Power to the portable: 3 high-performance mobile workstations

While most laptops are reasonably priced and powered, sometimes you need a little extra. We test three high-end Windows mobile workstations.

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Eurocom Racer 3W

Aiming for ultimate performance, Eurocom's Racer 3W spares no expense, leading to a mobile workstation that can plow through the most complex graphic tasks. The version I reviewed had a pricetag of $4,582.

The laptop measures 14.8 x 10.1 x 1.6-in. and weighs 7.0 lb., midway between the lighter Toshiba Tecra and heavier HP ZBook. However, because the Racer's 1.8-lb. AC adapter is the heaviest of the bunch, the laptop's travel weight is 8.8 lb., the same as the ZBook 15's. Like the other two computers reviewed here, the Racer 3W requires a three-prong grounded outlet.

Eurocom Racer 3W
Eurocom Racer 3W

Built around a sturdy magnesium frame, the case is made of aluminum; it has a rough surface I found less pleasant to touch than the other two units.

The Eurocom Racer 3W includes the most powerful mobile processor that Intel currently makes. The quad-core Core i7-4930MX cruises along at 3.0GHz -- 300MHz faster than the HP or Toshiba systems -- and can punch up to 3.9GHz when needed.

The Racer 3W starts with 16GB of RAM, but can be outfitted with as much as 32GB. It can house up to four storage drives, holding a maximum of nearly 4TB. The review unit came with a 1TB hard drive as well as a 240GB mSATA SSD; these were set up as separate drives (as opposed to the HP ZBook 15's hybrid arrangement). The laptop also came with a DVD-RAM optical drive.

Customization is king at Eurocom; the company offers users a choice of five Core i7 processors (including the review unit's Core i7-4930MX), three displays and six different Nvidia graphics processors. Unlike the other systems in this roundup, the processor and graphics chips can be upgraded.

With the latest Quadro K5100M graphics engine and 8GB of video memory, the Racer 3W that I looked at is about as well equipped as a laptop gets these days. The graphics chip has 1,536 processing cores as well as a 256-bit bus that's capable of moving 115.2GB/sec. of data, easily outperforming the video processors on the other two systems.

On the other hand, the K5100M uses 100 watts of power, nearly double the power draw needed by the other laptops' graphic systems.

The Racer 3W's 15.6-in. screen offers 1920 x 1080 resolution. According to Eurocom, the company calibrates it with a color meter to make sure it is putting out accurate colors; the laptop comes with an ICC profile. To my eyes, the display wasn't as bright as the HP ZBook 15's display but its colors were spot on.

When it came to zooming, rotating and panning 3D CAD models, the Eurocom Racer 3W did well, delivering smooth video. It left enough resources available to write or work a spreadsheet in an adjacent window.

Unlike the HP ZBook, the Racer 3W's keyboard is not backlit. The 18.7-millimeter keys and the area around them have a rough feel, and the wrist rest attracts dust and lint. It has a touchpad, but not the pointing stick included with both the ZBook and the Toshiba Tecra. It also has a fingerprint scanner, but lacks the security-minded Trusted Platform Module (TPM) of the other two workstations.

The Racer's audio is top of the line. It comes with Creative Labs' Sound Blaster X-Fi3 MB3 audio software, Realtek High Definition Audio hardware and a pair of Onkyo speakers (located above the keyboard). There's also a subwoofer on the bottom of the laptop. The result is rich sound with very satisfying volume levels.

There's a good assortment of ports on the Racer 3W, including three USB 3.0 slots and one USB 2.0. It also offers DisplayPort, Mini DisplayPort and HDMI ports for video. There is no VGA port for using an older monitor or projector, however.

There are also eSATA, FireWire 400 and audio ports. It includes wired Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, but the system lacks the docking station option that the HP and Toshiba workstations have.

Test results

The best equipped of the three, the Racer 3W scored the best performance. Its score of 87.9 frames per second (fps) on CineBench's graphics test was more than one third better than either of the other two mobile workstations. Its processor score also led the group by a narrow margin.

Its results on the more mainstream PerformanceTest 8.0 benchmark were a little less stellar, with a score of 3,089.4 -- 5% lower than the class-leading HP ZBook 15.

The downside of all this graphics power is the drain on the Racer 3W's battery pack. Its 5,200mAh battery was able to power the system for 1 hour and 43 minutes of continuous playback of video from a USB drive. That's two full hours short of the Toshiba Tecra W50's test results, but probably will be enough for at least three hours of stop and go computing.

On the other hand, it's very simple to swap batteries if you need to. If you want to change the processor or graphics chips, the Racer has a pair of hatches that provide good access to its components; you just need to loosen six screws to get inside.

The system has two massive fans to keep it cool. (In fact, the copper heat pipes on the Racer 3W are so beautiful that it's a shame to keep them hidden inside.)

The review unit of the Racer 3W came with the latest Windows 8.1 version installed; you can order the system with Windows 7 if you wish. The system comes with Eurocom's Desktop Control Center, a utility that can help to optimize performance and make sure you have the latest drivers installed.

Certification

Rather than certifying its mobile workstations with the software vendors - as is the case with HP and Toshiba - Eurocom relies on Nvidia to test the graphics with each program. The K5100M works with everything from Adobe's Creative Suite 5.5 and Autodesk's AutoCAD to Dassault's Solidworks and MathWorks's MATLAB.

While the other two systems reviewed here provide three year warranties, Eurocom covers the Racer 3W for a single year. It costs $295 for an additional two years of coverage.

Bottom line

If all-out performance is what counts for you, the Eurocom Racer 3W is a mobile workstation that pours out the power, although at $4,582, the reviewed version can bust a company's IT budget wide open.

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