I recently had the opportunity to take a look at the Lenovo ThinkPad W500 (model 4061-2KU). This machine is really similar to my ThinkPad T61p in many ways, but there are some improvements that have been made in some key areas. Click the image at right for a high resolution image of the ThinkPad W500.
The W500 I received has the “switchable graphics.” What this really means is that is contains two video chipsets and you can swtich back and forth between them. The W500 I tested has the ATI™ Mobility FireGL™ V5700 and the Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD video chipsets. The Intel chipset is used for battery consumption. The ATI chipset is used for high performance graphics.
The W500 I looked at came with the 15.4" (391mm) WUXGA (1920x1200) color, anti-glare, CCFL backlit, 175 nits, 16:10 aspect ratio, 500:1 contrast ratio LCD screen. This particular screen is slightly dimmer than the WSXGA+ T61p’s I have but frankly I end up turning the brightness down on them anyway.
Making a choice between a screen with a native resolution of 1920x1200 and one with a native res of 1680x1050 is a really personal subjective decision. I’m a firm believer that most people would pick the brighter 1680x1050 screen, but you really need to see them side-by-side and make the decision on your own. The screen on the W500 I received also has an integrated webcam (although I did not test it).
The W500 uses DDR3 memory and came configured with two 2GB memory sticks for a total of 4GB. For those of you wanting to upgrade the amount to 8GB, keep in mind that means upgrading the OS to 64bit and finding some 4GB PC3-8500 1066MHz DDR3 204 pin memory sticks. Good luck with that. The good news is that those are the same sticks used by the ThinkPad W700. That’s also the bad news because the allocation of those sticks are going to the W700 Quad bad boys right now.
Lenovo moved the ports around on the machine (as compared to the T61p). A DisplayPort is new for the W500 and like the T61p it includes three USB ports, IEEE 1394, Ethernet, VGA connector, and modem. Oddly, the modem port is now where the T61p USB jacks were. Does anyone still use analog modem? I don’t really get that. I guess if you need a fax it’s there but I can’t remember the last time I used dial-up.
All of the USB ports were moved to the left side of the machine and are now vertical instead of horizontal. This could present some problems for those of you that are using fat USB sticks or cell cards. I am now carrying a USB extender cable for this very reason.
Back to the meat of the machine. The proc is a Intel® Core™ 2 Duo processor T9600 1066MHz system bus 6MB L2 cache processor. In short, it’s fast. Much faster than my lowly T61p T7500. It’ll be interesting to see if Lenovo decides to add one of the mobile Quad Core CPU’s later. I have no idea if they will but considering how well engineered the ThinkPad cooling is you would think they would want to compete in the 15.4” space. For now, if you want a Quad, you’ll have to step up to the big brother W700.
Case, Keyboard and Power
The W500 case construction is rock solid like the T61p and as usual, the keyboard rocks. For those of you that want the CTRL key where the FN key is, sorry, Lenovo is still doing their lone wolf thing. As I understand it, this mostly affects developers that use the CTRL key a lot. As you might expect, the W500 weighs about the same as the T61p. All of my T61p’s have the 9 cell bateries but considering how little I use battery power, I’ll probably replace them with 6 cells and reduce the weight some.
A lot of emphasis has been placed on green computing with this machine and there are all sorts of power management profiles and “battery stretch” capabilities. I haven’t really had a chance to test how long I could really run on battery power but they advertise 9 hours with the 9 cell battery. If that’s true, you could fly from Dallas to Hawaii on battery power. Now I’m guessing that life doesn’t include DVD playback, but it sounds like you’ll have plenty of email checking juice when using the proper profiles.
As expected, the machine arrived with Windows Vista Business x86. I created the factory disk set and tested that the disks would put the machine back to factory shipped specs. You should be aware that the factory config will partition your drive into three partitions for recovery and rollback purposes.
I flattened the machine and tested that Windows Server 2008 x64 would install and run Hyper-V. It does. I had a bit of an issue getting the Ethernet driver to load for Windows Server 2008, but I managed to force it. I reported this to Lenovo and asked our internal team to look at it and see if they can improve that a bit.
I also flattened it again and installed Windows Vista Enterprise x64 with all of the drivers and software. The goal was to install Vista from scratch and install the drivers and software to see if there were any gotchas. I didn’t see any but my testing was pretty brief. I was mostly interested in making sure the networking worked, video switching worked, power management worked, etc. Like I said, I didn’t spot any glaring issues on the core stuff but I didn’t test over a long term.
I did not test Windows XP or any Linux variants like Novel SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop. Sorry, I just didn’t have the time for this round of testing and I need to get this machine in the hands of some other folks.
If you are looking for a new machine and were worried about the replacement for the T61p, there’s no need to worry. As expected the Lenovo ThinkPad W500 is a rock solid machine and will be a contender in the corporate laptop market. It comes with an impressive set of credentials and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the W500 for several years. Buy with confidence.