Meeting the challenge of finding the right balance between performance and portability in a mobile workstation
We all get excited about powerful CAD laptops, but this enthusiasm tends to wane when you have to lug one around for the day.
The good news is we are now starting to see a new generation of mobile workstations that deliver a compelling combination of size, weight and performance.
Dell broke new ground last year with the Precision M3800, which delivered impressive 3D CAD performance in a slimline 15.6-inch chassis. Now MSI is getting in on the act with the WS60, a highly mobile 15.6-inch machine that weighs a mere 1.9kg and is only 19.9mm thick, almost half that of a mainstream 15.6-inch mobile workstation.
The magnesium alloy chassis feels strong and stiff. It is understated in its styling with a brushed black metal finish. It looks nice out of the box but is prone to fingerprint smudging. It is an improvement over the chunky plastic MSI GT60-20K but does not match the Dell Precision M3800 for style or slenderness.
It has upped the ante in terms of spec. First off it features a powerful Intel Core i7-4710HQ (2.50GHz, 4 cores), only a couple of models down from the top end CPU you will find in a mainstream 15.6-inch mobile workstation.
There is no trade off in GPU though with the Nvidia Quadro K2100 (2GB) matching the best in a HP ZBook 15.
There is a compromise in memory, with the MSI WS60 maxing out at 16GB, half that of a standard 15.6-inch, but this should still be plenty for mainstream BIM workflows, though power Revit users might find it lacking.
Despite packing in so much power, MSI has done a pretty good job on acoustics. Dedicated fans for both CPU and GPU mean it does not get too loud or hot, even under heavy loads. However, fans do run all the time, even when writing a Word doc, which is a little annoying.
For a laptop of this size it is impressive that it can pack in three drives and our 128GB M.2 SSD and a 1TB HDD is a good combination. It’s a shame there’s no option for a 256GB M.2 SSD as the GBs soon add up when fully loaded with CAD software, but a second 128GB SSD can be added to form a fast 256GB RAID 0 array.
For larger capacities, third party M.2 SSDs can be bought for user upgrades but this is far from easy. In addition to the 10 plus screws on the back panel, you’ll need to remove the motherboard, which is very fiddly. Resellers, such as Scan or Workstation Specialists should be able to do this for you though.
The HD (1,920 x 1,080) IPS matte panel is a joy to use, but there is an optional WQHD+ (2,880 x 1,620) should you want to venture into 3K territory.
The keyboard is solid and comes with a numeric keypad, great for engineering input. It is RGB backlit so you can change the colour of the glow around the keys and customisable so multi-key shortcuts can be assigned to a single key.
The touchpad is less impressive and we found the cursor jumped about at times, which is not ideal for precise CAD work.
The WS60 is well connected. With 3 x USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt 2.0 there are plenty of options for peripherals, but no DVD drive. Thunderbolt doubles as a mini DisplayPort, which together with HDMi, means you can connect up to two external displays.
MSI has done an excellent job in delivering a workstation-class laptop in a slimline chassis. There is no other machine of this class that is so well equipped in terms of CPU and GPU.
MSI may have made its name in gaming laptops, but that doesn’t mean the WS60 is just a GS60 with Quadro graphics. As a sign of how seriously the company is taking the workstation market, the WS60 is a certified CAD workstation, for AutoCAD, and other applications.
If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to AEC Magazine for FREE