Dell M6500: A Precision Strike on Blingby Jarred Walton on March 9, 2010 3:00 AM EST
Last year, we did a roundup of some of the fastest laptops available at the time. The three laptops came from different sources, but all used Clevo chassis as the base for the build. Clevo is known for making high-end gaming laptop designs, but the build quality and materials can often leave us wanting. Glossy LCDs have some adherents, but the glossy—often mirror-like—surfaces used on the chassis are hard to get past. They're also very bulky designs, and it's hard to fathom spending thousands of dollars on a laptop chassis only to end up with a standard injection-molded plastic box. There has to be a better alternative, right? Of course there is, and as an example of a high quality design we have the Dell Precision M6500.
Right from the start, there's a lot to separate the M6500 from the previously mentioned Clevo designs. For one, users get the choice of glossy or anti-glare LCDs, and what's more they can also elect to pay for an RGBLED model that will provide a high color gamut. It's not just the LCD that's better: Dell delivers a chassis that has aluminum covers on most of the outside surfaces—available in standard silver or an eye-catching orange anodized aluminum. The M6500 is still a large notebook, true, but compared to many of the other desktop replacements we've looked at over the years, the industrial design is robust and reasonably attracted; it doesn't need to scream for attention, unlike other offerings.
Let's get this out of the way: the Precision M6500 doesn't come cheap. It packs a quad-core Core i7 Mobile CPU (i7-720QM to i7-920XM), four DDR3 SO-DIMM slots, two HDDs/SDDs, workstation graphics, a slot-load DVD/Blu-ray drive, and a standard 3-year warranty. Dell also includes the typical WiFi and Ethernet, along with optional Bluetooth and mobile broadband. An optional fingerprint scanner is available—standard "swipe" or FIPS certified for $70 more—as well as an optional contactless smart card reader. The latter is not something home users need, but it's a feature some enterprise customers want. And "Enterprise" is definitely the name of the game here, with a price to match. The basic configuration starts at
$2750 $1800 (now that Core i5 CPUs are supported), and our test system maxes out everything but the storage options for a final price tag of over $5000!
Shocked by the sticker price? Besides the R&D efforts and high quality industrial design, part of the price also comes from the ISV certifications. The M6500 is certified to run over 100 professional applications from 30 different ISVs. Sample applications include AutoDesk Inventor, SolidWorks, PPC Pro Engineer, and WindChill to name just a few. To give you an idea of pricing, the typical cost for a basic installation of many of these applications will run at least as much as our test laptop (i.e. $5000), and some of the packages can apparently run up to $100K per installation. Obviously, if you're buying a software package that can cost that much, having certified hardware is a must and the cost of the hardware is secondary to the cost of the software. As for performance in the various software packages, the only way you could get a faster laptop would be to use a desktop processor—not the ideal solution in most cases.
Before we get to the rest of the review, it's useful to discuss quickly why "mobile workstations" are useful. If you're after maximum performance you can get a desktop workstation with far more power than any notebook. With a clock speed of 2.0GHz on the i7-920XM as the maximum we'll see from mobile CPUs, i7 Xeon CPUs like the 3.33GHz W5590 are over 50% faster; pair a couple of W5590s and you're looking at over three times the performance in heavily threaded scenarios. Then there's the matter or maximum RAM support, GPU support, etc. Obviously, there's no way to get performance equal to a desktop workstation that can use 500W+ of power out of a <200W notebook chassis. The problem is that such workstations are difficult to move, so consultants and employees that have to work away from the home office need an alternative. They can save time by avoiding the need to travel back and forth between the office/datacenter, not to mention avoiding travel costs. Remote (i.e. VPN) solutions can provide more computational power still, but the latency of such solutions is a different problem. Thus, the target market for notebooks like the Precision M6500 is professionals that regularly need to be able to take their work on the road.
Technically, the M6500 can also play games, but that's not the target market… unless you happen to be a game developer working on the road, I suppose. While we wouldn't recommend the M6500 for mobile gamers, we would love to see some aspects of the styling and build quality make their way into such offerings. Dell's own XPS and Alienware notebooks could learn a thing or two about construction and features from the M6500, and we'd love to see Clevo give their whitebook customers a high quality chassis—and an anti-glare LCD would be icing on the cake. As we'll see in a moment, the M6500 is not without flaws; ultimately, it's going to come down to priorities and personal taste. If you happen to like glossy LCDs and bling, you probably won't like the M6500.
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Nick-932 - Saturday, August 21, 2010 - linkHave you seen one in real life next to an Apple...Because all apples look like wimpsy flimsy notebooks comparing to an M6500.
Additionally, they do not even have any spec similar as the M6500, even 8 months after their initial release.
jabber - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - link...but that 'thing' above the keyboard...????
Didnt read the review actually as it's too expensive for me. So if what ever that thing is is explained as crucial then I apologise.
strikeback03 - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - linkI read the review and still don't know. I was expecting an explanation of what the thing that looks like it was attached with a blob of caulk is on a laptop they think looks good.
JarredWalton - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - linkI guess you guys are referring to the FIPS fingerprint scanner? It's not "attached by a blob of caulk"... though I suppose the images don't quite convey what it actually looks like. Here's a better shot, if you didn't look at the gallery:
It's an optional extra for security; rather than swiping your finger, you place it on that scanner. It's supposed to be more accurate than the swipe scanners.
jabber - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - linkSo why does it look bolted on?
Lenovo manage to make a decent looking fingerprint scanner.
This thing is a mess. In fact the more I look at this laptop the more crap it looks.
Looks like a rough prototype.
JarredWalton - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - linkPerhaps it looks better in person. The scanner is flush with the rest of the chassis, and about the only complaint I'd have with it is that the scanner has a gray border. Trust me, the chassis as a whole feels rock solid. I don't think it's the most awesome looking laptop ever created, but the LCD does look great and it's nice to see a large notebook I wouldn't be embarrassed about using in a business setting.
Since you dislike the look of this notebook so much, what do you think makes for an attractive notebook? And please don't say MacBook Pro... they're fine, but you simply can't fit quad-core i7 with a Quadro FX 3800M into anything that thin. I'm actually quite impressed that the M6500 is "only" 1.3" thick!
jabber - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - linklol, no I wouldnt say a MacBook pro.
However, I do find it baffling why manufacturers struggle to come up with something asthetically pleasing.
I do believe less is more, though it would be hard to design a laptop on that principle that wouldnt infringe on the mac design. They have reduced a design to it's near minimum.
I like the general look of my Inspiron 13Z though the 8 cell battery pack spoils the lines. It does mean however I can go 8 hours+ without power. The glossy plastics are also a big no-no.
If Dell just improved the build quality of say their Studio line with better/tougher plastics then that would go a long way.
DukeN - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - linkWould truly have appreciated a Lenovo W5XX comparison here, or even a T500. TIA.
hko45 - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - linkAnother reason to get this is the E-Port Plus docking (for all mobile Precision and most Latitudes -- I haven't seen anything comparable from anyone else). It allows the connection of two DVI or DisplayPort displays. That's what I use for my M6400 when I run PhotoShop & Lightroom. This should take care of any color issues. I would only use it as my first edit pass for my photos when on the road anyway. I'm definitely going to get an M6500 as soon as funds permit.
geekforhire - Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - link
I received my Precision M6500 about a week ago, and in general I'm very happy.
Mine has the i7 Q720 processor, 64GB SSD, CD/DVD burner, 1440x900 RGBLED display, Intel 5300AGN Wifi card, 4GB memory, and Windows 7 Pro.
My previous notebook computer was 15.4" Dell Inspiron 8600, which I also designed, and served me well for 5.5 years. It failed about 6 months ago with a motherboard problem that would be expensive to replace - about as much as a netbook. At the time, I didn't want to spend alot of money on a replacement computer, so I got a netbook: Asus S101. It's a nice little (little!!!) machine, came with a Window XP Home on a 16GB SSD (note: they are now shipping with a 32GB SSD, which is actually livable, where the 16GB is definitely /not/ and later upgraded to 64GB). It does alot of things very well, but I eventually came to the conclusion that this was not enough computer for me. And if it failed I'd have to ship the computer away to the manufacturer for service - which would put me out of service for about 2+ weeks. So I bit the bullet, and got another real computer.
Performance is excellent. This is safely the fastest notebook I've ever had the pleasure to work with - ever.
The display is excellent, displaying everything including movies with great sharpness, color quality, and contrast.
The keyboard has good touch, and the back-lighting is a nice touch that really should be included with every notebook.
Someone gave good though to the internal airflow, which allows the machine to be quiet and be effective even when resting on my lap with a comforter.
The SSD is giving snappy performance, but it's actual available physical C: size is 58.7GB, and there is the risk that the performance will decline over time (trim capability is unknown yet).
Fastest wifi performance I've ever measured: downloaded iTunes yesterday and the Network tab on the Task Manager showed an average 10.5% utilization with frequent peaks of 11.75% of a 54mbps wifi connection (I have a 7mbps DSL line to the internet with a high performance wifi router, but the Apple servers deserve some credit too).
The sound fidelity coming from the speakers is extremely good, especially for a notebook. Playing the movie "The Transporter" (music by Stanley Clarke), there were several very interesting sound positioning effect that many other speakers just won't present quite as well.
The built in webcam and array microphone work well. I'm having lots of great conversations with my daughter via Skype, who's on a 2 month trip in Ireland. Visual detail is good, and room echo of what I'm sending is low to non-existent.
I'm a believer in the Dell 4 year high end extended service warranty, and include it in all of the notebook computers that I design, because notebooks are subject to physical insults that desktop computers are not, and Dell will overnight ship replacement parts. Want to rent a great notebook computer for the price of a new great computer, here are 2 realistic human threats that tend to produce total loss: Dropping, and Liquid Spills.
Overall build quality is good. But it kind of better be with a machine this heavy, or else simple motions like lifting it from the front corner is going to cause the chassis to quickly split.
There are oodles of practical connectors and adapters built in, and I really like the slot-load CD/DVD drive.
The battery life seems to last about 2 hours, not the 3-4 hours I was designing for (I attribute this to the lowest end display card, which is much stronger and much higher power consuming than I wanted). I've played with the various power options and I've been able to improve the duration from the 1.5H that I seemed to first be getting when I received the machine, but I think 2.5H is going to be the wall.
The touch pad is left of where it should be. It's centered under the keyboard, rather than in the physical center of the computer, causing an awkward right hand "lunge" across to 1.5" left of where I naturally expect it to be. But I can recalibrate.
This machine and power brick are large and heavy, and are well served by backpack transport rather than something with just a single handle.
The low level light performance of the webcam in a dimly lit restaurant is fair, producing brownish grainy images. (reminder that the human eye has such an amazingly good sharpness even with wide variations of available light, that even modern DSLR technology comes no where near what the human eye can do so easily that we take that capability for granted.)
The machine was shipped about 3 weeks later than the original estimate. Note that this longer-than-expected actual ship date has happened with all other 17" Precision notebook computers that I've designed in the past.
Not sure yet about the 64 bit OS. There have been 1-2 weird freezing issues which I suspect the 32 bit OS may not experience; there is a compatibility issue with printing from a 64 bit machine to a printer attached to a 32 bit machine, but the effective work around is to print directly to the network attached printer. But having 4GB of available memory with a 64 bit OS is nicer than having 3GB of actually available memory on the same machine with a 32 bit OS. So the jury is still out on whether to reinstall with the 32 bit OS, or stick with the 64 bit OS.
In a nutshell, I can see myself growing old with this woman.