Lenovo ThinkPad W520 – mini review

thinkpad-w520-3High end portable workstations are a special class of computer.  The Lenovo ThinkPad W520 belongs to that class and in many ways sets the bar.  As a daily user of a ThinkPad W510, I was certainly interested in seeing and testing the new W520 to see what improvements were made.

Keep in mind I don’t have a lab with instruments to scientifically measure power draw, consumption, clock speed of the cpu or gpu, etc.  But I do like to put notebooks through their paces with an interesting application mix.  This is why I call it a “mini” review.

W510 owners should stop reading here.  It’s that much better. Really. I’m not kidding.

Executive Summary

The Lenovo ThinkPad W520 is twice as fast as my ThinkPad W510 at certain chores and eclipses it on battery life.  The ThinkPad W520 has superior battery life over the W510 and reaches 6-7 hours of battery life at a moderate screen brightness.  Lenovo continues to provide excellent thermal management cooling in the W520 workstation. See the performance and battery life sections below for more detail.  In short, the ThinkPad W520 with the new Intel Sandy Bridge chipset is a strong improvement to the Lenovo W Series of portable workstations.


The unit I received isn’t the top of the line ThinkPad W520 but it has some of the top tier components. It’s a model 4284-A58.  It has the Intel Core i7-2720QM processor (quad-core, 2.20GHz, 6MB Cache), DDR3 memory controller (up to 1600MHz), Intel Turbo Boost 2.0 (3.30GHz), with Hyper Threading (HT) technology. This particular W520 is loaded with 4x4GB 204-pin SO-DIMM PC3-10600 1333MHz DDR3, non-parity, dual-channel memory. The screen is 15.6" (396mm) FHD (1920x1080) color, anti-glare, LED backlight, 270 nits, 16:9 aspect ratio, 500:1 contrast ratio, 95% Gamut.  The video chipset is NVIDIA® Optimus™ technology, which will auto-switch between discrete and integrated graphics.  The integrated graphics is the Intel HD Graphics 3000 in processor, and the discrete chip is the NVIDIA Quadro® 2000M, PCI Express® x16, with 2GB memory.

The primary drive bay is a full height (9.5mm) 2.5” hard drive bay and will accommodate standard laptop hard drives as well as full size SSD drives.  It’s still bottom access and I don’t like that much.  I prefer side load like the previous generation ThinkPad's. The Ultrabay is still the same as the W510 and is 12.7mm in height. The W520 received included the Seagate Momentus 500GB 7200rpm drive in the primary bay. I tested the W520 with it and the Intel 160GB SSD.

The W520 with the 9-cell battery is slightly lighter than the W510, but only slightly.  The port configuration around the machine is the same as the W510 though they changed the USB 3.0 chipset to another supplier. This did have an impact on flattening the machine and using an external USB 3.0 enclosure.  You must install the USB 3.0 driver before you use those ports. The new USB 3.0 chipset provider is Renesas.  I am not sure what happened to NEC but this is a change from the W510.

The chassis dimensions are 14.68" x 9.65" x 1.29-1.44"; 372.8mm x 245.1mm x 32.8-36.6mm. This is exactly the same as the W510.  The W510 and W520 aren’t massive in size but it is a large 15” notebook computer.  It fits perfectly in the Wenger Synergy backpack which I have been using for the past 5-6 years.  Highly recommended.

Although my W520 didn’t come with a mSATA drive, I have confirmed it is capable of using one in the PCI-E WWAN card slot.  In essence, you can put a tiny Intel Series 310 SSD drive in the slot and use it for OS boot.  This would allow for three drives total in the W520.  Lenovo is promoting RapidDrive for the usage of the mSATA drive but I think OS boot is more interesting.  Although the Sandy Bridge chipset in the ThinkPad W520 has SATA III 6Gbps support, I don’t have the new SATA III SSD drives yet to prove it works.  Sorry, but that’s a big budget line item so it will have to wait for later.  I intend to purchase some Intel Series 510 SSD drives when the price is right.

The model I received has the Intel 6300 WIFI and Intel 82579LM Gigabit Ethernet chipset.

Photo Tour

Front - in this picture and the following shots, I have the ThinkPad T410s on top of the stack, the ThinkPad T410 in the middle and the ThinkPad W520 on the bottom.  There isn’t much to comment on for the frontal view.  Sorry I don’t have the T420 and T420s yet for comparison.  I use Windows 7 lid stickers for my machines so you’ll see that already slapped on the W520.

Right - the W520 ports are positioned exactly like the W510. On the right side you’ll see the memory card slot, 34mm ExpressCard slot with a plastic filler, the 12.7mm high fatty DVD burner in the Ultrabay, and the Ethernet port.  I don’t like the placement of the Ethernet port here.  I would rather have it in the back where the silly modem is, and have a USB port instead like the T410 above it.

Back - the one notable change on the back of the W520 is the power connection port.  It has a new design to accommodate the 170W power supply connector and is different from several generations of ThinkPad's.  You can still use the ThinkPad W510 135W power adaptor with this port.  You cannot however plug the 170W power supply into a W510 or W510 dock.  See the connector close up macro shot below.

Left - the left side of the W520 is no different from the W510.  I will however point your attention to the eSATA port which is a combo port also known as a powered eSATA port.

Open - I believe the W510 and W520 key layouts are the same although I haven’t examined them close up.  I did notice in this picture some of the keys are a slightly different color.  I think this is due to inconsistencies in the manufacturing process for those keys unless it’s actually supposed to be that way.  You wouldn’t normally see the color difference unless you were looking really hard for it.  It just shows from the flash photography.

Thin - I usually take a lot of different shots of a machine from different angles and I thought this picture was interesting because it makes the W520 look thin like the T410s.  It’s an optical illusion.

Power brick top - some people are freaking out about the 170W power supply brick.  It’s rather large and for comparison I have it lined up with the 135W power supply for the W510, and a 90W power supply for the T410.  It’s actually lighter than the 135W brick.  770 grams to 830.  It appears in my testing the 135W brick works fine so if you are short on cubic centimeters you might travel with the 135W.  You cannot use the 90W with the W520.

Power brick side -  here’s another view of the bricks from a different angle.

Power connecter - here’s a close up macro shot of the 170W power connector compared to the connector on the 90W and 135W power supplies.

connectPower Management and Battery Life

I mentioned in the executive summary above that the Lenovo ThinkPad W520 has significantly improved power management and battery life.  It appears from my testing that it’s at least twice as good as the W510.  After some initial testing, I quickly posted some information.  W510 owners everywhere are crying.

Why is battery life important on a portable workstation?  In my opinion, it really shouldn’t matter too much.  Almost everyone one I know that uses a machine in this class probably has a smartphone and a slate device or they will soon.

In the meantime, battery might be important in some situations but this isn’t a machine you’d be lugging from class to class, or meeting to meeting and taking notes on battery.  You could, but it isn’t designed for that.  It’s designed to run high performance workloads and you’d better be plugged into the wall for those. Enough of the lecture already.

For the consultants in the crowd that have a single machine, you’ll be happy to know the battery life is dramatically improved.  In the tests at the blog post link above, this machine appears to get six hours of battery life quite nicely on the configuration I was sent.  That’s pretty darn good and welcome relief for the workstation crowd.

Now you can watch a movie or two on that long flight home.  Assuming of course the guy in front of you hasn’t pushed his seat all the way back.  That’s where the T410s or a slate device will come in handy.

Performance, Gaming and Thermals

I do a considerable amount of work with high definition video. This seemed like the perfect test to see how much of an improvement the Sandy Bridge pipelining and chipset had improved over the W510.  I was shocked at the results. So shocked in fact I ran the tests several times with different drives to verify what I was seeing.

w520 perfFor the encoding tests I used Sony Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 10.  I encoded to a 720p Windows Media Video profile at a 6MB data rate.  This is a rich high definition format and it will tax every system I have including the ThinkPad W520.  The source video is from my Sony high def video camera and I have a variety of subjects.  I decided to use last years Fort Worth Mayfest footage.

The W520 completed the encoding job in 1.5 hours.  The machine did of course kick the fan up on high but wasn’t obnoxiously loud.  I was also pleasantly surprised to learn it didn’t fry the machine either.

In fact, although the machine was warm on the bottom, it wasn’t scorching hot.  You wouldn’t want it on your bare legs, but it wasn’t bad at all.  That’s a real good sign.  During the encoding the four cores and four hyper threads hovered around 72% CPU utilization.  Plenty of head room to do other stuff if this is your only machine.

The W510 completed the same exact encoding job in 3 hours.  You read that correctly.  The W520 was twice as fast as the W510 in all of the encoding jobs.  I even used a variety of drives internal and external to rule out I/O bottlenecks.  Yea, my jaw is still on the floor.

I don’t know yet why the W520 is soo much faster.  I ran these tests six different ways on both machines and every time the W520 sliced through the work in half the time the W510 took.  I checked all of the BIOS, Power management and performance settings three different times to make sure everything was nearly identical except the hardware.  Hardware matters.

After the encoding jobs, I decided to do some testing of the graphics for gaming.  I haven’t really done any PC gaming in a while since we use the XBOX 360 for that type of entertainment.  However, I still have Half-Life 2 Orange Box and it’s a pretty well known entity.  It was either use it or buy a modern game. I took the cheap route and used Orange Box.


I installed Steam and all of the games then cranked up HL2.  I made sure to set the video settings in HL2 to 1920x1080 and all of the shading and stuff on high.  The game performed remarkably well.  I was getting some tearing and artifacts on quick turns and such but it wasn’t laggy or gross.  That was with the BIOS set to NVIDIA Optimus mode.  I changed it to NVIDIA discrete only and tried the game again.  Now we’re talking.  Smooth as glass and no tearing.  I haven’t checked frame rates but they are high.

The W520 does an amazing job of cooling.  It spins the fan up under load and after things simmer down, spins back down.  When the machine is being used under light load, you can use the notebook on your bare skin. It runs nice and cool.  At least mine does.  My W510 also runs cool so they are pretty even on that count.  I’ve seen quite a few W510 reports where that wasn’t the case so I’m hoping Lenovo really has this nailed for the ThinkPad W520.

Virtualization and RemoteFX

Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 installed on the ThinkPad W520 with complete ease.  In fact, some of the nagging little workarounds I’ve been documenting for years have disappeared, finally.  I installed R2 SP1 using the usual boot from VHD techniques documented all over my blog.

For those of you looking at the Lenovo Drivers and Download area, you’ll notice at the time of this review there aren’t many drivers.  Fortunately, everything you need is on the hard drive that came from the Lenovo factory under the SWTOOLS area.  The Ethernet and WIFI adaptors install correctly now with setup.  Everything else is straightforward.

I installed the Hyper-V role and imported several virtual machines and confirmed everything was working as expected.  Boring.  My colleague Robert Larson asked me to look into making sure the W520 would run RemoteFX.  Now there’s something new and interesting to try.

RemoteFX is a fascinating technology that lets you run a thin client machine from your desk, but take advantage of advanced graphics on the Hyper-V server.  There are a number of ways to take advantage of RemoteFX but I decided to try something that would really prove it works.

Hmmm, what 3D application running on the VM would really prove RemoteFX is working?  Aero Glass is already running but you can do that with the right RDP clients so that isn’t good enough proof for me.  I need a game.  Duh.  How about installing Half-Life 2 into the VM and playing it across the wire from another machine on my network?  Muuhaahaa.

hl2 install

Here’s a screen shot of me using the Windows 7 SP1 RDP client and RemoteFX to install the game.  You can clearly see the Aero Glass effects in the RDP session.  All of those graphics are being handled by the GPU in the NVIDIA discrete chipset on the W520, not the machine I am using to run the RDP client.  I was pretty shocked at this point that Steam actually installed and worked.

When I launched HL2, Steam complained about not having the RemoteFX virtual machine emulated 3D card in it’s card database.  I guess I was first.  It let me continue and play the game.  Since I had the RDP client session above set to 720p (1280x720), I ran Half-Life 2 with the same video settings.  HL2 suggested medium shading and such for the settings so I went with that.

Actual gameplay was better than I expected.  I expected this to completely fail but much to my amazement the game actually worked. The mouse control was really erratic and hyper sensitive, but movement forward and back or side to side was pretty decent.  Certainly proof RemoteFX was working properly on the Lenovo ThinkPad W520.  I’ll go back later when I have time and look more closely at framerates native on the W520 and inside the VM.  I am out of time for this week.

The Screen and Multimon

Like the W510, the FHD screen on the W520 is fabulous.  It’s bright and has good contrast. The high Gamut screen has good color support and it’s probably the smart choice for anyone considering a portable workstation.  As with most if not all of the business computers Lenovo makes, it’s a matte screen.  I don’t think I will ever buy a glossy screen laptop.  Well, I haven’t yet.  Anyway, the screen is very nice and I haven’t seen any complaints with it on the W510.

I am unable to run a test I wanted to run.  Although the W520 can be used in the 135W dock designed for the ThinkPad W510, it won’t drive more than two monitors.  You are going to need the 170W powered dock designed specifically for the W520.  So I could not test driving 3-4 external monitors.  I use three on a daily basis and have a fourth I could have used for the test, but until I have the right dock, it isn’t going to happen.


Here’s a picture of what I am talking about.  In the pic above my Lenovo ThinkPad T410s NVIDIA Optimus notebook is driving three Dell LCD panels. That’s a cheap 24” on the left, a new refurb Ultrasharp U2711 27” in the middle, and an aging Ultrasharp 24” on the right.  It’s funny that the middle panel color differences are so pronounced in the pic.  I haven’t calibrated all three together on the T410s and this shows why you should.  Looking at this in person is different.  Your brain calibrates them real time.  More optical tricks.

Because Optimus based machines have two active video chipsets, you can drive up to four external LCD panels with the Lenovo dock.  I think most people won’t need more than three but four is possible.  It’s the very first test I did with the T410s.  Sorry I could not prove it works with the W520.

OS and Software

The ThinkPad W520 I received came with Windows 7 Professional x64.  I was a little surprised to see it show up without SP1 already installed.  Not only that, it isn’t patched to current levels or at least reasonably close levels.  It’s sitting here waiting for me to install 29 important updates. This is pretty inexcusably in my opinion.  Lenovo should really take the time to engineer an image that is more up-to-date than that.  Make sure you update your machine to SP1 as soon as you get it.  Hitting the update button on mine now.

As for the software that is pre-loaded, I give Lenovo a lot of credit for NOT loading the machine will a bunch of software I don’t want. On first boot you will be presented with some promotions for Norton AV, Bing, Office, etc. but you can politely skip those and move right on.

Lenovo has added some interesting programs I haven’t fully tested yet.  Skype is installed and configured to use the dual mic and 720p camera built into the LCD panel bezel.  Lenovo spent a lot of time tuning their new systems to work well with VOIP and other conferencing providers like Microsoft Lync so you road warriors could attend meetings. Lucky you.

In addition you’ll find facial recognition software for security.  I am soo going to test this.  I’m actually thinking of testing that with my Chihuahua Elvis to see if I can use him to unlock the machine.  That should be fun.

Office 2010 Starter is pre-installed and there are options to purchase an upgrade at any time.  Office Start 2010 includes Word and Excel Starter editions.  Pretty clever.  Give you some core features and provide an easy way to upgrade if you so desire.

Biztree Business-in-a-Box is there for installation along with Skype, Norton Internet Security, Windows Live Essentials, Corel WinDVD, Corel Burn.Now, Corel DVD MovieFactory, and a few other miscellaneous programs.

If you intend to use Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 as your primary OS, make sure you save the SWTOOLS directory on drive C:.  You’ll want WinDVD and other apps that don’t come with R2.  I haven’t yet verified the location of WinDVD in the lower level directories but I will.


I didn’t think the Lenovo ThinkPad W520 would be much of an improvement.  It’s the same keyboard, chassis, screen, etc. as the ThinkPad W510.  But the beauty is below the surface and in this case, the Sandy Bridge chipset offers much better performance while managing energy use much more efficiently.

You’ll certainly want to watch for more scientific testing by the professional review blogs and organizations but it sure looks like a super machine for your consideration.  I look forward to seeing how it fairs against the competition in the shootouts.  This is a sweet machine ready to do some hard work.  Let me know if you have any questions.

[UPDATE for 3/29/2011] Lenovo.com just lit up the configuration wizards for the ThinkPad W520.  Here’s a sample configuration and price from the US public buying site.  Man, they have some nice new options.  I’d really like to test the RAID support.  Enjoy.

W520 Sample Config

[Update for 4/3/2011] Todays project was to flatten the Lenovo factory image and install SLED 11 SP1 x86. The install worked well enough though SLED installations are really slow from DVD. GNOME and KDE are both working with the inbox VESA drivers.  I downloaded and installed the NVIDIA accelerated graphics driver from NVIDIA.com without issue.  To be clear, I have the BIOS set to discrete only.  I don’t believe NVIDIA has Optimus drivers for linux. The accelerated drivers appear to be working pretty well at 1920x1080 with 16 million colors.  Menu fades, app movement, and moving graphics objects around on the screen is fluid.  Transparency effects are working.

You also might have noticed I removed my “buy with confidence” remarks from the body of the blog post.  The main reason is due to the outstanding question on the support for SATA III SSD drives.  I don’t know if the W520 supports the SATA III 6GB standard. Hopefully an answer is clarified by Lenovo in the documentation, an official blog post at the http://lenovoblogs.com site, or something soon. Eventually someone will benchmark the machine and provide some insight.  I won’t be in a position to do that for several weeks.

I rather doubt the mSATA slot will be SATA III and I don’t think there are any SATA III mSATA devices anyway. The Intel Series 310 devices are SATA II 3GB speed. So the questions remain for the primary and optional Ultrabay drive interfaces. I supposed this also includes the Lenovo ThinkPad Serial ATA Hard Drive Bay Adaptor III since that is the currently supported hard drive adaptor.  I will be surprised to hear the 43N3412 adaptor is SATA III 6GB capable.

So until the answers emerge, I would suggest making your decision carefully.  I certainly wouldn’t pay a premium for the new 6GB speed SSD drives until you know for sure the system can fully exploit them.  The machine is still a killer machine and if it fully supports 6GB speeds in all three of the possible SSD bays (mSATA slot, primary bay, Ultrabay), then it would certainly move it into the bad ass category of machines. It’s unlikely that all three bays support the 6GB speeds.

[Update for 4/5/2011] Good news.  A number of people out there in the wild have received T420’s, T520’s and W520’s.  Several of them have run SSD tests with the Crucial and Micron drives and are reporting jumps in throughput that would be indicative of a SATA III 6GB speeds in both the primary bay, and ultrabay.  I’ve read this now at http://www.storagereview.com/lenovo_thinkpad_t520_review_first_thoughts and from three or four different people in the various ThinkPad forums.

I’m cautiously optimistic now.  Some of the test results I’ve seen lack detail but at least there are a handful of reports. I’ll feel better when I’ve run my own tests but I thought some of you might be interested.

Here’s a nice infomercial on the ThinkPad W520.  It also covers a few features not normally mentioned in the reviews.  Notice it says battery life increase of 100% over the previous generation.  See, they put that in writing.

[UPDATE for 4/6/2011] A little over a week ago I sent some questions into Lenovo around the drives and storage for the new Sandy Bridge based notebooks.  Here are the questions and the answers I received.

1. Are the supported SATA interface speeds on the new ThinkPad's SATA III 6GB? Specifically, is this true for the T420, T420s, X220, X220t, T520, and W520?

[Lenovo] Yes, The new Huron River ThinkPads will support 6Gb/s, but our current drives that have been certified are only 3GB/s drives. The current roadmap is showing Late 3Q or early 4Q is when we'll qualify 6GB/s drives. This is true for the T420, T420s, X220, X220t, T520, and W520.

2. What SSD drives have been tested and are recommended for the new Sandy Bridge based machines?

[Lenovo]These are all 3.0 Gb/ps.

  1. ThinkPad 160GB Intel X25-M Solid State Drive II - Released
  2. ThinkPad 128 GB SS Drive II - Released
  3. Intel 320 Series - Not Released. Lenovo engineering has completed testing/certification of the Intel 320 Series.

3. What is the hard/ssd drive bay height and size for the new machines?  I need this for the primary bay, and ultrabay for each machine.  I understand some of the bays will only take 7mm height drives so if you provide a table of information on the machines above I would appreciate it.

[Lenovo] Primary bay height for each system: T420, X220-X220T, W520  approx. 10.5 mm. Ultrabay height for each system: T420, X220-X220T approx. 10.5 mm.  W520 Ultrabay is 12.7mm. Machines with 7mm height drives: Yes The X220/ X220T, T420s will only take 7mm drives in their primary drive bay. 

4. Which machines support the mSATA drive in the WWAN mini PCIE slot?  Do all of the machines support this? For the machines that do, is OS boot support supported?

[Lenovo] W520, T420, T420s, X220, X220T. Yes, boot is supported for all of them.

[UPDATE for 4/20/2011] I have confirmed with Lenovo that although the W520 has Optimus, it does not have Hybrid Optimus and thus cannot support four external displays like my T410s (see that test).  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there you have it.  On the bright side, I will test the T420s before too long and see if it really works.

See http://www-307.ibm.com/pc/support/site.wss/document.do?lndocid=MIGR-76617 for the official support document on the Hybrid Optimus technology and supported configurations.

[UPDATE for 9/19/2011] It’s pretty rare for me to come back to update a review or comment six months after I wrote something but it seems there is a facet of this machine I didn’t really test fully back in March.  I still haven’t but I wanted to bring some information to your attention. 

First, you notice in my blog post above I’m pretty wild about the new battery life for the ThinkPad W520.  That’s easily understandable because the battery life from the W510 isn’t nearly as good. 

What you may not know is that the Quad Core CPU is limited to a certain performance level when running on battery power.  The term many people use is “throttled”.  I guess that term works.  Throttling is a well known way to govern something.  Cars and motorcycles have governors to prevent them from going over a certain MPH.  ISP’s and wireless carriers throttle connections when you’ve used a certain amount of data.  In that case of the W520, the CPU is throttled while on battery power.

I haven’t seen an official Lenovo statement on why this is.  Some speculate they are doing this to prolong battery life.  That’s a pretty noble cause, unless you really need max performance on battery power.  I have seen other speculation that it was done due to some engineering challenge with supplying a hungry CPU with power when it is coming solely from battery.  Until Lenovo explains what is going on and why it’ll be open for speculation.

Lenovo appears to be working on the problem. They have already published one BIOS that improves the throttling and I assume they are still working on further improvement. They have their senior Social Media folks and moderators involved in the threads. See Lenovo W Series Forum area.  There is quite a bit of activity in the threads there.

I installed the v1.30 BIOS at the end of last month and can’t really tell much different on my machine with my typical usage models.  I haven’t traveled the past few weeks so I haven’t been running on battery power.  I did do a few quick tests three weeks ago and on my machine the CPU clock speed range is 800-1500 MHz on battery.  I did notice some bugs are still present on sleep/resume so I assume Lenovo is well aware of them and the reason I think they aren’t done with further improvement.

There are couple of other rather large threads at the Lenovo site.  Thankfully I am not seeing any issues like those that are being reported.

Comments (117)
  1. Anon says:

    Here is a similar story

    Mobile processor technology from Intel has taken big leaps forward in recent years and this years new group of processors are perfect examples of innovation. The new second generation Intel Core processors or Intel Sandy Bridge by codename bring to the table for you the laptop buyer improved performance with no major jumps in power consumption so battery life isn’t affected.

    Now that lead in brings us to the upcoming Lenovo ThinkPad W520 business laptop which will take full advantage of the new Intel Sandy Bridge processors. The W520 will offer you access to fast dual-core Intel Core i5 and Core i7 processors and even faster quad-core Intel Core i7 processors.

  2. Radu says:

    Thanks for the review!

    If I understand correctly, the "hack" described in the following thread does not work?


    You cannot even charge the w520 overnight with a 90w (or 90w slim) travel adapter?

  3. Heres Design says:

    Very nice review, considering the fact that it is probably the only one on the web right now. I added a link for this page on my new blog, let me know if you have any issue with that.


  4. tom says:

    do you know when the w520 release date is?

  5. Keith Combs says:

    Radu, there's no way you'd ever catch me messing with the power in that way. What if the machine catches on fire while you are sleeping at night? Sorry, that's too high a risk for me or anyone else.

    No, the 90W charger will not work with the W520.  Get used to the 135W or 170W brick. Sorry. It could be worse. It could be the 230W brick like HP.

  6. Keith Combs says:

    Tom, the rumor is that the machine goes on sale worldwide tomorrow. Let's hope so.

  7. Khaled says:

    Valueable report, thank you.

    Although 8GB_DDR3_SoDIMMs is expensive right now and according to Kingston

    the maximum RAM for the W520 is up to 16GB (using a 64-bit Operating System) not 32GB !!


    Another thing, what do you think the maximum capacity of the Solid_State_Drive can this machine handle, is it up to 160GB ?

  8. Keith Combs says:


    The only limit I am aware of on SSD drives is your bank account. Lenovo would be crazy to impose an artificial limit.  If there is a limit, it's probably 2.2TB. Needless to say there's no use worrying about that anytime soon.

    As for the RAM limits, I'm sure the machine will run with 32GB.  It just hasn't been officially documented because it will be ridiculously expensive to do so for another year.

    Don't take my word for it. Buy some sticks from a retailer or reseller that has a good return policy and give it a whirl. Let me know.

  9. tom says:

    Keith, I may have missed something, but does your w520 have an SSD or not?  

    Also, would you expect much performance difference with the i7-2820QM rather than the i7-2720QM?

  10. Keith Combs says:

    Oops, sorry. I left the drive information out of the specs section. I have added it now and will be adding a small section on the software that came with the machine.

    As for the answer, the Seagate 500GB 7200rpm drive came with the machine.  I have a couple of 2.5" Intel 160GB 2nd generation SSD drives I tested in it.  The SSD drives were tested in the primary bay and the Ultrabay via the hard drive caddy.

    When I get my hands on the the third gen Intel SSD's, I'll run a synthetic benchmark and report some results on the differences.  It's probably going to be a while before that happens unless some kind Intel, OCZ or Crucial rep sends me some evaluation units.

    As for the CPU differences, I really don't know.  Faster. 🙂 

    Seriously though, AnandTech or one of the other pro review sites will likely run some benchmarks to answer that question. If I spot something that seems authoritative enough, I'll link to it.

  11. Peter says:

    Hi Keith,

    thank you for this brilliant review. Like your Blog a lot.

    One question on the W520 review: When you do your comparisons between the W510 and the W520, do you compare to an W510 i7 820 or 720? I checked your W510 reviews and that one you did on an W510 i7 820. Is this the one you compare the W520 to now?

    It would be very kind to get a short feedback on this.

    Thanks so much, Peter

  12. Keith Combs says:

    Thanks for the compliment Peter. You are very observant.

    The initial reviews I did of the W510 back in February and March of 2010 were based on the i7-820QM. However those eval machines were returned. I ordered a work notebook in June 2010 and received it in July.

    The comparison this weekend was against my W510 work notebook. My work W510 has the the Intel® Core™ i7 processor i7-720QM.

  13. Peter says:

    Thank you for the fast answer! Bytheway: Imagine how lucky I was today because of you: Arround noon I put an online-order through for an W510 after reading through many many reviews (inkl. yours from 2010). After ordering it, I came back to your blog again just to reread again what joy I was soon expecting when receiving the W510. 🙂 By accident I came accross your W520 review which was posted just a couple of hours erlier and which is really the only one on the internet. My dealer was fair enough to let me cancel the W510 and let me order the W520, which I will be receiving now in 2 weeks. You can bet I would have been "crying" too, if had missed your review. So in one sentence: You made my day. Thank you sosososo much. 🙂 I know this is a quite personal comment for your blog, but I had to share it with you anyway. (I get very emotional when it comes to ThinkPads…) Best regards from Germany.  

  14. Keith Combs says:

    Brings tears to my eyes. 🙂

    Hope you enjoy your new machine Peter. Come back and comment after you've used it a few days.

    Cheers from Texas!

  15. DavidReller says:

    From the W520 site – "Choose up to 32GB DDR3 RAM…"  So while it may be prohibitively expensive for many to do so right now, it can handle the 32GB talked about. 🙂  But 16GB of RAM would be very doable, I would think, with current RAM prices.  But for me, it'd be a great platform for a home lab, or a work lab, if you can convince your employer that you need one!

  16. Keith Combs says:

    Thanks David. I knew I had read this on more than one occasion but I’ve been busy the past few hours. The page David is referring to is at


    It currently (as of 3/28/2011) states the following:

    Workstation-class performance.

    Think it’s just another laptop? Think again. Designed to outperform standard laptops, the W520 is actually a mobile workstation — lightning-fast, heroically powerful and surprisingly portable. The work starts with the processor
    — from second generation Intel® Core™ i5, up to Core™ i7 quad core™ extreme, to keep your heavy-duty applications running flawlessly and boost your multi-tasking by 20 percent. Supplement that with the NVIDIA® Quadro® 1000M or 2000M graphics card with 2GB
    VRAM, professional-class graphics cards designed for up to 5x faster 3D performance and 8x faster computational simulation. Choose up to 32GB DDR3 RAM and you have one serious workstation — tested and certified by
    leading ISVs for more than 120 applications, including some of the most stringent in the industry.

    That’s good enough for me.

  17. Dan_IT says:

    Hi, Keith,

        Great review, thanks! How do you manage to drive 4 external monitors? I was going to order a W520 with the docking station, but Lenovo states:

    "The ThinkPad Mini Dock Plus Series 3 for Mobile Workstations is small and easy to use, but perfect for advanced needs with five video ports (up to two of which can be used simultaneously with the W520)"

         What do I need for 4 HDMI monitors?

                                                          Regards, Dan

  18. Jason Womack says:

    Excellent review. Just curious, you mentioned in your review of the W510 that you were hoping to install SLED but I do not believe you posted anything about it (if you did get it installed.) Any chance you'll have time to install SLED 11 on the W520?



  19. Keith Combs says:


    See blogs.technet.com/…/driving-four-dell-lcd-panels-with-a-single-lenovo-thinkpad-t410s-optimus-laptop-and-dock.aspx

    That should answer your questions but keep in mind I could not test this with the W520 due to the requirement for the new dock.  I have no doubt it will work but considering I haven't tested it, I can't say for sure.

  20. Keith Combs says:

    Jason, I won't have time to mess with SLED 11 or any other distros until next week at the earliest.

  21. Hi Keith…Thanx a lot lot lot for this review.

    Btw..could u pls mention whether the battery tests done with the SSD or the HDD?

  22. Matt says:

    Im not seeing the option for 32 GB of RAM. Win 7 pro should allow for 194GB so why wont they allow you to config with 32?

    Also, any opinions on  i7-2820QM vs. i7-2920XM?  Intels own comparison chart shows little advantage besides a slightly faster clock but the 2920 actually has a worse Bus/Core ratio and is more of a power drain.  At twice the price, Im thinkin' Ill just stick with the  i7-2920XM i7-2820QM.

    Im gunna go with RAID 1 for the redundancy. So excited about this machine!

  23. Matt says:

    Sorry, should have read the comments first, RAM ? answered.

  24. Todd Taylor says:

    The W520 is now on sale… come and get it!  Thanks for the nice review, Keith.  After reading your review, my wallet popped out of my pocket and clicked the "Buy" button 🙂

  25. mike says:

    Thanks for the review Keith.

    I've been reading that the W510 is noisy as hell. CPU whine etc.

    How is that fixed in the W520? Any "noise"?

    Cheers mate.

  26. Keith Combs says:

    [corrected this comment]
    Akmed, the battery tests were using SSD on the W520 and SSD on the W510.  I looked over my notes and verified the drives present in each machine. I am running another test right now with the HDD in the W520 and graphics set to discrete.

    Matt, I have no idea on the CPU differences.  I have not seen a comparison and benchmark to indicated the ROI as you move up. Regarding the RAM, it’ll probably show up as an option when they think they can actually sell some.

    Mike, I didn’t hear any odd noises. The unit I have seemed perfectly normal.

  27. Matt says:

    btw, seems there is a bug in ordering the W520.  I tried to purchase but when it was fully configured it says "Configuration is invalid".  If I remove the RAID option I can purchase.  Talked to customer service and they are working to resolve. *sigh*

  28. ML49448 says:


    Thank you for your review.  I've called Lenovo to clarify that the laptop does have SATA III support before I order it.  They haven't been able to give me a straight answer.  I came across this post that mentions that it does but you say you haven’t been able to test it because you don't have a SATA III hard drive.  Can you please confirm that the W520 does in fact have SATA III ports?

  29. Keith Combs says:


    There's no way for me to test SATA III support at this time.  The SSD drives needed for the test are expensive and it isn't in my budget right now. Sorry.

    I have asked for a statement from Lenovo on the subject but have not received a response to it yet. I also asked a number of other drive related questions at the same time.  When I have the answers I will update the main body of this blog post, or add another blog post.



  30. dfarrell07 says:

    Thanks for the review Keith. There is very little information about hands-on experiences with the W520, the web needed this contribution desperately. As a long-time Lenovo T61p user, it is also good to get the perspective of a daily W510 user – it is easy to imagine that your experiences will be more founded then another random reviewer.

    Thanks again,


  31. Keith Combs says:

    Thanks. I have used one model or another in every generation since the T60p. My wife had a T43, too.  So I have long term experience with the T43, T60p, T61p, T400, W500, T410, T410s, W510 and now the W520. I have the least amount of time on the W500 but it still amounts to months.

    I was going over this review in my head as I walked around the ports on the machine and realized once again I haven't tested the Firewire IEEE 1394 port.  I will try to do that with my video camera today but I am already time boxed so it may have to wait until Sunday. I doubt there's an issue, but I did have some with the early production W510 eval units I tested in early 2010.

    I need to think of some other CPU intensive tasks other than HD film encoding.  Anyone have some ideas on a workload that will run for a pretty long period of time? I am not doing pro development now so I don't have a huge compile. That would also be an interesting way to test I/O in a real world scenario. I'll check with some dev friends and see what they suggest.

  32. actran says:

    Hi Keith,

    I assume your battery test was done while in OPTIMUS mode.  What if you used the discrete graphics the entire time, what will the battery results be then?

    Thank you,


  33. Keith Combs says:

    Correct, the W520 was using the factory image and default BIOS settings.  Therefore Optimus was used. I haven't yet run the test you are requesting but it's on the list of things to do.

  34. Dan_IT says:

    Thanks for the excellent review Keith! I had been waiting a couple of months to buy my first Thinkpad and had my eye on this one since it was announced. Your review gave me the confidence I needed to go forward and splurge on this beast. I just bought mine this morning with a nearly-identical configuration as the one reviewed (i7-2720QM, Quadro 2000M, FHD display) and will buy more RAM and some SATA III SSDs (maybe C400/M4 as I don't like the 510's price) in the coming weeks. 🙂

  35. Keith Combs says:


    I ran some more tests this evening while doing other chores around the house. The ThinkPad W520 certainly takes a hit when you set the BIOS to NVIDIA 2000M discrete GPU only.  

    Using the 500GB 7200rpm drive, with WIFI enabled, Tweetdeck up and running, and a video running continuously from the drive, I am only seeing 4 hours of battery life. The screen brightness was set at 11 during the entire time.

  36. dtbsz says:

    Great review! Is the screen in these gems really: The screen is 15.6" (396mm) FHD (1920×1080) color, anti-glare, LED backlight, 270 nits, 16:9 aspect ratio, 500:1 contrast ratio, 95% Gamut.

    Like in the w510. The display has been praised a lot and some say it's suitable for photo editing, graphic design. Can you confirm this?


  37. Keith Combs says:


    Yes. Confirmed. The screen is nice. The 1600×900 is decent, too.

    I normally calibrate all of my notebook LCD screens with the Datacolor SpiderElite3.  I recently replaced the Dell 27" on my desktop so I need to go back through and calibrate those screens, the W520 and the T420s when it gets here.

    FYI everyone, I am in all day meetings for the next few days and don't know if I'll have internet access where I'll be.  It might be one of those "lids down" type of sessions so replies might be REALLY delayed until Sunday.

    Please be patient with me as a result.  I'll try to answer questions on breaks, before bed, etc.



  38. dtbsz says:

    Thank you!

    Any opinions on the calibrator that Lenovo offers VS the Spyder?

    Again, great review… and the first decent one if I might add 🙂 How did you get your hands on the W520 before the "big guys"? :))

    Thanks again!

  39. Dan Hathaway says:

    Hello Keith,

    Thanks so much for the review! Your review was really really helpful, especially to a novice like me!

    I have an old T-61 with XP and have been reluctant after a bad Vista experience to go to Windows 7, but I am no ready. Part of my new 'push' is the need for my bible software program Logos 4 (logos.com) wants 512 mb of dedicated graphics to run properly. I was thinking Macbook Pro or a Thinkpad. After reading your review I am definitely thinking W520.

    My question is on RAM. Many of my friends tell me to purchase the minimum from the manufacture and then purchase aftermarket memory and upgrade myself. I think this sounds like something I could do and the pricing is much better. But which manufacture? A comment on Newegg in the reviews suggested the Samsung was the right one, but I really don't want to make a rookie mistake. Can you help me know which manufacture the W520 is using and what you might recommend? Thanks! Blessings on you! Dan

  40. Adam in London says:

    Hey Keith

    Yes, thanks a million for your great review. I found it in the nick of time! Was about to order a W510, but then saw the W520 was out, and thankfully

    your review! It isn’t available in the UK yet, but I’m in NY at the end of the April and will grab it then.

    This question is for everyone and I know the RAM issue has come up already.

    How does this machine support 32 GIG of RAM? on the Intel site as you all know, it states in the specs for all the processors available with the W520

    as only supporting 8GIG of RAM per channel and that they only support 2 2 channels for the processor.

    I’m assuming this is an error or some how Lenovo have worked out a way to get 4 channels onto the system. Can anyone explain this please?

    link here




  41. Keith Combs says:


    There are 4 SoDIMM slots in the quad core versions of the W520.  There are 8GB DDR3 SoDIMMs on the market now. It's a shame Lenovo didn't include this in all of the documentation but they aren't the only machine on the market supporting a config like this. Dell's top Precision Workstation notebook is an example of another machine.

    I think Samsung is the first memory maker to deliver 8GB SoDIMMs to the channel.  I'm sure there will be others and I look forward to the day when a stick costs $100. 🙂

  42. Keith Combs says:


    I usually buy my machines with a single 2GB or 4GB stick. You have to be willing to put that in the cabinet if you intend to fully load the machine later with other memory sticks. I have a memory graveyard of 1 and 2GB sticks.

    The question you should be asking yourself is how much do I need?  If you don't have a burning need to go above 4GB, do you really need a W520? Most people buying this machine need at least 8GB of memory or more.  For example, our consultants run a lot of virtual machines that allocate 2-4GB chunks when the VMs start. 4-5 VMs can consume quite a lot of memory and tax the systems drives as it tries to get enough I/O for products like SQL, Exchange and SharePoint server.

    The good news is the CTO configurator is pretty flexible.  Aftermarket RAM, hard drives, and SSD drives do tend to cost less.  However, I actually saved money when I bought my T410s by buying the Intel 160GB SSD with the system.  

  43. J says:

    How are viewing angles (h & v) for the screen? What about the sound quality that Lenovo is boasting of? Please reply to this.

  44. Mads Skipper says:

    Any chance you have tried running 3Dmark 06? I cant find any indication on how fast the Quadro 2000 is for gaming ( I know this is not its main purpose, but it will be my only machine and I debating if I need a T520 (If they get quadcore)with NVS 4200 (No benchmarks on that either anywhere) or a W520 (With Quadro 1000 as its a lot cheaper)

  45. Kellen says:

    Hi Keith, I just bought a w520 and I am wondering if you could outline what I should do (ou of box) to get it set up.  I've been told to first create a recovery cd.  Also you said to update SP1.  What else should I do?  I have been using my mac for the past 4 years and need to get reacquainted with pc's.  Thanks!

  46. ernestduke@hotmail.com says:

    I really want to buy a W520, and today March 31 is the last day for the 10 percent off March Madness coupon.

    But I have a big sticking point. I don't want it if it will not be fully Sata3 capable!

    Why have the power to go 160 mph throttled to 80?

    I called Lenovo, but they would only tell me it is certified for sata2, wouldnt give me anything definite.

    So if someone can get this definitely answered today, it's important.

    One last comment, I am really disappointed with a 1g:9 screen on the top bar workstation! It should be 1920 by 1200 for far more productivity, once again we are screwed by smaller and smaller screens by the big boys who are making screens only for the purpose of watching movies, not editing them or doing the 95 percent of computer work!

    Finally, I cant understand why Lenovo has not created a true 17 inch laptop as light as the new dell vostro or the macbook pro 17. Using new technology, Lenovo could beat the 6.6 lb weight of those machines.

    People who say weight doesnt matter, don't travel much. As a person who does much video editing around the world, it does matter! I don't want to fool with damned apple when I am windows program man. almost 5 years ago I bought a t42p 1600 x 1200 display at only about 5 lbs. Surely Lenovo could do a 1920 x 1200 17 at less than 6 lbs, and they would have one hell of a sales record for it! Why can't they see that people want everything lighter these days, and there is no technical reason they couldn't compete with size and weight of mabook pro 17.

    Anybody on this forum that knows a Lenovo engineer or planner need to realize the incredible market they are missing!

    That's about it, waiting for the information on the SATA3 controller capability of the w520.

    Best to all,

    Dr. MaxR

  47. Bob Hyatt says:

    Keith, in your test you say that the W510 dock can't drive multiple monitors. Is that more than 2 or more than 1?

    I'm currently using 2 monitors connected via the displayport adapters on the dock with my W510.

    I can stretch to upgrading my W510 to a 520 but having to buy 2 new docks will be a deal-breaker for me.

    Also, have you noticed any perfomance hit using the 135W brick or does the battery just charge more slowly?

  48. audio says:

    Annoyingly the W510 cannot record the internal STEREO MIX / WAVE OUT channel.

    Lenovo indicated that this was done at the hardware level, so no driver fix is possible.

    Does the W520 suffer from the same limitation?

    Or can you seleect STEREO MIX / WAVE OUT under Sound > Recording Devices?

  49. Keith Combs says:

    Bob, my dock will only drive 2 external panels. I have not noticed a perf drop.

  50. Keith Combs says:

    Audio, I wil check Sunday. Offsite in meetings until then.

  51. Aitor Ibarra says:

    Hi Keith,

    Could you give a bit more detail on weight? You say the 170W PSU is 770g – Could you give the weight of the laptop without battery, and the weight of the 9 cell you have? Also, your system has no optical drive and a second hdd instead, right? (that's how I'd want it too).



  52. Perry says:


    Awesome review.  I have it on my Bookmark Bar.  That is priority, Man!

    The tabook.pdf from Lenovo says 3.0 Gb/s for the SATA controller not 6.0.  We know the Sandy Bridge chipset can do SATA III but noone yet has been able to confirm that the Lenovo implementation is SATA II or III.   Pretty fast at any rate but no reason to buy an OCZ Versa 3 Pro if the implementation won't handle it.  Soon we will know.

    Also the Tabook shows "some" models with a 7 mm high HDD bay and "some" with a 9.5mm like yours.  That is another thing we all need to check when our machines arrive before we order the new SSD.  So my Ultrabay Caddy III is on order and my 3 sticks are on order but I am waiting on the SATA speed before ordering the SSD.

    Could we each PayPal you $10 for a SATA III disk to use for a test?  <g>

    Thanks again,  Perry

  53. Keith Combs says:

    That's Perry.  That's really nice but unnecessary.

    I purchased an Intel Series 310 80GB SSD mSATA drive this evening after work. I should receive it next week. I intend to test it in the W520 and T420s (on order). I want to test a couple of things with it. Dual boot with Win7 and R2 will be first.  

    It's still going to be some time before I buy the Intel Series 510 120GB drives I want.  I just can't do it right now.

    I figure by the time I have the drives (3-4 weeks), the 6GB question issue will be old news.

  54. ML49448 says:

    How do you like the touchpad?

  55. Robert says:

    Great review, I have already made my mind up to buy one of these beauties.

    I have one question though – as I've seen, you have chosen an "Intel Centurio Ultimate-N 6300" as a WiFi adapter, and I dont know much about those.

    Is it worth the 40 dollars to upgrade, or is the basic one ok? I'd use the wireless connection pretty much so maybe it'll worth the investment…



  56. Keith Combs says:


    I really don't know much about the difference in the wireless offerings. I was under the impression it has something to do with the number of antennas in use and the standards, and speeds that are supported.

    My T410s has the Intel 6200. The W510 and W520 I have use the Intel 6300.  They both seem to work equally well in all of the settings I've used them in. You might ask that question in one of the ThinkPad forums and see if you can get a more precise answer.  

    There's a strong community at forum.notebookreview.com/lenovo-ibm.

  57. Keith Combs says:


    I don't use the Touchpad much. I almost always use a mouse like the Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 6000.

    When I do need to use it, it seems to work well enough.

    I just like using a mouse better.

  58. Keith Combs says:


    When I select Sound | Recording devices all I see is the Internal Microphone. Could you describe more fully what you are trying to accomplish? Maybe I can make a recommendation.

  59. Keith Combs says:


    I don't have a professional scale so there's no way for me to weigh the machine accurately.

  60. Keith Combs says:


    I finally got around to installing SLED 11 SP1 x86 on the W520. See the update for today in the main body of the blog post. Looks like it runs SLED 11 SP1 x86 pretty well.

    Note: The NVIDIA driver download area didn't specifically list driver support for the Quadro 2000M. I grabbed the latest linux driver package anyway and installed it.  Seems to be working.

  61. ChrisMeyer says:

    The article at http://www.storagereview.com/lenovo_thinkpad_t520_review_first_thoughts

    states that the T520 supports SATA 6.0Gbps(they mea-

    sured). It shouldn't be different on a W520.

  62. Keith Combs says:

    Thanks Chris.  I read that. I will feel more comfortable about the issue when I see other reviewer tests. The storagereview.com folks didn't report test results for the Ultrabay on the T520 so I consider their report incomplete. Maybe incomplete is the wrong word. It's a datapoint but there needs to be additional detail and corroboration before I'll feel comfortable.

    Like I said, this is likely going to be old news in a few weeks but I wanted to make sure early adopters are aware so they are making a fully informed choice.

  63. Max says:

    I have 2 questions.

    1.) where in the bios can i change the nvidia optimus settings?(pls tell me the full way with all steps, i am not so good in computer-things.

    2.) You can not use the two USB 3.0 ports? And if yes, where do i get the drivers for it?? Maybe i didn't understan you right, in this fact i fell very sry.

    Thanks for answer.

  64. Jason says:

    Ken – Thanks so much for taking the time to install SLED 11 SP1 and post the results. A quick question if you don't mind. How was power management with SLED on it?

    Can you close the lid have it sleep and then open the lid and have it resume successfully? I spent quite a bit of time working on this with my HP 8510 and SLED before I got it working smoothly. I know the VESA drive might not be capable of power management but I wasn't expect it to support the 3D effects and it sounds like you got those working.

    Thanks again,


  65. Keith Combs says:

    Sorry Jason. SLED is gone and the factory image is installed again. I didn't test sleep/resume. I just wanted to see if the NVIDIA driver installed cleanly. It does.

  66. Keith Combs says:


    1.) where in the bios can i change the nvidia optimus settings?(pls tell me the full way with all steps, i am not so good in computer-things.

    At power up when you see the Lenovo log, press F1 to get into the BIOS setup. Go to Config. Go to Display. It’s self explanatory on that page.

    2.) You can not use the two USB 3.0 ports? And if yes, where do i get the drivers for it??

    The USB 3.0 drivers come with the original factory image under the C:swtools area or can be downloaded at


    What I meant by my comment is that if you are installing Windows from scratch, you must install those drivers before you can use an external USB 3.0 hard drive enclosure or any other USB device for that matter.

  67. GIRI says:

    Thanks for the review..

    Is this model(W520) having Thinklight to illuminate the key board

  68. locoy@live.com says:

    hello,Keith Combs:

    I am a w520(2QU) user from china,and i receive the machine today,i buy a crucial c300 128G ssd(1.8inch,msata),prepare to mount to w520,but i found it is too big(1.8 inch) that cannot insert into the pci-E slot,how i should do?

  69. Keith Combs says:


    You should return the 1.8" drive. If they company you bought it from doesn't accept returns or won't exchange it for you, then you could sell it I guess.

    Another option might be finding a 1.8" to 2.5" adaptor and using it in the primary or ultrabay drive bays.  But those adaptors are hard to find and I think they are expensive.

    The return seems like the best solutions.  The Intel Series 310 is a mSATA drive form factor.

  70. jan says:

    did you place the 1.8" inside the notebook? It should take 1.8" msata, but inside! It looks for me that you are placing it to the pci-e expansion slot?

  71. Keith Combs says:


    1.8" SSD drives are a completely different form factor and connecter than the mSATA drives.  They are nothing alike.

    To use a 1.8" SSD in any of the new ThinkPad's is going to require and adapter of some type.

  72. Todd Taylor says:

    Giri… yes, the W520 has the "ThinkLight".

  73. Joe says:

    Nice Review. Thanks for that. I have a short question concerning the Linux-installation: How long did the battery last with discrete only graphics?

  74. locoy says:

    I can confirmed that the W520 support SATA 6Gb/s(SATA III) on primary drive bay and ultrabay.

  75. Lora.BiT says:

    Thank you every much for giving me the confidence to buy that a great product.

  76. axel says:

    Hi, is there an increase in boot-up time due to

    EE 2.0 in comparison to the w510 with either SSD or


  77. ibmford says:


    Thank you for the detailed review, it shows you are passionate about what you do(aren't we all?).

    3 quick things;

    1) where's the microphone located, near the keyboard or on top of display next to the camera? Reason I ask; When making skype calls and taking down notes does typing on the keyboard echo through mike (Skye test call to Echo123 would confirm this).

    2) How do the speakers sound on W520? I currently have a MacBookPro and running Windows 7 exclusively, the speakers/sound quality on MBP is outstanding. On W520 the speaker layout(stereo)and profile looks very similar to MBP. I wonder if Thinkpad used the same hardware and retained the audio quality.

    3) Would you be able to post some pics of the laptop.

    I already ordered W520, and it will take 11 days for Lenovo to ship and can't wait that long.

    Thanks for all the detail work.

  78. RitzeB says:

    Can you give us a 3D Mark06 score please?

  79. tom says:

    Hi Keith,  I recently purchased the W520 (it has been shipped!). I bought 12GB Ram (3x4GB) from Crucial.com and had the computer built with just 4GB.  Together I was thinking that would be 16GB, but should I be worried about ram compatibility?  Do I need to buy another 4GB stick from crucial to get to 16GB?  Thanks!

  80. Keith Combs says:

    Sorry RitzeB,

    I cannot publish a 3DMark06 result without purchasing the $490 Professional license.  You'll have to wait for someone else to do that.

  81. Keith Combs says:


    If the Crucial sticks are basically the same as the stick already in the machine, you shouldn't have any problems.  But, the smart way to test this is to make sure you've already gone through 1st boot with the Lenovo memory.  Don't add the other 12GB until you've already verified the machine works properly and things have settled down.  

    In fact, if the single SoDIMM they are shipping with the machine is installed in the easy access slots on the bottom of the machine, it might be a good use of time to test the Crucial sticks one by one in that bay.  Getting under the keyboard is more difficult so you might as well run some tests the easy way first.

  82. Keith Combs says:


    I seriously doubt Lenovo and Apple use the same hardware for the speakers and audio.  I don’t know and I have no way to tell.

    As for the mics, I have not tested them yet.  Maybe I’ll do some calls with Microsoft Lync next week and see how they do.  As for the pics, did you look at the picture tour above?  Between that and the Lenovo gallery at

    you should have more than enough.

    There’s another gallery on Picasa but it is escaping me at the moment.

  83. Keith Combs says:


    The W520 boots faster than the W510. My fully loaded W520 boots to the desktop with active networking in the 26-30 second range.  It shuts down in the 2-5 second range.

  84. Keith Combs says:


    I did not test battery life with linux and have no intention of doing so.  I'll leave that to the linux experts.

  85. marcob says:

    Hey Keith, congrats on this fabulous review.

    I see you guys only talk about discrete only modes, is there anything like an integrated only?

    Could you please provide a wattage as reported by the power manager tool for optimus mode and integrated only if there is such a thing?

    Thank you so much

  86. GIRI says:

    Hi Keith,

    I am planning to buy 4 X 4GB 204-Pin DDR3 SO-DIMM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Memory, will it work with W520 without problem ?


  87. paul says:

    Keith, need to configure a W520 on a budget around $2K…

    Main use will be photography (70%), video (10%), VM and Misc (20%)

    What do you recommend I must get from Lenovo now and what can I add later or live without?

    FHD display a must unless you suggest otherwise.

    BTW any hints (wink, wink) on where to order other than Lenovo.com?

    P.S. Do I need a separate Windows licence for every running VM on the same computer (or laptop license + one extra would suffice)?

  88. paul says:

    Oops, forgot a few things in my first post (above):

    Should get the Color Sensor,  but I would benefit from an external one to calibrate monitors… any idea eactly what's built into the W520 and with which companion software?

    BTW retailers now have pre-configured W520's (too many configs, hard to compare, awkward pricing but most are cheaper than the CTO's) and I noticed they're all with the Centrino 6205 WiFi-WLan card: how does it differ vs the 6300?

    Coming soon after the laptop: do you (and low readers) know who manufactures good non-glossy monitors 20" and up at affordable prices?

    Where can we read about Lenovo's warranty service? Makes sense to buy more years or coverage? Battery?

  89. Jason says:

    Hey Keith, would you mind posting the name of the driver file you downloaded from NVIDIA's web site when you installed SLED 11 on your W520?

    Thanks so much

  90. paul says:

    Hey Keith,

    I see you do not answer my questions but you do those of others (and fast) maybe mine are too mundane for you?

    In any case maybe, just maybe, as a gift for Easter/Passover would you please reply?

    Add to it if possible a mention of what software comes to handle the color sensor?

    And, in a few words, who would buy a T laptop instead of a W series? Differences?

    Hope you'll reconsider and answer as I need to resolve this asap!

    After reading, feel free to edit before posting if you wish to remove my remarks, wink.

  91. Keith Combs says:


    Sorry for the oversight. Here are a few answers:

    1. Color sensor – I use the Spyder3Elite because the sensor doesn't come on our internal standard W510. HueyPRO from Pantone comes with the W510 that has the sensor built-in.

    2. 6205 vs 6300 – it appears the 6300 supports higher speeds.  I really don't know. Check the Intel website and see if they have a compare.

    3. Non glossy monitor 20" and up – if you are looking for a CRT monitor, good luck.  If you are looking for a matte screen LCD panel, see the Dell and HP monitors. I prefer the Dell Ultrasharp LCD panels.

    4. Regarding warranty, I usually buy the 3 or 4 year extension (depot) because I can service the machine myself for most parts. With the EPP discount I get a pretty good deal on warranties so I like having the peace of mind.

    5. The W520 has a more powerful GPU offering than the T520. There is very little difference otherwise. You can trick out a T520 to be nearly identical to the W520.

  92. Greg Brewer says:

    I just received my 170W Dock for the W520 and unfortnatly it looks like it will only support 2 external monitors and the laptop display.  I tried a display port to to dvi adapter, the vga port on the dock and laptop and they all show up on the nvidia display.
     I can enable any two of the ports.  The Lenovo support site seems to indicate this is the case.  Not sure why the T series supports three external monitors but not the W520.


  93. Keith Combs says:


    Make sure you have the BIOS display setting on NVIDIA Optimus.  Should work after that.

  94. Tomas Varil says:

    Nice review Keith. One thing I do not understand is why Lenove do not make some space optimization on keyboard and put a Num pad on keyboard. Its not even on W701 🙁 Can someone tell me a good reason why they do not add numpad? 🙂

  95. Keith Combs says:


    Apparently the W520 will not drive more than 2 external LCD panels from the dock. I have updated the main body of the blog post to reflect this. Sad news indeed.


    I am glad there is no numeric keypad!!!

  96. z54burma@hotmail.com says:

    Great review – made me feel confident I made the right choice.  Thanks!

    Have you (or anyone else – all suggestions are appreciated) developed a strategy, with or without the supplied tools, to backup either the shipped image and/or the fully updated image (after fixes and required drivers and maybe some additional software) so a quick base recovery can be accomplished either to the original disk or as a source for VM images.  I want to create VHD images from my fully-updated base image so I can do what we do with VMs. High-level overview is fine.  Thanks again.

  97. ibmford says:

    Ernest criticism in pursuit of advancing future laptop designs to benefit us all:

    So far I love my new Thinkpad W520, but there are a few things that pinch me in the bottom and I need to share them with the community to help with future design improvements:

    I’ve been looking for a better laptop hardware than a MacBook Pro since boot camp drivers were not perfect. I’ve spent past 3 years comparing many laptops to MBP. While we are all on a budget, money was not an “immediate concern” for the right hardware as I ended up spending around $4000 including various upgrades such as SSD, memory, retail edition of Windows, MS office, etc. I’m not recommending an MBP to anyone especially when there’s finally a laptop (W520) that compares and excels in some areas and it’s more affordable. Thinkpad W520 is at least $900 cheaper than a comparably configured MacBook Pro. Call me crazy, but sometimes I wish W520 was a little more expensive, ouch!

    1) Thinkpad WS series screen aspect ratio should NOT be 16:9 and screen resolution of 1920×1200 should be available. Even if it costs $200-$300 extra, at least give us the choice. I’m missing half inch height from the W520 screen compared to my old MBP, despite W520 has a slightly larger diagonal measurement (15.6 versus 15.4 on MBP) screen height is half inch shorter.

    2) Sound card and speakers are not as good as on a MacBook Pro but overall sound is similar to average laptops (score 3/5). Like most of you, I never cared for sound quality on a laptop until I got spoiled with high fidelity sound on my MBP. Again, please remember this is an honest “self criticism”, so future designs are improved to benefit all of us. Due to faulty sound card drivers on W520 SKYPE calls crashed sporadically. Upgrading Conexant drivers from **.18 to “” seems to have fixed the problems. Built in Microphones should be moved from bottom of the screen to the top of the screen to minimize noise interference from cooling fan, keyboard clicks, and speaker echo. I don’t know why they haven’t thought of this before, is it so hard to THINK? This design flow exists on MBP as well. Active noise cancellation muffles out the voice, and is a compliment but not a substitute for good design such as intelligently choosing the location of the microphones.

    3) 9 cell battery is wiggling; it’s loose and makes click, clack noise as it wobbles. So far, I have not lost power as a result, but it’s concerning nevertheless. The plastic rails (notches) built in at both sides of the laptop case are too thin for the groves on the battery.

    The power adapter of W520 is a brick, seriously, have you looked at the size of that “thing”. It’s 170Watts of monstrosity. Also, in case someone trips over the cord I wish it can be safely and easily disconnected like a MagSafe adapter. Many years ago, I had to fix a power jack that broke on a Toshiba laptop when I tripped over the power cord. It’s a repair performed in urgent desperation as you can’t use your laptop once the battery runs out in a matter of hours.

    Trackpad layout on W520 can be improved, but it has a much better touch sensitivity adjustments and pointer ballistics then the trackpad on MacBook with boot camp drivers. In the end lousy trackpad and lack of USB3.0 on MBP were the primary reasons why I switched to the W520. On W520 track point buttons above trackpad should be eliminated and trackpad should move closer to the keyboard right below the space bar. The buttons of trackpad can be shared with trackpoint. Trackpad surface can be about 10mm larger, but not too large or it will result in accidental palm taps as is the case with MacBooks.

    W520 Screen looks better than MacBook Pro due to higher resolution (about 60% more pixels per square inch on W520). Text and images on W520 looks sharp and smooth similar to the retina display of iPhone. The screen on W520 is also brighter than the one on my 3 year old LED backlit MBP.

    The keyboard on W520 is outstanding, however trackpoint can get in the way while typing. Of course the red dot can be removed easily and then keyboard becomes the best laptop keyboard in the Universe; has an excellent key pitch and lives up the legend of Thinkpad keyboards.

    Think light is a smart touch and it has surpassed my expectations. In comparison a backlit keyboard has some advantages but think light is really nice and out performs backlit keyboards in versatility.

    For my casual daily use and web browsing activities W520 runs cool and quiet and comfortable. 8 virtual cores on the CPU is comparable to a Cadillac’s torquey V8 engine.

    Lastly, with the money saved over an MBP I'm considering of getting OCZ's new vertex 3 240GB drive, but my previous investment on Samsung's 256GB did not live up to its promises. After about 2 years write endurance problems started to take toll on SSD performance. Even read performance took a hit.

    Again, please try to keep in mind that I’m trying to contribute by sharing my troubleshooting, experience and design criteria so the community benefits as a whole, just as I benefited from others contributions.

  98. ibmford says:

    Quick question: I just realized my LCD screen refresh rate is set to 50Hz. Isn't it supposed to be set at 60Hz. Can someone check to confirm. I changed it to 60Hz, would there be any harm setting it at 60Hz.

  99. Bengir says:

    Hi Keith,

    Just wanted to drop you a line to thank you for the time you took in writing this review. I needed a new laptop for work and information on the Lenovo W520 was/is scarce. Your review helped a me a lot in my decision and I ordered my Lenovo W520 last week. Yeah! 🙂

    Not sure if this is bad form or not, if so, please remove the link below. I found another review from Laptopmag published on April 25th. I know some reader may be interested in reading it alongside yours.

    Here is the link: http://www.laptopmag.com/…/lenovo-thinkpad-w520.aspx

    Thanks again!

  100. sethackack@hotmail.com says:

    Question, not really a comment.

    I just received my W520 configured with a pair of 500g drives configured in RAID 1. Great machine!

    I'm trying to wipe the Windows 7 and install Server 2008 R2 via an external Plextor DVD connected via USB. In the early part of Server setup, I receive a message regarding a missing driver. I'm assuming this is the RAID driver required, but the message gives no indication of the driver it is missing. Am I correct in my assumption? If so, what's the best way to get to the driver during clean setup? I have a USB drive with all the Lenovo Recover files.

  101. ctm80 says:

    I'd also like to know your experience with installing Windows Server 2008 R2 on the W520. I would like to do the same – any details on what's involved would be greatly appreciated.

  102. Keith Combs says:

    Installing Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 is similar to doing a clean install of Windows 7 Ultimate x64.  Just make sure you’ve downloaded the latest 64 bit drivers from


  103. mike says:

    Great post. I upgraded to Intel 510 SSD smoothly. the only problem that I have is when I restart from Windows, the thinkpad screen does not go away and system won't boot up. I have to shutdown(hard) every time in order to boot up.

  104. adam says:

    hey ibmford and keith

    i got my W520 about a month ago.

    truly wonderful machine, only I am finding the dual finger scrolling functionality on the track-pad problematic. it seems to work only sometimes or intermittently, basically gets stuck or doesn't work at all sometimes.

    In fact my experience of dual finger scrolling on a mac was far superior (i mention this because of ibmford's comment)

    Are you guys experiencing the same problems?

    I ask because I had an incredibly frustrating call with tech support today and they say there is nothing they can do,

    so I'm wondering if its a fault with the W520 or the thinkpad touch pad technology in general?


  105. Maniruzzaman says:

    I am going to buy this model. By searching I have found that there are two types of key board for this model, One consists of an angular Enter key and other contains rectangular Enter key. Can any one tell me how can I make sure I will get the rectangular Enter key keyboard.



  106. Ed Schreibman says:

    Regarding "Hybrid Optimus technology" and the w520, I have mine attached to 2 1920×1200's and the laptop monitor, but really need 3*1920*1200.  Are there any options out there, either by way of the DOck and a future soft/firmware upgrade, or would I need an external graphics card, and if so, can you recommend one?

  107. Dave says:

    Thanks for that nice review – I'll perhaps buy a W520, too. My T61p ist getting old 🙂

  108. Surendra says:

    1. Is it advised to for Internal RAID or choose optical drive without RAID

    2. I ordered HDD 7200RPM, Can i upgrade to SSD and boot from SSD in future?

  109. Keith Combs says:


    I really don't use the trackpad much. I am a mouse user.


    I believe the keyboard layout is determined by language and locale. The en-us keyboard certainly had the rectangular key.

    @Ed Schreibman

    You might check into the Matro TripleHead2Go product.


    Have you ever used RAID before? I personally have no need for it at this time. Regarding the SSD question, yes, you can purchase a SSD drive later.  You will of course have to install the OS, apps and data either from  scratch (recommended) or from a backup.

  110. beto says:

    Just to clarify and ask, because it has been mentioned in several posts: You are able to run two external Monitors with the W520 over the Dock which is powered by the 135Watts Adapter, right?

  111. Keith Combs says:


    Yes.  Two monitors is the maximum number possible though.

  112. Surendra says:

    Hi Keith,

             I just my laptop yesterday and i installed windows 2008 Sp2 enterprise. I'm having trouble in finding wireless drivers for Windows 2008. I'm using Intel centrino n advanced 6250

    Can you pls help me in getting drivers for that

  113. Keith Combs says:

    @Surendra, have you installed

    After that you need to install the Wireless Feature using the Windows Server 2008 R2 Server Manager.  Most people that are new to R2 don’t know about that part. Wireless isn’t enabled by default for servers.

  114. Surendra says:


                Thanks a lot for quick response. Yup i didn't know that i had to enable wireless lan service.

    Great. Thanks again

  115. Mike J. says:

    Hey Keith,

    I recently got my W520 from Lenovo and you posted that 4 displays can't be simultaneously powered by the Quadro 2000M. I am planning to get 3 Dell Ultraharps to work with my W520, is it possible to power 3 external displays on your W520 when you disable the internal display? I would like to avoid using a Matrox or Displaylink solution if possible. Your answer will greatly help me in making my monitor purchase.

    Thank you for your time.

  116. Keith Combs says:

    Mike J,

    The answer is no. The max number of external monitors is 2.  I have tested this with the 135W and 170W dock.  I have also confirmed this with Lenovo.  See the comments at the bottom of http://www.lenovoblogs.com/yamato where I confirmed this is "by design" on the W520.

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