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A SQL Server Hardware Nugget A Day – Day 26

For Day 26 of this series, I want to talk a little about laptop processor selection (since I get a lot of questions about it).  Many DBAs, Developers, and consultants use laptop computers as their primary workstations for working with SQL Server. Even more than an actual database server, you are pretty much stuck with the processor that you initially buy in a laptop (unless you are pretty brave and willing to do some major surgery on the laptop).

Having the “right” processor for your needs is very important in a laptop. Making the wrong choice could mean that you have a lot less processing power or a lot less battery life than you expect. Unfortunately, you cannot usually rely on the sales clerk at Best Buy to give you good advice about which processor to pick for your new laptop.

Right now (April 2011) you want a Sandy Bridge processor in your new laptop. After the Sandy Bridge chipset issue in February (which had absolutely nothing to do with the processor itself), lots of Sandy Bridge based laptops are finally available for purchase.

Back in March, I wrote a post called Intel Sandy Bridge Mobile Processors Explained that covered some of the differences between the various commonly available Sandy Bridge processors. I would definitely advise you to avoid the low-end Core i3 Sandy Bridge processors (such as a Core i3 2310M), since they are only dual-core (with hyper-threading) without Turbo Boost Technology.

I recently had a reader tell me about a Clevo W150HNM with an Intel Core i7 2820QM processor that he bought. His submitted Geekbench score for that machine was 11,052 which is quite impressive!  That laptop has more CPU horsepower than a relatively recent vintage (early 2008) four socket database server equipped with four Intel Xeon X7350 processors, according to Geekbench.

For more comparison results, the Geekbench blog has a post with a number of results from different models of the MacBook Pro, going back to the early 2010 models. You can use this to get a rough idea of how much better a Sandy Bridge based machine (Mac or PC) will perform compared to various older processors.

Another important benefit you get with a new Sandy Bridge machine is native 6Gbps SATA III support, which means that you can take advantage of the fastest 6Gbps SSDs. You will also get USB 3.0 ports, which are a huge improvement over USB 2.0 ports (which are usually limited to about 25-30MB/sec throughput).


Posted by Steve Jones on 27 April 2011

Nice, though I'd like to see a couple recommendations on machines that you think would be good SQL 2008/R2 dev laptops for people. I'm not a hardware geek, and I likely won't buy a new one until next year, but I like to get specific recommendations from people like you that follow this stuff more closely.

Posted by Daniel Tonagel on 27 April 2011

@Steve Jones: If you want good recommendations you will need to outline at least a few basics like price range and size/weight requirements.

Posted by Vlad-207446 on 28 April 2011

what about AMD CPUs ?

Posted by Glenn Berry on 28 April 2011


In my opinion, AMD is just not competitive (from a performance perspective) in the high-end for mobile CPUs. Hopefully, this will change when they finally release some of the new CPUs they have been talking about later this year.

Posted by Glenn Berry on 28 April 2011

Daniel is right. You need price range and size /weight preferences to make meaningful recommendations.

Many people are also very picky about the brand of the machine, i.e. they love Lenovo or hate Dell, or whatever.

Posted by Andreas Erson on 3 May 2011

If you need a professional developer laptop from the big brands with Sandy Bridge you're bound to end up with one of these. They all have quadcore CPUs available and Dell Precision, HP Elitebook Mobile Workstation and Lenovo W540 all have four DIMM slots for a maximum capacity of 32GB RAM utilizing 8GB DIMMs. All the others have 2 dimm slots. Keep in mind though that 8GB DIMMs still carry a hefty price premium.

Dell Latitude E6420/E6520, available now

Dell Precision M4600/M6600, May 10th

HP Elitebook 8460p/8560p, available now

HP Elitebook Mobile Workstation 8560w/8760w, release date unknown

Lenovo T520, available now

Lenovo W520, available now

I don't see AMD as able to provide much of a competition in this segment in 2011 since the upcoming Llano for notebooks isn't using Bulldozer cores. AMDs current cores aren't competitive compared to Intel regarding performance(/watt). The replacement for Llano in 2012 will use "Enhanced Bulldozer" cores so that may be more interesting.

@Steve Jones:

If you going to purchase a laptop next year make sure to get the "tick"-version of Sandy Bridge called Ivy Bridge. It's a die shrink (from 32nm) to 22nm and Intel estimates 20% cpu and 30% gpu improvements over the current Sandy Bridge models. Native USB 3.0 will also be a welcome feature.

Posted by Glenn Berry on 3 May 2011


Very nice recap of the available high-end laptops for workstation use. Thanks

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