According to IDC, the compound annual growth rate for the worldwide mobile workstation market has been more than 60% per year since 2002. The ThinkPad W700 extends Lenovo’s commitment to workstation users, complementing the company’s ThinkPad W500 laptop and ThinkStation S10 and D10 workstations. As workers in fields such as digital content creation, computer-aided design and manufacturing, digital photography and science fields become increasingly mobile, they are demanding the full-featured performance of a desktop workstation in a mobile device. You just can’t please some people!

Lenovo is making a serious splash into the mobile workstation market with the ThinkPad W700, the company’s first 17-inch laptop that can also be configured with two industry-first technologies – an integrated Wacom digitiser and a Pantone colour calibration system. You might think these are unnecessary features that bump the price of the machine, but you have to remember that the ThinkPad W700 (from £1668) is aimed at graphics and design professionals who need accurate colour reproduction and the added benefits that a digitiser brings. The machine isn’t just about gadgets – it has serious processing power under the hood thanks to Intel’s quad-core Extreme processors and nVidia’s Quadro FX mobile graphics. There’s a whole heap of other cool stuff too.

The wholly-black ThinkPad W700 (410×310×41mm, 3.76kg) is an amazing piece of engineering and offers the mobile workstation market some much-needed innovation. The downside is that the machine looks butt ugly – come on Lenovo you still design computers like it’s the 80s! – and I was disappointed with the overall build quality. Most noticeable was the amount of flex in the screen’s lid. In fact, I’ve never quite seen so much movement in a 17-inch display before. Disturbingly, the front of the plastic bezel didn’t clip correctly onto my review model either, which resulted in further flexing around the display and a clicking noise when you tried to push it into place. Considering the W700’s significant asking price, this isn’t really acceptable. On the plus side, the steel screen hinges are robust (they hold the display securely in place) and allow the display to fully recline.

The classic ThinkPad keyboard is roomy and comfortable and has a separate numerical keypad. ThinkPad fans can enjoy the familiar pointing stick or opt to use the touchpad for cursor control. Both are responsive and easy to reach without having to adjust your typing position. The palm rest is among the biggest ever seen on a laptop, which makes working for long periods more comfortable. Dedicated volume controls make light work of media playback and the ThinkVantage button let you access the fantastic system management tools.

The ThinkPad W700 is one of the most powerful laptops on the markets. Designed for graphically-challenging application such as CAD/CAM/EDA and DCC/photography, the machine makes light work of anything you throw at it. In addition to the 17-inch display that has a native resolution of 1920×1200 (WUXGA), the ThinkPad W700 can be loaded with Intel Extreme quad-core processors, up to 8GB of DDR3 RAM, nVidia Quadro FX Open GL graphics processors with 1GB of VRAM and optional dual hard drives with RAID 0/1 configurations for up to 640GB of storage capacity. Using the optional Ultrabay HDD provides up to 960GB of storage. Apparently you can also opt for a ultra-quiet and more robust solid state drive (64GB capacity), although I couldn’t see this option on Lenovo’s Web site. Lenovo says a popular configuration is the combination of SSD and the 320GB drives to provide high-speed system performance coupled with large file storage.

I received the flagship model in for review (£3166), which comes with an Intel Core 2 Q9100 (2.26GHz, 1066MHz, 12MB L2 cache) quad-core processor, 4GB PC3-8500 DDR3 SDRAM, Quadro FX 3700M GPU, dual 160GB 7200rpm RAID-enabled hard drives, and Windows Vista Business 64. Other niceties include a fingerprint reader, Pantone Colour Sensor, Wacom digitiser, and 9-cell lithium-ion battery that is good for around 3 hours. A range of wireless connectivity options are also present, along with impressive multimedia capabilities including an optional Blu-ray read-only drive. The mobile workstation includes 802.11b/g Wi-Fi wireless connectivity. Additionally, you can connect to other devices wirelessly using Bluetooth.

For external connectivity, the ThinkPad W700 covers most areas. It provides support for Dual Link DVI-D (provides the capability to drive two high-resolution digital monitors simultaneously), DisplayPort (in lieu of HDMI) and VGA. A 7-in-1 multimedia card reader lets you quickly drag and drop files stored on flash memory, and five USB 2.0 ports give you flexibility in transferring and accessing digital content. Additionally, the IEEE 1394 port lets you hook up an external storage device or supported camcorder, and the 34mm ExpressCard Slot is useful for the latest range of peripherals including TV tuner cards. Headphone and microphone jacks are conveniently located on the front of the system.

Security features include a fingerprint reader, integrated TPM 1.2 circuitry, and Lenovo’s ThinkVantage Client Security Password Manager utility. The system can also be ordered with an optional Smart Card reader for added protection An optional mini-dock extends the mobile workstation’s capabilities with eSATA and digital audio ports as well as convenient cabling for power, external monitors and peripherals. There’s even a 1.3-Megapixel camera integrated into the lid, which although produces grainy images, is useful for video conferencing at work and fun for video messaging friends and family on the evenings.

As the company’s first product with a 17-inch display, the ThinkPad W700 delivers an above-par viewing experience with a combination of leading technologies. Its optional 400nit WUXGA display provides up to twice the brightness of earlier ThinkPad mobile workstation models, and the 72% wide colour gamut provides more than 50% greater colour intensity. Most laptops screens display around 45% gamut. The high resolution and wide colour gamut, coupled with the Quadro FX MXM graphics solution, results in one of most powerful mobile workstations on the market.

Digitiser & Colour Calibrator
Designed for digital content creators, the 128×80mm digitiser built into the machine’s palm rest helps you to configure an image, either mapping it to the entire screen or to a customised area. Lenovo provides a digital pen, which is conveniently docked on the right-hand side of the machine. In addition to supported applications, such as Adobe’s Photoshop and Corel’s Painter, the pen and digitiser can also be used as a navigation device. Having said that, it’s unlikely you’ll use it for navigating Windows because its small size hinders tracking resolution and it is extremely fiddly compared to the trackpoint and pointing stick.

High performance users, especially digital photographers, will benefit from the Pantone colour calibrator as it automatically adjusts the display’s colour in up to half the time of many external calibrators and with higher accuracy, resulting in accurate images with minimal fuss. If you’ve never used a colour calibrator before you have nothing to worry about, because using the one on the ThinkPad W700 couldn’t be any easier. All you have to do to calibrate the screen is activate the Huey Pro software, close the display, and wait around a minute. Once the machine has finished doing what it does it lets out a series of beeps so you know the process has finished. You can then raise the lid and view the calibration results. I found that after calibration colours appeared bolder and black levels were deeper than before.

Lenovo has engineered a new breed of mobile workstation with the ThinkPad W700. No other PC manufacturer has a mobile workstation that delivers the sheer power, performance and cutting-edge innovation that Lenovo has packed into this beast. The mobile workstation flat out delivers the performance demanding users require at the desk as well as in the field, in a solution that isn’t outrageously heavy. Packed for extreme performance, the mobile workstation is a serious piece of kit that should be treated as such. There are much better looking multimedia systems from the likes of Alienware, Dell and HP that are better suited to home use, but the ThinkPad W700 is built for business. It includes almost everything you could ever want from a laptop (except for built in eSATA and 3G), and is supported by some of the best system management utilities in the market. My biggest gripes were build quality and the brightness of the screen, which are totally outclassed by Apple’s MacBook Pro.

At over £3000 for a top-end specification, the price tag for the ThinkPad W700 is steep. You also need to ask yourself whether you are going to actually going to use all its features. There are still people out there doing colour critical work and high-end retouching, but the ThinkPad W700 seems to be aimed at a fairly niche market who probably already do everything on desktop workstations with large graphics tablets and 30-inch displays. But for the most part, it looks – and acts – like a ThinkPad. If you like the kitchen-sink approach to computing and don’t care about design, the ThinkPad W700 is about as powerful a mobile workstation as you could wish for. Will it replace a desktop? Of course not. But this is a mobile workstation first and foremost, and it accomplishes that task better than any other machine I’ve seen.