The IT Pro Product of the Year Awards
It's been a banner year for tech hardware - here's our picks of 2017's best kit
2017 has been an excellent year for technology and hardware. Consumers have been wowed by the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and a list of redesigned Apple products, while businesses have been able to take advantage of unparalleled processing power thanks to servers from companies like HPE and Dell.
With such a wealth to choose from, it's hard to pick which products have been most impressive, but with some careful thought, we've sifted through the year's launches to bring you IT Pro's top products of the year.
Winner - Apple MacBook Pro
Apple's top-end MacBook models are widely regarded as the gold standard in business-class notebooks, and with good reason. Combining a sleek and stylish design with nigh-unbeatable performance thanks to 2017's upgraded Kaby Lake model, the MacBook Pro is an absolute powerhouse for everyone from developers to designers.
It's not entirely without problems - we wish Apple had included a couple of ports besides Thunderbolt 3, for example, and the Touch Bar version has some battery life problems - but features like the ultra-shallow keyboard and mammoth trackpad set it apart from its competition.
Highly commended - Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
Another heavyweight in the enterprise hardware space, Lenovo's venerable ThinkPad range has a sterling pedigree. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is sturdy, reliable and well-suited to tasks of all stripes, with a truly excellent keyboard and finely-tuned features for businesses.
Winner - Apple iPad Pro
Apple has thoroughly dominated the tablet computing category this year - and not just because it's been one of the only companies to release a premium tablet. The company's devices have been sophisticated, powerful and portable, and the iPad Pro is the perfect combination of all three.
The Apple Pencil support made it an excellent choice for designers and artists, but now that Apple has introduced a file manager and a suite of proper multi-tasking capabilities, the iPad Pro can genuinely be considered as a laptop replacement. Showcasing the very best of Apple's design abilities, both the 10.5in and 12.9in iPad Pro models are the pinnacle of tablet design.
Highly commended - Apple iPad
If you can't quite bear to part with the 620 starting price of the iPad Pro, Apple's entry-level iPad makes a handy compromise. While it doesn't have the full range of productivity features seen on the Pro range, the basic iPad is still sleek and speedy enough for day-to-day use.
Winner - Microsoft Surface Pro
One look at how many companies have aped the design of Microsoft's flagship convertible should give you a good indication of how popular the Surface Pro is. The kickstand design is elegant and intuitive, and the keyboard is one of the most satisfying typing experiences we've had, whilst also being amazingly thin and light.
There's no compromise on components, either; the 12.3in screen is pin-sharp and absolutely gorgeous to boot, and one of Intel's seventh-generation processors provides a serious amount of oomph. Forget compromise; this 2-in-1 does everything a laptop can, and then some.
Highly commended - HP Elite X2 Folio
While it's definitely borrowing some design inspiration from the Surface Pro, the HP Elite X2 Folio brings a few things to the table that Microsoft's device doesn't. It's user-upgradeable, for example, which could end up saving corporate IT departments a whole heap of time and money in the long term.
Winner - Google Pixelbook
Chromebooks aren't just cheap and cheerful laptops for schools, and Google's out to prove it with the Pixelbook. A razor-thin body and eye-catching design is backed up by surprisingly powerful internal hardware and all the AI-powered software features you'd expect from a flagship Google product.
What's more, improvements to Chrome OS and the ability to run Android apps mean that the Pixelbook is (very nearly) as versatile and capable as a standard Windows laptop. It's expensive, but it's liable to inspire serious notebook envy wherever you go.
Highly commended - HP Chromebook 13
At around 600, the HP Chromebook 13 is much more affordable than the pricey Pixelbook, without making too much of a compromise on design or performance. Like most Chromebooks, it'll struggle with seriously heavy-duty workloads, but for general tasks, this lightweight machine should perform very well indeed.
Winner - Samsung Galaxy S8
2017 has been a truly excellent year for smartphones, and the Samsung Galaxy S8 has been firmly leading the charge. The first major smartphone out of the gate with an edge-to-edge OLED display, the S8 set an example followed by companies like OnePlus, Honor and even Apple.
Combine this with one of the best smartphone cameras we've ever seen, super-quick internals and a very capable battery life, and it all adds up to a device that's very attractive indeed. Move over, iPhone; there's a new king in town.
Highly commended - Google Pixel 2
The follow up to last year's surprise hit, the Google Pixel 2 is a deeply impressive piece of technology powered by intelligent AI features and smart UI design. Its real selling-point is an absolutely world-class camera, which has yet to be beaten by any other smartphone. Were it not for a slightly underwhelming screen, the Pixel 2 would be topping our list this year.
Best 1U server
Winner - Dell EMC PowerEdge R640
The Dell EMC PowerEdge R640 is part of the company's recently-launched 14th generation of servers, and Dell has pulled out all the stops to cram this space-efficient 1U rack server full of storage and power. Not only does it have full support for Intel's Xeon Scalable processors, it's also got some mightily impressive storage options.
On top of that, Dell's iDRAC9 management console is a smash hit, offering a comprehensive overview of operational information, security-centric features and outstanding remote management and administration capabilities. It's every bit the equal of HPE's superb iLO5 controller.
Highly commended - Lenovo ThinkSystem SR630
Expansion potential is the name of the game here, with Lenovo's ThinkSystem SR630 offering plenty of internal space for further upgrades, despite a compact 1U form factor, and Xeon Scalable processor support for improved performance. More importantly, the XClarity Controller will make remote management a breeze.
Best 2U server
Winner - Dell EMC PowerEdge R740xd
The first server in Dell EMC's 14th-generation PowerEdge line, the PowerEdge R740xd is an excellent example of what customers can expect from the company now that the merger between Dell and EMC has been completed. Remote management capabilities have been improved, and EMC's expertise has been put to use with a superb array of storage features.
It's also a powerful showcase of Intel's relatively new enterprise-grade Skylake-SP Xeon processors. The R740xd supports the whole family, all the way up to Intel's 28-core Platinum Xeon monster, and its sheer processing power is tough to beat. Blue-chip vendors, take note: this is how it's done.
Highly commended - HPE ProLiant DL380 Gen10
Like the PowerEdge, HPE's tenth-generation flagship 2U server features Xeon Scalable processor support and extensive storage options. It's an improvement over the previous iteration in just about every way, and it's got the huge room for expansion too, making it a great option for growing businesses.
Best tower server
Winner - HPE ProLiant ML110 Gen10
Smaller businesses on a tighter budget may think that cutting-edge Xeon Scalable servers are out of their reach, but not anymore. The 10th-generation update to HPE's ProLiant ML110 tower server brings SMBs excellent performance coupled with generous expansion options.
It also comes with HPE's outstanding iLO5 management controller, providing plenty of remote management, monitoring, and security features. For smaller organisations that want a heavyweight server without the top-end price tag, this is an excellent choice.
Highly commended - Fujitsu Server Primergy TX1320 M3
If you're tight on space, Fujitsu's smallest-ever tower server will be right up your street. Not only that, but it's also great value. Combine that with beefy Xeon processors and heaps of clever design features to make the most of the limited internal space, and you've got a very capable package.
Best security appliance
Winner - WatchGuard Firebox T70
The biggest thing that the WatchGuard Firebox T70 has going for it is its virtually unbeatable price. Not only is it extremely competitive, it's also one of the highest-performing desktop appliances we've ever seen, with 4GBits/sec firewall throughput.
It's bundled with a year's subscription to WatchGuard's enterprise-class software suite too, including anti-spam, anti-virus and web-content filtering, as well as a Gold-level support subscription. Lastly, it has top-notch monitoring features for ultimate peace of mind.
Highly commended - Kerio Control NG300W
The Kerio Control NG300W is one sturdy UTM appliance, with four Gigabit Ethernet ports, a 2.4GHz Intel Atom CPU, and an inbuilt heatsink. It doesn't fall down on security features either, offering a comprehensive and well-rounded package. The only absence is anti-spam features, but otherwise, it's an excellent security appliance.
Best storage array
Winner - HPE MSA 2052 Storage
HPE has raised the bar with its 5th-gen MSA 2052 storage appliance, doubling the performance of an already-excellent array whilst keeping it at the same wallet-friendly price as its predecessor.
Performance is accordingly excellent, and it's twinned with a load of powerful features to make virtualisation, deployment, and recovery as easy as possible. Considering that it includes HPE's full suite of data tiering capabilities as well, it's a steal.
Highly commended - Broadberry CyberStore 224S-WSS rack
Despite going up against titans like HPE, Dell EMC, and Fujitsu, Broadberry was first out of the gate with a Windows Storage Server 2016 appliance - and for a very attractive price, too. On top of that, the Broadberry CyberServe 224S-WSS comes with 26 hot-swap SFF drive bays, heaps of network connection options, twin Intel Xeon E5-2620 v4 processors and 64GB of RAM.
Best NAS drive
Winner - Qnap TS-1685 desktop
For those that want high-volume desktop storage capabilities, it's hard to beat Qnap's TS-1685. Not only does it feature 16 hot-swap drive bays, it's also got blazing network performance thanks to its four 10GbE Ethernet ports, and support for expansion via additional PCIe cards.
You'll be hard-pressed to match its performance in terms of disk read and write speeds as well. Add in a whole heap of backup and storage features, and the TS-1685 is a superb addition to any small office setup.
Highly commended - Netgear ReadyNAS RN426
Data protection is top of the priority list for this SMB-friendly NAS drive. Backup performance is excellent, with cloud sharing, disaster recovery and snapshot features aplenty. It's also nice and hardy, thanks to its rock-solid steel construction.
Winner - Xerox VersaLink C400DN
The first thing that's likely to attract SMBs Xerox's VersaLink C400DN is the low price, but one of the most useful features is the large variety of onboard apps available for it, including heaps of cloud and network printing tools. It's also one of the rare printers that supports wired and wireless networking simultaneously.
Print quality is absolutely superb, delivering razor-sharp and detail-packed pictures and documents at exceptional speeds. As if that wasn't enough Xerox offers a lifetime on-site warranty - all you have to do is buy a toner pack in the last 60 days of your warranty period, and the company will renew it for another year. Can't say fairer than that.
Highly commended - Brother MFC-L8900CDW MFP
Although its initial purchase price isn't as attractive as some of its rivals, this A4 laser printer makes up for it with a battery of excellent cloud and security features, combined with speedy, high-quality prints. Running costs are reasonable, too, so TCO shouldn't be a problem later down the line.
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