CAD Tech News (#151)16 Sep, 2021 By: Cadalyst Staff
The Evolving Role of the Mobile Workstation,
It comes down to physics — a deskside can always outperform a mobile workstation. Cadalyst hardware expert, Alex Herrera, looks under the hood of both to break down the pros and cons of each form factor.
By Alex Herrera
Last month’s installment of Herrera on Hardware explored the growing demand and evolving usage of the mobile workstation for CAD, while introducing HP’s potent new Power G8 model as a great example of the performance and capabilities available in a highly equipped 15.6” configuration. This month, we’ll compare how a mobile workstation stacks up to a traditional deskside, and how that will continue to impact the mobile’s role moving forward. And, to wrap up this two-part series, we’ll look at how the evolution of CAD computing platforms in general may impact the mobile workstation’s prominence in the future.
HP’s new ZBook Power G8 mobile workstation released this summer is a great example of the performance and capabilities packed into a 15.6” configuration. Image source: HP.
The laws of physics and thermodynamics simply don’t bend, and a small, densely populated mobile computer — often running on battery — can never match what a bigger, always-wired machine can manage (assuming maximizing performance is the goal, of course). Furthemore, that will forever be the case, simply because the mobile machine is constrained by far tighter constraints on power delivery and thermal dissipation.
Choices in CPUs are obvious examples. Power consumption, and the resulting heat produced, scales linearly with a CPU’s clock rate (all else equal). Accordingly, CPU suppliers like Intel dial back frequencies (as well as voltages, which have a larger power-of-2 impact on power) to hit certain power tiers that — for mobiles in particular — balance performance and power to optimize both heat and and battery life. So, while Intel markets this commonly branded “11th Generation Core” line of both deskside and mobile CPUs, it turns out that under the hood, 11th Gen Core products for desktops are quite different than 11th Gen Core products for mobiles. Currently, they are based on different designs — Rocket Lake and Tiger Lake, respectively — both built on different microarchitectures and even different silicon processes.
Where a line-powered high-performance desktop or deskside machine with plenty of space to power and cool components will typically accommodate a 125-watt CPU (Thermal Design Power, the max power that the design can manage thermally), a performance-oriented mobile like the Power G8 will top out at 45W, and a battery life optimized consumer or commercial notebook might shoot for 28W or less. To get to those levels, the base clock rates drop commensurately, from 3.6GHz to 2.5, to 2.4, or less. (Note the Turbo rates don’t change much, as they are transient, especially for mobiles, and are throttled back before exacerbating any thermal issues. For a deeper look contrasting base and boost CPU frequencies, check out this previous column).
Purposely comparing apples to oranges, the 11th Generation Core series and sample SKUs of desktop to mobile units show the difference between them. Data source: Intel.
How much more performance can a deskside deliver than a mobile? This review of the ZBook Power G8 provided a great opportunity to compare. While it might be possible to configure another conventional, notebook-sized mobile workstation with a bit more horsepower, this Power G8 is not far from the top end of today’s mobile workstation performance spectrum. Our review unit came packed to the gills with premium components, providing about as much performance as possible in a package of its size.
It’s worth stressing that this benchmarking exercise does not intend to weigh the AMD Ryzen 5000 series CPUs over 11th Gen Core from Intel, as the former is tuned for mobiles and the latter for desktops. In fact, as I laid out back in January and supported further a few months later, the two vendors and product families are on relatively even footing these days, after a successful resurgence by AMD on the back of its Zen technology and manufacturing choices.
CONTINUE READING! Alex Herrera breaks down the performance of the HP ZBook Power G8 compared to a deskside workstation. Find out how they compare, which machine is best for what kind of work, and projections for the future. Read more »
Alex Herrera is a consultant focusing on high-performance graphics and workstations.
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