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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme vs. MacBook Pro 15

Whether it’s for gaming, productivity, or viewing media, 15-inch laptops are some of our favorite laptops of all. They can be quite different from one another in design and platform, though. Taking a look at two of the top contenders in this class, we’re pitted the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme against the MacBook Pro 15-inch to see which notebook comes out on top.

Note: The MacBook Pro 15 is no longer offered by Apple. The latest alternative is the MacBook Pro 16. You can find some of our coverage of the MacBook Pro 16 here:

Design

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme review
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

At first glance, it’s easy to see that the MacBook Pro has more of a pedigree for aesthetics, with the new 15-inch versions extolling all of the style virtues of their predecessors. The silver paint job and lid-logo have become commonplace in a number of laptop designs in recent years, but the MacBook Pro still retains that original flair. While the X1 Extreme certainly has trimmer bezels and a less-professional feel than some of its ThinkPad contemporaries, it’s still arguably the less stylish of the two.

It’s a little thicker in most dimensions too, though it does weigh about the same. It also comes with a broader selection of ports, with a pair of USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 ports, two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 support, a 4-in-1 SD card reader, an HDMI 2.0 output, headphone jack, and “Network extension” port, which can be used for Ethernet connectivity with an adapter. The MacBook Pro continues Apple’s focus on USB-C, by offering just four USB-C Thunderbolt 3 connectors and a headphone jack. Connecting anything else requires an adapter.

The Lenovo’s touchpad is a little smaller than the MacBook Pro’s, but its keyboard is one of the best we’ve used in some time, with long key travel and a crisp feel to key presses. The MacBook Pro’s keyboard is said to be improved over previous versions when it comes to dust and debris, but we’re keen to see more evidence of its long-term reliability before giving it much approval.

Nestled above the keyboard on the MacBook Pro 15 is the Touch Bar. We still haven’t found much of an everyday use for it, although we’ve found a few third-party ways to make it pretty awesome.

Alongside different hardware designs, these notebooks do run completely different operating systems. The MacBook Pro makes use of Apple’s own MacOS platform with its collection of supported apps and programs. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme runs Microsoft’s Windows 10 with its own apps and programs. Each has their advantage, but apps that are unique to each could be a major factor in which is best for you.

Performance

The base model 15-inch MacBook Pro starts at $2,399 and comes with a six-core, ninth-generation Intel Core i7 CPU clocked at 2.6GHz. That’s partnered with 16GB of DDR4 memory, 256GB of SSD storage, and an AMD Radeon Pro 555X graphics chip with 4GB of GDDR5 of its own. The $2,799 model comes with an eight-core, ninth-generation Intel Core i9 CPU clocked at 2.3GHz, a 512GB SSD and an AMD Radeon Pro 560X GPU. Both configurations can be upgraded to a 2.4GHz eight-core i9 processor — don’t worry, that throttling issue has mostly been resolved. There are also options to go all the way up to 32GB of memory, a 4TB SSD, and a Radeon Pro Vega 20 graphics card, but completely maxing out the MacBook Pro 15 like that will cost you $5,149.

Every MacBook Pro 15 configuration comes with the same 15.4-inch IPS display with a resolution of 2,880 x 1,800. It can reach a brightness of 500 nits and supports Apple’s True Tone technology which allows it to customize the coloring of the display on the fly to match the palette of the room it’s in.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme starts at $1,466, but it does sport only a 1080p display and is powered by a six-core, eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8750H CPU. It’s joined by 16GB of GDDR4 memory, 512GB of SSD storage, and a GTX 1050 Ti. If you want to go all out on your ThinkPad Extreme, you can kit it out with a 4K multi-touch display, a six-core, eight-generation Intel Core i7-8850H processor clocked at 2.6GHz, 64GB of memory, two 1TB SSDs, although the GTX 1050 Ti graphics card remains. That’ll set you back an eye-watering $6,557.

The model you choose will probably depend on your configuration. At the entry level, the base ThinkPad X1 Extreme is almost $1,000 cheaper than the base MacBook Pro 15, although Lenovo is currently holding a sale, which will help. At the top end, however, the MacBook pulls ahead (but not by a huge amount). It gives you a much more powerful processor and twice the storage, although lacks the 64GB memory option and 4K display of the ThinkPad. Still, Apple’s top-end MacBook Pro 15 is cheaper than the maxed-out ThinkPad, and that i9 processor will make mincemeat of the best i7 Lenovo offers.

Portability

The 15-inch MacBook Pro borrows much of the sleek portability of its 13-inch counterpart. It measures 13.75 x 9.48 x 0.61-inches and weighs just over four pounds. That makes it trimmer than the ThinkPad X1 Extreme by a small but noticeable margin. That Lenovo notebook measures 14.24 x 9.67 x 0.72-inches, but weighs effectively the same when equipped with the 4K screen. If you opt for the non-touch, 1080p version, however, the weight dips to 3.76 pounds, making the ThinkPad the slightly lighter option.

The four-cell, 80 watt-hour battery in the Lenovo laptop gives it up to 15-hours of life on the spec sheet and we managed to pull around five and a half hours out of it in our video loop test. The MacBook Pro 15’s 83.6 watt-hour battery is rated for up to 10 hours of movie playback. While the MacBook Pro 15 did indeed make it to close to 10 hours of video playback, it dipped to eight hours in our web browsing benchmark. There are PC counterparts out there that will top that, but in this comparison the MacBook surges ahead of the ThinkPad for battery life, especially when it comes to video playback.

It could be that the ThinkPad lasts longer in ideal scenarios, but in heavier usage settings the MacBook’s larger battery may give it a longer use time between charges.

Price is still a problem for the MacBook Pro

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme review
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

There’s no doubt that Apple products demand a premium in almost all of the markets they compete in and to some extent, it’s worth it, but that price is a high one in this head to head.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme offers comparable or better hardware at a lower cost than the Apple alternative. It offers a broader selection of ports, and it’s not exactly ugly in comparison. It’s not quite as portable and its hardware options aren’t as expansive, but you get a fantastic keyboard and don’t have to pay for a gimmicky Touch Bar to go along with it.

Don’t get us wrong — the MacBook Pro 15 is a great laptop and offers much more bang for your buck than the MacBook Pro 13 with a Touch Bar, but it’s still not enough of a killer machine that we can recommend it over a solid workhorse like the Lenovo option.

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