Shopping Guide: Comparison of Workstations

Sebastian Jentsch (translated by Liala Stieglitz), 11/30/2011

Colorful and powerful. Workstations are expensive. But they are high performance machines for professionals. The processing power isn't necessarily higher than high-end consumer laptops, but the screen usually shows who the boss is. There isn't a vast amount to choose from and that results in a smaller comparison of only a few devices.

In this article, we will look back upon 2011 and give recommendations for the device category, workstations. This category is a niche player with only a few reviews every year. It's no wonder since the device prices seem overpriced and unworldly to the consumer. However, those looking for a workstation don't want to buy just any hardware, but are specifically looking for platform stability, certification for specific professional applications, excellent TFT screens or simply for the ultimate processing power (CPU/ partly GPU).

Dell Precision M4600 / M6600

Dell Precision M4600
Dell Precision M4600

The notebooks: The 15.6 and 17.3 inch Precision M4600 and M6600 are new to the team. Dell's powerhouses are (optionally) equipped with an Intel Core i7 2920XM (2.5 GHz), which can clock up to 3.5 GHz in Turbo. Performance losses due to thermal throttling can't happen even in the 15.6 inch machine. The case's stability is beyond any doubt; the input devices with the PointStick, good pressure point and numpad are smart.

The M4600 has one drawback: The keyboard yielded evidently, but that didn't have an impact on the good feedback. The battery life is very good despite the powerful hardware in form of NVIDIA's Quadro 2000M, respectively 4000M: 7 hours in the WLAN test. The low noise emissions and case's low temperature are even more advantages (excluding the M4600).

The buyer: Is looking for the best possible mobile computing power (2920XM + SSD). The only disadvantage is the high price of, for example, 3800€ for the test configuration (M4600). In return, the buyer gets a 256 GB SSD and a matt, bright Full HD screen with high contrast (no IPS, near sRGB). To enjoy the benefits of a Precision workstation, the customer can decline the extreme processor and SSD. The prices then start at 1370€ for the M4600 and 1720€ for the M6600.

Reviews of the Dell Precision M4600 / M6600

Lenovo ThinkPad W520

Lenovo ThinkPad W520
Lenovo ThinkPad W520

The notebook: The 15.6 inch laptop, optionally with a Full HD screen, combines stable, everyday suitable workmanship with premium input devices (but no numpad) and a high application performance (Core i7 2820QM). The screen is a paragon in terms of viewing angle stability and color spectrum (sRGB). However, the brightness of 218 cd/m2 could be a bit higher. The scope of interfaces (ExpressCard34, FireWire, DisplayPort, screwed on VGA) and the expansion options (docking, MultiBay drive) are very large (typical feature). Thanks to the 94 Wh battery, the battery life of 6 hours in the WLAN test is also perfect.

The buyer: Isn't willing to compromise on screen, but gladly accepts the higher temperatures during load. However, he will have to pay for the brilliant 1920x1080 pixels with at least 1700€.

Review of the Lenovo ThinkPad W520

Fujitsu Celsius H710

Fujitsu Celsius H710
Fujitsu Celsius H710

The notebook: The most vital criterion, the screen, meets the high demands on the desk although sRGB is slightly failed. The matt, bright screen is suitable for outdoor use and has wide viewing angles. The interfaces in the way of eSATA, MultiBay drive, docking port and USB 3.0 are diverse. The 250GB Toshiba SSD and Core i7 2820QM (test device, version) furnish the top rates among all reviewed notebooks. The touchpad is a bit small and there is no numpad. A real letdown is the short battery life of only 1:50 hours with the 84 Wh lithium ion battery.

The buyer: Takes a curious look at the "price cutter" among workstations. The Celsius H710 is available for 1530€ and includes a matt Full HD screen (1920x1080), Core i5, NVIDIA Quadro 1000M and UMTS module. In view of that, the short battery life and the "only" good input devices can be accepted.

Review of the Fujitsu Celsius H710

HP EliteBook 8560w / 8760w

HP EliteBook 8560w
HP EliteBook 8560w

The notebook: Unfortunately, we haven't yet been able to review HP's 15.6, respectively 17 inch workstations. However, considering the general quality of EliteBook cases, we can confirm a high stability and quality, as well as perfect input devices. We could convince ourselves in a hands-on. The performance, with a quad core i7 2670QM and NVIDIA Quadro 4000M/1000M, for example, speaks for itself. The screen options cover every requirement: HD+, FHD or DreamColor display (FHD resolution). DreamColor stands for a color spectrum that goes beyond sRGB (AdobeRGB). See HP EliteBook 8740w with IPS screen (end of 2010).

The buyer: Is looking for a workstation that not only has power under its hood, but also has elegant looks. The availability in shops has increased since November 2011 and now a few versions of the 8560w with a Core i5, i7, ATI FirePro graphics or Nvidia Quadro graphics can in fact be bought. The 8760w with DreamColor costs 3270€.

No review available yet on Notebookcheck.com!

Apple MacBook Pro 17 Early 2011 (2.2 GHz Quad-Core, glare)

Apple MacBook Pro 17 Early 2011 (2.2 GHz quad core, glare)
Apple MacBook Pro 17 Early 2011 (2.2 GHz quad core, glare)

The notebook: In early 2011, the 17 inch laptop became the reference among the workstations, respectively desktop replacements due to a very good screen, first rate processed aluminum unibody and premium devices (refresh with Sandy Bridge processors). The screen's glare quality certainly won't be welcome everywhere, but the color spectrum, contrast ratio and viewing angles are awesome. However, there is also an alternative with a Hi-res anti-glare screen (Full HD) in the meantime. The battery life of good eight hours is an extremely long runtime for a 17 inch device (WLAN test under MacOS). Drawbacks are found especially during use under Windows: The power adapter's capacity no longer suffices and the processor throttles tremendously. Moreover, the battery life sinks because graphics switching doesn't work anymore.

The buyer: Doesn't pinch every penny twice when buying an Apple because he can reckon with at least 2100€ without ifs and buts. The Apple fan has to live with the lack of a docking station or even USB 3.0. That is compensated with a keyboard backlight and FireWire 800.

Review of the Apple MacBook Pro 17 Early 2011

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Author: Sebastian Jentsch, 2011-11-30 (Update: 2012-05-26)