by David Rasnake
If you’ve been in photography at the professional or even serious amateur level for any amount of time, you’ve probably already been “instructed” – either directly or by indoctrination – in what kind of computer you need to buy when the time comes: three syllables, starts with “M.” You know, the one played by the hip floppy-haired guy in those TV commercials that used to be funny.
If Apple has been a dominant player for awhile now for graphics-intensive applications, with cross-platform compatibility no longer the concern that it once was, a photographer or graphic designer’s choice to use a Mac versus a PC system is largely a personal – rather than a professional or technological – one these days. Many creatives stick to Macs because that’s what they know, but for graphics use there are some increasingly compelling options on the PC side as well.
As a photographer (and a longtime dual-platform user), I was intrigued by the announcement of Lenovo’s new ThinkPad W700. With Lenovo’s reputation for building ultra-reliable business notebooks, the decision to dive head-first into a high-end mobile graphics system like the W700 may seem like a strange one. And if Lenovo’s targeting any single market with this device, it’s unquestionably photographers: sure, if you work in any kind of design the W700 could be a great workstation companion, but with copious storage space, an excellent screen, a built-in digitizer, and an onboard color calibration system, Lenovo is clearly taking a direct shot at the relatively closed and insular pro photo market. To my knowledge, nothing else on the market offers the W700’s concentration of photographer-friendly features.
Lenovo ThinkPad W700 Specifications:
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Extreme Q9300 (2.53 GHz, 1066 MHz FSB, 12 MB L2 cache)
- Memory: 4 GB DDR3 SDRAM
- Screen: 17″ 1920×1200 WUXGA TFT LCD
- Storage: 160 GB HDD (7200 RPM) x 2, RAID 0 configuration
- Optical Drive: DVD recordable
- Wireless: Intel Wi-Fi Link 5300 (802.11a/g/n), Bluetooth 2.0
- Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro FX 3700M with 1 GB
- Battery: 9-cell lithium-ion (84 Wh)
- Dimensions: 16.1″ x 12.3″ x 1.5″
- Weight: 8 lbs, 10 oz (with battery)
- Price As Tested: $4,333.30
- Starting Price: $2,531.30
Design and Build
We’ve jokingly billed the W700 “the laptop designed to make normal people feel small,” and the name fits. With a footprint measuring a generous 16 by 12 inches, working with the W700 actually on your lap is not really advised. And forget trying to take it on a plane – we’re not sure that the Lenovo would fit in the overhead compartment of a regional jet, much less on the tiny tray table. Likewise, finding a case for the W700 will almost certainly require shopping at the laptop bag equivalent of “big and tall” stores.
As with most graphics-friendly machines, the idea of portability is relative here. Think of it this way: the W700 is easier to haul along than your desktop, while still offering the majority of the tools you need for serious image editing or design work.
Build quality is everything Lenovo is known for, with tight fitment all around and an impressively small measure of panel flex for a laptop this large. Although it’s certainly no lightweight, the W700 surprises for its size: at just under nine pounds, the ThinkPad is portly, though it’s certainly not as heavy as it looks.
All in all, those in the creative sector more familiar with either the glossy finishes and flashy colors of PC based graphics notebooks or Apple’s industrial minimalism may find the W700 to be a bit of an odd duck, aesthetically. It looks, as a rule, like any other Lenovo – like an engorged version of your typical matte gray business notebook. We know from experience that these machines tend to hold up well, however, and that their lightly textured finishes stand up to a fair bit of abuse and never show it. Hence, while the W700’s looks may not immediately mark you as a photographer or designer, as a machine for getting day-to-day graphics work done, the Lenovo’s basic exterior makes a lot of sense.
Our review unit came packing Lenovo’s high-end 17-inch display with 1920×1200 (WUXGA) resolution and 400 NIT brightness. Rivaling a good desktop display for brightness, clarity, and even size, the W700’s premium LCD panel is one of this model’s key selling point for power graphics users.
A built-in color calibrator (see the next section for more info) ensures, with a few minutes of profiling, that what you’re seeing on screen is what you’ll get through the rest of your workflow. We’ll spend some time doing more extensive testing on the W700’s color gamut and accuracy for the full review, but a quick side-by-side with my Pantone-calibrated desktop display suggests that at a basic level, anyway, the W700’s colors and contrast are spot on.
More generally, the display is smooth and crisp with more brightness and appreciably better contrast than we’re used to in a laptop screen. A light reflective coating protects the screen, but glare is well controlled (the screen’s native brightness certainly helps in this regard). Backlighting appears even at first inspection. Viewing angles are excellent side-to-side, though only acceptable on the vertical axis.
Since display performance is crucial to the W700’s primary applications, we’ll be working up an in-depth analysis of the Lenovo’s panel for our full review.
That’s right: you can leave your X-Rite and Datacolor spectros at home with your desktop. The W700 features a built-in X-Rite Huey system that includes a simplified software package for quick calibration and profiling as well as a spectrocolorimeter for taking the necessary measurements built right into the surface of the notebook.
Via that little electronic eye, the W700 is able to read the necessary color patches for automatic profiling and calibration when the lid is closed.
To get things rolling, simply launch the Huey calibration utility (it comes preloaded as a tray icon with Lenovo’s factory OS install). From there, it’s a simple process of following the on-screen prompts: when it’s ready to calibrate, the W700 notifies you to close the lid. (You’ll need to to make sure your speakers aren’t muted at this point, as the W700 uses a series of tones to tell you that it’s finished and it’s safe to open the lid again.) A minute or so later, and the W700 has routed the display profile to the appropriate place and is ready for use.
The W700’s X-Rite calibration and profiling tool is pretty stripped compared to many of the common utilities used for this purpose. You can specify one of three gamma options (including the common 2.2, of course), and select from a highly limited number of color temperature options. Still, as noted above, the W700 appears to produce accurate color profiles in need of little tweaking.
As with the detailed display analysis, we’ll explore how well the W700 interacts with other profiling/calibration tools, and how well it integrates into a typical photographic workflow, in the final review, so stay tuned for that.
Keyboard, Touchpad, and Digitizer
Input options abound with the W700. For many diehard Lenovo fans, though, the world of input devices begins and ends with Lenovo’s legendary keyboards. And the W700’s equipment in this area is just as we’ve come to expect, with smooth key action and a quick, short stroke that makes typing on the W700 a pleasant experience. There’s a hint of flex at the top right corner of the our review unit’s ‘board – up around the Backspace key – but otherwise the full-size keyboard and num pad feel securely anchored to the W700’s subframe.
For a laptop this big, the touchpad area is a bit small: it’s not like space is exactly at a premium on the W700’s top deck. The pad features vertical and horizontal axis dedicated scroll areas, and top and bottom button arrays have a soft click feel that’s ideal for all-day use (try using a computer with hard, clicky buttons for more than ten minutes and you’ll understand what we’re talking about).
With lots space south of the keyboard that typically goes unused on larger notebooks to work with, Lenovo’s designers opted to integrate a small digitizer into the W700 as well. The 3×5 inch tablet area provides a nicely sized work area: users coming from larger tablet spaces will find it cramped, but resolution is decent and moreover, having a digitizer that you don’t have to pack along separate from your workstation will be a welcomed addition for many users.
The W700’s included pen, which stows away into a silo in the righthand side of the notebook (and isn’t easily removed from this position, it should be noted), isn’t particularly enjoyable in use. It’s small, and the buttons feel cheap, but compatibility with most Wacom-ready pens means the range of control options for the W700’s tablet are nearly unlimited.
Performance and Benchmarks
As the specs detail above suggests, Lenovo supplied us with a high-spec (and, accordingly, high-cost) review unit, maximizing the W700’s graphics potential. Our test model came speced with a 2.53 GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme Q9300 processor, 4 GB of DDR3 memory, and the upgraded NVIDIA Quadro FX 3700M graphics processor option. File storage is courtesy of a pair of 160 GB, 7200 RPM hard drives configured by default in a RAID 0 arrangement that yields a single 320 GB storage space.
Running a Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit OS environment further expands our test system’s capabilities on the graphics end and provides some key upgrades (most notably, better color management integration) when compared to older XP systems.
In keeping with its high level of specification, the W700 shows stout performance in our synthetic benchmarks. A WPrime time in the 15 second range is especially impressive, with raw processing power that comes close to what we’ve seen from some high-end desktop workstations.
Gaming is also easily within the W700’s capabilities, with the system throwing up some of the best framerates we’ve seen from a notebook. Of course, if gaming is your primary concern, you can get performance near the level of the W700 for less bucks.
On the graphics development side, the latest version of Adobe Lightroom simply runs like a dream on our as-tested W700. We’ll be loading up some portions of the Adobe Creative Suite over the weekend as well to evaluate how the Lenovo comports itself in its native environment: graphics work. If absolute top-end performance is your primary concern, though – whether or not you’re looking to do illustration or edit photos – there’s not much out there that we’ve looked at that bests this particular ThinkPad thus far in our testing.
wPrime is a program that forces the processor to do recursive mathematical calculations, the advantage of this program is that it is multi-threaded and can use both processor cores at once, thereby giving more accurate benchmarking measurements than Super Pi.
|Notebook / CPU||wPrime 32M time|
|Lenovo W700 (Intel Core 2 Extreme Q9300 @ 2.53 GHz)||15.771s|
|Lenovo T500 (Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 @ 2.80GHz)||27.471s|
|Lenovo T61 (Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2.0GHz)||42.025s|
|Dell Vostro 1500 (Intel Core 2 Duo T5470 @ 1.6GHz)||53.827s|
|HP Pavilion dv6500z (AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz)||40.759s|
|Systemax Assault Ruggedized (Core 2 Duo T7200 @2.0GHz)||41.982s|
|Toshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @2.2GHz)||37.299s|
|HP Compaq 6910p (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz)||40.965s|
|Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz)||76.240s|
|Zepto 6024W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz)||42.385s|
|Lenovo T61 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)||37.705s|
|Alienware M5750 (Core 2 Duo T7600 @ 2.33GHz)||38.327s|
|Hewlett Packard DV6000z (Turion X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz)||38.720s|
PCMark05 comparison results:
|Lenovo W700 (2.53GHz Intel Q9300, NVIDIA Quadro FX 3700M 1GB)||8,207 PCMarks|
|Lenovo T500 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, ATI Radeon 3650 256MB GDDR3)||7,050 PCMarks|
|Lenovo T500 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, Intel X4500)||5,689 PCMarks|
|Lenovo T61 Standard Screen (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA NVS 140M 256MB)||4,839 PCMarks|
|Dell Vostro 1500 (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5470, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS)||3,585 PCMarks|
|Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS)||4,925 PCMarks|
|Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)||3,377 PCMarks|
|Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS)||4,591 PCMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)||4,153 PCMarks|
|Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)||3,987 PCMarks|
|Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB)||4,189 PCMarks|
|HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)||4,234 PCMarks|
|Sony VAIO SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||3,637 PCMarks|
3DMark06 comparison results:
|Lenovo W700 (2.53GHz Intel Q9300, NVIDIA Quadro FX 3700M 1GB)||11,214 3DMarks|
|Lenovo T500 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, ATI Radeon 3650 256MB GDDR3)||4,371 3DMarks|
|Lenovo T500 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, Intel X4500)||809 3DMarks|
|Lenovo T61 Standard Screen (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA NVS 140M 256MB)||1,441 3DMarks|
|Dell Vostro 1500 (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5470, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS)||1,269 3DMarks|
|Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB)||1,329 3DMarks|
|Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)||532 3DMarks|
|Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB)||1,408 3DMarks|
|Samsung Q70 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and nVidia 8400M G GPU)||1,069 3DMarks|
|Asus F3sv-A1 (Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz, Nvidia 8600M GS 256MB)||2,344 3DMarks|
|Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB||2,183 3DMarks|
|Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi 1526 (1.66 Core Duo, nVidia 7600Go 256 MB)||2,144 3DMarks|
|Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200, ATI X1700 256MB)||1,831 3DMarks|
|Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB)||1,819 3DMarks|
|HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)||827 3DMarks|
|Sony VAIO SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||794 3DMarks|
HDTune storage drive performance test:
The W700 sports a nine-cell lithium-ion battery. With a screen this size, we weren’t expecting much in terms of battery longetivity – though the question of how often you’ll be taking this notebook away from a desk, and thus away from a power outlet, is a fair one.
In spite of low expectations and a high-power screen, the ThinkPad actually performs surprisingly well “off the plug.” Some light web browsing, word processing, and photo editing with the screen at a still relatively bright half power yielded 2 hours, 23 minutes of use time before the first battery warning advised me that it was time to reconnect to the grid. For a business notebook, we’d admittedly be disappointed by this performance, but for a behemoth like the W700, two-plus hours of unconnected computing isn’t bad at all.
More to come …
As noted throughout, there’s a lot more to explore with the W700. We’ll be digging in to the details of what this workstation has to offer in coming days: check back next week for a full review of the most unique ThinkPad to come our way in awhile.