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Lenovo W530 ongoing usability review

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Automata

Destroyer of Empires and Use
Joined
May 15, 2006
The W530 is a relatively new release from Lenovo, introduced in June, 2012. Because it is so new, there is not a lot of information regarding how the laptop is to use. Most reviews simply focus on what has changed and what features it has or are useless "video" reviews. The existing [text] reviews are a good thing, but it doesn't give the whole picture, which includes how it functions on day-to-day activities.

My first (and current) Thinkpad is a T61, which I bought back in 2008. Since then, it has not had a lush life as I (computationally) beat on it the entire time. I've extended its usability by adding more memory and a solid state drive, but it is out of the warranty period and is no longer meeting my requirements for computing. Since I have school coming up in August, now is a good time to replace it.

Specs:
ThinkPad W530

Processor - Intel Core i7-3720QM Processor (6M Cache, up to 3.60 GHz)
Display type - 15.6" FHD (1920 x 1080) LED Backlit AntiGlare Display
System graphics - NVIDIA Quadro K1000M Graphics with 2GB DDR3 Memory
Total memory - 4 GB PC3-12800 DDR3 (1 DIMM)
Keyboard - Keyboard Backlit - US English
Pointing device - UltraNav with Fingerprint Reader
Camera - 720p HD Camera with Microphone
Hard drive - 500GB Hard Disk Drive, 5400rpm
Optical device - DVD Recordable
System expansion slots - Express Card Slot & 4-in-1 Card Reader
Battery - 9 Cell Li-Ion TWL 70++
Bluetooth - Bluetooth 4.0 with Antenna
Integrated WiFi wireless - Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 AGN
I got a good deal through work, and only paid around $1350 for the laptop itself. To make the laptop significantly better, I purchased a Crucial M4 128gb mSATA solid state drive and 32gb G.Skill RAM. You might think this is insane overkill, but remember that I intend to keep this laptop as long as it is alive and meets my computing needs.

I could not find if Arch Linux (or Linux in general) works on this laptop. I have successfully installed Arch, but only got as far as the terminal login screen. I'm having issues with it booting an encrypted hard drive. This is likely not related to the laptop itself. UEFI works great, though.

Crucial claimed that my laptop did not have a mSATA slot, even though pictures show it and the documentation from Lenovo says it has it. After getting the size specifications, and despite Crucial saying it isn't compatible, ordered the card. I'm happy to say that it fits perfectly and works great.

Since my main operating system is Linux, I'm going to try and run the stock install within a virtual machine. Failing that, I will re-partition the stock 500gb drive.


Other reviews:
http://www.laptopreviews.com/lenovo-thinkpad-w530-review-2012-07
http://blogs.technet.com/b/keithcombs/archive/2012/07/10/lenovo-thinkpad-w530-mini-review.aspx


I will update this thread as I find things I like/dislike about the laptop. I haven't had a lot of time play with it since my OS isn't working. My goal isn't to cover every new/changed feature that the laptop has, but instead to report on how cool/terrible the changes are for an everyday user.

-----

Like:
Hinges: They updated the hinges and it feels much more solid. When tilting the laptop, the lid does not flop around like my T61. Whether it will stay this way is to be determined.
mSATA: The laptop takes the Crucial mSATA cards perfectly. It takes the place of a WWAN card, if there is one. This allows you to run a SSD in addition to the stock hard drive.
Release latch: The release latch for the lid is located in the body of the laptop. It seems to have given them more space, so it is easier to unlatch and probably won't get stuck like it does on my T61.
Accessibility: To add more memory add the SSD, you take the memory panel off and remove two screws. The keyboard pops out and you have full access to the board, and it even comes with a cable that is long enough so you can reach under the board (damn you, T520 :mad:).



Indifferent:
Battery fit: The battery does not fit as well as my previous laptop and it moves around a fair amount. It does not stop it from working, so this is just an annoyance.
Keyboard: Lenovo completely revamped the keyboard, making it look "sleek" and adding backlighting. The lighting works very well. The layout, however, is difficult to get used to. The back/forward buttons that were just above the arrow keys are now page up/down buttons. The print screen is also at the bottom of the keyboard, for some reason I can't fathom. The home/end/insert /delete buttons feel the same when typing, so it is difficult to hit them without looking at the keyboard. The special function keys (screen brightness, etc) are part of the F* keys instead of where they were before. I'm not sure if I like all the changes, and it will take some time to get used to.
Caps lock: There is no indicator for the caps lock button. At all. Yes, I'm serious. While this doesn't seem like it would be a huge issue, typing passwords could be interesting since they are masked. For normal typing, this is just an annoyance.



Dislike:
Power light: The power light is only visible when the lid is open. When the laptop is on and closed, you can't see if the system is on. The only external lights are sleep and battery.
USB: There are only 4 USB ports.
Microphone: There is no port for an external microphone. You are forced to use the built in ones.
DVD drive: The drive will not eject when the system is booting or during the boot device selection. This makes removing a live disk annoying.
Touchpad: The touchpad is now flush with the case, instead of being indented. It is very easy to rest your palm on the edge, which causes you to move the mouse inadvertently or prevent you from moving it (palm detect feature).
 
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Automata

Automata

Destroyer of Empires and Use
Joined
May 15, 2006
Stock laptop:
stock_laptop.JPG


32gb Gskill memory and 128gb Crucial mSATA SSD:
added_components.JPG


Ready for SSD:
ssd_install_1.JPG


SSD installed:
ssd_install_2.JPG
 
OP
Automata

Automata

Destroyer of Empires and Use
Joined
May 15, 2006
I'm not liking the screen. Everything looks washed out compared to my desktop and T61. It also has this incredibly annoying "feature" where it changes the brightness of the screen depending on what you are viewing. If I have a dark website up (such as OCF), it lowers the brightness over five seconds quite substantially. If I switch to a bright website, it slowly gets brighter. I can't find an option to disable it.

The speakers are loud, but have way too much treble. It makes them sound terrible.
 
OP
Automata

Automata

Destroyer of Empires and Use
Joined
May 15, 2006
Still having issues installing Arch on this system.

I found that if you have a live disk in the system and restart, it refuses to eject the disk while booting or during the drive selection screen. How am I supposed to get the disk out since I have to restart, Lenovo?
 

ha1o2surfer

Registered
Joined
Aug 2, 2012
I have a comment on the Microphone port on your dislikes section. I was under the impression Lenovo uses a dual purpose Microphone/Headphone jack on even their newer models. I have a retired T420 and that was the case. When trying to eject the disk, just press F2 to go into the BIOS settings before booting and eject the disk that way. Came here to post that, First post! haha
 
OP
Automata

Automata

Destroyer of Empires and Use
Joined
May 15, 2006
Welcome to the forums! I will check to see if it is a dual purpose jack, but it certainly isn't labeled as such. I'll also try the BIOS eject trick to see if it works. Shouldn't have to do that, though. :-/
 

ha1o2surfer

Registered
Joined
Aug 2, 2012
Welcome to the forums! I will check to see if it is a dual purpose jack, but it certainly isn't labeled as such. I'll also try the BIOS eject trick to see if it works. Shouldn't have to do that, though. :-/

Thanks! nice little quick review on the W530!.

I looked up the spec sheet (located here W530) and if you scroll down to the spec sheet table you will see it says dual purpose Audio Out/Mic in Port. I have to say I hate that design because you need a special cable to use both. I wonder why they went that route.
 

imposter

Member
Joined
May 1, 2004
Location
Bronx,newyork
I'm surprised you didnt like the screen, it is color calibrated and displays 90 or 95% color gammut.

you can turn off the autobrightness feature. There should be a shortcut on the keyboard i remember correctly. I could be wrong though.

Seems like you're not overall happy with it?

FYI you can replace the dvd drive with a second HDD... but im sure you already know that.
 

hafa

Member
Joined
Apr 19, 2003
Location
A tiny dot in the middle of the Pacific
Very few laptops have support for mSATA


Not yet. Given, however, that there will be a very large number of new models released by many manufacturers concurrent to and immediately following the release of Windows 8, the field should widen considerably. It is at that point that I'll be looking for a new machine, with the criteria of mSATA compatibility foremost.
 
OP
Automata

Automata

Destroyer of Empires and Use
Joined
May 15, 2006
I'm surprised you didnt like the screen, it is color calibrated and displays 90 or 95% color gammut.

you can turn off the autobrightness feature. There should be a shortcut on the keyboard i remember correctly. I could be wrong though.

Seems like you're not overall happy with it?

FYI you can replace the dvd drive with a second HDD... but im sure you already know that.
I wouldn't say I dislike it, no. While I don't think it is as robust as the T61, it is still a solid machine. Of the few quirks, I think I can either get used to them or "fix" them.

I do not see a shortcut on the keyboard for the automatic brightness control and I'm hoping that it is only done through software. This means it isn't supported or (likely) an option I can disable in Linux. I'm sensitive to light, so it may not be annoying to others.

You can switch the ODD for a second (or third if you have an mSATA) hard drive. I was going to do this in my T61, but having an optical device is still pretty nice and it also had an issue with running two hard drives (i.e. it didn't work). That is why I went with the mSATA setup on the new system. Best of both worlds.

Not yet. Given, however, that there will be a very large number of new models released by many manufacturers concurrent to and immediately following the release of Windows 8, the field should widen considerably. It is at that point that I'll be looking for a new machine, with the criteria of mSATA compatibility foremost.
I agree that it is becoming a much more common feature and we are likely to see it on cheaper laptops as time progresses.
 

ha1o2surfer

Registered
Joined
Aug 2, 2012
Not yet. Given, however, that there will be a very large number of new models released by many manufacturers concurrent to and immediately following the release of Windows 8, the field should widen considerably. It is at that point that I'll be looking for a new machine, with the criteria of mSATA compatibility foremost.

I agree with that. Windows 8 is pushing for smaller and faster which can only mean one thing. mSATA :p
 

Pinky

Member
Joined
Apr 21, 2001
Location
Narf City, USA
Lenovo has its own power management software loaded... and on desktop machines it can cause issues, so I got in the habit uninstalling it and letting windows manage. [used to resell primarily Lenovo at the last place I worked]

I'm not too thrilled with the latest Thinkpads, at least not in this price category. They still feel sturdy and very well might be, but so are a lot of other laptops for less money. They are still a brand I recommend to people, but if budget is a concern I steer them elsewhere. The cheaper Lenovo laptops have poor quality displays, IMHO.

Like you, I feel the T61 is/was a superior model.
 
OP
Automata

Automata

Destroyer of Empires and Use
Joined
May 15, 2006
Like you, I feel the T61 is/was a superior model.
Yeah. :-/

I got my full OS (Arch Linux) running tonight and migrated all my data over from my T61. Nearly everything works in Linux, so I'm pretty impressed. I'm still getting used to the new keyboard layout and I'm prone to making mistakes while typing, especially for my complex passwords. The touchpad is flat out horrible. It is very large, making it easy to bump while typing or to accidentally touch the corner with your palm -- rendering it useless. I can also tell they clearly never tested scrolling on this new touchpad, compared to previous models. Having it flush with the rest of the laptop case looks cool, I'll admit, but it is impossible to scroll. Either you miss the touchpad entirely, hit it too far in and it acts like a normal mouse, or you win the lottery and get it to scroll. (And to top it off, I was typing, hit the touchpad on accident and it "clicked" into this paragraph.)

Putting a 1920x1080 screen in 15.6" is just stupid. This text is so small it is funny. I still wouldn't trade it for a lower resolution, though. The backlights on the keyboard are good as long as you aren't sitting too low. Otherwise, you get to see the lights from under the keys (or actually, the light delivery system/plastic; there is one or two LEDs), which ends up being brighter than the monitor (if turned down) and the key labels.

That being said, it still isn't a bad laptop; because, believe me, I've had a bad laptop before. There are just a few things I'd prefer they changed. It just feels like they went "yes, we want a little bit of x, a bit of y. Oh! Almost for b,q,r,t" and failed to review and think about what they were doing before doing it. It has cool features implemented in poor ways.
 
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Automata

Automata

Destroyer of Empires and Use
Joined
May 15, 2006
Someone shot me an email and explained how to disable the automatic screen brightness when in Windows. This "feature" is not in Linux, so there is nothing to do for that.

open intel control center, click on intel HD graphics on the right hand side, in the silly blue window go to "power" on the left side, then click "power source", change to "battery", and down below in "power conservation features" you'll find the culprit. It's called "display power saving technology". Un-check it and click apply. Your display will "normalize" itself if you do it on battery. On AC you won't notice anything.
 

petteyg359

Likes Popcorn
Joined
Jul 31, 2004
Putting a 1920x1080 screen in 15.6" is just stupid. This text is so small it is funny. I still wouldn't trade it for a lower resolution, though.

I have to completely disagree with the first part of that. I suppose it is dependent on the user's eyesight, but I love my 15.6" 1920x1080, and I can read all fonts sizes just fine.
Two things to check in Control Panel > Display:
  • Set custom text size (DPI) - I have my font sizes set to "smallest" (100% or 96 DPI)
  • Adjust ClearType text - Go through the calibration steps. Sometimes seriously improves readability if they screwed it up on the factory image.
 
OP
Automata

Automata

Destroyer of Empires and Use
Joined
May 15, 2006
I wouldn't go with any other screen. I was just making a comment that the text is hilariously small.

I don't use Windows, so I can't use those instructions. There is nothing wrong with it, though.
 

petteyg359

Likes Popcorn
Joined
Jul 31, 2004
There are various Linux utilities to do the same ClearType-ish calibration stuff, but I don't recall the names of any right now. How much did you pay for those 16GB modules (and where'd you get them)? The best I've been able to find at retailers I'm familiar with are 2x8GB kits. Never mind, I see there are four of them. I've only got two slots in my laptop :(

Keyboard: My laptop has one "Windows" key of the left and one "Menu" key on the right. The keyboard in your picture appears to have only the left-hand "Windows" key, and no "Menu" key. I don't often use either, but on my old laptop (which had the normal "full" layout of two "Windows" keys and one "Menu" key), I used the right hand "Windows" key as the Compose key in Linux. I would find the lack of yet another spare key annoying - I frequently use them for various shortcuts :)

How easy is it to get the keyboard off? On my Dell (in signature), the RAM and Wifi card are accesible from the back. To get to the hard drive, there is a single screw under the battery that releases the keyboard, but the keyboard latches have to be carefully popped out by sliding and pushing a screwdriver all the way around the edge. Took several minutes to get it off when I put in my SSD.
 
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OP
Automata

Automata

Destroyer of Empires and Use
Joined
May 15, 2006
I'm using ClearType fonts (or whatever is a copy of ClearType). As I said, it looks fine, the text is just comically small compared to a stock T520 (my father and sister both own one).

These are the exact kits I bought. I paid $183.12 for them, so $91.56/e.