Review: The Lenovo ThinkPad W520

Tablets won't be replacing all notebooks any time soon, at least as long as companies keep producing notebooks like Lenovo's ThinkPad W520.

The W520 is one of a new breed of performance-workstation notebooks, and arrived at the CRN Test Center lab built with an Intel Core i7, 8 GB of RAM, and pre-loaded with Windows 7 Professional 64-bit. Immediately we knew this was going to be a special notebook when we ran Primate Labs' Geekbench 2.1 benchmarking software on the device. It scored 8700 -- making it the highest performing, industry-standard notebook we had ever tested.

We measured the display at 15.3 inches, with the chassis -- including keyboard, hand rest and soundbars, at a comfortable 14 inches wide. This is no thin-and-light; on our scale it weighed in at 6 pounds, 4.6 ounces.

If you spend a lot of time on lower-performing PCs or tablets, the Lenovo W520 is a nice treat. Its extended lithium-ion battery provided about 6 hours of battery life running the CRN Test Center battery test -- which is to turn off all power-saving features and run a video from the hard drive, with the notebook unplugged, until it shuts off. That means the W520 provides one of the longer battery lives we've seen in notebooks over the past year, even considering its monster performance and hardware specifications.

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Lenovo gets an A-plus for shipping this unit with no pre-loaded bloatware, which meant we didn't have to spend the first 20 minutes uninstalling unwanted security apps or toolbars, or disabling annoyance boxes.

The design is what you'd expect from a ThinkPad, with a few surprises. For starters, the trackpad was designed with ridges or bumps which, Lenovo says, is aimed at providing a distinct feel for the trackpad separate from the rest of the console. That lets you know exactly when your fingers are on the trackpad because it doesn't have the same, slick feel as the rest of the console. That's a nice touch.

Lenovo's integrated Webcam in the W520 is one of the sharpest we've ever seen in a notebook. Given the huge increase in video-calling and video-conferencing usage in many corners of IT, this is a big, big deal. It doesn't provide that tinny, sometimes cheap look that other notebooks can provide when a vendor doesn't pay attention to detail or performance. The soundbars, which are built onto the console on either side of the keyboard, provide sound that is so clear and crisp as to be actually joyful to hear.

This ThinkPad came to us with a 500-GB hard disk drive, which was fine. The W520 provided silent operation and even after several hours of use the temperature of the unit never rose measurably above room temperature. For a PC with this kind of performance, that’s noteworthy engineering.

Street pricing on the Lenovo ThinkPad W520, with 8 GB of RAM, can run about $1,800. That makes it pricy when compared to tablets or lower-end PCs, but the performance, design and engineering make it a solution we can certainly recommend for media creation and many design solutions, as well as those seeking notebooks with longer battery life and, from the looks of it, a longer life cycle.