Lenovo W700 Review

by David Rasnake Reads (103,209)

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 on-board 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 with the W700 is everything Lenovo is known for, with tight fitment all around and an impressively small measure of panel flex for a laptop this large. A bit of time hauling the W700 has confirmed initial impressions: while large notebooks rarely rival their smaller counterparts in terms of ruggedness, this is one heavily built, robust laptop in spite of its size.

Of course, this heavy-duty build quality comes with a price: weight. At just under nine pounds, the ThinkPad is portly, though it’s certainly not as heavy as it looks. That said, a power brick that’s roughly the size of an actual brick (and weighs almost as much to boot) pushing the ThinkPad’s carrying weight to over 12 pounds. Yikes.

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.

Display

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. A quick side-by-side with my 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 is relatively even, though a careful inspection reveals some slight brightness fall-off toward the top of the panel; it’s a nit-picky consideration for sure, but in a display option costing this much, there’s no reason not to be particular.

Viewing angles are excellent side-to-side, though only acceptable on the vertical axis. Like some other laptop screens we’ve looked at, the W700′s display has a marked sweet spot for vertical viewing, with contrast washout coming quickly if you’re viewing from too high up, and false excessive contrast introduced from too low. The viewing window for precise color reproduction is certainly less than 10 degrees wide on the vertical axis, but to the positive it’s fairly easy to tell when you’re “locked in.”

The W700′s wide-gamut display covers a claimed 72 percent of the Adobe RGB color space, a significant improvement over your typical laptop LCD. Nonetheless, Lenovo’s decision to use a twisted nematic (TN) panel in the W700 rather than an in-plane switching variant as is the standard in professional desktop applications has been cause for concern; hence, I spent a fair bit of time pushing the display to determine where its limits were – and to see just how much of this might really impact a photographic workflow.

If you’re working with 8-bit JPEGs in the sRGB color space using a color-aware application like Photoshop, the short answer is that there is no impact: throwing some high-saturation images sRGB images at the W700, the machine was unfazed, and from all appearances (including side-by-side image comparisons on the W700 and an X-Rite profiled, IPS-equipped Apple Cinema display used for reference throughout this evaluation) you’ll be getting everything that’s fit for web display on the W700 with the right settings. Given Lenovo’s bold claims, this is as it should be.

Working at higher bit depths in the Adobe RGB space more easily reveals the W700′s gamut limitations. Our analysis of several test images side-by-side on the W700 and our calibrated desktop display suggests that the Lenovo hits well in terms of contrast, but gives up some saturation at the extremes of the Adobe gamut – especially in the green channel. The differences we experienced will be negligible to many – too fine to be accurately conveyed in photos, even – and Lenovo’s gamut coverage claims seem very reasonable. That said, at saturation extremes, you’ll run up against some noticeable color flattening and out-of-gamut issues; photographers and graphic designers who prep for print as well as web use should take note.

So is the W700′s upgraded wide-gamut display worth the cost? Yes and no. For what most of us do, even at a fairly demanding level, the panel’s gamut is more than sufficient – not to mention excellent contrast and brightness that’s superior to just about anything else out there. In fact, the W700′s 72 percent gamut strikes a nice balance for general use, providing good color reproduction for sRGB applications and a nicely saturated look that isn’t so wide-ranging as to be difficult to deal with outside of color-managed applications.

For power graphics users, though, the problem is that the W700 has some strong competition on the display front coming to market in the high-end graphics workstation space from HP and Dell. While we weren’t able to do a side-by-side comparison of the W700 with one of its VA-variant equipped competitors for this review, we’ll be keeping an eye (quite literally) on challengers to the ThinkPad’s display dominance: some obvious limitations with the W700 make it unlikely that, for all it does well, this display is among the strongest laptop screens currently available. It’s good for a notebook display, yes, and may even be very good depending on your frame of reference, but it’s certainly not perfect.

Finally, while many will undoubtedly find the W700′s several inches of plastic bezel around the panel visually unappealing, we were repeatedly impressed by just how robust this display feels. By the standards of 17 inch displays, there’s little side-to-side flex. More than that, the W700′s two apparently undersized hinges are surprisingly stout, holding this heavy panel where you put it in spite of repeated shaking and offering up essentially no free play. If the W700′s display let us down in a few key areas, build quality definitely isn’t one of them.

Color Calibrator/Profiler

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/Pantone 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 hueyPro 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. Overall, power users may find the W700′s friendly little calibration console a bit too simplistic: at this price, the W700 isn’t really a machine for casual users, so why employ a calibration and profiling utility with so much hand holding and so little in-depth adjustment?  


 
As noted above, though, the W700 appears to produce accurate color profiles in need of little tweaking. Respecting the display gamut limits outlined above, I had little trouble coordinating my print workflow using a large-format Epson inkjet with the W700′s on-screen proofing.

Getting the display to consistently load up those profiles on start-up, however, is another story. In most cases, the W700 needed prodding (in the form of launching and closing its hueyPRO calibration app) to call up the profile. It’s an irritating bug that I’ve also experienced with third-party calibration systems, but nothing more serious than that: still, with this level of integration, smooth, automatic profile loading isn’t too much to ask.

Another concern with the built-in color calibration console has to do with multiple display support. Hook a second display up to the W700′s output and the ThinkPad appears to force the same profile loaded for the laptop display onto the external unit as well. Assuming you’re working with a pretty neutral, high-quality desktop display the results may well be close enough. Nonetheless, I would have liked to see some kind of advanced options for connecting a third-party spectro and independently calibrating an external display when a second monitor is attached. Again, for a high-end graphics workstation, it’s worth asking whether close enough is good enough.

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. Compared to other Lenovo keyboards we’ve looked at, key presses on the W700 may be just a bit noisy, but as with calibration concerns, the fact that the keyboard itself feels nice in use makes this secondary concern a minor issue for most.

Basic dedicated speaker control buttons (mute, volume up, volume down) adorn the space above the keyboard, next to Lenovo’s trademark “ThinkVantage” button – which calls up a sort of clearing house for basic computer maintenance and configuration options.

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. As with the small tablet area, you certainly get used to it, but it does leave one to wonder why Lenovo didn’t go for something slightly larger. The pad features vertical and horizontal axis dedicated scroll areas.

Dedicated left/scroll/right buttons flank the top of the touchpad area, with the standard left and right click only residing beneath. Both 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.

After a little more time with the tablet, I’ve adapted to its size quite well. The idea of integrating a digitizer into a graphics-focused machine is an excellent one that I’m betting will find acceptance among photographers, graphic designers, CAD techs, and architects – all key markets for this niche focused machine. The pad’s placement works well for day to day use, keeping your pen hand clear of the touchpad and typing areas for easy key-control use (to queue up tools in Photoshop, for instance) while you’re working on the tablet. Of course if you’re left-handed, all ergonomic bets are off.

The W700′s included pen, which stows away into a silo in the right-hand side of the notebook 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. In fact, if you don’t own another compatible pen, go ahead and order one with your ThinkPad purchase: the included stylus really is an option of last resort even more so than the small tablet itself. Plus, a degree in mechanical engineering and very strong fingers are required to retract the pen from its silo – it takes a stout push on the spring-loaded release, which, interestingly, doesn’t seem to get easier with either time or practice.

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.

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

Notebook

3DMark06

Score

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


PCMark05 measures overall notebook performance (higher scores are better):

Notebook

PCMark05

Score

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

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

6,587 PCMarks

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

6,815 PCMarks

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

5,864 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 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


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 all four processor cores at once, thereby giving more accurate benchmarking measurements than Super Pi.

Notebook

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

Gateway P-7811 FX (Core 2 Duo P8400 @ 2.26GHz)

33.366s

HP Pavilion HDX18 (Core 2 Duo T9600 @ 2.8GHz)

27.416s

HP Pavilion dv6500z (AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz)

40.759s

Toshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @2.2GHz)

37.299s

HP Compaq 6910p (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz)

40.965s

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


HDTune storage drive performance test:

Lenovo ThinkPad W700

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. This is one area where Lenovo’s decision to include a TN panel with its faster refresh rate also helps out: games look amazingly smooth in a way that far exceeds expectations unless you’re coming from a high-end gaming system – and even then it’s hard not to be impressed with the W700′s capabilities. 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, as do the components of Adobe’s Creative Suite. Given the synthetic benchmark scores, few will be surprised to learn that the ThinkPad is a racehorse when it comes to even the most complex graphics processing work. Loading up Photoshop CS3, I did a few quick gradient creation tests – one of Photoshop’s more processor-intensive activities – just to see how things timed out. Overlaying a standard black to white gradient on a canvas measuring 10,000 pixels on each axis, the W700 responded in a desktop-like 1.7 seconds. In fact, to even tax the processor in this test, you have to work on a canvas three times this size: at 30,000 by 30,000 pixels (the largest image supported in older versions of Photoshop) the W700 drops a linear black to white gradient in 2 minutes, 31 seconds and some change. This process is the kind of thing that you start before going out to lunch on most laptops, if you even attempt it at all; on the W700, it’s done in the time it takes to walk into the kitchen and get a cup of coffee.

For its next trick, I wanted to see how the ThinkPad would respond to a complex lens correction filter request on a large (circa 3800×2500) image – warping the image to its extremes on both the vertical and horizontal axes, queuing up maximum negative distortion correction, and to top it off, asking the filter to render extended edges as well.

What takes more than a minute on your average dual-core business notebook is done in less time than it takes for Photoshop to close the preview pane. Likewise, intensive rendering filters like Spherize provide output that’s essentially instantaneous on the W700. Simply put, for something you can fold up and take with you on the road, that’s sickeningly fast.

If absolute top-end performance is your primary concern – 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.

Multimedia

In spite of being possessed of the raw power to chew up and spit out any graphics task put in its path, the W700 really isn’t a great choice for conventional multimedia tasks. Plenty of video output options and a pleasing screen might lead you to believe otherwise, but at the end of that day the user experience for watching movies or listening to music really isn’t so nice. First, as noted previously, the W700 has a dearth of dedicated multimedia buttons by the standards of its class: you can adjust the volume, and function-plus-key commands provide access to start/stop commands, but it’s clear that music and movies weren’t on the minds of Lenovo’s design team when they put this machine together. Like their smaller enterprise notebooks, this one’s all business.

While full-screen DVD playback in Windows Media Player was perfectly smooth, the W700 also suffers from a pair of tiny, top-mounted speakers that could be described as minimally effective at best. Even with a good EQ for tweaking, the W700′s audio playback lacks everything but midrange; the resulting sound quality is somewhere between what you’ll get out of a pair of overdriven headphones from ten feet away and a weak AM radio broadcast. To their credit, the ThinkPad’s speakers were surprisingly clean all the way up to their top power setting, and put out plenty of volume besides. There’s just no life – no bass response or treble sparkle – to the sound at all.

A front-mounted headphone jack delivers clean, rich, static-free audio with plenty of power, partially atoning for the ThinkPad’s speaker-side deficiencies. Still, given that this notebook has a display that’s large enough (and more than crisp enough) to serve as the television in a small apartment, better audio performance might have been a plus for the four people who will buy the W700 for something other than commercial graphics use.

Ports and Features

Numerous connections are another reason users buy large desktop-replacement notebooks, and in this regard the W700 delivers. The ThinkPad’s five USB ports and Firewire are certainly not too much to ask for, and out back the W700 gives a nice range of options for making output connections as well.

Although our test unit didn’t come so configured, users can also opt for a built-in Compact Flash reader in place of dual Express Cards or a Smart Card/Express Card combo. Having the ability to pull images directly from either SD (via the front-side SD slot) or CF is a feature that I wish more graphics machines offered; I’m betting the majority of photographers will opt for this configuration.

Front: Wi-Fi hard switch, SD reader, headphone out, microphone in

Right: USB 2.0 ports (3), modem, pen silo, DVD/CD-RW

Left: IEEE 1394 (Firewire), USB 2.0 ports (2), Express Card 34, Smart Card

Back: Display Port, VGA out, DVI out, Gigabit Ethernet, power

Battery Life

The W700 sports a nine-cell lithium-ion battery. With a screen this size, we weren’t expecting much in terms of battery longevity – 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.

Playing a DVD at maximum brightness puts a serious dent in this time, however. Even with Wi-Fi disabled, we were only able to get just over an hour of playback (1:03) before Vista forced a shutdown with these settings. What this suggests is that the settings you choose and the processes you run have a serious impact on battery life in this case, and while it can perform better than anticipated if you’re conservative, the W700 is still a huge notebook with a lot of power-hungry accouterments. And if you plan to make the most out of what this highly capable graphics machine can do, proceed into the field without a charged spare battery, a charging plan, or a backup generator at your own risk.

Heat and Noise

For a machine with this much power, getting hot is almost a given. And that’s where the W700 surprises: even under the heaviest graphics loads we could throw at it, chances are you’ll find the weight of the Lenovo on your lap unbearable long before you’ll be offended by how much heat it’s giving off.

After heavily loading the processor for nearly an hour, I couldn’t get any area of the case to register at or above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. For a big, powerful system with a pair of hard drives, those are very livable numbers to be sure. It is interesting to note that of the areas on the top deck, the digitizer seems to retain the most heat. Even here, though, I never found it uncomfortable to rest my wrist across the tablet while typing, and at idle or for light web use, active ventilation on the W700 works so well that areas of the case will even be cool to the touch.

In a quiet room, the W700′s constantly turning fan can be a little abrasive, sounding more than a bit like a low-pitched version of a dental-grade suction machine. Thankfully, it’s not so loud that typical office white noise doesn’t drown it out almost completely. For moderate, lap-ready external temps, a bit of generally unobtrusive fan noise is a trade-off that most of us would be willing to make.


Conclusion

In my not so distant professional past, I worked as a graphic designer creating corporate marketing collateral. I was often on the road, working face-to-face with clients to put the finishing touches on print and web projects, and hence I speak from experience in saying that attempting to do any measure of serious design work on most notebooks – even larger desktop replacement models – is usually an exercise in frustration. Questionable displays, limited storage space, and poor processor responsiveness were my day to day headaches back then. The fact that the ThinkPad W700 squarely addresses every one of these concerns – and several others – will likely make it the workstation that many mobile graphics pros have been waiting for, even with its heavy price tag. After all, the productivity increases afforded by a machine like this ThinkPad, a laptop capable of taking on serious graphics production tasks, will be invaluable for many companies and users.

On the other side of the coin, it’s only fair to expect a lot of a machine that costs as much as a used compact car, and to this end not everything is completely sorted with the W700. The tablet surface certainly isn’t as good as a third-party unit, though to be fair, as a compromise solution for mobile use it’s not a bad one – meaning your Wacom is one less thing you’ll be packing along next time. Given the cost of the W700′s high-end screen upgrade, we would have liked to see at least a vertical alignment panel type as well. And the calibration system, though effective, is limited enough in functionality that it may prove to be more gimmick than substance for this user set, who are for the most part both proactive and opinionated about color management.

What can’t be disputed, though, is that a quad-core processor, serious RAM potential, and a high-end graphics card make this one of the most powerful workstations, mobile or otherwise, currently available off the shelf from an OEM. If Lenovo set out to dazzle us with power, they’ve certainly succeeded on that score. So is it worth the price?

Like so many things in life, it all depends on who you ask.

Pros:

  • Quad-core performance offers a desktop-esque experience
  • Solid Lenovo keyboard, touchpad
  • Built-in digitizer a handy addition
  • Color calibration console couldn’t be simpler
  • Impressively rugged build for a 17 inch system

Cons:

  • Display doesn’t quite meet lofty expectations
  • Speaker audio makes everything sound like a Paul Harvey broadcast
  • Supplied pen is small, feels cheap
  • I don’t have a spare $4,333.30


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