CAD Tech News (#90)

18 Jul, 2018 By: Cadalyst Staff

▶ Herrera on Hardware: CAD Workstation Form Factors 101, Part 3 — Mobiles Move Front and Center

Mobile workstations have boomed since their relatively recent introduction. What does that indicate about CAD users' workflows, and what options are available to you?

By Alex Herrera

Introduced in the early 2000s, the mobile workstation has been an unmitigated success in the market. While the deskside workstation (covered in depth in the previous installment of this series on workstation form factors) remains the indispensable go-to computing tool for visual computing professionals, the mobile workstation has gone from nonexistent to a must-have tool for work outside the office.

In short order, the mobile workstation has grown to represent about one-third of all workstation sales — and its success makes perfect sense. More and more, we're all out of the office, working on the road for business or at home on odd hours, flextime, or the weekends to catch up. In this environment, a machine that travels, and is optimized for professional workloads, is a no-brainer complement to the deskside workstation at the office. Accordingly, individual users and big enterprise procurement professionals alike are opting for mobile workstations over the conventional corporate-issue notebook PCs which were the standard in the past.

The Four Primary Categories: 17" Performance, 15" Performance, 15" Entry, and 15" Thin 'n' Light

Like the deskside segment covered previously, the mobile portion of the workstation market has diversified extensively over time. What was once a single- or dual-model product line in the early 2000s is now a portfolio of anywhere from a few to many, depending on the OEM. And as they've done with desksides, top-tier providers like HP, Dell, and Lenovo have settled on several de facto standard form factors, augmented by both emerging and niche variations on the standard models.

The foundation of the mobile workstation market remains the two primary workhorses, differentiated and primarily defined by the screen size: the 17" and the 15". The 17" serves a minority but non-trivial portion of the user base: Those who demand the highest productivity solution — one combining the largest display and maximum performance. Like a deskside (though not to the same degree), the bigger mobile package of the 17" allows not only for more components to be stuffed in, but for those components to consume more watts and therefore be capable of higher performance.

Delivering a more balanced blend of form and functionality, the 15" models sensibly command the lion's share of mobile workstation volume. Given the popularity of the size and the growing overall appeal of the mobile workstation to CAD professionals in particular, it's no surprise that it's the 15" that's received the most attention in diversification. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) today typically offer at least two 15" models: a standard model favoring performance, and something in the more recent "Thin 'n' Light" category, trading off a bit of capability for a slimmer profile. Where a conventional 15" model runs about an inch thick, the Thin 'n' Light trims that by about 25%. Why no 17" Thin 'n' Light? Simply because it's a bit of an oxymoron, slimming down a model that a buyer specifically chose over the less bulky and more popular 15" offerings. The point of the 17" is usually to favor maximum capabilities over form, so there's little motivation to thin it, especially when that likely means compromising performance in the process.

The top two suppliers by volume, HP and Dell, have both added a third 15" offering, a value-focused version that delivers (roughly) the performance of the Thin 'n' Light with the dimensions of the thicker regular model. As such, each company now markets one 17" and three or more 15" models as standard offerings. Dell lines up its 17" Precision 7730, the workhorse 15" Precision 7530, the Thin 'n' Light Precision 5530, and the economy-oriented Precision 3530. HP goes a step further in model count with the ZBook 17, the mainstream ZBook 15, the Thin 'n' Light 15" ZBook Studio, and the value-focused ZBook 15v and two 15" Thin 'n' Lights, the ZBook 15u, and the premium creative-oriented ZBook Studio. Lenovo, number three in volume, offers up its 17" ThinkPad P71, the 15" ThinkPad P52, and the 15" Thin 'n' Light P52s. Lenovo has no economy-focused 15" option at the moment, as for the most part, a lightly configured P52 can fill that void.

The ZBook Studio x360. Image courtesy of HP.
The ZBook Studio x360. Image courtesy of HP.

Besides scaling display size, differently dimensioned models vary in resolution, precision, and fabrication technology. Resolution today for the vast majority bottoms out at FullHD, or 1920 x 1080, though options to 3840 x 1260 are increasingly common, especially in the premium and Thin 'n' Light offerings. Display precision can also be dialed up, with optional technologies such as HP's DreamColor offering more bits per color channel (red, green, and blue), which translates to a higher-fidelity image reproduction. Advanced display technologies like IPS and SVA (and variants) are becoming more economical and improving attributes like contrast and viewing angle. And finally, touch/stylus support is now a checkmark item on most models, albeit an optional one. Read more »

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Alex Herrera is a consultant focusing on high-performance graphics and workstations.

▶ Cadalyst Verifies Compatibility of Cadalyst Benchmark with AutoCAD 2019

Users can test and compare the performance of computers running AutoCAD 2000–2019.

By Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst announces that it has independently tested and confirmed that the Cadalyst Systems Benchmark 2015 (C2015 v5.5b) can be used to test and compare the performance of systems running the latest version of AutoCAD, version 2019. The benchmark tool also supports all other versions of AutoCAD going back to v2000.

Cadalyst Benchmark Test files are available free for download at

With this announcement, Cadalyst also is requesting user input regarding future development, replacement, or possible retirement of the current AutoCAD-based benchmark test, which the publication has offered free of charge to the CAD community since 1996. Cadalyst editors welcome all related comments and requests at


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About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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