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Lenovo W510 Laptop Demo Machine – Portable Server Initial Review

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Lenovo W510 Laptop Demo Machine – Portable Server Initial Review

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I have been using a Lenovo T61P for a couple years now and I absolutely LOVE IT!  It has been a rock solid and fast machine.  It does have it’s limitations and the system requirements for SharePoint 2010 are pretty high.  In order to be able to show these great new technologies, I got a new laptop for the Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 Launch.  Looking at the initial specs, I was thoroughly impressed (except for the video and the lack of PCCard Express and SmartCard slot).  I got the box and it had a couple new stickers on it.  One was the “Intel i7 CORE vPro” and the other was a “Lenovo Enhanced Experience” sticker. Enough to get me even a little more excited.  After having used it for a few weeks the excitement had gone and I was not so impressed.   But hey, make sure you read all the way down to the Bottom line because it really is a good machine.  Just my configuration limits it so it is not an incredible machine!

In Lenovo’s defense, it is important to note that more advanced features were available (like higher res) but unfortunately it would take too long to get those boxes in (backorder) so we had to go with what was in stock.  To this I say  “Why in the world would you even manufacture a machine like this?”  I can certainly see why this particular configuration was in stock since it would not have been my choice either.  If someone is paying thousands of dollars for a laptop, they probably do not want to cut corners on key components like the video and portable expandability. 

w510

Features and specifications

Processor  Intel® Core i7 processor i7-720QM (1.60 GHz), 6MB L3 cache (Yes that is a Quad)

Memory - Supports up to 16GB (*) maximum memory  (that is what I have)
Hard drive - 320 GB, 7200 rpm, 9.5 mm high, SATA interface

Solid state drive - 160 GB, 8 mm high, MicroSATA interface

Display  15.6" TFT display (1600x900)

Graphics - 1GB NVIDIA® Quadro® FX880M

Optical Drive - Ultrabay enhanced DVD/CD-RW combo drive, Blu-ray combo drive, Blu-ray burner available but I did not get it :(

Networking

  • Intel® Centrino® Wireless-N 1000 on selected models
  • Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 on selected models
  • Bluetooth with Enhanced Data Rate (BDC-2.1)

Security - Fingerprint reader and Security chip (select models)

Battery Lithium Ion in 4 cell / 6 cell / 9 cell configurations (Not sure which config I have, not well marked)

Operating System – I am running Windows Server 2008 R2 but the License that came with it was Windows 7 Professional (64-bit).  Will try it with Windows 7 when I get a chance.

Note: Specifications are dependent on the machine type and model

My Initial Thoughts… 

This thing is FAST!!!!  - I can run a number of Hyper-V guests on this at the same time and have great performance.  Even better when you add an External SATA Drive to give another spindle to spread things out on.  Memory is killer.  But, you could probably guess, I have already maxed it out.  I had my demo machines all running and I wanted to add another machine and could not.  Actually I did but I needed to but memory from other machines to spread the memory love!  SSD is great but it is not a miracle drive.  I tapped it out with a bunch of VM’s splitting onto the eSata helped.  You still have to worry about number of spindles.  Maybe my next laptop will have three drive slots?  Or drives will get small enough form factor to put a dozen in a laptop? (Think SD card size)  That will be nice.

Video is a weakness (Kind-of)!

This initially looked like a major shortcoming!  Why in the world would you manufacture a high end laptop with max video resolution of 1600x900?  The 1600 horizontal resolution is awesome.  However 900 max vertical resolution leaves much to be desired.   Most high end projects (like at larger speaking facilities) use default resolution of 1280x1024.  On this laptop that puts the top and bottom of my desktop with giant black bars.  Major bummer!  This does not look very professional.   Also,  when doing recordings, the highest standard resolution I can use is 1024x768.  Even when using this resolution, it takes up almost the entire vertical screen.  No room under the recording box for the recorder buttons, etc.

As if the max resolution was not bad enough for the video, there “appeared” to be another problem that in my eyes was just as big.  I have an external monitor on my desk for my laptop so I went into the bios utility to set my laptop to have both the internal and external turned on by default and … you guessed it.  Option not available.  You can use either LCD or External but not both.  It initially looked like the only way I could get both was if after I boot, I turn on projector mode.  My thought… Give me a break… What “Product Lead” made that decision?  Well, I am happy to report that the video is not really that bad.  Once I updated the drivers and then changed it to use the External monitor in the bios my default resolution for my external monitor changed to 1920 x 1200 which I think happens to be the the max for the monitor I have it plugged into. The Laptop screen is still 1600x900 max res which is not great but at least I do not have to deal with it all the time. When the machine boots, I have the external monitor set as the default and I use the LCD as the extended desktop. At least with an external high res monitor, all problems are gone.  I do really wish I had higher resolution when mobile.  So I still think some product manager needs to have his/her hands slapped for this one.

More Notes

My unit did come with some other features including:

  • webcam but I have not tried it out yet. 
  • Solid State Drive in the Ultrabay.  It is only a 160gb drive but it is fast!!!
  • Internal eSata Port – AWESOME!!!!  I have and will use this all the time
  • SD Card Reader – I have and will use this all the time
  • Firewire port – Used it once.. not likely to use it again (enough said)
  • 3GB USB Port – No USB 3 devices yet so have not taken advantage of it YET
  • HDMI port – Not used yet, but I am sure it will come in handy in the future
  • Full size keyboard – had no problems with anything.  It does have the “option” of switching the FN key and the CTRL key but I like it just the way it is.
  • Textured Trackpad – Very cool.  I like it
  • Speakers – Nothing to write home about but good
  • Microphone – Nothing to write home about but good
  • External headset jack on right of machine and video on left of machine.  Kind-of a problem for those presentation cables that have audio and video combined as it does not reach.  Simple solution to just carry an audio extension cable.
  • Combined Headset and Microphone port … perhaps this will be ok in the future but it caused much headache for me as my headset does not support this configuration.  Additionally, I went looking for a good and inexpensive headset for recording using this jack and could not find one.  Ended up buying a USB headset and not using the external audio port at all.

My Unit did not come with some features I wish I had

  • Smart Card Reader – there is a spot for it but I just have a cover over the port. Since it does not have have Smartcard reader and it does not have a PCCard slot, I have to waste on of the USB ports for my smart card reader.  This is a real bummer. 
  • ExpressCard – Yet another cover.  If I had this, I would use it! 
  • High Resolution monitor – Oh how I long to have better resolution
  • Touch capable monitor – This would be a nice to have
  • BluRay drive – I love chilling out to a good movie when I am on the road so I would have put that to good use.

Bottom Line:

Thinking about it I wondered; what is this box good for?  Not great for gamers (think video), not great for road warriors (think big and heavy), not great for office workers (think big excel spreadsheets), not great for casual laptop users, students and the general population (think cost, size, etc).  So what is it great for?  I asked this question of several people and one (Robert Borges www.BayStateTechnology.com) was able to give me a good use for this machine.  It is a “portable server”.  I agree with him.  I will likely use this laptop as a server and start carrying two laptops, the W510 will be the server and perhaps use my T61P as the workstation.  Now that I have figured out the video I may not need a workstation.  Since this “Laptop Server” is so heavy I expect I will have a very sore back and shoulder for the next few years.  But hey, I can run Windows Server (many VM’s) including Exchange, Communications Server, SharePoint 2010 (min 8gb memory) Server, DC, Workstations and more all at the same time on One Machine.  We once had to carry 3 or 4 machines to get good enough performance to run servers that needed as much as 16gb of memory and now I can do it with ONE, the Lenovo W510 {or two if I end up carrying a workstation with it :) }

Once I dual boot this (using Boot to VHD) with Windows 7, I will likely like it even more.  Looking forward to spending some time with it over the next few years.

Want to find out more about the W510?  Check Out a couple articles Keith Combs wrote up on it!  His evaluation machines were heavier specs than mine.

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  • Nice review, Dan.

    Another thing I wish our W510s had is the ability to more easily swap out the main drive.  The T61P had it on the side, and you could just leave out the screw that held on the cover, and snap it out and pull the drive very easily.  The W510 needs the screw underneath to hold the cover on.  Not as handy.

    Yeah.. I'm loving this thing as a server.  My 2nd-bay SSD and my eSATA-connected SSD are giving my Hyper-V servers some amazing performance.  I just wish I could afford another 160GB SSD to use as the main drive, and this thing would scream.

    -Kevin

  • Hi,

    I was wondering, what version of bios do you have? I tried using hyper-v but it tells me that i need to enable from bios the vt-d option. Problem is everything is enabled, i tried  a lot of fixed on the internet and still nothing so i wondered if it's a bios issue.

    Thanks