Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

Lenovo ThinkPad W510 – first impressions

Lenovo ThinkPad W510 – first impressions

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w510 Friday afternoon I received two Lenovo ThinkPad W510’s. The one I decided to look at first is the model with the 1920x1080 Multi Touch screen.  Let me first say I am not a big fan of this high a resolution on a screen that is 15.6”.  I have two other laptops with 15.4” screens that have native resolutions of 1920x1200.  But this machine is very different.

The Specs

Here are specifications for the machine I am currently reviewing. It is a ThinkPad W510 Model 4389-2UU. It has a Intel® Core™ i7-820QM quad-core processor 6MB Cache. I loaded the machine with 4x4GB PC3-8500 1066MHz SoDIMM memory sticks for a total of 16GB of RAM. The machine arrived with a Seagate 500GB 7200rpm hard drive.  I pulled that drive and set it aside then installed my Intel 160GB Generation 2 SSD drive.

The screen is 15.6" (396mm) FHD (1920x1080) color, anti-glare, LED backlight, 242 nits, 16:9 aspect ratio, 500:1 contrast ratio, 95% Gamut, MultiTouch (touchscreen supports two-finger touch).  To keep the screen calibrated, this model includes a Pantone huey™PRO X-Rite® Colorimeter.  The color calibration sensor is in palm rest near the fingerprint reader.

The video chipset is the NVIDIA® Quadro® FX 880M with 1GB of discrete memory. The chassis has a VGA DB-15 connector which is typical. It also includes a DisplayPort connector (supports single-link DVI-D via cable 45J7915); and has a Maximum external resolution: 2560x1600 (DisplayPort)@60Hz; 2048x1536 (VGA)@85Hz; 1920x1200@60Hz (single-link DVI-D via cable 45J7915).

The W510 is 15.6W" (WxDxH): 14.68" x 9.65" x 1.26-1.41"; 372.8mm x 245.1mm x 32-35.8mm. The 6-cell weight starts at 5.66 lb (2.57kg); 9-cell: starting at 6.01 lb (2.72kg).  For those of you keeping score, this machine is slightly wider than a T61p, and slightly heavier.  If you are used to carrying around a T61p or W500, you aren’t going to get bent out of shape by the difference.  This isn’t a T400, T410 or T410s so don’t bother comparing them on size and weight.  This is a bigger and heavier machine.  But it isn’t a huge, fat, 17” pizza box either.

The eval unit I have includes the 5-in-1 reader (MMC, Memory Stick, Mem Stick Pro, SD, SDHC), Two USB 3.0, one Powered USB 2.0, one USB 2.0/eSATA combo port, modem (RJ-11), Intel Gigabit ethernet (RJ-45), and an IEEE 1394 FireWire 400 (4-pin connector; 1394a-2000 standard).  I have no idea why Lenovo still includes a modem and connector. In fact, I’m a little perturbed with it’s placement because it’s in the location where I would expect a couple of USB ports.

Under the Covers

I needed to go pretty deep into the case right away because I wanted to change the memory configuration and hard drive.  The W510 has four 204 pin DDR3 memory slots.  Two are easy access from the bottom of the machine, and two are underneath the keyboard.  In case you are wondering, the ThinkPad T61p uses 200 pin DDR2 SoDIMMS that are not compatible with the W510.  I have other machines that use the 204 pin DDR3 sticks so I pulled the memory out of all of them and loaded this machine with 16GB of memory.  In the next 30 days I’ll put all of that memory to use with virtualization.

Lenovo also changed the primary hard drive bay.  It’s underneath the machine and accessible from the bottom.  It isn’t hard to swap drives, but it’s nowhere near as easy as the T61p, W500 or T400.  I don’t really like the new design because I do a lot of drive swaps, but I can live with it.  It certainly isn’t a deal breaker.  The machine is designed for people that don’t swap drives often so you need not be concerned.  Be happy there is relatively easy access.

Multi Touch Screen

Touch interfaces are the rage.  They’ve been around for years and thanks to Apple and the iPhone, people have started to discover them en masse.  The model I received for evaluation has the 1920x1080 resolution Multi Touch screen. I was eager to see he brightness and color of the screen because I fell in love with the screen on the W700.  I plugged in the laptop and fired it up.  The first time I saw the screen it had a slight rose colored hue to it.  I just grinned. 

I launched the Pantone hueyPRO X-Rite application and started the color calibration process.  That is so kewl. You shut the lid, it does it’s thing then beeps on completion and you get to see the results.  MUCH better. I am not a Pro photographer so I’ll let the Pros chime in on the screen from their reviews, but it looks pretty good to me. Extremely good for a touch screen device. The screen itself is listed as an anti glare screen but I noticed more glare on it than my T61p or other laptops. It appears there are some anti glare coatings on the screen. I’m not really sure.

I do know this, I would not order the multi touch screen. I don’t have a big use for multi touch applications on a device like this so I would order the FHD 1920x1080 without the multi touch option.  For developers, it would seem to be a no brainer to get this option, but I’m planning on getting a slate style device this year so I would forgo the option on this laptop. 

The FHD is super bright. That is the biggest gripe I have with the other 15.4” 1920x1200 based laptops I have. Those screens don’t have nearly the brightness and contrast as this screen. I still detect a slight graininess but I believe that is due to the touch screen.  The other W510 evaluation unit I have has the HD+ 1600x900 screen and it is bright and extremely clear.  However, that screen dropped the resolution below the tolerable limits for me, so the 1920x1080 FHD screen is going to be the one I get when it comes time for a purchase.  Windows 7 and the DPI settings allow fine adjustments to font rendering to suit your preferences.  I run 1920x1080 at 115% or 125% DPI.  Looks great and it’s easy on my eyes.  Lenovo has a winner with these screens.

My manager, John Martin, will snicker at the next comment or two.  You see, I was in Seattle a couple of weeks ago and we were reviewing some data I had on my T61p.  I turned the machine so he could see the screen and he had a surprised look on his face.  I said, “What?” He remarked at how clean the screen was.  I must admit I do like my screens fingerprint and dust free. I cleaned the screen just before I flew to Seattle. You can imagine my shock of all of those fingerprints on the W510 screen after just a few hours of use. Not sure I could live with that.  Clean freak.

Other Stuff

Let me tell you about a couple of minor things I thought were pretty cool before I get into a Windows 7 re-install and the tips and tricks associated with that.  First up is my favorite new button.  The Microphone mute button.  Press it an it kills the microphone and lights up a nice, bright, amber orange.  Because I use my computer now for a lot of phone calls, this is a life savor.  If you’ve ever done or said anything you wished you had not on a live mic, you know what I mean.

I also like some of the power management that has gone into this machine. I will fully explore it in testing over the next 30 days, but I really liked how the management software just shuts down power to the DVD drive until you need it.  Nice. I’ll be testing the power management for real at the MVP Summit.  I haven’t decided if I am taking this machine because I can’t use my data card in this machine (it’s PCMCIA).

The W510 seems to be running fairly quiet and cool, especially for such a powerhouse machine. I have not taxed the system yet.  I have also not tested battery life.  I did observe one thing I am going to re-test.  I noticed if I put the Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 6000 micro USB transmitter in the USB 3.0 port, the machine fails to boot.  In fact, it seemed to overheat the machine.  Strange.  I am going to try a repro on that tomorrow or the next day.

The machine has two cool looking blue colored USB 3.0 ports.  I was going to trek down to Fry’s today and see if they have any USB 3.0 hard drive enclosures, but I never made it over there.  I am going to try and make the trip after I work out in the morning.

I have a gripe about the Ultrabay.  Once again Lenovo has changed it so that you cannot use hard drive adaptors from a previous generation of ThinkPad's.  Therefore, the T400/W500 Ultrabay hard drive adaptor will not go into the W510 bay.  I looked closely at it, and it appears I could make it work, but I would have to use an exacto knife on the W500 hard drive adaptor I have.  I guess I’ll have to wait and see if the come out with one.  I don’t see it listed yet.

w510_winsat Installing Windows 7 x64 – Tips and Tricks

This is going to be a relatively short section but let me give you some advice.  The eval unit I received came with the 32 bit version of Windows 7 Professional.  Strange.  Nobody in their right mind is going to fill four slots with 1GB DDR3 sticks so everyone has the potential to go well over the 4GB limit for x86 versions of operating systems.  I know, people have 32 bit app compat concerns.  This machine wasn’t designed for them. This is a power user work horse. Use 64 bit operating systems.

When I started looking at the drivers at the Support and Download area, my sixth sense told me something was missing.  My sixth sense was right.  Fortunately I paid attention to that and instead of flattening the original drive, I pulled it from the machine and set it aside. 

I had to go back to that drive and get some files in the SWTOOLS directory.  The SWTOOLS directory has all of the drivers and software that is factory installed.  Be sure to copy this directory to a safe place.  Be sure to use the installed ThinkVantage tools to create a factory disk set.  It’s always the first thing I create when I get a new machine.  It takes three DVDs.

The Lenovo W510 Support and Downloads area currently doesn’t have the power management driver for the W510.  Huge oversight.  This is a key requirement for the Pantone color calibration sensor and software.  It’s also a key prereq for the MIC mute button and other components in the machine.

You’ll also find out most of the USB ports don’t work well with some external enclosures until the power management and NEC USB 3.0 drivers are installed.  My external 2.5” Vantec NexStar 3 enclosure would only work in the combo eSATA/USB port.  It would not work on the powered USB port or either of the USB 3.0 ports until the drivers were installed.  Thankfully it worked because there were some key drivers needed on it.

I had already downloaded all of the 64 bit drivers I could find and had them stashed on the NexStar 3.  Good thing.  Windows 7 Enterprise x64 doesn’t recognize the ThinkPad W510 Intel(R) 82577LM Gigabit Ethernet or Intel(R) Centrino(R) Ultimate-N 6300 AGN wireless chipsets using the driver base in the RTM build of Windows 7. That means you cannot talk to the internet and Windows Update until you download and install them from the Lenovo Support and Downloads area.

Fortunately, nearly everything you need for a 64 bit install of Windows 7 is on the download area.  The rest is in the SWTOOLS directory including software for burning DVD’s and other stuff.  The ThinkPad W510 I received did not come loaded with “crapware”.  In fact, there was very little pre-loaded.  Thanks Lenovo !!!

Some Final Thoughts and What’s Next

So far I am very impressed with the physical build of the machine, fit and finish, and performance. I have a lot of planned testing coming the next 30 days including running Windows Server 2008 R2, Hyper-V, Red Hat, and Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop if I have time.

I like the layout of the ports with the sole exception of the RJ-11 port.  Dump that. I’m glad the USB ports are now horizontal instead of vertical.  I am planning on getting a USB data card soon so that will be helpful for it.

That’s it for now.  I wanted to give you some first impressions in the first 24 hours of having the machine.  I went a little over that because it took some time to back up other machines, move memory and SSD drives around, research the missing drivers, etc.  I have not hit any show stoppers so far and Windows 7 Enterprise x64 is flying (as evidenced in the screenshot above).  Click on the screenshot for a larger view of the data.

[UPDATE for 02/10/2010] I have gone through the process of installing Windows Server 2008 R2 and documented the steps I took at http://blogs.technet.com/keithcombs/archive/2010/02/10/install-windows-server-2008-r2-on-a-lenovo-thinkpad-w510.aspx.  I hope you find this useful.  Please ask W510 R2 comments there. 

Thanks.

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  • <p>amazing specs for a laptop it would proberly outperform most servers in smb marketplace</p>

  • <p>Thanks keith! you answered all my questions. now to just price one and then win the lottery - lol</p> <p>my old XPS laptop is giving me fits, trying to select a suitable w7/ boot to VHD R2 box that I can do it all on. looks like with an SSD and that much ram, I can do it all. Even play some video games :), yes even WoW. lol</p>

  • <p>Keith,</p> <p>Make sure you keep us informed on the use of the multibay. &nbsp;I have a T500, and that is the best feature, being able to boot to a second hard drive, directly from BIOS. &nbsp;It is where I keep my Windows Server 2008 R2 and Hyper-V on one hard drive and my openfiler NAS on another.</p> <p>thanks for this and other reviews on laptops.</p>

  • <p>The new ThinkPad Serial Hard Drive Bay Adapter III fits the W510, I'm pretty sure.</p> <p><a rel="nofollow" target="_new" href="http://shop.lenovo.com/SEUILibrary/controller/e/web/LenovoPortal/en_US/catalog.workflow:item.detail?GroupID=38&amp;Code=43N3412&amp;current-category-id=2478535BAB3C417CA9D77F5867D31462&amp;model-number=2808">http://shop.lenovo.com/SEUILibrary/controller/e/web/LenovoPortal/en_US/catalog.workflow:item.detail?GroupID=38&amp;Code=43N3412&amp;current-category-id=2478535BAB3C417CA9D77F5867D31462&amp;model-number=2808</a></p>

  • <p>Thanks Alvin. The W510 bay height is larger so although this might work, I can tell you with confidence the reverse would not be true. Something that fits the W510 bay flush isn't going into those other machines.</p> <p>Since the W510 isn't listed, I'm betting the adapter is coming.</p>

  • <p>Thanks Keith, </p> <p>this is the first review of a W510 I have seen anywhere and I have been looking every day since they were announced. &nbsp;Great to hear the FHD multi touch screen is good. &nbsp;I was worried about that. &nbsp;I'm obsessive about keeping my screen clean (Monster screen cleaner fan) and I have a feeling this feature may not be utilized much.</p> <p>I prepurchased from another source a Corsair (Samsung) 256GB SSD to replace the 500GB 7200rpm spinner. &nbsp;Your insigts on drivers are invaluable, though on my order I selected Windows 7 Pro 64bit so hopefully I have less headaches with the swap over.</p> <p>The Lenovo Canada site still does not list the 9cell slice battery or the Ultrabay adaptor for this model. &nbsp;These are on the shopping list along with a dock.</p> <p>Thanks for putting up your intial impressions, it is brilliant to finally be able to read a review on the W510!!!</p>

  • <p>Awesome, I was looking for &quot;thinkpad W510 specs&quot; which brought me here. Posted today! Crazy. I ordered the touch screen since it was just a couple hundred more than the regular FHD screen. Not sure I'll have a lot of uses for it, but might be useful in presentations, and of course the &quot;wow&quot; factor :) I too don't like fingerprints on my screen, not sure what I was thinking! </p> <p>I also ordered the tray adapter III (43N3412), b/c I swore it said it worked for the W510 at the time I submitted the order last week. </p> <p>Doesn't seem to say that now. Hmmm...</p> <p>The reason why I was looking for the tech specs: weight of the unit with the touch screen, and the type of HD for the enclosure. One review I read (tho I think it was for the T400s) indicated 1.8&quot; hard drives were used. I believe the W510 accepts 2.5&quot; drives in either bay; can you please confirm?</p> <p>Thanks; looking forward to more detailed reviews of the unit.</p>

  • <p>The W510 uses 2.5&quot; drives in the primary bay. I don't know yet about the ultrabay but most likely it's 2.5&quot; there as well.</p>

  • <p>hi keith</p> <p>a very interesting machine and a brilliant review. Did you make specific changes for the win7-installation on the intel ssd or did you just a &quot;normal&quot; installation? i'm very interested in that. thanks. mgm </p>

  • <p>MGM, </p> <p>At the moment, it's a default installation of Windows 7 Enterprise x64 with one exception. I reverted the AHCI storage controller driver back to the Microsoft driver so that Windows 7 could handle the SSD TRIM duties as opposed to using a manual or scheduled process with the Intel tools.</p> <p>That's really the only tweak I've done so far.</p> <p>I did buy a SIIG 2.5&quot; Superspeed USB 3.0 enclosure today and dropped a Seagate 500GB 7200rpm drive in it. Man, that is a fast and portable solution. NICE.</p> <p>I haven't even had a chance to verify Win7 is correctly set for a SSD drive. I've been having too much fun with the machine this weekend.</p> <p>Cheers</p>

  • <p>I can't believe the specs on this laptop. Think I might have to replace my EEE now :)</p>

  • <p>Wondering why you did not go for the faster memory? &nbsp;Do you know how much difference it would make? &nbsp;I'd guess a reasonable amount. </p>

  • <p>Peter,</p> <p>As I indicated in the blog post, I already had the memory. As for what I would buy, that really depends on the market price and personal or corporate financial situation.</p> <p>DDR3 4GB sticks for laptops aren't cheap.</p> <p>Regards,</p> <p>Keith</p>

  • <p>keith,</p> <p> &nbsp; &nbsp; I got my W510 on thursday and the FHD screen is goregous. &nbsp;I didn't spring for the touch screen. &nbsp;I got 8gb if the form of 4 x 2GB so I can wait until the 4gb sticks come down. &nbsp;I have to say with all the thinkpads I have used (over a dozen over the years), this one has the most issues for me. &nbsp;The ultrabay being different is a huge pain since they don't have one available now. &nbsp;Re-buying the 135 watt monster power adapters will also be an added cost. &nbsp;I keep 2 extra, one for the bag and one for the house and office. &nbsp;</p> <p>My biggest issue so far is that I can't get the Intel wired ethernet adapter driver to load in Server 2008 R2. &nbsp;I work with sharepoint at a lot of clients where wireless is not an option.</p> <p>Any thoughts?</p>

  • <p>John,</p> <p>The W510 works with the 90W chargers. &nbsp;I have not tried the 65W. When you boot the machine it will detect and complain about the lesser charger. &nbsp;It appears is still charges the batter and downshifts the CPU.</p> <p>I have not tested the differences in speed when running on the 90W cord.</p> <p>As for the Wireless question, I haven't had time to start testing Windows Server 2008 R2 but I will very soon and report back. Especially now that you mentioned that issue.</p> <p>Did you start the wireless feature and service?</p>