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Lenovo unveils ThinkPad W700 laptop geared to pro photographers  
Monday, August 11, 2008 | by Rob Galbraith
Lenovo today has unveiled the ThinkPad W700, a widescreen 17 inch Windows laptop that has been developed expressly for the working digital photographer. In addition to CPU options that include Intel's new mobile quad core processor, a maximum of 8GB of RAM, up to three internal hard drives (two if you don't want to forsake the optical disc drive) and top-end Nvidia Quadro FX 3700M graphics, the W700 features an integrated screen calibrator and mini Wacom tablet plus both SD and CompactFlash card slots.

Wide and Fast: The Lenovo ThinkPad W700. Click photo to enlarge (Photo courtesy Lenovo)

The ThinkPad W700 has many of the accoutrements you would expect from a premium performance, 8.3lb (3.77kg) desktop replacement. As mentioned, it can be configured with Intel's newest and most powerful CPU for portables, a quad-core mobile processor in the Core 2 Extreme line, plus up to 8GB of DDR3 RAM and up to three 320GB, 5400 RPM hard drives (the third in the computer's user-swappable Ultra Bay).

Connection ports and slots include five USB 2.0, one four-pin (unpowered) FireWire 400, ExpressCard 34, a 7-in-1 card reader that supports SD/SDHC plus the choice of a CompactFlash reader, Smart Card reader or ExpressCard 54 slot. The CompactFlash reader is rated by Lenovo at 40MB/second (which means it probably supports the UDMA data transfer protocol of today's quickest CompactFlash cards). Networking includes Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth, modem, Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) and more. The optional ThinkPad W700 Mini Dock adds an eSATA port to the mix.

Update, December 11, 2008: Our preproduction W700's CompactFlash reader tops out at a little over 1MB/second, which means it's far too slow to be usable in most pro digital photography workflows. We've confirmed with Lenovo that the built-in CompactFlash reader option in production units operates at this much slower rate as well, and is not in line with the speedy throughput originally envisaged for this W700 option. As a result, if you're considering the W700 you'll be better served by outfitting the machine with an ExpressCard 54 slot, and then purchasing a CompactFlash adapter for it.

The W700's 17 inch display is available in two resolutions; the higher resolution one is 1920 x 1200 pixels and incorporates twin CCFL (rather than LED) backlighting for a promised wide colour gamut that comprises about 72% of the Adobe RGB colour space. Maximum brightness is rated at 400 cd/m2. Graphics options are the new Nvidia Quadro FX 3700M with 1GB of VRAM, or the Nvidia Quadro FX 2700M with 512MB of VRAM. The side of the unit sports three display connectors: VGA, Dual-Link DVI and DisplayPort.

Embedded into the right half of the palm rest, down from and slightly to the left of the right Ctrl key, is an optional integrated colour calibrator based on the X-Rite Huey device, but with a custom filter set tuned for the W700's display. Driven by a custom version of the HueyPRO software, which allows the user to choose the white point and gamma, the profiling process takes 80 seconds and is done with the lid of the computer closed (progress is indicated by a series of audible tones).

The finest laptop screen for photography we've ever owned is the 1400 x 1050 pixel Flexview display in a ThinkPad T60. That screen owes its colour sweetness to the underlying In Plane Switching (IPS) screen technology. As of this writing, we're waiting on word from Lenovo as to whether the W700 uses the same technology (or even a variant, such as S-IPS). If it does, that plus the integrated calibrator would almost certainly make up for the lack of LED backlighting.

Also available in the W700 is a 128mm x 80mm Wacom tablet, embedded into the right side of the palm rest (as shown in the photo below). While optimally placed for right handers, the computer includes the ability to detect when a left handed person is rubbing the side of their hand over the trackpad and keys, ignoring that and instead recognizing only the tablet input.

A pen for the tablet is included, and is stored in a slot on the side of the laptop.

Hands On: The optional Wacom tablet built into the W700's palm rest (Photo courtesy Lenovo)

While the proof will be in the ThinkPad W700's display quality and how well it works generally, the new laptop from Lenovo represents one of the most interesting attempts we've seen to create a portable computer geared to the working shooter. The ThinkPad W700 is slated to go on sale worldwide on September 2, 2008, at a price of US$2949 to about US$6000 in the U.S., depending on the configuration. Operating system options will include both the Business and Ultimate variants of Windows Vista, in both 32 bit and 64 bit flavours. The ThinkPad W700 Mini Dock has a manufacturer's suggested list price (MSRP) of US$279 in the U.S.

HP today announced a 17 inch laptop of their own based around Intel's mobile quad-core processor. Among the photographer-friendly features in the HP EliteBook 8730w are a 1920 x 1200 pixel, RGB LED backlit display, which is the second display from the company to receive the DreamColor moniker representing HP's best screen technology (the first is the DreamColor LP2480zx 24 inch desktop LCD). The EliteBook 8730W starts at an MSRP of US$1699 in the U.S. (configurations that include the DreamColor LCD will be more) and is to ship later this month.
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