Lenovo Thinkpad as DAW

Can the Thinkpad P52 replace a MacBook Pro in the studio?

As a longtime Mac user faced with increasing prices and limited hardware choices I decided to peek outside of Apple's walled garden to see how Windows laptops have evolved over the past 10 years. I've had great experiences with Windows 10 on the desktop on a machine that was originally assembled for a Hackintosh build. After some time I decided to relegate that PC to a dedicated gaming box and decided on a Mac Mini for my dedicated DAW machine.

I decided on the Lenovo Thinkpad P52 workstation class laptop for the following reasons:

1. Outstanding cooling
2. User upgradeable RAM (up to 128GB)
3. Internal drive bays (2 NVME, 1 2.5" bays).
4. Expandability - Thunderbolt 3, a plethora of USB ports, Ethernet ...
5. Removeable battery
6. Keyboard


I ran into a few problems getting my Universal Audio Apollo and Arrow interface to play nicely with Windows but after tweaking some settings in the bios it was smooth sailing. Most of my applications are cross-platform so getting up and running on Windows was fairly smooth sailing. The DPC latency on the Thinkpad was not as low as my MacBook Pro or Mini but Cubase and Ableton were able to handle everything I threw at it without complaining. The remainder of this article has more to do with Windows pain points than the Thinkpad itself.

My main beefs I had with the Thinkpad are sort of superficial but not unfounded:

1. Trackpad: Windows laptop track-pads are not as good as the MacBook Pro and Magic track-pads. Period. I looked high and low and the general consensus is you either get used to poor scrolling and lack of fluid gestures or move back to Apple. I must admit, Windows 10 gestures are smooth if you get used to them but nowhere as silky as the OSX.

2. Font rendering: After a few days of using my applications in Windows I was ready to scratch my eyes out. The font rendering in Windows is piss poor and no amount of messing with font scaling or smoothing in the system settings helped. I mean, even Ubuntu has smoother fonts than Windows.

3. Weight: The P series laptops are workstations and built like tanks. Taking the laptop from the studio to the couch was more of an ordeal than I had initially anticipated. The units are very heavy and best situated on a table or desk due to the weight and the heat produced under heavy workloads. Look elsewhere if you value thin and light.

Summary

In general the Thinkpad P Series laptops are very solid and provide workstation class performance. If I was happy to use Windows I'd pick up a Thinkpad or Dell XPS and never look back. I ultimately decided to pay the Apple tax and picked up a 16" MacBook Pro for my mobile projects and couch surfing needs.

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