For those of us who live and work on gigantic dual displays, making the transition to a cramped little notebook screen when it’s time to get things done on the road has never been easy. We’re spoiled. But there’s really never been any alternative, unless you wanted to roll up a monitor in bubble pack and stuff it into the bottom of your suit case. That was, of course before the Lenovo W700ds appeared. With a 10.6-inch secondary screen that slides out of its side, it’s the very first dual-display notebook. And with a starting price of $3,069, it has the price of a first-gen machine. But multi-taskers imagining a mobile version of their dual-screen desktop setups shouldn’t hold their breath, since the W700ds comes with more than enough compromises to drag down the allure of that extra screen real estate.
Features and Design
Aside from that unusual appended screen (which we’ll get to in more detail later), the feature set on the W700ds very much resembles that of the earlier Lenovo W700, which Lenovo used as a base. The stout hardware aboard is clearly intended for the business crowd, from a choice of Intel Core 2 Duo processors right down to Nvidia’s Quadro FX 2700 and 3700 graphics processors, which are intended for CAD and intense 3D modeling applications – not leading armies of undead against the Chaos Marines in Dawn of War. You’ll also find up to 4GB of DDR3 memory, an optional internal RAID system, and even a tablet and stylus built right in.
If there’s one aspect of the W700ds that doesn’t quite come across in spec sheets and photos (at least Lenovo’s press shots,) it’s the sheer size of the thing. The Lenovo W700ds easily qualified as the biggest laptop anyone in the office had ever seen, hands down. And we’ve seen plenty of those absurd gaming rigs. It almost looks like a comically oversized prop for a stage show, or long-lost design resurrected from the 1980’s and packed with new hardware as a joke.
The largeness of it carries over into every dimension. It starts off at 11 pounds – more than twice the weight of many competitors. It has a footprint 16 inches long and 12 deep – enough to nearly swallow two netbooks. And the screen alone – never mind the gargantuan base – is as thick as many full notebooks. It almost feels as if it should have wheels attached. You can carry it, sure, but this is one shoulder-denting, neck-cramp-inducing, spine-compressing beast of a notebook.
That said, the W700ds can brag of Lenovo’s typical herculean build quality. Edges line up precisely, plastics feel solid, and the hinges charged with holding up not one but two displays are on par with something you might find in the automotive world.
The 17-inch main panel on the W700ds fulfills the needs of photographers with vibrant colors, tight dot pitch, and even a built-in color calibration tool. Just fire up the included software application, close the lid of the machine, and it automatically calibrates itself using sensors in the palm rest. The difference, surprisingly enough, was night and day during our testing, too. Brightness on the monitor was perfect for indoor use, but slightly lackluster when competing with sunlight. This is a machine for serious work though – so we doubt there will be much computing from a park bench.
The real attraction, of course, isn’t that massive 17 incher, but the 10.6-inch side display that slides out of the side of the lid like a giant CD-ROM tray. Pop it out on the go and you have an instant addition to the screen that’s roughly the same size as half a sheet of regular office paper. It hinges forward roughly 45 degrees to accommodate for your view, as well. There are some issues with it, though.
First: that size. Sure, Lenovo has added a second screen, but if you’re really the type of person used to working on two monitors, this shrunken half-size one doesn’t really cut it. We found it useful for routine tasks like chat and e-mail (it’s easy enough to keep all your communication in the pint-sized mini screen,) but for serious work and browsing, it doesn’t really cut it. Using it to view skinned 3D models as you work on wireframes in the main window? We don’t think so. Using a long strip of screen to view video? Also a no.
Second: If the main display on this rig is a mouth-watering 12-ounce New York strip steak, the sideshow is more like a week old, reheated hamburger. Colors look watery, the backlight unevenly washes out the edges in whiteness, and the viewing angle requires you to lock your gaze dead on.
Third: Look back closely at the specs on the screens. Even though they measure the same height in inches, the main screen stacks 1200 pixels tall while the side display stacks 1280. That means that windows spanned between the two will vary in size somewhat awkwardly. Lenovo tries to accommodate for this with a tool that will scale up the side-screen to matched dimensions. But since it loses pixel-by-pixel precision, it makes everything look blurry in the process, too.
As you might expect, Lenovo outfitted the W700ds to connect with just about everything, as a true workhorse should. The back sports a power jack, Ethernet jack, along with all three of the major display adapters: VGA, DVI, and HDMI. Around the right-hand side, you’ll find an integrated optical drive, three USB ports, a phone jack for a modem, and even a slot to carry the stylus for the W700’s integrated tablet. Headphone and microphone jacks are easily accessible on the front, along with an SD card reader. And when it’s really time to deck this thing out for business, you’ll find two ExpressCard ports on the left-hand side, plus another two USB ports (for a total of five), and a 1394 port, which is a must-have for video editors. All told, there’s not a lot you can’t hook up to this machine.
Lenovo w700ds Connections
Lenovo designed the W700ds to make no compromises when it comes to all-out computational fortitude, so it came as little surprise to us that it hit just about every benchmark we could throw at it out of the park. We pressed PCMark05 into service to measure it up, which the W700ds promptly chew up and spat out a score of 8,139. That’s pretty much tops as far as notebooks are concerned – even most heavy-duty multimedia notebooks are lucky to make it into the 6,000 range. But then, that’s what a 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Core Extreme CPU, 4GB of RAM and an Nvidia Quadro FX 3700M processor will do for you, which is what our decked-out system came equipped with.
Though Nvidia’s Quadro chipset has been designed more for building games than playing them, we found that the W700ds did just fine with the fun side of the equation, too. As it turns out, ours was as comfortable playing MotoGP 08 as it was editing high-def video, and it cranked out a respectable 3DMark06 score of 11,184, too.
Running the W700ds on battery power is somewhat akin to having a crew of men row a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier with oars. You won’t be getting far. You’ll experience about an hour and a half of life with the CPU with everything running full bore, or a hair over two hours with the monitors dropped to barely visible and performance dialed way down. Even more amazingly, the W700ds has among the slowest charge times we’ve ever seen, demanding about three-and-a-half hours to charge to full capacity from empty. It’s also worth noting that the AC adapter is among the biggest we’ve seen. It’s a shame that “power brick” has become the standard name for these things – even the smaller ones – because in this case the “brick” moniker is truly fitting in every respect. Swing it over your head by the power cable and it doubles as a defense again Viking marauders. Sadly, the notebook is nearly worthless without it, so plan on cramming this leftover medieval weaponry into the side pocket of your laptop bag whenever you travel.
Despite its superior performance under full load, our notebook had its share of reliability woes right out of the box. The optical drive, for starters, had a tendency to spin up sporadically every few minutes, temporarily freezing the entire PC for a few seconds until it calmed back down and discovered there was no disc in the drive. Far more annoyingly, both monitors had a tendency to go black for several seconds, which Windows would report as a driver failure when they finally returned. A call to Lenovo support yielded a friendly technician based in North America, but not many answers. We ended up disabling the optical drive as a quick fix, but we already had the latest display drivers, so there really was no way to fix the black-screen bug. We suspect Lenovo will have a remedy in coming versions, but in the mean time, we’ve chalked it up to the growing pains of playing with the first generation of new technology. Early adopters, beware.
Though the W700ds delivers a full-size keyboard that makes no comfort sacrifices in the name of size (this thing has room to spare), it’s worth noting that not all of the user input devices have been treated as generously. Most notably, the touch-pad for the notebook looks like a postage stamp, which is quite obnoxious given how much wasted space Lenovo engineers had to scale it up to something more appropriate. Likewise, the built-in tablet, while interesting, loses much of its appeal because there isn’t much room to rest your hand on while you scribble away on it. And never mind using it left-handed, which would cause a flurry of mistaken button-pressing and touchpad-swiping on the controls next door. The only comfortable way we really found to navigate such a bounty of screen size was with a wireless USB mouse.
The speakers on the notebook delivered among the best sound we’ve heard from a portable, on par with all-stars like Apple’s latest MacBook Pro in both volume and quality. Even cranked to maximum, the W700ds belted out clear, undistorted sound, though lacking in bass as all notebooks do.
Even if you’re willing to accept that full-desktop power comes with a full-desktop weight and size (as you should be), it will take a user who is absolutely salivating for a second screen (and willing to overlook a number of other annoying factors) to find satisfaction in the W700ds. The side screen’s small size, poor image quality and buggy drivers all conspired to make it truly a tough sell. Sure, it will make life in Photoshop a little easier when you can drag your tools off to the side, but we’re not really sure if that additional convenience and capability comes anywhere near justifying the additional price, size, and weight. Power users like video editors and travelling engineers should probably check into the original W700 as a more practical purchase. We might even suggest turning an inexpensive netbook into a second monitor with software like MaxiVista, which would actually give you the same amount of extra screen space, with the advantage of acting as a totally separate computer when you need it to. In the end, the W700ds comes off as a novel prototype, not the awe-inspiring desktop replacement power users and professionals are likely lusting for.
- Extra 10.6-inch screen
- Incredible computing power
- Vibrant, color-accurate 17-inch display
- Solid build quality
- Unbelievable size and weight
- Reliability issues
- Battery life
- Undersized track pad
- Weak secondary display
- Ultra-premium price