Dell Precision M6400

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Dell Precision M6400
  • Dell Precision M6400
  • Dell Precision M6400
  • Dell Precision M6400

Pros

  • Solidly built, plenty of processing power, room for up to 16GB of RAM, comfortable to use, dual-mode wireless networking, ExpressCard and PC Card slots

Cons

  • Fingerprint reader isn't standard, modular bay doesn't have a second battery option,

Bottom Line

For users who run engineering, design or animation programs, this mobile workstation is a worthwhile choice. It's very fast, and the best part is you won't be shackled to your desk and will be able to use the same machine either at home or in the office.

Would you buy this?

The Precision M6400 is a mobile workstation that offers the latest in fast hardware to crunch data for design, animation and engineering users. Residing in its aluminium chassis are an Intel Core 2 Extreme CPU, NVIDIA Quadro graphics, 4GB of RAM and 500GB of storage.

The physical stature of the Precision is intimidating: it has a high-definition 17in screen, and its full-sized keyboard is convenient for touch-typing and also for number entry, thanks to the dedicated number pad. You also get two pointing devices, so that you can navigate using either the touchpad or a small joystick device.

It's a very comfortable laptop to use, mainly because its palm rest is so roomy and its keys are large, and it also doesn't suffer from any heat issues. We also love the backlight for the keyboard, which makes it a joy to type in the dark. The soft left- and right-click buttons, as well as the soft keyboard keys, ensure that you won't wake your partner if you work late into the night.

Because the unit has two relatively large vent areas, it doesn't get overly warm. This means it can be used without too much discomfort while resting on your lap. Of course, it's too big to use on public transport, but if you use it while at an Internet cafe or while in transit at an airport and you are away from an outlet, its standard battery will last over 2hr 13min. You can quickly check how much battery life remains by pushing a button on the battery. It illuminates a level indicator with five dots; the more dots displayed, the more life the battery has left.

But it's the guts of the machine that are worthy of most discussion. Its score of 112 in WorldBench 6 is a very fast one, and it's due to the machine's speedy Intel Core 2 Duo Extreme X9100 CPU, which runs at 3.06GHz, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, which runs at 1066MHz, the discrete graphics and the 7200rpm hard drive. The graphics are processed by NVIDIA's high-end Quadro FX 2700M chip, which is suitable for use with many CAD, animation and CAM programs. For intensive design and engineering work, this is the chip you want. In the 3dsMax portion of WorldBench 6, the notebook completed a rendering workload in just 311sec, which is approximately 50 per cent faster than a typical mid-range laptop.

Blender 3D completed a rendering job in 58sec, and this is the same time iTunes took to complete our 53min WAV to 192Kbps MP3 conversion. These programs used both CPU cores and pushed them to their limit, and it's the same rendering and encoding time you can expect to get out of a 3GHz PC. So for a laptop, this thing is plenty quick, and there is also an option for a quad-core CPU.

Despite being a workstation model, it doesn't compromise on looks. Its straight lines are elegant, and the array of ports and slots along the edges is logical and spaced nicely for easy access. The chassis is big enough to accommodate both PC Card and ExpressCard slots, with the former on the left side and the latter on the right. We love the slot-loading DVD burner: it not only looks good, it means there are less protruding bits to accidentally break off. It sits in a modular bay, which can be used to house another hard drive, but not a second battery. The spine of the laptop is devoid of any ports, as this is where the vents for the coolers reside.

The keyboard doesn't have any unnecessary shortcut buttons; you'll only find volume and calculator shortcut buttons, along with Function key shortcuts to alter the brightness of the screen and the illumination of the keyboard.

But the best part of the laptop is its screen. The 1920x1200 resolution really is roomy, and it lets you line up windows side-by-side with ease. It's bright enough for use outdoors, and, despite being slightly glossy, it is easy to view in bright rooms. An ambient light sensor adjusts the brightness of the screen depending on your environment. It noticeably affected the brightness level when moving from bright rooms to darkness, and vice versa. It's a convenient little feature that should help reduce eyestrain, especially when working in the dark. If you manipulate the brightness manually, this will override the ambient sensor, but it will initially revert back to the automatic brightness setting for a second before setting at the manual level.

For physical security, the chassis has a steel reinforced cable lock facility, as well as optical and hard drive locks. User security is aided by smart card readers (slot-based and contactless), but a fingerprint reader is not standard.

All up, the Precision M6400 is a worthy machine for working on taxing jobs while at home, in the office or abroad. It's solidly built, has good connectivity options and plenty of processing power.

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