Lenovo ThinkPad W54017 Nov, 2014 By: Art Liddle
Editor's note: This review is part of a Cadalyst Labs Report. Read "Mobile CAD Workstations Priced Under $2,500" to learn how this model compares to the others included in the product roundup.
We last looked at a mobile computer from Lenovo nearly two years ago, when we did a First Look review of the ThinkPad W530. That system was well received and earned a Highly Recommended rating. Lenovo sent an updated version of that model for this roundup.
The Lenovo ThinkPad W540 mobile workstation proved to be the smallest and lightest system in our review. Its 15.6" 3K IPS (in-plane switching) LCD display provides a very high-resolution (2,880 x 1,620) image that is both bright and viewable from a wide angle. Its X-Rite Pantone color calibration process produces more accurate display colors — a feature which might be of particular interest to designers.
Lenovo's ThinkPad W540 offers a small form factor, light weight, crisp display with accurate colors, and good value.
The ThinkPad W540 is housed in a well-crafted case made of a carbon-fiber-plastic composite. It measures 14.8" x 9.8" x 1.3" and weighs a mere 6.1 lbs. This case meets military specs for extreme environmental conditions. The full-sized, spill-proof, island-style keyboard includes a dedicated numeric pad and a new larger touchpad with integrated buttons; clicking the buttons is accomplished by tapping on the pad surface. This is not as easy as it sounds: at first, the pointer scrolled off target as we attempted to click, but in the end we were successfully clicking-away — most of the time. A fingerprint reader is also included; its unique divot-like depression indicates where to start your finger stroke. After using a fingerprint reader on my personal system for more than a year, I consider this a must-have feature.
Lenovo configured our review system with an Intel Core i7-4800MQ processor (6-MB cache) that has four cores and eight threads (virtual processors) running at a clock rate of 2.7–3.7 GHz. Two of its four 204-pin SODIMM sockets for system memory are filled with 8-GB 1,600-MHz DIMMs (16 GB total). The system supports a maximum of 32 GB of memory. There is a single 256-GB solid-state drive (SATA3) for file storage. An 8X DVD+/-RW DVD optical drive fills the only other drive bay on the ThinkPad W540.
For the graphics subsystem, Lenovo chose the NVIDIA Quadro K2100M mobile graphics card (2-GB GDDR5). This midrange adapter — the top graphics choice available for the W540 — supports as many as four displays and a maximum resolution of 3,840 x 2,160.
Connectivity options for the ThinkPad W540, which seem to cover the necessities, include two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports (one powered), a combination headphone/microphone jack, a VGA port, a network port, an Express Card (Smart Card) slot, a four-in-one memory card reader, and a Thunderbolt port. This last port supports the video capabilities of the DisplayPort 1.2 specification (including daisy-chaining monitors), as well as providing a high-speed (twice that of USB 3.0) connection for data transfer. A docking port at the bottom lets you quickly plug into your base at the office (or home).
To gauge system performance, we used a combination of the Cadalyst c2015 benchmark running AutoCAD 2015, and SPECviewperf 11. Per our standards, we enabled hardware acceleration for AutoCAD, turned off the graphics card's vertical sync, and set the screen resolution to 1,280 x 1,024 (32-bit color). Lenovo opted for Microsoft's Windows 7 Professional 64-bit operating system for this review.
The Lenovo ThinkPad W540's Cadalyst c2015 benchmark scores were as follows: total index = 517, 3D graphics index = 1,123, 2D graphics index = 400, disk index = 292, and CPU index = 253. The test results for the SPECviewperf 11 suite of tests, single sample mode only, were as follows: 49.59 for catia-03, 25.24 for ensight-04, 72.31 for lightwave-01, 59.70 for maya-03, 21.37 for proe-05, 52.55 for sw-02, 42.27 for tcvis-02, and 34.05 for snx-01. This makes the average SPECviewperf score 45, giving the ThinkPad W540 a combined score of 562 — earning a B+ for CAD performance.
The last thing we checked was battery performance while running the 1,000-loop option of our c2015 benchmark. The ThinkPad W540 was armed with Lenovo's premium battery option, a 9-cell smart lithium-ion battery. This battery is rated at 100WH — the highest for this review — and it scored top honors for this last test, averaging 200 minutes per battery charge.
The Lenovo ThinkPad W540 mobile workstation, as configured for this review, costs $2,215 through cdw.com (including ground shipping). That's the lowest price for the systems reviewed here; in fact, it's more than $200 cheaper than the next closest competitor. That price includes Lenovo's three-year limited warranty. Returns are not allowed. The ThinkPad W540 offers good price-to-performance value. It's sturdy, but lightweight, and delivers a gorgeous color-corrected display. If you're on a tight budget, this may be the choice for you.