There's nothing subtle about the Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds, which is a huge mobile workstation that will have trouble fitting into even the roomiest of laptop bags. It's a notebook that's designed for users of graphics and design programs, who will benefit from the inclusion of a built-in Wacom tablet and — wait for it — a second screen!
Hidden inside the Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds' 17in, 1920x1200-resolution screen is a 10in screen that gives you more room when working on your projects. It's based on a LED backlight, yet it's dull and not a good quality display on which to undertake any imaging work (especially compared to the 17in high-definition screen). It's just there to give you more desktop space so that you can free your main screen of 'tool clutter'. The 10in screen is spring-loaded and pops out of the right side of the 17in screen, providing an extra 768x1280 pixels. Funnily enough, this little secondary screen has more pixels than a typical netbook screen!
The Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds is 41cm long, 31cm deep and 5.5cm thick. It requires a specialised bag to carry it, as well as plenty of muscle (it weighs 5kg). The large dimensions of the unit not only support the big 17in screen, but also the built-in Wacom tablet that sits to the right of the touchpad. By default, the tablet is mapped precisely to the screen, meaning if you tap on the bottom-right corner, that's where the cursor on the screen will go.
You can use the tablet to navigate the screen, and also to write, much like you would with a tablet PC (except you are not drawing on the screen itself with the pen). The tablet accuracy was precise in our tests, especially when it came to handwriting. Graphics artists and designers should find the tablet smooth and responsive, but it is rather cramped; you can't use long flowing strokes and there's no extra palm rest.
For accurate colour reproduction, the Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds ships with a built-in X-Rite Pantone colour sensor and software (you have to close the lid in order to perform calibration). The 17in screen is vibrant, possesses good contrast, and can be viewed from very wide angles. It suffers a little from glare when used in an office environment or near a window, so perhaps an option for a screen hood might be the next step in the evolution of this laptop.
Whether to choose the Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds over a regular laptop and an external tablet will come down to processing power and the convenience of being able to cart that power with you. As it's a laptop that's purpose-built for designers and artists, it has an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9300 CPU in it — a quad-core processor that runs at 2.53GHz. 4GB of DDR3 RAM is installed, and you also get two 200GB, 7200rpm 2.5in hard drives in a RAID 0 configuration for a total of 361GB of storage. It runs the 64-bit version of Windows Vista Business.
Its processing performance is exemplary, as it finished a four-threaded image rendering job in Blender 3D in only 37sec (2.53GHz-based dual core laptops take approximately 1min 10sec to complete the same tasks). Its hard drive performance was also swift, as it transferred files from one location on the array to another at a rate of 62.35 megabytes per second. This is approximately three times as fast as what a typical laptop with a 5400rpm drive can achieve. Its graphics performance was also good, thanks to the inclusion of an NVIDIA Quadro FX 3700M graphics card. This isn't a card that's designed for gaming; instead it's optimised for use with 3D design programs. In saying that, it scored 11,176 in 3DMark06, so you will be able to fire up some games where you are bored.
Considering how big the ThinkPad W700ds is, it should have pretty much every connection that's required of a modern laptop, but it falls short in some respects. For external monitors, you get a dual-link DVI port as well as a DisplayPort, while for external storage you get FireWire and five USB 2.0 ports, but not eSATA (external SATA). There isn't a full-sized ExpressCard/54 slot, but instead a smaller ExpressCard/34 slot. There are CompactFlash and SD memory card readers to facilitate photo transfers from high-end D-SLR cameras.
The Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds has a dedicated number pad to the right of the keyboard, which is convenient, but some might lament the squished nature of the Windows and arrow keys. The touchpad is small and not well suited to the high-definition resolution, especially if you want to move the cursor from one end of the screen to another; the TrackPoint device is much easier to use. Of course, with so many USB ports you're better of just plugging in an external mouse where possible.
Because the dimensions of the unit are so vast, the long lengths of plastic on the base of the unit tend to bend, and the front of the unit near the tablet sometimes creaked. However, it's not like you can use this laptop on the road; it's strong enough to withstand transportation from home and to the office when carried in an appropriately padded bag. Its battery life was relatively good in our tests — it lasted 1hr 50min in our DVD run-down test — but if you plan on using it away from outlet while all four cores are working at full blast, then it will last a lot less.
Other notable features of the ThinkPad W700ds include 802.11n dual-band wireless networking, Gigabit Ethernet, a fingerprint reader, dual keyboard lights (mounted in the monitor), a webcam, and a combination Blu-ray player/DVD burner. Of course, these features are not specific to the W700ds, but the built-in Wacom tablet and the second screen are. Because of these innovations it's hard to hate the ThinkPad W700ds, but the lack of eSATA, an ExpressCard/54 slot and full-sized keys let it down, especially considering its size. That said, if you're a designer or graphics artist who needs plenty of screen space and processing power, and the ability to take that power easily to a remote location, the W700ds is worth considering.