[Update: 15 March 2011: I finally caved in and got a 13" MacBook Air. I just got it yesterday and am already up and running. I love the low-throw keyboard and massive multitouch touchpad. And the (lack of) weight.
Today, I got rid of the W510. That's all it took -- one day. I haven't used a Mac since 1992, but it is, in fact, pretty easy [though I was perplexed by the extension cord, which like many of Apple's products, is completely non-obvious.] Luckily, I do know Unix and the Mac OS is easy to learn with their online tutorials.
The Air’s hardly a desktop replacement, though I’d probably buy one even if I wanted to run Windows on it. Alternatively, I might consider a MacBook Pro, which a year after Lenovo came out with a machine with roughly similar specs to the W510.]
[Update: 25 September 2010: After six months or so, the machine's developed a serious looseness on the lower right side of the keyboard/case that makes typing on it even worse. It rattles, and I can feel the lower right side of the case moving along with the keys. Typing, I notice it on the whole right side of the keyboard, but it's most pronounced with keys in the lower right. Wah! My favorite part of the IBM Thinkpads was the keyboard.
Does anyone have other suggestions out there for a high-performance notebook with a good keyboard? It's not something most reviewers even mention. At Best Buy, I hated pretty much all the notebook keyboards I tried, but they hardly had a full range, and mostly consumer models.]
I’ve had my Lenovo ThinkPad W510 for a week [update: I've now had it for nearly a month and my opinion hasn't changed]. Long enough to transfer all of my work, install everything I need, and use it for a couple days for work.
My previous machine was a Lenovo ThinkPad Z61P with a Core Duo, 4GB of RAM and a 1920×1200 15.5″ monitor. I’ve had ThinkPads going back to the late 1990s.
Here’s the most info I could find from Lenovo:
- Lenovo: ThinkPad W510 Reference [pdf] (complete lineup of what’s available and in what configurations)
- Lenovo: ThinkPad W510 Repair Manual [pdf]
CPU and Memory
I got the cheapest CPU, an Intel Quad Core Processor i7 720QM. Intel gave it a slow 1.6GHz clock for when all four cores are engaged, but then uses “TurboBoost” to max out at 2.8GHz under less load. The step up to the 820QM at 3GHz max didn’t seem worthwhile, much less the step to the extreme version.
The W510, unlike the T series notebooks, has 4 DIMM slots. I got 8GB of DDR3 memory in 4 DIMMs, but only at 1066MHz. I figure I’ll upgrade to 16GB of DDR3 at 1333MHz when it gets a bit cheaper or when I have a job for which I need 16GB.
MBGB Solid State Drive
I have to say that the SSD isn’t the life-changer I’d been led to believe it would be. It may just be all the over-hype for desktop use.
What it does do is make startup from sleep super-duper fast, as in almost instant. And I have to keep checking that my gzipped tar files really have unpacked. Lots of random file access is way faster.
It’s also startlingly quiet. So the notebook doesn’t thrum any more when in use. Very cool.
I think it’s also more energy efficient than traditional disks, but I’ve only been plugged in w/o a power meter so far.
Why don’t other manufacturers release higher definition monitors in smaller sizes? Apple’s 17″, not to mention HP and Sony’s 18″ plus monsters are just too big. But I want high res in a smaller size, which pretty much leaves me with Lenovo.
I opted for the 15.6″ FHD Display (95% Gamut) with LED Backlight. I didn’t get touch screen, and the option for FHD without touch screen seems to have gone away. They’ve already had supply issues with these machines.
It took some digging to decode FHD into “full HD”, meaning 1920 x 1080 native resolution. I think this is a huge mistake; I want my 1920 x 1200 back. I’m a programmer and I like my vertical buffer space in both the shell and emacs and web docs/PDFs.
The brightness and color balance are nothing short of amazing. From across the room, the screen with an emacs window up reminds me of my white-balanced photo light box. My old ThinkPad screens look green compared to the new one. After working for an hour or two in emacs, I find the incandescents in our house look out of balance. Photos look way better on this screen than on our previous ThinkPad screens and better than on our Samsung 24″ LCD monitors at work. Did I say “amazing” yet?
It’s so bright I can’t leave it on full brightness indoors.
What Lenovo have done to the ThinkPad keyboard is nothing short of criminal. I type really quickly, and I loved the old ThinkPad keyboards. I’m using a ThinkPad USB keyboard on my workstation at work as I type this.
Over the last three ThinkPads (over a period of 6 or so years), the keyboards have just gotten worse. Basically, the keys are longer throw, less definitively clicky, and much much stiffer.
The new keyboard size for escape and delete keys was a good idea; at least they left all the keys I use in the same place as before.
Does anyone know if the T410 and T510 use the same keyboards?
Lenovo — give me my old keyboard back. I’m willing to pay in both US$ and weight!
I tried all the other brands out there, and there’s nothing out there like the old ThinkPad keyboards. And Sony’s and Apple’s are just dreadful (though I like the compact iMac keyboards more than any notebook keyboards out now).
[Update: After a month of use, the keyboard strikes me as even worse than it did on first impressions. I'm consistently dropping keystrokes because the force required is so much greater than my old ThinkPad. Argh!]
The Battery and Power Supply
WTF? There’s a 9-cell battery which sticks out of the back of the machine a good ways and is really heavy. I almost never get stuck relying on battery power, but then I don’t take many long flights any more. What’s annoying is that there’s no 6-cell option, so at least for now, I’m stuck with this unsightly thing.
The 135 watt power supply is enormous and also heavy. It’s more amps than the previous power supply. I have no idea if I could get away with a less powerful one.
Thankfully they’ve kept the same power-supply connector (what they call a “tip”). IBM used to swap them every model so I had to keep buying new secondary power supplies.
I don’t see any lighter model that’s compatible with my machine, which is a real drag.
Useless Built Ins
No, I don’t need a 2MP video camera (though who knows, I may Skype with video now), and I don’t need a fingerprint reader, and I don’t need memory card readers.
I also uninstalled the MS Office trials, but the machine was otherwise free of preinstalled crap.
Windows 7 Pro 64 bit
This machine came with Windows 7 Pro 64-bit version (it was $70 cheaper than “Ultimate”, whatever that is).
I was burned on my dual quad core workstation by not getting Windows Vista Pro (which is required to run two physical cores — I hate crippleware, of which Windows Home is a prime example), this machine came with Windows 7 Pro. Of course, 64 bit.
All I can say is “seventh verse, same as the first”. I’m a Windows user and can’t tell the difference here. But then some of the speed may be the new Windows instead of the new machine.
I put everything back to Windows Classic mode. I just can’t get used to the fat translucent title bars.
I turn off ClearType because I prefer my fonts to be crisp.
I put everything back to normal size (100% zoom), because at 125% zoom, the fonts all look yucky. It’s tiny, but then I can see a lot. As I get older, it’s tougher on my eyes. I wish Windows resized everything more gracefully so I can keep emacs and shell at native res, but crank up icons, windows, menus, etc., to something more manageable without them looking ugly and unbalanced.
But what’s with not letting me resize windows near the bottom of the screen? It just exacerbates the loss of 120 vertical pixels with the “FHD” format. If anyone knows how to turn that off, let me know. [Update: Windows 7 snaps the window to full height if you let it go in this region, which is really useful.]
The Optical Drive
Alas, “Multi Recorder Optical Drive (12.7mm)” did not mean Blu-Ray. You get Blu-Ray at this price on other mainstream computers other than the Apple. C’mon, they’re not that expensive, and I’m paying the premium to Netflix because I love 1080p.
This thing comes with an “NVIDIA Quadro FX 880M Graphics with 1GB DDR3 memory”. I don’t really use it to play 3D games. It seems to have more memory assigned to it — I’ll have to look into that.
I’d probably have preferred a lower-power built-in solution.
Are you kidding me? It was like there was a contest for plain and Lenovo put their entire brain trust behind it.
I kind of like it. It sort of reminds me of something Cayce Pollard, the protagonist of William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition might like.
I actually care more about the subjective performance than the kinds of charts they print in most online computer reviews. Having said that, here’s the “Windows Experience Index” for the machine, with components assessed on a 1.0 to 7.9 scale (I’m not making that range up):
- Processor: 6.9
- Memory: 7.3
- Graphics: 6.4
- Gaming Graphics: 6.4
- Disk: 6.9
Sure, that was two day shipping. Not including the trip from Shanghai via Korea and then the days it took clearing customs in Kentucky. I’m not sure why customs takes so long. Overall, it was torture watching the shipping tracker.
Lenovo’s Call Center
I’d just ordered a T400 a week before the new models came out, and they let me cancel that order, no questions asked and no hassle at all. Their call center is awesome. From the accents, I’d guess it’s in India. It’s one of the best call centers I’ve ever called. I’ve had two interactions with them over the last few years; one to change a complicated order and one to cancel the T400. Both were extremely fast, effective, and clear.