capsule review

Lenovo ThinkPad W700: The Graphic Artist's Notebook

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Lenovo ThinkPad W700 Mobile Workstation

Can't decide between a desktop PC and a laptop? How about a workstation and a laptop? Lenovo's ThinkPad W700 desktop replacement (and desktop-size) laptop incorporates many of the latest mobile workstation features while also packing in a few unusual--and very welcome--goodies for the graphic artist or CAD designer.

You can truly pile on the options when configuring the W700, but our test system (normally priced at $3963, but listed at $3295 as of 12/01/2008), while not bare-bones by any means, was relatively modestly equipped, with a 2.8-GHz Core 2 Duo T9600 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and 64-bit Windows Vista Ultimate. You can also choose either a 3.06-GHz Core 2 Extreme ($600 extra) or a 2.53-GHz Core 2 Quad Extreme QX9300 (a mere $1000 extra). Lenovo says you can pack the W700 with up to 8GB of RAM, though in late November its online configurator only allowed me to specify 4GB. Our test system had two 7200-rpm, 160GB hard drives configured in RAID 0 (striped, for performance); you can specify up to two 5400-rpm, 320GB drives, or two 7200-rpm, 200GB drives. And while our model didn't have it, you can also go for a Blu-Ray Recordable optical drive--but that'll set you back an additional $450.

The T9600 CPU yields plenty of oomph, though. In our PC WorldBench 6 tests, the W700 earned a score of 99, which is only a few points shy of the best score we've seen from a laptop. And at a little under 3 hours on a charge, its battery lasted a bit longer than the average desktop replacement notebook we've tested.

Because the W700 is a mobile workstation, it comes with mobile workstation graphics--either the nVidia Quadro FX 2700M with 512MB of dedicated graphics memory, or the nVidia Quadro FX 3700M, with 1GB of memory ($400 extra), that came with our test system. That's a ton of graphics memory, especially for a laptop, and it proves useful in applications that can take advantage of it. For example, I installed the 64-bit version of Photoshop CS4, which has several GPU-accelerated tools and shortcuts, and the W700 cruised along. And while workstation graphics aren't usually geared for gaming, our test unit performed well compared with other notebooks in this category that we've tested. For example, in Far Cry at 1280-by-1024 resolution with antialiasting enabled, it ran at a blistering 219 frames per second. To put that in perspective, HP's consumer-level HDX18 desktop replacement laptop recently scored 102 in WorldBench, but achieved only 113 frames per second in the same game test.

You can specify a 17-inch wide-screen display with either 1440-by-900 resolution or the 1920-by-1200 resolution of our test system; the former's brightness rating is 200 nits, while the latter's is 400 nits. The higher-resolution display has a better-than-average color-gamut capability of 72 percent of Adobe RGB (most laptop displays, according to Lenovo, have gamuts of around 45 percent). However, it did not seem overly bright to me. My desktop monitor, a 24-inch Samsung 245T, which has a rating of 300 nits, appeared much brighter. Also, be aware that, while a narrow angle of view is not uncommon on a laptop, this viewing effect will be more pronounced on high-end graphics models like the W700. At least its dual-link DVI port can drive separate super-high-resolution monitors if the LCD's 17 inches aren't enough for you.

As I've noted, high-end graphics users are the target market for the W700--that much is obvious thanks to a couple of key add-ons: A built-in color calibrator and, as well, a built-in tablet.

The first of these is an embedded version of Pantone's Huey, which Lenovo says adjusts the color quality settings up to 60 percent more accurately than doing the job without it. It works with an on-screen utility and a tiny hardware calibrator built into an area beside the trackpad buttons; you click a button and close the lid, and the calibrator does all the work. When finished, you can view the before-and-after settings. The changes produced by the calibrator were noticeable and, to my eye, correct.

The W700 is also the first laptop to incorporate a WACOM drawing tablet (and that should give you an idea of how ginormous the W700 is). It measures 128mm by 80mm, or roughly the size of two playing cards side by side, and is located in the right palmrest. You must use a digitizing pen, which stows in a slot on the side of the notebook, but it works well with applications like Photoshop and Corel Painter. In addition, it works with Windows Tablet PC input, so you can, for example, use it to insert your signature into documents. It's pressure-sensitive, and you can adjust just how sensitive it is.

The ThinkPad W700 isn't exactly stylish: It's a huge and functional business box. At least it's not garish, like some big Dell and HP models. For the most part, it looks--and acts--like a ThinkPad. That means excellent keys with lots of travel, a logical layout (with a separate number keypad located to the right of the main keys), and both eraserhead and trackpad pointing devices. Typing doesn't get much better than this.

Even though the display is very large, the bezel around the panel adds an inch-and-a-quarter on the top and bottom, and three-quarters of an inch along the sides. That makes the entire notebook larger than it probably should be. As it stands, the notebook measures 12.2 by 16.1 by 1.6 inches. On the other hand, the W700 is pretty light for such a large case--9.1 pounds with its battery installed (add another 2 pounds for the meaty power brick). Either way, that's substantially less weight than other large-screen desktop replacement notebooks.

The ThinkPad W700 may look understated--and it's a bit of a kitchen-sink approach to computing--but it's a top-flight notebook. For on-the-go graphics artists, or those looking for the ultimate mobile workstation, it's hard to beat.

--Alan Stafford

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At a Glance
  • With a workstation's power (and price) in an understated package, the W700 is built for road-ready graphic artists.


    • Lightweight, for such a large notebook
    • Excellent drawing tablet


    • Angle of view on LCD is pretty narrow
    • Enormous power brick
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