Lenovo W520 Mobile Workstation Doubles Power, Lightens Load

The Lenovo W520 mobile workstation stuffs nearly twice the compute and memory capability over the previous generation 15.6-inch professional grade laptop while losing nearly a pound of weight. Smart sub systems also reduce heat and extend battery life on the ISV-certified road warrior.

The Lenovo W520 mobile workstation packs nearly twice the compute and memory power into a physical case that retains the characteristics of the previous-generation 15.6-inch W510. However, the W520 is nearly 1 pound lighter.

The W520 now comes with a range of high-performance-yet power-conserving-graphics options, and has been certified by a slew of ISVs, including Autodesk for AutoCad and Dassault for Solid Works. The Lenovo W520 easily competes with the Dell M4500 and the HP EliteBook 8540p.

As tested, my Lenovo W520 was equipped with the Intel Core i7-2920XM quad-core CPU running at 2.50GHz. The system had 8GB of RAM, expandable to 32GB, and a Seagate Momentus 7200.4, 500GB 7200rpm Serial ATA hard drive. The W520 was pre-loaded with Windows 7 SP1 and a full range of ThinkVantage tools. My system was equipped with an optional 1920 by 1080 LED backlit anti-glare display, driven by an optional Nvidia Quadro 2000M graphics card with 2GB DDR3 (double data rate type three) memory. The test system was also equipped with 8GB of PC3-10600 DDR3 1333MHz RAM.

To ensure enough power when all these components are fully used, Lenovo ships the W520 with a 170W AC adapter. The W510 used a 135W power supply. For wireless network connectivity, the test W520 came with an optional Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205 radio.

The system can be purchased with a warranty up to four years with on-site service and optional ThinkPad protection plans for just under $600. Excluding the extended warranty, the W520 I tested priced out at $3,880 on the Lenovo.com online store. The starting price for this more powerful model of the W520 listed at Lenovo.com is $2,390 although sale and promotional deals are offered in abundance.

IT managers looking for an entry for a high-performance, yet easily portable workstation or desktop replacement should put the W520 on the consideration shortlist.

The W520 was released March 30.

Even compared with its predecessor, the W510, which has a nearly identical mechanical design-the same outside dimensions, ports and physical options-the W520 is lighter and runs cool and quiet. The W520 has an official starting weight of 5 pounds, 15.2 ounces, which is just more than 13 ounces lighter than the W510. And when it comes to the important measure of "airport weight" or how much the device weighs with a battery and a power supply, the W520 is still significantly lighter. Fully loaded, the W520, as tested, weighed 7 pounds, 15.6 ounces, compared with the W510, which weighed 8 pounds, 11.8 ounces.

The W520 is much more flexible when it comes to processor, memory and hard drive configurations than the previous version. Specialized configurations can shove up to four 8GB DIMMs (dual in-line memory modules) into the W520 for an impressive 32GB total RAM capacity, a figure I expect other mobile workstation makers to match. Users who run applications that can take advantage of processing power on the graphics card can request either an Nvidia Quadro 1000M or 2000M with 96 or 192 CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture) cores. CUDA is a parallel computing architecture developed by Nvidia.

Nearly every subsystem in the W520 is able to reduce its power consumption when not in use. The two important byproducts of this smarter system component use are longer battery life and reduced heat. Prior to this release, the battery in a mobile workstation was primarily used as a UPS and to keep the system alive in hibernation. It is now possible to consider working on modest workloads for hours at a time. Of course, compute-intensive workloads still require wall power when used for sustained periods of time. I was able to use the W520 for an entire workday running performance benchmarks continuously.

Unsurprisingly, the W520 turned in impressive overall performance numbers from the PCMark Vantage benchmark. Running the benchmark (connected to wall power and running in a "performance" power-use profile), the W520 turned in a PCMark score of 9250.