So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
HP Compaq 8710w Mobile Workstation
For CAD types
- Powerful graphics card for design and content creation applications, comfortable to use
- Needs more space for the left palm rest, slightly sluggish in our CPU tests
Big and with a powerful graphics card, this is a workstation notebook for users who make a living using design and content creation software.
Price$ 4,499.00 (AUD)
The 8710w isn't a typical desktop replacement notebook: it's a professional mobile workstation. It's not flashy and it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of a typical consumer notebook. What it does have is a high-end NVIDIA Quadro graphics chip, which enables it to power through demanding workloads for users of design and 3-D rendering programs.
It also features a 17in screen with a native resolution of 1920x1200, so it rivals the screen real estate offered by many 24-27in LCD monitors. The downside is that icons and text appear very small. The notebook's HDMI port can be used if a secondary, or larger primary monitor is required.
HP has installed an Intel Core 2 Duo T9500 CPU in this model, which runs at 2.6GHz, along with 2GB of DDR2 RAM and a 200GB hard drive. The hard drive runs at 7200rpm, instead of 5400rpm, so it can rival the speed of an average-performing desktop hard drive, and it leaves typical notebook hard drives for dead. We recorded an average transfer rate of 23.73MBps for this drive, which is about twice as fast as what an average 5400rpm drive can achieve.
With its 2.6GHz dual-core CPU, the 8710w managed to finish a two-thread render workload in Blender 3D in just 1min 09sec, which is a fine time for a notebook CPU but not quite as fast as we were expecting. In our iTunes MP3 encoding test, it took 1min 15sec to encode 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s, which is at least 6sec slower than we were expecting.
Despite being slightly sluggish in the rendering and encoding tests, the notebook's graphics scored well. Driven by an NVIDIA Quadro FX 3600M graphics adapter, the notebook scored 8222 in 3DMark06, which is nothing to scoff at. Of course, this card isn't for gaming; it's tuned to run CAD and content creation software, for example, and it's very powerful, especially for a notebook graphics card. It has 512MB of GDDR4 memory, a 256-bit memory interface, and memory bandwidth of 51.2GBps. If you're a gamer, you'll want a laptop with a GeForce 9800 GTX or GX2 card instead.
Physically, the 8710w is a beast. Its 17in screen means that it also has a huge keyboard. Its full-sized keys are easy to type on and it also features a number pad and touch-sensitive controls for the volume and Wi-Fi connection state. With a touchpad and a TrackPoint-style pointer for navigation, the 8710w is very comfortable to use; our only criticism is that the left palm-rest is too small. Shifting the touchpad over a few centimetres would solve this, but then the touchpad wouldn't be in a central position.
It's not a notebook that you'll want to carry with you on public transport, and it's not something you can whip out at an Internet cafe. Instead, the 8710w Mobile Workstation is intended for use at home or in the office. It comes with ample connectivity along its edges — including six USB 2.0 ports, FireWire, a modem, Gigabit Ethernet, one type II PC Card slot, a memory card slot, and a SmartCard slot — and there is also an option for a docking station.
Away from an outlet, the unit lasted 2hr 07min in our worst-case scenario test, in which we played a DVD from its built-in drive; this is a respectable score considering the laptop's powerful components. If you are going to carry this unit to and from work regularly, its 3.4kg weight will be tiring. It also comes with a large power adapter, which pushes the unit's overall weight over 4kg.
Despite the slight sluggishness we observed in our tests, the 8710w is one of the most powerful notebooks on the market for users who want something that can handle CAD and content creation software.
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