Over the years I have worked here, our laptop line has changed a lot. We’ve had massive gaming-oriented models with 19-inch screens, tiny 12-inch models for the ultra-portable market, and everything in-between. We even had a touchscreen model for a while, since lots of people asked about that tech… and then it sold only a handful of units. We have just launched another update to our laptops, though, and I wanted to talk for a moment about our direction and goals. But first, a little background that will help explain our choices.
Intel is in the midst of launching their Skylake processor line, and while it is a nice upgrade on the desktop side of things – adding DDR4 memory support and improving power efficiency – one of the changes on the mobile side has a big impact on us. That change is the move away from socketed processors to only soldered-on models. This means we can no longer offer a laptop with mobile-class processors, ones designed for low power operation in a laptop, unless we want to buy laptops with the CPU already mounted in place. That means if we wanted to offer more than one CPU speed option we would have to inventory multiple laptop base units, and if we had a failed board or CPU we would have to replace the combo instead of just one or the other. For a custom system builder, where a our philosophy centers around providing a great customer experience and tailoring systems to the individual needs of users, that is a major problem.
At the same time, high resolution screens are becoming more and more normal – and many people expect 4K resolution even on relatively small laptop screens. That would be fine, except that the focus for such screen options is currently on the 15-inch and lower screen sizes; 17-inch models seem to be somewhat stuck in the past. It looks like that will be changing next year, but at the moment we cannot get high-res screens in the 17-inch size.
These factors, along with some other smaller issues, have pushed us toward our new laptop line: a single 15-inch, high-performance model. Here is a breakdown about the new unit:
- It uses desktop-class Skylake processors, since that is the only way we can offer a range of different CPU speeds and prices. That also means higher performance than laptops using mobile chips, though because of the limited power and cooling in a laptop the same CPU in one of these systems will perform a little slower than it would in a full-blown desktop. Still, those looking for a lot of CPU performance will be well served by this system.
- It uses mobile-class NVIDIA graphics cards. At launch it is limited to GeForce options, but when the next generation of Quadro cards for laptops arrives we hope to add one or two options from that line as well. It does *not* support the Intel graphics built into Skylake CPUs, though, which also means no added complexity of switching between integrated and dedicated GPUs. Thankfully, though, NVIDIA has gotten very good about minimizing power draw of their video cards when idling.
- It has a 15-inch, 4K resolution screen. This is a high-quality, matte, IPS type screen with fairly wide color gamut.
- It supports 2.5” SATA drives as well as fast M.2 solid-state drives. It does *not* have a built-in optical drive, though, as there is no space for one inside the chassis with all the cooling needed for the CPU and video card.
- It includes a wide range of connectivity with a SD card reader, several USB 3.0 ports, eSATA (shared with one of the USB ports), a Thunderbolt 3 / USB 3.1 Type-C connector, and HDMI plus two DisplayPort outputs for external monitors.
There is more, of course, but those are the highlights. As with our desktop line, we are moving more toward serving the needs of high-performance users. These laptops are be able to handle intensive tasks like photo and video editing almost as quickly as a desktop, but with the added flexibility of being portable. They are *not* ultra-portable, slim, or lightweight though: in order to have the cooling and power needed for this hardware they are fairly hefty in size and weight… with a power brick to match. In fact, I would never use a computer like this on my lap! Under heavy load they really need room to breath, so it is important to have the computer on a flat surface and have no obstructions behind that block the heat exhaust.
I think the best way to describe these new units is actually as “mobile workstations”, rather than laptops or notebook computers. If you want a system with several hours of battery life, or which only weighs a couple pounds, or has a touch-screen… there are many great options out there. Those aren’t the markets we are trying to serve with this, and with Intel’s change to mobile processors we couldn’t serve them without compromising too much anyway. But if you are a photographer, video editor, gamer, 3D artist, or a user of any number of computationally intensive programs – then definitely check out our new Traverse D570i mobile workstation! And please, feel free to leave feedback in the comments below.