With Apple recently launching the brand-new MacBook Pro 2021 models, they’re set to become one of the most powerful and best Macs you can buy today. Featuring the new Apple M1 Pro and M1 Max, the new MacBook Pro 16-inch is a beastly machine that crushes just about any Windows ultrabook and even many professional laptops. But can it be better than a mobile workstation? We’re comparing the MacBook Pro 16-inch to the Lenovo ThinkPad P1 Gen 4 to see how the two stack up.
These are two very powerful laptops, and they have the same screen size, too. But they’re radically different in most other ways, so let’s take a closer look at why you might prefer one over the other. We’ll start with the specs.
MacBook Pro 16-inch vs Lenovo ThinkPad P1: Specs
Windows vs macOS
The first big thing to note with these two laptops is the operating system, and that’s not really new at all. The differences between Windows and macOS are well known, and you likely already have a preference. macOS is currently up to version 12, called macOS Monterey, and it’s often considered the more accessible operating system for beginners. It also has a reputation among content creators, with software like Final Cut Pro being exclusive to macOS.
On the other hand, the Lenovo ThinkPad P1 comes with Windows 10, with a free upgrade path to Windows 11. Windows has its own set of advantages, namely the fact that it’s much more widespread, and thus a lot of apps only exist for Windows, or are released for Windows first. It’s generally easier to find all kinds of apps for Windows compared to macOS. Windows also tends to give you some more freedom to mess with more advanced settings if you’re a power user. Regardless, both operating systems have their strengths and weaknesses, and frankly, you probably already know what you prefer.
MacBook Pro 16-inch vs ThinkPad P1: Performance
Moving on to performance, this is one of the areas Apple highlighted the most with the new MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro 16-inch comes with either an Apple M1 Pro or Apple M1 Max, both of which are very powerful processors with an integrated CPU and GPU. Because these are completely new chips, we don’t have any real-world performance measurements for them just yet, but we do have Apple’s claims, and they are very impressive.
On the CPU side of things, the Apple M1 Pro and M1 Max are the same. Apple compared the CPU performance to that of an Intel Core i7-11800H, and claimed that it can achieve 1.7 times higher performance for the same power level, and on top of that, it can achieve the same level of performance while using 70% less power. Now, you can get the Lenovo ThinkPad P1 with up to an Intel Core i9-11950H, and that’s naturally faster than the Core i7, but based on the benchmarks, it’s not 1.7 times faster, so the Apple M1 Pro and Max likely still come out on top.
As for the GPU, it seems that Apple may win again at the top end. The Lenovo ThinkPad P1 Gen 4 comes with up to an NVIDIA RTX A5000 Max-Q GPU with 16GB of video memory, which is similar in performance to a GeForce RTX 3080 Max-Q. Apple compares the 32-core GPU in the Apple M1 Max to a GeForce RTX 3080 laptop GPU inside the Razer Blade 15 Advanced, which has 105W of power. Apple claims it can achieve a similar level of performance to this GPU while using 40% less power. And it’s worth noting that the Max-Q variants of these GPUs will likely perform worse since they’re designed for smaller laptops with less efficient thermal designs. As such, at the high-end, Apple seems to have Lenovo beat.
However, at the end of the day, both of these are very powerful laptops, and you won’t be begging for more performance either way. What might be worth taking into account is the battery life. Apple’s in-house chips are notably power-efficient, and based on the claims above, it seems that’s true here as well. Apple promises up to 21 hours of video playback on a charge with the 16-inch MacBook Pro, or 14 hours of wireless web browsing. Lenovo claims up to 10.9 hours based on the MobileMark 2018 test, but powerful Intel-based laptops like this rarely last that long in real-life scenarios.
The MacBook Pro has up to 64GB of unified memory, which can be accessed by both the GPU and CPU.
Moving on to RAM, the MacBook Pro comes with up to 64GB of unified memory, and the Lenovo ThinkPad P1 Gen 4 can also be configured with up to 64GB of RAM. A big difference here is that Apple’s unified memory is accessible to both the CPU and GPU, so you get an extremely large amount of video memory to work with compared to any Windows-based laptop. On the other hand, it’s impossible to upgrade the memory later down the line on the MacBook Pro, while the Lenovo ThinkPad P1 is more easily upgradeable.
As for storage, the MacBook Pro can be configured with up to 8TB of storage out of the box, while the Lenovo ThinkPad P1 is only available with up to 1TB. However, the ThinkPad P1 has two M.2 slots, meaning you can upgrade the SSD to also have up to 8TB of storage if you need it. It’s probably cheaper than buying that upgrade from the OEM, too.
Display: Liquid Retina XDR comes to the MacBook Pro
In terms of the display, the MacBook Pro 16 and the Lenovo ThinkPad P1 Gen 4 have a similar starting point, seeing as they’re both 16-inch panels in the 16:10 aspect ratio, albeit the MacBook Pro is ever so slightly larger at 16.2 inches.
As for quality, both laptops deliver in different ways. The Lenovo ThinkPad P1 has a couple of different configurations. The base model is a Quad HD+ (2560 x 1600) display, and it covers 100% of sRGB. However, you can upgrade to the more impressive Ultra HD+ (3840 x 2400) panel, which gets you 100% coverage of Adobe RGB, DisplayHDR 400 support, and 600 nits of brightness. That’s much better, and the 100% Adobe RGB coverage makes it ideal for color-sensitive work. You can also add touch support to it, which Apple still refuses to do for its laptops.
However, the MacBook Pro has a stellar display in its own right. The 16.2-inch panel comes in a resolution of 3456 x 2234, which is just slightly below 4K resolution. But what’s most impressive about it is that it’s a mini-LED panel, which gives it benefits similar to that of an OLED display. It’s got a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, and it can handle 1000 nits of sustained full-screen brightness or up to 1600 nits of peak brightness. Because it uses mini-LED, it has numerous dimming zones, which allows black pixels to be turned off almost entirely. Another impressive thing about it is that it has a 120Hz refresh rate, what Apple calls Pro Motion, and it can dynamically adjust that refresh rate to save battery when needed.
One glaring flaw of the MacBook Pro, however, is the notch. Yes, the MacBook Pro has a notch to house the webcam, similar to how the iPhone still has a notch, too. This is so the MacBook Pro can now have a 1080p webcam, which is a welcome upgrade, but the ThinkPad P1 also has a 1080p webcam, and it houses it in the bezel above the display instead. Of course, that does mean you have a larger bezel, but it’s probably less jarring to most users than having a large cutout on the screen.
Apple has been using a powerful six-speaker setup on the 16-inch MacBook Pro for a while, and it’s even better in the new model.
As for sound, that’s one area where the MacBook Pro is going to be much better. Apple has been using a powerful six-speaker setup on the 16-inch MacBook Pro for a while, and it’s even better in this model. Compared to the dual stereo speakers of the ThinkPad P1, it’s going to sound much better and louder.
Design and connectivity: The new MacBook Pro has proper ports
Both being professional laptops, the design of the MacBook Pro and the Lenovo THinkPad P1 are both fairly tame. The MacBook Pro comes in Silver or Space Grey color options, the same colors we’re used to by now. The ThinkPad P1 comes in black, but if you choose the Ultra HD+ display, you get a carbon fiber pattern on the lid that helps it stand out a little bit more.
Despite its efficient processor, the MacBook Pro 16-inch is surprisingly not that portable compared to the Lenovo ThinkPad P1. It is smaller in just about every dimension – it’s not as wide, tall, or deep, but its starting weight of 4.7lbs is well above the 3.99lbs of the ThinkPad P1, and you’re likely going to feel that if you’re planning on carrying the laptop around for a few hours. To be fair, the ThinkPad P1 can probably get a bit heavier depending on the CPU and GPU configurations, but it’s a stark difference to start with.
To make up for that, the new MacBook Pro finally brings back proper ports instead of forcing everyone to use Thunderbolt docks. You still get three Thunderbolt 4 ports and a headphone jack, but there’s now also HDMI, an SD card reader, and MagSafe charging is back, too. This magnetic charger design should help prevent your laptop from falling over if you trip on the charging cable, for example. There’s still no USB Type-A, however.
Meanwhile, the Lenovo ThinkPad P1 has two Thunderbolt 4 ports, two USB Type-A ports, HDMI, an SD card reader, a headphone jack, and a proprietary charging port. USB Type-A ensures compatibility with a lot of peripherals that still use this port to connect, which might be important to some users. Otherwise, the two laptops are fairly similar.
As for security, both laptops come with fingerprint readers built into the power button to make logging in easier. However, the ThinkPad P1 also gives you the option for Windows Hello facial recognition if you’d like an even more convenient way to sign in.
One big area where the ThinkPad P1 has an advantage over the MacBook Pro 16 is support for cellular connectivity, at least on paper. None of the configurations currently available in the United States support cellular, but Lenovo does tout it as an optional feature.
It’s fair to say that, overall, the MacBook Pro 16-inch is better than the Lenovo ThinkPad P1. It has a faster chipset, and if you need the most performance, you’re likely better off with it. Most notably, it’s a very efficient chip, so you’re also very likely to get way better battery life out of the MacBook Pro. Plus, it has a fantastic mini-LED display with a 120Hz refresh rate, and that’s standard for every configuration. And to round things out, it has a solid supply of ports, after many years where the MacBook Pro tried to force everyone to use Thunderbolt instead.
The Lenovo ThinkPad P1 still has some advantages, though. It’s lighter to begin with, and you get the option for an Ultra HD+ display that covers 100% of Adobe RGB, which is ideal for creative work. Plus, you get touch support in some models, which is something Apple still refuses to add to the MacBook lineup. And if you’re still using a lot of USB Type-A peripherals, the ThinkPad P1 has those ports built-in.
These are two powerful laptops with plenty of connectivity options and great displays, and both will give you a great experience.
At the end of the day, the biggest factor in choosing one over the other is probably the operating system. Both of these are very powerful laptops with solid connectivity and great displays. While they’re different, and you can certainly argue the MacBook Pro is technically better, you’re going to get a great experience either way. An exception to that might be the battery life, as that’s likely going to be much better on the MacBook Pro, and that matters a lot if you’re buying a laptop.
Regardless of what you choose, you can buy either one of these laptops using the links below. If you choose the MacBook Pro, be sure to check out our list of the best MacBook Pro cases to keep your new laptop safe.
Writer at XDA Computing. I’ve been covering the world of technology since 2018, but I’ve loved the field for a lot longer. And I have a weird affinity for Nintendo videogames, which I’m always happy to talk about.