Lenovo ThinkPad vs IdeaPad: A Detailed Comparison

Lenovo ThinkPad vs IdeaPad

So, you’re in the market for a new laptop and you’ve whittled your choices down to the Lenovo ThinkPad vs. IdeaPad. Great choices! But the sheer number of models on offer – all aimed at different users – can cause some confusion. And the complexity rises with the number of laptops available within each series. But to begin, the ThinkPad and IdeaPad are laptop series within the Lenovo brand marketed toward two different types of users. Today, we’ll contrast them so you can get a better idea of what each has to offer. Let’s dive in.

Design

The best Lenovo laptops are known for their stunning designs and excellent build quality. Not to mention the innovative design of the 360-degree hinge that’s been copied competitors, namely Dell and HP.

The ThinkPad and IdeaPad brands are where you’ll find Lenovo’s big range of hybrid systems under the Yoga and Flex series, respectively. The early versions of these machines pioneered the 2-in-1 convertible laptop movement.

ThinkPad

Lenovo ThinkPad laptops are designed with business users in mind. From their launch in 1992 by IBM (then later revamped by Lenovo in 2005) these models have been ritually dubbed as one of the bestselling models for companies and universities across the world.

The first ThinkPad was designed by industrial designer Richard Sapper in 1990 under IBM. It was based on a traditional Bento lunchbox, which has a simple square shape.

As they’re intended to be used for work purposes, ThinkPad laptops focus more on simplicity and functionality. Thus, they utilize a basic but efficient design.

When it comes to their outer appearance, you’ll usually find them in black and silver. They’re typically made with composite cases made of titanium, magnesium, or, for “cheaper” models, reinforced plastic.

ThinkPad LCD screens typically range from 12.5” to 15.6”. They feature FHD (Full High Definition), UHD (Ultra High Definition), and IPS (In-Plane Switching) to guarantee a rich viewing experience. They also utilize anti-glare technology to cut down on eye strain which allows you to work for longer periods of time.

On top of that, ThinkPad laptops come with a TrackPoint device, an active protection system, and a client security solution. Many models have fingerprint readers and accelerometer sensors, as well.

IdeaPad

The IdeaPad is a more recent brand aimed at mainstream users. Launched in 2008, it not only provides users more choices. But it aims to offer solid performance that’s also wallet friendly.

Under this brand you’ll find more consumer-focused devices like 2-in-1 convertibles and gaming laptops (we’ll get into the gaming aspect of IdeaPads later). With just the right amount of good performance, a sleek design and competitive prices, IdeaPads are great for browsing the web with strong enough performance for immersive gaming.

If you place both the ThinkPad and the IdeaPad side by side, you can easily tell which model is which. While ThinkPad laptops are relatively plain and “unremarkable” when it comes to outer appearance, IdeaPad laptops are much more aesthetically pleasing.

They’re slim and lightweight, with wide-screen touch controls that range from 11.6″ to 17.5″. Similar to the ThinkPad, the IdeaPad, too, has FHD, UHD, IPS, and anti-glare technology.

Compared to the latter, IdeaPad laptops have a higher contrast ratio which gives them a crisper image quality. Newer models have a frameless, glossy screen that comes with the VeriFace facial recognition system.

Another difference between the two is the absence of the Trackpoint feature in the IdeaPad models. And unlike ThinkPads, IdeaPads generally aren’t as rugged or durable.

But non-gaming models from the sleek 700 and 900 series Ultrabooks enjoy chassis made of aluminum, excellent displays and more powerful hardware than the rest of the IdeaPad lineup.

Performance

ThinkPad

Although Lenovo ThinkPads aren’t the prettiest, they sacrifice beauty for performance. They have extremely powerful Intel processors and a longer battery life than IdeaPads, along with high-quality RAM and operating systems.

They’re so powerful that they’re the only laptop series that’s ever been certified and approved by the International Space Station. Lenovo achieved this feat by modifying the laptops so they can handle weightlessness and low density. Along with their adaptation to 28-volt power, ThinkPads are the perfect portable device to be used at the Space Station.

A high-end workstation grade laptop like the ThinkPad P73 boasts components like an ultra-powerful Intel Xeon E-2276M vPro CPU which has six cores and 12 threads. And an NVIDIA Quadro RTX 5000 graphics card equipped with 16GB of vRAM.

Security is top-notch, as well. Other than fingerprint readers, all ThinkPads come with a TPM data security measure, which encrypts all the data stored on the laptop’s hard drive. This makes it virtually impossible to steal data stored in it.

Battery life is up to three times longer than regular consumer laptops like the IdeaPad. Some models even have the option to upgrade to a 57Wh+ cell to further increase the battery capacity.

Plus, they have spill-proof keyboards! 

IdeaPad

Again, IdeaPad laptops aren’t as durable or rugged as ThinkPad models. But this isn’t to say they don’t perform well. Although they aren’t as powerful as the latter, these laptops offer excellent performance for home users and students.

The primary focus here is on entertainment, like watching movies and gaming. This is why they’re popular among college students and teens who spend most of the time on their laptops playing online games, editing or watching videos.

A great example is the IdeaPad 730. With a footprint that’s less than 0.47-inches and just over 2.2-pounds, this notebook is easy to transport from class to class. And since the body is made of aluminum, it’s sturdy and stable.

But if you need a laptop you can fold up into different modes for your convenience. The IdeaPad Flex 14 is a 2-in-1 convertible offered at a fairly low price. It’s not only built with a rigid plastic chassis. But its equipped with an AMD Ryzen 5 3500 APU with 4 cores and 8 threads, 12GB of RAM and a roomy 256GB SSD.

When it comes to CPUs, IdeaPad laptops use a mix of Intel and AMD processors. In more affordable models, you’ll find AMD Ryzen 5 APUs. With a cost of no more than several hundred dollars, Ryzen 5 is one of the best budget processors there is for gaming equipment.

Models

ThinkPad

The ThinkPad brand is ubiquitous with Lenovo. These laptops are powerful, durable and some of the best high-end devices you could buy for business and professional users. There’s even a 2-in-1 convertible option in the Yoga series.

Over the years Lenovo has introduced new ThinkPad series to cater to different users. To date, there are over five different ThinkPad models. We’re going to break down some of the most popular options to help you decide the best series for you.

X-Series

The X-series is Lenovo’s most expensive and popular ThinkPad model. And for this reason, they’re often compared to the MacBook Pro when it comes to functionality and performance.

First introduced by IBM in 2000, the X-series was intended to provide professionals with an extra-lightweight mobile computer.

The most highly rated model so far is the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. Dubbed as one of the “lightest Ultrabooks in the world”, the X1 Carbon has a RAM unit of up to 64GB, a high-quality display, and either an Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processor, and up to 512 GB PCIe-SSD storage.

You can expect a high-quality display typically in a 14-inch screen size. The battery life is quite impressive, as well boasting a runtime of up to 15 hours per single charge.

Along with that you get robust security features. New models like the ThinkPad X13 and X13 Yoga are fitted with Lenovo’s PrivacyGuard feature, which uses the laptop’s camera to detect if there’s someone behind you. They also come with the classic red TrackPoint nestled between the B, G and H keys

Although it’s marketed to business professionals, it’s also a favorite among gamers and creators due to its high performance.

L-Series

The L-Series ThinkPads are Lenovo’s most energy-efficient ThinkPads and were the first environmentally friendly laptops in the series.

Key features that contribute to the eco-friendliness of L-series ThinkPads are the use of recycled materials for packaging and post-consumer recycled content.

Lenovo introduced the L-series as a value-targeted business notebook for mobile professionals. While the base is constructed from ABS plastic, some models can be outfitted with an optional aluminum lid.

Although they’re not as expensive as the X-Series laptops, the performance is still quite impressive. They run strong just like other ThinkPads and are just as durable as you’d expect.

Like more expensive ThinkPads, security features include a dTPM 2.0 chip, fingerprint reader for one-touch access, and a physical camera shutter to protect your information from prying eyes.

As far as specs, you can get an L-series with either an Intel Core i3, Core i5, Core i7 vPro CPU or AMD Ryzen Pro 400 mobile processor. While you can get up to 32GB of RAM on ThinkPad laptops, some models like the L13 Yoga are limited to 16GB of memory.

Depending on the model you choose, L-series laptops have up to 3 display options: the L14 can range between an HD panel with 220-nits of brightness up to a Full HD panel with brightness level of 300 nits.

T-Series

“Built to go on and on. And on.” is Lenovo’s motto for the T-Series. When it comes to performance and design, they’re top of the line. They’re extremely lightweight and thin compared to the X and the L models. For those who value speed and power, AKA designers and architects, T-Series laptops might be worth a closer look.

Lightweight and uber-powerful, T-series ThinkPads are top-shelf when it comes to the performance and the design of the laptops.

Special features that give the T-series a more phone-like, always on, always connected experience include Modern Standby, which wakes the laptop from sleep with just a swipe of the fingerprint scanner.

Smart Standby is a managed and configurable low power state that maximizes battery life and includes low-power optimization for wireless wide area network (WWAN).

In addition, the T-series makes improvements to voice calling and conferencing including new unified communication keys and an enhanced microphone. Gone are the “F” functions for Settings, Bluetooth and keyboard. They’ve been replaced by one-touch access to system settings and messages via the Windows Notification Center as well as eliminating voice call buttons (F10 and F11) for smoother and more intuitive phone communication through your PC.

Like many other Lenovo laptops, they have an excellent battery life.

Yoga-Series

Introduced in 2013, ThinkPad Yoga notebooks are business-oriented 2-in-1 convertibles. The “Yoga” series is so named for its ability to assume multiple form factors courtesy of a hinged screen.

It bridges the gap between ThinkPad and 2-in-1 notebooks. Thanks to a 360-degree hinge, you can use this device as a traditional clamshell laptop or tablet or any mode in between.

In previous iterations of the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga, the keyboard would mash against your hand in tablet mode which was widely considered by users as a design flaw.

Lenovo quickly fixed this by innovating a mechanism that flattens the “backlit” keyboard into the body of the laptop when the screen is pushed back into tablet mode – what the company calls a lift and lock system.

Defining features also include a reinforced hinge, a magnesium-reinforced chassis, island-style keyboard, the famous Lenovo red TrackPoint, and a large mechanical 3-button touchpad.

Some Yoga models classed as Yoga Books are outliers with keyboards replaced by a monochrome sketchpad that converts to a virtual keyboard.

Systems like the Yoga C930 often top the list of the best Lenovo laptops. And why not? There’s a lot to love about this premium portable laptop, including an excellent battery life, robust features and a strong build.

IdeaPad

IdeaPad’s are all-around machines made for a variety of users.

Lenovo introduced five different models of IdeaPad laptops, among them are the S and the Gaming 3 Series. 2-in-1 convertible options include the Flex. And of course, Lenovo’s gaming counterpart, the Legion series.

S-Series

When people think of IdeaPad, the S-Series is what immediately comes to mind.

Launched in 2008, they’re intended for casual users who want a thin and light laptop, but don’t want to spend a lot for a premium-priced Ultrabook.

Lightweight, sleek, and packed with modern specs, they’re what many students and professors who spend hours online researching and writing consider to be the ideal laptop with the S-Series’ ability to handle heavy daily use with ease.

Prices start at around $500 and you can pick one up in either a 13-inch or 14-inch display. They typically measure just shy of an inch thick and weigh less than 4-pounds. While that’s heavier than an Ultrabook, it’s still plenty portable.

Powering either laptop size is your choice of either an Intel Core i3 CPU or a Core i5 (the IdeaPad S340 can be powered by AMD’s flagship Ryzen-series mobile APUs). They also come in a variety of memory and hard drive options.

The S940 is such a high-end IdeaPad offering that it comes with a 14-inch 4K HDR IPS display and excellent performance from a Core i7 CPU and 16GB of RAM.

Though they’re designed to be cost-efficient, each model comes with a fairly decent array of ports, including an Ethernet jack, three USB ports (including one USB 3.0 socket), HDMI, and an SD card reader.

Unlike the more serious ThinkPads, the IdeaPad S-Series come in colors that include Abyss Blue and Platinum Gray.

Flex

The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex series is broadly similar to the business-focused ThinkPad Yoga. At various times you’ll find Flex models marketed under the IdeaPad line, or as its own brand.

Flex laptops are mainstream notebooks with the ability to flip into: a conventional laptop, a video-viewing stand mode, game-playing tent mode and a reading-focused tablet mode.

Like the Yoga the screen of a Flex system rotates on its hinge 360 degrees. Pricewise, the Flex series tend to be a cheaper alternative to the Yoga.

The Flex series competes against other notable convertible 2-in-1s like the Dell XPS 13 and HP Elite Dragonfly. And though they’re smaller and lighter than a Flex model, they’re also more expensive.

You can pick up a Flex series laptop with 11- to 15-inch touchscreens, IPS technology and typically a glossy 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution.

Performance comes from the lower-tier Intel Pentium N series CPU or equivalent AMD Ryzen 7 4700U APU all the way up to the much more powerful Core i7 CPU.

Graphics processing are of the integrated variety or you can pick one up with dedicated graphics like the NVIDIA GeForce 940MX which has 2GB of vRAM.

Prices start at around $400 and go up to $1200 for a well-kitted model.

Gaming 3 Series

The Gaming 3 Series is relatively new. First released around April of 2020, tons of users have claimed them to be one of the fastest and most affordable gaming laptops in the market.

These laptops are powerful enough to smoothly run even the heaviest games and applications known in the gaming community. To help you play the most modern games at playable frame rates, you can get one with an Nvidia GTX graphics card and i7 processor.

What makes them so unique is that even at their most expensive configuration, an IdeaPad Gaming 3 series laptop can come in at under $1000.

Not only do they have the power to play the latest titles, but they come with a decent selection of ports to help you get work done. You also get a responsive Windows Precision touchpad and a full-size backlit keyboard with satisfying key travel.

When it comes to performance, you can turn on Spotify, Affinity Photo, Slack and anywhere from 10-20 Google Chrome tabs and the 8GB of RAM will have no problem keeping up.

But our favorite part is the fact that you can upgrade both memory and the M.2 SSD by unscrewing the bottom of the laptop.

Another of our favorite features – which you can find by toggling through Lenovo’s Vantage software – is Rapid Charge. This feature lets the battery charge up to 80% in just an hour – that’s an important feature to have before running into that all important meeting.

Legion

To keep up with the growing popularity of PC gaming, Lenovo launched the Legion family as an all-new laptop line in 2017 – These are powerful gaming machines aimed at hardcore gamers.

Before the Legion series, Lenovo gaming laptops lived under the IdeaPad line, designated as “IdeaPad Y” models. As you can imagine distinguishing the gaming-centric notebooks from the rest of the IdeaPad family by name alone was a challenge.

But the “Y” designation is still part of the naming convention fore Legion series laptops. This letter is followed by a three-digit number that indicate the features on board a particular model.

For instance, the Y500 series is an entry-level gaming laptop while the Y700 family is a midtier gamer. And at the top podium is the behemoth Y900 line.

Currently, Lenovo has re-branded the Legion gaming series yet again with the new Legion 5i as the midtier offering and the Legion 7i as the new high-end rig which is packed to the gills with top-end goodies. Aesthetically, they share the same design language as the Y500 and Y700 predecessors with only just a few minor visual changes.

You can get a Legion gaming laptop in either the popular 15-inch screen size, or even more immersive 17-inch display sizes. Once again designs and colors are comparable to the previous IdeaPad Y models.

If you’re in the market for an affordable gaming laptop, look no further than the Lenovo Legion Y740. It delivers top-notch performance wrapped in an elegant design that doesn’t look out of place in the office.

But that’s only if you can look past an uncomfortable keyboard arrangement and bad webcam placement.

Cost

Cost is perhaps the biggest deciding factor when buying any laptop. If you’re looking for an everyday laptop that has solid performance at a relatively affordable price, IdeaPads are a great choice.

However, if you’re looking for a durable laptop with fantastic reliability that can be passed on from employee to employee, ThinkPads are what we recommend. In fact, a T series ThinkPad was used to write this article. They’re much more expensive than IdeaPads, but with their solid performance and premium specs, they’re well worth the price.

Which Lenovo Laptop Should You Choose?

This was by no means an exhaustive foray into Lenovo laptops. More of a primer that hopefully answers some of the burning questions about the ThinkPad and IdeaPad brands. Both offer a great user experience. ThinkPads are Lenovo’s premium laptop range and absolutely the better option for business professionals and for work-related use. IdeaPads are ideal for casual users and budget buyers who just need a device for browsing the internet or entertainment and don’t require all the features a ThinkPad offers. Our money goes to ThinkPads every time. For a list of more of our favorite laptops check out our guides to the best budget, gaming and pro laptops.