Tiny But Mighty: The GoBOXX SLM 15 Mobile Workstation Review
Michael Alba posted on November 18, 2019 |
The GoBOXX SLM 15 proves that performance and slim design can be friends after all.
The BOXX GoBOXX SLM 15. (Image courtesy of BOXX.)

The BOXX GoBOXX SLM 15. (Image courtesy of BOXX.)

The GoBOXX SLM from BOXX is meant to be a sleek mobile workstation that doesn’t compromise design for performance (or vice versa). The latest generation of GoBOXX SLM, now with NVIDIA RTX graphics cards, comes in two versions: the GoBOXX SLM 15, with a 15.6” display, and the GoBOXX SLM 17, with a 17.3” display.

We got our hands on the entry level GoBOXX SLM 15 and put it to the test as a mobile workstation. For the quick overview, watch our video below. For a deeper dive, read on for our full review.

Specs and Performance: Few Options, But Much Power

There are three versions of the GoBOXX SLM 15, providing a few different spec/budget options:

Unlike many mobile workstations, customers aren’t able to finely customize the specs of the GoBOXX SLM. You can choose a model based on your CPU needs (i7 vs i9), your GPU needs (RTX 3000 vs 5000), your storage needs (512GB or 1TB) or your budget ($3150 to $5328). The memory is fixed at 32GB, which is plenty, but may turn off users who would otherwise opt for 64 or even 128GB as offered in competing mobile workstations.

Regardless, the GoBOXX’s specs are admirable and make for a machine that performs exceptionally well. Based on our benchmarks, the GoBOXX SLM is the second-highest-performing mobile workstation we’ve tested this year. It comes just under the Eurocom Sky X4C, a powerhouse gaming laptop, despite the GoBOXX being two thousand dollars cheaper. The GoBOXX SLM’s performance is all the more impressive considering we tested the entry-level version.

The high performance of the GoBOXX SLM, coupled with its relatively low price, puts it on a great position on our price/performance chart of mobile and desktop workstations:

Below are the results of our benchmark tests of the GoBOXX SLM 15 for SPECviewperf 13, SPECworkstation 3, and PassMark PerformanceTest. The results are compared to the Eurocom Sky X4C and Dell Precision 7530 mobile workstations.

SPECviewperf 13

SPECviewperf 13 tests a workstation’s graphical performance across professional applications including CATIA, Creo, NX, SOLIDWORKS, and more.

(Click to enlarge)

SPECworkstation 3

SPECworkstation 3 is a comprehensive benchmark that tests all aspects of a workstation system, and categorizes results into industry segments including Product Development, GPU Compute, and more.

(Click to enlarge)

PassMark PerformanceTest

PassMark PerformanceTest is a general benchmark that tests a system in CPU performance, graphical capabilities, and memory and disk speeds.

Display: Below Average, But Acceptable

The display on all three GoBOXX SLM 15 models is 15.6” with a 1920 x 1080 resolution. There are no options for touch or higher resolutions. It’s a decent display, but there’s nothing special about it. If, like me, you’ve gotten used to the crystal sharpness of 4K, the display seems lacking.

In fact, the display is comparable to the average mobile workstation in most metrics. Using a Spyder5ELITE colorimeter, we tested the characteristics of the display and found that it has a maximum brightness of 250 nits and contrast ratio of 910:1. That’s par for the course with most mobile workstations.

The GoBOXX SLM falls a bit short in color coverage. It can display only 95% of the sRGB color space (lower than average) and only 74% of Adobe RGB (about average). However, it produces colors faithfully, with an average Delta-E of just 0.99. That means the colors it can produce look exactly how they should.

The display uniformity of the GoBOXX SLM is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the screen brightness varies by as much as 24% as you move around the display. Most mobile workstations come in at around 10%, and the GoBOXX is the first we’ve seen that exceeds 20%. However, the color uniformity is much better than most, with a max Delta-E deviation of just 1.9. That value is around 5 for most mobile workstations.

I/O and User Interaction: Nearly Perfect

The GoBOXX SLM provides a nice selection of connectivity ports. One the left you’ll find a Kensington lock slot, an RJ-45 Ethernet port, 2 USB-A ports, and a headphone and mic jack. On the right there’s the barrel power plug connector, both an HDMI port and a Mini DisplayPort, a USB-C with Thunderbolt, and another USB-A.

The power port on the right side is a bit awkwardly placed. Unlike most laptops, it’s not right at the top corner; instead, it sits below an air vent and just above the midline of the chassis. And since that air vent has unusually wide and inconsistent spacing, it’s tricky to plug in the GoBOXX by feel alone. It’s something you’d adjust to over time, but I always found myself fumbling whenever I tried to plug in to power.

One of the first things you notice upon opening the GoBOXX SLM is the trackpad. Not only because of its eye-catching gold trim, but because of its atypical wideness. It’s a shape I’ve not seen in other trackpads, which are usually closer to square. It doesn’t really change how I use the trackpad—my fingerprints reveal that I barely touch the far edges—but I appreciate the unique design choice. The trackpad itself is smooth and responsive, and one of the best I’ve seen on recent mobile workstations. There’s a fingerprint scanner in the top left of the trackpad, but I found it completely unreliable as a means of unlocking the computer and eventually stopped trying.

The GoBOXX SLM’s keyboard is great if you’re a fan of shallow keys. It reminds me of the keyboards on recent MacBooks, as there’s very little travel. I didn’t expect to like the keyboard—I prefer slightly deeper keys—but it really won me over with the responsiveness of the keys and the light touch they allow.

Perhaps my favorite thing about the GoBOXX keyboard is that the top row is dedicated to function keys by default. Almost every mobile workstation puts system controls (like volume, screen brightness, sleep, etc.) on the top row, forcing users to press the Fn key to access application-specific shortcuts from F1-F12. You could, of course, use Fn-lock or change the default in software, but it’s nice to see the GoBOXX put professional users first with this small detail. The volume and brightness controls are on the arrow keys and accessible with the Fn key.

Battery: Decent Lifespan, But Frustrating

The GoBOXX SLM 15 has an 82,050mWh (5620mAh) battery, which is a bit on the low side. It’s not removable, hence it’s not swappable, so you’ll want to carry the provided 230W charger with you if you’re on the go. That said, the lifetime of the battery is decent for a workstation with these specs.

On the high end, if you use the GoBOXX as sparingly as possible, the battery will last as long as 12 hours and 47 minutes. On the low end, if you’re pushing the GoBOXX to its limits without regard for power consumption, the battery will be dead in as little as 1 hour and 44 minutes. A more typical use case, bouncing between Chrome, Word, Excel, SOLIDWORKS, Fusion 360, and various other applications, will get you somewhere around 4 hours and 38 minutes (on our test, that includes a 20% drop in battery life during a 12-hour standby).

We encountered a frustrating problem with the GoBOXX SLM where the battery would be plugged in, but refused to charge. This happened a number of times, accompanied by the unhelpful message “plugged in, not charging.” This is a known problem that can affect Windows laptops, and it’s usually fixed with some combination of restarting the device, removing the battery, or uninstalling battery drivers. None of these fixes worked for the GoBOXX (the battery can’t be removed, anyways), but the problem would eventually resolve itself for no discernible reason.

Design: Sleek But Rough

The GoBOXX SLM looks better than you’d expect from a mobile workstation of its performance class. It isn’t excessively big or heavy like some of its competitors. The SLM (slim?) moniker isn’t too far off, with the GoBOXX measuring 0.75” (1.9cm) in height. A noticeable chunk of that comes from the thick rubber feet on the bottom of the chassis that give it a gap for air flow. At 4.25lbs, the GoBOXX is a shade lighter than many mobile workstations, though not the lightest we’ve seen.

The GoBOXX SLM 15 comes in a slick-looking black metal chassis, paired with touches of gold around the trackpad, power button, and ports. It’s a nice combination that makes the GoBOXX feel premium and stylish. If you look a bit closer, however, the design shows some rough edges. For example, there are fan vents on either side of the chassis which consist of overlapping black and gold truss patterns. But these patterns show no rhyme, reason, or symmetry, making the design appear haphazard. They’re also a bit rough to the touch and make the edges of the laptop feel jagged and sharp. A similar grille along the back suffers from the same problem.

Despite its metal frame, the chassis of the GoBOXX SLM feels a bit delicate. There’s an air vent above the keyboard (it looks like a grille for the speaker, but the speakers are on the underside of the device). Looking down through that air vent you can see straight through the to the air vent on the bottom, with fans visible in between. While this is undoubtedly good for thermal dissipation, it makes me a bit uneasy—you definitely don’t want to spill coffee on this computer.

Finally, while the black metal finish is nice to look at, it’s also a fingerprint magnet. Within a few days of use the shiny GoBOXX was noticeably smudgy. That’s hardly a problem unique to the GoBOXX, however, and in general BOXX made a creditable aesthetic effort with this mobile workstation.

Final Thoughts

The GoBOXX SLM 15 achieves exactly what it sets out to do: pair a high standard of compute performance in a slim and good looking package. I expected the GoBOXX to score well in benchmarks, but I was surprised at how just well it performed given its slim footprint and relatively low cost.

Yes, the GoBOXX is a bit rough around the edges (figuratively and literally). The computer has few configurable options. You can’t exceed 32GB of RAM, you can’t opt for a 4K display, and you can’t order an extra battery to swap in as you’re working. The battery itself is quirky, at times refusing to charge. The fingerprint reader is essentially useless. The chassis smudges easily and appears susceptible to dust and water damage.

But despite all that, the GoBOXX SLM 15 was a pleasure to use. The keyboard and trackpad are nearly flawless, the fan is mostly quiet most of the time, the battery lasts for a good half day of typical use, and applications are quick and responsive. For engineers in need of a mobile workstation, the GoBOXX SLM 15 is a strong option.

Update (November 26, 2019): Several readers have pointed out that the BOXX GoBOXX SLM 15 is a rebranded version of the MSI WS65. We reached out to both MSI and BOXX to confirm that the computer is designed and manufactured by MSI. BOXX adds its own brand, performs its own testing, and provides its own support for the GoBOXX SLM 15. 

The WS65 laptop with the same specs as our $3150 GoBOXX SLM 15 review unit is currently available for $2599 -- or $551 less -- through MSI. We have not reviewed the MSI WS65 so can not make any claims about its performance relative to the GoBOXX SLM 15.

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