- Sturdy Build
- Many Configuration Options
- Excellent Performance
- New Keyboard Style (Purists)
- Screen is non-IPS
- No Thunderbolt or eSATA ports
By Ryan P. Cleary
In today’s technologically driven culture many professions now exist which require the power and capabilities of a workstation but also require the portability of a notebook. These traits of mobility, durability, and internal power have led to the popularity of mobile workstations among both professionals and intensive consumers alike. This review shall be taking an in depth look at the Lenovo W530’s strengths and weaknesses and determine whether it makes the cut for both consumers and professionals alike.
In early June of 2012, Lenovo released their newest ThinkPad Lineup, with the W530 filling the powerhouse mobile workstation spot of this year’s lineup. Though it appears very similar externally to its predecessor, the W520, the W530 has been altered in many key ways. These include a new port configuration, changes to the iconic ThinkPad keyboard, updates to the interior components, and many more.
Despite the hopes of some members of the notebook community, Lenovo has continued to leave the 17-inch spot of their mobile workstation lineup since discontinuing the W701. The result is that the W530 is the only mobile workstation being offered by Lenovo this year. As a result, however, it is highly customizable, with a variety of purchase options. The price can vary greatly, from a “low” $1,269 with an i7-3610 CPU, 4 GB of RAM, a 320 GB 7200 RPM HDD and no extra features all the way to a jaw-dropping $5,602 with all possible package options included. Of course, most users will likely find themselves in the ~$2,000 range, as many components are user upgradeable via aftermarket sources.
In addition, Lenovo offers frequent discounts, as well as special web portals for groups such as students and educators. The particular configuration being evaluated here is valued at ~$2,199 with an additional $170 spent on aftermarket upgrades. However, some portions of this configuration are no longer offered, and shall be duly noted later in this review when relevant.
Build and Design
The W530 contains numerous ports and other external features, some retained from its predecessor, others recent additions. The notebook sizes 9.65″ x 14.68″ x 1.4″ and weighs in at 6.2 lbs.
The lid feels extremely durable, and offers almost no flex even when being bent by rather forceful pressure. Its only features are an Energy Star certification label, the classic ThinkPad logo, and a tasteful Lenovo logo. Aside from these features, the lid is a blank expanse uncluttered by any design elements.
Likewise, the very front of the W530 is similarly bare of features, hosting only the lid latch. However, if a full 180˚ turn is made, a whole host of features are revealed on the back of this mobile workstation. On the far left, Lenovo has decided to include an always on USB 2.0 port, which can be used to charge/power external devices even when the W530 is powered down. However, this must first be activated in the settings, as the defaults have it operating as a normal USB 2.0 in order to conserve energy.
In the middle, of course, is the battery slot. In this model, a 9-cell battery was selected, resulting in the battery jutting out approximately one inch from the back of the notebook. Moving over to the right side, there is the power port and a vent. Due to some changes to the port, there actually is an indent in the centerpiece. The result is that the W530 170 Watt power cable can only be used with the W530, but older cables should be able to function with varying degrees of success.
The sides of the W530 are where most of the ports are located. On the left side, there are 2 USB 3.0 ports, a USB 2.0 port, a 1394 port, a VGA port, and a Mini-Display port. In addition, the left side also hosts the master wireless switch and another vent.
The right side contains the rest of the ports and features. These include an Ethernet port, a combo mic/audio input, a 4-in-1 card reader, and a PCI Express card slot. The final port is an Ultrabay, which can host either a disc reader/writer or a SDD/HDD. In this configuration it is hosting a 320 GB HDD.
As an additional note, there also is a port located on the bottom of the W530 for use with docking stations or a 9-cell slice battery. In addition, the exterior does show fingerprints and other marks easily, so be prepared to need to occasionally wipe this computer down.
Screen and Speakers
The full high definition (FHD) screen has stunning visuals for a matte screen. While perhaps not as vivid as the new retina screens or IPS screens, the FHD is definitely worth the extra cost. The blacks are extremely dark, colors pop, and the viewing angles are fairly good. Horizontal viewing angles are superb, with very little color distortion all the way to 90 degrees from center, allowing multiple people to comfortably view the screen. However, the vertical viewing angles are simply average, with distortion starting at around 45 degrees and becoming unmanageable at around 70 degrees from center. The FHD screen also gives some extra real estate for working in detailed applications such as CAD work, 3D modeling, and Graphics Design.
The 720p camera produces a very clear picture and the included software complements it quite well. The only complaint one may have about the camera is that there is some minor background distortion near the very top of the viewing angle on long distance objects. For an embedded camera this is to be expected, and otherwise expectations are amply exceeded. Complementing the camera is a pair of microphones near the bottom of the screen. These dual microphones produce quite good clarity and will likely increase in usefulness as more applications begin utilizing the functionality that dual microphones offer.
Previously, there have been some complaints about the lack of a number pad on the W530. While it would have been nice to have, the absence is explained by the inclusion of a far superior set of speakers to those in the W520. These speakers and their drivers produce clear highs and mids, and manage far better bass than a typical notebook. Are they the best? Absolutely not. Any quality set of external speakers including a subwoofer would produce better audio. However, the included speakers are superior to most models currently installed in notebooks.
It is clearly evidenced that Lenovo has made extensive progress in its fingerprint scanners over the past several years. The model included in the W530 is far less touchy than early versions and has a far better response time. It is certainly important for professional users, and is a nice addition for home users as deterrence against theft and unapproved access.
When ordering this W530 model, the reviewer was assured by Lenovo reps through the chat function that this model would be including the color sensor. However this proved to be an incorrect statement on the company’s part, and has been being attempted to be resolved. However, there are some mixed feeling about the pantone color sensor, and I would strongly recommend potential buyers to do research other systems, as the sensor adds $70.00 to the price, and well regarded external color sensors start in that range.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Perhaps the single most controversial change to the W530 is the change from the traditional ThinkPad keyboard to the new Chiclet design. Many former ThinkPad users have very mixed feeling and impressions about the new design, and resultantly some of the changes and highlights are outlined below:
- The new style is much quieter than the old style, which removes the mechanical clicking noise that was so aggravating to some users, but retains just enough to satisfy auditory feedback
- The old blue color scheme has been dropped completely, which is a pity. It always made it easier to find important functions at a glance.
- Tactile feedback is different as well. The Chiclet style keyboard does not feel quite as responsive and mechanical as tradition keyboards. In addition, the layout feels more spaced, resulting in typing adjustments needing to be made by users whom are familiarized with traditional ThinkPad keyboards.
- Some buttons/functions have been removed outside of obscure shortcuts. However, most will not affect a common user.
In truth, the new keyboard layout does not come as too much of a surprise. Lenovo ThinkPads were among the last lines of computers using the old style keyboards rather than Chiclet. This affected pricing, maintenance, and also prevented the implementation of backlight systems. It was a jump that many saw coming, and it was necessary to implement the new backlight system. That said, however, many ThinkPad purists will see this change as a negative, while new converts to the line will likely find it to be quite pleasant and comparable to other quality laptop keyboards.
Other notable features of the W530 when opened up include the touchpad, lighting, and TrackPoint. The touchpad retains the traditional Lenovo color scheme, and has a textured surface. In addition, its multi-touch is a delight to use. The TrackPoint remains unchanged other than being more recessed into the keyboard. Many new users will find it cumbersome at first to use, but it provides another option to users as an alternative to a mouse or a touchpad.
The addition of a backlight was much needed update to the ThinkPad line, as it had become mainstream among other notebook manufacturers. The backlit keyboard offers two light settings, and all keys are illuminated sufficiently for use. Despite some concerns about a backlight rendering the ThinkLight obsolete, it is still brightly shining down from above the screen, and mercifully sticks with a tried and true color, unlike a certain period where ThinkLights were amber colored. However, there is one improvement that could be made. At this time, the ThinkLight and the backlight cannot be operated simultaneously.