Replacement ThinkPad – Refurbished T510
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My old T61 died about a month ago (dead video card). Found this one on the Lenovo outlet site and had them shipped nearly two weeks ago. Finally it got here! I think they made a mistake and loaded this with Windows 7 Professional (32 bits). I remember telling them that I wanted 64-bits instead. Will need to get to them and see what does it take to get a CD or something…

Comparing with my older T61, this one is a little (1/3 inches or so) wider and the extended battery is smaller… Hopefully, this will serve me for another 4-5 years.

I love the ThinkPad line because of all of the difference lines of laptops (Dell Latitude, Dell Inspiron, HP, Compaq, Sony, Toshiba) that I tried in the past, their build quality is just horrible when compare with ThinkPad. I am using a Dell Latitude here at work and the keyboard and trackpoint is just FAR INFERIOR to the ThinkPad’s. My Latitude had a dead WiFi, dead radio, dead hard drive and numerous other issues all within the first 18 months that I had it. Horrible! I am on my 3rd Latitude at work and I have been there about 4 years. Oh well, I suppose people are not looking for quality nowadays and just go for the FLASHY stuff (Apple MacBook, which falls apart like a Chinese puzzle at the slightest drop – had that too).

2012-05-11 – 001-006 – HDR
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The Lenovo ThinkPad W520 with the "vacuum breather’s edition" of my Blue Hour Hop vector art wallpaper. I’ve been using a Sager 2090 for the past four years which was for its time a very good business-class gaming laptop based on the Compal IFL90. I needed an updated equivalent that was lighter with a matte screen, so it was easy to go with the W520 and I settled for a nice but boring work laptop. After using it for almost a year I’m happy to say that it wasn’t boring and surprisingly turned out to be a high-end gaming laptop, but more on that later.

After the customized W520 arrived by boat from China (!) and before doing anything fun, I burned out the restoration operating system and applications onto DVDs from the system restore partition – the only other alternative is to pay Lenovo again to ship physical discs. It’s extremely annoying but many laptop companies eliminated discs and printed manuals to cut costs.

This W520 has a Core i7 and a Intel SATA 2 solid state drive installed. Running the same Photomatix and Photoshop workflow on a desktop Core 2 Duo E6400, the W520 reduced computation times by a factor of three to five depending on the operation involved. But this muscle can’t be harnessed without using another monitor.

For this laptop the less expensive 1600×900 matte screen was selected over the1920x1080 one. Both are TFT LCD panels with bright LED backlight. While this W520 has a built-in colorimeter that helped a bit with reining in white balance issues, the 1600×900 TFT panel is adequate only for previewing images because small shifts in the viewing angle changes brightness levels and subsequently image color and tonality. The contrast isn’t spectacular either. It sounds like the TFT panel is terrible and it is for image editing, but it’s fairly average as far as laptop panels go. Reading, spreadsheet jockeying, and movies are all very usable.

For gamers I really recommend upgrading to the Nvidia Quadro 2000M which is roughly a GeForce GTX 460M but with a smaller 128-bit memory bus. Skyrim is smooth on the native resolution with most graphics options on high, shadows low, FSAA on, and no anti-aliasing. Interestingly enough frame rates plummet when lower resolutions are used. DiRT 2 is very playable with most settings at their maximum. I should say more that most people are probably sensitive to frame rates when drifting, but even more so in a simulator like Richard Burns Rally because of the visual cues needed for exact car placement. It was just a tad slower than I would prefer and considering RBR is an older game and should be easy on the GPU, it’s possible that the TFT panel isn’t able to keep up. It’s still good enough to use road edges and other reference objects for car attitude orientation from corner entry to exit, just a little dodgy on the apex with lots of scenery. It’s a little choppy for flight simulators during snap rolls in Falcon 4.0 Allied Force and Google Earth’s flight sim, but mid-air refueling is doable in F4AF. I’m just really bad at it.

One issue that was very apparent when mouse flicking the view during first person view in Skyrim and drifting sideways in Richard Burns Rally was that white colors shift to green. After movement stopped, the colors returned to normal. My immediate suspicions that this was a 6-bit instead of the standard 8-bit panel was confirmed by an AU Optronics Corporation’s product specification sheet.

Other observations:

-Expect 5-6 hours of battery life reading with battery management and just under 3 hours with no management.
-The Optimus Technology will automatically switch between the onboard video and the Quadro depending on the application to conserve battery power but currently isn’t available in Linux.
-Gamers would be better off having a Core i5 or i3 to push down costs and increase battery life.
-For those that use WiFi often, it’s best to upgrade the WiFi card.
-The weight with the power brick while not light at 7.5 lbs. is manageable.
-Physical volume control keys for the anemic speakers are great.
-The arrow keys are slightly too small for comfortable gaming and keyboard backlighting could have been useful, but as seen in the shot the monitor lamp illuminating the keyboard works well enough for most situations.

Some of the most impressive aspects of the W520 came from things that were unexpected.
Lenovo’s driver and application update saves an incredible amount of time and effort and can be accessed from the desktop or a physical button. More impressive was that the solid state drive allowed a boot time of 10-15 seconds from Windows logo to desktop, and even the most mundane applications load and responded with such eager ferocity that it convinced me to migrate to SSD’s on all future desktops for OS and high performance applications.

Despite considering all of its strengths, the W520 wouldn’t be the first choice as a primary computer for most people. The TFT panel for example should be replaced with a high quality 8-bit panel or maybe even an IPS panel for image work. But if what’s needed is a rugged chassis for travel, a great battery life, and a professional old-school IBM look with portable gaming capability then the ThinkPad W520 is highly recommended.

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