An excellent all round mobile workstation ideal for CAD on the go.

While 17-inch mobile workstations offer an enviable combination of performance and features, if truth be told they are not ideally suited to CAD on the go. Their size, weight and poor battery life are real barriers to portability.

The 15-inch machines offer a much better all-round mobile experience and the ThinkPad W530 is a great example from Chinese manufacturer, Lenovo.

  • Intel Core i7-3720QM (2.6GHz) (Quad Core) CPU
  • 8GB (2 x 4GB) PC3-12800 DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz SODIMM memory
  • Nvidia Quadro K2000M (2GB) GPU
  • 240 GB Intel 520 Series SATA3 Solid State Drive (SSD)
  • Microsoft Windows 8 Professional 64-bit (Win 7 downgrade)
  • 15.6” LED B/L (1,920 x 1,080) display
  • 2.7kg
  • 245 x 373 x 32-36mm
  • 3 year on-site warranty
  • £1,650

ThinkPad comes with an impressive pedigree, going back to the days when it was owned by IBM. While this new model bears little resemblance to the angular chassis of old it does manage to retain the robustness that has become synonymous with the brand over the years.

There are some functional differences: the curved chassis sports an off centre catch, which makes single hand opening possible. The Touchpad has a dimpled surface, which gained mixed reactions from our testers. Some liked its tactile feeling; others found it harder to point accurately. In traditional ThinkPad style though, there is also a TrackPoint nestled in the middle of the keyboard and, of course, an external mouse is always the best option for serious CAD use.

The island-style keyboard, which has spaces between the keys, is solid and responsive but lacks a numerical keypad, a popular feature with designers. The keys are backlit and can also be lit from a light at the top of the screen — perfect for those late night emails.

There is some good attention to detail on the chassis: the USB ports are colour-coded for easy reference. There are 2 x USB 3.0 (blue), and 2 x USB 2.0, including a permanently powered port (yellow) which is useful for charging a phone.

The 15.6-inch backlit LED display is full HD (1,920 x 1,080), clear and bright and boasts a wide viewing angle and a 95% colour gamut.

Serviceability is good with the hard drive enclosure standing out for the ease with which drives can be replaced. The W530 is limited to a single 2.5-inch drive — a workstation quality 240GB Intel SSD 520 Series in our test machine — but the 34mm ExpressCard Slot can support an additional SSD. For larger capacities, Lenovo offers a range of SATA drives.

Inside the machine the Intel Core i7-3720QM CPU provides a good solid foundation for CAD. It is not the highest spec CPU on offer, but offers good price/performance. It has a clock speed of 2.6GHz (turbo boosting up to 3.6GHz) plus four CPU cores and eight threads, which gives a welcome boost when rendering.

The processor is supported by 8GB DDR3 1600MHz memory; not a massive amount for modern CAD workflows, but there is the option of 16GB or 32GB for those who work with larger datasets.

The W530 is very much designed for 3D work and the Quadro K2000M GPU is ideal for mainstream CAD or BIM use. It is a step up from the entry-level Quadro K1000M, the other GPU option in the W530, but probably will not satisfy users of graphics-hungry design viz applications. If high-end graphics is your thing, you will need to investigate a 17-inch mobile workstation.

One of the benefits of the mid-range Quadro K2000M is its reduced power requirement. With a max power consumption of 55W it is significantly more efficient than the high-end Quadro GPUs. This, coupled with the 45W Intel Core i7-3720QM CPU, means the W530 has relatively low power demands.

Our test machine’s nine cell Li-Ion Battery, a step up from the standard six cell model, also means you can spend longer away from the mains.

Overall, the W530 is an impressive all round mobile workstation for mainstream CAD. Its size, weight and battery life means it is perfectly suited to design on the go, but can also be a more than adequate desktop replacement. However, with only a 240GB SSD you may need to invest in external storage for CAD data.