Lenovo ThinkPad W510: Workstation Power, Workstation Bulk
At a Glance
Sometimes size does matter. You'd never describe Lenovo's Thinkpad W510 as "thin and light." It's a bulky, heavy beast--a laptop with a 15.6-inch, LED backlit display that weighs as much as some 17-inch laptops. What you get with that bulk is a high-performance, workstation-class CPU, nVidia Quadro midrange mobile graphics, and workstation-style features such as built-in color calibration, complete with sensor. Of course, all those performance features will set you back a pretty penny; the price for the W510 configuration we tested comes in at $2929.
As a general-purpose laptop, the W510 is something of a mixed bag. While the Quadro FX880 M mobile GPU is capable for a unit this size, it's no gaming powerhouse. Modern games tend to stagger a bit at the full 1080p resolution. The Stalker: Call of Pripyat benchmark eked out 14.4 frames per second in DX 10 mode at default settings. Far Cry 2's test fell just shy of 18 fps in an action scene. Even the more forgiving HAWX flight simulator managed only 34 fps.
Similarly, DVD playback was unexceptional. Even after tweaking the nVidia control panel, DVD upscaling still resulted in a soft image with the two DVD movies I viewed (Lord of the Rings: Return of the Kind and Serenity). Even 1080 WMV HD content looked a little washed out. But audio output quality was surprisingly good. Bass, as usual, is lacking, but stereo imaging seems reasonably accurate, and the overall sound quality has a pleasant, neutral sound. Audio volume is limited, though--even at maximum volume, it's not particularly loud.
On the other hand, the Thinkpad W510 isn't aimed at gamers, but at professional graphics users. Content creation and CAD applications tend to require a mix of high CPU performance and capable graphics, and in this category, the W510 delivers in spades. Its WorldBench 6 score of 118 is stellar. The 2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 920XM offers blistering CPU performance for a laptop. Even the bulky chassis comes into play--when running CPU-intensive apps and benchmarks, the unit didn't become particularly loud, nor did the bottom of the case become too hot to keep on your lap. Battery life came in at 3 hours, 43 minutes with the 9-cell battery. That's actually relatively good for a high-end, quad-core CPU and discrete graphics.
The W510 also offers excellent connectivity, including 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, gigabit ethernet, and built-in mobile broadband (though you'll have to pick the right SIM card for your mobile broadband provider.) This notebook also includes a USB 3.0 port in the rear of the case. Two more USB 2.0 ports grace the right side, plus an additional combo USB/eSATA port.
Display output is handled through an analog VGA port or, for digital output, a DisplayPort. You'll need the proper cable adapter if you're connecting to a DVI-equipped monitor. The left side of the unit is pretty crowded; along with the three USB ports and display output connectors, an IEEE 1394a miniport is also present.
The display itself is LED backlit. A color calibration sensor is built into the main body of the unit, and Lenovo ships XRite's Huey Pro calibration software. Calibrating color is dead simple: launch the app, click the next button, then shut the lid until you hear three beeps. While color in photographic editing applications looked correct, the LCD display suffered from the usual lapses of most laptop displays--in particular, a poor vertical viewing angle. Horizontal viewing angles were also limited, though not as severely as with vertical viewing.
The right side houses the optical drive, along with a single combo audio port, which can be used with single-jack headsets. Unless you're using one of those, you'll be limited to either headphones or a microphone. Also crammed into the right side is the ExpressCard slot and a 5-in-1 flash card slot.
Despite the workstation nature of this beast, Lenovo offers no option for a Blu-ray burner, so if you're authoring high-definition discs, you'll need to move the project to a Blu-ray equipped system or attach an external USB Blu-ray writer.
Documentation is pretty limited, as is the software, which includes Microsoft Office 60-day trialware and a pair of Corel applications (WinDVD and Corel DVD MovieFactory).
Note that Lenovo tends to have an average customer satisfaction rating in the latest PCWorld product reliability and satisfaction survey.
Overall, the ThinkPad W510 is a compromise. Packing workstation-class components into a 15-inch class chassis results in a system with overall solid CPU performance and reasonably good graphics performance, all built into a sturdy, if somewhat heavy, chassis. The addition of features like color calibration and USB 3.0 are a plus, but those are mitigated by other limitations, such as the lack of Blu-ray burner. It's not inexpensive, either; our system, as configured, came it at $2929. In the end, the W510 offers an excellent alternative for workstation users on the go who are looking for overall good performance and are willing to live with its minor shortcomings.