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The best workstations in 2020

best workstations
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The best workstations are the only laptops that can handle crunching hordes of data or video-editing large files in 4K.

Of course, the best workstations are targeted toward professional users who need to run graphics-intensive apps. The key difference between some of the best gaming laptops around and a workstation is its GPU, as it's primarily optimized for tasks such as design and 3D rendering instead of sheer gaming performance. And workstations generally have stronger CPUs as well, like an Intel Core i9 or Intel Xeon processor, instead of the typical Core i7 you'd find in most gaming laptops.

To speed up your workflow in apps like Adobe Premiere or Blender, your workstation needs a beastly processor (such as Intel's Xeon series); a vibrant, color-accurate display; and a powerful GPU. If you're all work and maybe a little play, the Dell Precision 7540 is one of the best straightforward workstations around.

While the quest to procure the best workstation is no feeble task, we will help you pick the best system for your needs and budget. Whether you need a huge, vibrant display or an affordable powerhouse, here are the best workstations you can buy right now. If you're looking for a gaming laptop that can double as a workstation, check out our Alienware m17 R3 review.

What are the best workstations? 

The best workstation that you can buy right now is the MSI WS65 9TM. The WS65 packs a powerful 9th-Gen Core i7 processor and Nvidia Quadro RTX 5000 Max-Q GPU into a superslim, durable chassis. Top that off with solid battery life and a gorgeous 15.6-inch, 4K display. Meanwhile, the HP ZBook Studio x360 G5 is also an excellent choice, as you’ll get an indomitable beast with an Intel Xeon processor and a Quadro P1000 GPU. Between its dazzling 4K display, bouncy keyboard and long battery life, the ZBook Studio is quite amazing all around. Not to mention that its chassis is military-durable and pretty sexy at the same time.

If you’re looking for a 17-inch workstation, you can’t go wrong with the Asus ProArt StudioBook Pro W700G3T. The StudioBook Pro has one of the most stunning designs I've ever seen on a laptop. In its gorgeous, 0.7-inch-slim design lies a strong Intel Xeon E-2276M processor and an Nvidia Quadro RTX 3000 GPU along with a vivid, 17-inch, 16:10 display and a comfortable keyboard.

If you need a gaming laptop that can double as a workstation, then look no further than the Alienware Area-51m. Armed with a desktop Intel Core i9 processor and one of Nvidia's superpowered RTX GPUs, it absolutely demolished every test we put in front of it with graceful aplomb. It will also make a big dent in your wallet. But if you consider that this is the first future-proof gaming laptop, it seems a small price to pay for a truly upgradable system and what Alienware is calling its first real desktop replacement.

The best workstations you can buy today

  1. MSI WS65 9TM
  2. HP ZBook Studio x360 G5
  3. Asus ProArt StudioBook Pro W700G3T
  4. Dell Precision 7730
  5. HP ZBook x2
  6. Alienware Area-51m
  7. Lenovo ThinkPad P1
  8. Dell Precision 5540

MSI WS65 9TM

The MSI WS65 9TM is easily the best workstation around due to its strong performance and gorgeous display packed into a lightweight design. (Image credit: Laptop Mag)

1. MSI WS65 9TM

The best workstation you can buy

CPU: Intel Core i7/Core i9 | GPU: Nvidia Quadro T2000/RTX 5000 Max-Q | RAM: 16GB/32GB | Storage: 512GB/1TB SSD | Display: 15.6-inch (1080p/4K) | Size: 14.1 x 9.8 x 0.7 inches | Weight: 4.3 pounds

Slim, lightweight design
Gorgeous 4K display
Strong performance and graphics
Military-durable and secure
Expensive

The new generation of best workstations is here. The MSI WS65 9TM is blasting through fools with an Intel Core i7-9750H processor and a beastly Nvidia Quadro RTX 5000 GPU with 16GB of VRAM. On the Geekbench 4.1 overall performance benchmark, the MSI WS65 scored 22,876.

Combo that with a superslim and lightweight design, a ridiculously vivid 4K display and a decent battery life. Although the MSI WS65 is skinny and light, it doesn't sacrifice the durability that consumers can expect from a workstation. It surpassed several MIL-STD 810G tests, so it can withstand sand and dust, vibrations, shocks, low- and high-pressure altitudes, even extreme temperatures. Regarding security, the MSI WS65 packs both a discrete TPM 2.0 chip and a built-in fingerprint reader, located within the touchpad. Yeah, the MSI WS65 9TM is a straight up beast.

See our full MSI WS65 9TM review.

HP ZBook Studio x360 G5 Best workstations

Thanks to its sleek 2-in-1 design and intense performance, the HP ZBook Studio x360 G5 is one of the best workstations you can buy.

2. HP ZBook Studio x360 G5

The best 2-in-1 workstation

Display: 15.6-inch, 1080p or 4K | CPU: Intel Core i5-8300H to Intel Xeon E-2186M | GPU: Intel UHD 630 to Nvidia Quadro P1000 | RAM: 8GB to 32GB | Storage: 256GB SSD to dual 2TB SSDs | Battery Life: 9 | Weight: 4.9 pounds

Premium design
Gorgeous 4K display
Military-grade durability
Great keyboard and stylus
Lid flexes

The HP ZBook Studio x360 G5 is the king of 2-in-1 workstations. It's armed to the teeth in military-durable aluminum and it's equipped with an all-powerful Intel Xeon processor and Nvidia Quadro graphics. On the Geekbench 4.1 overall performance test, the ZBook Studio nailed 20,950. Regarding security, the ZBook Studio has configurations that come with Intel vPro, which uses remote management, a fingerprint reader, an IR camera for Windows Hello and HP's SureView panel (aka a privacy panel). HP also includes its Sure Start software, which is a self-healing BIOS.

Between that, its gorgeous 4K display, 0.8 inches-slim physique and tactile keyboard, this is the machine you want. Another key feature is the ZBook Pen ($69), which offers 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity as well as tilt controls and three customizable buttons. On top of that, this HP gets a little over 9 hours of battery life. The perfect all-around creative speed demon among the best workstations.

See our full HP ZBook Studio x360 G5 review.

Asus ProArt StudioBook Pro W700G3T best workstation

Thanks to the Asus ProArt StudioBook Pro W700G3T's 17-inch, 16:10 display, it's super easy to multitask on this machine, making it one of the best workstations available. (Image credit: Laptop Mag)

3. Asus ProArt StudioBook Pro W700G3T

The best 17-inch workstation

Display: 17-inch, 1920 x 1200 | CPU: Intel Core i7-9750H to Intel Xeon E-2276M | GPU: Nvidia Quadro RTX 3000 | RAM: 16GB to 32GB | Storage: 1TB to 2TB SSD | Battery Life: 6 | Weight: 5.4 pounds

Stunning design
Solid performance and graphics
Vivid 16:10 display
No 4K option
Expensive

What drew me in about the Asus ProArt StudioBook Pro W700G3T, apart from its exhaustively long name, is its stunning Turquoise Gray design and its vivid 16:10 display. Its 17-inch screen nailed 162% of the sRGB color gamut and emitted 292 nits of brightness. The StudioBook Pro also killed it on the Geekbench 4.1 overall performance test, scoring 21,359 with its beefy Intel Xeon E-2276M processor and 32GB of RAM. Top that off with a comfortable keyboard, and the StudioBook Pro makes it one of the best workstations around.

Like most workstations, the ProArt StudioBook Pro is a tank. It passed multiple MIL-STD 810G tests, so it was able to survive extreme high and low temperatures, humidity, altitude and vibrations. On the security side, you get a fingerprint reader with Windows Hello support, and that's about it.

See our full Asus ProArt StudioBook Pro W700G3T review.

Dell Precision 7730 Best workstations

Packed with one of the most colorful displays we've seen, the Dell Precision 7730 tears it up among the best workstations around.

4. Dell Precision 7730

The workstation with the best display

Display: 17.3-inch, 900p to 4K | CPU: Intel Core i5-8300H to Intel Xeon E-2186M | GPU: Intel HD GFX to Nvidia Quadro P5200 | RAM: 8GB to 128GB | Storage: 500GB HDD to 8TB SSD | Battery Life: 4 | Weight: 7.5 pounds

Vibrant, sharp 4K display
Blistering-fast performance
Comfortable keyboard
Below-average battery life
Runs warm

With its raw power and pure sRGB, the Dell Precision 7730 is one of the most powerful workstations with the most colorful display you can find. Its Core i9-8950HK CPU destroyed the competition on Geekbench 4.1 with 24,800. And its 17.3-inch, 4K panel covers a ridiculous 211 percent of the sRGB spectrum. In addition, it offers up to a Nvidia Quadro P5200 GPU with an awesome 16GB of VRAM, leaving plenty of room to run the most graphically intensive programs. And although the chassis is kind of chunky, this laptop offers a comfortable typing experience.

Don't worry about your arms giving out when you hold the Precision 7730; this tank can survive a fall. The business laptop passed 15 MIL-SPEC durability tests, including those for high altitudes, extreme temperatures, dirt, shock and drop, according to Dell. The Precision 7730 also has safeguards to protect your sensitive data. You have the option to add a FIPS fingerprint sensor in the palm rest to go along with a standard smart-card reader and an NFC sensor for contactless smart cards.

See our full Dell Precision 7730 review.

HP ZBook x2 Best workstations

If you're an artist, the best workstation you can buy is the HP ZBook x2 thanks to its great stylus and awesome shortcut software.

5. HP ZBook x2

The best detachable

Display: 14-inch, 4K | CPU: Intel Core i5-8250U to Intel Core i7-8650U | GPU: Intel HD 620 to Nvidia Quadro M620 | RAM: 8GB to 32GB | Storage: 128GB SSD to 512 SSD | Battery Life: 4 | Weight: 4.9 pounds

Great stylus
Great shortcut software
Excellent keyboard
Graphics performance could be stronger
Middling battery life

For content creators on the move, it's hard to beat the HP ZBook x2, which is a powerful detachable 2-in-1 with a slick Bluetooth keyboard. A major selling point is the six shortcut buttons on either side of the display, which can be programmed for Photoshop to change color hues or even increase the size of your brush, giving artists a more streamlined experience. 

It also comes with a comfortable stylus that feels identical to a WACOM pen, and it offers 4,096 degrees of pressure sensitivity in both the tip and eraser. The HP ZBook x2 makes it easy to visualize your creations with its 14-inch, 4K panel that envelops you in vivid colors — 188 percent of the sRGB, to be exact. While its Quadro M620 GPU isn't the strongest around, the ZBook x2 offers plenty of unique features to stand out on its own.

See our full HP ZBook x2 review.

Alienware Area-51m Best workstations

If you need a workstation to double as a gaming laptop, the Alienware Area-51m is an absolute beast in every regard, especially in performance, which puts it in the best workstations ranking. 

6. Alienware Area-51m

The best gaming laptop

Display: 17.3-inch, 1080p | CPU: Intel Core i7-8700 to Intel Core i9-9900K | GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 to RTX 2080 | RAM: 8GB to 64GB | Storage: 1TB SSHD to two 2TB SSD and 1TB SSHD | Battery Life: 2 | Weight: 8.5 pounds

Stunning space station aesthetic
Excellent graphics and overall performance
Lightning fast SSDs
All major components upgradable
Exorbitantly expensive

Allow me to introduce you to the king of gaming, and the most powerful machine on this list: The Alienware Area 51-m. Armed with an overclockable 9th Gen Core i9 desktop processor, the Area 51-m blasted through Geekbench 4.1 with a score of 32,591, and its RTX 2080 GPU tore through Rise of the Tomb Raider at 92 frames per second on the highest settings. 

On our file copy test, the Area-51m's pair of 1TB PCIe M.2 SSDs in RAID 0 configuration took only 4 seconds to duplicate 4.97GB of multimedia files. That translates into a blistering transfer rate of 1,272.3 megabytes per second. All of that power is paired with a gorgeous design and the ability to upgrade the Area 51-m’s components. Keep in mind that this isn't a business laptop, so you're not getting a mil-spec chassis or very many security features either.

See our full Alienware Area-51m review.

Lenovo ThinkPad P1 Best workstations

Do you need portability? The best workstation for you is the Lenovo ThinkPad P1, as it boasts a superlight design and all of the power of a normal workstation.

7. Lenovo ThinkPad P1

The lightest workstation

Display: 15.6-inch, 1080p or 4K | CPU: Intel Core i5-8400H to Intel Xeon E-2176M | GPU: Nvidia Quadro P1000 to Quadro P2000 | RAM: 8GB to 32GB | Storage: 256GB SSD to 2TB SSD | Battery Life: 4 | Weight: 4 pounds

Outstanding performance
Slim, lightweight chassis
Vivid Dolby Vision 4K display
Poor battery life
Runs warm

A good workstation can cost as much as a good used car, but Lenovo has come to the rescue with the ThinkPad P1, which starts at just $1,299. The best part is that if you get the base model you’ll also be getting discrete graphics, unlike many other workstations that offer a pointless integrated version. For $1,299, you get a Core i5-8400H CPU, an Nvidia Quadro P1000 GPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, which is amazing for that price. Along with plenty of power for an affordable price, you'll enjoy Lenovo's supremely comfortable keyboard and a colorful display.

Business professionals should also feel reassured by the P1's suite of security features. On the deck, to the right of the keyboard, is a stock fingerprint sensor for faster and more secure login. Alternatively, you can upgrade to an IR webcam for Windows Hello facial recognition login but doing so means forgoing the standard HD camera's ThinkShutter sliding-lens cover.

See our full Lenovo ThinkPad P1 review.

Dell Precision 5540 Best workstations

Do you like everything about the Dell XPS 15 but need the horse power to match it? Look no further than the Dell Precision 5540, which boasts enough power in its slim design to become one of the best workstations. (Image credit: Laptop Mag)

8. Dell Precision 5540

The best XPS 15 alternative

Display: 15.6-inch, 1080p or 4K | CPU: Intel Core i5-9400H to Intel Xeon E-2276M | GPU: Nvidia Quadro T1000 to Quadro T2000 | RAM: 16GB to 64GB | Storage: 256GB SSD to 2TB SSD | Battery Life: 6 | Weight: 4.4 pounds

Strong performance and graphics
Vivid 4K OLED display
Slim, compact profile
Battery life could be better
Expensive

The Dell Precision 5540 has the full spirit of a workstation in the chassis of the Dell XPS 15. Packed under its thin aluminum hood is an Intel Core i9-9980HK processor, an Nvidia Quadro T2000 GPU and 32GB of RAM. On the Geekbench 4.1 overall performance test, the Dell Precision 5540 scored an awesome 29,023. Its 15.6-inch, 4K OLED panel is nails  200% of the sRGB color gamut and emits 384 nits of brightness, so it's awesome for any content you're working with. 

The Dell Precision 5540 passed 15 MIL-STD 810G tests, which means it can withstand extreme temperatures, altitudes, sand, dust, humidity, shock and more. On the security side, the Precision 5540 offers an IR camera for Windows Hello and a TPM 2.0 security chip. You can also get it with vPro for remote management.

See our full Dell Precision 5540 review.

How much does a workstation cost?

Workstations start around $1,000, but many models at that price lack the discrete graphics card you'll need to take on tasks like video editing or 3D modeling. And it'll most likely have a 1080p display at that price range, so you might want to spring for a 4K model if your work involves editing high-res photos and videos.

You can get some work done with one of the top cheap gaming laptops, which has a GPU like an Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti or greater, but they're not optimized specifically for media creation like Nvidia's Quadro GPU is. If you're looking to get some real work done, you'll need a workstation with a Quadro GPU and a colorful, high-resolution display, which will most definitely run you over $2,000. While it's not necessarily a workstation, the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo can handle rigorous tasks with multiple screens all for $2,999.

How to choose the best workstations for you 

Choosing the right workstation for you comes down to why you need it in the first place. You can pick up an affordable workstation to do some heavier work than your average laptop, but if you need a straight up tank to handle taxing programs, you’re going to pay a hefty price. If it’s the former, we recommend looking at something like the Lenovo ThinkPad P1 or Dell Precision 5540.

If money is no object, you can pick up some beastly workstations like the MSI WS65 9TM and the HP ZBook Studio x360 G5, which are incredibly powerful and durable machines that can withstand most tests that you’ll throw at them. The WS65 9TM is great if you want your display to be super colorful and bright, but the ZBook Studio x360 is better if you need a stylus to get into graphic designing or something else.

How we test the best workstations 

We put each laptop through extensive benchmark testing — both synthetic and real-world — before they end up in the hands of our reviewers. We evaluate each aspect of the laptop, including its performance, battery life, display, speakers and heat management.

In our benchmark testing, we use a Klein K10 colorimeter to detect the brightness and sRGB color gamut of the laptop's display. For performance testing, we run the laptop through a gauntlet of benchmarks, including Geekbench 4.3 and 5.0 and 3DMark professional graphics tests. 

To determine real-world performance, we task the laptop to convert a 4K video to 1080p resolution and to duplicate a 4.97GB multimedia file. Our real-world graphics test is the Dirt 3 benchmark with medium settings at 1080p resolution.

We also run heat tests by playing a 15-minute full-screen video and measuring temperatures in different areas of the laptop. Last but not least, our battery test consists of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness. For MacBooks and premium Windows 10 laptops, a runtime of over 9 hours is considered a good result whereas gaming laptops and workstations that can stay powered for longer than 5 hours deserve praise. 

These tests are complemented with extensive hands-on testing from our reviewers who critique everything from the laptop's materials to the feel of its touchpad.