September 11th 2013 8:40 am

final rating

reviewed on
this review has been viewed 7931 times

Criteria Comments Rating
  • Speed and features Excellent processor, memory, and graphics performance. great!
  • Design and form factor Awkward numpad-on-keyboard placement, and a poor-quality clickpad that makes for a very frustrating user experience. Also, no functional activity LEDs! awful!
  • Battery life Battery life was good for its size. The W540 is quite large so it's a power hog, but it's efficient about it, all things considered. good
  • Display Superb, crisp display. There's a little bit of washout on the bottom edge from LED bleeds but it's not noticeable or distracting unless you look very hard. good
  • Durability Build feels a little flimsier than past W-series incarnations. so-so
  • Expandability Everything's easy to get to -- memory slots, drive bays. It's a max of 2 screws to open any panel. Fantastic layout. great!
  • Noise Runs a little hot and somewhat loud when doing moderately intense tasks, but it's not too bad overall. so-so
  • Portability (size / weight) This thing's a beast. You'll always want to pick it up with two hands. so-so
Detailed review
Overall, the W540 is a solid, powerful laptop that unfortunately has a few huge, glaring flaws. Not recommended for power users or software developers.

Major successes:

* Everything works in Ubuntu 13.10 out of the box, flawlessly. Great work!

* Fast, powerful, great graphics performance. I was running intense renders and compiling Ruby from source without breaking a sweat. SSD performance is also fantastic.

* Decent battery life for its size. I was expecting it to be a pretty big drain, but it lasted long enough to watch a full 2.5-hour movie on Netflix without a charge.

* Beautiful, crisp, clear, high-resolution display. Excellent quality.

My major gripes:

* First, the clickpad is an abomination unto the Lord. It's incredibly finicky, doesn't always recognize right-clicks, and is hard to make precision movements with. With the W540's high-resolution display, that means you're going to be missing a lot of smaller UI targets. It only takes one or two of these experiences to feel like you've suddenly become far less productive, and it's very frustrating.

* The clickpad is also much larger than previous Lenovo touchpads. That's a problem because it has bad palm rejection, and your cursor will often go flying across the screen because you grazed it with your thumb while using the keyboard.

* Furthermore, because clickpad actually moves *down* a large amount -- you click the pad itself, rather than dedicated buttons, as with a trackpad -- it wobbles your entire hand when you make a click. That makes it even harder to exercise fine motor control necessary for using some software UIs.

* The off-center keyboard makes it painful to use for long periods, because you'll have to angle your hands to the left to use the keyboard correctly. The numpad might be helpful for some kinds of users (e.g. those using it only for gaming) but overall I found it to be a distraction.

* When tapping on the edge of the spacebar, keypresses weren't always recognized. The chicklet-style keys mean that the travel distance of each key is a lot less, so it's more painful to use.

* No activity LEDs -- nothing lights up when you use the hard drive, for example. As a developer I'm used to seeing this and rely on it as a visual cue.

For now I'll stick with my W530. I really wanted to like the W540 -- Haswell is a great technology platform, and I'm glad to see Lenovo taking advantage of it. But I just can't get behind the latest iteration. I'd buy another one in a second if they fix the keyboard and go back to the previous trackpads. I could see myself getting used to not having LEDs, but having those back too would make it a pretty automatic win.

You can reach me on Twitter at @jxxf if you have more questions.
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Comments (7) subscribe to this review's comments


just commented on another review: off-center keyboard & trackpad changes are deal breaker...ashame

you have the W530, how does the battery compare ? I'm thinking to go with the W540 with 9cell battery.
thanks for the review ;)

Regarding the comment "Everything works in Ubuntu 13.10 out of the box, flawlessly." - not quite. It appears that the fingerprint scanner is not one of those that are supported by fingerprint-gui. Not a deal breaker, but it certainly would be nice.

@building39, That wasn't my experience; the fingerprint reader worked for me. It's possible I'm mistaken and that I did wind up installing something to make it work, but I don't recall doing that.

Mine is pretty new, just got it last week. lsusb shows that I have this device:

138a:0017 Validity Sensors, Inc.

and that one does not show up in the list of supported scanners. I installed the software, and it complains that no supported scanner could be found.

Which device does yours have?

@building39: I returned the laptop for a full refund once I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to get used to it, so I couldn't tell you. Alas.

@jxf: That's OK. I like this one just fine, so far. I mostly use it when it's docked, so I have no keyboard or clickpad issues. Mostly, I despise clickpads anyway. The only one I've ever been able to use effectively is the one on the Macbooks.