Keith Combs' Blahg

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Lenovo ThinkPad W500 - mini review

Lenovo ThinkPad W500 - mini review

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W500 I recently had the opportunity to take a look at the Lenovo ThinkPad W500 (model 4061-2KU).  This machine is really similar to my ThinkPad T61p in many ways, but there are some improvements that have been made in some key areas.  Click the image at right for a high resolution image of the ThinkPad W500.

Video

The W500 I received has the “switchable graphics.”  What this really means is that is contains two video chipsets and you can swtich back and forth between them.  The W500 I tested has the ATI™ Mobility FireGL™ V5700 and the Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD video chipsets.  The Intel chipset is used for battery consumption.  The ATI chipset is used for high performance graphics.

Screen

The W500 I looked at came with the 15.4" (391mm) WUXGA (1920x1200) color, anti-glare, CCFL backlit, 175 nits, 16:10 aspect ratio, 500:1 contrast ratio LCD screen.  This particular screen is slightly dimmer than the WSXGA+ T61p’s I have but frankly I end up turning the brightness down on them anyway.

Making a choice between a screen with a native resolution of 1920x1200 and one with a native res of 1680x1050 is a really personal subjective decision.  I’m a firm believer that most people would pick the brighter 1680x1050 screen, but you really need to see them side-by-side and make the decision on your own.  The screen on the W500 I received also has an integrated webcam (although I did not test it).

Memory

The W500 uses DDR3 memory and came configured with two 2GB memory sticks for a total of 4GB.  For those of you wanting to upgrade the amount to 8GB, keep in mind that means upgrading the OS to 64bit and finding some 4GB PC3-8500 1066MHz DDR3 204 pin memory sticks.  Good luck with that.  The good news is that those are the same sticks used by the ThinkPad W700.  That’s also the bad news because the allocation of those sticks are going to the W700 Quad bad boys right now.

Ports

Lenovo moved the ports around on the machine (as compared to the T61p).  A DisplayPort is new for the W500 and like the T61p it includes three USB ports, IEEE 1394, Ethernet, VGA connector, and modem.  Oddly, the modem port is now where the T61p USB jacks were.  Does anyone still use analog modem?  I don’t really get that.  I guess if you need a fax it’s there but I can’t remember the last time I used dial-up.

All of the USB ports were moved to the left side of the machine and are now vertical instead of horizontal.  This could present some problems for those of you that are using fat USB sticks or cell cards.  I am now carrying a USB extender cable for this very reason.

CPU

Back to the meat of the machine.  The proc is a Intel® Core™ 2 Duo processor T9600 1066MHz system bus 6MB L2 cache processor.  In short, it’s fast.  Much faster than my lowly T61p T7500.  It’ll be interesting to see if Lenovo decides to add one of the mobile Quad Core CPU’s later.  I have no idea if they will but considering how well engineered the ThinkPad cooling is you would think they would want to compete in the 15.4” space.  For now, if you want a Quad, you’ll have to step up to the big brother W700.

Case, Keyboard and Power

The W500 case construction is rock solid like the T61p and as usual, the keyboard rocks.  For those of you that want the CTRL key where the FN key is, sorry, Lenovo is still doing their lone wolf thing.  As I understand it, this mostly affects developers that use the CTRL key a lot.  As you might expect, the W500 weighs about the same as the T61p.  All of my T61p’s have the 9 cell bateries but considering how little I use battery power, I’ll probably replace them with 6 cells and reduce the weight some.

A lot of emphasis has been placed on green computing with this machine and there are all sorts of power management profiles and “battery stretch” capabilities.  I haven’t really had a chance to test how long I could really run on battery power but they advertise 9 hours with the 9 cell battery.  If that’s true, you could fly from Dallas to Hawaii on battery power.  Now I’m guessing that life doesn’t include DVD playback, but it sounds like you’ll have plenty of email checking juice when using the proper profiles.

OS Checks

As expected, the machine arrived with Windows Vista Business x86.  I created the factory disk set and tested that the disks would put the machine back to factory shipped specs.  You should be aware that the factory config will partition your drive into three partitions for recovery and rollback purposes.

I flattened the machine and tested that Windows Server 2008 x64 would install and run Hyper-V.  It does.  I had a bit of an issue getting the Ethernet driver to load for Windows Server 2008, but I managed to force it.  I reported this to Lenovo and asked our internal team to look at it and see if they can improve that a bit.

I also flattened it again and installed Windows Vista Enterprise x64 with all of the drivers and software.  The goal was to install Vista from scratch and install the drivers and software to see if there were any gotchas.  I didn’t see any but my testing was pretty brief.  I was mostly interested in making sure the networking worked, video switching worked, power management worked, etc.  Like I said, I didn’t spot any glaring issues on the core stuff but I didn’t test over a long term.

I did not test Windows XP or any Linux variants like Novel SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop.  Sorry, I just didn’t have the time for this round of testing and I need to get this machine in the hands of some other folks.

Summary

If you are looking for a new machine and were worried about the replacement for the T61p, there’s no need to worry.  As expected the Lenovo ThinkPad W500 is a rock solid machine and will be a contender in the corporate laptop market.  It comes with an impressive set of credentials and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the W500 for several years.  Buy with confidence.

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  • Hi,

    Thanks for the review.

    I just have one more question: does W500 get hot on the surface when heavily used? - I have had such problems with faster R61 and T61 before.

  • That laptop sure does look nice. I can never buy a dell again.

    I find the two video cards, one for battery, one for high performance interesting. Does it automatically switch, does the desktop flicker? Does it even make a difference in battery life?

    I need a high paying campus job to get another laptop anytime soon. I hope with time, higher end laptops can be had for about 1500. I need that CPU and GPU power for Matlab and AutoCAD.

  • It does get warm, but I wouldn't call it hot.  My MacBook Pro with a lesser proc and video chipset runs hotter.  I'm going to be handing this off to one of the guys in a sister team in my org and will ask Charles to put some load on it for an hour or two.  I know he has a brand new Canon (professional) HD video camera so I'm sure he can do some encoding and other work to drive the CPU and GPU.  I'll let you know if he has an cooling concerns later Don't expect a report until about 10/15 when he has to return the machine to me.

    Regarding the switching video, doing that is sufficiently buried.  You must have the Lenovo power management driver and software installed.  This puts a battery guage on the Vista taskbar.  Left click it and select the power conservation profile.  This kicks everything down and switches to the Intel video chipset.  No reboot required.  Repeat and select performance to switch back to the ATI chipset.

    I have not had time to test battery performance and won't until after 10/15.  I may end up returning the eval unit beforehand because I have a T400 and a W700 coming.  I'll try to run some tests, but no promises.

  • You mention forcing the Ethernet driver, what you mean by that?

  • Regarding the ethernet driver install on Windows Server 2008, I had to grapple with downloading the drivers from intel.com and exploring the .inf files for the family the chipset is in to find one that mostly closely resembled it and install it.  It wasn't easy.

    Windows Server 2008 would not install the Windows Vista ethernet driver from the lenovo download area.  Lenovo has been informed so I would imagine we'll see this fixed.

  • I'm a developer and trying to decide between w500 or t500 or some other rugged laptop. Two things that are important to me are the keyboard quality and the battery life. I heard the new Lenovo's shaved off some of the metal plating on the back of the keyboard, and they're now noticably worse than before. And what kind of battery life does the W500 have? I heard the T500 is around 6 hrs in power save mode, which is plenty for me.

  • The W500 keyboard on the eval unit I have seems identical to the T61p's I have.  Solid.

  • Do you know the max screen refresh rate W500 offers? Someone I know recenly ordered X300 Thinkpad tablet PC but after arrival its screen refresh rate turned out to be 50Hz which is extremelly bad for eyes.

  • The Maximum resolution is mentioned in the tabook.pdf reference ftp://ftp.software.ibm.com/pc/pcinstitute/psref/tabook.pdf but I don't see refresh rates listed.  If you have a concern you should probably contact Lenovo sales for your region.

  • Apple sells a displayport to dual-link dvi adapter for the new MacBook Pros.  Do you have a way to test your W500 to see if it will output to a dual-link 2560x1600 monitor?

    Cheers,

    Chris

  • No sorry Chris.  I do not.

  • is the lenovo500 has a built-in recorder on what were the activities done the few days back?

  • I have no idea on the recorder question.  Not that I am aware of.

  • October 23, 2008 @  12:05  PM  MST

    Question ( not a comment ):

    I am on the verge of purchasing a new lap top and I am seriously considering the W 500( fully configured ) and if not that, then the T 500

    ( fully configured ).

    Apart from cost, is there a reason or reasons to purchase one over the  other ?

    Thanks.

    ____

    Joseph S. Caudill

    jscaudill@qwest.net

  • Thanks You have probably the best written reviews that I have seen with more of the potential uses covered than other sites.

    Cheers,

    Chris