Lenovo ThinkPad W520 - Hardware And Software

The W520 is Lenovo's mobile workstation system. The system that I received might be a trade show system.  It has a Core i5, but I would recommend getting the i7.

Lenovo ThinkPad W520 Specs:
  • 8GB RAM
  • Intel Core i5-2540M @ 2.6GHz (up to 3.3GHz) 2 cores, 4 threads
  • Nvidia Quadro 2000M with 2GB DDR3
  • 1600x900 resolution (native)

  • Every port you can dream of
  • 6 to 7 hour battery life with 9-cell and on Intel HD graphics
  • Very quiet fan
  • Amazing and stable "switchable graphics" through Optimus
  • Best keyboard ever
  • Beautiful screen quality (95% RGB color gamut)
  • Get an i7 and not the i5 CPU
  • Speakers can be louder
  • Slow HDD on the system I got
  • Designed more for working (not really gaming)

You know a ThinkPad the moment you see it. The system has the roll cage so you know that the system will take a beating and continue working.

I was able to see details inside of images with dark colors. It's something that I have not seen before. There are HD (1366x768), HD+ (1600x900) and FHD (1920x1080) screens.  The viewing angles are gorgeous and there's no glossy BS.  Probably the best screen I have seen period.

Color Calibrator
This is something that I wish I had received. The X-Rite color calibrator is an option that you can add. Basically if you are a color precision type person this laptop has the ability to give you very "spot on" colors.

What's inside?
  • Core i5 or i7 CPUs Sandy Bridge line
  • Nvidia Quadro 1000M or 2000M with 2GB DDR3 (optimus technology)
  • Up to 32GB RAM (gotta give Lenovo a call for that one)
  • 1 Mini PCI-E
  • 2x Half Mini PCI-E

Ports and other
56K modem, 1x always on USB, Display Port, VGA, 2x USB3, USB+eSata, MMC card reader, Firewire, ExpressCard Reader/34, SD card reader, headphone+mic combo jack,Ethernet, Optical drive, HD camera, Finger print reader, Illumination light, docking station options.

This is quieter than the X220T. I'm very impressed at how silent it is even when running intensive applications. It puts my HP DV6T QE to shame.

Optimus Technology
It's amazing to see programs running on two different graphic cards at the same time. I can run everything on Intel HD graphics, or everything on Nvidia Quadro, or assign programs to run with the specific graphics medium.   It's crazy and surprisingly stable.  My HP's switchable graphics forces everything to run either in Intel HD, or AMD graphics.  The HP also has given me a few blue screens, the Lenovo in the other hand is super stable.



Anonymous said...

would this be a good laptop to buy for college?

Jesse B Andersen said...

That depends on what you plan on doing with it while in college. :) I would say for most purposes it will be a good system.

Anonymous said...

I'm doing engineering in college and I know it's going to be good for that, but would this laptop be good for everyday things too? like playing some games, watching videos, emailing or social networking?

Jesse B Andersen said...

You can do almost everything with it. When it comes to gaming there can be a lot of different things to consider. "Hardcore" games on high settings might not work too well.

The system is super stable and quiet which is very enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

ic thanks!

Bhavik said...

Thanks! for ur youtube video.
It really good.

Jesse B Andersen said...

You are welcomed.

Anonymous said...

It would be fantastic if you upload some videos playing some games, for example COD or Mafia 2. I would buy this system for work whit Cad software and for everyday purposes, I would also like to play some games. I am not a hardcore gamer but I would like have some time playing.
Thank you

Jesse B Andersen said...

I don't really play those games. But I might consider Mafia 2. I'll do a benchmark along with the HP DV6T QE.

Anonymous said...

It's the 4th of July, 2011 weekend and I'm carting a W520 system on the Lenovo web site. Surprised to find out that you can only get the i7 no i5. But, that's what you recommend anyway. Thanks for the video, it was very informative.

Jesse B Andersen said...

For the W520 go for an i7. It's worth getting it. With the Lenovo X220T I have recommended getting an i5 because the i7 isn't that much "better".

There are many different versions of the i5 and i7 CPUs.

vegas3416 said...

Can you provide a screen image of the FHD screen...I still haven't seen one but have seen dells m4600 and hp elitebooks but no w520. Do you know how good that screen really is by seeing it in person??

Jesse B Andersen said...

I cannot provide you a screen image of the FHD screen because I have returned the system to Lenovo. I also did not have the FHD 1080p version. I had the HD+

I wish my HP DV6T QE had the screen of the W520. The colors are much richer and there's no glare. The W520 has the best screen I have seen on a laptop so far.

Smartguy75 said...

Hi Jesse,
First thank you very much for very detailed video review. It was awesome and answered some of the lingering questions I had like what is color calibrator and express slots used for and all that stuff. Your video review was the best video review I have ever seen.I am in process of buying one in full hd. I don't know if color calibrator will help anything more? Am I missing really much by. Not adding that extra cost? Also do you suggest buying this baby from eBay over lenovo to save tax and few hundred dollars? Are there really two different models on W520 - one with max upgradable 8 gb ram and other with 16 gb? Please advise.

Anonymous said...

Thanks !!

Jesse B Andersen said...

Thanks. You might want to consider the color calibrator if you need very precise colors for images and video editing. It's something that if you are a "professional" it's worth considering.

I would probably get it from Lenovo (paired with a coupon) and ensure that you have full support from the company. Even expensive systems do require maintenance.

The RAM limitations are based off the CPU. Google the Intel Core i version to find the limits. It should be under "Max Memory Size" There are special versions with up to 32GB RAM that must be custom ordered through Lenovo.

Jeremie said...

I ordered this Laptop on Ebay and should receive it next Monday or Tuesday. Just curious, you mentioned it is very silent but does this laptop get hot after 20-30 minutes?

Jesse B Andersen said...

All laptops with powerful specs get hot. However, the W520 runs cooler than my HP DV6T QE.

Jeremie said...

ok. thanks for your quick reply. At least it is silent. Probably more important. Can't wait to get my ThinkPad. I want to be next week already.

Btw, great review!

Anonymous said...

I'm a writer, and I prefer the standard keyboard vs the chicklet keyboard. The W520 looks like a standard keyboard, and it is visually appealing. I know this may be hard to describe but how does it feel when you type with it? There should be a "cushion" feel to it and a "spring" when typing.

Jesse B Andersen said...

The keyboard is classic Thinkpad. According to them they have improved it. To me it feels the same as it always has. You will have to test one to see if you can feel that springiness. As far as I'm concerned most laptop keyboards use similar technology.

Anonymous said...

dude w520 hd+ is just 220nits and 60% gamut, check out the specific sheet on the lenovo website

Jesse B Andersen said...

Now is it? I have to admit that still is one of the best screens I have ever seen in a laptop. It would be amazing to see the Full HD version.

Anonymous said...

OK this maybe a stupid question...but the battery is a 9 cell battery - does this mean I have to carry batteries around with me when I hit the road with this laptop, or can I charge it before with a power cable as with normal laptops?

Jesse B Andersen said...

Charge it as you do with normal laptops.

Mike Foate said...

Hi Jesse,
Thanks for the nice video. What hard drive are you a fan of? I was going to get the intel solid state 160gb but I read where you had problems with a solid state drive one on one of your other laptops. Do you consider the solid state drives to be reliable or should I stick with the 7200rpm drive?
Happy trails, Mike

Jesse B Andersen said...

I have had problems with the OCZ Vertex 3, but never had problems with the Intel SSDs. So if I had to get an SSD again it would be Intel based.

On my HP Pavilion DV6T Quad Edition the 7200RPM is very reliable, but definitely not as fast as when it had the SSD in. For now I'll stay with the 7200 RPM, although my Fujitsu T580 might need an SSD because I move it quite a bit and the hard drive can get damaged.

Mike Foate said...

Thank you Jesse.
I will take you thoughts into consideration. I am liking the looks of that W520 pretty well.

I was considering a Mac Book Pro w/ Parallels and windows installed so I could still use my windows apps. But heck it was getting up into the $3400 price range. Quite a bit of savings and still good horse power with the Lenovo.

Thank you for your time an attention.

Happy trails, Mike

Jesse B Andersen said...

I'm pretty sure you can get the W520 up to that price range too. But you would get a lot more tech specs wise.

kringsman said...

Hi Jesse, thanks for your excllent video review. It's fantastic!! I am making a decision between T520 an W520. A bit concern i have on W520 is the bulky power brick and 9-cell battery which make it less portable than the T520. I know T520 lacks USB3.0 but i do not have much 3.0 equipment, so that's not a problem to me. Also i heard the 3.0 port is consuming lots of battery life since it is not powered directly by Intel. What do you think? Also, i heard the base on T520 and W520 is not carbon fiber anymore, do you feel it is solid as before? Thanks!

Jesse B Andersen said...

The W520 is a bit bigger than the T520 but I don't think it's that much of a difference.

14.68in x 9.65in x1.25-1.40in
(373mm x 245mm x 31.8-35.6mm
5.57lbs (2.52kg

14.68in x 9.65in x 1.26-1.41in
(372.8mm x 245.1mm x 31.8-35.6m)
5.95lbs (2.7kg) starting weight with optical drive

The W520 is a "mobile workstation" so it does eat up a bit more power.

I wouldn't worry too much on the USB 3.0 because there are not many devices out there with the interface. Over time there will be more and more, and if you need to transfer big amounts of data the USB 3.0 is a neat thing to have.

USB 3.0 when in "idle" should use less power than USB 2.0 but when in use the 3.0 will definitely use more juice. (it has to pull/push all that electricity).

The glass-reinforced plastic on the bottom of the W520 felt sturdy. I don't think it's missing much over the carbon fiber on the previous generation.

AlejandraGaitan said...

thank you very much for your time
hi i will mainly be using this computer for video editing (and some 3d maya ) i was about to go for an asus or a hp but then i stumble across the lenovo and i think its better for me since it has a quadro card

im just wondering if this was really the good choice, how do movies look in this computer, how is the webcam? yes i know this questions sound weird but ill mainly use the webcam to do videos henceforth its extreamely important for me to know how good it is ...

here are my 2 other choices|84|22497&N=4011462&Mo=68&No=0&Nr=P_CatalogName:BCCA&cat=22497&Ns=P_Price|1||P_SignDesc1&lang=en-CA&Sp=C&topnav=&SessionID=df3f4034-3b19-4570-a174-2671e4bf9046

i know nvida gforce is meant for gaming but it has 3gb dedicated memory and well i love the idea of blue ray and 3d movies i know its silly -_- , but anyways will the nvida gforce be equivalent to the quadro or not (im video editing)

Jesse B Andersen said...

I don't recall using the webcam on the W520 so I can't tell you how good it was. It's an HD webcam and that's all I can tell you.

Movies look great because of the color range. The screen on the W520 is still the best screen I have seen so far.

The Quadro graphics is more for a "business" audience. The Quadro may not be as fast as the GeForce series, but they are very reliable and keep cooler temperatures. For something like 3D gaming the GeForce will definitely outperform the W520's Quadro graphics.

The other systems look great but I haven't had hands on experience. I highly recommend checking reviews on many sites to know what to expect.

Anonymous said...


I have a question. So I've been trying to play video games on the W520, but somehow, the games have absolutely horrible graphics and the performance is horrible. Why is this even though your video showing gameplay using the W520 seems fine. Is there something I need to change on my computer to improve the performance and graphics?

Jesse B Andersen said...

You may be running on Intel HD graphics. When playing games make sure to run the system on discrete graphics.

Laura C. said...

Is the sound on the Lenovo W520 laptop OK? You mentioned that it could be louder. Someone on another site also mentioned that the sound was muffled.

I am trying to decide between buying an HP dv6t quad laptop and the Lenovo W520 laptop. I can get a faster i7 processor and more memory expansion on the Lenovo W520 but concerned about Lenovo sound (I like to listen to music through my computer while working.)

I am also concerned about the fact that they don't offer any software support on their 4 yr extended warranty like HP does. I do not play intensive games, just want a laptop with high performance to take me down the road for the next 5 or 6 years.

It sounds like you have both machines. For general business work with Microsoft Office as well as occasional movie watching and listening to music which computer would you recommend and why? Which has the better screen? Durability? Better brand of spinning hard drive? Better Tech people to talk to? Thanks so much!

Jesse B Andersen said...

The speakers are ok. Yes they could be louder. If audio is your concern you will probably end up getting a good set of external speakers or headphones.

The DV6T Quad Edition's fan does get a bit loud when doing intensive tasks. The Lenovo W520 is a lot quieter.

Usually I don't play too much with the whole warranty stuff. You know more about than I do. Judging on build quality the W520 will probably last longer due cooler parts.

For typing I would recommend the W520 over the DV6T QE. The keyboards that Lenovo offer are probably the best ones I have tried. The DV6T QE isn't great on this and I every once in a while I make a few mistakes. The W520's keyboard is centered with it's screen, the DV6T QE is not. The DV6T QE's numerical keyboard throws the keyboard off center.

When it comes to screen quality the W520 wins for sure. It is by far the best laptop screen I have seen so far.

I have always been able to contact someone at Lenovo through social networks, forums, and email. So they are my type of people. HP has never returned a single email.


My personal system is the HP DV6T QE which is what I could afford. The Lenovo W520 was a review unit from Lenovo which I had to return.

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