Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon vs. Apple MacBook Pro: Which is a better buy?

Apple's newest MacBook Pro is quite the notebook, packing a serious punch with the latest from AMD and Intel. Lenovo, too, has a premium portable notebook with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, offering better value overall. However, the decision will likely come down to whether you prefer Windows or macOS or Intel's Core i9.

By the numbers

Apple touts the MacBook Pro as the go-to device for enthusiasts and professionals who need ultimate performance on the go, and looking at raw specs; we'd have to agree. Still, it depends on what you need, and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon offers better value.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Lenovo ThinkPad X1 CarbonMacBook Pro
Processor8th Gen Intel Core i5-8265U8th Gen Intel Core i5-8365U with vPro8th Gen Intel Core i7-8565U8th Gen Intel Core i7-8665U with vPro10th Gen Intel Core i7-10510U9th Gen Intel Core i7-9750H9th Gen Intel Core i9-9980HK
RAM8GB DDR4 2133MHz16GB DDR4 2133MHz16GB DDR4 2400MHz32GB DDR4 2400MHz
GPUIntel UHD Graphics 620Intel UHD Graphics 630AMD Radeon 555X (4GB DDR5)AMD Radeon 560X (4GB DDR5)
Display15.6-inch1080p non-touch1080p touch1440p non-touch1440p HDR non-touch15.6-inch2880 x 1800 non-touch
Ports2x USB 3.1 Gen 12x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-CHDMIHeadset jackSD card reader (SD, MMC, SDHC, SDXC)Ethernet Extension Connector4x Thunderbolt (USB 3.1 Gen 2)1x 3.5mm jack
Wireless802.11acBluetooth 5.0Optional LTE802.11acBluetooth 5.0
Dimensions12.73 x 8.54 x 0.62 inches323.5 x 217.1 x 15.95 mm9.48 x 13.75 x 0.61 inches(240 x 350 x 16 mm)
Weight1.13 kg (2.49 lbs)1.83kg (4lbs)

For professionals

While the Lenovo X1 Carbon and MacBook Pro may seem similar on paper, Apple has the upper hand in the performance department. While you can throw in the latest 10th Gen Intel Core i7 processor inside the Carbon, it cannot match the MacBook Pro with the Intel Core i9 option. There's also RAM, which can go up to just 16GB of DDR4 2133MHz while you can enjoy up to 32GB of 2400MHz with the MacBook.

Then there's the GPU, which can be configured to be a dedicated AMD Radeon 555X or AMD Radeon 560X (both with 4GB DDR5) on the MacBook Pro for a significant performance boost, especially in applications like video editing. The X1 Carbon does not come rocking a dedicated GPU, and you can't choose one when configuring a Carbon to order. The X1 Carbon hits back with the gorgeous display, matching what's available with the MacBook Pro.

It's also significantly lighter, coming in at 1.13kg. The MacBook Pro isn't heavy but does weigh 1.83 kg. The X1 Carbon is designed for portability, which includes a party trick with LTE. While an optional upgrade, it's possible to have a 4G modem installed, allowing you to get online regardless of location. There's also price with the X1 Carbon costing far less for the base 15-inch notebook (compared against 15-inch MacBook Pro).

The base model of the X1 Carbon comes equipped with an Intel Core i5-8265U processor, 8GB of RAM, Full HD IPS display, and a 256GB M.2 PCIe SSD. At just shy of double the price, Apple will kit your MacBook Pro out with an Intel Core i7-9750H processor, 16GB of RAM, Radeon Pro 555X GPU, and a 256GB PCie SSD.

Aluminum design

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a solid-looking laptop. Still, it's not the best looking (or most unique) laptop available, which could be viewed as a negative in this comparison since Apple takes design seriously, especially with the MacBook line-up. This isn't a deal-breaker, but it is worth considering if you're all about looks. You also get only one choice of color with the Carbon: black.

Apple's MacBook Pro looks stellar, thanks to the familiar aluminum construction, but even the main plate around the keyboard and touchpad is aluminum. Some don't enjoy aluminum design, and it's a difference that will lead you to prefer one or the other. The MacBook Pro also comes in space gray or silver. If I had to choose based on the design, it would be the MacBook Pro, though you may prefer the ThinkPad.

Windows vs. macOS

Windows 10

Windows and macOS are similar in more ways than they are different (much like Linux), but recommending just one is almost impossible as it's mostly down to personal preference. Deciding on Windows or macOS should be made based primarily on the aspect you enjoy using more — once you pick one, you're stuck with it, though installing another OS on the X1 Carbon is easier than the MacBook.

Both operating systems can handle video editing and intensive productivity tasks while on the go. Adobe and Microsoft suites of software can be installed on either offering. Where significant differences occur are in the UI, how software is installed/removed, as well as a host of other design choices.

You'll be able to game on Windows 10, but macOS is considered more robust and secure. If you like Microsoft's OS, go with Windows. Prefer Apple? Go macOS. At this point, you probably know where you stand.

ThinkPad for Windows fans

Not only can you take full advantage of what Windows 10 offers in terms of gaming, professional software, and incredible levels of third-party support, but you'd also struggle to do much better than the ThinkPad X1 Carbon at this price for portability.

When only a Mac will do

Should you have macOS in mind, there's really only one notebook from Apple you can choose to match the performance offered by Windows notebooks like the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The MacBook Pro is a great laptop experience but at considerable extra cost.

Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.