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Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro has been the company’s most powerful laptop for years, with horsepower that can drive some of the most demanding creative projects. However, the move to a ninth-gen eight-core Intel i9-9980HK chip in 2019 has put it into an entirely new class, making it the obvious choice for our top pick.
This laptop is a veritable powerhouse that brings the kind of performance we’ve never seen before in a truly portable laptop, and Apple has seemingly done the impossible by squeezing the i9-9980HK — the pinnacle of Intel’s new ninth-gen mobile chips — into the MacBook Pro’s classically slim form factor (it’s only 15.5 mm thick and weighs just under four pounds).
The highest-end processor option will get you turbo boosted speeds of up to 5.0 GHz, and there’s a lot more power packed in here. A Radeon Pro 560 graphics card comes standard, as does the ability to upgrade to a desktop-class Vega GPU for more demanding apps. Also included is 32GB of RAM, 10 hours of battery life, and up to a staggering 4TB of SSD (Solid State Drive) storage.
With all of that power, you still get all of the other great features that Apple’s MacBooks are known for: the Retina Display with True Tone technology for super-accurate color, Apple’s Touch Bar and Touch ID, the stylish aluminum MacBook design, and the usual array of four Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C ports.
Lenovo’s ThinkPad lineup offers arguably the leanest and most attractive “executive” look among Windows-based laptops, and the company’s P-series mobile workstations offer power to spare. Among these, the P1 leads the pack, offering a well-rounded machine that’s slim and portable enough to take anywhere, and super-light by workstation laptop standards, while packing the power of a six-core 2.7GHz / 4.4GHz Intel Xeon E-2176M and Quadro P2000 graphics card under the hood. The 32GB of RAM will give you more than enough headroom for demanding creative applications, while the 14 hours of battery life is enough to last an entire workday. And the 1TB SSD means everything will load fast.
The P1, of course, features the same popular keyboard design as the rest of Lenovo’s ThinkPad lineup; it’s stable with a comfortable typing experience and includes both a trackpad and pointing stick for mouse control. Despite the slim and portable size, the P1 offers a healthy array of connectivity options here as well. There's Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, two Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C ports, two traditional USB-A ports, as well as a media card slot that supports the whole range of SD card formats.
At just under four pounds, it’s heavier than Lenovo’s X-series business laptops, but with great power comes extra weight.
There are a lot of laptops out there claiming to be “workstation” grade, and although we’ll admit that the standard is a bit subjective, for the most part, you’re going to get what you pay for here, so that’s important to consider even in a budget workstation laptop. With most of the truly capable machines hovering around a few thousand dollars, HP’s ZBook G15 (not to be confused with the Studio G5) actually offers some pretty impressive specs for a workstation laptop at a more affordable price point.
It’s the only one in that class that sports a six-core Intel i9-8950HK, which can reach turbo boosted speeds of up to 4.8 GHz but also packs in NVIDIA’s Quadro 1000 GPU for graphics. It also features the same rugged design as the rest of HP’s ZBook lineup, meaning you can take it almost anywhere. It’s been tested against extreme temperatures, dust, sand, shock absorption, and more, making it a pretty solid investment for your dollar on that front as well.
ASUS may not be the first name that comes to mind when thinking of business-class mobile workstations, particularly since its higher-end laptops more often get billed as “gaming” machines. However, the company’s ZenBook Pro 15 is a more than capable workstation, particularly with its adoption of eighth-gen Intel Core i9 CPUs.
Among the lineup, the ZenBook Pro 15 UX580GE stands out with its six-core i9-8590HK CPU that can turbo boost at speeds of up to 4.8GHz, 16GB of fast DDR4 memory, and built-in 1TB SSD. The 15.6-inch UHD 3840 x 2160 pixel display also offers a great look, although the glossy finish may not be for everyone.
While some purists among workstation users might decry the lack of a Quadro GPU (and there’s no arguing that this will make it less than ideal for things like CAD and 3D rendering applications) the NVIDIA GTX1050Ti is no slouch, and will still provide solid performance for the majority of graphics apps. If you’re working in apps like Adobe Photoshop or Premiere Pro, you’re most likely not going to notice the difference.
The ZenBook Pro 15 is also a pretty well-rounded laptop, with a 71-hour battery life and a full range of port options. All of the usual suspects are here, including two USB-A ports, two USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 ports, audio and HDMI ports, a micro SD card slot, and support for all of the modern Wi-Fi and Bluetooth standards.
Dell is one of the big three when it comes to business-class laptops, and its Precision lineup of mobile workstations has become a classic in the series. For us, the 5530 is the sweet spot among these, providing the best balance of power, price, and portability.
It’s big enough to have decent screen real estate and pack in some real power, but still small and portable enough to still be used on the go. In this configuration, an Intel Core i9-8950H six-core CPU that can burst up to 4.8GHz is joined by a Quadro P2000 GPU, plus a 512GB SSD and 16GB of DDR3 RAM.
Dell’s 15.6-inch UHD display is the particular standout here, offering touch capabilities and an impressive color gamut and brightness level that really looks great. Dell also promises all-day battery life on the 5530, which is fairly impressive for a machine of its size and capabilities (it still comes in a hair under four pounds with a 14-by-9-inch footprint). The premium aluminum build quality is nice but has an understated design appropriate for a business class laptop.
Keyboard feel and travel is nice, so it’s comfortable for extended typing sessions, and Dell has also made some great improvements to its trackpad in recent models for a much better experience. The expected range of ports is here: 2 USB-A, 2 USB-C Thunderbolt, HDMI, SD card, and audio out, along with a slot for a Noble laptop lock.
HP has a fairly wide range of ZBook workstation laptops to meet a variety of needs, but when it comes to raw power, it’s hard to beat the ZBook Studio G5. While it’s not the most portable laptop we’ve seen in its class (it weighs almost five pounds and has a footprint of 9.7 x 14.2 inches) it’s also HP’s beefiest 15.6-inch laptop in other ways. You’re getting a Xeon E-2176M CPU with six cores that clock in at 2.7GHz, NVIDIA Quadro 2000 GPU, 32GB of fast DDR4 memory, and a 1TB SSD. And somehow, these specs can last you anywhere from 64 to 95 hours on a single charge.
While you obviously sacrifice lightness and portability for it, HP’s ZBook Studio G5 is one tough beast of a laptop; it features a super-solid build quality that would make it easily our top pick for a workhorse machine that you’re going to be using out in the field. In fact, HP notes that it’s passed “14 rigorous military standard tests like shock, drop and dust.”
It also sports some cool privacy features like HP Sure View to protect against curious onlookers and pumps out some surprisingly great sound thanks to the integrated Bang & Olufsen speakers. The expected range of port options is available here as well, including full HDMI, two USB-C Thunderbolt ports, two standard USB-A ports, and an SD card reader.
Although Lenovo’s ThinkPad P1 provides a great blend of portability, sleekness, and power, there’s no arguing that the more traditional P52 is the tried-and-true workhorse of Lenovo’s mobile workstation lineup. While it packs in very similar specs on the surface, like a hexa-core, 2.7GHz Intel Xeon E-2176M CPU and NVIDIA Quadro P2000 GPU, the fact that it’s less alluring than the P1 means it doesn’t sacrifice the expandability that the P-series is known for.
For example, the P52 still leaves room for a third drive bay, letting you add an extra 2.5-inch SATA drive, along with more ports: you get an extra USB-A port, a mini-DisplayPort, and an actual physical Ethernet jack. If you’re looking for a mobile workstation with some room to grow, and aren’t concerned about ultra-portability, then you don’t need to be too dazzled by the P1. Lenovo’s classic P52 is definitely still a solid choice.
MSI is better known for its gaming laptops, but the company also has a line of mobile workstations in the form of its “WS” series. Some have suggested these are just rebranded gaming machines, and there’s no doubt that the WS65 bears a lot of similarities to MSI’s GS65, but there’s still more here than just a name change.
For one, MSI is using the more workstation-appropriate NVIDIA Quadro GPU, in this case, the RTX 3000, alongside a ninth-generation Intel Core i9-9880H. What this means is that it includes eight cores and Intel’s newest Coffee Lake HR architecture. There’s also 32GB of memory, an 82-hour battery life, and the impressive 1TB SSD of memory.
In fact, it feels like MSI is trying to emulate Apple in other ways here as well, with a surprisingly slim and sleek design that belies the power that’s packed in under the hood. Unfortunately, this is where the similarities end, as MSI’s done little to improve the somewhat flimsier build quality that its GS series laptops are known for.
Port-wise, the WS65 has a slightly more interesting arrangement, with only a single USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port, accompanied by three USB-A ports, one HDMI and one mini DisplayPort, audio input and output ports, and a wired Ethernet connection. All of the latest wireless specs are also supported here, including 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0.