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Lenovo's ThinkPad W701ds Supplies Massive Performance and Meets Big-Budget Demands

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds 25414JU Mobile Workstation

Lenovo ThinkPad W701ds laptop
If Paul Bunyan were a geotechnical engineer, the Lenovo ThinkPad W701ds would be his Babe. It's hardly fitting to call this massive laptop a desktop replacement; it's a workstation alternative, able to take your most demanding applications anywhere. In addition to ridiculously fast performance, this laptop offers a built-in Wacom drawing tablet, a color-calibration tool, and even a second LCD. If you crunch real-time data on oil rigs or if you design jet engines while flying over the Atlantic, this could be your new PC. Anybody desiring one of the fastest, most tricked-out, and most costly portables around will find a great sidekick here.

This ISV (independent software vendor)-certified laptop crushes every application it encounters. In tests with professional-level content-creation tools, including 3D Studio Max 2011, Painter 11, and Avid Media Composer, all of the programs ran smoothly. Demanding games can also bring down lesser laptops--but while gamers may not be this laptop's target market, on this machine Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Crysis Warhead, and Supreme Commander 2 all looked great at high resolutions and maximum settings.

The ThinkPad W701ds rocked in PCWorld's quantitative benchmarks, earning a WorldBench 6 score of 123 and an overall mark of 96 out of 100 in our total performance test, among the highest scores yet. An Intel Core i7 X920 running at 2GHz powers this laptop, backed up by 8GB of RAM. The laptop even has an nVidia Quadro FX 3800M graphics card packing 1GB of VRAM. To say this system is loaded would be an understatement--it's a full-on arsenal.

But there's always a catch, right? Prices for the ThinkPad W701ds start at $3299; our test configuration, which includes almost every upgrade and extra possible, totals more than $6000. The good thing is, you'll get what you pay for--if you demand the highest speed and lots of content-creation extras.

Graphics professionals will soak up the terrific 17-inch, 1920-by-1200-pixel main display. It shows off a bold range of colors, contrast, and brightness. Colors pop whether you're working in an image editor or you're kicking back and watching a movie. Visual artists will appreciate the built-in Pantone HueyPRO hardware and software calibrator: Start the process and close the lid, and the sensor visually recognizes the display's colors, perfecting their balance.

The second LCD steals a little focus from the main display. This 10.6-inch, 768-by-1280-pixel extra stashes inside the case behind the main screen; you simply push in to eject and retract the secondary screen. Once it's extended, you can bend it forward, angling the screen toward your face. The screen would work best on the left side, since your hands--and the touchpad--favor the left. When the extra screen is tilted, you can see it clearly, but it often looks slightly washed-out, especially next to the unwavering color of the main display. The additional screen works well if you use it for text and button palettes, and you keep color-sensitive work on the main display.

Image jockeys will also enjoy the input-device extras, especially the 12cm-by-8cm drawing tablet embedded in the wrist rest. It's just big enough to sketch designs and edit photos on the go. Wacom's quality standard shines here, as the tablet includes 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity and comes with a stylus that you can flip over for an eraser end. When you're finished, the stylus neatly tucks into the laptop's base.

The ThinkPad W701ds adds two more pointers to the mix: the classic TrackPoint eraserhead and a two-button touchpad. Both feel great, and the buttons seem precise and responsive. You can switch between the input devices on a whim, or customize one to activate only certain functions--such as scrolling--while leaving the other for general mousing.

The utilitarian keyboard complements the rest of the laptop design. The classic, blocky key shapes and tight mechanisms feel responsive for touch typing, and the full-size number pad can speed data entry. A few extra buttons control the volume and launch the snooze-inducing ThinkVantage software. Dedicated media buttons are not missed; I prefer their absence over an attempt to cram them in unnecessarily.

Among the laptop's weaker points, relatively speaking, are the speakers, which sit behind a grille above the keyboard. Music and movies sound okay, and the laptop can get loud without warbling distortion. However, the speakers favor high tones, thinning out for lower pitches--the typical originated-on-a-laptop sound. Unfortunately, this means that mobile audio and video producers will have to plug in speakers or headphones for most of their work.

The ThinkPad W701ds has a bunch of ports and extras that can be useful in various situations. The fingerprint scanner unlocks the system without a password. Two LEDs mounted at the top of the display can cast light a little over and around the keyboard, allowing you to see papers in a dark room. Expansion slots include Express Card, CompactFlash, and a five-format SD-card reader. It's loaded with other ports and connections, too, offering audio-in and -out, one USB 3.0 port, four USB 2.0 ports, eSATA, FireWire, gigabit ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a modem. The full-size Display Port, DVI, and VGA ports can connect up to two additional displays.

Disk options mostly meet expectations. Two hard-drive bays can accommodate RAID setups; our test unit included two 320GB disks. Regrettably, this system had only a CD/DVD burner, not a Blu-ray reader or burner. With a laptop of this level, mobile content creators might expect to read--and author--Blu-ray discs.

Though Lenovo sits in the middle of our most recent laptop reliability survey, the ThinkPad W701ds feels solidly built. You'll have to lug the massive 8.97-pound system between big desks, but it's like carrying a powerful workstation almost anywhere. The battery lasts for about 2 hours, 10 minutes, a reasonable length for a portable with this much power and speed. Considering this machine's complete roster of ports and extras for content creators--including the color calibrator, the Wacom tablet surface, and the extra LCD--this high-end laptop seems equipped to help you complete any challenging job.

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At a Glance
  • Aimed at content creators and engineers, this portable Goliath could replace desktop workstations, letting pros stay productive anywhere.


    • Includes unique, useful pro content-creation tools
    • Easily powers the most demanding software


    • Speaker quality falls short of meeting pro demands
    • Second screen lacks the quality of the main display
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