Thin may be in, but not for everyone.
It's easy to obsess over thin-and-light laptops. The majority of mobile enterprise professionals want a fair amount of compute power in a form factor that won't seem too burdensome while being lugged through the airport terminal. These systems usually come with modest-sized (13- or 15-inch) screens and a three- to six-cell battery that will last for at least several hours of continuous business (not DVD watching) use.
However, thin and light just doesn't cut it for engineering, visual arts and intense scientific use. This is where what I call the thick-and-heavy mobile workstation comes in. For users who must work at locations that have reliable power (likely provided by a generator, such as at a construction site) but slow, unreliable or non-existent Internet access, the mobile workstation is still the best solution to get on-site answers to compute-intensive questions.
I'll be evaluating the latest crop of these barely portable monsters during the first part of 2010 to see how well they hold up to the grueling workloads for which they were designed.
Dell, HP and Lenovo-among others-have high-powered systems with big displays, lots of RAM, multiple drives and lots of interconnects for peripheral devices. The price tags on these systems are surprisingly reasonable-in the $1,700 to $2,500 range. While you'll need to figure in the cost of a decent wheeled suitcase to help you move the beast from the car to the plane and then to the work site, these systems offer a whole lot of processing power in a relatively small and well-priced package.
Mobile workstations seem to run counter to a trend I expect to see blossom in 2010: the increasing use of "cloud computing." In cloud computing, processor and memory are moved to a central, usually multitenant data center that is accessed over a fast Internet or LAN connection from an end-user device that is usually serving just as a display, keyboard and mouse.
It's true that the vast majority of business productivity tools are well-suited for migration to the cloud when that makes financial sense for the enterprise. E-mail, CRM, word processing, document management, database and spreadsheet applications are all well-suited for use in central, remotely accessed data center.
But for those business and scientific applications that must be used remotely and yet are not suited to a cloud computing model, a different solution is needed.
Oil rigs, construction sites, remote scientific stations, and most mountain or extreme climate sites are not good candidates for running cloud-connected applications. These locations are even less suited for running CAD, geology, video and other compute-intensive workloads on remotely connected systems.
In these circumstances, the thick-and-heavy mobile workstation is just the ticket. Light enough to be moved by a single person and powerful enough to handle taxing workloads, these systems can be the right tool for the right job.
There are important distinctions among the thick-and-heavy systems available now, and it's my intention to shed enough light on them for you to make a wise buying decision.
Just some of the differences worth noting from preliminary product demonstrations have to do with the professional-level hardware that is sometimes built into this class of machines. I've seen Lenovo workstations with sophisticated color management hardware that will appease video production users. Lenovo's W700ds even has a second fold-out screen, making it look a little like the International Space Station when fully extended.
Most of these systems have big batteries, but they are all intended to run while plugged into wall power. The mobile workstations can be equipped with varying (although always large) amounts of processor, RAM, disk and peripheral device connections.
I hope my reviews will help guide you in the right direction when selecting a thick-and-heavy system for your mobile workers. Please let me know what criteria or business scenarios you would like me to address during testing.
Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.