Lenovo ThinkPad W520 (428426M) mobile workstation

Lenovo ThinkPad W520 (428426M) review: A semi-rugged laptop that's designed for professionals

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Lenovo ThinkPad W520 (428426M)
  • Lenovo ThinkPad W520 (428426M)
  • Lenovo ThinkPad W520 (428426M)
  • Lenovo ThinkPad W520 (428426M)
  • Expert Rating

    3.75 / 5

Pros

  • Excellent screen quality
  • Chassis is very sturdy
  • Good performance

Cons

  • Touchpad could be better
  • Lid could be more rugged
  • Only 1-year warranty as standard

Bottom Line

The ThinkPad W520 isn't a typical laptop. It should only be considered if you're a professional in need of a strongly-built and well-performing laptop that can help you get your work done efficiently. It's not perfect, but it has stacks of features and supplies good overall user comfort.

Would you buy this?

Design and features

The ThinkPad W520 is semi-rugged and it feels very solid. It's designed to be immune to vibration, dust and major temperature changes, and its chassis can take a lot of force without bending, even when the side that contains the optical drive is pressed. There is a large vent on the left side and a fan is present to cool the system. It doesn't get overly loud, even under a full load. Metal hinges are used to hold the screen perfectly at the angle you desire, but the screen is the only flimsy part of the notebook. That's not to say that we think it will easily break — it's just that there is plenty of flexibility in its lid and puddles show on the screen when it's stressed.

The keyboard is spill resistant, feels rock-solid and its full-sized keys have almost perfect softness and responsiveness. The keyboard is not of the chiclet variety and all the keys are tightly packed next to each other. They are not backlit, but the customary Lenovo screen-mounted light is present and does a decent job of shining on the keyboard and your hands while you type in darkness. Unlike many other 15.6in laptops on the market, the W520 doesn't have a number pad, which may put off users who are used to crunching numbers with one. The extra space on the chassis is given to two speakers, which provide decent sound quality for video and music work.

There are two navigation devices that can be used on the ThinkPad: a touchpad and a TrackPoint. The touchpad has little bumps on it that feel a little funny at first, but you get used to them after using it for a while. It supports gestures such as two-finger scrolling, pinch zooming, two-finger rotating and three-finger flicking. However, we had some problems with its responsiveness while using it. It often didn't register taps and sometimes two-finger scrolling required a couple of tries before it would work. There is a comprehensive mouse driver where the sensitivity of the pad can be adjusted, but this didn't fix our problem. The TrackPoint is very convenient to use if you're resting the ThinkPad on your lap, and it was very accurate and easy to use in our tests. However, it did sometimes get in the way while typing.

A fingerprint reader is present on the right side of the palm rest and can be used to quickly log in to the system even when it's powered off. This means that a single swipe can boot the system and log you in automatically. The W520 actually boots relatively quickly — we clocked it at 32sec from full off to the time it took to get to the Windows 7 Professional screen.

Around the edges, you get Gigabit Ethernet, a 56Kbps modem, an SD card reader, an ExpressCard/34 slot, a DVD burner, a VGA port, DisplayPort, FireWire and a physical Wi-Fi switch. There are four USB ports, two of which are USB 2.0, and one which also doubles as an eSATA port. You also get Bluetooth and dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi.

Display

We love the ThinkPad's matte screen, which isn't susceptible to reflections. It has a high brightness level and its contrast and colour reproduction are brilliant compared to the majority of notebook screens we've seen to date. It has a native resolution of 1920x1080, which is a little disappointing considering the W510 was available with a 1920x1200 screen — you can never have too much vertical resolution. The viewing angles of the screen are wide; you can sit to the side of this notebook and still see photos and designs clearly and without too much colour shift. Vertical angles are decent. For professional imaging and design applications, the screen can be calibrated by the built-in X-Rite PANTONE sensor in the palm-rest. To calibrate it, you simply start the Color Calibrator application, select the colour profile you desire and close the lid.

Battery life

With a 9-cell, 94 Watt-hour battery sticking out of its spine, the W520 (428426M) weighs over 2.8kg; that's without its huge power brick, which adds to the weight considerably and makes it a chore to lug around. Luckily a slim, 170W power adapter is offered.

The large battery lasted 6hr 07min in our battery rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video. That was using Optimus technology to control the graphics. When we ran the test with the NVIDIA Quadro 1000M as the primary adapter, the same battery test lasted 3hr 20min.

Lenovo ships the ThinkPad W520 with a comprehensive battery utility for customising power profiles. In times when the battery is about to run out and you want to prolong the inevitable as much as possible, you can use the Battery Stretch feature, which disables many features and lowers brightness in order to make the battery last as long as possible.

Conclusion

Overall, the ThinkPad W520 is a beast. Whether it's worth the high asking price is questionable, but if you require a semi-rugged notebook with plenty of speed, then it certainly needs to be considered. It feels solid and comfortable to type on and its screen quality is excellent. That said, we think its lid could stand to be a little more rigid, we wish its screen resolution was a little higher, and we wish its touchpad was better.

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