Technical Creativity in a Single Package

5 Nov, 2008 By: Jeffrey Rowe

Lenovo ThinkPad W700 workstation will appeal to technical — as well as creative — users.

Lenovo ThinkPad W700
High-End Mobile Workstation
Pros: Integrated Wacom digitizing pad and stylus; color calibration; optional Flash SSDs.

Cons: A bit big and bulky to transport, but this is a true mobile workstation with performance to match.

Price: $2,500-$5,000+


I don't often get a chance to review mobile workstations, but when Lenovo offered up the ThinkPad W700, I jumped at the opportunity — primarily for some of the novel features it has, but more about those later. I'm an MCAD guy, as well as an amateur photographer still learning Photoshop, and on paper the W700 seemed it would be suitable for both tasks, regardless of which hat I was wearing. Because of time constraints, I was able to test only one MCAD application, Inventor LT 2008, and Microsoft Photo Gallery for photographs. However, these applications provided me with a glimpse of what the experience might be for their respective bigger counterparts, Inventor Professional and Photoshop. I also ran a series of simple benchmarks from the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC), which I'll briefly discuss.

Opening the Box and Getting Started
Upon the ThinkPad W700's arrival, I unboxed it and was immediately taken with the size and heft of the unit. Weighing in at more than eight pounds (not including the AC power adapter), and having a closed size measuring 16.1" x 12.2" x 1.6", the W700 is classified as a mobile workstation, but with those physical attributes, it's more workstation than mobile.

The evaluation unit came loaded with Windows Vista Ultimate 64 (although other operating system options are available), an Intel Core 2 Extreme Q9300 @ 2.53 GHz CPU, and 4 GB RAM (up to 8 GB are available). Enhanced graphics capabilities were provided by an NVIDIA Quadro FX 3700M, a recently introduced GPU developed specifically for high-end mobile workstations. With 1 GB memory, it provided excellent image quality and optimized visual computing application performance, complementing the overall W700 package.

The keyboard is a very generous size with a separate dedicated numeric keypad and plenty of room to rest your wrists. Because the keyboard does have such a large span, it is a little flexible in the upper right-hand corner, but not bad. Overall, the build quality is excellent. Admittedly, one of the key selling points for the W700 will be its 17", high-end display with 1920 x 1200 (WUXGA) resolution. For those of us who must peer at a computer screen all day, the W700 display's resolution and brightness offers welcome relief.

One of the unique features of the ThinkPad W700 is the integrated Wacom digitizer pad and pen.

Keeping in mind the sheer size and capabilities of this machine, I suspected battery life for the W700 would not be too impressive. However, while performing some basic computer operations (including Web browsing, photo editing, and part creation and manipulation with Inventor LT), I was able to get a little more than two hours of life before I was warned to plug the W700 in for recharging. All in all, not too bad a time away from an outlet for a machine of this size and performance level.

Also, even when the benchmark tests were being run, the W700 never got much warmer than the ambient room temperature in my office.

Color Calibration and Digitizing
For many creative types of work, true color rendition is very important, and to ensure this the W700 has a Pantone color sensor built into the palm rest. The color calibration/correction is performed with the LCD lid closed using an application called HueyPRO. During the calibration, auditory feedback is provided on the status of the procedure. When the procedure is complete, you can display the before/after effect of the calibration for comparison. This procedure takes a fraction of the time of external calibrators, although the features it offers are somewhat limited compared with some other calibration tools. It does the job, however.

As far as I know, the W700 is the first mobile computer to integrate a stylus-activated Wacom digitizer into the wrist/palm support. Although the stylus does not work on the display screen, it works very well on the 3" x 5" pad on the bottom right side of the keyboard, a placement that may prove awkward for left-handed users. The built-in digitizing pad may have more appeal to creative types, such as photographers or graphic designers, and eliminates having to lug an additional external input device. MCAD users could also make good use of the digitizer, as well. The digitizer can be configured to the entire screen, or a user-defined area, which is a handy capability depending on your needs.

As expensive as some of the other options for the W700 are, the color calibration and digitizing options combined add just $150 to the total cost of the unit.

Although the ThinkPad W700 is relatively new, it has been certified by several MCAD ISVs, including Autodesk (AutoCAD), Dassault Systemes (CATIA and SolidWorks), PTC (Pro/ENGINEER), and Siemens PLM Software (NX). I ran a fundamental SPEC benchmark suite (SPECviewperf 10) on the W700. The benchmarking software provides performance measurement for full-scene antialiasing and multithreading for evaluating higher-quality imaging and multicore systems. It also measures how effectively graphics subsystems scale when running multithreaded graphics content. The numbers below compare very favorably with competing conventional and mobile workstations from companies such as Dell and HP that are listed on the SPEC website:

SPECviewperf 10Test Results

The starting price of the ThinkPad W700 is $2,500, and the price of the system I evaluated was $4,994. The price of the higher-end units, configured with options, may cause some prospective customers to think carefully about the purchase, but this is a true mobile workstation that could find a home for users ranging from MCAD to digital content creation (DCC) designers, and just about anyone in between who considers himself "technically creative." An interesting option for the W700 is 64 GB solid-state drives (SSDs) instead of rotating hard drives. However, at $1,100 each, justifying them might be a tough sell.

For the past few years, several laptop computers have been touted as "desktop replacements." The ThinkPad W700 is an example of the next emerging phase, "workstation replacements," and it represents this new class very well.

Related Content:
Cadalyst Software & Hardware Reviews, Graphics Cards, MCAD.

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