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Tips for Going Mobile with CAD, Part 2: Recommended Features

Posted by cadhardware

Mar 29, 2011 3:40:17 PM

In Part One I talked about how 17-inch mobile workstations aren't really mobile, but rather desktop workstation replacements that you bring to a stable destination, plug in and go to town. In this post I want to cover the features that I would look for when selecting my 17-inch mobile workstation. Most of these points also apply to 15-inch mobile workstations, so read on!

Recommended CAD Mobile Workstation Features

1. Dual vs Quad Core: If you are doing rendering (e.g., SolidWorks RealView), go with a Quad Core. RealView takes advantage of all cores. If you are not doing rendering, I would probably look for dual core models, which typically have higher clock speeds. Clock speed will matter more than cores for applications that are not multi-threaded and you get much better heat dissipation, which is a real issue in a small package.

2. RAM - Minimum 6 GB: Most 17-inch laptops have 4 DIMM slots so you can buy less expensive DIMMs to get to the RAM you need (e.g. 4 x 2GB DIMM as opposed to 2 X 4GB DIMM).

3. Workstation graphics card: This is mandatory and fortunately standard in both HP and Dell workstation. Just a caution. Don't select the low-end default graphics card (usually the Quadro 2800M). You will come to regret it.

My bias is strongly FirePro Mobility. Both the 17-inch HP Elitebook 8740w and the Dell Precision M6500 offer the FirePro M7820. Why you care (besides great performance in CAD, great support for games [the result of DX11optimization], lower energy consumption and actually lower cost) is the integrated Eyefinity technology— the ability to drive as many as four displays from your laptop. I've tried it with two, and I've talked to a few hardcore industrial designers who have tried it with three, and I can tell you that once you try it, you will not want to live without it. Given you get this capability at no extra cost, for me the FirePro is a no brainer. Check out this video showing using a three-display configuration driven by a single laptop and then tell me you don't want it.

CAD Mobile Workstation with Multiple Displays

Also keep your drivers up to date. FirePro drivers for example, have seen a 50% performance improvement over the last year or so. And the pace keeps accelerating. So update!

(Quick aside: Fortunately, I don't think anyone is still offering a workstation laptop with an integrated graphic chip plus a workstation graphics card. But back with the Thinkpad W500 series, if you were running on battery the laptop would go into power saving mode, downshifting to the integrated graphics chip. SolidWorks would immediately crash.)

Get the Right Display

4. Built in display: If you can afford it, go with the 1920X1200. The screen is big enough to make that resolution viable (no tiny, tiny text) and screen real estate is always useful when you can't hook up to your two or three external displays. If color accuracy and no grayscale-banding-when-rendering, matters to you, go with the pricer, but definitely "worth it" Dell RGBLED or HP DreamColor display. The standard WLED/LED displays are fine for Office tasks and non-shaded CAD or architectural drawings (but verify they are at least 8-bit and not 6-bit displays).

So that covers some basic of the 17-inch desktop replacements. But what do you choose if you really want to be mobile — as in working on the go wherever you are? That is for Part Three.

Do you have any tips about purchasing a mobile workstation? Have you used Eyefinity? Add your tips, comments and experiences to the comments section.

Author: Tony DeYoung

Topics: Workstations, Mobile Workstations, Laptops, Dell Workstations, CAD

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