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Best mobile workstations 2021: the most powerful laptops for businesses

Included in this guide:

MacBook Pro 14-inch on a table in an office
(Image credit: Future)

If you’re looking for power that can rival the best desktop PC but has the portability to easily use on the go, look no further than the best mobile workstations. Laptops have generally gotten thinner and lighter over the years as have internal components like processors and graphics cards. Luckily, these mobile workstations take advantage of shrinking internals to slim down as well while offering more power than ever.

No matter what you’re doing, these portables have the power for a lot of different uses, whether you’re doing some video editing and rendering or want something that can hang with the best business laptops on the market. Because of the amount of horsepower they hide under the hood, not to mention their reliability, they offer great value since you’ll be able to get quite a few years out of them before needing to upgrade. In fact, some of them can go head-to-head with some of the best desktop workstations available.

We’ve gathered our picks of the best mobile workstations 2021 has to offer here to help you find your next portable. You’ll find some great options, especially now with Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals rolling out. 

MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021) against a white background

(Image credit: Apple)

Mightily impressive

CPU: Apple M1 Pro 8-core – M1 Max 10-core
Graphics: Integrated 14-core – 32-core GPU
RAM: Up to 64GB
Screen: 14-inch Liquid Retina XDR display
Storage: Up to 8TB
Reasons to buy
+Brilliant performance+Best screen on a laptop
Reasons to avoid
-Screen may be a bit small for some

If power and portability is what you’re looking for, there’s no better choice right now than the MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021). It’s more of a creative laptop than a business one. However, if you need a workstation for your creative tasks that you can carry anywhere, its M1 Pro or M1 Mac chip comes with a lot of processing and graphical prowess. That’s while touting a battery life that’ll last you even past your work hours. Ports abound, including the returning MagSafe port, as well as that stunning XDR display with 1600 nits of peak brightness.

Read the full review: MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021)

Gigabyte Aero 17 (2021) against a white background

(Image credit: Gigabyte)

A creative professional's dream

CPU: 9th-generation Intel Core i7 – i9
Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 5300M – Radeon Pro 5500M
RAM: 16GB – 64GB
Screen: 16-inch Retina display with True Tone
Reasons to buy
+Gorgeous display+Abundance of ports
Reasons to avoid
-Runs hot

One of the most powerful mobile workstations out there, the Gigabyte Aero 17 (2021) comes with a lot of power, a gorgeous display, and a whole lotta ports. Best yet, it’s priced well below its less-powerful rivals, making it a better proposition even if you have a more flexible budget. It isn’t by any means perfect. The battery life could use a bit of a boost, for example. But, for how much you’re paying and for the other things you’re getting in return, it’s a minuscule sacrifice.

Read the full review: Gigabyte Aero 17 (2021)

MacBook Pro 16-Inch (2021) against a white background

(Image credit: Apple)

Incredible in almost every way

CPU: Apple M1 Pro 10-core – M1 Max 10-core
Graphics: Integrated 16-core – 32-core GPU
RAM: Up to 64GB
Screen: 16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display
Storage: Up to 8TB
Reasons to buy
+Extremely long battery life+Plenty of ports
Reasons to avoid
-On the bigger side

 No matter what you’re looking for in a computer, the MacBook Pro 16-Inch (2021) can probably handle it. That’s thanks to Apple’s in-house M1 Pro and M1 Max (if you choose to upgrade) that can blaze through any application you can think of. The Pro also comes with an incredible display, as well as plenty of ports including next-gen Thunderbolt 4 ports. All that performance does come at a price, as even the base model costs a lot. But, considering how powerful this laptop is, it’s worth the price of entry. 

Read the full review: MacBook Pro 16-Inch (2021) 

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 6 against a white background

(Image credit: Lenovo)

Best 2-in-1 workstation

CPU: 11th generation Intel Core i5 – i7
Graphics: Intel Xe Plus
RAM: 8GB – 16GB
Screen: 14-inch, 1920 x 1200p, IPS touchscreen, 400 nit
Storage: 256GB – 512GB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic 16:10 display+Excellent battery life especially with its outstanding performance
Reasons to avoid
-Rather plain design for the price

There are very few laptops that are more powerful than the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 6. This 2-in-1 workhorse delivers excellent battery life of up to 14 hours, and if you’re going to be working long hours, this is the mobile workstation you’ll want to be working in. It also comes with a breathtaking 16:10 display as well as many security add-ons, features business professionals will appreciate. We’re also pretty sure that they’ll appreciate its SD card slot and garaged stylus.

Read the full review: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 6

Dell XPS 17 (2020) against a white background

(Image credit: Dell)

A brilliant 17-inch Ultrabook

CPU: Up to 10th Generation Intel Core i9-10885H
Graphics: Up to NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6GB GDDR6 with Max-Q
RAM: Up to 64GB DDR4-2933MHz
Screen: 17.0" FHD+ (1920 x 1200) InfinityEdge Non-Touch Anti-Glare 500-Nit – 17.0" UHD+ (3840 x 2400) InfinityEdge Touch Anti-Reflective 500-Nit
Storage: Up to 2TB M.2 PCIe NVMe
Reasons to buy
+Great screen+Long battery life+Powerful
Reasons to avoid
-Not the most portable-Lack of ports

For a 17-inch laptop, the Dell XPS 17 (2020) is impressively thin and light, especially when you consider the fact that it boasts powerful specs for that top-notch performance that content creators require. Among the best mobile workstations out there, this is practically the whole package, touting a big, gorgeous screen, fantastic battery life that will last you the entire day and a gorgeous design on top of everything else. That’s without even mentioning its mid-range price of entry, giving the MacBook Pro 16-inch a good run for its money.

Read the full review: Dell XPS 17 (2020)

HP Envy 15 (2020) against a white background

(Image credit: HP)

Elegance and affordability meet

CPU: Intel Core i7-10750H - Core i9-10885H
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics - GeForce RTX 2060 w/Max-Q design (6 GB)
RAM: 16 – 32GB
Screen: 15.6" diagonal FHD (1,920 x 1,080) – 15.6" diagonal 4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160) multitouch display
Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Great performance for the price+Sleek design+Beautiful 4K display
Reasons to avoid
-On the heavy side-Can run hot

The HP Envy 15 (2020) may have been meant for creative professionals looking to get away from the Macbook Pro. However, its versatility, thanks to all the customizable options when purchasing, makes it ideal for a number of different uses, whether you’re looking for a reasonably priced ultrabook or one that can tackle gaming. It can be upgraded to have some serious RAM and storage, up to an Intel i9, as well as an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 and a beautiful 4K display. And, even in its souped up configuration, it comes in at a decent price especially when compared to similar offerings from Dell or Apple.

Read the full review: HP Envy 15 (2020) review

Acer ConceptD 7 against an off-white background

(Image credit: Acer)

A mobile workstation for creatives

CPU: 9th-generation Intel Core i7
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 – 2080
RAM: 16GB – 32GB
Screen: 15.6" 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) 16:9 IPS
Storage: 1TB
Reasons to buy
+Very powerful+Cheaper than MacBook Pro+Good selection of ports
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Plain design-Not as thin and light as MacBook Pro

For those who think that MacBook Pros are overpriced but still need a powerful mobile workstation, there’s the Acer ConceptD 7. This formidable laptop capable of handling complex and demanding tasks such as 3D rendering, thanks in part to its Nvidia RTX graphics, was designed specifically with creative professionals in mind. Beyond that sheer power it delivers, it also offers decent port selection, a minimalist solid white design and that stunning Pantone-validated 4K IPS display. Obviously, it’s still pretty pricey, but if you’re looking for a Windows-powered MacBook alternative for video and photo editing, it’s a great option.

Read the full review: Acer ConceptD 7 

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) against a white background

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple’s little MacBook Pro gets a big refresh

CPU: Apple M1 chip with 8‑core CPU
Graphics: Integrated 8-core GPU
RAM: 8GB – 16GB unified memory
Screen: 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600 LED-backlit Retina display
Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Huge battery life+Great performance
Reasons to avoid
-Still lacks ports

Thanks to that powerful M1 chip, the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) boasts a major upgrade in power and battery life. It delivers the kind of performance and battery life that business professionals need and deserve. Its performance is so impressive, in fact, that it can easily handle 4K - and even 8K - videos. That’s while keeping the same sleek, compact, and lightweight chassis that creative pros want. If you’re looking for a powerful laptop keeps things smart and classy, you’ve got a winner here.

Read the full review: MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme mobile workstation against a white background

(Image credit: Lenovo)

With great power comes a massive price tag

CPU: up to 8th-generation Intel Core i7
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti with Max-Q
RAM: up to 64GB
Screen: 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS anti-glare – 15.6-inch 4K UHD HDR (3840 x 2160) IPS multi-touch, anti-reflective
Storage: Up to 1 TB PCIe SSD x 2
Connectivity: up to Intel Dual Band 9560 Wireless AC (2 x 2) with vPro + Bluetooth 5.0
Camera: 720p HD with ThinkShutter privacy cover with Infrared Camera
Reasons to buy
+So much power+Glorious 4K screen+Great user experience
Reasons to avoid
-Heavy-Expensive-Battery life could be better

Do you have a lot of cash to spare and require a powerful mobile workstation? Look no further than the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme mobile workstation, whose impressive specs are only the beginning. You’ll also appreciate working with that bright and crisp 15.6-inch screen, especially if you’re getting the 4K version, as well as all that storage space if you go all out. Though, fair warning, this isn’t exactly the lightest laptop you’ll lug around, so investing in a sturdy backpack with padded straps is ideal for stowing it in.

Read the full review: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme mobile workstation

Lenovo ThinkPad T460s against a white background

(Image credit: Lenovo)

10. Lenovo ThinkPad T460s

A good general purpose workstation

CPU: Dual-core 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 processor
Storage: 256GB SSD
Screen: 14-in IPS display (1,920 x 1,080 pixels)
Reasons to buy
+Excellent build and ergonomics+Thin and light
Reasons to avoid
-Slow processor-Relatively screen quality

The ThinkPad T-series is a no-nonsense design with a focus on robustness over style. Even so, the T460s' 18.8mm thickness is within 1mm of the MacBook, and it's actually lighter at 1.4kg. It's not as powerful as some of the workstation laptops in this list, but it's not as expensive either, which makes it a great choice if you're looking for an accomplished workstation laptop for less hardcore workloads, while also keeping to a budget.

Read the full review: Lenovo ThinkPad T460s

How do I choose a workstation PC? 

  • TechRadarPro Q&A with Anu Herranen, Director of New Product Introduction, Advanced Compute and Solutions at HP Inc.

There are a couple of basic questions you need to ask yourself before choosing a workstation. The first is simply to think about the work you need it to support. Do you need fantastic graphics performance, or to analyze huge data sets in hours, rather than days? Do you need to be able to do a range of tasks concurrently? Which applications or operating system are you relying on?

The next step is to think more broadly about how and where you will use your workstation. Are you always in the field, therefore need a lightweight device, combined with great battery life? Or like so many of us today, do you need something that you can use at home, but doesn’t take up much space so you’re able to hide it away when not working? What audio experience do you need? Do you need to be able to work collaboratively?

Reliability is another key factor in choosing a workstation PC. Imagine that you are in a hospital environment analyzing CT scans: your computer needs to run 24/7 all year round and must never fail. Likewise, a NASA astronaut in a space station cannot ever take the risk of having their computer fail due to system crashes, component breakdowns and sluggish performance.

Some have undergone hundreds of thousands of hours of extensive testing under extreme conditions, where frequency, voltage and temperature are varied in such a way that it goes beyond what one could call normal operating conditions.

Desire Athow

Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Then followed a weekly tech column in a local business magazine in Mauritius, a late night tech radio programme called Clicplus and a freelancing gig at the now-defunct, Theinquirer, with the legendary Mike Magee as mentor. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global techfests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. He has an affinity for anything hardware and staunchly refuses to stop writing reviews of obscure products or cover niche B2B software-as-a-service providers.