Dell Precision M6500 mobile workstation

Dell's Precision M6500 notebook is an extremely powerful mobile workstation

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Dell Precision M6500

Pros

  • Very powerful

Cons

  • Expensive, heavy

Bottom Line

There is no doubt that the Dell Precision M6500 represents the crème de la crème of laptops today. Engineers and power users who can abide the weight and the cost will find a blazingly fast laptop with superior screen and graphics, a full-size keyboard, and plenty of storage and RAM headroom. This machine's performance is nearly the equivalent of midrange desktop workstations.

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The screen is clear and sharp. This clarity is due in part to Dell's choice of a WUXGA RGB LED LCD panel. The RGB LED is a way of signaling that the system does not rely on standard white LEDs to form the pixels. The RGB aspect permits Dell to offer "100 percent of the Adobe colour spectrum."

We were told that this would be evident as deeper, richer colour, especially when the screen is bright. This is certainly true when we put the Dell Precision M6500 beside other laptops. However, the difference is not a revelation - had we not known to look for it, we're not sure we'd have spotted it. Nevertheless, for heavy users of multimedia or graphics, the 100 percent Adobe spectrum could be reason enough to get the M6500.

The Dell Precision M6500 comes in a brushed-metallic case that passes MIL-810 tests. Unlike former road-warrior systems that were thick and hard to hold, the Dell Precision M6500 is a uniform 1.25 inches (or 3.2cm) high. It sports four USB ports, one eSATA slot, one FireWire jack, a PCMCIA compartment, an SD card slot, and the usual external VGA port and Ethernet jack.

The nine-cell battery provides roughly 2 hours, 30 minutes of usage - enough for a visit to the field, but not more than that. Unfortunately, the power pack adds almost 2.2 pounds (985 grams) to be lugged with the system's already hefty 8.6 pounds (3.9kg). This load is most annoying when you're in motion. However, we were surprised to see how little it bothered me when the system was in use on my lap. This is due in part to the large form factor, which distributes the weight over a larger area, so you can work a good while before your legs become uncomfortable. In fact, system heat created discomfort before the weight did.

Dell Precision M6500: greased lightning

We ran a series benchmarks, including SPEC Viewperf, Cinebench, and an assortment of benchmarks from SiSoftware that are gathered in the Sandra XII suite.

Because SPEC carefully controls how Viewperf numbers are reported, the group's guidelines required us to use Windows Vista to run the test; the benchmark is not certified yet for Windows 7. So we ran all benchmarks on the 64-bit Ultimate edition of Windows Vista. The Viewperf guidelines show that the Nvidia card in the Dell Precision M6500 has performance that equals that of the desktop Nvidia Quadro FX 3800 card.

This is quite an achievement for a mobile graphics adaptor, which operates in much tighter thermal, spatial, and power constraints. The FX 3800 card it matches was used in midrange and high-end desktop workstations from Hewlett-Packard in my review of Nehalem workstations earlier this year.

Arithmetic computation on the x920 processor is slower than on the reviewed desktop workstations, primarily due to its slower clock speed (2GHz vs. 2.93GHz). The multimedia benchmark has no counterpart in our earlier tests, so is presented for information purposes and for future comparisons. Memory latency is comparable to the desktop systems, but bandwidth is significantly faster on the Dell Precision M6500 due to the higher clock speed of the RAM. In these benchmarks, only the M6500's disk speed is significantly slower than desktop workstations; for most uses, this is an expected and accepted limitation.

With the fastest mobile x86 processor and the fastest mobile graphics card on the market, there is no doubt that the Dell Precision M6500 deserves a top mark of 10 for performance on our report card - there is no faster notebook available today. The report card entries reflect our discussion here, but they cannot account for our concern that the size and weight will be too much for some users. Likewise, the price will suggest that prospective purchasers be certain they need the mighty firepower of this system. Those who can settle for less robust features can configure the system on Dell's website and end up with a lower price. However, the starting price is still a healthy $4199.00.

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