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Lenovo poised to update ThinkPad W700 with dual screen, 8GB RAM and new processor options  
Friday, January 2, 2009 | by Rob Galbraith
Next week, Lenovo will officially take the wraps off the first significant update of the ThinkPad W700 laptop since it was introduced in the fall of 2008. Leading the list of what's new is an optional slide-out second screen in a variant called the W700ds, but there are other noteworthy changes in both the single and dual screen versions of the company's photographer-friendly desktop replacement. These include a more affordable quad core processor option, the ability to order the machine with as much as 8GB of RAM (up from a maximum of 4GB previously) and the correcting of a problem that rendered the optional built-in CompactFlash slot unusably slow.

Double-Wide: The Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds. Click to enlarge (Photo courtesy Lenovo)

Targeted at photographers and others who want the same sort of two screen setup on the road that they have at home, the W700ds incorporates a 10.6 inch, 768 x 1280 pixel LED-backlit display alongside the unit's 17 inch, 1920 x 1200 pixel CCFL-backlit primary display. The pixel pitch of each display is almost identical, so there shouldn't be a noticeable shift in the apparent size of objects as they're moved from one display to the other.

The smaller screen slides in and out of a slot on the back of the main screen - Wes Williams, Worldwide ThinkPad Product Marketing Manager at Lenovo, calls this the "pocket door" - and can be angled forward as much as 30 degrees. Compared to a W700, the second screen of the W700ds adds 0.43in (10.8mm) of thickness and 2.5lb (1.13kg) of weight to the already-substantial machine.

The second screen is intended to be a repository for Photoshop panels and the like, and as such it isn't calibrated or otherwise tuned at the factory, says Williams, to try and match the appearance of the main display, though it should be possible through brightness tweaks and perhaps profiling with a third-party hardware calibrator to bring its white point and overall intensity into a usable range.

Final pricing for the dual-screen option is expected to be announced next week, but is likely to be in the US$400-500 range in the U.S.

At the same time as the W700ds comes available, Lenovo will roll out several other changes. They include:
  • A more affordable quad core processor option Since the release of the W700, it has been possible to equip it with a 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Extreme processor (QX9300), but at a US$1000 premium over the dual core 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (T9600). The new option will be an Intel Core 2 Quad (QX9100) running at 2.26GHz, at a cost that's expected to be a fraction of the QX9300 (the QX9100's actual price was not set at the time of our briefing).

  • A usable CompactFlash slot Lenovo offers several different expansion slot configurations for the W700, including one made up of separate ExpressCard 34 and CompactFlash slots. This is the configuration in our W700 loaner, and as we, as well as photographers who purchased the machine discovered, the CompactFlash slot is glacially slow, topping out in card-to-computer transfers at just over 1MB/s while making the computer feel sluggish at the same time.

    Lenovo, says Williams, has now fixed the CompactFlash slot, by changing the card reader circuitry inside the machine. It utilizes a USB 2.0 connection internally, and Lenovo isn't quoting specific performance numbers for it, but if it's fixed and is a decent implementation of a USB 2.0 card reader and it supports the UDMA data timing protocol of newer CompactFlash cards, then it should offer transfer rates upwards of 20MB/s at least (this is our ballpark guess - we hope to test and include actual performance numbers for the revamped W700's CompactFlash slot in the CF/SD Performance Database in the near future).

    Because correcting the CompactFlash slot's speed problem meant changing the reader hardware, existing W700 computers with slow CompactFlash slots can't be sped up through a software update or similar user-loadable correction, says Williams.

  • Build-to-order 8GB RAM The W700 has been capable of accepting 8GB of PC3-8500 DDR3 SDRAM all along, by filling its two memory slots with 4GB DIMMs. Lenovo itself hasn't offered this as a build-to-order option, however; loading the machine up with 8GB RAM meant installing pricey 4GB DIMMs purchased elsewhere. Starting later this month, it will be possible to select 8GB total RAM during the ordering process.

  • Support for 4GB Intel Turbo Memory This is a feature of certain Intel platforms designed to speed up various computing tasks. We're not certain how it's to be implemented in the W700, including whether it will be an option by itself or offered alongside with certain hard drive configurations.

  • A smoother Wacom tablet surface To make small pen movements easier, the surface of the optional palm rest Wacom tablet has been made slightly smoother.
The other features of the machine are largely unchanged: the ThinkPad W700 is an all-out performance laptop that can be ordered with twin RAID 0/1-configured hard drives, top end Nvidia Quadro FX 3700M graphics, a built-in (and really slick) X-Rite Huey screen calibrator for the main screen and a recordable DVD or Blu-ray optical drive. It ships with five USB 2.0 ports, an unpowered FireWire 400 port and three display connectors - DisplayPort, DVI (dual-link) and VGA.

All this comes in a large package that weighs in at 8.4lb (3.83kg) for the W700 with one hard drive installed, or 10.9lb (4.96kg) for the dual screen W700ds, also with one hard drive installed.

The official unveiling of the Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds, along with the other changes described, is planned for January 5, 2009. More information on the price and ship dates of certain options should emerge at about the same time.
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