Serious creative work requires a different kind of laptop and best workstation laptop, and portable mobile workstaions. Whether you’re processing and correcting high-resolution stills, editing 4K video or producing 3D graphics, you need processing power, RAM and high-speed storage beyond what you’ll typically get from the average office workhorse.
Similarly, running financial simulations, CAD software or complex data analytics necessitates more grunt than a mainstream laptop can muster.
This is where these contenders come in. Some are massive and uber-powerful, some ultra-portable and agile, but all of them are designed to give you the capabilities you need for more demanding tasks.
We asked the biggest and best laptop manufacturers to send in devices that could go the extra mile. Also, we asked for high-end processors, discrete graphics, great designs and beautiful, color-accurate screens that could cater for the needs of more advanced creative users.
We wanted mobile workstations with the power of a desktop PC, and design and video-editing laptops that could handle professional work.
If you’re looking for a laptop that can sustain your endeavors and support your business or education, we have you covered.
After reviews we will discuss how to choose a perfect workstation laptop.
List of Best Workstation Laptop
Here is our round up on the best workstation laptops in 2021, these are budget portable mobile workstations also.
- ConceptD 3 Creator Laptop Workstation
- ConceptD 7 Creator Laptop With RTX 2080
- Alienware M15 R3 Mobile Workstation with RTX 2070 Super
- Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED High Performance Laptop
- HP Zbook 14U G6 14″ Mobile Workstation
- Microsoft Surface Book 3 – 15inch Portable Workstation
- Razer Blade 15 Advanced Gaming Laptop
While we wish its excellent screen was brighter, this is a solid entry-level choice for those on a budget.
Compared to Acer’s ConceptD7, the ConceptD 3 looks prosaic.This is a more traditional, sensible workhorse of a laptop, leaving out the ConceptD 7’s stunning 4K screen and high-end GPU for a more accessible price.
Yet if it lacks the flair of its stablemate opposite, the ConceptD 3 is certainly well balanced. You still get the six-core, 12-thread Core17-9750H processor, albeit with 16GB rather than 32GB of RAM.
The GeForce GTX1650 GPU is no match for our ConceptD 7’s RTX 2080, it’s a sensible compromise. This graphics chip comes with enough power to accelerate lightweight 3D workloads and rendering tasks, while the powerful processor can handle number crunching in video and image editing, plus scientific, financial and engineering applications.
Like many of Acer’s mid-range laptops, the construction is part aluminum (the keyboard surround and the lid) and part plastic, but it feels robust, with little flex in the lid or the keyboard and a good, solid hinge. It’s also well behaved when it comes to noise, staying reasonably quiet until you push the CPU and GPU near maximum.
Yet there are some limitations on the connectivity front. Where the ConceptD 7 packed in Thunderbolt 3 support, the ConceptD 3 goes for standard USB-C 3.1 Gen 1, alongside two USB-A ports of the same spec and a USB 2 port. That will be frustrating for users looking for high-speed external storage when the 512GB SSD starts to fill up.
We’re also not so keen on ergonomics. With a full numeric pad, the keyboard’s layout feels more cramped, while the touchpad shifts left of center so that it still sits underneath the spacebar.
The keyboard itself isn’t awful, but the action is flat and spongy compared to the best, and we needed to ramp up the trackpad’s sensitivity before it felt really usable.
Sometimes it failed to register a tap or click, too. On the plus side, this model includes a fingerprint reader, and it makes sign-in about as quick and painless as it gets.
The screen might be a standard io8op effort, but that doesn’t mean it should be shunned. Like the ConceptD 7’s display, it’s Pantone approved, and we measured an average Delta E of just 0.77, so colour accuracy is pretty much perfect.
It covers 99% of the sRGB gamut and 87% of Adobe RGB, not to mention 98.9% of DCI-P3. But before we get too excited, we should mention that brightness tops out at just 257cd/m2, which is underwhelming in bright lighting indoors let alone when there’s a lot of sunlight.
Watch or work on video- or edit photos – and it’s apparent that this screen isn’t as vibrant as the best displays in this month’s tests, even if, in isolation, HD video still looks good.
Nor does it help that the sound is thin and brash. It’s a laptop where you’ll want to plug in headphones along with a decent mouse. You can use Bluetooth for either, with Bluetooth 5 supported, while it’s good to see Wi-Fi 6 onboard.
It’s not hard to see how the ConceptD 3’s lower-end graphics chip makes an impact; while it’s close to the ConceptD 7 in CPU-intensive tasks, it falls behind in workloads such as Premiere Pro or the V-Ray and Octane rendering engines, where laptops with more capable GPUs pull ahead.
It also fell behind the pack in the SPECworkstation benchmarks, particularly Product Design and GPU Compute. This isn’t a problem if you’re more focused on 2D design than 3D or video.
It means the ConceptD 3 falls awkwardly between the more versatile powerhouse systems and the more slimline, ultraportable machines. Where it wins, though, is on battery life, with its six-and-a-half hour performance in our test moving it comfortably ahead of most of the competition.
Perhaps most crucially, the Acer ConceptD 3 wins for value. If you’re looking for an affordable, entry level graphics and design workstation, this one makes its compromises in the right places.
A great creative laptop with one of the finest screens you’ll ever see, but you could go faster for less.
Even with laptops aimed at creative users, it’s surprising how little creativity seems to go into their design. Happily, that’s not the case with the ConceptD 7; from its elegant white aluminum chassis to the understated amber backlighting under the keyboard, it looks great. Even the grilles between the hinges at the rear of the machine look like they’ve not just been designed, but styled.
It’s not the most compact laptop on test this month, but with a 359 x 255mm footprint and 18mm thickness, you could hardly call it chunky. And the design works on a practical level.
For one thing, the size allows for cooling solution that can balance performance with noise. Even running at full tilt in our benchmarks, it was never offensively loud and there’s no sign of any odious throttling.
What’s More, it packs in a wide range of connections, including three USB-A 3.1 Geni ports and a USB-C3.1 Gen 2 port that supports Thunderbolt 3 – this gives transfer speeds of up to 40Gbits/sec with compatible devices, or up to 10Gbits/sec with USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 drives.
You can use the same port to run a screen over DisplayPort, with an HDM1 port on the right-hand side if you prefer.
The ConceptD 7’s screen is pretty special. It’s a 15.6m IPS panel that covers 100% of the sRGB gamut and 99.7% of Adobe RGB, while also being Pantone-approved for color accuracy: we measured a maximum brightness of 379cd/m2 and an average Delta E of just 1.94.
You can switch instantly between Adobe RGB and a slightly more saturated Native color profile using an applet in the Windows taskbar, and either way it looks fantastic. It’s not HDR, but the colors in movies and trailers really pop, making the most of the detail in 4K material.
If you’re editing photos, it’s a joy to use, even if you have to be aware that your work won’t look as good in print or on other screens as it’s going to look right here.There’s almost as much to love about the sound.
There’s lots of detail, a hint of bass and a wider soundstage than most laptops conjure, even if there’s some congestion in the mid-range.
The soft- touch chiclet keyboard could do with a little more spring, but the typing action is solid and the layout makes the most of the space. Our biggest complaint is that Acer has made one of the keys a Power key, and placed it right in the top-right corner where you’d normally find Delete.
The trackpad, meanwhile, is wide, smooth and perfectly responsive,although we suspect most creative users will be plugging in a mouse or graphics tablet before they get any real work done.
The ConceptD 7 ships in a range of configurations. All share the same Core i7-97soH processor, but the base versions match it with RTX GPUs while the ConceptD 7 Pro line packs Nvidia’s workstation-level Quadro RTX 3000 and 5000 GPUs.
The use of a ninth-generation Core i7 isn’t a worry here because the six-core CPU supports Hyper-Threading to give you 12 threads and a serious performance boost.
Throw in 32GB of DDR4-2666 RAM and a GeForce RTX 2080, as Acer did in our review sample, and the ConceptD 7 can hit impressive levels of performance. Granted, it’s not quite up there with the Chillblast and Gigabyte machines.
It’s strong in CPU intensive tasks and even stronger with 3D rendering and video workloads where the powerful GPU gets its chance to shine. What’s more, it doesn’t leave you with a miserable battery life. In our video-rundown tests, the ConceptD 7 kept going for the best part of six hours.
This all comes at a price, with the range starting at $2,000 for the model with an RTX 2060 and rising to $3,500 for the high-end Pro version with a Quadro RTX 5000.
Our test unit sits in the middle. While it’s a compelling all-round package with a slightly superior screen, both its Gigabyte and Razer rivals have it beaten when it comes to speed and value for money.
A powerhouse laptop for games and creative work, with a stunning screen and a strong set of speakers.
Alienware was one of the first companies to push high-end designer gaming laptops, but Dell (which bought the brand way back in 2006) believes these models could also double for creative duties.
Looking at the Alienware it’s not hard to see why. While there are signs of its gaming heritage in the angular design and honeycomb grille above the keyboard, these are relatively restrained.
What’s more, there’s no arguing with the spec. With a tenth-generation Core i9-10980HK CPU, 32GB of 3,200MHz DDR4 RAM and a mobile RTX 2080 Max-Q, our review sample easily out-specs most workstations you could buy for the same money.
The design is nothing if not practical, bringing the hinge forwards of the rear edge of the laptop, which shuffles the screen itself closer and leaves room for a good selection of ports and two massive vents at the back.
While you’ll find Ethernet, audio and USB ports on the side, along with a microSD card slot, there’s plenty of room at the rear for HDMI and DisplayPort outputs, a USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port and one of Dell’s proprietary graphics amplifier port. This lets you hook up a desktop graphics card in an amplifier module and upgrade the laptop’s onboard graphics later.
The position of the hinge means there’s less space on the interior surface of the laptop, but while there’s a little less wrist rest – and touchpad area – than on some other machines, it doesn’t really impact usability.
In fact, the well-spaced keys, intelligent layout and easy-going feel make this a straightforward laptop to work with, and the touchpad makes up for its small size with flawless accuracy.
Our review sample shipped with a 4K OLED, and it’s a beauty. It covers ioo”/o of the sRGB and DCI-P3 color gamuts, and 97.5% of Adobe RGB. With a brightness level of 428cd/m2, it’s bright enough to showcase HDR video content, and our only grumble would be the less-than-perfect color accuracy.
An average Delta E of 3.55 isn’t bad, but other laptops on test do better. Still, this is only a blocker if you are doing color-accurate work.
Models with this screen also feature Tobii eye-tracking – a technology that tracks the user’s gaze to alter the view in supporting 3Dapplications. The vast majority of these applications are games, where it takes some getting used to, and outside it’s mostly used as a power-saving feature, dimming the screen while you’re not looking at it. It also dims and locks the laptop if it senses you’re away, and then wakes up when it spots you returning.
One advantage we often find with gaming laptops is that audio is better than normal, and that’s certainly the case here. Not only is there more volume than you’d normally expect from laptop speakers but more bass, more energy and a significantly wider stereo spread. You’ll want headphones or monitors for anything critical, but it’s great for streaming video, games or background music.
In short, this is a fantastic laptop for almost any use, but what really makes it shine is its performance. For one thing, that eight-core, 16-thread Core i9 processor outperforms almost everything else out there, even if the Chillblast’s aggressive cooling of its Core i7-io875H (see opposite) gives it the edge in some of our benchmarks.
The Alienware stormed through CPU-intensive rendering and video processing tests, but also had the GPU horsepower to outperform the competition in GPU-based rendering and compute-heavy tasks.
What’s more, it can deliver this performance without making an earsplitting racket. You can make it noisier by going to the Alienware Control Center and switching thermal performance profiles, but we found that the effect on performance was negligible.
At default values, the machine kept mostly to a gentle hum, only occasionally reaching higher levels of fan noise in GPU-enhanced rendering tests and demanding games.
All the same, the high-end screen and high-end spec have one inevitable downside: battery life. Even just running HD video we saw the Alienware M15 R3 giving up the ghost in 4hrs 2omins – which is only slightly better than we saw from the Chillblast. However, that’s the price you have to pay for such performance, and we think it’s a worthwhile compromise.
Strong performance meets a dazzling screen: the Aero is equally at home in the den as it is in the office.
Gigabyte pitches the Aero 15 OLED as the ultimate work hard, play hard machine, with all the power and speed you might require for creative projects, alongside outstanding performance for 3D games.
With a Core i7- 10875H and GeForce RTX 2070 Super in place, neither claim seems out of order, and the <Aero 15 also has the advantage of a fantastic i5.6in OLED screen.
When we say fantastic, we mean it. It’s not tuned as bright as the Razer’s OLED display – its peak brightness stops at 334cd/m2 – but it’s a close match in every other respect, with 100% coverage of both the sRGB and DCI-P3 color gamuts, and 95.5% of Adobe RGB.
Color accuracy isn’t perfect – we measured an average Delta E of 3.32 – but it’s hardly disastrous, and HDR content looks superb. Blacks are deep and dark,while colors can be incredibly vivid.
Whether you’re hard at work, or streaming Netflix, the experience is great, helped by audio that’s a little brash but surprisingly powerful.
The physical design won’t be for everyone. There’s a bit of jet fighter in the styling, while the RGB-backlit keyboard, presented to a rainbow effect, is more aimed at gamers than design pros.
Luckily, Gigabyte’s software supports a vast range of settings and animations, so you can easily switch the backlighting to something more restrained. You can even set up perkey backlighting schemes for design or editing apps.
More importantly, the all-metal construction feels incredibly solid, with a smooth but tough hinge mechanism and a lid that feels near-bulletproof.
There’s more good news on connectivity. The Aero packs in three USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports, along with one Thunderbolt 3 connector, so you’ve got high-speed storage and general connectivity covered.
On top of that, Gigabyte supplies HDMI2 and DisplayPort 1.4 ports for external displays, along with Ethernet and Wi-Fi 6 for networking, with a Killer Ethernet module onboard. Gigabyte also wins brownie points for having such a convenient SD card slot for photo and video transfer.
The Aero takes an interesting approach to storage, using one of Intel’s H10 Optane- enhanced SSDs, which combines 512GB of QLC NAND memory with 32GB of Optane memory acting as a cache.
This combo promises sequential reads of up to 2,3ooMB/sec and write speeds of up to 1300MB/sec, but SSD measures these at i,252MB/sec and just 459MB/sec. Random read/write speeds were slightly more impressive.
We also have question marks over the keyboard. It has large, flat keys and a slightly cramped layout, partly to fit in a full numeric pad. The cursor keys can be hard to spot amongst their fellows, while the left-Shift and Ctrl keys feel undersized.
Most of all, the action feels floppy, with a lack of tactile feedback as you type. It’s not a bad keyboard, but it’s below the standard set by the other models here.
We’ve no complaints about the touchpad, which is big, smooth and very responsive to taps, clicks and gestures, or about the fingerprint reader in the top-left corner, which worked flawlessly time after time.
Meanwhile, someone has made the unfortunate decision to put the 72op webcam just above the hinge. Nobody likes to share the vision of their face from such a low angle or – worse – the view up their nostrils.
Thanks to the eight-core,16-thread Core i7-io875H and RTX 2070 Super, the Aero is one of the fastest systems in this Labs, only beaten by the Chillblast, which uses the same CPU, and the Alienware.
We’d put the difference down to throttling; while the Gigabyte doesn’t seem to run particularly loud or hot – we found its output was drowned out by the Chillblast’s racket – we saw clock speeds slow during some of our more CPU and GPU-intensive tests.
The specs don’t promise much in terms of battery life, but the Aero found a respectable mid-table spot with nearly six hours in our rundown tests. Running CPU and GPUintensive apps will probably have that, but that extra battery life over rivals may be the difference between lugging the power supply with you or not.
Overall, it’s a tough choice between the Gigabyte and Razer, with the Razer surging ahead on usability but the Gigabyte Pulling past on speed r and overall value. We’d be delighted with either of them.
A brilliant mobile workstation in many ways, but you should wait for its G7 refresh before you buy.
If you think of mobile workstations as huge desktop replacement laptops with bulky chassis and arrays of noisy fans, HP’s ZBook 14U G6 might come as a shock. It looks like a 14m ultraportable. Yes, it’s thicker than your average MacBook clone at 17mm, yet it still contains a Core i7 processor and one of AMD’s professional workstation GPUs.
It’s all encased in a rock-solid aluminum chassis, which HP claims has been tested against military standards for drop and shock-proofing along with harsh environments, and the whole thing weighs in at under 1.5kg.
Despite its diminutive size, it still has a full complement of connections, with a single USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 port on the left-hand side, plus Gigabit Ethernet, a further USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 port, HDMI and Thunderbolt 3 on the right. There’s also a proprietary connector for HP’s own docking stations and a microSD card slot.
For a compact laptop, the keyboard is excellent, with an effective layout that keeps the Shift,Backspace and Enter keys nice and big and the navigation keys in a column on the right-hand side. The action is light without feeling lightweight, and it’s easy to reach a decent typing speed in no time.
The trackpad isn’t quite so brilliant. It’s comparatively small to cram in two wide buttons at the top, although accuracy is very good. HP has also included a ThinkPad-style “nub” between the G, H and B keys, which is fine if you like that kind of thing.
HP gets extra credit on the security front. Not only do we get a fingerprint sensor beneath the keyboard, but also infrared cameras for Windows Hello face recognition.
This worked flawlessly during testing, often before we got a chance to sit down. Throw in HP’s SureStart BIOS protection and baked-in hardware security measures, and this is a mobile workstation you can trust with corporate data.
HP doesn’t make a huge song and dance about the ZBook 14U G6’s screen, but actually it’s great. We measured the maximum brightness at 459cd/m2 and sRGB coverage at ioo‘X>.
The figures for Adobe RGB and DCI-P3 weren’t far behind, at 99.7%and 98.2%, while the average Delta E of 0.5 is extremely impressive. While the OLED panels on the Gigabyte and Razer laptops have more zing and punch when playing HDR video, the HP is arguably better for color-critical work. What’s more, the built-in audio is deeper and richer than the average, meaning some apres-work entertainment isn’t out of the question if you’re traveling around.
However, this isn’t HP’s newest workstation laptop, with HP slowly rolling out anew line over the next few months. This is reflected in some of the components. For example, wireless networking is limited to the older 8o2.nac standard, so you won’t get the fastest network connection if your home or office is rocking Wi-Fi 6.
More importantly, the processor is an eighth generation Core i7-8565U, while the GPU is AMD’s Radeon Pro WX3200, which uses the same Polaris 12 chip as the old consumer-level Radeon RX550.
Does working with yesterday’s technology matter? Not always, but in this case, yes. The systems on test running six-core, 12-thread Core i7 9750H CPUs don’t really suffer from the lack of tenth-generation Intel architecture, but the Core i7-8s6sU is a four-core, eight-thread part.
More seriously, it’s a low-power chip designed for lightweight portable devices, even if its 4.6GHz maximum frequency makes it a better bet than the limited Core i7-1065G7 in the Surface Book 3.
All the same, the HP is the slowest laptop in this month’s test across our standard benchmarks, our 3D rendering and video-editing benchmarks and our specialist workstation tests – though it doesn’t help that some of these are built around Nvidia’s CUDA GPU compute technology rather than AMD’s favored OpenCL.
As we said, HP is in the process of refreshing its workstation laptops, and with different hardware inside, a ZBook 14U G7 or equivalent could really fly. We hope that HP doesn’t change too much, however, because, with its excellent screen and superb usability, this is exactly the kind of portable workstation we would be happy to use every day.
An ingenious design that has obvious appeal to those who draw directly on screen, but it needs updating.
Nearly five years on from the launch of the first Surface Book, the Surface Book 3 remains a unique laptop. With all of the core components in what would normally be the laptop’s lid, the screen can detach and function as a high-end Windows tablet, yet the GPU and secondary battery in the base give it capabilities that no rival 2-in-i device can offer – not to mention enhanced connectivity and sound.
It’s a design that still makes a lot of sense for many design professionals, particularly illustrators and retouchers who might prefer working with a pen. You can hold the screen in tablet mode and draw or make edits directly to the surface.
Microsoft’s PixelSense technology is as flawless as ever, and working this way can feel natural and intuitive with the right applications. Our test model’s is in screen gives you more space to work with, than you’ll find on the Surface Pro or most other convertibles.
The 4K resolution also helps create a great experience. And if you have work that requires more conventional inputs or horsepower? Reconnect the screen with the base and you’re away.
The engineering is impressive, but not quite faultless; it still feels a bit screen-heavy in clamshell laptop mode, with a little too much wobble in that ever-so-clever hinge. Meanwhile, the connectivity leaves you feeling that Microsoft is behind the curve, with two USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 ports, an SD card reader, and a single USB-C Gen 1 port that doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3.
There’s a Surface Connect port for fast charging and connection to Microsoft’s own docks, but the fastest external storage devices are off the menu.
There are similar issues with the screen. Don’t get us wrong: it looks great in general use, whether you’re streaming Netflix, sketching illustrations or editing photos and video.
The maximum brightness of 42icd/m2 really helps. However, it can’t match the wide color gamuts of some of the OLED panels or even the best TFT panels – we measured it at 98% of sRGBand77.5%of DCI-P3 – although color accuracy is excellent with an average Delta E of 1.51.
As with most Surface devices, Microsoft hasn’t put a foot wrong with the keyboard. The layout is sensible and spacious, and the keys have a light but positive feel, with just the right amount of travel.
The touchpad is a little small by premium laptop standards, but the smooth surface works well, even in design apps where precision counts.
Meanwhile, the sound on the Surface Book 3 seems borderline miraculous, with a much wider stereo spread and more depth than you’d believe from a convertible laptop.
You can make it through a movie or put a playlist on for background listening without feeling the urgent need to plug some headphones in. With the base attached, the Surface Book 3 survived for over nine and a half hours of video playback before giving up the ghost.
In fact, there’s only one area where Microsoft’s laptop falls down, and that’s performance. The convertible design and low-noise cooling system require the use of a low-energy CPU, in this case the 15W Ice Lake Core i7-1065G7.
A four-core, eight-thread CPU with a base clock of 1.3GHz and a 3.8GHz Max Turbo, it simply can’t match the levels of performance delivered by the other Core i7 laptops in this test.
While the GTX 1660 Ti graphics chipset helps it do better in more GPU-intensive tasks, the CPU left the Surface Book 3 languishing low down in most of our benchmarks.
While Microsoft claims the Surface Book 3 can offer workstation-class performance, the CPU is always going to hold it back. What’s more, the casing gets hot while it’s doing it, so we wouldn’t feel comfortable asking it to sustain such heavy workloads over long periods.
There’s still potential in the Surface Book design, and it makes a lot of sense in specific design or photography workloads. But when rival laptops give you better screens and significantly more performance, the third- generation model is struggling to maintain the pace.
A superb all-rounder thanks to balanced performance -and an absolute beauty of a screen.
Razer’s Blade laptops were instrumental in transforming the gaming laptop from a hulking desktop replacement into today’s more desirable slim and light machines.
So desirable and practical, in fact, that they’ve started crossing over into the professional and creative markets too. These days, the range covers everything from i3in ultraportables to the workstation-class Studio Edition models with Core 17 processors and Nvidia Quadro graphics.
And sitting somewhere in the middle we have this Razer Blade 15 model, which is based around the eight-core Core i7-10875H, a GeForce RTX 2070 Super GPU and a fantastic 4K OLED screen.
It’s an impressive piece of hardware, and while there are traces of its gaming heritage in the RGB-backlit keyboard, the design still looks elegant, streamlined and restrained.
The aluminum chassis gives it weight – it’s just over the 2kg mark – but also a durable, solid feel. There’s space for a good array of ports, including three USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 ports and two USB-C.
One of which supports Thunderbolt 3 – along with an SD card reader and a 4K-capable HDMI 2.0 output. Whether you’re a hardcore gamer or a creative professional, you’ve got everything you need.
The screen, meanwhile, is simply awesome. It covers 100% of both the sRGB and DCI-P3 gamuts, as well as 96% of Adobe RGB, and while color accuracy isn’t perfect – we measured an average Delta E of 3.25 – it’s good enough for all bar the most critical- color work.
Maybe more importantly for most people, it’s very, very bright indeed, with a maximum luminance of 432cd/m2. This and the perfect blacks you get from OLED make sure that it delivers one of the most convincing renditions of HDR.
We’ve seen from a laptop, with a richness and vibrancy to the colors that standard LCD screens just can’t match. If you’re working on HDR content, it’s very hard to come back from this screen. In fact, much the same goes when you’re watching it.
We do have one small niggle here, though. When you turn Windows HDR support for streaming video on, there’s a weird quirk where the pointer turns near-transparent and becomes nigh-impossible to see. Razer picks up further points for not messing up the fundamentals.
The touchpad is massive and unerringly responsive, to the extent that this is one of the few creative laptops you could get some work done without wishing instantly that you’d brought a mouse with you (although you still know you’d be working more efficiently if you had). The keyboard, nestled between two wide speaker grills, has a smart, spacious layout and a crisp action, albeit on the shallow side.
Even the audio is up to par, with more depth, presence and dynamic range than nearly every other laptop in this test this month can muster. We’ll say it again: this is a great laptop for watching or creating movies.
But does it have the power? Well, while the Razer Blade 15 isn’t in the same league as either the Chillblast or Gigabyte laptops. It’s not too far behind, with strong results in CPUintensive tests such as Cinebench and very respectable scores in the more GPU-heavy 3D rendering and video-editing benchmarks. Where it creeps ahead of the similarly specified PC Specialist by virtue of its superior RTX chip.
It also runs a little quieter than the competition, thanks to an effective thermal design that makes the most of a custom vapour chamber, clever use of materials and some hefty cooling fans.
Given the specification and the OLED screen, you might not expect much in the way of battery life, but the Razer managed a credible 6hrs 38mins in our video-rundown tests.
More heavy-duty processing would bring that down massively, so don’t expect to work all day away from a wall socket, but for light work or entertainment you’ll be fine.
There are other laptops in this Labs with more CPU and GPU horsepower, but we like the Razer’s balance of performance, ergonomics and design – not to mention its excellent screen. It loses out on the top award by a whisker, but we would put it high on any shortlist.
How to Choose A Perfect Creation Station
With no easy way to upgrade your laptop’s core components, it’s incredibly important to do your research before you buy.
In our buyers guide, these contenders are designed for workloads above and beyond the mainstream. Professional video editing, 3D design and image editing all require high levels of performance, not to mention fast storage and plenty of it.
What’s more, they’re used in industries where color and detail matter, making it imperative that screens are color-accurate and can handle wider color gamuts. These machines may also need to handle more data-intensive applications, which push CPU and GPU compute capabilities and ask a lot of storage.
Manufacturers love to make bold claims about their laptops’ advanced capabilities, but what does it really take to make the grade?
Workloads such as 3D image rendering, video processing or data modelling all thrive on multicore processors with – preferably – high clock speeds. The more cores and threads you can throw at these tasks, the quicker the CPU is going to churn through them.
That’s why you’ll see six-core and eight-core processors with simultaneous multithreading (SMT) or Hyper-Threading perform much better than four-core CPUs with SMT. Last-generation Core i3 and Core i5 mobile processors need not apply.
That said, clock speeds still count, and too many manufacturers make the mistake of thinking that a low-power, speed-restricted CPU will still cut it when running intensive workloads. Sadly for them, it won’t.
Some of Intel’s rather confusing naming strategies can make it challenging to tell a true powerhouse processor from a low-energy pretender, so if you’re buying a laptop for high-performance workloads, look for six-core or eight-core CPUs with SMT and a Max Turbo clock above 4GHz. This should cover most of the tenth generation Core is, i7 and i9 lines, and some from the ninth generation.
Curiously, AMD’s Ryzen processors – hugely successful in the desktop space – haven’t made such an impact in this market, but we’ve already seen that laptops based on AMD’s new 4000 Series Ryzen 7 and 9 mobile processors can match and beat Intel’s latest for performance.
Mainstream laptops are fine with integrated graphics, but in these more intensive workloads, a dedicated GPU is crucial. For one thing, most 3D design applications use the GPU for live views and previews, so a fast GPU makes the experience smoother. For an other, some professional rendering engines now use the GPU to accelerate the process.
Meanwhile, the leading image editing, video-editing and video effects packages can harness the GPU to speed up effects, transitions, color grading and many other tools.
Even applications you might not think of as graphically intensive can use the GPU, putting its immense parallel-processing power and advanced features to work on data analytics, scientific simulations or even Al technologies such as machine learning and deep learning.
For many laptop manufacturers this means Nvidia GPUs, either in the workstation-centric Quadro range or the mainstream GTX and RTX lines. The main advantage is the adoption of Nvidia’s CUDA instruction set in many graphics and workstation applications, and the introduction ofAl acceleration in the GeForce RTX, Quadro RTX and RTX Studio lines. AMD’s Radeon Pro chips can also be found in some laptops, although support isn’t generally as widespread or as deep.
If you’re working in professional video, design, photography or 3D, a color-accurate screen is a must. At the most basic level, this means an IPS display capable of resolving 95%of the basic sRGB color gamut and with an average Delta E (the standard metric for color accuracy) of under three, and preferably under two.
However, many graphics workstations and creative laptops now go further, with screens that cover more of the higher-end AdobeRGB and PCI-D3 gamuts, with support for 10-bit colour depths (or over a billion colours) and an average Delta E of under two.
A growing number also support HDR to enable editing of HDR images and video, and the production of content that will look good on today’s OLED-based smartphones, monitors and TVs.
Be aware, though, that HDR on a laptop screen isn’t likely to meet the standards of HDR on a high-end TV. Many only meet the low-spec VESA HDR400 standard, which means that their maximum brightness levels are stuck at just over 4oocd/m2.
As such, they can’t hope to hit the 1,000-nit brightness levels required fortrueHDR. In some cases, they might even play tricks such as reducing brightness levels to make the brightest tones look brighter, which results in crushed blacks and shadow tones.
Graphics and data-intensive workloads usually feed on (and produce) huge amounts of data, whether that’s for ingesting complex models and high-resolution textures or processing dozens of 24 to 42- megapixel stills. That means you’re going to need plenty of storage space, and it had better be fast.
Luckily, today’s mainstream M.2 PCIe NVMe drives are up to the task, although capacity is usually limited to 512GB or1TB to keep costs down. Avoid laptops with the bare minimum of 256GB because you’ll be crying for more space in no time.
The fact that storage space is crucial but also at a premium makes connectivity particularly important. Obviously, you’ll want to be able to connect a mouse or graphics tablet, a printer or a large high-resolution monitor, but connectivity for high-speed external storage is a must-have.
Thunderbolt 3 with its 10Gbits/sec bandwidth has you covered, and modern docking solutions could give you a full desktop setup over just the one connection.
Otherwise, watch theUSB port specifications carefully. USB 3.1/3.2 Gen 1 (what we used to call USB 3.0) tops out at 5Gbits/sec, which won’t allow you to run the fastest external drives at their full speed. USB 3.1/3.2 Gen 2 gives you loGbits/sec, while the rare USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 takes that up to 2oGbits/sec.
Make sure your laptop has the faster standards covered now, as it will give you options later.While wireless speeds aren’t as crucial, if you’re spending over two grand on a laptop we suggest you look out for Wi-Fi 6 rather than Wi-Fi 5 (802.nax rather than 802.nac).
If you’re buying a laptop for work, ergonomics really count. A decent keyboard and trackpad won’t just make the whole experience better, but will also ensure your comfort over long periods at the desk. Meanwhile, backlit keyboards can be incredibly worthwhile if you need to work in conditions without ideal lighting.
While some of the extreme RGB lighting effects you’ll find on gaming laptops aren’t necessary – or even desirable – proper backlighting on the keyboard is a definite plus.
One of the things you pay for on any business-grade laptop is reliability, backed up by service and support. That extends from things such as regular driver and firmware updates, to proper driving testing and certification and a decent warranty.
Try not to skimp on these details. When your work depends on a laptop, any amount of downtime can have serious consequences. Look, therefore, not just at the length of the warranty but the terms. Are you expected to send the laptop in, what kind of turnaround is offered, and is there service and support out of normal working hours?
How We Test
We wanted to push this group of laptops to their limits using benchmarks that would test their capabilities across a range of creative applications, along with the kind of workloads we’d expect workstation-class computers to be able to run.
We still ran the laptops through our standard benchmarks, which represent common image-editing, 4K video transcoding and multitasking workloads, but also an additional suite of tests, including:
Cinebench R20: Maxon’s 3D rendering benchmark tests PC performance in CPU intensive ray tracing workloads. It incorporates the newest rendering technologies in Maxon Cinema 4D, and is built to make the most of multithreaded processors and the latest features of Intel and AMD architectures.
V-Ray Next: The V-Ray Next benchmark tests both CPU and GPU-accelerated 3D rendering using V-Ray’s advanced rendering engine, as used in Hollywood blockbusters, architectural visualizations, advertising and more.
OctaneBench: This is a GPU benchmark, testing GPU 3D rendering performance using Otoy’s OctaneRender engine. The current version uses Nvidia’s CUDA tech, so it only runs on Nvidia GPUs, but the next version is expected to use the Vulkan API and run on AMD GPUs as well.
Premiere Pro: We test performance in Adobe’s leading video-editing application using Puget System’s PugetBench benchmark. This tests live playback and export performance across a range of codecs at4K resolutions, along with performance when previewing and rendering demanding CPU and . GPU effects.
SPECwpc: Designed and developed by the SPEC Workstation Performance Characterization group, this sprawling benchmark measures the key aspects of workstation performance using tests based on a wide selection of professional applications. We’ve narrowed down our testing to cover the Media and Entertainment, Product Development, Financial Services and GPU Compute categories of tests, along with the Storage subsystem tests.
AS SSD: Finally, we tested the ’ performance of each of the laptops’ SSD drives using the respected AS SSD benchmark tool.
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