P70. W541 was still based on Kepler GPUs, like the K2100M, P50 now uses Maxwell based chips like the M2000M. P70 of course has even more powerful GPU options, up to the high end Quadro M5000M.
Storage and Memory
Part of this big push towards thinner and lighter design is the move away from classical opical disk drives (ODDs) and hard disk drives (HDDs). There are only two models left in the ThinkPad portfolio with ODDs (L560 and P70), last year we still had five models (T440p, T540p, L440, L540, W541).
While there are still plenty models with 2.5″ HDDs, the move towards M.2 SSD only systems has started, with the T460s, X1 Carbon, X1 Yoga, X1 Tablet and Yoga 260 taking the lead. Even P50 and P70, models that still have a 2.5″ HDD slot, have switched to M.2 SSDs as their main storage provider, the HDDs are merely an option here. I predict that we might have a lineup completely without HDDs in 2018 maybe. Part of the push to SSDs is also the transition from SATA 3 AHCI based storage to new PCIe NVMe storage, which basically means the new machines are able to accept SSDs that run a lot faster.
As part of the Skylake plattform, which all machines listed here are based on, except the ThinkPad 10 of course, some models are adopting DDR4, the next gen memory standard. A part of the lineup stays with DDR3L, likely until 2017 when Kaby Lake comes around – as storage, memory is in a transition period.
Since the initial move from TN screens to IPS displays on high end configuration with the 2013 lineup, not much changed here, so now we see a move to IPS on midrange and even low end configurations and systems too. Most of the high end systems are IPS only now:
IPS Only Systems:
- T460s, T460p
- X1 Carbon, X1 Yoga, X1 Tablet
- P40 Yoga, P50s, P50, P70
- Yoga 260, Yoga 460
- ThinkPad 10
- ThinkPad Yoga 11e
Systems with a TN HD screen options (also available with IPS options):
- T460, T560
- L460, L560
- E460/E465, E560/E565
- ThinkPad 11e, ThinkPad 13
Aspect ratio wise, all ThinkPads, except the X1 Tablet and the ThinkPad 10, are 16:9 based. The X1 Tablet is the first ThinkPad with a 3:2 aspect ratio. Also, as a first ever for ThinkPads, the X1 Yoga features an optional OLED display, so this is also a future perspective where the display technology might go.
As last year, there are some ThinkPads with touchscreen-options. Last year, however, this had two major downsides: Touchscreen models had displays that were slightly glossy, and they were thicker and heavier than their non-touch brothers. While this years models should share the first problem (being slightly glossy), Lenovo has tried to solve the second one by implementing the so called in-cell touchscreen technology. For those who don´t know, this means that instead of adding a separate touch-layer on top of the pixels, the touch sensors are integrated besides each pixel, which means the panel will be thinner and lighter than before.
With this ThinkPad generation, the days of VGA are over. Well, almost. With the exception of two models, all ThinkPads have moved from VGA and mDP to HDMI and mDP. After the move from LVDS to eDP for the internal display connection, the days of analog video are finally (almost) over.
Another trend this year is the adoption of the faster LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) standard, as well as the option of WiGig docking on more expensive models (you need certain special Intel WiFi cards for that).
A question some people may have: What about USB Type C? And why doesn´t Lenovo ship more ThinkPads with Thunderbolt 3? Lenovo seems to go the more conservative, safe route with this. For this year, only select models will be available with USB Type C, for example the ThinkPad 13 and the X1 Tablet. Expect to see more models move to USB Type C first in 2017 or 2018. Thunderbolt 3 is only offered on P50 and P70, as Thunderbolt is still considered to be a niche standard. I guess we will have to wait for Intel to include Thunderbolt in their chipset – that will be the point when it will become standard on more ThinkPads.
Outer Design & Input devices
As I already mentioned: SkylakeThinkPads are a bigger upgrade over Broadwell ThinkPads than Broadwell ThinkPads were over the Haswell models. However, compared to the huge step of 2012 -> 2013, the 2016 ThinkPad lineup is still a rather small upgrade, especially in this department. Evolution, not revolution, thats the key of ThinkPad design. Only two minor changes have been made to the overall ThinkPad design: The chassis color is pure black once again, after Lenovo got feedback that black was preferred over grey. Thinkpads are back in black. Also, the old Lenovo logo is switched with the new one. The last change applies to all ThinkPads, the other one only to models with a new chassis. T460, X260, T560 for example is still Graphite Black. This will stay like this, until their chassis is redesigned too.
Many models have retained the chassis architecture of their Broadwell and even Haswell predecessors. T460, T560, L460, X260, P50s, E460, E560, all of them have roughly the same chassis as last years models. The good thing about this of course: All the accessories, like docks and batteries for these models are the same as last year, no changes there. The downside is, these models are lacking some of the new features, like for example the new touch fingerprint sensor
Models upgraded with new chassis are for example the T460s, Yoga 260, X1 Carbon (Gen 4), P50 and L560. All of them feature new design features like the mentioned new fingerprint reader or a new charging LED next to the charging port. P50 & P70 also feature a HDD LED, so thats another area where Lenovo is reacting to customer feedback.
As for keyboards & touchpads, nearly everything stays the same here, with two exceptions: The P50 & P70 now feature a new keyboard and touchpad. The keyboard features more status LEDs (like LEDs for CapsLock & NumLock), and the touchpad has 3 dedicated mouse-buttons (which is the first time ever we have a full set of mouse buttons for the TrackPoint and the touchpad). Regarding the TrackPoint, we see a return to the TrackPoint buttons of the Tx30 series on models with a new chassis (models like the T460 with the old Tx40 & Tx50 chassis still have the Tx50 Trackpoint buttons).
What about Retro ThinkPad?
I guess thats a big question many people have. For those who don´t know, David Hill, the chief designer of ThinkPads, released a series of blog posts last summer exploring the potential of a Retro ThinkPad, a machine with a 7 Row keyboard and a 16:10 screen.
You may have noticed that its not part of the announcement. Why? The machine is not ready yet, but ThinkScopes was told that development is on track. However, right now Lenovo faces a supply issue for the screen of this machine. Originally, Lenovo wanted to show off a prototype on CES, but because of the supply issue, this won´t happen.
So although it may be a little disappointing to not see a prototype now, don´t worry about it – this will happen eventually.
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