Keith Combs' Blahg

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Lenovo ThinkPad W530 - mini review

Lenovo ThinkPad W530 - mini review

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Last week I received a Lenovo ThinkPad W530 evaluation unit.  I am always thankful for the opportunity to get an early look at a machine that will likely be used by quite a few people inside and outside my company.  I was especially interested to kick the tires on the W530 because of the hype around Ivy Bridge, the Intel HD 4000 integrated GPU, and other changes to the 15” portable workstation.  I won’t be recommending this machine just yet for reasons I’ll get to later.  Lets start with the good stuff first, then we’ll work our way towards the items that need improvement.

Battery Life

If you read my blog you’ll know I already did some fabulous battery tests.  The tests I conducted aren’t designed to peg the machine performance and kill the battery quickly.  I used to do that but I find that when I travel I am doing quite the opposite.  So I first tested the machine as if I was on a long flight with WIFI.  You travelers know the drill.  The red eye home from some conference and a backlog of email after all of your meetings and presentations.

The Lenovo W530 did excellent on those battery tests.  The ThinkPad W510 routinely gives me 3-4 hours of life on a 9-cell battery.  The ThinkPad W520 nearly doubled that and would run for 6-7 hours.  This years model, the ThinkPad W530 eclipsed those times and survived for nearly 12 hours on my last test.  See http://blogs.technet.com/b/keithcombs/archive/2012/07/05/nearly-12-hours-on-battery-with-the-lenovo-thinkpad-w530.aspx for more details.  Incredible improvement.image

In short, there are some pretty big improvements in this model on power management.  I need to dig in more deeply on how this is being accomplished, but I was happy to see the results.  International flights can now be productive on battery assuming of course you are in business class and have elbow room.

Your battery life is going to vary but if you study the settings available in Lenovo’s Power Manager as I have, you can create a power profile that will manage the power effectively.  Getting 11-12 hours all this time will be nearly impossible, but achieving 7-10 should be pretty easy for most people.  The default configuration from the Lenovo factory is not optimal.

GPU Changes

There is good news for those of you that want to run more than two external monitors with this machine.  I have tested five different displays in an extended desktop display with Windows 7 Ultimate x64.  In the blog post at http://blogs.technet.com/b/keithcombs/archive/2012/07/03/lenovo-thinkpad-w530-optimus-quad-multimon.aspx, you notice four different external LCD panels on my desk.  This morning I slapped myself and realized I neglected to open the lid on the docked ThinkPad.  When you include the notebook LCD panel, it will drive five displays.  At the time of the test this morning, there was another unused port on the notebook (VGA) so I might dust off yet another LCD panel in the satellite garage on my property and see if it will drive six.  That would be quite a feat.

The model I was shipped has the Intel HD 4000 integrated GPU along with a NVIDIA® Quadro K1000M discrete GPU.  They are combined to form the Optimus™ video chipset.

The Intel iGPU drives only the laptop LCD panel.  The NVIDIA dGPU drives the remainder of the ports and displays.  This is one reason the machine gets excellent battery life.  The NVIDIA dGPU is not used as far as I can tell when the machine is undocked, set to Optimus in the BIOS Display configuration, and not attached to any other monitors.  The K1000M does all the heavy lifting only if needed.  The Windows 7 WEI score for the Optimus setting is 6.8 on both Graphics and Gaming Graphics for the K100M.

One of the other complaints with the ThinkPad W520 is the lack of support for flipping to different display configurations on the fly while using Optimus.  The most cited complaint is the inability to clone or mirror the laptop display across a projector connection.  This is fixed in the W530.  The ThinkPad W530 is more like my W510 in that regard.  Because all of the display ports are being handled by the K1000M, a discrete processor, it handles these changes as expected using the built-in Windows 7 key sequences.  Unfortunately Lenovo still has a design limitation I have already reported.

By default, all of the POST messages go to the Intel HD 4000 and the laptop LCD panel.  If you run docked with the lid down, you won’t see any hard drive passwords prompts, or BitLocker PIN prompts.  You won’t be able to stop the boot sequence and change the device you are booting from.  In order to see POST messages, you must flip the BIOS display setting from Optimus to Discrete if you want to see those messages on any display other than the laptop LCD panel.  As you can see, Lenovo fixed part of the problems inherit to the ThinkPad W520, bit not all of them.  This was never fixed with the W520 and I don’t know if it’s going to be possible with the W530. 

Performance and Throttling

There are quite a few items I haven’t tested, but one of the areas I wanted to investigate is performance on battery.  There’s a whole slew of people that think the quad processor portable workstation market should have no governors on the machine, and it should be able to run at maximum performance until the battery runs out.  For example, lets say you ride a train to work each morning and evening for 90 minutes.  That commute is enough time for you to run a simulation, but the simulation requires full processing power out of the CPU’s and possibly the GPU.  Or in another example, lets say you want to demonstrate something to a client on battery power with the full processing power so your demo looks good.

So far in my testing the ThinkPad W530 will not run at full performance on battery power.  To test this I fired up an encoding job with Sony Vegas while on AC power.  Video encoding can be a taxing chore for a notebook computer but the quad core machines these days handle it pretty well.  During the encoding, the CPU utilization was at 70% across all cores.  The CPU clock speed across the core settled in at 3.40GHz.  The fan RPM was intially at 3800-3900rpm and as you might imagine, that gets pretty noisy. When you set Maximum Turbo+ in the Lenovo Power Manager, the fan RPM jumps to 4300.  This is too loud and I didn’t see the extra 500 rpm offer any additional cooling.  The temp for the CPUs was 70-75C which isn’t bad at all.

Then I pulled the plug.  As soon as the machine was running on battery, the CPU clock speed dropped to 1.20GHz.  As you can see, the performance was cut in half on battery power.  If I hear of a workaround to the throttling, I will update this blog post.

For those of you curious about the Windows Experience Index (WEI), see the screenshot below.  These are pretty respectable scores.  This is not the top of the line ThinkPad W530 but it should be pretty mainstream.  Sorry, I am not doing any gaming testing of the machine.W530_WEI

Precision Keyboard

The internet has been ranting for months about the change to the ThinkPad keyboards.  Lenovo dumped the classic keyboard for a new keyboard they call the “Precision” keyboard.  It’s a chiclet style board and is available with backlighting.  I see this as a positive change but there are plenty of people out there that won’t.

The biggest source of complaints seem to stem not from the feel of the keys, but the layout.  I must admit, when I look at the layout the key size for some of the keys and their positions do make me wonder a bit.  This would have been the perfect time for Lenovo to swap the Fn and Ctrl key positions to the layout used by the rest of the planet.  Unfortunately they didn’t make that change on the Precision keyboard.

Other Changes

Lenovo tweaks stuff here and there every model year with new chassis construction, plastics, carbon fiber, etc.  I haven’t really studied the materials manifest for this model but it feels like a ThinkPad.  Good solid construction and the typical black finish.  Lenovo did change the port layout for the W530 and in my opinion it didn’t need to be changed.  The palmrest on the evaluation unit I have has a slight imperfection.  There’s a dent just to the right of the TrackPad.  It’s really minor but it’s like the first time you see a really minor door ding on your car.  You know it’s there and you don’t like it.

Lenovo changed from the full size DisplayPort connector to mini DisplayPort.  I’m fine with that change since mini DP is becoming a defacto standard.  I wish mini DP was a requirement for the Intel Untrabook logo. There is still a VGA port on the left side to support the analog world.

One change I dislike is the dropping of eSATA.  The model I have has a USB 2.0 port instead.  I am a pretty heavy user of eSATA and in particular eSATAp so this change is not welcome for me anyway.  I need to investigate if eSATAp is completely gone in the W530 models.  I think you can still get a eSATA port, but the eSATAp combo port is gone for good.

If you have some batteries from a W510 or W520 you’d like to use with the W530, you can’t.  Although the batteries can be inserted and will power the machine, the W530 will only recharge the new batteries that are designed for the new ThinkPads.  I have no explanation for this change though I read one reason might be to prevent substandard after market batteries from being used in the machine.  This appears to mean genuine Lenovo batteries can only be used.  I’m ok with that.

One change that you were probably hoping for is a change around the AC adaptors that are compatible.  I am sorry to say little has changed.  You can still use the 135W AC adapter from the the W510 with the W530, but the 90W adaptors from so many other models can’t be used.  Therefore, your travel choices for the ThinkPad W530 are still the 170W or the 135W brick.

Operating Systems

The timing for this evaluation is poor.  On the upside, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 run great on the machine.  I had no problems running either including the Hyper-V role for R2.  R2 installs the Windows 7 ThinkPad W530 ethernet and wifi drivers with no issues.

I can’t say that for Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012.  I had driver issues and asked the Lenovo team for some help identifying better drivers.  The response I received was totally expected.  They will iron all this out with the released version of Windows 8.  Considering we just announced today that Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 are on track for RTM next month, I am totally cool with that. 

So I will not be testing Windows 8 and WS 2012 extensively with this machine.  I did however install the Hyper-V role on both Win8 and WS2012, create a test VM, confirm network connectivity from the VM, etc.  So the important cursory checks were made and I’m sure the video driver challenges will get ironed out over time.

No Linux testing this time around.  There are a number of people running various Linux distros on the X230, T430 and W530s with their reports already on the grid so seek them out for answers to any questions you may have.

Included Software

Lenovo is starting to move back to the dark side.  There were a lot of programs installed on the factory image of the machine I received. You can still prune back the programs by uninstalling them via Control Panel | Programs and Features, but it’s now at the point where many people would consider the image bloated.  There are other colorful names for it but you should lobby for Lenovo to get back to a cleaner image.  There are 74 programs listed as installed on this factory image.

If you opt to clean install Windows 7, your activation key is on the COA under the battery.  All of the core drivers needed are at support.lenovo.com. 

Miscellaneous Stuff

You might have noticed I didn’t mention the screen and other details about the ThinkPad W530.  The unit I am getting ready to send back has the 1920x1080 FHD screen.  It’s bright and colorful.  It comes a little over saturated for my liking but I almost always calibrate the notebooks I use heavily. The screen is the same screen on the W510 and W520 so you can look at the technical analysis all over the grid if you want to understand it’s properties and characteristics.

I didn’t test the machine fully loaded with RAM.  The quad core ThinkPad W530’s have four sodimm slots so you can load it up with 4x8GB of high speed DDR memory.  In fact, if you look at the specs, Lenovo is supporting higher speed memory in the W530.

The machine I received didn’t come with the RAID option so that wasn’t tested.  I also didn’t test SATA speeds and throughput in the Ultrabay or from the mSATA PCIe slot.  I’m pretty sure the mSATA slot is still SATA II speed and the Ultrabay is full SATA III.  It would be nice to have SATA III in all three especially with the emerging SATA III 256GB mSATA drives.

The trackpad seems to be the same as what was on the W520.  The trackpoint seems different to me.  It appears to be a little lower in the keyboard than I am used to.  I don’t really use either much.  I am a mouse guy. 

I have not tested the sound with movie playback but DolBy Home Theatre v4 did come installed on the factory image.  The speakers do sound better than my W510.  The Dolby app has a lot of configuration options.

Lync support was not tested.  In order for me to do that means adding the machine to my production workflow and I am much too busy during the day for that right now.  For those of you that do test this, let me know how it works out.

And Finally

Last year when I evaluated the Lenovo ThinkPad W520, I didn’t spot some issues or design challenges that cropped up in the platform until much later.  You don’t always see the full character of a platform for months.

One of those design issues was the Optimus design in the W520.  I underestimated how people would react to having to run in Discrete video mode for display mirroring and projection.  Lenovo has improved this, but we aren’t there yet.  The POST messages need to display in Optimus mode. 

The second more serious issue was the famed sudden death syndrome reported in the Lenovo support forums. The challenge with the issue was that it didn’t impact everyone and it could be very intermittent in nature.  Some folks plagued with the issue only saw it on thirty to forty five day intervals.  Others would see it multiple times per day. Unfortunately I don’t think the root causes have been identified and fixed.  Needless to say that isn’t a good situation.

For that reason, I am going to hang out and watch to see how the ThinkPad W530 does in the market before I give the ThinkPad W530 a thumbs up, a sideways thumb, or a thumbs down.  I want to be really sure this time.  For those of you that decide to be early adopters, by all means let me know how you are liking the machine. 

[UPDATE for 7/13/2012] Sean Furguson, Microsoft Exchange Software Engineer, has the ThinkPad W520 now and tells me the CPU will clock above 1.20GHz if the BIOS is set to Maximum Performance instead of Maximum Battery Life.  He’s doing some testing on this.  I didn’t have the setting written down in my notes but I’m pretty sure I was on the max battery life settings from the battery testing that had been performed prior to the Throttle test.  I should have tested both settings.  More later.

[UPDATE for 8/18/2012] notebookcheck.com published their review at http://www.notebookcheck.net/Review-Lenovo-ThinkPad-W530-N1K43GE-Notebook.80062.0.html.  In their review they indicate the CPU is throttled on battery which matches my findings.  In addition, you might want to keep an eye on the thread at http://forums.lenovo.com/t5/W-Series-ThinkPad-Laptops/W530-Windows-2008R2-andy-HyperV-won-t-work/td-p/830777 if you plan to run Hyper-V with Windows Server 2008 R2 , Windows 8 or Windows Server 2012.  Apparently this gentlemen is having all sorts of problems.  Seems like the jury is still out on this machine.

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  • Any recommendations for a laptop that can handle greater than 8GB of RAM, say 16 or 32GB?  I'd like to get a new laptop that I could use for demos and have multiple VMs running on it, thus the RAM requirement.

  • Brian, this one does. It goes up to 32GB.

  • Did you get it to boot Windows 8 at all? You said you had driver issues, but did it boot, or freeze? My W520 wouldn't even start windows 8, locking up at "Setting up devices."

    It ended up needing to be warranty replaced. and I got a W530 with the Quadro K2000M.

    I do play some games(Half-Life 2, Portal 2, League of Legends), so I might do some game performance reviews.

  • Sorry for the double post, but how did you get that full report under the WEI score?

  • Kenneth,

    As is typical at this point in the dev cycle for a new OS, the OEMs haven't full developed and released drivers.  Lenovo has not produced a Windows 8 version of the Optimus video drivers for the ThinkPad W530 and we really shouldn't expect one yet anyway.  They have a number of new machines in the pipeline and they just launched a whole bunch of Ivy Bridge machines so the fact they are focused on a good experience with Windows 7 is to be expected.

    I tried to install the Windows 7 video driver package I downloaded from support.lenovo.com.  Bad idea.  

    As for the extended WEI report, look closely at the short form.  Right below the numbers you'll see the link to get the more detailed report.  I like to use that because it shows the CPU details, along with more information about the configuration.

  • Thanks!!

    I cannot believe I didn't see that....

  • Thanks for the nice review.  I have an Apple 30" Cinema HD that needs a dual-link DVI to get the full 2560x1600 resolution.  From what I've read, the newer Lenovo docks only allow single-link DVI output.  The older docks, such as the advanced mini dock ( support.lenovo.com/.../detail.page ) supposedly allow dual-link dvi output.  When I talked with tech at Lenovo, they said that the older dock should work with the w530, but that they've sometimes had problems in the past with older models getting the full resolution 2560x1600.  I am not sure if you have the equipment to test my situation, but if you do, that'd be great!

    I am also looking at the adapters, but they are sometimes hit and miss according to reviews...

    www.monoprice.com/.../product.asp

  • Sorry Travis. I have never tested dual link DVI since my Dell U2711 has DisplayPort. The Series 3 dock I have is the 135W dock I purchased for the ThinkPad W510. I'm a little surprised the ThinkPad W530 worked with it.

    Good luck.  I suspect you aren't alone so asking in one of the forums is probably your best bet.

  • @Travis: The new Series 3 Plus dock (90/170w) has 2*DVI, just like the old Plus.

    support.lenovo.com/.../detail.page

    ◦Mini Dock: 1x VGA, 1x DVI, 1x DP

    The video controller allows for any two video ports to be used simultaneously.

    ◦Mini Dock Plus (90W & 170W): 1x VGA, 2x DVI, 2x DP

    Many systems allow for two of these video ports to be used simultaneously. Select systems, including those with NVIDIA Optimus technology, allow for up to three video ports on the dock to be used simultaneously

  • Hi Keith, will you also be doing a T430s review?

  • Hi, this is a great review. In it you say that there are other people who have hosted reports of running linux on the W530. I am having difficulty finding any of these reports; I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction.

  • About throttling:

    On the W520 the engineers at Lenovo simply miscalculated or just forgot the maximum thermal requirements of the Laptop. So, if You add the TDP of the old Sandybridge CPU and the old nVidia GPU, You would get 90 Watts TDP while the 9-cell battery provided 94Wh. After numerous BIOS-updates, Lenovo decided to throttle the dGPU while on Battery so the CPU can get to 3+ GHz.

    The max TDP of the W530 are quite the same (CPU: 45w, GPU: 45w), which makes me believe that Lenovo has made the same mistake as with the W520...

  • Hi,

    I purchased the Lenovo W530 last week for Hyper-V purposes. I can install the role but when I enable the the switches on the BIOS, for Intel VT and Memory Protection, I get a blue screen. If I go back to disable Memory Protection, the laptop boots fine but Hyper-V is not available.

    Were you actually able to run a virtual machine on you test ?

  • are there any news about W2K8/W2k12 Hyper-V issues on the W530 ?

  • This is by far the best review of the W530 that I have found. I hope you are able, Keith, to provide your follow-up review.

    Thank you for your expertise.

    Joe