In spite of its fairly-palatable price point of $1,499, the W540 is ultimately a few steps forward, a few steps backward. There’s still plenty to like, from a solid build that’s lighter than expected to a fantastic keyboard and sharp 3K screen. The performance is also perfectly suited for its intended audience; it handled everything we threw at it with relative ease across the spectrum of CPU, GPU, and storage benchmarks. It’s essentially a business-grade gaming PC in many respects, and its focus on power over portability accentuates that philosophy.
However, the W540 unfortunately misses the mark in a few key (and frankly surprising) areas. For starters, the build isn’t what it once was: the combination of glass-ﬁber reinforced plastic and magnesium alloy still feel strong, but they don’t seem as rigid as previous ThinkPad workstations or especially Dell Precision machines. Then there’s the subject of temperature: the W540 heats up quickly and recklessly, quickly discharging its thermal waste through the left side of the unit, making the palm rest and bottom of the case thoroughly uncomfortable to the touch. Our third and final major complaint is the awful touchpad implementation which we’ve already lambasted twice on both the X240 and T440s before it; the five-point clickpad is just plain inferior in every respect to conventional buttons.
Editor’s Note: Due to the considerable backlash that the touchpad design has provoked, Lenovo has actually begun selling a very minor update to the W540 called the W541, where one of the only changes is the addition of two physical buttons at the top of the touchpad. While this doesn’t eradicate the original complaints, it does provide a workaround where the user can rely on these buttons also while using the touchpad to completely ignore the built-in button design.
Other nitpicks exist, such as the relative lack of ports (such as HDMI and perhaps another USB) and the lackluster battery life, but these are of less relevance. Overall, the W540 is still a solid performer and a decently-designed machine – it’s just not the industry-leading mammoth we were expecting to see when we originally unpacked it. Here’s hoping the W550 sees a return to form and a reversal of some of these more controversial design decisions that held this generation’s entry back from greatness.