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Lenovo Thinkpad W700 Mobile Workstation
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Date: Oct 13, 2008
Section:Mobile
Author: Chris Connolly
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Introduction and Overview

When you think of a high-powered graphics workstation, the first thing which typically comes to mind is a huge, bulky tower chassis, packed to the brim with multiple processors, high-end graphics cards, and multiple hard disks. For the most part, this assumption is still fairly accurate, as these are the components which designers and artists usually require, and they aren't available anywhere else. Thus, artists have more or less been chained to their desks and their big, perfectly calibrated monitors.

This isn't to say that there aren't options for the mobile workstation user, however, they have never really been up to par with what you could accomplish with a full tower. Almost every major notebook provider out there has a mobile workstation product, although for graphic artists, the only truly well respected product lineup has been Apple's MacBook Pro series. Even with the most high-end MacBook Pro, however, you're limited to what you can physically stuff into such a small form factor. The solution? Go bigger. That's just what Lenovo has done with their massively large (and equally impressive) Thinkpad W700 model - the first laptop we've seen which not only meets, but surpasses what Apple's MacBook Pro can offer to the graphics professional.

While Apple tends to target the style-conscious designer types, Lenovo is going the other direction, providing a no-frills, high-end laptop which is absolutely packed with high-end hardware. This isn't to say that the Thinkpad W700 is un-attractive (it has its rugged, industrial charm), but it's clear here that style is not Lenovo's primary focus. So, what is Lenovo's primary focus? Performance. Lenovo is offering hardware options which Apple isn't close to touching with their new W700. With the Lenovo W700, you can configure systems with quad-core processors, up to 8GB of memory, multiple hard drives in RAID, and Nvidia's latest lineup of mobile QuadroFX graphics processors, none of which are available on the PowerMac lineup today. Not only does the W700 offer what Apple can't, it also offers configuration options which are unique to the rest of the PC space as well.

Some may assume that Lenovo is taking a brute-force approach to the mobile workstation market, but this is clearly not the case with the W700. Helping to refine this model are options for ultra-high resolution displays, optional hardware display color calibration (a Lenovo first), and an optional Wacom digitizer (another Lenovo first), all of which clearly show that Lenovo has the right frame of mind when attacking the mobile workstation market. In terms of its specification, the Thinkpad W700 looks very impressive - and we were lucky enough to get our hands on one of the first shipping models, which we will now analyze in  great depth on the following pages. Enjoy!


Lenovo's (very-large) Thinkpad W700 Notebook - iPhone used for size comparison purposes.

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Details and Specifications

The Lenovo W700 we tested was configured as a "mid-range" variant, which "only" included a dual-core CPU, a DVD writer and traditional platter-based hard drives. The configuration listed below currently sells through Lenovo's website for $4,463. If you configure it with a quad-core CPU, a Blu-Ray burner, and solid state hard drives you can easily push the system to (and beyond) the $6,500 mark. A cost friendly system, this is not, but Lenovo is not targeting the cost conscious market with this model - they are going all out and targeting it at the high-end graphics workstation market, buyers who don't think much of spending $5,000+ on a system to work on. At its lowest level, you can get a W700 for a price-tag of about $2,500, but you'll be taking serious cuts in terms of performance and multimedia abilities. Here are the specifications of the W700 which we'll be testing on today, along with how Lenovo is describing this system for potential buyers.

"Lenovo ThinkPad notebooks are renowned for their innovation, and the ThinkPad W700 mobile workstation does not disappoint, offering all of the latest technology features that can fit into a mobile PC system - with game-changing performance and capabilities. Photographers, designers and mobile pros, meet your dream machine. Whatever your endeavor, the W700 helps you unleash your creativity and succeed through the innovative use of technology." - Lenovo

  • Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 (2.8 GHz) Processor

  • 1066 MHz FSB Speed, 6 MB L2 Cache

  • 4 GB of DDR2-1066 Memory (Dual Channel)

  • Intel 945-series / ICH9R Chipset

  • Nvidia QuadroFX 3700M Graphics Processor

  • 17.0" Widescreen Display (1920 x 1200)

  • Pantone Hardware Color Calibration Unit

  • DisplayPort, Dual-Link DVI, VGA Output Ports

  • Hitachi 7K200 160 GB Hard Disks in RAID-0

  • 8x Slim Serial ATA DVD-ReWritable Drive

  • 802.11 A/B/G Wireless Networking w/ Draft-N

  • Gigabit Ethernet, 56k Modem, Bluetooth 2.0

  • High Definition Audio with Stereo Speakers

  • 1.3 MP Camera and ThinkLight LED Lighting

  • SD/SDHC and Compact Flash Card Readers

  • ExpressPort 34 Expansion Slot

  • 5 x USB 2.0 Ports, 1 x Mini-1394 Port

  • Integrated Wacom Tablet with Digitizer Pen

  • TPM Security with Biometric Finger Scanner

  • 16.1 x 12.2 x 1.6" (W x D x H)

  • 8.3 Pounds (w/ Battery Pack Attached)

  • 9-Cell Lithium Ion Battery, 170W A/C Adapter

  • Windows Vista Ultimate Edition x64 with SP1


Thinkpad W700 View in Device Manager

Our Lenovo Thinkpad W700 system packs in a lot of goodies, including several Lenovo firsts. Technologies such as the integrated Wacom tablet, hardware color calibration unit, and ThinkLight LED lighting systems are Lenovo exclusive at this time. The high-end QuadroFX 3700M graphics processor and high-resolution screen with DisplayPort and Dual-Link DVI outputs are quite rare in the notebook market today. Of course, when you're dealing with a notebook of this caliber and at this price point, potential buyers will expect everything and the kitchen sink to be included. We're off to a good start - let's see this thing in the flesh.
 

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First Impressions, Chassis, and LCD

Let's start with the basics. When we first laid eyes on the Lenovo W700, almost immediately the first thing out of our mouths were "Wow, that thing is huge!". In a world where notebooks are getting smaller and thinner by the day, the sheer size of the Thinkpad W700 can be downright shocking to some. The unit measures 16" wide by 12" deep, and is about an inch and a half thick. The stock weight is about eight and a half pounds. For a quick comparison, Lenovo's new S10 netbook (review coming shortly) is 9.8" wide by 7.2" deep and weighs about 2 pounds. In terms of size, the W700 is significantly larger than most every other laptop on the market, with the exception of some new high-end models coming out with 18" LCD panels.


Lenovo Thinkpad W700 - Front


Lenovo Thinkpad W700 - Angle

In-line with the rest of Lenovo's Thinkpad series, the W700 features a rugged, heavy duty black plastic body. Gone are the traditional IBM logos, replaced with sleek, subtle Lenovo styling in various branded spots. While most designers scoff at its thick, lumbering design, there is definitely a minimalist charm to the W700, as this is a no-frills work machine. It's simple, but tough, and you know it will survive being out in the field with you.

With a single latch holding it in place, opening up the W700 reveals an incredibly beautiful 17" diagonal LCD display, which is one of the major selling points of the W700. While most desktop-class 17" widescreen LCD panels feature a screen resolution of 1440 x 900, high-end W700 models are equipped with an incredibly dense 1920 x 1200 resolution display. This is the same screen resolution which you would typically see in a 24" widescreen display, but here you get that same pixel density in a much more compact form factor. This gives artists and digital content creators the ability to work with high definition content in a mobile environment, which is somewhat of a rarity. If you don't care a great deal about screen resolution and want to save a few bucks, Lenovo also offers a traditional 1440 x 900 display option for the W700. Keep in mind that when you shove a 1920 x 1200 display into a 17" form factor, things tend to get pretty small, especially text. By default, Lenovo turned on large-sized fonts for our sample - although you can certainly disable this (as we did for our testing).

For the record, Apple's high-end MacBook Pro models also feature 1920 x 1200 displays in a 17" mobile form factor, so Lenovo isn't the first to go to this level of detail, but it's still somewhat rare to see in the PC notebook space. Lenovo has put an incredible amount of work into making the screen on this laptop damn near perfect. Not only is the 1920 x 1200 option very bright and vibrant for a notebook display (400 nits - the 1440 x 900 model is 200 nits), but Lenovo gives you integrated hardware color calibration for the LCD panel, which to our knowledge is a first for the notebook industry. The integrated color calibration unit is embedded below the keyboard, and works together with the pre-installed Huey calibration software from Pantone.


Hardware Color Calibration Technology


Pantone Huey Pro Color Calibration Software

The integrated color calibration technology is similar to carrying around a "Spyder" calibration unit with you wherever you go. In order for it to work, you start the Huey Pro calibration software, put the cover down for 30 seconds or so and wait. You will hear an audible series of beeps, followed by three quick beeps stating that your calibration is complete. Open up the display again, and you have a perfectly calibrated screen - and the differences can be quite astounding (the software lets you see before and after calibrated versions). We are definitely glad to have this technology integrated, as monitor calibration can be an incredibly frustrating problem to deal with if your screen doesn't co-operate, which is a common problem. Lenovo offers their color calibration technology as an add-in, so if you don't need this technology, you can opt out from having it installed. In addition, Lenovo's W700 high-resolution 1920 x 1200 LCD can display a wider range of the color gamut compared to most LCD displays, up to 72% of the Adobe RGB gamut space.

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Processor and Memory

Having a big, beautiful display like the Thinkpad W700 is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to pleasing high-end graphics workstation users - the other main aspect is performance. Graphics workstation users are typically some of the most demanding on their systems, as you are constantly thrashing your system's processor, memory, graphics processor, and storage subsystem - depending on your application of course. Every link in the chain must be up to par, otherwise you'll see slowdowns, and well, you should not see performance slowdowns on a machine with a price-tag this high.

The first link in the chain is the processor, and Lenovo gives quite a few options here. The least-expensive chip you can configure this system with is a 2.53 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Mobile processor, whereas on the high-end you can go up to 2.53 GHz Core 2 Extreme Mobile quad-core processor, which effectively doubles the amount of raw processing power (at an additional - $1,083). You can also opt for a 3.0 GHz dual-core Core 2 Extreme Mobile processor if you want high-clock speeds but don't need two extra processing cores under the hood.

Our system was equipped with the mid-range Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 Mobile processor, which runs at 2.8 GHz, has 6 MB of L2 cache, and runs at 1066 MHz front side bus speed. The Core 2 Duo Mobile T9600 chip sells for about $550 on its own today, and runs off Intel's mobile "Penryn" core architecture, which means this chip is manufactured on Intel's newest 45mn manufacturing process and supports all of their latest technologies, including hardware virtualization, 64-bit processing, SSE4.1 support and Dynamic Acceleration technology. At 2.8 GHz, the chip is definitely speedy enough to handle most workstation tasks without issue - and it's all packaged together in a chip which consumes a maximum 35W TDP (Thermal Design Power). This is a lot for a mobile processor, compared to the single-digit wattage levels seen in Intel's new Atom designs, but for this much processing power, it's actually quite good. Desktop-level equivalents of this chip will have 65W+ TDP levels.


Core 2 Duo T9600 - Full Speed at 2.8 GHz


Core 2 Duo T9600 - Idle at 1.6 GHz

On battery power, the chip will automatically clock itself down to 1.6 GHz when not in heavy use, which allows for significant improvements in terms of heat production and power consumption. If you're using it as a full-on desktop replacement, Lenovo's software lets you run the chip in "Maximum Performance" mode, which runs everything at its highest levels without any on-the-fly clock speed alterations. Keep in mind that if you run at this level, you will likely feel quite a bit of heat being emitted from the unit's exhaust vents, and on battery life, this will limit you greatly. However, if you need performance, Lenovo does very little from getting in the way of you using it, which we whole-heartedly appreciate.


Pump that CPU up to full speed with Lenovo's Power Manager.

The Intel Core 2 Mobile T9600 processor is connected an Intel 945-series chipset which houses the system's memory controller. Lenovo claims (via PDF's on their website) that this machine to be configured with up to 8 GB of DDR2-1066 memory in a dual-channel configuration, although their website only appears to offer up to 4 GB options at this time. In terms of raw memory bandwidth, this gives you peak levels of 17 GB/s between the memory controller and the modules, greatly above most notebooks. Lenovo uses fairly high-latency Samsung memory modules, which by default were running at CAS 7-7-7 timings, but this is somewhat of a nitpick. 4-8 GB of DDR2-1066 memory in a notebook is, well, very impressive, as you only see these sorts of abilities in tower systems. Our system was equipped with 4 GB (2 x 2 GB) memory modules, which was still plenty given what we threw at the system.

As one would expect on a system which supports more than 4 GB of memory, Lenovo does offer 64-bit operating system options, which are needed to take advantage of memory capacities at (or over) 4 GB. Our system was equipped with Windows Vista Ultimate x64 Edition, and everything ran beautifully out of the box, but we'll get into the software side of things a bit later.

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Graphics

Another necessity for a high-end graphics workstation is a GPU which is up to snuff. Lenovo, once again doesn't disappoint in this arena, as our Thinkpad W700 notebook was configured with an Nvidia QuadroFX 3700M graphics processor with 1 GB of graphics memory. The QuadroFX 3700M is based on Nvidia's G92 graphics architecture, which is also the basis of the GeForce 9800-series of cards for the gaming market. The implementation is certainly different, in terms of interface, drivers, and also some differences on the hardware level, but you can be assured that you're dealing with a fairly high-end GPU architecture at its core. Technologies such as Shader Model 4.0 / DirectX 10 and OpenGL 2.1 support are included here, and if you're into the whole GPU-computing thing, since you're on an Nvidia GPU, you've got CUDA support too.

Nvidia's QuadroFX 3700M supports 128 unified shaders, and runs at a default clock speed of 550 MHz. Shaders are clocked at 1375 MHz, and the 1 GB of GDDR-3 memory onboard runs at 800 MHz. As the QuadroFX 3700M runs on a 256-bit memory interface, you are able to hit peak memory bandwidth levels of 51.2 GB/s, which is absolutely impressive to see in the mobile space. The downside? The chip has a maximum TDP of 75W, more than double that of the system's dual-core processor - which means that under full load, your GPU is consuming more power and creating more heat compared to your CPU. When we looked at power consumption numbers through our wattage meter, the system really started to consume significant amounts of power when the GPU was running full-throttle.


GPU Specifications and Configuration Options through Nvidia's Forceware 175.31

The QuadroFX 3700M utilizes the MXM architecture, which is more or less a customized PCI Express interface for mobile devices. In theory, this does mean that the graphics chip can be removed and replaced if necessary. Since the graphics chip isn't hard soldered onto the motherboard, Lenovo can offer a range of GPU options for potential buyers. The QuadroFX 3700M is the high-end option, adding an additional $340 to the base cost. If you want to drop a little bit of the GPU power, you can go for the QuadroFX 2700M GPU, which effectively halves your GPU computing power and cuts your memory size down to 512 MB, but either way, you're dealing with some very good graphics chips in this thing.

While it's definitely not this machine's primary focus, when equipped with a QuadroFX 3700M, this notebook also becomes pretty respectable for gaming as well. Nvidia's QuadroFX driver set is not designed or optimized for gaming environments, but you can certainly handle DirectX 10 games without issue here. Our stock configuration scored 10,429 in Futuremark's 3DMark06, which is certainly respectable for a laptop, as this will outpace many mainstream desktop computers in gaming power. While this graphic chip may have some trouble running extremely GPU intensive titles like Crysis at full 1920 x 1200 resolution, the vast majority of games out there will run fine at this resolution with this GPU under the hood. If you opt for the less expensive QuadroFX 2700-series GPU, don't expect to be gaming at full-resolution on this screen. The LCD panel does downscale quite nicely to handle lower resolutions, however.

Not only does Lenovo provide a standard 15-pin VGA output, but it also has a dual-link DVI port and DisplayPort digital connections on the back of the system. This allows the Thinkpad W700 to output full-screen to the highest resolution 30" LCD panels on the market today. We connected the W700 to a Dell 30" LCD and ran it at full 2560 x 1600 resolution as a secondary screen along with our standard 1920 x 1200 integrated display, and the entire system worked beautifully. While DisplayPort enabled monitors are few and far between at this point, they are hitting the market in volume now and support for this standard shows how forward thinking Lenovo is with this model.


(Left to Right) DisplayPort, VGA, Dual-Link DVI, Gigabit Ethernet Ports

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Storage

While truckloads of CPU and GPU computing power are certainly essential to any workstation-class system, nearly as important is the storage subsystem. Graphics workstation users tend to work with very large files, sometimes hitting multiple gigabytes in size for a single project. If you're constantly loading up and making alterations to files at these size levels, the importance of a snappy hard disk becomes clear awfully fast.

When we first heard about this no-holds barred W700 model, we assumed that it would be loaded with solid-state hard disks (SSDs), as they typically represent the best performance possible, and are typically sold to high-end users who care more about raw throughput rather than the price-tag. While Lenovo does offer SSD options for the W700, they do not represent the majority of configuration options. Instead, the route which Lenovo is choosing to most often take (and, what our sample was loaded with) are dual-hard disks with RAID support. In the laptop market, having storage abilities of this nature is somewhat rare, as adding support for RAID hard disks means you have to double the amount of space for drive bays, the system uses more power and creates more heat, and you require a chipset with RAID support. With a huge chassis such as this, and Intel's ICH9-R Southbridge SATA-II controller under the hood, RAID-enabled hard drives become a very viable option.

Our sample was loaded with two Hitachi Travelstar 7K200 hard disks which were configured as RAID-0 (RAID-1 is also available). Each hard drive has 160 GB of storage space, so two disks striped together in RAID-0 allows for roughly 300 GB of usable storage space - which is pretty respectable for a high-end laptop. The key here is that Lenovo is offering a hard disk configuration which is surprisingly fast (dual 7,200 RPM disks in RAID-0 is still very respectable by today's standards) and isn't excessively expensive per GB like SSD drives. Lenovo offers 7,200 RPM hard drives in RAID configurations up to 200 GB per drive, and up to 300 GB per drive if you move down to 5,400 RPM disks.


Dual Removable Hard Disks in RAID-0


Hitachi 7K200 7,200 RPM SATA Disks

The downside is that Lenovo is taking a fairly sizable risk when it comes to reliability. While notebook hard drives are designed to be tough, the nature of a RAID-0 configuration is that if you lose one hard drive, you lose the data over both drives, which could become a real concern for a potential mobile workstation user who is shoving this laptop into airport baggage. Lenovo secures the drives fairly well in the chassis, but a disk configuration such as this is not without fault. Lenovo uses "Shock-Mounted" hard drive technology to help offset this fact, which will park the hard drive heads in place within milliseconds if a notebook drop is detected, hopefully helping to keep the drives safe. Combined with a fairly unique drive mounting system, it appears that Lenovo is taking the right steps to help alleviate this issue, but potential buyers should still keep the downsides of RAID-0 in mind when considering a purchase.


RAID information through Intel's Storage Console


Disk read performance through HDTune 3.0

On the plus side, performance is fantastic from the first boot-up of the system. With our dual 160 GB 7,200 RPM hard disks, we were able to see disk read speeds topping 100 MB/s (barely), which is faster than a (single) Western Digital Raptor 10,000 RPM hard drive on the desktop. For the mobile space, this is amazingly fast disk access, and we could immediately feel a difference when using this system compared to other Vista notebook configurations. Menus and applications snapped open without delay, allowing us to stay focused and keep our workflow going without delay.

Lenovo's stock disk configuration is pretty odd when it comes to partitioning. Of our 300 GB of usable disk space, Lenovo dedicated the lion's share (286 GB) to the C: drive, where the operating system and applications rest. They also set up a Q: drive, which is 10 GB, and holds the original operating system and application installs, in case you need to perform data recovery or a fresh install. You can also burn this partition to a DVD in case you want to keep a backup (Lenovo does not provide original Vista install disks on DVD, which is indeed a bummer). Lenovo also makes a smaller S: partition, which is about 1.5 GB and holds "boot partition information", which works in conjunction with Lenovo's ThinkVantage recovery systems. It's clear that Lenovo set up these partitions with letters that most people will never pick for their own partitions, although the randomness of Q: and S: drives on the system is still somewhat off-putting.


Lenovo's default storage configuration with C:, Q:, and S: drive partitions.

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Optical Media, Flash Memory, Connectivity

If you care about optical media, fret not, Lenovo has you covered. You can pick from a CD-RW/DVD-ROM, an 8x DVD-RW drive (which our sample was configured with), or if you really want to go all out, you can configure a Thinkpad W700 with a slim line Blu-Ray drive. As this screen has a high-enough resolution to support 1080P video playback, along with enough CPU and GPU horsepower to keep everything in check, Blu-Ray movie playback on this system is certainly possible without difficulties. In theory, of course, as we couldn't test this without the Blu-Ray drive option. It should be fine though. Our laptop came pre-installed with a copy of Intervideo's WinDVD for movie playback - it's likely that Blu-Ray equipped models will include a Blu-Ray capable version of some sort of media player.

The final aspect of storage which is worth mentioning is memory card support. As Lenovo is targeting high-end digital photographers with this machine as well, having support for a variety of high-end memory card standards is certainly appropriate. The W700 supports multiple configurations through its expansion bays on the left side of the laptop, which give you the flexibility upon ordering to choose what you want to support. The default configuration is two empty ExpressCard slots (54mm and 34mm). Lenovo lets you choose if you want to swap out the 54mm Express card slot for a Smart Card reader or a Compact Flash reader (which our sample had). On the front of the laptop, you also have a dedicated Secure Digital (SD/SDHC) card slot which is fixed in the bezel. You can leave your memory card reader at home, finally.


SD card support? Check.


CompactFlash? Covered.

Connectivity wise, the Lenovo W700 doesn't disappoint. Our system was equipped with an Intel PCI Express WiFi Link 5300 series card, which allows for connectivity between just about every Wi-Fi router, including 802.11 A/B/G series routers, along with 802.11N through Draft-N. You also have BlueTooth 2.0 wireless connectivity, a 56K modem (just in case), and a wired Gigabit Ethernet port which connects to the system via PCI Express. Lenovo also claims that they will be adding WiMax options sometime in 2008, although this will likely be dependent on WiMax roll-outs in larger markets.

Now, the connectivity options are great and all, but the one feature which really wows is Lenovo's Wi-Fi connectivity software. Typically, OEM-created software to handle network connectivity is far below the quality level of Windows's native Vista Wi-Fi software suite, which means we usually disable the bundled connectivity software. Lenovo has done some really great stuff on this end, though. Through their "Access Connections" software, you can see in a visual manner which Wi-Fi hotspots are the closest and giving you the best signal, along with which ones are locked. It's an amazingly simple but useful way for connecting to Wi-Fi hot-spots.


Access Connections - a beautifully simple way to locate nearby Wi-Fi spots.

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Input Devices

One of the joys of having a huge behemoth of a laptop is that you have room for a proper full-sized keyboard. As someone with long fingers, finding a laptop keyboard which allows me to write quickly and without an un-natural amount of typos has always been a losing battle. However, the Thinkpad W700 has a full sized keyboard with true 100% sized keys, along with a full number pad on the side. Typing on the W700 compared to a traditional laptop keyboard is like night and day - it's incredibly easy to work on and typing feels very natural on this unit. The only major differences in the layout of the W700 keyboard and a typical desktop keyboard is the placement of the Insert/Delete block, which is placed directly above the Back space key.


Finally! A true full-sized keyboard!

In standard Thinkpad fashion, you have the little red-nubbin Touch-Point in the center of the keyboard which can be used for mouse movement. Even if you don't use this for mouse movement, it does not get in the way of standard keyboard typing, so we have no qualms with it being there. The Touch-Point works in conjunction with a series of buttons which sit just south of the Space Bar which allow for different types of mouse clicks and scrolling styles.


The standard red Thinkpad nubbin.


Thinkpad touchpad with scroll controls.

The W700 is also equipped with a traditional touchpad, which is up to par with what we would expect from a high-end laptop. The touchpad supports two buttons and horizontal and vertical scrolling by default, and has a very good feel to it. There is a small indent below the two trackpad buttons which allows your fingers to rest slightly under the buttons, which actually feels quite natural and helps long term usage become less of a nusiance. The trackpad feels sturdy and reliable during day to day usage, and is one of the better trackpads we've used. If you want to opt for a mouse instead, Lenovo has USB ports on both side of the laptop for easy connectivity (two ports on the left, three on the right).

Now, some of you may be curious as to what the "giant" trackpad is on the right side of the palm rest. Of the people whom the Lenovo W700 was shown to, this was most often their first question after proclaiming how large the notebook was in size. "Is it ljust a big trackpad?". Nope - it is not a trackpad. In reality, this large, rectangle shaped area on the palm rest is a major Lenovo innovation, as this is a fully functional integrated Wacom tablet, built right into the palm-rest. This is seriously cool technology at work here, folks. Lenovo has built in logic that disables the panel when it detects your wrist is above the panel, as it is when you are typing, as to not move the cursor when you don't mean it to be moving. If the system also detects you are drawing on the panel with your left hand, it can disable the scrollpad as well as to not interfere with your tablet work.


Integrated Wacom digitizer with handy pen storage on the right side.

Having an integrated Wacom panel built right into the notebook allows for a highly flexible pen-based drawing interface, which works in conjunction with a digitizer pen which fits into the side of the notebook. Wacom tablets are highly flexible and can be used in a lot of different scenarios, but are excellent for hand-drawing and hand-writing, both of which are impossible to replicate with a mouse or a trackpad. In our testing, we found the tablet to be very easy to use, right out of the box as it is pre-configured. We did, however, find that the pen often got stuck in the side of the laptop and would not pop out every time we asked for it, which is troublesome given that this is a brand new laptop.

Of course, not every graphics workstation user equires a tablet interface, and as such, Lenovo offers this as a customizable option for an extra ~$125. While it's a smaller panel (5" wide x 3" tall) compared to most external units, it's also priced accordingly and is very reasonable from a cost / portability perspective. If you're a designer or artist who uses a Wacom tablet, the thought of having a panel integrated into your laptop to take with you wherever you go (and not having to carry around something extra and having to constantly plug it in) will likely sound pretty appealing. After showing this to an artist friend who uses a Wacom tablet on a daily basis, seeing the W700's integrated panel made her proclaim "that's hot".  We couldn't agree more - and we're not even a Wacom tablet users, but this is a very innovative piece of technology here, and we'realways happy to see fresh ideas making their way to production.

There's one more extra interface option, although this one is built in standard. To the right of the Wacom tablet, you have a small piece of transparent plastic slightly embedded in the panel. This is an integrated fingerprint reader, which allows you to lock the laptop with a fingerprint instead of a traditional password (or both for two-factor authentication). For a high-end workstation user who might have sensitive data on the laptop, having biometric security support is a huge win, and having it included by default just shows how Lenovo is committed to the technology. The fingerprint scanning system is quick, accurate, and we've never run into a false positive authentication - although sometimes we have to run our finger over the scanner several times in order for it to give us the OK to enter our system.

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Power Consumption and Battery Life

There are certainly some downsides to shoving this much high-end hardware in a laptop form factor beyond price, two of which are to be expected - weight and battery life. The Lenovo W700 has a stock weight of 8.3 pounds, which is 2x to 4x the weight of most of today's reasonably sized mainstream laptops. A large chunk of the weight is dedicated to the massive 9-cell lithium ion battery which sits on the back of the unit, providing power for all of the unit's high-end goodies.


Removable 9-Cell Lithium Ion Battery


170W A/C Adapter (iPhone for size comparison)

The A/C adapter for the Lenovo W700 is a little ominous, too. While we were under no illusions that the power adapter for a notebook of this capacity would be slim and lightweight, the W700's power brick is surprisingly large. Lenovo has done a fairly good job with the design, making it look sleeker and a little less hideous on your desk compared to other brands of power bricks we've seen and their integrated Velcro management is very handy for those who travel a lot. The power brick handles up to 170W of power, and not surprisingly, can get fairly warm during usage. These, unfortunately, are some of the tradeoffs one has to make when buying an ultra-high end mobile workstation. Keep in mind that if you travel with your W700 though, you not only have to carry around an 8.3 pound laptop, but you also have to carry around a power brick which is another two pounds (roughly).

For power consumption testing, we hooked up the Lenovo W700 to a wattage monitor and watched the numbers spin by. Here is what to expect during various states of notebook operation when it comes to power consumption.

System Off - Battery Charging

54 Watts

System On - Idle (Highest Energy Savings Mode)

55 Watts

System On - Idle (High Performance Mode)

83 Watts

System On - Full CPU Load (Two Threads)

104 Watts

System On - Full CPU, GPU, and Storage Load

163 Watts

 
In terms of real-world battery life, the Thinkpad W700 isn't spectacular, as to be expected given the amount of high-end hardware underneath. Nevertheless, it is possible to get solid battery life from the W700 and still maintain respectable overall system performance. If you're heavily taxing the CPU, GPU, and storage systems with your screen on full brightness, you can expect to see about an hour and a half of un-plugged battery life. If you're using the system lightly, for say web browsing, writing, with the screen on a lowered brightness setting, you can expect to see about two and a half hours of battery life.

If you tone everything down to its lowest levels, you might be able to eek out over three hours if you're lucky, but we wouldn't put much faith in it. For this kind of system, battery life is important, but not overly so compared to a netbook, which is designed to be extremely mobile. A system like the W700 will typically be used in environments which do have access to power outlets, but the battery pack does give you the flexibility to crank through some work when you're not at a desk or a table. When you're battery is running low, the W700 will prompt you to enable "Battery Stretch", which disables various power consuming parts of the laptop if you don't need them, allowing you to see how much battery time you will save with them disabled.

Amazingly, while using all this power, the system is surprisingly cool and quiet during normal operation. Even during prolonged CPU and GPU load tests, we did not hear the Thinkpad W700 become any louder compared to its stock levels. While there are definitely fans running inside of the laptop, they are muted to a point where they are not noticeable, which is a very important attribute to have in a workstation-class laptop which people are sitting with day-in and day-out. This isn't to say that the system doesn't get hot, it does. However, the W700 does an excellent job of dumping heat out of its four exhaust vents (two on each side of the laptop). You can certainly feel the hot air whooshing out of the sides, but it never became a nuisance in our testing and the keyboard and bottom of the laptop remained surprisingly cool and usable throughout our entire time with the unit.


Heat exhaust vents one and two on the right...


... with vents three and four on the left.

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Operating System and Benchmarks

As we mentioned before, Lenovo pre-loaded our sample with Microsoft's Windows Vista Ultimate Edition x64 (64-bit) Edition. Service Pack one was already installed, as were all of the necessary patches and extras through Windows Update. All of the custom hardware in the W700 worked beautifully in the 64-bit environment. Lenovo also offers Windows Vista Business (both in 32-bit and 64-bit flavors), but curiously does not offer Windows Vista Ultimate Edition in a 32-bit flavor. Also, if Windows Vista isn't your operating system of choice, you can indeed downgrade to Windows XP Professional at no charge. As workstation users tend to be a bit more cautious about operating system changes compared to gamers, having a Windows XP option is definitely a smart decision on Lenovo's part, even though we would recommend going for Windows Vista 64-bit Edition for new system builds.


Our Thinkpad W700 sample scored 5.6 for the Vista Experience Index.


Default Windows Vista desktop upon first boot of the system.

While Lenovo does a moderately decent job of keeping the Thinkpad W700 free from system-hogging pre-bundled software, there still are some oddities with their default installation. Upon booting up the system for the first time, we saw the operating system and startup-class application holding a 1.5 GB memory footprint on the system, slowing down boot times significantly. Going through application by application, we removed quite a lot of the bloat from the system and cut the memory footprint down to just over 1 GB, a process which took about an hour and a half.

Some interesting tidbits from the software perspective. Lenovo pre-loads this laptop with their ThinkVantage tool suite, which has a lot of custom controls and features which are highly useful, including some customized Windows Vista Sidebar and taskbar widgets. The only one which we disliked was the ThinkVantage Message Center, which loads by default and provides annoying, non-useful "helper" pop-up messages. Lenovo also pre-installs some custom icons for My Computer and Recycle Bin, which we found interesting, but un-necessary.

The notebook is pre-loaded with a 30-day trial of Windows Office 2007 (assuming you don't actually buy the whole thing, which Lenovo offers as a pre-installed option), along with Roxio Creator and WinDVD for optical media control. Interestingly, Lenovo pre-installs a copy of SQL Server 2005 on the ThinkPad W700 as well, a reason for doing so we could not find.

Curious to know how this beast performs in some industry standard benchmarks? Here you go.

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage

4506 (5449 CPU, 4261 GPU)

FutureMark 3DMark06

  

10,429

  

SiSoft Sandra XI - CPU Arithmetic

25,880

SiSoft Sandra XI - CPU Multimedia

15,8080

SiSoft Sandra XI - Memory Bandwidth

5.66 GB/s

SiSoft Sandra XI - Memory Latency

104 ns

SiSoft Sandra XI - Disk Speed

  

110 MB/s

  

SPEC Viewperf 10 (3dsmax-04)

35.25 (Up to 8x FSAA)

SPEC Viewperf 10 (catia-02)

44.14 (Up to 4x FSAA)

SPEC Viewperf 10 (ensight-03)

37.24 (Up to 2x FSAA)

SPEC Viewperf 10 (maya-02)

121.04 (Up to 2x FSAA)

SPEC Viewperf 10 (proe-04)

42.93 (Up to 4x FSAA)

SPEC Viewperf 10 (sw-01)

82.42 (Up to 4x FSAA)

SPEC Viewperf 10 (tcvis-01)

23.47 (Up to 4x FSAA)

SPEC Viewperf 10 (ugnx-01)

27.06 (Up to 4x FSAA)

As a random spattering of benchmark numbers can be hard to digest, we will say that every major performance oriented aspect of the system tested extremely well. CPU performance is on par with a high-end dual-core desktop system, memory bandwidth is up to par with other 945-series platforms, and disk speed matches our previously stated numbers of slightly over 100MB/s for disk reads. Workstation and gaming performance are both exceptionally good for a notebook, delivering the highest ViewPerf scores we've seen on a notebook to date. ViewPerf scores on this level are bringing the same level of performance which you would see in a high-end tower configuration, but in a far more compact form factor. Overall, the Thinkpad W700's performance does indeed match up with the price-tag. This system is a screamer.
 

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Our Conclusion

Lenovo set out to build the ultimate mobile graphics workstation with the ThinkPad W700.  And in comparison to every other similarly classed notebook we could find, we think they have succeeded. No other notebook comes close to offering the level of raw performance, pixel precision, and configuration flexibility which is offered on the W700. No matter which competitor you look at, be it Apple, Dell, HP, all of them have some sort of drawback which keeps them from truly competing with the Thinkpad W700. When this model hits the market in the next few weeks, Lenovo will have a sizable technological lead over competing mobile workstations -- one which we don't think will be diminished for quite some time.

 

 

For designers and workstation users, the ThinkPad W700 allows for truly mobile content creation, whether it be 2D/web content creation with Photoshop and Fireworks to 3D/animation level content with 3D Studio or Maya, or even high-end digital photography work with Lightroom; all of them are handled easily by the W700. Typically, designers and artists have to fight their laptops in order to get what they want them to do in these arenas, but with the W700, everything was easy and smooth, just as if you were working on a properly calibrated desktop. The big difference now is that you can take it with you wherever you go.

That's not to say that lugging this beast around is easy. With a default weight of 8.3 pounds, once you throw in the A/C adapter, cables, and a mouse, you're looking at a 10 pound package which is not very easy to lug around. Granted, it's light-years easier to carry around with you than a full-fledged tower workstation, but lightweight and easy to throw in your carry-on luggage it is not. The W700 is a monster of a notebook in every way, shape, and form.

Of course, there's that teeny-tiny matter of the price-tag. With prices ranging from $2,500 to $6,500, there are plenty of options you can choose to include or not include. Depending on your line of work, options like the integrated Wacom tablet, color correction, or high-performance Nvidia QuadroFX graphics chip may or may not be useful to you, and we're guessing that most people will be able to configure a very nice W700 to suit their needs at about the $3,500 mark. We'd certainly say that the high-resolution (and high-brightness) 1920 x 1200 display and RAID hard disk configurations are worth it, as they dramatically improve all areas of the system, and the integrated color correction is a life-saver, especially if you're using the system for high-end photography.

This certainly is not a mass-market laptop, and should not be perceived as such. Lenovo built this machine for high-end graphics workstation users, who admittedly are a niche market arena. However, all workstation users can appreciate the raw power and feature set which a laptop like the W700 has. It's big, somewhat bland looking, and heavy, but it's an extremely potent workstation-class machine, and we think Lenovo has done a terrific job of creating a product which caters to this market. While it's not without its faults, the Lenovo Thinkpad W700 is impressive and we think it will be a hit with workstation-users who demand the best from their hardware.

 
 

  • Extremely Powerful, High Performance
  • Flexible Hardware Configurations
  • Optional Wacom Tablet
  • Beautiful Screen w/ Color Correction
  • Expensive - Up to $6,500
  • Power Hungry at Full Load
  • Massive Size Makes Mobility Difficult
  • Roughly 10 Pounds w/ Power Adapter



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