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CAD Tech News (#91)

2 Aug, 2018 By: Cadalyst Staff


▶ Herrera on Hardware: CAD Workstation Form Factors 101, Part 4 — New Flavors of Mobile Workstations Diversify the Spectrum

As mobile workstations become ever more popular, the form-factor options buyers have to choose from are expanding to include exotic display types and portability options.

By Alex Herrera

In the previous installment of this series on workstation form factors, we defined the primary categories of mobile workstations and looked at the basic features distinguishing each group. Here, we dive into some of the more exotic options making their way into the mobile marketplace, which range from merely tradition-bending to outright mold-breaking.

The 360-Degree Display

While more a logical extension of the traditional mobile than anything revolutionary, the option of a 360-degree (or close) display is becoming more available, specifically in the Thin 'n' Light category. Earlier this year, HP introduced such an offering with its ZBook Studio x360, which features full 360-degree rotation of the display and five usage modes, including pen mode with Wacom AES support. Dell did as well, introducing the "2-in-1" option with pen/touch support for tablet-type support in its Thin 'n' Light Precision 5530.

The HP ZBook Studio x360 features full 360-degree rotation of the display. Image courtesy of HP.
The HP ZBook Studio x360 features full 360-degree rotation of the display. Image courtesy of HP.

Jack-of-all-Trades Convertibles

Pushing a step further than 360-degree display option is a laptop/table "convertible" that allows the user to disconnect the keyboard altogether, and combined with touch, work in a true tablet mode or with the Bluetooth-enabled keyboard in "detach" mode. HP created just such a machine, with its ZBook x2. Dell and Lenovo have yet to follow suit, though if the category takes off, no doubt they will.

The workstation-caliber, multi-modal HP ZBook x2 allows the user to separate the keyboard from the rest of the machine. Image courtesy of HP.
The workstation-caliber, multi-modal HP ZBook x2 allows the user to separate the keyboard from the rest of the machine. Image courtesy of HP.
The ZBook x2 operates in four physical modes. Image courtesy of HP.
The ZBook x2 operates in four physical modes. Image courtesy of HP.

Extreme Performance, Ruggedized, Luggable, and Even Wearable Workstations

Ruggedized mobile workstations don't have universal appeal, as the process of ruggedizing the machine increases cost, size, and weight. So for the majority of users working in generally friendly environments, there's no point to a ruggedized model. But for the minority that are taking their machines into the field, from inherently unfriendly to downright hostile environments, rugged may be less a nicety and more an absolute requirement.

Military applications are obvious candidates, but CAD-focused applications can be as well. AEC and building information modeling (BIM) come immediately to mind, where construction sites can be dusty and wet and where the machine might fall from heights or — perhaps worse — get crushed by another falling object. Oil/gas drill sites or remote ad hoc movie sets also make compelling candidates for a rugged mobile workstation. Among workstation OEMs, Dell has made ruggedized a strategic segment, now dominating shipments with models like the MIL-SPEC (military standard)-compatible rugged Latitude. (It's worth noting that Dell currently markets the machine exclusively under the corporate brand Latitude, as opposed to the workstation Precision brand).

Are you one of the few who frequently performs compute-intensive work in the field, and therefore is interested in making the fewest performance compromises possible? Then you might be interested in another boutique workstation variant: the "luggable." More portable than a deskside but decidedly more bulky than even a heavy-duty mobile workstation, the appropriately named luggable fits the gap between the two. Typically packaged in a suitcase-type form factor, luggables such as NextComputing's Radius and ruggedized Vigor integrate a 17" display on the suitcase's side panel, while offering the capabilities of a high-performance single-socket deskside. Both models support maximum-performance CPUs and graphics processing units (GPUs), up to NVIDIA's top-end dual-slot Quadro P6000.

NextComputing's luggable Radius workstation can be carried like a suitcase. Image courtesy of NextComputing.
NextComputing's luggable Radius workstation can be carried like a suitcase. Image courtesy of NextComputing.

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

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