REVIEW: Lenovo ThinkPad W500

ThinkPad

Lenovo offers five series in its ThinkPad lineup. The entry-class comprises the SL-series, followed by the R-series, which currently boasts a larger equipment lineup. The T-series is a true multi-purpose machine due to a function that switches between integrated and dedicated graphics cards for both mobile applications and high performance needs, while the X-series focuses on mobility. The W-series is ultimately designed for professional graphic designers who want maximum performance paired with practical mobility. As workers in fields such as digital content creation, computer-aided design and manufacturing become increasingly mobile, they are demanding the full-featured performance of a desktop workstation in a mobile device.

Design

The wholly-black W500 (356x255x35mm, 2.78kg) is a typical ThinkPad laptop in terms of build and appearance―some will love its retro and understated appearance while others will want to put it in a museum. I’ve been a ThinkPad user for years and I’ve yet to come across a more practical and dependable machine for working on the move. Where other manufactures are adding shiny screens and high-end multimedia features to keep up with consumer trends, business users have a very different set of computing requirements.

The ThinkPad W500 is an amazing piece of engineering. The steel screen hinges are robust (they hold the display securely in place) and allow the display to fully recline. The rest of the chassis is just as robust, from the soft-touch feel of the lid to the tough, scratch-resistant matte plastic of the wristrest and keyboard surround.

The classic ThinkPad keyboard is roomy and comfortable, although there’s no room for a separate numerical keypad―that’s reserved for the W700. ThinkPad fans can enjoy the familiar pointing stick or opt to use the touchpad for cursor control. Both are responsive and easy to reach without having to adjust your typing position. The palm rest is big, which makes working for long periods more comfortable, and dedicated volume controls make light work of media playback. The greatest productivity feature comes by way of the ThinkVantage button which lets you access the fantastic system management tools.

Features

The ThinkPad W500 is one of the most powerful business laptops on the markets. Designed for processing and graphically-challenging applications such as spreadsheets and CAD/CAM/EDA, the machine makes light work of anything you throw at it.

In addition to the 15.4-inch (anti-glare, CCFL backlit, 16:10 aspect ratio, 500:1 contrast ratio) LCD display that has a native high-resolution resolution of 1920×1200 (WUXGA), the ThinkPad W500 can be loaded with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor T9900 (3.06GHz, 1066MHz, 6MBL2 cache), discrete ATI Mobility FireGL V5700 (512MB VRAM) graphics, and up to 8GB PC3-8500 DDR3 SDRAM (1067MHz). Those not needing a high-resolution display can opt for the WSXGA panel with a resolution of 1680×1050 pixels, which also comes with a matte non-glare display.

For those of you wanting to upgrade the amount to 8GB, keep in mind that means upgrading the operating system to 64-bit and finding some 4GB PC3-8500 1066MHz DDR3 204-pin memory sticks. Good luck! The good news is that these are the same sticks used by the ThinkPad W700.

Internal storage options are plentiful and you can either go for a maximum capacity of 320GB (5400rpm) using a standard hard drive, or opt for a 64/128GB solid state drive for the ultimate in speed and security. Optional dual hard drives with RAID 0/1 configurations allow for up to 640GB of storage capacity.

Lenovo says a popular configuration is the combination of a SSD and 320GB drive to provide high-speed system performance and large storage, giving the best of both worlds. You can also upgrade the DVD recordable drive (8x) to a Blu-ray recordable drive should you want to take advantage of the machine’s Full HD capabilities. Note, however, that Lenovo charges an astonishing £481.90 (ex. VAT) extra for the Blu-ray drive.

A range of wireless connectivity options are present, along with built-in 3.5G mobile broadband (locked to Vodafone). The mobile workstation includes 802.11b/g Wi-Fi wireless connectivity and you can connect to other devices wirelessly using Bluetooth. The 6-cell lithium-ion battery is good for around 4.5 hours, which is impressive for the amount of computing power on offer, and the standard pre-installed operating system is Windows Vista Business 32-bit (eligible for free Windows 7 upgrade).

Lenovo has shifted the ports around on the machine―compared to the ThinkPad T61p at least. The DisplayPort is a new addition and there are also three USB 2.0 ports, IEEE 1394, Gigabit Ethernet, VGA connector, and modem. A 7-in-1 multimedia card reader lets you quickly drag and drop files stored on flash memory, and the 34mm ExpressCard Slot is useful for the latest range of peripherals including TV tuner cards. Headphone and microphone jacks are conveniently located on the front of the system.

Security features include a fingerprint reader, integrated TPM 1.2 circuitry, and Lenovo’s ThinkVantage Client Security Password Manager utility. The system can also be ordered with an optional Smart Card reader for added protection. An optional mini-dock extends the mobile workstation’s capabilities with eSATA and digital audio ports as well as convenient cabling for power, external monitors and peripherals. There’s even a 1.3-Megapixel camera integrated into the lid, which although produces grainy images, is useful for video conferencing at work and fun for video messaging friends and family on the evenings.

The ThinkPad W500 delivers an above-par viewing experience. A super-crisp 1920×1200 resolution means acres of desktop space to spread your application windows around, and quality is up there with the best. The display isn’t the brightest or most colourful for designers and video editors, but colours are realistic, backlight bleed is all but non-existent and viewing angles are excellent. Significantly, ATI’s Mobility FireGL V5700 is ISV certified―unusual in a laptop―meaning the ThinkPad W500 has passed tests to ensure it works smoothly with a list of demanding professional applications including AutoCAD, SolidWorks, Catia and 3ds Max.

Conclusion

Lenovo has engineered a fantastic breed of mobile workstation with the ThinkPad W500. No other PC manufacturer has a mobile workstation that delivers the power, performance and productivity tools that Lenovo has packed into this beast. The mobile workstation flat out delivers the performance demanding users require at the desk as well as in the field, in a solution that’s comfortably portable.

Packed for extreme performance, the laptop is a serious piece of kit that should be treated as such. There are better looking and cheaper systems from the likes of Dell, HP and Toshiba that are more suited to casual business environments, but the ThinkPad W500 is built for those needing a huge amount of computing power, high-resolution screen and workstation certification. It includes everything you could want from a Windows-based laptop and is supported by the best management utilities on the market.

At just over £2200 (ex. VAT) for a top-end specification, the ThinkPad W500’s asking price is steep. You also need to ask yourself whether you are going to use all its features. Having said that, the base model (£974 ex. VAT) is very appealing. Lenovo’s ThinkPad W500 is a rock solid machine and comes with an impressive set of credentials. Buy with confidence.