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Dell Precision M6700 review

Laptops & PCsReviews
8/10
by James Morris, 29 Jan 2013Reviews
Dell Precision M6700 review

Dell calls the Precision M6700 the world's most powerful mobile workstation. Certainly, the top specification that is available could have a chance at this lofty accolade. The M6700 we have here isn't quite the most fully featured option in the range, so wouldn't quite top performance charts. But it is still a very high-end machine, built specifically with the task of workstation computing firmly in mind.

The M6700 is a very solid piece of kit, but it doesn't have the more avant-garde styling of Dell's consumer-focused models such as the Inspiron 17R. In fact, it resembles a dark grey slab with rounded edges. Weighing in at 3.52kg it's considerably lighter than some power gaming laptops, such as Alienware's M18x, although still more of a portable desktop than a system you will want to carry with you when you don't have to. It's actually marginally smaller than the Dell Inspiron 17R, but looks more like it means serious business.

The processor at the heart of the M6700 is certainly no slouch. The Core i7 3920XM runs at a nominal 2.9GHz and has four physical cores. However, this Ivy Bridge-generation CPU offers the usual Intel enhancements, including Turbo Boost that can push a single core up to 3.8GHz, and Hyper-Threading, which gives the Core i7 eight virtual processing cores. It also sports 8MB of Level 3 cache rather than the 6MB or 4MB of lesser models.This desktop-level processor is partnered by 8GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM, which is an adequate if not outstanding amount of memory by today's standards. Upgrading to the 32GB maximum would set you back an extra £284.

The key area where our M6700 isn't top of its model option list, however, is in the graphics department. That's not to say that the ATI FirePro M6000 chipset with 2GB of GDDR5 memory is underpowered. In fact, it's very capable indeed. It's just that this notebook can also be supplied with mobile Quadro graphics from Nvidia's Kepler generation, which in desktop format offer an unparalleled level of 3D acceleration, and are highly likely to provide similarly ground-breaking abilities in mobile form too. However, you will also have to add £181 to the price for the Quadro K3000M, £550 for the K4000M and a whopping £1,734 for the K5000M. So unless you really need the best real-time 3D performance on the market, or incomparable CUDA co-processing, the FirePro M6000 will be more than sufficient.

There is no question mark over the storage options supplied, however. Main storage comes in the form of a Samsung P830 solid-state disk with 512GB capacity. It's an expensive choice, but with plenty of space and speed on offer alongside low power consumption, there's no compromise here. You can also add a second hard drive, if you need additional storage. Our sample came with the optional Matshita UJ252 2x Blu-ray writer, although you can save £400 by opting for the basic DVD rewriter instead. If you are willing to forego the optical drive, it's also possible to add yet another hard disk in its stead.

Screen options are many and varied for the M6700, although all are 17.3in displays. The basic option has a resolution of 1,600 x 900, but there are no less than three 1,920 x 1,080 upgrades available. There's a standard Wide View anti-glare LED backlit display, which is only a £79 premium. But you can also choose a RGB IPS panel for £562 more, and a 3D display for £1,015 more. Our unit came with the former unit, which will be the optimum choice for most serious graphics professionals, as its quality means you can match colour as closely as possible for the most accurate work. This is a wonderfully bright screen with excellent viewing angles, and a very consistent image across its entire surface.

The M6700 is bristling with ports. On the left there are two USB 2.0 ports, a six-pin Firewire connection, plus separate headphone and microphone minijacks. The SD card reader, optical drive and a 54mm ExpressCard slot are also located on the left. The right side is a little more Spartan, with just a pair of USB 3.0 ports and the DisplayPort connection alongside the Wi-Fi switch and hard disk access panel. Wired Ethernet, VGA, HDMI and combined eSATA and USB 3.0 can all be found on the rear.

Alongside the 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, there's the option of mobile data in EVDO-HSPA or HSPA+ formats, and Bluetooth 4.0, neither of which were installed on our sample. It's worth noting that a built-in microphone and webcam are a £10 optional extra, which our unit did come with. It was also supplied with the more expensive FIPS fingerprint and contactless smartcard reader option.

And so to Dell's main claim that this is the most powerful portable workstation in the world. The Maxon Cinebench R11.5 rendering score of 7.2 is the highest we have ever recorded from a laptop, beating even Alienware's hugely powerful M18x. The Cinebench R11.5 OpenGL result of 68.01 is slightly behind the Alienware, although it's worth pointing out that the latter sports twin gaming graphics chipsets, whereas the FirePro M6000 is certified for use with professional OpenGL applications. The 3DMark06 score of 17,032 is also impressive, although this system is more likely to be used to design games rather than play them.

The M6700 has better battery life than you would expect for its size. It lasted a very commendable 307 minutes in the MobileMark 2007 Productivity test, which is better than most desktop replacement notebooks, giving over an hour more than Alienware's M18x, and nearly two hours more than Dell's own Inspiron 17R. It endured 208 minutes of the DVD Playback test, as well, so you could watch an entire movie, but probably not two. However, since 3D work is what this notebook is aimed at, our 100 per cent CPU and graphics stress test is the most relevant of all. The M6700 endured 83 minutes of this test, which is no competition for true portables, but slightly better than most desktop replacements. So you should be able to achieve a couple of hours of intensive 3D work on the move.

Verdict

The Precision M6700 may not quite live up to Dell's claim of being the most powerful portable workstation ever, at least in this specification. But it has a huge amount of performance to offer for both 2D and 3D applications, which can be used for a reasonable time on the road, plus a heap of features. You pay a considerable amount for all these capabilities, but the price is pretty much on par for a portable with this level of capabilities.

Specifications

Manufacturer and model

Dell Precision M6700

Processor

2.9GHz Intel Core i7 3920XM

RAM

8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM

Graphics

AMD ATI FirePro M6000 with 2GB GDDR5 memory

Hard disk

512MB Samsung PM830 solid state disk

Optical disc

Matshita UJ252 BD-RE Blu-ray rewriter

Display

17.3in LED backlit IPS TFT with 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

Networking

Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi

Interfaces

2 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, combo eSATA and USB 3.0, VGA, HDMI, DisplayPort, LAN, headphone, microphone, SD card reader, 54mm ExpressCard

Width x Depth x Height

416.7 x 270.6 x 36.1mm

Weight

3.52kg

Warranty

3 years NBD

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