Lenovo P51 - the Data Scientist’s laptop

The author recently switched from a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 to a Lenovo P51 laptop due to the Surface’s small screen size not being suitable for their work as a data scientist, and they express satisfaction with the P51’s larger screen, long battery life, and ample connectivity options, making it a great choice for traveling data scientists.

Lucas A. Meyer


November 17, 2017

Recently, as part of a computer refresh, I have moved from a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 to a Lenovo P51.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 was the right computer for me at the time I got it, but as time went by my position changed substantially, and it ceased to be appropriate for me.

When I got the Surface, the core of my work consisted in traveling, having conference calls and light emailing and spreadsheet work. As time went by, my work went back to creating analytics, creating presentations about analytics, and traveling. There is where the screen of the Surface becomes a liability at 12 inches. I wanted something bigger.

And boy, is the P51 bigger. It has a 15-inch screen and a power brick that alone is twice as heavy as the Surface Pro. It’s big enough to have a keyboard that comes with a numeric keypad. Since I still have to travel a lot, I chose the P51 over the beefier 17-inch P71. The P71 won’t even fit in my somewhat large Osprey backpack. The P51 barely fits.

Due to some standardization constraints, my P51 is the 1920x1080 version with touch screen. It has 32 Gb of RAM and a 500 Gb SSD. It has the i7 7820HQ running at 2.9 GHz and a Quadro M2200 GPU. If I had the option, I’d choose the 4K screen and the Xeon processor, but I did not have that option.

The battery life is surprisingly good. For the kind of things that I do in planes (writing blog posts, editing presentations, light programming), the battery seems to last well over 8h without Wi-Fi and about 7h with Wi-Fi. I have yet to run out of battery in a flight. I have read that the earlier version of the P51, the P50, would trip the circuit breaker of a plane if you tried to plug it in. I have not attempted to plug in the P51 yet.

The P51 is usable in the Premium Economy seats and, of course, in business and first class seats, but I have the impression that it would not fit well in the economy class of carriers that have a very small distance between seats (like American Airlines domestic flights), especially if the person in front of you reclines their seat. It works well in exit seats.

One gripe I had about the Surface Pro 3 was that I always had to travel with a USB hub, a mouse, and a couple mini-DisplayPort adapters. The P51 comes with a mechanical keyboard, the beloved TrackPoint, a good TouchPad, 4 USB ports, a Thunderbolt 3 port, an Ethernet port, an HDMI port, and, to my surprise, a mini-DisplayPort, so I get to keep all the adapters I had for the Surface.

I’ve also considered the P51-S. The slimmer version trades off some power (it goes from quad-core to dual-core) for a thinner, lighter frame. I think the P51-S would also have been a solid choice, but I think it would force me to do most of my work from a workstation and/or a server that I’d need to remote into frequently, adding to the stress of versioning and synchronizing. Somewhat counter-intuitively, I chose the heavier computer because I travel a lot, as it has enough power for me to do the vast majority of my work on it and use a server or workstation just for the realhardcore stuff.

In summary, the Lenovo P51 is a great computer for the traveling data scientist. It’s powerful enough to be used as your primary machine. For me, it’s near the top limit of a computer that is comfortable to travel with, but still within that limit. I got used to it in no time and completely gave up my desktop workstation.