Just like last calendar year, Lenovo is ahead of Dell and HP in releasing a workstation equipped with the latest and greatest Intel Core processors and nVidia Kepler professional graphics. Starting at $1,299 on Lenovo.com (which is the same starting price as the W520 when it was introduced), the Lenovo Thinkpad W530 can be configured with processors ranging from the Intel Core i5-3320M to i7-3610QM to the top-end i7-3290XM, supports up to 32GB RAM and 270 nit 95% color gamut FHD display for demanding business customers. The W530 is like the W520 in many ways as a professional workstation laptop.
The Thinkpad W530 under review comes with the following specs:
- Processor: Intel Core i7-3520M (2.9GHz, TurboBoost to 3.6GHz, 4MB L3 cache)
- Graphics: nVidia Quadro K1000M
- Memory: 8GB RAM DDR3-1600MHz
- Display: 15.6” 1600 x 900 resolution, matte finish
- OS: Windows 7 Professional
- Storage: 500GB 7200RPM
- Battery: 6-cell Li-Ion, 57Whr
- Wireless: Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205
- Ports: Gigabit Ethernet, VGA, mini-DisplayPort, powered USB 2.0, USB 2.0, USB 3.0 (x2), combination headphone/microphone jack, ExpressCard slot (34mm), SDHC reader, 1394
- Weight: 5.95lbs (2.7kg)
Let’s just start off with the most obvious change. The new keyboard is the most radical change in the ThinkPad line since…forever, really. Up until now, the ThinkPad series has had the same keyboard style since introduction, with minor changes here and there. Replacing the traditional 7-row ThinkPad keyboard is the island-style 6-row keyboard, found on the whole range of ThinkPad’s, from the 12” X230 all the way up to this 15.6” workstation. Even with the changes, the surface of each key has stayed the same during the transition (1.5cm by 1.5cm for the alphanumeric keys) as well as the spacing between each key (roughly 0.4cm). Other keys, such as Caps Lock, Enter, Shift, Backspace, etc., have stayed the same size as well, though the Caps Lock key no longer has an indicator light. Notable differences include shape changes in the Esc key, Delete key, moving the power button from top-center to top-right, and the lack of a dedicated Menu key. However, the most important changes in key layout are as follows:
- The layout of the “special keys” (Delete, Home, End, PgUp and PgDn) has been dramatically rearranged on the new keyboard
- The dedicated Forward/Back buttons are now gone. These buttons used to be located to the right/left of the Up Arrow key and are now replaced with the PgUp/PgDn keys
- The Print Screen button is now located where the Menu button should be.
- The Scroll Lock and Pause buttons have disappeared, though they have been relegated to near-oblivion in today’s world
And just for change’s sake (as far as I know), Lenovo decided to paint the Enter key black instead of the traditional ThinkPad blue and the Windows key is bigger on the W530 than the W520 (1.5cm squared vs. 1cm squared).
To those coming from an older ThinkPad, the newer keyboards are either something to love or something to hate. The older keyboard in previous generations were renowned for their quality and keyboard feel (certainly, they were one of the best laptop keyboard on the market) and is so popular that it has an almost religious following among ThinkPad users. On the flip side, the newer keyboard has a lot to prove to the ThinkPad community. While the common-used alphanumeric keys have the same area and spacing as the old keyboard and the typing quality on it is above average (compared to other island-style keyboards), Lenovo’s choice to move and kill off some special function keys fly in the face of what most ThinkPad users would want. I love using the Forward/Back buttons while browsing the internet and using Windows Explorer, for example, but with the current and likely future ThinkPad’s killing those buttons off, I will miss being able to navigate with just my right pinkie. The choice to move the Print Screen button to the bottom of the keyboard just baffles me, period. It would have been nice if Lenovo had kept the 7-row layout while designing the new keyboard and if the keys had stayed in pretty much the same positions during the change (for example, “special keys” staying in the top-right, bringing back the Forward/Back buttons), I wouldn’t make too much fuss over the new style even though I personally prefer traditional keyboards. At least the Fn button stays in the bottom-left corner, an odd quirk that’s been featured on ThinkPad’s for as long as I can remember.
Build and Design
Just like the W520 before it, the newer W530 is a tough machine, built well and meant to last. The outside casing of the laptop is made using ABS plastic, while the inside contains an internal rollcage to protect internal electronics in case of a drop or other accident. It also makes the laptop all but impossible to flex (there’s maybe a millimeter or two of flex when twisting the display). There is a keyboard draining system that will protect the laptop in the event of a small liquid spill onto the keyboard as well. Sturdy, metal hinges attach the display to the body of the W530, and they are firm enough to hold any angle they are set up despite any typical vibrations or other movements, and if the W520 is any indicator, they will stay firm for years to come.
As I’ve mentioned in my Thinkpad W520 review, Lenovo’s business laptops are certainly capable of withstanding a few drops onto the floor. Even with repeated drops, having the power brick fall onto the palm rest from several feet above, and traveling with the notebook unprotected in a backpack for just over a year, I’m sure that the W530 will be able to survive prolonged abuse for years to come.
One thing to note about the W530 (and workstation laptops in general) is the power brick. The version with the K1000M GPU comes with the 135W power adaptor and it’s just slightly smaller and lighter than an actual brick of the clay variety, coming in at 6in by 2.5in by 1.4in and 1.83lbs. Those considering buying a W530 with the K2000M will receive the 170W power adaptor (like my W520), which measures 6.5in by 3in by 1.4in and actually weighs less (1.7lbs) oddly enough.
The performance of the ThinkPad W530 of course depends greatly on how you configure it, as noted earlier there’s a wide variation of options available, our configuration is middle of the road so the benchmarks can at least be looked at as an average of the low-end and high-end.
PCMark Vantage Benchmark Results – Higher scores indicate better performance
|Laptop||PCMark Vantage Score|
|Lenovo ThinkPad W530 – Intel Core i7-3520M 2.90GHz , Nvidia K1000M, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD||9,934 PCMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X230 – Intel Core i5-3320M 2.60GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD||7,603 PCMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X220 – Intel Core i5-2410M 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD||5,764 PCMarks|
|SONY VAIO SA – Intel Core i5-2430M, AMD 6750M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD||7,007 PCMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM||6,056 PCMarks|
|Dell Vostro 3450 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30Ghz, 4GB RAM||5,901 PCMarks|
|Dell Inspiron N411z – Intel Core i3-2330m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM||5,285 PCMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T420 – Intel Core i3-2310m 2.1GHz, 2GB RAM||3,204 PCMarks|
PCMark 7 is a more recent benchmarking program but measures the same overall system performance:
|Laptop||PCMark 7 Score|
|Lenovo ThinkPad W530 – Intel Core i7-3520M 2.90GHz , Nvidia K1000M, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD||2,560 PCMarks|
|Lenovo IdeaPad Y580 (Intel Core i7-3610QM, Nvidia GTX 660M, 8GB RAM, 5400RPM HD)||2,622 PCMarks|
|HP dv6t-7000 Quad Edition, Intel Core i7-3610QM, Nvidia GT650M, 7200RPM HD||2,877 PCMarks|
|HP Envy 17-3000, Intel Core i7-2670QM, AMD 7690M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD||2,703 PCMarks|
|Lenovo IdeaPad Y570 – Intel Core i7-2670QM, Nvidia 555M 1GB, 8GB RAM,5400RPM HD||2,573 PCMarks|
|Dell XPS 17 (Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, Nvidia 550m, 6GB RAM, HD 7200RPM)||1,995 PCMarks|
|Sony VAIO SA (Intel Core i5-2430M 2.50GHz, AMD Radeon 6630M, 4GB RAM)||2,002 PCMarks|
For those that are interested in the graphics performance of the Nvidia K1000, we ran both 3DMark Vantage and 3DMark 11 which focus more on graphics performance to measure a score:
3DMark Vantage – Measures 3D graphics performance, higher scores are better
|Lenovo ThinkPad W530 – Intel Core i7-3520M 2.90GHz , Nvidia K1000M, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD||5,218|
|HP dv6t-7000 Quad Edition, Intel Core i7-3610QM, Nvidia GT650M, 7200RPM HD||10,108|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X230 – Intel Core i5-3320M 2.60GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD||3,165|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X220 – Intel Core i5-2410M 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD||1,611|
|Dell XPS 15 (Intel Core i7-2670QM, Nvidia GT 525M 1GB RAM, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD)||4,211|
|HP Envy 17-3000, Intel Core i7-2670QM, AMD 7690M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD||6,970|
|Dell XPS 17 (Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, Nvidia 550m, 6GB RAM, HD 7200RPM)||4,747|
|HP Pavilion dv6t Select Edition – Intel Core i5-2410m, Intel HD 3000 Graphics, 6GB RAM||1,845|
|Lenovo ThinkPad W530 – Intel Core i7-3520M 2.90GHz , Nvidia K1000M, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD||1,213|
|HP dv6t-7000 Quad Edition, Intel Core i7-3610QM, Nvidia GT650M, 7200RPM HD||2,365|
|Lenovo IdeaPad Y480 (Intel Core i7-3610QM, NVIDIA 640M LE, 8GB RAM, 5400RPM HD)||1,333|
|Lenovo IdeaPad Y470p (Intel Core i5-2450m, AMD 7690M, 6GB RAM, 5400RPM HD)||1,339|
|Dell XPS 17 (Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, Nvidia 550m, 6GB RAM, HD 7200RPM)||1,041|
While those benchmark scores above are very respectable, there is of course room for improvement if you make some upgrades to your W530 configuration. For instance, using an SSD or upgrading to a faster K2000M graphics card or Extreme Core i7 Quad Core processor will add a nice jolt.
Comparing the W530 (top) with the W520 (bottom), the port layout has relatively stayed the same. In the front, we have nothing at all except for a latch to unlock the display hooks (which secure the display when not in use).
The back features the power connector and a USB 2.0 which allows a user to charge a device even while the laptop is turned off. An interesting detail I found is that while the plug and port for the W520’s 170W power adaptor is keyed, the W530’s 135W power adaptor is not.
The right side is home to the ExpressCard slot, SDHC card reader, headphone/microphone jack, optical bay, Ethernet port, and a Kensington lock slot.
Most of the ports on either laptop are located on the left. Both have a physical WiFi switch, a 1394 port, two stacked USB 3.0 ports (note that the W530’s USB 3.0 ports are not colored blue), a VGA connector, and some version of DisplayPort. The W530 has a mini DisplayPort connector, whereas the W520 has a full DisplayPort connector. The other big difference between the two is the non-powered USB 2.0 port; Lenovo has decided to rid the Thinkpad of an eSATA port (the W520 had a combination USB 2.0 + eSATA port) in favor of just USB. Maybe people are just not buying and using a lot of eSATA devices?
TrackPoint and Touchpad
The TrackPad on the W530 stays the same as the previous Lenovo workstation; however, the upper-most left- and right-click buttons have had a slight design change from the W520. Whereas the W520’s buttons have a curved recess about the width of the spacebar, the W530’s buttons are shaped differently, blending in with the shape of the keyboard’s recess which makes the buttons feel flat to a user’s fingers. The middle button also has a different design, having a sloped surface that leads up to a set of seven raised blue dots; the W520 has a flat middle key that includes a raised plastic bar with flush blue dots. The bottom set of left- and right-click buttons are mostly the same, though they have decreased in size slightly (1cm by 3.5cm in the W520, 0.7cm by 3.5cm in the W530). Lenovo carried over the TrackPoint from the previous generation of ThinkPads (the W530 comes with the Soft Dome by default), though an end user has the option of buying a pack of additional domes in different styles, including the Classic ThinkPad dome and the Soft Rim dome (similar to the point sticks that Dell and HP use).
While the review unit came with a 900p, 220 nit HD+ display, the W530 is also available with a 768p 220 nit display (which I recommend against; 768p needs to stay in netbooks and bargain-bin laptops, not workstations) and a 1080p, 95% color gamut, 270 nit FHD display. Depending on the configuration options, either the 768p is the default and the 900p is a $50 upgrade, or the 900p is the default; the 1080p display is a $250 option, though after owning a W520 with said display, I highly recommend it if it’s in the budget. Both the W520 and W530 use the same model displays.
With the 1080p display to the left and 900p display to the right, the 50 nit difference shows. Compared to the HD+ display, the FHD appears to be noticeably brighter (though in photos, it shows as being more white-washed, though this is due to the camera and not the displays). Colors on the 95% gamut FHD are also more saturated than the HD+ display, though the HD+ display still has colors that pop out well. Black reproduction on either display is good, with both being very dark. Being TN panels, viewing angles on either is just average, though better than on glossy display found in most consumer laptops. Tilt either screen back far enough (they go just past 180 degrees) and colors turn into shades of black or extremely darker versions.
This is where the W530 makes the W520 look shameful. Owners of the W520 workstation laptop would either have to use an external speaker set, headphones, or have to perform modifications in order to have a laptop that sounds half-way decent. The W520 speakers were low volume (even when at 100%), had no depth, and would sound tinny when playing near 100% and/or playing high-pitch noises.
In contrast, the W530 actually sounds amazing. In my review of the Thinkpad W520, I contrasted the W520 to a Dell XPS 15 with JBL speakers, concluding that the only way to get good sound from a W520 was to use a different sound solution from the internal speakers. However, I feel that the W530 can compete with media center laptops in terms of audio performance, a major plus over the previous generation Lenovo workstation. This is in thanks to different audio drivers (the W520 uses the Conexant 20672 SmartAudio HD drivers, and the W530 uses Realtek High Definition Audio) and Lenovo’s inclusion of Dolby Home Theater v4 software, which I went into detail about in the Ideapad U310 review. In a nutshell, this software includes a few factory-shipped sound profiles and settings appropriate for different usage scenarios, which allow a user to enhance voice quality (in the Movie profile) or to enjoy rich sound when listening to music (in the Music profile and various settings). While the W520 was tinny and lacked bass, the W530 can reproduce sounds from any pitch found in music and gives great bass for a laptop lacking a subwoofer.
Unlike the previous W520, Lenovo’s ThinkPad W530 comes with a bit of bloatware out of the box. Of course, there is the typical trial AV software, Intel WiDi, and Microsoft Office Starter 2010, though this is to be expected in pretty much any laptop bought today. Also included is a trial of Nitro Pro 7, a PDF editing suite, and Corel DVD MovieFactory (Lenovo Edition). Lenovo also includes a cloud storage solution called “Lenovo Cloud Storage by SugarSync”. Skype is also included on the W530 and with the integrated camera, the video coming from the W530 user looks clear and colorful.
Lenovo also includes some excellent software as well. My personal favorite is the Lenovo Power Manager 6, which is like the default Windows power manager on steroids. A user can change system settings (CPU deep sleep, display brightness, ODD power, etc.), idle timers (when to stop the HDD, dimmed display brightness, standby and hibernation), advanced settings (allow/disallow hybrid sleep and wake timers, power management for PCIe, USB, CPU, and system cooling), events and alarms. By default, it comes with six power profiles (Power Source Optimized, Max. Performance, Max. Battery Life, Video Playback, Energy Saver (which actually drains more power than Max. Battery Life, oddly), and Timers off (for when a user wants to use the W530 in a presentation).
The best I can describe Lenovo SimpleTap as being is a Metro-like interface on top of Windows 7; either launching it from the Start menu or the blue ThinkVantage button on the keyboard will activate it, resulting in the traditional Windows desktop being replaced with a Metro-style tile system and a toolbar on the top-right corner. The user can always exit out of this interface by either pressing the Escape key or clicking on the SimpleTap background. The included Thinkpad-branded fingerprint software is also excellent, allowing for a simpler and more secure way to log into Windows; I use it exclusively on my personal W520, though there is a setting to allow a user to log in with a password en lieu of a fingerprint. Last but not least is the ThinkVantage Tools suite, which includes the above ThinkPad applications, plus: Password Vault, Update and Drivers, Airbag Protection (an active protection system for the HDD), Factory Recovery Disks, Messages from Lenovo, Enhanced Backup and Restore, Internet Connections System Health and Diagnostics, and Web Conferencing.
In the case of a fresh Windows install, a user can always download the Thinkpad-branded software from Lenovo’s website. If anything, I recommend keeping the Power Manager software.
Not using Power Manager’s Battery Stretch, the Lenovo Thinkpad W530 was able to last six hours and 46 minutes while having the display brightness set to 5 out of 15 and only using the Intel GPU (Optimus disabled). The 6-cell battery was also able to last five hours and 25 minutes under those same conditions, but also included a 45 minute YouTube video. Using the same settings, but running solely on the K1000M, the W530 manages a battery life of three hours and 52 minutes.
Out of curiosity, I tried installing my W520’s 9-cell battery into the W530, and while it fitted correctly, there were some issues. If a user tries booting with the older battery, the W530 will stop booting and display the following message:
The battery installed is not supported by this system and will not charge. Please replace the battery with the correct Lenovo battery for this system. Press the ESC key to continue.
What that means is that even if the W530 is plugged into its charger, the laptop will still not recharge the battery. This is because the older batteries lack an authentication chip inside of them (found in OEM batteries in the -30 series of Thinkpads). A user can still use an older battery with the system, but will have to find some other means to charge up other than the W530.
If you know how to use a screwdriver, you can upgrade the W530 yourself with aftermarket parts. Lenovo, in a way, even encourages this by publishing their service manuals online. To access RAM slots 3 and 4 and to access the hard drive bay, all that’s needed is to remove the only two doors on the underside of the laptop, three screws total. This ThinkPad ships with a Hitachi Z7K500 500GB 7200RPM hard drive and no RAM in the last two slots (out of a total of four slots, allowing 32GB of RAM maximum).
To gain access to the rest of the components, there are two additional screws located on the bottom that must be undone. One is located right next to the RAM module door (towards the front edge of the laptop) and the other is located within the RAM module area itself. When these are gone, all one needs to do to remove the keyboard is to slide it towards the display, lift from the bottom edge near the trackpad, and carefully move towards the trackpad. First thing I noticed was that the size, shape, and connector is the same for both the W530’s keyboard and W520’s keyboard, so it might be possible to put an traditional ThinkPad keyboard into this Ivy Bridge system. However, there are additional keys on the W520’s keyboard that are not found on the W530 (Screen Lock, Forward/Back keys, etc.) and the BIOS probably would not know how to handle those extra keys. Anyway, Lenovo ships out this particular system with two sticks of generic Samsung memory (4GB each), an Intel 6205 WiFi card, and a slot for either a WWAN card or mSATA SSD (only one can be installed at a time). If an end user must have both, they could install the mSATA SSD and use an ExpressCard 3G cellular data card externally.
Like its predecessor, the W530 is a functional workstation laptop that’s first out of the gate with an array of Ivy Bridge processors to choose from. It can pack up to an Extreme Edition i7-3920XM, nVidia Quadro K2000 GPU, 32GB of RAM, 1080p display, and up to three system drives — mSATA SSD, primary HDD bay, and another drive if you replace the optical bay with an Ultrabay HDD caddy. While not equipped with the more expensive options, our review unit is certainly a great workstation that will serve a professional well in any CUDA-based work (CAD, video or photo editing, graphics design, etc.). The most noticeable change between the W520 and W530 is the keyboard, and for a lot of potential buyers it will be a love it or hate it situation. For those buying into the ThinkPad line for the first time, it may not bother you too much. Those who are long-time ThinkPad users (such as myself) will probably be disappointed in the direction Lenovo has gone with the new design, but ignoring the odd arrangement of non-alphanumeric keys the new ThinkPad keyboard is actually a joy to type on. The curved keys fit well around the fingers, just like the old keyboard, and since the spacing between keys are the same it shouldn’t feel too different for those upgrading to a newer ThinkPad.
If history is any indicator, the ThinkPad W530 should not only be the first Ivy Bridge mobile workstation, but will also be the lightest of the bunch as well (the W520 was 5.95lbs, Dell’s Precision M4600 was around 6lbs, and HP’s Elitebook 8650w started at 6.5lbs). My only objective complaint about the W530 (ignoring the keyboard) is that Lenovo did not introduce an option for users to purchase one with a FirePro professional GPU (Quadro’s competition), found in workstations offered by Dell and HP. For those that do not need CUDA, it would have been a great, cost-effective solution while still staying with the legendary ThinkPad line.
- Business-quality durability
- Multiple storage drive options
- Over 6.5 hours of battery life
- IBM warranty support
- Vastly improved sound quality (compared to the W520)
- No Forward/Back keys, other missing keys
- Cannot use previous-generation Lenovo OEM batteries
Where to Buy