Lenovo Thinkpad W700 Mobile Workstation

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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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