Bigger, Faster, Stronger

By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2010-03-09

ThinkPad Mobile Workstations Gain Intel Core i7 Processors

The Lenovo W701ds adds Intel Core i7 Series processors and Nvidia Quadro graphics to the 17-inch ThinkPad, a double-screen mobile workstation that was already loaded with optional enhancements for specialized graphics applications. Mobile professionals who must process compute-intensive workloads while on location should consider the ThinkPad W701ds. For those who need exacting display calibration in a smaller form, Lenovo released the 15.5-inch touch-screen ThinkPad W510, also equipped with the latest Intel processors.

The ThinkPad W701ds goes above and beyond by including a second, slide-out 10.6-inch monitor that is built into a pocket door behind the 1920-by-1200-pixel, 17-inch main display. The second, pop-out monitor makes the ThinkPad W701ds a portable display powerhouse packed into a luggable frame.

Without any extra components, including additional hard drives, the ThinkPad W701ds starts out at 8.97 pounds not including the power supply. My tricked-out test unit weighed just a hair over 11 pounds. To put system weight in perspective, the ThinkPad W701ds is in the same ballpark as other thick and heavy competitors. The real comparison is with a desktop unit that can easily weigh 40 pounds or more. 

As is customary in a mobile workstation of this caliber, the ThinkPad W701ds comes with one of just about everything. My test system was equipped with two quad-core Intel Core i7 X920 2GHz processors and 8GB of 1333MHz DDR3 (double data rate 3) RAM and a nine-cell lithium ion battery. Both Lenovo systems started shipping on Feb. 23.

The ThinkPad W701ds primary display is a WUXGA anti-glare RGB LED backlight component capable of 280 nits (brightness) with a 600:1 contrast ratio and 100 percent color gamut with a built-in screen color calibration system. The system has one ExpressCard/34, one compact flash Type I slot, a multicard reader, one USB 3.0 port, three USB 2.0 ports (one powered) and one USB 2.0/eSATA (external Serial ATA) combo port. There are a plenty of connectors for external monitors, including a standard VGA, a DVI-D and a DisplayPort. In addition to the standard RJ-45 network port and IEEE 1394 FireWire 400 (the smaller, four-pin connector), the system also comes with an RJ-11 modem port. Overall, this exceeds the number and variety of ports offered by competitive systems. 

Bigger, Faster, Stronger


The large size of the ThinkPad W701ds also makes the top-of-the-line Lenovo system a bit of an oddity in the otherwise size-conscious ThinkPad family. The outside dimensions of 16.25 by 12.25 by 2.25 inches provide a lot of space and result in a bit of slosh in terms of overall fit and finish. For example, the full-sized numeric keypad has a spacer to fill in a gap between the keypad and speaker bar. Even with acres of space, the touchpad is oddly small and the auxiliary mouse buttons are awkward to use, with a trough in between them that is easily mistaken for part of the touchpad. The keyboard-usually the no-questions-asked quality center of a ThinkPad system-has a bouncy feel that led to typing errors during normal use. 

Fortunately, the extra space has been used to good advantage when it comes to dissipating heat from the Intel Core i7 processors and the beefy Nvidia Quadro FX 3800M graphics processor. The ThinkPad W701ds keeps heat away from the wrist rest, and the large fans and inherently more energy-efficient Intel processors kept running noise whisper-quiet during my tests.

The ThinkPad W701ds was preceded by the W700ds and differs most notably from that system by offering more powerful processors, an increase from two to four memory slot, and the incorporation of a top-end Nvidia graphics chipset. The ThinkPad W510, which was released at the same time, is Lenovo's single-screen, touch-enabled, 15.5-inch mobile workstation. With a product family ranging from the thickest and heaviest ThinkPad W701ds to the established (and much thinner and lighter) T and X series ThinkPads, Lenovo can easily accommodate IT administrators with a range of user needs.

The Dell Precision M6500 is the chief rival of the ThinkPad W701ds. IT managers would do well to look for specific ISV certifications for third-party application support on both platforms to help make a buying decision, since the products are so closely matched in components. Of course, the ThinkPad W701ds has an optional second, built-in screen, which is not offered on the Dell system. Both PCs offer a variety of specialized color calibration systems to tune the screen output for more accurate display of creative and scientific work. The ThinkPad W701ds offers a built-in Wacom digitizer and stylus for performing detailed pen-oriented work on the workstation. 

The ThinkPad W701ds scored a respectable PCMark score of 7832 using the Futuremark PCMark Vantage x64 benchmark. I ran the PCMark Suite including the Memories, Communication, Productivity and HDD (disk drive) suites at a screen resolution of 1024 by 768 with no anti-aliasing. I tested the ThinkPad W701ds as shipped from Lenovo. The system was running Windows 7 Professional and was running on wall power during the test. During test runs, which generally lasted 26 minutes, the system was consistently quiet, with very little fan noise.

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