NVIDIA Ace Concept Redefines the Mobile Workstation

NEW PRODUCT ANALYSIS RESOURCE PAGE: This new PC was launched at IFA in Germany this week and, for those who want a true portable workstation, this concept could be their best bet.

NVIDIA-ACE

Mobile workstations often have been an oxymoron. If you wanted real workstation performance, then you tended to end up with a monster of a desktop computer with a handle, and if you wanted mobility, you sacrificed a ton of performance.

As components got smaller, the ability to decrease the size and weight of the thing increased. But then you had a huge thermal problem, because workstations put out a ton of heat, and people really didn’t like that much heat on their laps or hands.

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Often a technology provider has to get involved in a design to address a critical problem, and that was the case with the NVIDIA Ace portable workstation concept. To address this heat problem, they got creative by making the RTX 6000, which has been picked up by most of the major vendors, unique in its segment.

It launched at IFA in Germany this week and, for those who want a true portable workstation, this concept could be their best bet.

Full Workstation Performance

I’ll let others do the full “speeds and feeds” thing, but this is an impressive piece of kit. Using the announced ASUS ProArt as an example and looking at the submitted benchmarks and taking them against a similarly configured RTX 6000 desktop workstation, NVIDIA made the following benchmarking claims:

  • For graphics using SPECviewperf 13 at 4K Geomean, this laptop concept is around 10% slower, which is pretty good but not the sweet spot for this box.
  • For video editing, it is 3% faster than the desktop, for rendering 2% slower, and using OpptiX Denoiser, it is about 9% slower.

Generally, users only notice performance variances of 20% or more, so this is as close to equal to a desktop workstation as I’ve ever seen it.

  • The 15-inch built-in display is fully factory-calibrated for accuracy. NVIDIA claims that this display is equal to or better than anything else in class, and it reports 100% Adobe RGB color coverage.
  • The top-end products from the various vendors should have RTX 6000 GPUs, Intel Core i9 CPUs, 64 GB DDR4, 1TB NVMe SSD storage, that 4K 120Hz display panel. Wi-Fi 5, 90Whr battery (more on battery life below), and 3 USB-C Thunderbolt 3.0 ports.

I’m not a fan of benchmarks or just working of spec, so I look to references to validate a vendor’s claims. The company's lead user reference is Jarred Land, President of RED Digital Cinema. His supporting claim is: “More than ever, many of our customers are beginning (and sometimes finishing) their edits on set and on location. The new mobile RTX 6000 that brings identical R3D decode performance to its desktop counterpart is truly an incredible achievement. Faster than real-time 8K processing in a mobile workstation will allow filmmakers the power they need to work smarter and faster than ever before, even when they are on the move.”

The guy bets his business on his word, and he has been an excellent advocate for AMD in the past as well showcasing that he isn’t wedded to either vendor, making him an excellent user advocate.

Battery life will generally suck with the GPU fired up, but it also has Intel-integrated graphics and NVIDIA’s proprietary enhanced Optimus technology, which should allow you to use it as a lower-performing laptop with decent battery life when away from AC power. It has a small (for 300 watts) power supply but be aware; there is no commercial plane AC power I’m aware of that will handle 300 watts.

Unique Design

What makes the design of this thing unique is that the GPU and CPU are behind the screen; only the battery is below the keyboard. This design change takes the heat off your lap and away from your hands, allowing you to work without cooking your privates or your cuticles. This shift of components should have done some ugly things to balance, but I’m told the engineers were able to place the batter in a way where the laptop is well balanced and won’t take that header off your lap or table if you breathe on it funny.

Almost two decades ago, I saw a prototype laptop from Toshiba that tried to address the heat problem in a high-performance laptop with liquid cooling piped to the back of the screen. It never shipped because of the swiveling connections from the base to the screen weren’t reliable enough. Had Toshiba put the GPU and CPU behind the screen, they could have addressed that; though back then, the components were heavier, and the thing still would have been two to three times as heavy as this 5+ lb. class laptop currently is.

While I prefer liquid cooling, NVIDIA created a unique Titanium Vapor Chamber design that efficiently removes the heat while keeping the weight down and structural rigidity up. In any case, thanks to these innovations, even at full power, the user shouldn’t feel the heat while working (it might be a little toasty when carrying the thing, however).

Wrapping Up

I think we need to rethink designs every five to 10 years because of component innovation and changing needs. That was the case here; by shifting the major heat-generating elements up to behind the screen, NVIDIA was able to create a usable and portable workstation-class laptop.

The resulting products won’t be a cheap date, and I’m estimating $5K+ pricing for the class, because that’s where the desktop solutions reside. But supercars aren’t cheap, either, and this is the equivalent of a super laptop. Realize, too, that while this is far more performance than the vast majority of users need, this industry is all about making things cheaper. Extreme performance like this is in our future, but give it a few years.

In any case, if you are an engineer, architect, or work with photo or film editing and want to be more mobile, this concept could be right for you. Workstations have been the one type of PC that has resisted going mobile, and that just changed. Viva innovation!

Rob Enderle is a principal at Enderle Group. He is a nationally recognized analyst and a longtime contributor to QuinStreet publications and Pund-IT.