What's Hiding Behind That ThinkPad Screen?

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With notebook computers getting smaller, and the popularity of netbooks soaring, last year's ThinkPad W700 from Lenovo was a somewhat counterintuitive marketing move. At approximately nine pounds, the company's first 17-inch screen computer is a little too big to be called a laptop. In fact, it's publicized as a mobile workstation.

Now, less than six months later, a new model called the W700ds is making its debut. Pretty much the same system, the W700ds has a full-size keyboard and number pad, both worthy of the ThinkPad name. The little red "eraserhead" is there too, as well as a small touchpad and all the associated mouse-click buttons.

The first clue that this is not your typical laptop is how Lenovo chose to fill the excess real estate to the right of the touchpad. Built into the palm rest are a 128 x 80 mm Wacom digitizer and a color calibrator. The calibrator automatically adjusts the display's color for true Pantone color. The company's literature claims that it works in half the time of external calibrators. In testing, the calibrator was extraordinarily easy to use. After launching the program, reviewers simply closed the notebook and the unit took care of the rest. Various sound effects let us know that calibration was in progress and, when we heard the three beeps that the application warned us to listen for, we knew the process was complete. Upon opening the cover again, the program displayed a color test pattern and photo with buttons allowing us to see the before and after settings.

Our Windows Vista Business-based review unit came configured with an Intel Core 2 Quad Core Extreme QX9300 running at 2.53GHz, 4 GB of RAM, a 320-GB HDD and Nvidia Quadro FX 3700M graphics. Using Primate Labs' Geekbench2 benchmarking software, the system scored a 4,537, higher than many desktops.

Unfortunately, battery life took a hit from this powerful performance. With all battery-saving features turned off, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios on, we did our standard test of playing a Windows Media video in repeat mode. The unit lasted a little more than an hour before the battery died. Tests with the radios turned off doubled that time to just more than two hours. Charging a dead battery back to 100 percent also took a bit more than two hours.

By now we should point out what separates the W700ds from its predecessor (which is still available).

In the model number, the suffix "ds" stands for dual-screen, which also explains what's new on the unit. Tucked away behind the 17-inch display is a second, 10.6-inch screen that springs out when slight pressure is applied. This display is seen by Windows as a second monitor and can be configured as such. When set to extend the desktop, the smaller screen expands the display area by 39 percent.

Although at first it doesn't appear as much of an extension, in use the additional screen proved to be quite useful. We especially liked the fact that when a window is dragged over to the right and maximized, it opens to take up the full shape of the second display. Depending on the application, this could help productivity, especially when using administration consoles or referring to specifications.

As configured, our evaluation unit sells for just more than $5,100, which ensures its place in a class of its own.

While not for the casual consumer, the W700ds will definitely serve a niche of specialized users who require the power and functionality of a desktop workstation in a relatively portable package.

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