Tag Archives: Lenovo

Choosing the right workstation set-up for the job

By Lance Holte

Like virtually everything in the world of filmmaking, the number of available options for a perfect editorial workstation are almost infinite. The vast majority of systems can be greatly customized and expanded, whether by custom order, upgraded internal hardware or with expansion chassis and I/O boxes. In a time when many workstations are purchased, leased or upgraded for a specific project, the workstation buying process is largely determined by the project’s workflow and budget.

One of Harbor Picture Company’s online rooms.

In my experience, no two projects have identical workflows. Even if two projects are very similar, there are usually some slight differences — a different editor, a new camera, a shorter schedule, bigger storage requirements… the list goes on and on. The first step for choosing the optimal workstation(s) for a project is to ask a handful of broad questions that are good starters for workflow design. I generally start by requesting the delivery requirements, since they are a good indicator of the size and scope of the project.

Then I move on to questions like:

What are the camera/footage formats?
How long is the post production schedule?
Who is the editorial staff?

Often there aren’t concrete answers to these questions at the beginning of a project, but even rough answers point the way to follow-up questions. For instance, Q: What are the video delivery requirements? A: It’s a commercial campaign — HD and SD ProRes 4444 QTs.

Simple enough. Next question.

Christopher Lam from SF’s Double Fine Productions/ Courtesy of Wacom.

Q: What is the camera format? A: Red Weapon 6K, because the director wants to be able to do optical effects and stabilize most of the shots. This answer makes it very clear that we’re going to be editing offline, since the commercial budget doesn’t allow for the purchase of a blazing system with a huge, fast storage array.

Q: What is the post schedule? A: Eight weeks. Great. This should allow enough time to transcode ProRes proxies for all the media, followed by offline and online editorial.

At this point, it’s looking like there’s no need for an insanely powerful workstation, and the schedule looks like we’ll only need one editor and an assistant. Q: Who is the editorial staff? A: The editor is an Adobe Premiere guy, and the ad agency wants to spend a ton of time in the bay with him. Now, we know that agency folks really hate technical slowdowns that can sometimes occur with equipment that is pushing the envelope, so this workstation just needs to be something that’s simple and reliable. Macs make agency guys comfortable, so let’s go with a Mac Pro for the editor. If possible, I prefer to connect the client monitor directly via HDMI, since there are no delay issues that can sometimes be caused by HDMI to SDI converters. Of course, since that will use up the Mac Pro’s single HDMI port, the desktop monitors and the audio I/O box will use up two or three Thunderbolt ports. If the assistant editor doesn’t need such a powerful system, a high-end iMac could suffice.

(And for those who don’t mind waiting until the new iMac Pro ships in December, Apple’s latest release of the all-in-one workstation seems to signal a committed return for the company to the professional creative world – and is an encouraging sign for the Mac Pro overhaul in 2018. The iMac Pro addresses its non-upgradability by futureproofing itself as the most powerful all-in-one machine ever released. The base model starts at a hefty $4,999, but boasts options for up to a 5K display, 18-core Xeon processor, 128GB of RAM, and AMD Radeon Vega GPU. As more and more applications add OpenCL acceleration (AMD GPUs), the iMac Pro should stay relevant for a number of years.)

Now, our workflow would be very different if the answer to the first question had instead been A: It’s a feature film. Technicolor will handle the final delivery, but we still want to be able to make in-house 4K DCPs for screenings, EXR and DPX sequences for the VFX vendors, Blu-ray screeners, as well as review files and create all the high-res deliverables for mastering.

Since this project is a feature film, likely with a much larger editorial staff, the workflow might be better suited to editorial in Avid (to use project sharing/bin locking/collaborative editing). And since it turns out that Technicolor is grading the film in Blackmagic Resolve, it makes sense to online the film in Resolve and then pass the project over to Technicolor. Resolve will also cover any in-house temp grading and DCP creation and can handle virtually any video file.

PCs
For the sake of comparison, let’s build out some workstations on the PC side that will cover our editors, assistants, online editors, VFX editors and artists, and temp colorist. PC vs. Mac will likely be a hotly debated topic in this industry for some time, but there is no denying that a PC will return more cost-effective power at the expense of increased complexity (and potential for increased technical issues) than a Mac with similar specs. I also appreciate the longer lifespan of machines with easy upgradability and expandability without requiring expansion chassis or external GPU enclosures.

I’ve had excellent success with the HP Z line — using z840s for serious finishing machines and z440s and z640s for offline editorial workstations. There are almost unlimited options for desktop PCs, but only certain workstations and components are certified for various post applications, so it pays to do certification research when building a workstation from the ground up.

The Molecule‘s artist row in NYC.

It’s also important to keep the workstation components balanced. A system is only as strong as its weakest link, so a workstation with an insanely powerful GPU, but only a handful of CPU cores will be outperformed by a workstation with 16-20 cores and a moderately high-end GPU. Make sure the CPU, GPU, and RAM are similarly matched to get the best bang for your buck and a more stable workstation.

Relationships!
Finally, in terms of getting the best bang for your buck, there’s one trick that reigns supreme: build great relationships with hardware companies and vendors. Hardware companies are always looking for quality input, advice and real-world testing. They are often willing to lend (or give) new equipment in exchange for case studies, reviews, workflow demonstrations and press. Creating relationships is not only a great way to stay up to date with cutting edge equipment, it expands support options, your technical network and is the best opportunity to be directly involved with development. So go to trade shows, be active on forums, teach, write and generally be as involved as possible and your equipment will thank you.

Our Main Image Courtesy of editor/compositor Fred Ruckel.

 


Lance Holte is an LA-based post production supervisor and producer. He has spoken and taught at such events as NAB, SMPTE, SIGGRAPH and Createasphere. You can email him at lance@lanceholte.com.

Lenovo’s ‘Transform’ event: IT subscriptions and AR

By Claudio Santos

Last week I had the opportunity to attend Lenovo’s “Transform” event, in which the company unveiled its newest releases as well as its plans for the near future. I must say they had quite the lineup ready.

The whole event was divided into two tracks “Datacenters” and “PC and Smart Devices.” Each focused on its own products and markets, but a single idea permeated all announcements in the day. It’s what Lenovo calls the “Fourth Revolution.” That’s what the company calls the next step in integration between devices and the cloud. Their vision is that soon 5G mobile Internet will be available, allowing for devices to seamlessly connect to the cloud on the go and more importantly, always stay connected.

While there were many interesting announcements throughout the day, I will focus on two that seem more closely relatable to most post facilities.

The first is what Lenovo is calling “PC as a service.” They want to sell the bulk of the IT hardware and support needs for companies as subscription-based deals, and that would be awesome! Why? Well, it’s simply a fact of life now that post production happens almost exclusively with the aid of computer software (sorry, if you’re still one of the few cutting film by hand, this article won’t be that interesting for you).

Having to choose, buy and maintain computers for our daily work takes a lot of research and, most notably, time. Between software updates, managing different licenses, subscriptions and hunting down weird quirks of the system, a lot of time is taken away from more important tasks such as editing or client relationship. When you throw a server and a local network in the mix it becomes a hefty job that takes a lot of maintenance.

That’s why bigger facilities employ IT specialists to deal with all that. But many post facilities aren’t big enough to employ a full-time IT person, nor are their needs complex enough to warrant the investment.

Lenovo sees this as an opportunity to simplify the role of the IT department by selling subscriptions that include the hardware, the software and all the necessary support (including a help desk) to keep the systems running without having to invest in a large IT department. More importantly, the subscription would be flexible. So, during periods in which you have need for more stations/support you can increase the scope of the subscription and then shrink it once again when the demands lower, freeing you from absorbing the cost of unused machines/software that would just sit around unused.

I see one big problem in this vision: Lenovo plans to start the service with a minimum of 1,000 seats for a deal. That is far, far more staff than most post facilities have, and at that point it would probably just be worth hiring a specialist that can also help you automate your workflow and develop customized tools for your projects. It is nonetheless an interesting approach, and I hope to see it trickle down to smaller clients as it solidifies as a feasible model.

AR
The other announcement that should interest post facilities is Lenovo’s interest in the AR market. As many of you might know, augmented reality is projected to be an even bigger market than it’s more popular cousin virtual reality, largely due to its more professional application possibilities.

Lenovo has been investing in AR and has partnered up with Metavision to experiment and start working towards real work-environment offerings of the technology. Besides the hand gestures that are always emphasized in AR promo videos, one very simple use-case seems to be in Lenovo’s sights, and that’s one I hope to see being marketable very soon: workspace expansion. Instead of needing three or four different monitors to accommodate our ever-growing number of windows and displays while working, with AR we will be able to place windows anywhere around us, essentially giving us a giant spherical display. A very simple problem with a very simple solution, but one that I believe would increase the productivity of editors by a considerable amount.

We should definitely keep an eye on Lenovo as they embark one this new quest for high-efficiency solutions for businesses, because that’s exactly what the post production industry finds itself in need of right now.


Claudio Santos is a sound editor and spatial audio mixer at Silver Sound. Slightly too interested in technology and workflow hacks, he spends most of his waking hours tweaking, fiddling and tinkering away on his computer.

Review: Lenovo ThinkStation P410

By Brady Betzel

With the lukewarm reaction of the professional community to the new Apple MacBook Pro, there are many creative professionals who are seriously — for the first time in their careers — considering whether or not to jump into a Windows-based world.

I grew up using an Apple II GS from 1986 (I was born in 1983, if you’re wondering), but I always worked on both Windows and Apple computers. I guess my father really instilled the idea of being independent and not relying on one thing or one way of doing something — he wanted me to rely on my own knowledge and not on others.

Not to get too philosophical, but when he purchased all the parts I needed to build my own Windows system, it was incredibly gratifying. I would have loved to have built my own Apple system, but obviously never could. That is why I am so open to computer systems of any operating system software.

If you are deciding whether or not to upgrade your workstation and have never considered solutions other than HP, Dell or Apple, you will want to read what I have to say about Lenovo‘s latest workstation, the P410.

When I set out on this review, I didn’t have any Display Port-compatible monitors and Lenovo was nice enough to send their beautiful Think Vision Pro 2840m — another great piece of hardware.

Digging In
I want to jump right into the specs of the ThinkStation P410. Under the hood is an Intel Xeon E5-1650 v4, which in plain terms is a 6-core 3.6GHz 15MB CPU that can reach all the way up to 4.0GHz if needed using Intel’s Turbo Boost technology. The graphics card is a medium-sized monster — the Nvidia Quadro M4000 with 8GB of GDDR5 memory and 1664 CUDA cores. It has 4 DisplayPort 1.2 ports to power those four 30-bit 4096×2160 @60Hz displays you will run when editing and color correcting.

If you need more CUDA power you could step up to the Nvidia M5000, which runs 2048 CUDA cores or the M6000, which runs 3072 CUDA cores, but that power isn’t cheap (and as of this review they are not even an option from Lenovo in the P410 customization — you will probably have to step up to a higher model number).

There is 16GB of DD4-2400 ECC memory, 1TB 2.5-inch SATA 6Gb/s SSD (made by Macron), plus a few things like a DVD writer, media card reader, keyboard and mouse. At the time I was writing this review, you could configure this system for a grand total of $2,794, but if you purchase it online at shop.lenovo.com it will cost a little under $2,515 with some online discounts. As I priced this system out over a few weeks I noticed the prices changed, so keep in mind it could be higher. I configured a similar style HP z440 workstation for around $3,600 and a Dell Precision Tower 5000 for around $3,780, so Lenovo’s prices are on the low end for major-brand workstations.

For expansion (which Windows-based PCs seem to lead the pack in), you have a total of four DIMM slots for memory (two are taken up already by two 8GB sticks), four PCIe slots and four hard drive bays. Two of the hard drive bays are considered Flex Bays, which can be used for hard drives, hard drive + slim optical drive or something like front USB 3.0 ports.

On the back there are your favorite PS/2 keyboard port and mouse port, two USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, audio in/out/mic and four DisplayPorts.

Testing
I first wanted to test the P410’s encoding speed when using Adobe Media Encoder. I took a eight-minute, 30 second 1920×1080 23.98fps ProRes HQ QuickTime that I had filmed using a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, did a quick color balance in Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2017 using the Lumetri Color Correction tools and exported a Single Pass, variable bit rate 25Mb/s H.264 using Media Encoder. Typically, CUDA cores kick in when you use GPU-accelerated tools like transitions, scaling in Premiere and when you export files with GPU effects such as Lumetri Color tools. Typically, when exporting from tools, like Adobe Premiere Pro CC or Adobe Media Encoder, the GPU acceleration kicks in only if you’ve applied GPU-accelerated effects, color correction with something like Lumetri (which is GPU accelerated) or a resize effect. Otherwise if you are just transcoding from one codec to another the CPU will handle the task.

In this test, it took Media Encoder about six minutes to encode the H.264 when Mercury Playback Engine GPU Acceleration (CUDA) was enabled. Without the GPU acceleration enabled it took 14 minutes. So by using the GPU, I got about a 40 percent speed increase thanks to the power of the Nvidia Quadro M4000 with 8GB of GDDR5 RAM.

For comparison, I did the same test on a newly released MacBook Pro with Touch Bar i7 2.9Ghz Quad Core, 16GB of 2133 MHz LPDDR3 memory and AMD Radeon Pro 460 4GB of RAM (uses OpenCL as opposed to CUDA); it took Media Encoder about nine minutes using the GPU.

Another test I love to run uses Maxon’s Cinebench, which simply runs real-world scenarios like photorealistic rendering and a 3D car chase. This taxes your system with almost one million polygons and textures. Basically, it makes your system do a bunch of math, which helps in separating immature workstations from the professional ones. This system came in around 165 frames per second. In comparison to other systems, with similar configurations to the P410, it placed first or second. So it’s fast.

Lenovo Performance Tuner
While the low price is what really sets the P410 apart from the rest of the pack, Lenovo has recently released a hardware tuning software program called Lenovo Performance Tuner. Performance Tuner is a free app that helps to focus your Lenovo workstation on the app you are using. For instance, I use Adobe CC a lot at home, so when I am working in Premiere I want all of my power focused there with minimal power focused on background apps that I may not have turned off — sometimes I let Chrome run in the background or I want to jump between Premiere, Resolve and Photoshop. You can simply launch Performance Tuner and click the app you want to launch in Lenovo’s “optimized” state. You can go further by jumping into the Settings tab and customize things like Power Management Mode to always be on Max Performance. It’s a pretty handy tool when you want to quickly funnel all of your computing resources to one app.

The Think Vision Pro Monitor
Lastly, I wanted to quickly touch on the Think Vision Pro 2840m LED backlit LCD monitor Lenovo let me borrow for this review. The color fidelity is awesome and can work at a resolution up to 3840×2160 (UHD, not full 4K). It will tilt and rotate almost any way you need it to, and it will even go full vertical at 90 degrees.

When working with P410 I had some problems with DisplayPort not always kicking in with the monitor, or any monitor for that matter. Sometimes I would have to unplug and plug the DisplayPort cable back in while the system was on for the monitor to recognize and turn on. Nonetheless, the monitor is awesome at 28 inches. Keep in mind it has a glossy finish so it might not be for you if you are near a lot of light or windows — while the color and brightness punch through, there is a some glare with other light sources in the room.

Summing Up
In the end, the Lenovo ThinkStation P410 workstation is a workhorse. Even though it’s at the entry level of Lenovo’s workstations, it has a lot of power and a great price. When I priced out a similar system using PC Partpicker, it ran about $2,600 — you can check out the DIY build I put together on PCPartpicker.com: https://pcpartpicker.com/list/r9H4Ps.

A drawback of DIY custom builds though is that they don’t include powerful support, a complete warranty from a single company or ISV certifications (ISV = Independent Software Vendors). Simply, ISVs are the way major workstation builders like HP, Dell and Lenovo test their workstations against commonly used software like Premiere Pro or Avid Media Composer in workstation-focused industries like editing or motion graphics.

One of the most misunderstood benefits of a workstation is that it’s meant to run day and night. So not only do you get enterprise-level components like Nvidia Quadro graphics cards and Intel Xeon CPUs, the components are made for durability as well as performance. This way there is little downtime, especially in mission-critical environments. I didn’t get to run this system for months constantly, but I didn’t see any sign of problems in my testing.

When you buy a Lenovo workstation it comes with a three-year on-site warranty, which covers anything that goes wrong with the hardware itself, including faulty workmanship. But it won’t cover things like spills, drops or electrical surges.

I liked the Lenovo ThinkStation P410. It’s fast, does the job and has quality components. I felt that it lacked a few of today’s necessary I/O ports like USB-C/Thunderbolt 3.

The biggest pro for this workstation is the overwhelmingly low price point for a major brand workstation like the ThinkStation P410. Check out the Lenovo website for the P410 and maybe even wander into the P910 aisle, which showcases some of the most powerful workstations they make.

Check out this video I made that gives you a closer look at (and inside) the workstation.

Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Lenovo’s ThinkPad P50, P70: possible DIT powerhouses

By Boon Shin Ng

When I was asked by postPerspective if I’d like to get a hands-on preview of some of Lenovo’s upcoming embargoed products over lunch, my answer was, “Of course!” Technology and food — a match made in heaven!

Both lunch and tech did not fail that day. It was an intimate setting of five at an upstairs private balcony of a nice restaurant here in New York City. During lunch, we were presented with Lenovo’s latest laptops — the ThinkPad P Series, which includes the P50 (15 inches) and the P70 (17 inches). The company pitched them as workstations in a laptop size, which feature new Intel Xeon processors.

Thinkpad_P70_Hero_Shot2

While Lenovo went over the details of the products, I began wondering if they could be used as part of my DIT setup in order to reduce my footprint. In my mind I kept checking boxes:

– Number pad on a 15-inch laptop — check
– USB 3.1/Thunderbolt 3, offering transfer speeds of 40Gbps — check
– 4K UHD IPS display and FHD touchscreen options — check
– Integrated X-Rite Pantone color calibration — check
– Two dims (oh wait, no, it has four DIMMS!) – check
– RAID-capable drive setup — check (M.2 PCIe is an option)
– Solid and rugged feel – check

For those who remember the ThinkPad when it belonged to IBM — before Lenovo bought the technology — the little red knob tracker is there. Double check!

The machines also feature Nvidia Quadro graphics and up to 64GB DDR4 ECC memory.

The beauty of the machine comes in its innards. While we were presented with three different kinds of antipasti, the different parts of the machine were handed over to us to get hands-on. The roll cage was surprisingly light and sturdy. When I held it up, it looked like a piece of steam-punk art. The cooling design continued along this theme, with its two fans on each end — brass-like tubes extended toward each other and melded together as one piece. I didn’t know a laptop could be sexy on the inside.

Thinkpad_P50_Hero_Shot2Thinkpad_P70_Close-up_Shot1

While I mulled over how lucky I was to be able to get to see the insides of a laptop (Yes, I’m that geeky!), our steak entrée came and we all started chatting about the weather, our first computers and what other things we would like to see in a laptop. It was informal, casual and relaxing, which is exactly how I like my tech to be presented.

When the preview of the tech ended, and as I walked the streets of New York on the way to my next meeting, I thought about using this laptop as my next DIT setup. The many I/O ports are always a plus, and integrated color calibration is nice to have, although it will not replace a reference monitor on the set. I’m the kind of person who will need to test the laptop out thoroughly before drawing a conclusion on its value, but it’s looking very promising for a start. Look to this space in the future for a full review.

Now I am just waiting for the day when we can have screens flexible enough to be able to open up a laptop like a pop-up book, to have three different screens and a pen tablet. I hope to be among the first to see that, and if it’s over a delicious lunch, all the better.

Boon Shin Ng is a NYC-based post pro working in turnovers, workflow, finishing, online, color and dailies.

Review: Lenovo ThinkPad W550s Ultrabook mobile workstation

By Brady Betzel

Over the last few years, I’ve done a lot of workstation reviews, including ones for HP’s z800 and z840, Dell’s mobile workstations and now the Lenovo ThinkPad W550s mobile workstation.

After each workstation review goes live, I’m always asked the same question: Why would anyone pay the extra money for a professional workstation when you can buy something that performs almost as good if not better for half the price? That’s a great question.

What separates workstations from consumer or DIY systems is primarily ISV (Independent Software Vendor) certifications. Many companies, including Lenovo, work directly with software manufacturers like Autodesk and Adobe to ensure that the product you are receiving will work with the software you use, including drivers, displays, keypads, ports (like the mini display port) and so on. So while you are paying a premium to ensure compatibility, you are really paying for the peace of mind that your system will work with the software you use most. The Lenovo W550s has ISV-certified drivers with Autodesk, Dassault, Nemetscheck Vectorworks, PTC and Siemens, all relating to drivers for the Nvidia Quadro K620M graphics card.

W550s_Standard_05

Beyond ISV driver certifications, the Lenovo ThinkPad W550s is a lightweight powerhouse with the longest battery life I have ever seen in a mobile workstation — all for around $2,500.

Out of the box I noticed two batteries charging when I powered on Windows 8.1 — you can choose Windows 7 (64-bit) or 8.1 (64-bit). One of the best features I have seen in a mobile workstation is the ability to swap batteries without powering down (I guess that’s the old man in me coming out), and Lenovo has found a way to do it without charging an arm and a leg and physically only showing one battery. For $50 (included in the $2,500 price), you can have a three-cell (44Whr) battery in the front and a six-cell (72Whr) battery in the back. I was able to work about three days in a row without charging.

This was intermittent work ranging from sending out tweets with 10 tabs up in Chrome to encoding a 4K H.264 for YouTube in Adobe Media Encoder. It was a very welcome surprise, and if I had a second battery I could swap them out without losing power because of the battery in the front (built-in).

Under the Hood
The battery life is the biggest feature in my opinion, but let’s layout the rest of the specs… Processor: Intel Core i7-5600U (4MB Cache, up to 3.20GHz – I got 2.6); OS: Windows 8.1 Pro 64; Display: 15.5-inches 3K (2880×1620), IPS, Multi-touch, with WWAN; Graphics: Nvidia Quadro K620M 2GB; Memory: 16 PC3-12800 DDR3L; Keyboard: backlit with number keypad; Pointing Device: trackpoint (little red joystick looking mouse), Touchpad and Fingerprint Reader; Camera: 720p; Hard Drive: 512GB Serial ATA3, SSD; Battery: three-cell Li-Polymer 44Whr (Front), six-cell Li-ion 72Whr Cyl HC (Rear); Power Cord: 65W AC Adapter; Wireless: Intel 7265 AC/B/G/N dual band wireless plus Bluetooth; Warranty: one-year carry-in (diagnosed by phone first).

The W550s has a bunch of great inputs, like the mini display port, which I got to work instantly with an external monitor; three USB 3.0 ports with one of them always on for charging of devices; a smart card reader, which I used a lot; and even a VGA port.

W550s_Product tour_06 W550s_Product tour_05

In terms of power I received a nice Intel i7-5600U Quad Core CPU running at 2.6GHz or higher. Combined with the Nvidia Quadro K620M and 16GB of DDR3L, the Intel i7-5600U delivered enough power to encode my GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition 4K timelapses quickly using the GoPro software and Adobe Media Encoder.

Encoding and layering effects is what really bogs a video editing system down, so what better way to see what the W550s is made of than by removing the fisheye on my clip with an effect on the image sequence containing about 2,400 stills in Adobe Premiere, speeding up the timelapse by 1,000 percent and sending the sequence to Adobe Media Encoder? In the end, the W550s chewed through the render and spit out a 4K YouTube-compatible H.264 in around 15 minutes. The CUDA cores in the Nvidia Quadro K620M really helped, although this did kick the fans on. I did about six of these timelapses to verify that my tests were conclusive. If you want to see them you can check them out on YouTube.

The Quadro K620M is on the lower end of the mobile Quadro family but boasts 384 CUDA cores that help with the encoding and transcoding of media using the Adobe Creative Suite. In fact, I needed a laptop to use in a presentation I did for the Editors’ Lounge. I wanted to run After Effects CC 2014 along with Video Copilot’s Element 3D V1.6 plug-in, Maxon Cinema 4D Studio R16 and Avid Media Composer 6.5, all while running Camtasia (screen capture software) the entire time. That’s a lot to run at once, and I decided to give the W550s the task.

In terms of processing power the W550s worked great — I even left After Effects running while I was inside of Cinema 4D doing some simple demos of House Builder and MoText work. I have to say I was expecting some lag when switching between the two powerhouse software programs, but I was running Element 3D without a hiccup, even replicating the text particle and adding materials and lighting to them – both a testament to a great plug-in as well as a great machine.

While the power was not a problem for the W550s, I did encounter some interesting problems with the screen resolution. I have to preface this by saying that it is definitely NOT Lenovo’s problem that I am describing, it has to do with Avid Media Composer not being optimized for this high resolution of a screen. Avid Media Composer was almost unusable on the 15.5-inch 3K (2880×1620), IPS, multi-touch screen. The user interface has not been updated for today’s high-resolution screens, including the W550s. It is something to definitely be aware of when purchasing a workstation like this.

I did a few benchmarks for this system using Maxon Cinebench R15 software, which tests the OpenGL and CPU performances as compared to other systems with similar specs. The OpenGL test revealed a score of 35.32fps while the CPU test revealed a score of 265cb. You can download Cinebench R15 here and test your current set-up against my tests of the W550s.

There are a couple of things cosmetically that I am not as fond of on the W550s. When you purchase the larger rear battery, keep in mind that it adds about ¼- to ½-inch lift — it will no longer sit flat. In addition the keyboard is very nice and I found myself really liking the addition of the numeric keypad, especially when typing in exact frames in Premiere, the touchpad has the three buttons on top instead of underneath like I have typically encountered. On one hand I can see how if you retrain yourself to use the three buttons with the left hand while using your right hand on the touch pad it may be more efficient. On the other hand it will get annoying. I like the idea of a touchscreen, in theory — It’s nice to move windows around. But practically speaking, from a video and motion graphics standpoint, it probably isn’t worth the extra money and I would stick to a non-touch screen for a mobile workstation.

The last item to cover is the warranty. Typically, workstations have a pretty good warranty. Lenovo gives you a one-year carry-in warranty with the purchase of the W550s, which to me is short. This really hurts the price of the workstation because to get more than a three-year warranty — one that will actually help you within a business day if a crisis arises – will cost you at least a few hundred dollars more.

Summing Up
In the end, the price and awesome battery life make the Lenovo ThinkPad W550s a lightweight mobile workstation that can crunch through renders quickly. If I was ordering one for myself I would probably max out the memory at 32GB, get rid of the touchscreen (maybe even keep the 1920×1080 resolution version) and keep everything else… oh, I would also upgrade to a better warranty.

Before you leave, take these highlights with you: extreme battery life, lightweight and durable, and powerful enough for multimedia use.