Lenovo ThinkPad W500 review

4 Feb 2009

A super-fast workstation laptop with a great screen - but it's only worth buying if you need the ISV certification.

Price when reviewed: 
1,400(£1,403 inc VAT)
5

Lenovo has been prolific of late producing, like a stage magician, a seemingly endless string of laptops from its copious pockets. Last month we had the company's first netbook - the IdeaPad S10e - and the excellent, low-cost ThinkPad SL500, and before that we had the rather more swanky 15in T500 with its high resolution 1,680 x 1,080 screen and switchable dual graphics.

Now it's the turn of the W500, which to look at is as inseperable from the T500 as an identical twin. Both bear the same dimensions at 356 x 255 x 35mm, both weigh almost exactly the same - to within a few grammes - and both have precisely the same chassis.

That's no bad thing, of course. As with the excellent T500, the W500 boasts a typically high quality keyboard, with positive key travel and plenty of space to spread out your fingers. The mouse controls are just as good, with the traditional red Lenovo trackpoint set into the centre of the keyboard and a roomy, accurate trackpad below it.

Build quality is as good as you'd expect from a Lenovo laptop. The screen hinges feel as solid and smooth as those on a bank vault door. The screen backing is stiff and sturdy and feels as if it would take plenty of abuse. And the rest of the chassis is just as stubbornly robust - high-quality plastics abound, from the soft-touch rubbery feel of the lid to the tough, scratch-resistant matte plastic of the wristrest and keyboard surround.

So far so similar - the same comments could just as easily apply to the T500, but the latter comes in at around £300 cheaper than the W500. So where's the extra money been spent? The first and most noticeable area for improvement is the screen. And though the T500's was very good, the W500's is simply superb. Its resolution is even higher - a super-crisp 1,920 x 1,200 - which means acres of desktop space to spread your application windows around.

The quality is very good too: in side-by-side comparisons with the T500's display, the W500's screen is of a similar brightness - so not as eye-popping as on the Sony VAIO VGN-Z21M/NB - but colours have less of a red push and are a little more realistic as a result. Backlight bleed is all but non-existent and viewing angles are good too. Unlike some laptops, you don't have to keep repositioning the screen to get the best performance.

Since the W series is intended to represent the pinnacle of Lenovo's workstation range of laptops, performance is top drawer as well. The W500 is equipped with a 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9400, 2GB of RAM, ATI's Mobility Radeon FireGL V5700 512MB graphics and a 7,200rpm 200GB hard disk. The hard disk is disappointingly small for a workstation machine, but the performance is anything but: the W500 scored a scorching 1.34 in our application-based benchmarks - a score that's right up there with the fastest laptops we've ever tested.

What's possibly of more interest than the blistering performance, or even that gorgeous screen, is the ATI Mobility FireGL V5700's ISV certification. This label, though common in desktop workstations, is unusual in a laptop.

It essentially means the W500 has gone through a series of tests to ensure it works smoothly with a list of demanding, professional software. Titles such as AutoCAD, Solidworks, Catia and 3ds Max make up part of a long list of applications. Another feature aimed at graphics professionals is DisplayPort output.

Despite its workstation credentials and 2.78kg heft, though, taking the W500 out on the road is far from an impractical proposition. As well as an integrated 3.5G modem (locked to Vodafone) it's equipped with dual graphics - the ATI chipset for deskbound use and Intel's integrated GMA 4500MHD chipset for use on the move.

Details

Price ex VAT £1,217
Price inc VAT £1,400
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 3
Performance 6

Warranty

Warranty 3 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions 356 x 255 x 35mm (WDH)
Weight 2.780kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo T9400
Motherboard chipset Intel P45
RAM capacity 2.00GB
Memory type DDR3

Screen and video

Screen size 15.4in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,920
Resolution screen vertical 1,200
Resolution 1920 x 1200
Graphics chipset ATi Mobility FireGL V5700
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
HDMI outputs 0
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 1

Drives

Capacity 200GB
Internal disk interface SATA
Optical disc technology DVD writer
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter yes

Other Features

Wireless key-combination switch yes
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 1
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 3
FireWire ports 1
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 3
SD card reader no
Memory Stick reader no
MMC (multimedia card) reader no
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad, trackpoint
Speaker location Above keyboard
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
TPM yes
Fingerprint reader yes

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 4hr 2min
Battery life, heavy use 1hr 19min
Overall application benchmark score 1.34
Office application benchmark score 1.46
2D graphics application benchmark score 1.35
Encoding application benchmark score 1.16
Multitasking application benchmark score ERROR: Script can't be evaluated

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows Vista Ultimate
OS family Windows Vista