Should I buy a Lenovo ThinkPad T490 or the ThinkPad T495?

(Updated on the 22th Jan 2020)
We've added a first look video of the base model of the T495:

Starter note: ThinkPad T495 vs T490:

Here are some notes for people who are interested in the difference between the new ThinkPad T490 / T495. The ThinkPad T495 is a compelling product in our view. If you're interested in a full-review, do check out the detailed review by NotebookCheck.

Part 1: On Paper Comparison

Where T495 is better?

1. Price, Price, Price

Do we need to say more about the more accessible base price? (T495 is very similar to the T490)

2. Newer HDMI Spec:

T495 supports HDMI 2.0, which is newer than ThinkPad T490’s HDMI 1.4B. This means the supports 4K@60 Hz via HDMI.

3. Ryzen Vega & FreeSync support:

AMD’s integrated graphics card is better than Intel’s UHD in some cases (if we were comparing base-to-base). T495 supports up to 4 displays.

4. Good range of screen options (for the price):

ThinkPad's available screen options will depend on your region. Here in the UK, the T495 has 4 screen options: 1x 1366x768 TN panel; plus 3x FHD IPS options: basic (250 nits), Touch (300 nits), Low Power (400 nit). For your productivity, perhaps focus on the IPS options. T495 lacks the 2k DolbyVision HDR & the privacy screen option (exclusive to the T490). If more privacy is needed, a bright LCD & 3M privacy filter for the T495 could help. The T series' touch screens are soft-touch (not glass-based like the X1 Yoga series) - you won't want to touch it too hard / use pen (or it might leave pressure marks).
A heads-up: T480/T490/495's LCD screens are harder to service properly (partly due to the fragile double-adhesive bezel) - so the aftermarket 3rd-party LCD upgrade would not be recommended (& will impact the warranty). We've seen technicians with replacement bezel/plastics parts needing multiple visits occasionally, just to service it correctly.  As a result, it's probably useful to select the right LCD you'd like from day one. Your mileage, of course, might vary here. 

Where T490 is better?

ThinkPad T490 & T495 are otherwise very similar machines, with a few small caveats. Saying which is better, is not simple - because ultimately it depends on how much of your decision is price-driven. That said, the T490 does provide a few cool extras (if you're willing to pay). 

1. Thunderbolt 3 support

T490’s USB-C slot supports Thunderbolt 3, T495’s USB-C does not. That means no external GPU (eGPU support). There will be T495 use cases where the customer just has to use the laptop, doesn’t ever plug into an external display - in those cases, T495's better entry cost is an advantage. 

2. T490 has bigger official RAM support (in most markets): 

T490 & T495 both will have onboard RAM, plus 1x upgradeable RAM slot (fairly simple to upgrade, see the video here). The Intel-based T490 officially supports up to 48GB RAM (16GB onboard + 1x32GB RAM, where you could select either 8GB or 16GB onboard RAM option, which cannot be changed after the purchase; it might make sense to maximise the onboard RAM). Be aware that T495's onboard RAM option is limited to 8GB in many markets*. The 1x upgradeable RAM slot is reasonably easy to upgrade (see video here). 
The T495 is usually marketed with up to 24GB RAM support (8GB onboard + 16GB). However, a Reddit user has noted that 40GB RAM works in their T495 (8GB onboard + 1x32GB upgrade), although it will have to be an aftermarket upgrade. *In a few regions (inc the US), the T495 with the 16GB RAM onboard is available (requires 3500U or 3700U; we've yet to see if it could match T490's 48GB RAM support). Don't forget: the Ryzen based T495 may perform marginally better when there is dual-channel RAM (matching the 8GB onboard with 1x8GB in the RAM slot). It also means that you'll need to either prioritise the total RAM size (e.g. get 8GB onboard + 16GB/32GB option), or having the dual-channel(2x8GB).

3. These 2 top-end display upgrades are exclusive to the T490:

1: FHD IPS with PrivacyGuard (1920 x 1080, 400 nits)
2: WQHD IPS with Dolby Vision® (2560 x 1440, 500 nits, 100% Adobe colour gamut)
In addition to the T495's screen options, T490 has 2 additional options: 1) Dolby Vision HDR option which is superb; 2) privacy panel - useful for some.  

4. Dedicated graphics option 

The dedicated graphics card is only available on the T490. That said, MX250 version of the T490 is not cheap, it's expected to be better than Vega (on the T495) - also, you do get the flexibility of the eGPU support too (due to T490's Thunderbolt 3).

5. Wireless 

You’ll notice that the ThinkPad T495’s spec sheet says 2x2 Wireless AC is included. This will not necessarily be the same as the trusty Intel Dual Band chips. Wifi cards are simple enough to swap. T490 may be more likely to use the Intel chip.

6. Battery:

Up to 12.2 on the T495, shorter than T490’s up to 16.1 hours claims. That said, many people tend to take the official rating with a pinch of salt (as those are done in predictable environments, with minimal background apps, so tends to be optimistic). NotebookReview's T495 article found that T495 with Ryzen actually beat the T490 battery test run, for video watching, was comparable for web workload, but has the weaker battery under full load. 
To note: unlike the last generation - both T49x machines no longer have the swappable battery. So you’re fixed to the 50Wh capacity. There will be more external battery (e.g. USB-C battery) options - though those tend to cost.

Where to buy the T495 (new)?

You can find Lenovo ThinkPad T495 here (affiliate link):

Part 2: Configuration details: 

How to see think about ThinkPad T495's upgrade options:
We’d like to think of Lenovo ThinkPad T495 as an entry-level extension to the T490 (maintaining most of the benefits, whilst noticeably reducing the price). The latter T490 as an established more premium product, cannot be seen to cater to the lower-end config option (e.g. less great screen, etc). Among the T495’s unique value proposition, it lets Lenovo target the more price-conscious buyers / I.T departments, who otherwise would have had to step-downwards to a ThinkPad A or L series (which their customers will like less).
With the Ryzen based T495 offering comparable performance, and battery usage profile - Lenovo has effectively found a way to expand the T branding to be more accessible without a significant impact on the performance nor reliability: under a distinctive moniker - ThinkPad T490’s value will be retained, whilst T495 could attract the audience previously the Intel-powered option couldn’t reach (whilst the UK site has the IPS FHD display as the minimum spec - the Lenovo spec sheet makes references to an even more, cost-optimised option of 1336x768 display - which may be available in some markets - you can see that Lenovo have more reserve in their pocket, if they needed to come up with a lower T495 entry cost). Over time, the T series will become a higher-volume product. 

ThinkPad T495 (pricing briefly explained):

T495 / T495s’ model pricing is somewhat focused on the processors. 
AMD is likely to have targeted the performance profile, of each Ryzen 3, 5, 7 processor, to be loosely comparable to Intel's Core i3, i5, i7 generally speaking. There will be some rounding differences. Surprisingly the CPU side, the Ryzen processors are not as different as the branding might suggest.
As you can see from the above (graph from AMD site) - the Ryzen 3, 5, 7 are all quad-core processors (Ryzen 3 lacks “Multi-Threading”). So in multitasking workloads, the Ryzen 5 might be a good minimum threshold. Performance-wise, NotebookReview has suggested that Ryzen 5 is similar or slower to the Intel’s Core i5-8250U. Seeing as Intel still does not have Quad-Core on their Core i3 chips (nor do they focus on T490 with i3) - the AMD’s Ryzen 3 3300U chip should perhaps be thought of as a weaker Ryzen 5, rather than a lower-end Ryzen 3. In the US Market, the 16GB onboard RAM option requires the 3500U or 3700U.
On the graphics side, is where there is some difference. Vega 8 is expected to be between T490’s UHD and upgradable MX250. So when comparing the Vega powered Ryzen T490 vs a base T490 with Intel integrated only, the latter fares better.  That said, no Thunderbolt 3 support on the T495 will mean no external graphics (eGPU support). 
For a price-conscious customer, the Ryzen 5 upgrade probably is what makes sense (where there is Multi-Threading support).
The Ryzen 7 option is possibly harder to justifiable at the listed price (above) - because the CPU core clock benefit is very marginal; if GPU was important, you’d be getting very close to the T490’s price anyway (which has eGPU support or the MX250 option).

Part 3: T495 Context: Ryzen in a T Series ThinkPad

Compelling in the price: Almost the same feature, now with 27.5% less cost*.
Why is the ThinkPad T495 compelling, you might wonder? The price is the most obvious factor here. The base Ryzen 3 (Quad-Core), IPS FHD panel, 8GB NVMe, 256GB, non-backlit version of the T495 starts at a visibly lower price than the base T490 (Intel) in the UK, directly from Lenovo (*as of mid-Sept 2019, the price may change).
Of course, that’s the base option, some customers might like to upgrade. The point here is when you add those on - yes, the price gets closer & closer to the T490 (Intel) base configuration; however, remember that the recent T series simply hasn't been available at this starter price - and buyers often went with the lower L or A series instead (see the pricing screenshots below).

In the context of the T series:

The Lenovo ThinkPad T495 / T495s series represents quite the win for AMD & the customers at large (we'll focus on the T495 here). To put it into context, the premium & professional laptops were until recently almost exclusively powered by Intel’s Core & Xeon series processors. After a gradual start with Mobile Ryzen, the 3000 series is finally seeing a wider usage (still excluded from the high-end laptops for this generation - X1 Carbon / Yoga 4th Gen). Lenovo has extended their trust by enabling AMD’s Ryzen Pro to power their popular T495 within their T series (alongside the Intel-powered ThinkPad T490, which is considered the premium of the two). 
To be clear, AMD processors were previously only used in the lower series ThinkPads. With the 3000 series Gen Ryzen Pro Mobile - the performance gap to Intel’s U series has very much minimised (in some cases, Ryzen competes well - e.g. with a better-integrated GPU). Ryzen Pro refers to similar chip as the normal Ryzen, though with additional management /security options (similar to Intel VPro). AMD has shown from their desktop & server space, that they’re able to offer compelling alternatives, to add pressure to Intel’s incremental approach. Understandably from the ThinkPad T495 onwards, we’ll see a stronger AMD Ryzen line-up. This hopefully means a better price for the consumers, whilst keeping the business class reliability. 

Why is Ryzen in laptops exciting?

Intel has experienced a noticeable delay in launching their next-gen 10nm chips (originally intended for 2016), which as of Sept 2019 has still not launched (they've released a series of incremental updates instead). This has given AMD the time to catch-up. For a company that needs to execute well, AMD has focused their efforts on their Ryzen Desktop (which now rivals Intel for single-thread performance & surpasses it in many multi-core workloads, whilst delivering a better performance per £), and their Server Business lineup (their EPYC chip now offers very compelling value and performance), their custom silicon business is also doing well. 
Comparably, the growth of Mobile Ryzen has been a more gradual process, laptop processor (where Intel retains the stronghold) appears clearly to be AMD's next area to disrupt. Similar to the Desktop & Server area, AMD has had to convince the partners (laptop vendors) & customers, that their chips were good enough for their chips to power laptops. This is a slow process, as the vendors often just release one cycle of product per year (initially only consumer-level / cheaper laptops has used Ryzen). This is why making its way into Lenovo’s popular T series is exciting (it indicates larger OEMs / customers have accepted that the Ryzen offers a compelling alternative to Intel). Equally, for Lenovo to offer it in their premier system - would imply that AMD may be able to challenge the price point they're used to with Intel. HP has also got Ryzen into its G5/G6 series (and others). These are the workhorse machines, preferred by the larger I.T departments. This change is (likely to be) only the start. 

Part 4: Alternatives to the ThinkPad T495?

Buying the latest & the greatest could be satisfying, though the cost factor is definitely there. As a result, it could be useful to think about the laptop you're interested in, next to some compelling alternatives. We imagine that some prospective T495 buyers, might also be considering these:
  1. A midrange ThinkPad T490: with Core i5 - opt for the display+keypad you want (& upgrade the RAM/SSD later). This way you could get the eGPU later, without having to pay for the expensive upgrades. 
  2. A ThinkPad L490: just to make this more interesting, Lenovo's more budget-focused L series is available too. It has a military-grade rating, but its chassis is more basic / heavier (1.69kg vs 1.46Kg/1.54Kg on the T490 / T495 respectively). Usefully, it supports up to Intel Core i7 8th Gen (Quad), up to 64GB RAM (dual slots) & the optional AMD Radeon GPU option. No swappable battery. No Thunderbolt 3. Only basic screen available up to FHD IPS (depends on the region). This is perhaps seen as the more budget-focused option - without going full-on AMD for the CPU. 
  3. A higher-end ThinkPad T490: with Core i7, possibly with the upgrades such as the DolbyVision Display. Being less budget-constrained & getting more of the upgrades upfront could save time later & result in a more pleasant computing experience (especially if you plan to use the laptop for a longer 3-5 years lifecycle). T490 refurb is now available in our webshop. 
  4. Refurb alternatives: ThinkPad T480 / X1 Carbon 6th / Dell 7490 or HP EliteBook 840 G5 or 1040 G5. You can either get a decent spec Core i5 model or a Core i7 model at a competitive price. We may have some of these refurb models available on our webshop. T495 will be available soon in the refurb market too.

Part 5: Comparison to the most recent T480 series:

We've also made a brief T490 / T480 hands-on video (above) & with a summary blog (here).
Whilst it's easy to compare the T495 to the Intel-powered T490 - you'd be hard pushed to ignore the T480 option. ThinkPad T495's noticeably lower base price today is already significant (vs T490), although we feel it's useful to add that the base price should reduce over time. If we're open-minded on refurb - then the choice will be harder against the tried and tested T480 refurb option (from a value per £ perspective). If it must buy new though - then the ThinkPad T495 compares favourably to T490 (in the budget-constrained contexts). We're probably biased here, in favouring the T480 refurb for our office (if we had to get one today).
We might wait a while longer for the T495 (as a buyer). This is partly because Ryzen on a T series is still new, allowing some more time for Lenovo to optimise the drivers / BIOs might be useful (larger I.T departments tends to wait for the 2nd/3rd version of a product before deployment, for instance). Also, the ThinkPad T495's price advantage might become even more significant, 8-12 month from now (as the promo price sets in & when refurb units become available).
Advantages (of the ThinkPad T490/495 generation): 
  • Updated chassis (lid now opens with one hand); thinner bezel; upwards facing speakers (better than before, still not good as entertainment laptop)
  • More screen options on the ThinkPad T490 
  • Better base pricing on the T495 model.
Advantage (of the ThinkPad T480):
  • Performance almost as good & you'll still have that 1x replaceable batter
  • Known quantity when it comes to the drivers/compatibility (e.g. Linux support), as well as the strength & areas for improvements
  • Price (both new & refurb) is better as-is than the new ThinkPad T490 (as of Sept 2019)
Ryzen on laptops may well be more widely visible over the next few years, and even though it's already in the 3000 series - it is still quite a fresh product (Intel's Core branding is currently in its 10th generation). So far comments from the online reviews appear to have picked up that T495 tends to run the processor at a lower speed (than other same spec systems - perhaps a BIOS update is needed). 

Part 6: Food for thought:

Lenovo ThinkPad T495 is likely to be just the beginning of the AMD Ryzen's challenge on the Laptop segment. In the medium-term, assuming that AMD keeps up its pace & consistency of delivery, then in just 1-2 generations (in 2020/2021), it may well appear in many more laptops. Whilst it's important for the Ryzen branding to become more associated with the halo products / higher-end laptops (such as the ThinkPad P/X series; Microsoft Surface; Dell XPS series, Alienware, etc) - it's the volume/value segment where AMD may be really focusing on & offering performance at price points that are very compelling to the consumers.
It's a fair step to appear in a similar chassis to an Intel version (as seen here on the T49x series / Surface Laptop 15) - no doubt AMD's aspiration would be for OEMs to build more exclusive versions. The intriguing aspect is that AMD appears to be able to deploy a similar strategy on laptops (as desktop), in offering a compelling product (with good performance & few obvious downsides), aggressively targeting for market share (thanks to the Zen platform's pricing & yield advantage), across a wide price levels. To loosely draw a parallel, on the desktop segment, whilst the 1st & 2nd Gen Ryzen products have made multi-core much more accessibly priced, the introduction of the 3rd gen Ryzen & the ($3,990) Threadripper has seen AMD gradually launching higher price products (think 3950X, 3990X) - which indicates that once AMD has matched Intel across the stack, it may carry on to drive that category, and offer product leadership. Perhaps we'll see the same on laptops in 2021-22. The consumers will stand to win here, of course. 
Intel might soon feel the need to develop & bring to market more compelling offerings (its ability to charge a premium will be less straightforward otherwise). The Ice Lake 10th Gen CPU has arrived (slightly edging ahead of the Ryzen 3000 series) & the follow-up Tiger Lake Platform should arrive for the end of 2020 (see the AnandTech article for moreinfo). Though AMD's next-gen Ryzen 4000 mobile series will land very shortly - the eager eyes will cautiously observe how it performs. Launching class-leading products in as power restricted platform as laptops will mean that it isn't necessarily about just the raw power/core count; it will require more OEM level integration & refinement (power & battery management, security, platform optimisation, etc) & simultaneously allowing time for the developers to enhance the multi-core support. After all, AMD has perhaps not challenged Intel significantly on the laptop segment since the launch of the Intel Centrino platform back in 2003 (16+ years is a long time in tech). The brand recognition which Intel would have built during this will buy it some time, while it revisits the drawing-room. The consumers - hopefully, will benefit indirectly as a result of a more competitive landscape.

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1 comment

  • Dipankar

    Thank you for na the extremely helpful discussion.

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