Dell Precision M6500 review

7 May 2010

Massive, powerful and with every optional extra you can dream of, it's (almost) worth the sky-high price

Price when reviewed: 
3,631exc VAT
5

As mobile workstations go, Dell's Precision range is a pedigree breed and it comes with prices to match. The blood-orange Covet version of the outgoing M6400 came with a near-£5,000 price tag, and you can opt for the same on this new Core i7-equipped M6500 if you have deep pockets, but there are more affordable models.

It will still cost you - prices start at £1,349 exc VAT for a Core i5 system - but the sheer range of customisation on offer is staggering. Our review sample came with a 2GHz Core i7-920XM Extreme quad-core processor and four 2GB DDR3 modules (it supports up to 16GB), along with a pair of 128GB SSDs in a striped RAID array and ATI FirePro M7740 graphics.

With a nice big chassis there's plenty of room for a full-sized backlit keyboard and number pad, and it's firm and comfortable to use. The M6500 has a set of mouse buttons for both the trackpoint and touchpad, and the latter features a multitouch interface and a button to turn the whole pad into a jog shuttle for video editing.

Dell Precision M6500

The 17in screen comes in multiple flavours, including a TrueLife edge-to-edge panel on the Covet version, but it's hard to argue against the more austere silver backing and a 1,920 x 1,200 RGB LED panel. Colours leap from the screen in a way most laptops can only dream of, looking more like a giant OLED panel than a standard TFT. It might not be the best choice for colour-accurate work, but it's superb for anything else.

Churning through the SPECviewperf 10 benchmarks really showed off the quality of the image and evenness of the backlight, and it isn't only in specialist applications that this laptop flies. In our 2D benchmarks it scored 1.9, putting it right up there with Lenovo's latest ThinkPad T510 as the fastest laptop we've tested.

Specifying anything but the base model on Dell's website will get you a USB 3 port for your cutting-edge peripherals, and the M6500 also features DisplayPort and D-SUB outputs, a smart card reader (standard or contactless) and an optional fingerprint reader for added security. A slot-loading DVD writer comes as standard, with Blu-ray available, and video-conferencers will appreciate the integrated 3.2-megapixel webcam and dual microphones.

Of course, all this bulk and power comes at a cost, and not only to your bottom line. Dell has attempted to give the M6500 at least a shred of portability with a nine-cell battery, but don't expect to go on the road with this workstation laptop. It lasted just 2hrs 44mins in our idle test, and nowhere near that under full load - and it weighs a hefty 3.9kg, with a further 1kg for the power brick and cable.

That isn't really the point of the Dell Precision M6500, though, and in the areas that matter - raw power, customisation and build quality - it has few equals. Whether you're after a relatively affordable base unit or a tricked out orange Covet, the M6500 makes for a stunning workstation purchase.

Details

Price ex VAT £3,090
Price inc VAT £3,631
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 6
Value for Money 3
Performance 6

Warranty

Warranty 3yr on-site next business day

Physical specifications

Dimensions 393 x 281 x 39mm (WDH)
Weight 3.900kg
Travelling weight 5.0kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core i7-920XM
Motherboard chipset Intel PM55
RAM capacity 8.00GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 4

Screen and video

Screen size 17.0in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,920
Resolution screen vertical 1,200
Resolution 1920 x 1200
Graphics chipset ATI FirePro M7740
Graphics card RAM 1.00GB
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
HDMI outputs 0
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 1

Drives

Capacity 128GB
Spindle speed N/A
Hard disk Samsung SSD
Optical disc technology DVD writer
Optical drive HL-DT-ST GS20N
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch yes
Wireless key-combination switch no
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 1
PC Card slots 1
USB ports (downstream) 4
FireWire ports 1
eSATA ports 1
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 2
SD card reader yes
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset ATI HD Audio
Speaker location Above keyboard
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 3.2mp
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader yes

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 2hr 44min
Overall application benchmark score 1.90
Office application benchmark score 1.60
2D graphics application benchmark score 2.11
Encoding application benchmark score 1.72
Multitasking application benchmark score 2.18

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
OS family Windows 7
Recovery method Recovery disc