Mobile workstations are not your ordinary, bog-standard business laptops; they're altogether different beasts due to the parts they use, the level of after-sales services and their retail prices. In other words, they tend to be quite chunky, very expensive and top performers when it comes to sheer speed, regardless of price.
You tend to get expensive professional GPUs (Graphics Processing Units like Nvidia's Quadro, or AMD's FirePro - which is now the Radeon Pro WX range), loads of memory, good expansion capabilities, optional 4G/LTE connectivity, Intel Xeon processors as an option, and more often than not, a long warranty.
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These portable powerhouses are popular in a number of verticals: CAD/CAM, Geospatial, oil & gas and engineering because they allow workers to be flexible on the move, reducing downtime that might be associated with long commutes or intercontinental flights.
A number of recent trends have accelerated this shift. Component manufacturers have shifted their attention away from the desktop to the laptop markets with a laser focus on delivering the best performance per watt.
Some vendors - like MSI - are also using experience acquired in other markets - such as gaming - to design and build their mobile workstation portfolios. Then there's also the move to further miniaturise the form factor with a number of models falling in the UItrabook category by virtue of their size and heft.
1. Dell Inspiron 15 7566
A great all-rounder
CPU: 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6300HQ | Graphics: Nvidia GTX 960M | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 pixels | Storage: 256GB SSD
Very few laptops on the market can compete with this model. Dell's Inspiron range is aimed at business and consumers with a definite nudge towards the former. Dare we say, the 7000 series is one that will please almost everyone, including gamers. For the price, you get a laptop with an aluminium chassis and a long list of impressive features. As this is not your typical workstation, the laptop comes with Windows 10 Home but can be upgraded to Windows 10 Pro for £99.99.
Read the full review: Dell Inspiron 15 7000
2. HP ZBook 14 G2
Still a storming workstation offering
CPU: 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-5600U | Graphics: AMD FirePro M4150 | RAM: 16GB | Screen: 13.3-inch, 1920 x 1080 pixels | Storage: 256GB SSD
HP's mobile workstation Ultrabook has already reached its third generation but the last one is still very much a best-in-class especially when it comes to sheer value for money. It is one of the cheapest workstations on the market to offer a professional dedicated graphics card, and the most affordable business laptop to come with a whopping half-decade warranty. HP opted for a 14-inch diagonal which may well hit a sweet spot for some.
Read the full review: HP ZBook 14 G2
3. HP ZBook Studio G3
A winning combination of brains and beauty
CPU: 2.8GHz (3.7GHz) Intel Xeon E3-1505M v5 | Graphics: Nvidia Quadro M1000M | RAM: 32GB | Screen: 15.6-inch, 3840 x 2160 pixels | Storage: 512GB SSD
HP calls it the perfect combination of brains and beauty and it is kind of hard to disagree. The G3 is essentially a mobile workstation that has been squeezed in an Ultrabook form factor. A 4K monitor adorns it and there's plenty of oomph under the hood. It is actually the only device known to us that comes with a Xeon CPU. Add in extensive ISV certification, a super-long warranty and MLD-STD 810G certification and you have a very attractive candidate.
Read the full review: HP ZBook Studio G3
4. Dell Precision 15 7000
An outrageously fast workstation
CPU: 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-6920HQ | Graphics: Nvidia Quadro M2000M | RAM: 16GB | Screen: 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 pixels | Storage: 1TB SSD
The more upmarket version of the Inspiron 15 7000 above is the Precision 15 7000, an outrageously fast machine with an equally outrageous price tag. As expected you get cutting edge components and the type of flexibility in the customisation process that sorely lacks with the SOHO-oriented Inspiron range. This is Dell's direct, built-to-order model at its best: From the latest Intel quad-core CPU to a plethora of other high end parts, this is as good as it gets.
5. Lenovo ThinkPad P40 Yoga
A champion convertible of a workstation
CPU: 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U | Graphics: Nvidia Quadro M500M | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 14.1-inch, 1920 x 1080 pixels | Storage: 256GB SSD
Lenovo hails this model as the world's first multi-mode workstation, one that manages to combine power and creativity thanks to a 360-degree hinge that has, to some extent, set the standard when it comes to convertible or 2-in-1 designs. What's more, it is one of the very rare laptops to come with built-in Wacom Active ES pen technology, capable of delivering 2048 levels of pen pressure sensitivity and tilt recognition.
6. MSI WS60
Supercharged gaming laptop
CPU: 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6300HQ | Graphics: Nvidia Quadro M600M | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 pixels | Storage: 1TB HDD
MSI is not a brand that we usually associate with workstations but the Taiwanese company, unlike its staunchest competitors, Gigabyte and Asus, has made some remarkable inroads in this lucrative niche market. The WS60 is essentially a more expensive version of its gaming laptop with a certified professional GPU. It's worth noting that this laptop is one of the slimmest and lightest of the workstations in this list.
Read the full review: MSI WS60
7. Lenovo ThinkPad P70
A top-spec beast powered by Intel Xeon
CPU: 2.8GHz Intel Xeon E3-1505M v5 | Graphics: Nvidia Quadro M5000M 8GB | RAM: 16GB | Screen: 17.3-inch, 3840 x 2160 pixels | Storage: 512GB SSD + 500GB HDD
This is the top-of-the-range workstation at Lenovo, the apex predator, the one to beat. Targeting designers, engineers and professionals in the oil and gas industry, it is one of the only two models to feature an Intel Xeon processor. There's also a built-in colour calibrator as well as a steep price tag for the top-end model to highlight its premium nature. It is a shame though that it doesn't offer any RAID option at this price and tops out at 512GB storage.
Read the full review: Lenovo ThinkPad P70
8. Toshiba Tecra W50-A-115
This Tecra is still definitely worth a shout
CPU: 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-4810MQ | Graphics: Nvidia Quadro K2100M | RAM: 32GB | Screen: 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 pixels | Storage: 256GB SSD
Toshiba hasn't released a new mobile workstation for nearly two years now. The current top-of-the-range model however is still a very capable one. It features the familiar Tecra anthracite design, one without the compromises associated with ultra-slim form factors, and is the only one on this list to come with 32GB RAM as standard (four 8GB modules). The rest of the configuration is still decent and while we might frown at the one-year warranty, it's an international one.
9. MSI WT72 6QK
A big laptop with plenty of room for expansion
CPU: 2.7GHz Intel Core i7 6700HQ | Graphics: Nvidia Quadro M3000M | RAM: 16GB | Screen: 17.3-inch, 1920 x 1080 pixels | Storage: 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD
The bigger brother to the WS60 comes with a higher price tag due mostly to a faster GPU (the M3000M rather than the M2000M). And because it is a big laptop with a 17.3-inch display, it has a lot of expansion capabilities. Four memory slots, up to four M.2 SATA SSD in RAID 0/5 and about a dozen ports (including six, yes six, USB 3.0 ports). Just bear in mind that this is a beasty machine, one that weighs more than four kilos (around 10 pounds) when you add in the power supply unit.
10. PC Specialist Octane III Quadro
Customise your workstation just as you want
CPU: 4GHz Intel Core i7-6700K | Graphics: Nvidia Quadro M1000M | RAM: 64GB | Screen: 17.3-inch, 1920 x 1080 pixels | Storage: 500GB SSD x 2
In the world of workstations lies an even smaller niche. One for vendors that build to order using parts from the likes of Foxconn. The Octane III is one of them, allowing the user to choose exactly what parts they want to power their workstations and more. Sure, you don't get the sort of support you'd expect from the likes of Lenovo, Dell or HP, but for many, the pros of using a vendor like PC Specialist will outweigh the cons.
The model we configured came with the best consumer grade laptop CPU on the market, 64GB of RAM and two 500GB SSDs in RAID-0 mode. Of course, you’re free to specify the machine as you wish – but there are plenty of options when it comes to powerful components, that’s for sure.