Lenovo ThinkPad W520 (428426M) mobile workstation

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

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

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?

  • Buy now (Selling at 21 stores)

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The Lenovo ThinkPad W520 (428426M) is a 15.6in workstation laptop that's designed for users who want fast performance for graphics, video, design or programming work. It has a typically squarish design and a lot of high-end features — including a 15.6in, Full HD screen and inbuilt colour calibration. It is an expensive investment, but if you need a powerful and well-built laptop with which to make your money then this might not be a hurdle for you.

Specifications and performance

While the ThinkPad W520 is available in different configurations, we looked at the 428426M, which is kitted with a Second Generation Intel Core i7-2620M CPU, a Full HD (1920x1080) LED-backlit screen, NVIDIA Quadro 1000M graphics (with 2GB RAM and Optimus switching technology), 4GB of 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM (it supports up to 16GB) and a 500GB, 3Gbps, 7200rpm hard drive. Initially, this configuration didn't perform well at all in our tests and the machine delivered speeds that were under half what we expected. Changing power profiles didn't make things run quicker, but disabling and re-enabling Optimus graphics seemed to do the trick.

The ThinkPad W520's Core i7-2620M runs at 2.7GHz, and it has two cores and Hyper-Threading. It helped the laptop to a time of 38sec in our Blender 3D test (using four threads) and 46sec in our iTunes MP3 encoding test. Both of these times are slower than the Dell Vostro 3550, which we're comparing here because it uses the same CPU, but this doesn't mean that the W520 is sluggish. It was only 1sec slower than the Dell in Blender and 2sec slower in iTunes. However, the ThinkPad posted a much better time in our video transcoding test. Using AutoGordianKnot, our test DVD file was turned into a 1.45GB Xvid file in only 46min. This is 5min better than what the Dell achieved in the same test.

In our hard drive transfer test, in which we copy 2.12GB worth of 2-50MB files from one location on the hard drive to another, the 7200rpm hard drive recorded a rate of 31.64 megabytes per second. This isn't the fastest rate we've seen from a single 7200rpm, 500GB drive, but anything over 30MBps is generally a good result in this test. The hard drive is mounted in rubber dampers and it's monitored by a motion sensor, which parks the heads when it detects excessive movement. You can order the ThinkPad with a 160GB Intel SSD instead, which will boost the performance of the laptop, eliminate drive noise, as well as slightly reduce its heat and weight — but you'll have to fork over an extra $480. The ThinkPad W250's NVIDIA Quadro 1000M graphics adapter has 2GB of GDDR5 RAM and it recorded a score of 8299 in 3DMark06. This shows that it has plenty of guts when it comes to processing real-time 3D graphics, but it's not designed for gaming. It's designed to accelerate design and graphics applications such as AutoCAD, Photoshop and 3dsMAX. A full list of certified applications can be found on NVIDIA's Web site.

We appeared to have some problems with graphics card's Optimus feature though. When we initially ran our benchmarks with Optimus enabled in the BIOS, all of our benchmarks ran a lot slower than we expected (despite choosing the maximum power profile). As soon as we disabled Optimus and then re-enabled it, the benchmark results were more along the lines of what we expected. You can customise Optimus through the installed NVIDIA driver, and tell it which programs should use the Quadro graphics card and which ones should use integrated graphics.

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