Home > Backup System, Display, Hard Drive, Mobile Workstations > Tips for Going Mobile with CAD, Part 4: More 15″ Laptops

Tips for Going Mobile with CAD, Part 4: More 15″ Laptops

In Part One of this series, 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 Part Two, I outlined the features I would look for when selecting my 17-inch mobile workstation. This post continues our discussion from Part Three about features for 15″ mobile workstations:


For the display, just make sure that it is at least an 8-bit option. Ask and be sure to check out a gray scale blended image with your own eyes, before you buy. If you see banding, you want to look for a different display.

Hard Drive

While a regular hard drive is fine for a 17” workstation where you are putting down roots when you use the system, with a 15” mobile workstation, you need an SSD (solid-state drive) for two reasons:

  1. You are going to be moving this thing around while it is working. 6 lbs. is not light, but it is light enough that you will have your machine on while you take it with you from your office to the kitchen or bathroom. You are supposed to power down your hard drive when you move it, but I never do this. I simply move the laptop with the hard drive spinning away. This is a recipe for data loss. However, SSDs can be moved without potentially damaging your data. There are no moving parts to break. So get a 200+ GB SSD. If you can afford it, spring for extra storage in a 500 GB SSD.
  2. The other big advantage of SSDs over hard drives: typically they are faster and lighter.


Finally, get some kind of backup option in place, preferably cloud-based so it is offsite. 15” laptops are magnets for theft because they are small and relatively lightweight. So have an automated cloud backup system in place. I have been using Mozy because it had an unlimited option and runs in the background. The unlimited option has been discontinued, so do your research for other cloud backup solutions. At the very least, backup your critical working data to the cloud, while backing up movies or mp3 or photos on a USB drive.

What about 14” or Smaller Mobile Devices?

For CAD production work, forget anything smaller than 15” — you won’t have the performance or the real estate you need. But for CAD or architectural presentation work, smaller laptops or tablets can be great options. You can do some incredibly sexy demos of your CAD work to clients on an iPad. While you can’t really modify anything, you can present your work in a form factor that makes everyone want to interact.

The Next Generation

I’m not privy to the refresh cycle for Dell and HP mobile workstations, but each is at about a year since last update. So in the next few months, for 15” inch mobile workstations, I would expect to see: lighter devices (6 lbs. is increasingly difficult to justify in a word of MacBook Airs and tablets), high end FirePro mobility graphics cards, and maybe quad core CPUs with higher clock speeds and lower power consumption than today’s dual core systems (e.g. Fusion and Sandy Bridge).

Author: Tony DeYoung

  1. mmelechinsky@kingindustries.com
    April 18, 2011 at 11:09 am

    I don’t see how one justifys having a 200-500GB SSD installed in a laptop given the prices I currently see for these drives. In some cases it could drive up the cost of the laptop dramatically. The cost per/GB is still too high compared to the “old” platter technology. Perhaps when SSD’s are the norm and prices have dropped considerably it will make more sense.

    • April 18, 2011 at 4:19 pm

      To me the justification is the cost of data loss. I am one of those people who move their 15 in laptops around while doing work. I work at home, so I am often switching rooms. I never power down like I should. When I move my spinning magnetic disk in the middle of read and writes, there is a a reall chance that I can corrupt or lose data. That data is a lot more valuable then the cost of an SSD drive. In fact in the past, I have dropped my laptop with a spinning drive to the floor (I tripped on the carpet under our dining room table). Although the laptop case and screen survived the fall, the drive was damaged. I didn’t lose just my work, I lost all of the time trying to recover the damn thing. A full day of billable work is to me, worth a lot more than the cost of an SSD drive. So I now only go with SSD drives for my mobile laptops.

      As for you own situation, if you never move your laptop when it is doing read/write, then a traditional magnetic disk is fine for you. But if you are more like me and move it around in the middle of activity (of course you never expect to drop it), then you want to spend the cash for the SSD drive.

  2. April 18, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    A few days after this post went up, HP announced their new EliteBook mobile workstations. The 17.3-inch 8760w and the 15.6-inch 8560w feature 2nd generation Core i5 and i7 CPUs, offer DreamColor display options, SSD options, and come standard with a FirePro M5950 which is AMD’s newest mid-range workstation card (1GB GDDR5 memory, 57.6 GB/s, 128-bit bandwidth pipeline and TDP = 25W).

  1. April 16, 2011 at 2:35 am

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