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Watching films on the ThinkPad W701ds is an absolute pleasure thanks to its great screen, and Lenovo has paired it with some pretty decent stereo speakers. They don't quite match up to the 4.1 setup on the MSI GT680 or 2.1 Dell XPS 17, but they're certainly up to providing enjoyable entertainment, providing some bass and plenty of oomph while maintaining clarity at the high end.
As with all customizable laptops, performance will be what you can afford to make it, but our test sample is certainly no slouch. The Intel Core i7 820QM quad-core processor supports HyperThreading for up to eight virtual cores, with clock speed ranging from 1.73GHz when all four cores are under load to 3.06GHz when fewer than three are in use.
Naturally it's significantly outperformed by Intel's new Sandy Bridge CPUs as found in the MSI GT680, but it should still do the job rather nicely until Lenovo updates its high-end ThinkPads.
On the graphics front, the Nvidia Quadro FX2800M card gives you 96 CUDA cores to play with, which will accelerate compatible applications (like Adobe Photoshop CS5) and even allow for light gaming, though DirectX11 is not on the menu. Indeed, at 1,366 x 768 the W701ds managed a very respectable 33.4 frames per second (fps) average in a DirectX10, medium-detail run-through of Stalker: Call of Pripyat, though upping this to the screen's native resolution and maximum detail resulted in an utterly unplayable 16fps.
As you would expect from a 'mobile workstation' with powerful, energy-hungry components, battery life isn't fantastic. But considering the power and features on offer, we were still impressed by the two hours and 40 minutes the W701ds managed to wring from its 7800mAh/85Wh battery in MobileMark's low-intensity Productivity test. Considering it's hardly the most portable machine around, this is really as much as you would need, though in the intensive DVD test it only lasted an hour and 37 minutes.
Finally we get to value. With an MSRP of around £3000 (we couldn't get a definite price as the W701ds is only built to order outside of the US and is very difficult to get hold of in the UK, but that's the estimated amount for our sample), it's not exactly for everyone, and its internal specifications could be considered somewhat stingy for the outlay. But then, if you're a photographer, digital artist, designer, architect, engineer or scientist, you (or your company) can afford it and you can get hold of one, no other laptop in the world offers you all these features in a single, mobile package. Throw in its superb build quality, class-leading connectivity and one of the best screens around, and we would say that for its niche market it holds up quite well.
It may only appeal to those with big, specific demands and bigger wallets, but the Lenovo ThinkPad W701ds' complement of unique features (like its RGB-LED backlit screen with built-in hardware colorimeter, secondary display and integrated Wacom tablet) means it has no competition. Considering it's also powerful, very well-built and offers every connection you could want along with surprisingly decent battery life, it truly deserves its title of 'mobile workstation'.