For the uninitiated, a mobile workstation is a laptop based around a scaled-down version of a workstation-class graphics card – such as NVidia’s Quadro4 Go series – aimed at users who need to work on or present professional-level graphics on the move.
Most manufacturers have complemented the graphics with every power-feature available, producing heavy notebooks that are a pain to travel around with. The Evo N800w, HP’s first foray into this expanding market, has attempted to rectify this, dumping older technology such as a floppy drive and show-off stuff such as multiple optical drives in favour of a more streamlined approach. The N800w is nearer in size and weight (2.73kg) to the kind of laptop design we’d all rather be using – Apple’s PowerBook G4 (2.45kg) – than a brick
like Dell’s Precision M50 (3.59kg all-in).
Even though it’s small and light, HP hasn’t skimped on the power of the N800w. Our test machine featured a 2.2GHz Pentium 4-M processor – the fastest currently available – along with 512MB of 266MHz DDR RAM. This can be expanded to a maximum of 1GB, pretty much in line with the other mobile workstations available. The 15-inch UXGA screen has a top resolution of 1,600-x-1,200 pixels, though it seems smaller than that found on other systems.
What makes this a mobile workstation is the ATI Mobility FireGL 9000 graphics chip. This has 64MB of DDR RAM and, like the latest generation of ATI’s graphics cards, is capable of producing 64-bit colour. It isn’t possible to see this on the N800w’s LCD screen, but connect an external CRT, and the extra colour depth is apparent. As you’d expect from a workstation, the N800w is also certified for all of the major high-end creative applications – from Avid Xpress DV to Adobe After Effects and NewTek LightWave.
The unit also features a 60GB hard drive; a DVD/CD-RW combo drive; an excellent set – for a laptop – of JBL Pro speakers; both a sensitive touchpad and a pointer; two USB ports (though USB 2.0 ports would have been better); and a 3.5 hour battery life – long for a mobile workstation.
In our tests, the N800w performed as expected from a 2.2GHz/512MB machine, rendering our test LightWave scene in 42 minutes, not too much faster that the 45 minutes taken by the 1.8GHz/512MB Dell Precision M50 – but I know which one I’d rather take on the road.