Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds First Look Review

by Jerry Jackson Reads (20,571)

As announced earlier this week, the new ThinkPad W700ds is the first notebook to offer a true dual-screen mobile solution. This massive powerhouse packs more technology inside its all-black chassis than most workstation desktops. From two bright displays, a built-in Wacom digitizer, and built-in color calibrator to dual hard drives and a dedicated Compact Flash card reader, this notebook has it all. Is this the greatest ThinkPad yet? Keep reading to see our take.

Although many large notebook computers have been billed as “desktop replacements” there is one area where notebook computers couldn’t compete with true desktop computers … dual screens. Yes, you can always connect a second screen to a laptop, but then your laptop isn’t a “mobile” solution anymore because you have a wired external monitor tethered to your notebook. Lenovo is the first manufacturer to solve this issue by offering a high-performance mobile workstation notebook with two screens.

Our pre-production sample of the Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds Mobile Workstation features the following specifications:

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Extreme Q9300 (2.53 GHz, 1066 MHz FSB, 12 MB L2 cache)
  • Memory: 4 GB DDR3 SDRAM
  • Screens: 17″ 1920×1200 WUXGA TFT LCD and 10.6″ 1280×768 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)

The starting price of the W700ds is $3,663, but we don’t currently have a price for the pre-production sample we are using for this first look review.

Build and Design

In our original review of the single-screen W700 we jokingly called the W700 “the laptop designed to make normal people feel small.” Well, someone at Lenovo obviously subscribes to the idea that “bigger is better” because the W700ds makes the W700 look downright slim. In order to accomodate the second display in the W700ds Lenovo roughly doubled the thinkness of the display lid used in the W700.

What does this mean in practical terms? It means you’re carrying a notebook that is almost the same thinkness as two 14-inch laptops combined.  Take a look at the images below to see for yourself (we even included a shot of the W700 with a Dell Latitude D630 on top for scale).

Of course, if you’re wondering why Lenovo didn’t make the W700ds thinner, the answer is durability. Every ThinkPad owner knows that the ThinkPad brand is synonymous with durable notebooks designed for serious work. The reality is that a second display sliding out from behind the main display creates obvious areas where the notebook could be damaged. That’s why Lenovo made it thicker. First, by having a display that sticks out from the side it’s easy to accidentally bump or knock the display, and Lenovo made the second spring-loaded, slide-out display quite rugged and sturdy to prevent breakage. Additionally, when a second display slides out from behind the primary display this creates a gap behind the primary display that is prone to flex and could potentially make it easier to damage the primary display when excess pressure is applied to the lid. Lenovo solved this problem by making the lid thicker and sturdier to prevent flex.

The end result is a thicker notebook … but one that can survive day-to-day use and abuse by working professionals around the globe regardless of the environment. It’s easy to imagine a press photographer using this system to edit photos in the middle of a warzone. The lid might even stop a bullet … but we’ll refrain from testing that.

The Second Screen

Let’s face it, the ThinkPad W700ds is essentially just the ThinkPad W700 with a second screen. That being said, let’s take a moment to focus on that second display that makes the W700ds so interesting. The primary screen on the W700 and W700ds is a 17-inch 1920 x 1200 display with wide color gamut and 400-nit brightness. The second display on the W700ds is a 10.6-inch 1280 x 768 display with 280-nit brightness. While it’s obvious that the second display isn’t as spectacular as the main screen, it is surprisingly nice and proved to exceed the expectations of most of our editors. Viewing angles on the second screen are adequate, and the screen can be tilted up to 30 degrees forward so that the viewing angle can be adjusted as needed.

We know what some of you are asking: “If the main screen has a vertical resolution of 1,200 pixels and the second display has a vertical resolution of 1,280 pixels doesn’t that look weird?” The short answer is no. Lenovo has some very nice software running to scale the resolution on the second screen so that things look consistent and everything moves smoothly from one screen to the next. Font sizes on one screen are consistent when moved over to the second screen and the second display just looks and works like a natural extension of your primary desktop. Below is a screen shot showing some of the voodoo going on in the background that allows that two screens to work together as a single desktop (it looks strange when you take a screenshot, but looks perfectly normal in regular use).

Performance

Since our pre-production sample of the W700ds is configured almost identically to the configuration of the W700 that we reviewed last year it shouldn’t come as a surprise that both notebooks have virtually identical performance. That said, it’s clear that Lenovo has managed to improve a few things with this system, possibly thanks to new display drivers from NVIDIA, because the W700ds actually produced a considerably better 3DMark06 score than our review unit of the W700.

3DMark06 represents the overall graphics performance of a notebook (higher numbers indicate better performance):

 

Notebook

3DMark06

Score

Lenovo W700ds (2.53GHz Intel Q9300, NVIDIA Quadro FX 3700M 1GB) 11,874 3DMarks

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

Gateway P-7811 FX (2.26GHz Intel P8400, NVIDIA 9800M GTS 512MB)

9,355 3DMarks

HP Pavilion HDX18 (2.8GHz Intel T9600, Nvidia 9600M GT 512MB)

4,127 3DMarks

Apple MacBook Pro (2.2GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 128MB)

3,321 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

 

At this point, until we receive a final review unit in our office we’ll direct you to our previous review of the Lenovo ThinkPad W700 for more details on the build quality, performance, and available ports and features. The truth is the the W700 and W700ds are virually identical. The only major difference between the two systems is that one features two displays instead of only one … and the W700ds is thicker and heavier as a result.

Bottom line, since many of our editors use dual displays on a daily basis for enhanced productivity, we’re glad to see Lenovo take a major step forward with innovation by bringing a dual-display notebook to the market. Still, this massive workstation is likely going to be a little too thick and heavy for most consumers. We suspect only those people (such as working photographers or people working in CAD applications at a construction site) who currently pack a second display with thier notebooks are likely to jump at the opportunity to buy this machine. It is certainly easier to carry a W700ds than a W700 and a second external display.

Stay tuned to NotebookReview.com for our full review of this notebook.


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