Critical Testing Criteria: 15- to 17-Inch Mobile Workstation Laptops

Aug 9th, 2010 | By technologynews | Category: Technology

“Thick and heavy” mobile workstation laptop computers keep getting
thinner and lighter. And these powerhouse systems are now commonly equipped
with multicore processors and graphics cards that approach those found in
desktop systems in speed and processing power. For workloads that must be
processed in the field or where network connectivity is unreliable, a
professional-grade mobile workstation is still the right tool for the job. To help
you when comparing systems, eWEEK Labs has compiled a list of things to
consider when evaluating mobile workstation laptops.


1) Peripherals count

Sure, mobile workstations have docking stations, but the whole point of these
systems is that they go on the road to solve tough compute problems. Because
they are bigger than most laptops, there’s room for more ports. Three to four USB
ports and a healthy supply of display, storage and peripheral attachments are
the standard for mobile workstations. There are differences between brands, so
be sure to keep this at the top of your comparison list.


2) High-end components

Manufacturers are racing to put the latest multicore processors and high-performance
graphics cards in mobile workstations, and they will likely achieve parity during
2010. Be sure that the high-performance components your users need are
available in the system you want. Be especially careful to check the maximum RAM
options. All of these systems are built for speed, but memory capacity is still
one area where there is differentiation between the vendors.


3) Display matters

Most workstations come with 15- to 17-inch widescreen displays. The Lenovo
W701ds has a 17-inch main display with a 10-inch screen tucked in behind it just
for good measure. You get choices on color calibration systems and brightness,
so check youre your end users to see if they have a need for these options.


4) Get enough storage

The point of most mobile workstations is to process and store large amounts of
data at speeds that rival stationary desktop systems. Mobile workstations typically
offer trade-off options based on the number and type of drives. Low-voltage
systems usually offer fewer and slower drives. If a long battery life is
crucial to your end user, a mobile workstation is an inappropriate
recommendation.


5) Docking station

Mobile workstations still end up the office. And end
users may also frequent the same remote location. If so, it’s a good idea to keep
a docking station at the office and another at the remote site. Since the high-value
users of these systems usually work with graphics-intensive output, plan on the
docking stations getting tethered to two or more large displays. These systems
have the graphics power to drive pretty much as many peripherals as you can
attach to them.

6) Optical drive

Optical drive choices are usually paired with processor and power supply
choices. Keep in mind that you and your users will be able to mix and match
options, and in mobile workstations the optical drive is often up for grabs. If
it’s just going to be used to watch movies on airplanes, swap out the optical
drive for a second hard drive.


7) Keyboard shortcuts

Nearly all the mobile workstations I’ve tested have had large, spacious
keyboards and large trackpads. It’s become a fad in standard business and
consumer laptops to futz with the keyboard design. This seems to have a lot
more to do with “keeping up with Apple” than actual usability. Be
sure to give the keyboarding experience a run-through to make sure the large keyboard
is used to full advantage.


8) Physical relationship

Big mobile workstations generally come with large power supplies, lots of
cords, surprisingly quiet fans and an unsurprising ability to get hot quickly.
Always include the power supply and power cord when weighing these systems.
Since the battery is really more like a mobile UPS
that supports the workstation between wall outlets, you don’t always have to
get the nine- or 12-cell option. This can save on some weight. For those who
are aghast at this recommendation, consider that mobile workers using this
class of machine are likely also traveling in business class next to an outlet
or are in a trailer that does have power even if it lacks a decent network
connection.

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