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

April 15, 2011 4 comments

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:

Display

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.

Backup

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