16 Things to Look for in a Mobile Workstation for CAD
Way back in 2011, an unscientific Cadalyst survey revealed that 11 percent of respondents used mobile workstations for CAD and 8 percent used standard PC notebooks. 2012 is sure to be a year when these stats shoot up, so it might be time to think about getting a mobile CAD machine that can optimize your performance on the road.
First off, let it be known that I can’t think of a single reason to use a regular laptop for CAD. It’s like using a desktop instead of a workstation, and you know how I feel about that. Laptop configurations are not geared to graphics-intensive activities like CAD, nor are they generally built for use in extreme conditions like construction sites, oil rigs and industrial plants. So do yourself a favor and lose the laptop: Trust me, the premium you’ll pay for a mobile workstation will be more than made up for in productivity gains.
All that being said, here are the key things to look for in a mobile workstation that will help you design at your best wherever you find yourself:
Speed your way through compute-intensive tasks with Intel® CoreTM i5 or i7 processors. Go with dual core (and the highest frequency you can afford) unless you need the added power of quad core or quad-core extreme for on-device rendering. For more efficient use of CPU resources and faster multitasking capabilities, look for machines with Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology.
2. Graphics Card
If you do relatively complex 3D modeling, go with the best GPU you can get. The Lenovo ThinkPad W Series, for example, uses either the NVIDIA® Quadro® 1000M or 2000M with Optimus™ technology designed for up to 5 times faster 3D performance and 8 times faster computational simulation.
I recommend going with at least 6 GB of memory, but if you know you’ll be using your machine pretty intensely it’s better to upgrade at the point of purchase. Many mobile workstations can be configured with up to 16 GB of total memory.
4. 15-Inch Display
This seems to be the optimal size: It’s easy enough to move around with, and large enough to work productively. (Be sure to bring monitor connection cables with you if you travel to destinations where you can hook up a larger, or even multiple, screens.)
I recommend 1920 x 1080 resolution, but you may be able to get away with 1600 x 900 if you are on a budget.
6. Anti-Glare Glass
If you do any work outside, this feature is essential.
7. High-Level Cooling System
If you think you’ll be using your mobile workstation for sustained periods of time, be sure the cooling system can handle it. This is one of the biggest ways in which traditional laptops fall short, and a poorly designed cooling system can be murder on your hardware.
8. Durable Construction
Look for machines that pass MILSPEC tests for falls, bumps, vibration, etc. Many workstations have gone through military-grade tests for shock, dust and other potential damaging elements, and have innovative features like in-built roll cages and airbag-like systems.
9. Solid-State Drives
This isn’t a deal breaker, especially if your machine is durably made, but I’m becoming a fan of SSDs in mobile devices because they’re less susceptible to physical shock than standard hard drives. They also run quiet and fast, which help increase performance.
10. Operating System
I recommend the 64-bit version of the Genuine Windows® 7 Professional operating system. Lenovo offers an Enhanced Experience 2.0 for Windows, for faster boot times and accelerated application performance.
Mobility requires access to data, often in unusual places. I recommend upgrading to an integrated mobile broadband connection if you know you won’t always be able to tap into a Wi-Fi network. You should also make sure you connect to the Internet using a VPN solution for extra security.
12. Battery Life
CAD applications are notorious for sucking the life out of computer batteries. If you know you’ll be working untethered, upgrade to an external slice battery and stay mobile for up to 20 hours.
13. ISV Certification
Whatever mobile workstation you choose, make sure it’s certified by the software vendor to work with the applications you’ll be using. Lenovo workstations, for example, are certified to work with more than 120 applications, including some of the most stringent in the industry.
14. Cable Lock
I know it’s a bit dorky, but given that thousands of mobile devices are stolen from airports, conference rooms and other locations, it’s a good idea to secure your machine with a physical lock if you ever have to leave it unattended. It’s $40 well spent.
15. Backup Plan
Whether you have an application-specific solution like AutoCAD WS account or prefer to use another online backup service, make sure you can access your valuable CAD data if anything happens to your device.
16. Your Own Must-Haves
I consider all the above features to be essential components for performing optimally with a mobile workstation. But there are many other features you’ll want to consider, based on your particular temperament and working conditions. If you do a lot of video conferencing, for example, an integrated low-light sensitive, HD webcam with dual-digital microphone configurations might be crucial for you. Keyboard noise suppression technology, integrated fingerprint readers, USB port enable/disable lock-down settings and energy efficiency may be critical for some and unnecessary for others. Do your comparison-shopping and choose the mobile workstation that will help you perform at your best.
Do you plan on going mobile in 2012 to increase your CAD/CAM performance? Do you already use a mobile workstation that you love?