Power to the portable: 3 high-performance mobile workstations

While most laptops are reasonably priced and powered, sometimes you need a little extra. We test three high-end Windows mobile workstations.

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How I tested

To see how these three workstation laptops compare, I stressed them with a combination of everyday work activities, high-end graphics work and a variety of benchmarks and performance-oriented tasks.

After measuring each system, I weighed them on their own and with their AC adapters. I opened the back of each system to see how hard it is to get to its components to perform maintenance, repairs or the inevitable upgrades. I noted how many fans each had and how hard it was to change the batteries.

To benchmark the systems, I started by running PassMark's PerformanceTest 8.0. This suite of tests exercises every major system component, including processor, memory, hard drive and graphics. It then compiles the results into a single score that represents its performance potential. I ran the software three times and averaged the results.

I then ran CineBench R15, which gives the processor and graphics system a workout by rendering complex video. Its processor test employs roughly 280,000 polygons, uses a variety of algorithms and can take advantage of multi-core processors. The software's OpenGL rendering test uses a photorealistic car chase scene that contains approximately 1 million polygons, high resolution textures and a variety of special effects. It runs for 30 seconds and measures the frame rate the system is capable of delivering. I ran the test three times and averaged the results.

While it ran the graphics test, I found the system's hottest spot and measured the temperature with a Fluke 62 Mini IR noncontact thermometer.

Next, I tried out each workstation's graphics ability with two CAD scenarios using Dassault's SolidWorks eDrawing software, which can display complicated CAD models. I worked with 3D models of a transmission and a leaf blower. After highlighting a section, I zoomed in and out and rotated each image, while looking for choppiness, incomplete shading and lack of sharpness. I then set SolidWorks eDrawing to continuously play two sequences of zooms and rotations of models.

Although these monster machines were designed to spend most of their lives running off of AC power, they do come with batteries. To see how long they can run on battery power, I fully charged each and played a sequence of six high-definition videos while monitoring the battery's charge level. This test was repeated three times and the results averaged.

Even the most technically minded need to work with spreadsheets, write memos and do research on the Web. With that in mind, I set the SolidWorks software to continuously pan, rotate and zoom on a model in one window while writing and manipulating a worksheet in another. All the while I watched for delays and lost data.

Finally, since getting large amounts of data into and out of a workstation is a key quality, I connected each to a Thunderbolt-based LaCie 1TB Little Big Disk and measured the throughput by timing how long it took to move 25 folders filled with more than 15,000 files that added up to 18GB of data. If the system didn't have a Thunderbolt connection, I used USB 3.0 instead.

3 mobile workstations: Test results

Eurocom Racer 3W HP ZBook 15 Toshiba Tecra W50
PassMark Performance 8.0 3,089.4 3,258 2,654
CineBench 15 OpenGL/Processor 87.9fps/677 points 65.0 fps/675 points 66.3fps/672 points
Battery Life (hr:min)* 1:43 2:53 3:43
* With video running constantly; not indicative of normal usage

This article, Power to the portable: 3 high-performance mobile workstations, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Brian Nadel is a frequent contributor to Computerworld and the former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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