When the rumors of the Intel “Sandy Bridge” chipsets started to surface, I was skeptical. It sounded too good to be true and frankly I started dismissing it as marketing. The claims seemed outrageous.
Then I read one of the first reviews of a Sandy Bridge based machine, the Apple MacBook Pro, detailed by the highly respected AnandTech. The MacBook Pros put in some rather respectable numbers for battery life. I’m thinking, really? A quad core with life beyond three hours?
Sure enough, the Lenovo ThinkPad W520 I am writing this on turned in 6.5 and 7 hours of battery life in my first two tests. I haven’t even turned on the “battery stretch” mode of Lenovo’s Power Manager program, nor have I turned off Aero Glass and all of the bells and whistles of Windows 7. This is double, and in some cases, triple the battery life over the previous generation ThinkPad W510.
You might be thinking that the ThinkPad W520 clearly must be crippled and no longer deserving of the “workstation” designation. Think again. This baby is fast. As you can see in the WEI result below, the W520 is knocking down a respectible WEI number. As the moment I have the BIOS set in discrete GPU only mode. Therefore the graphics number is for the NVIDIA Quadro 2000M side of the Optimus graphics chipset.
How did I conduct my battery tests? Good question. On both of the tests I wanted to simulate realistic activity I might be interested in on a long flight. Usually when I am on an airplane I like to watch a movie or surf the web if there is WIFI available. I fly a lot of American Airlines flights so I use GoGo Inflight Internet. Both of the following tests were with Windows 7 Ultimate x64.
On the first test, I played some videos nonstop. They were Windows Media Video (.WMV) files at various bit rates and screen sizes. The video playback was either fullscreen or in a window. Screen brightness was 11-13. WIFI was on and in use the entire time. I had Tweetdeck running fullscreen during the entire time. Tweetdeck is a really chatty program and I like to use it for this type of test because there’s no way the WIFI device is going to get powered off due to inactivity. This test lasted 6.5 hours. I couldn’t believe it.
For the second test, I recharged the battery overnight. I disabled the WIFI device (Intel 6300) and didn’t use any other programs. Screen brightness was 11-13. Most of the time it was set at 12 or 13. I fired up a movie and let the test run. It lasted 7 hours this time. Obviously this wasn’t a fluke. I’m impressed. Most of the W510 owners I know get 2-3 hours of battery life so 6.5-7 is clearly miraculous. I haven’t even tried the really harsh “battery stretch” modes of the ThinkPad Power Manager.
I will write more detail later on this machine, impressions, and results but I thought you would be interested in the battery life which still has me floored. I would certainly like to see that kind of battery life in my ThinkPad W510.
One other thing. The picture of the ThinkPad W520 at top right in this article was doctored by me. I took the stock W520 image then added a screen shot of my Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 desktop. In the screenshot I have Hyper-V running, the Hyper-V management console, and a R2 SP1 virtual machine running. Windows Server R2 SP1 installed very cleanly on the ThinkPad W520. I also have themes and Aero enabled (just for grins). I’ll provide some notes on R2 installations later.
Looks like another killer offering from the folks at Lenovo. More details coming later. Enjoy.
[UPDATE for 3/25] Someone asked about the power brick. Here’s a comparison of the 90W, 135W and the 170W. Keep in mind the 170W weighs less than the 135W.
[UPDATE for 3/29] Both machines were using Intel 160GB Gen 2 SSD drives in the test runs above. The W520 was in Optimus graphics mode. I am running a test right now where the W520 is using the 500GB Seagate hard drive, and it’s set to discrete only video. After I run this a couple times, I’ll report back. My guess is that it will have a significant impact. More later.
[Update for 3/30] My ThinkPad W520 is getting four hours of battery life when the BIOS is set to use only the NVIDIA 2000M discrete GPU. For these tests I was also using the 500GB 7200rpm Seagate laptop drive to serve up the video. The movie ran continuously during this time. I also had the Intel 6300 WIFI adaptor enabled and Tweetdeck was covering about 66% of the screen. The screen brightness was sitting at 11 during the entire time. This is still pretty darn good considering. Moral of the story: use Optimus when you need to stretch your battery life.
Also, I noticed in the forums people are curious about the use of the 90W adaptor so I ran more tests with it. If the ThinkPad W520 is turned off, the 90W will charge the battery back up. Therefore, you could re-charge the battery at night while you sleep. However, the 90W will not maintain that charge when the machine is powered on an in use so I don’t think it’s a good travel strategy. I don’t have a 65W charger. I used to, but I think it went out the door with one of the children and never came back. As usual.
[UPDATE for 4/11/11] The previous tests were based on the Lenovo factory image. Not long ago I flattened the machine and rebuilt it from scratch using the drivers on lenovo.com. I also decided to see what battery life was like with “Keith’s Max Power Savings”. That’s a custom power plan and profile I created using Lenovo Power Manager and the Power Options Control panel applet. It’s basically my version of a power source optimized environment. Very stingy on battery. Very powerful but not maxed out when plugged in.
The results were better but not earth shattering better. I did two tests that were similar to my previous test. In the first test, the WIFI adaptor is enabled, Tweetdeck is running and updating the entire time, and a video is playing. I noticed in my settings review that the WIFI adaptor wasn’t in the most miserly setting (see below). At the lower setting it might have added 15 minutes of life.
For the video I used an HD 720p sized video with a 3.5MB data rate in .MP4 format. The movie is 2:30 in length and I set it to loop continuously. The machine died on the vine at 6 hours 25 minutes. I have the power plan set so that the critical percentage is 0 and to take no action. It literally runs until it dies.
For the second test, I disabled the WIFI adaptor and didn’t run any apps other than the video. Both tests had the screen brightness set at 10. This test managed to squeak out more time as expected and it died at 7 hours 23 minutes. Both of these tests were using Intel SSD drives as the source for the video file.
Here are some key notes on the settings I am using to achieve these longevity scores.
BIOS - Graphics Device=Optimus, OS detect for NVIDIA Optimus=enabled, Intel SpeedStep mode for Batt=Battery Optimized, Thermal mgmt scheme for batt=Balanced, Optical drive speed=norm, CPU power mgmt=enabled, PCIE power mgmt=enabled,
DC Power Plan Settings - system perf=low, cpu deeper sleep=enabled, fan=balanced, display brightness=10, optical drive power off=enabled, dim display=never, lower display refresh rate=15 minutes, lower to=50Hz, turn off display=never, stop hard disk=30 secs (but irrelevant), standby=never, hibernate=never, pcie link state power mgmt=max power savings, multimedia playing video=optimize power savings, USB selective suspend=enabled, slide show=paused, sys cooling pol=passive, low batt alarm at=0%, notification=none, action=nothing, reserve batt=0%, crit batt alarm=0%, action=nothing.
I have never messed with the minimum and maximum processor state percentages but I might do that on a future run to see if it has an effect. I have not tested “battery stretch” mode either. I’m pretty much done testing battery life. Seems pretty good for a quad core notebook to me. Certainly good enough for my needs.