Under the Desktop: On and Off the Road

Mobility is the current buzz in computing nowadays, from the latest cellphone-palmtop combination devices to wide area Wi-Fi networks. For content creators, this trend can be seen in high-performance notebook computers with fast processors, large and colorful flat-screen displays and high-capacity storage.

These machines appear to have the juice to rival their desktop cousins. Is there really a meaningful difference between desktop and mobile systems? And can these notebooks fill the needs of professional content creators?

Some are More Mobile than Others
According to ZDNet, the answer is “yes.” In a special report released this week, their editors declared the desktop computer dead: “Desktop PCs are rapidly becoming digital dinosaurs, while notebook sales are steadily rising. And it’s not hard to understand this reversal of fortune. Today, a notebook delivers virtually everything that a desktop PC can — processing power, big screens, plenty of peripherals, and affordable prices.”

I quizzed Giga Information Group research fellow Rob Enderle about the subject and he agreed with the long-term assessment, although adding several caveats to the thesis.

“With the emergence of workstation class laptops, led by Apple, even classes of users who typically wouldn’t be able to use a laptop will,” Enderle said. “One of the most interesting products out there is from Fujitsu, called the Celsius Mobile H, and it is arguably the best mobile workstation in the market today.”

Due to ship here this month, the Celsius Mobile H is an intriguing machine — its hallmark is a removable keyboard. Sold as a mobile workstation for CAD and “DCC,” the shorthand for digital content creation, the Mobile H will come with a 15-inch LCD screen, a 1.7-GHz Pentium 4, and Nvidia’s Quadro4 500 Go GL graphics processor with 64 MB of video RAM. I understand that it shipped earlier this year in Europe.

At the same time, Enderle said notebook buyers, even with the new workstation-class models, “pay a performance penalty. But this is often an acceptable trade-off to being able to work in ad hoc groups, or take your work on the road or home. So, if you specify the right product, and don’t feel performance alone is the deciding factor, then the mobile workstation user may find themselves as, or even more, productive than their less-flexible desktop workstation counterpart. It’s all in the choices.”

Clearly, there are several market assumptions behind this trend. First, the manufacturers hawking these “mobile workstations” must consider that all users are equal and have similar needs for performance. Or lack of performance, as Enderle pointed out. Secondly, these companies must figure that there’s some fundamental value in mobility that outweighs all other design considerations.

There’s the rub. Such performance trade-offs may be fine for folks in the enterprise, but not for professional content creators, who require top performance and flexibility.

Posted on: June 20, 2002

2 Comments on Under the Desktop: On and Off the Road

  1. I have had this HP Pavilion XH485 for almost exactly a year now. It is my first non-Mac as well as my first laptop. The two drawbacks that took me completely by surprise were:

    1. This laptop creates an enormous amount of heat. No kiddiing, when I used it in my lap, I actually got small blistering burns.

    2. It’s not really portable. I only use it plugged into the wall. The battery works for about 30 minutes unplugged. Then – without any warning – the computer dies and you lose anything you may have been working on.

    The commercials that show Mom working at the beach while her kids play are totally misleading.

  2. That’s right — the more capable the processor, the more heat, although the new Pentium 4 Mobile processors will run slower (thus producing less heat) when the machine is battery powered. Plug in the power cable and they crank up the processing power.

    Of course, you improve battery performance by reducing the output of your screen. Why would you want to bring your computer to the beach with all that sand and wind and salt? Especially, an expensive mobile workstation. That is the place for a more robust, sealed computing device.

    The heat issue really is for the whole category of high-performance notebooks. These machines are “mobile” rather than portable. They can produce a lot of heat. The recent Apple PowerBooks run a lot cooler thanks to the latest, cooler-running PowerPC G4s.

    David Morgenstern

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