Home > Fedora 16, ThinkPad W520 > Review of the Lenovo ThinkPad W520

Review of the Lenovo ThinkPad W520


Lenovo ThinkPad W520

Lenovo ThinkPad W520 just out of the box.

I’ve been running my new Lenovo ThinkPad W520 for a few days, now, and think I can give a review of my experience with the device.

First, I was a little disappointed with my ordering experience.  When I visited the Lenovo website I found, typical of many computer companies, that not all options are available from the website.  After completing my selection of all my hardware I selected the “chat with an agent” link on the side of the screen.  I explained to the person on the other end that I wanted this particular laptop but that I did not wish to have *any* software, including an operating system, installed on the system.  I didn’t want to pay the Windows tax and knew that whatever they put on the computer wouldn’t last five minutes after the laptop was removed from the box.  To my surprise I wasn’t questioned or given a hard time about my choice.  I was simply told that that was “no problem”.  Once the agent had my hardware in his system and all my information he completed my order, emailed me all my necessary paperwork, and I ended up saving around $250.

The next day I received an email from Lenovo letting me know that my order was processed and gave me a tracking number that I could use to determine where my laptop was, etc.  A few days later I received another message letting me know that my laptop had been shipped and that it should arrive on Friday of the same week.  Well, it turns out that the prediction of Friday was incorrect, as the UPS guy rang my doorbell on Thursday to deliver my package!

The laptop came with the Intel i7-2720 processor which looks like eight cores running at 2.20GHz, eight gigabytes of RAM, 128 GB solid state drive, and connections for everything under the sun except for a DB9.  It also has an A-B-G-N WiFi card, DVD ROM, video camera, and card slots for many types of solid state media.

The battery came with a full charge so I was able to get right to work.  My first task was to install Fedora 16 Beta, which if you read my blog you already know the problems that caused.  But a few hours later I was successful in my installation and had moved several gigabytes of data over from my old laptop.  I made a few configuration changes that I had wanted to make on the old system to make everything faster and more efficient so with those changes made I was on my way.

I ran a few benchmark tests using HardInfo and it confirms what I said about this being a pretty peppy system.  All the benchmarks show this system at the top if not close to it.

I’ve been using the system for work and for play since I received it and have no complaints.  The keyboard is comfortable, the screen is bright (too bright at times), and the sound is great.  It was a little bigger than I was expecting but now that I’ve been using it for a while I’m happy for the size.  So far I’ve been using it around the house so I’ll have to see how I feel about using it when I’m on the road.

If you have any specific questions about the device feel free to leave a comment and I’ll answer the best I can.

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Sparks’ Linux Journal by Eric “Sparks” Christensen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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Categories: Fedora 16, ThinkPad W520
  1. Pieter
    2011-10-22 at 19:22 EDT | #1

    Eight cores at 2.20 with 8GB: nice! That’s certainly a beefy laptop. Two questions: is that the 15″ or 17″ model? And were all components compatible with F16 out of the box? Ok, three questions: if it has the discrete graphics, does it work (the switching between them)?

    Enjoy your shiny new toy!

    • 2011-10-25 at 15:41 EDT | #2

      Switching between them requires a restart and that’s it (if the nouveau driver is used) :P

      The discrete graphics also work with the proprietary nVidia driver, but, unfortunately, nVidia’s version of libGL replaces the open source version. So you need to remove and install packages to switch between the graphics cards.

  2. Warren
    2011-10-23 at 12:12 EDT | #3

    I have F15 running on my W520 but I can’t get dual displays to work. Have you gotten dual displays working?

    • 2011-10-24 at 06:35 EDT | #4

      I haven’t tried dual monitors yet. Perhaps I can get to that today.

      • 2011-10-25 at 15:43 EDT | #5

        The internal LVDS display and the display port is powered by the Intel graphics card. The VGA port is powered by the nVidia graphics card. The display port can be set up quite easily using any of the xrandr GUI’s. The VGA…well…um…not so much :P

  3. 2011-10-23 at 16:33 EDT | #6

    So what exactly did you say to the sales agent? If I can save some cash on a future Lenovo purchase that would make my day.

    • 2011-10-25 at 23:56 EDT | #7

      I don’t want an OS and I’ll buy now if you can beat CDW.

      • Jeff yancey
        2011-12-06 at 01:16 EDT | #8

        At the moment they seem to not be offering this model without Windows 7.

      • 2011-12-06 at 08:33 EDT | #9

        You have to specifically ask for it. If you talk with someone they’ll leave the Microsoft crap off your computer.

  4. 2011-10-23 at 22:44 EDT | #10

    Nice article! I had pretty much the same experience with my Lenovo W520. It’s a really nice system :D

    I suggest you update from to the latest BIOS from Lenovo’s website. BIOS versions previous to 1.30 might have a CPU throttling problem if you boot without the power cable plugged in. Lenovo is one of the only manufacturers that offer a BIOS upgrade CD image for us non-windows users :P

    The sound is a little on the quiet side in Linux. The speakers are louder “in the other OS” than in Linux. It’s probably a driver error or misconfiguration. Otherwise, everything is perfect about this system.

  5. 2011-10-23 at 22:49 EDT | #11

    Oh yeah. So far, with every distro I’ve tried, EFI works, but I have to install GRUB manually with:

    mkdir /boot/efi
    mount /dev/sda1 /boot/efi
    (distro’s grub efi executable)_x86_64_install –force –no-floppy –recheck

  6. Robert
    2011-10-24 at 01:40 EDT | #12

    128GB SSD, is that the Samsung model? That one does not have TRIM support. Instead when running NTFS it does some cleanup in the background, which does not work with any other filesystem. As such the disk gets slower and slower over time, unless you regularly do a full erase.

    My wife has a X201 with this HDD running Fedora, and hence the same issue. I found this workaround to flash a non-official firmware to enable TRIM support (posted by Blue_Frog)
    http://forums.lenovo.com/t5/T400-T500-and-newer-T-series/TRIM-firmware-for-the-128-GB-Samsung-SSD/td-p/237421/page/7

    I did however, have to hotplug the drive after starting the flash program, and had to restart the flash program to flash the 2nd firmware (again hot plugging the drive after starting the program).

    Note that the first flash erases the disk, so be sure to backup any important data.

  7. 2011-10-25 at 21:53 EDT | #13

    Is that $ as in USD? If so I’m surprised it’s so high considering the analyst estimates of what MSFT is making on pre-loaded laptops–$60-100 IIRC.

  8. Tummy
    2011-11-09 at 23:42 EDT | #14

    Which video card did you get it with? I have the W520 w/ 16GB ram core i7 2.2, 128 GB SSD, and the Nivida 1000M, but fedora wont boot if I have it set to discrete graphics. Are you running discrete or integrated?

  9. 2011-11-15 at 19:36 EDT | #15

    I’m wondering, were they so ready to do so because it was a business model, or would one of the ones intended for home use get the same treatment?

    • 2011-11-17 at 09:18 EDT | #16

      I don’t know. I think what spurred them on was the fact that I was ready to buy… now.

  10. Little Green
    2011-11-24 at 01:33 EDT | #17

    Hello Sparks,
    I’ve also a W520 with nearly the config as you, I’ve configured my graphic card to be the “Discreet” one.
    And now, I’ve a strange behavior… I had this Gnome 3 experience at first… then after the first reboot or something I don’t remember, it fell back to the Gnome 2.
    Have you the same result? Do you have Gnome3 or Gnome2?
    What kind of graphic card do you have the 1000M or 2000M? I have the 1000M, so maybe this is related to that?
    and finally :-D do you know how to go back in Gnome 3?? Not that I’m a fan of it, but I want to experience it really instead of these 5-10 minutes…

  11. 2012-01-31 at 21:11 EDT | #18

    Thanks for your post. I bought a W520 today and tried the chat option you suggest. The rep said that she couldn’t remove Windows, but as a consolation she offered me a package deal which included all of my options for a $62.45 discount and also threw in some free stuff that I didn’t really want (LoJack system, a bluetooth laser mouse, and a basic case).

    I hope your W520 is still serving you well and I’m looking forward to receiving mine in a couple weeks! This machine is quite a monster! I’m going to use it as my main “workstation”.

    • 2012-02-01 at 10:58 EDT | #19

      That’s odd. I had no problem getting my laptop without a Microsoft license of any kind. Maybe ask for FreeDOS? I’d have asked for someone else! :)

      The W520 is still working really well for me. I’ve found one problem, which needs to be updated on the blog, but it hasn’t stopped me from using it.

  12. Mike
    2012-03-02 at 15:40 EDT | #20

    Awesome – I’m researching laptops for work to use with Fedora 14/16. Would you say the W520 is a good buy for F14/16?

    • 2012-03-06 at 08:24 EDT | #21

      I would. Overall it has been a pretty solid machine. There were a few hiccups in the beginning but they have been ironed out. I haven’t had any problems with an Kernels doing bad things.

  13. mzanfardino
    2012-04-02 at 22:23 EDT | #22

    I have just purchased the W20 with the i7-2760QM @ 2.4GHz, 8GB DDR3 RAM and 500GB 7200 rpm hdd. I bought it with Windows 7 (I didn’t want to waste the time trying to negotiate and figured it couldn’t hurt to have an alternate OS) which appears to work flawlessly.

    However, I’m having a heck of a time getting linux to run. I’m no linux noob (I’ve been working with various distros for the last 6 years, though mostly focused on debian), but I am just getting nowhere with my issue and thought perhaps you could give me some information.

    Short history: I’ve discovered that most modern (read in the last 6 months) “live” CD’s fail to complete the boot process. They all appear to hang (this includes: Ubuntu 11.10, 12.04 beta 2, Linux Mint 12 and Fedora 16). I have CentOS waiting in the wings as it were, but if Fedora is failing I’m guessing CentOS will too. I managed to get Ubuntu 11.04 to boot and install and was able to do an in-place upgrade to 11.10 then to 12.04.

    Here is my problem: my system only successfully boots to linux about 20% of the time. All other times it simply hangs during the boot process. I’ve recently moved to Arch Linux (as I prefer a no-frills system initially and I thought it might help me to diagnose the issue) and have found that it appears the problem lay with udev. I’m guessing from the timeline of the adoption of udev that Ubuntu 11.04 still used the devfs while 11.10 and newer is useing udev (I’d presume this to be the case with Fedora as well).

    My question to you is: have you upgraded to a newer kernel and core apps (especially udev) and if so, how has your experience been? I’ve been fighting this issue for a few days now. It’s especially disappointing as I just love this laptop (I’m a big ThinkPad fan and am writing on my T42 running Linux Mint 12) and I don’t want to have to return this machine, as I love the feel of it, the keyboard, and the performance (when it works).

    Any insight, suggestions, ideas, comments you may have I would greatly appreciate!

    • 2012-04-04 at 14:15 EDT | #23

      The problem I had with my laptop was specific to a bit that was flipped on the boot partition and my computer not recognizing it. I actually had anaconda under F15 create the partitions for this laptop and then went back and installed F16. I forget the reason why (I think I blogged about it, though) but I’m not having the same problem you are.

    • mzanfardino
      2012-04-16 at 14:01 EDT | #24

      UPDATE: My problem was directly related to enabling VT-d in the BIOS. Both VT and VT-d are disabled out of the box and I enabled both before attempting to install linux. After disabling VT-d I found linux booted consistently without error.

      • Juice
        2012-05-13 at 11:08 EDT | #25

        Thank you so much for this tip, F17 Beta wouldnt start for me, when i had discrete enaabled in bios and VT-d enabled at the same time. disabling VT-d but keeping normal VT and F17 Beta livecd booted and used the FOSS nvidia drivers.

  14. Dustin Moore
    2012-04-15 at 14:23 EDT | #26

    I just tried to get the no OS option (DOS option) and both the online and over the phone representatives said Lenovo stopped offering the option.

    • 2012-04-16 at 12:37 EDT | #27

      That’s too bad; I will never buy a product with the Microsoft tax.

    • mzanfardino
      2012-04-16 at 14:00 EDT | #28

      Eric – I was able to isolate the issue with my W520 to VT-d. When I first unpacked the laptop I immediately reviewed the BIOS settings. While reviewing the settings I enabled both VT and VT-d (both disabled by default) as I intend to run VM’s. Long story short VT-d causes a problem with some module or other. I suspect it’s the kvm module, but I haven’t had the time to track it down. So, word of caution to any others attempting to install linux on their W520 – do *not* enable VT-d (though you can enable VT without any issues).

      I also agree that I would rather not pay any form of microsoft tax, but unfortunately we as consumers don’t always have that options. I knew from the outset that I wanted this particular model and the only other vendors who sold it without windows were selling the device at nearly double the price! So in the end, it was less expensive to buy with windows than without (sad to say).

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