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Laptops are closer than ever to servers

By Jean-Claude Elias - Jun 08,2018 - Last updated at Jun 08,2018

With massive storage and memory size, laptop computers were already rivalling some entry-level server machines. The industry has just taken these small computers one step closer to being real servers.

The step is not a minor one, since it consists of fitting laptops with Intel’s celebrated, powerful Xeon processor, the kind that until last year only could be found on servers exclusively. This is nothing less than a mini technology revolution.

At least four of the leading manufacturers are now offering laptops with a Xeon processor: Dell, HP, MSI and Lenovo. The latter claims that its Thinkpad 70 professional model is the very first laptop ever to get a Xeon chip.

Enjoying the power of the Xeon comes at a price, especially if you try and customise the laptop you are buying, for example adding an SSD ultra-fast disk, a touch-screen and other tech goodies. Prices start around $2,000 and can easily go up to $4,000 and even $5,000 in some cases. Yes, this is about the price of a real server computer!

One of the main advantages of having a Xeon Intel processor “under the hood” is not just about running one application faster. Actually, if you are working on only one programme, chances are you will not notice any difference in speed between the Xeon and Intel’s i7 processor, its closest but much less expensive cousin.

The Xeon truly shines when you are running several applications at one time, which is what most of us are doing most of the time these days. With a Xeon you can open a Word document, open an Excel sheet, launch a PDF document, browse the web, check your e-mail, play music, copy two disks one onto the other, and even run Photoshop if you like, all at the same time and with the same laptop, and not feel any lag at all. For power-users this is a blessing, a dream come true.

According to statista.com, annual sales of full-size desktop computers have diminished from 157 million in 2010 to 97 million in 2017, and the trend continues. Sales of laptops, on the other hand are steady, fluctuating over the last seven years between 180 to 200 million per year. This explains the effort made by the industry to keep making laptops more versatile and more powerful.

If laptops are clearly outselling desktops, they have not really killed them yet. Desktops still present a few non-negligible advantages: they are less expensive, easier to repair and less vulnerable when it comes to theft.

Of course, servers at the same time are also evolving. The Xeon series featured in Dell’s PowerEdge new servers are — understandably — not the same Xeon as the one you may have in your recently acquired laptop. Though they belong to same family of processors and enjoy the same design and architecture, there is still more muscle in real servers’ processors.

One important thing to keep in mind when buying a new laptop with a Xeon processor is that it requires a special version of Windows 10. Normally vendors take care of this aspect and will not sell you a Xeon-based laptop with the wrong version of Windows. It is mainly if they buy it online that consumers should really be aware of this critical point and not make a mistake.

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