Dell Precision M3800 review
Loads of power and a high-DPI display packed into a slim, attractive chassis - there's room for improvement, though
Workstation laptops aren’t meant to be sexy or attractive, but the new Dell Precision M3800 turns convention on its head. It packs a quad-core CPU, Nvidia Quadro graphics and solid-state storage into a slim, stylish chassis that makes it look more like a super-sized Ultrabook than a semi-portable powerhouse such as Dell’s own Precision M4800.
See also: The best laptops of 2014
Lean and mean
Where the M4800’s aluminium-panelled chassis measures 40mm thick and weighs in at a substantial 3.2kg, the M3800 is comparatively waif-like, measuring 21mm thick and only barely nudging over the 2kg mark. It’s no MacBook Air, but for a laptop boasting this much grunt, it’s a svelte as they come.
There’s good reason for this: the Precision M3800 is actually a very slightly tweaked version of Dell’s latest XPS 15. Put the two side by side and it’s easy to see the resemblance. Just like that laptop, the M3800 is clad in matte-finish metal and carbon-fibre materials; it has the same wedge-like shape; and build quality is equally solid and rigid.
Despite the pared-down chassis, the core specification hasn’t suffered. All versions of the Precision M3800 come kitted out with a quad-core 2.2GHz Core i7-4702HQ CPU, and prices start at £1,507 inc VAT. For this, you also get a Full HD touchscreen, 8GB of RAM, a hybrid 500GB HDD and Windows 8.1 Pro. Our review unit had a 256GB Lite-On LMT-256M6M SSD instead of the hybrid drive, 16GB of RAM and packed in more than twice the pixels with a 3,200 x 1,800 display, bumping the price to £1,799.
Whichever of the models you choose, though, you’ll always get an Nvidia Quadro K1100M GPU. Thanks to its ISV-certified drivers, the Quadro GPU is far better suited to the rigours of running professional software applications than its GeForce cousins, which are found in Dell’s XPS laptops. The Quadro is ready and raring to boost performance in OpenCL-accelerated packages.
Power isn’t at a premium here. The M3800 smashed through our benchmarks with an Overall score of 0.93. This is a little behind its stablemate, the Precision M4800, which scored 1.01; that comes as little surprise, however. The M4800 was equipped with a significantly quicker 2.8GHz Core i7-4900MQ CPU and a more powerful Nvidia Quadro K2100M GPU. The Precision M3800’s Quadro K1100M GPU is no slouch, but it struggled to match the raw compute power of the M4800’s GPU, and took 2mins 15secs to render our Sony Vegas Pro 12 project, 19 seconds longer than the Precision M4800.
As ever, though, the high-end components take their toll on battery life. With the display dialled down to a dim 75cd/m[sup]2[/sup] and Wi-Fi turned off, the Precision M3800 lasted only 5hrs 48mins in our light-usage battery test. That's not bad by workstation standards, but it doesn't bode well for heavy usage away from the mains. And as the Dell's battery is sealed inside its slender chassis there's no option to carry a back-up in case of emergencies.
The M3800’s 15.6in, 3,200 x 1,800 touchscreen is superb. The glossy finish is reflective, particularly outside or under intense lighting, but the LED backlighting is strong enough to keep images from washing out in almost any conditions. We recorded a maximum brightness of 402cd/m[sup]2[/sup], and while contrast isn’t the highest we’ve seen – our measurements put it at 717:1 – it’s no worse than the other high-DPI displays we’ve seen so far. More importantly, the panel covers the entire sRGB gamut and a little more besides. Colour accuracy is good, too, with an average Delta E of 3.4 and a maximum deviation of 6.2. We’d still recommend investing in a colorimeter for colour-critical applications, but it’s by no means essential – the Dell’s display puts in a good performance straight out of the box.
|Price ex VAT||£1,499|
|Price inc VAT||£1,799|
|Features & Design||4|
|Value for Money||4|
|Dimensions||372 x 254 x 21mm (WDH)|
Processor and memory
|Processor||Intel Core i7-4702HQ|
|SODIMM sockets free||0|
|SODIMM sockets total||2|
Screen and video
|Resolution screen horizontal||3,200|
|Resolution screen vertical||1,800|
|Resolution||3200 x 1800|
|Internal disk interface||mSATA|
|Hard disk||Lite-On LMT-256M6M|
|Replacement battery price inc VAT||£0|
|Wired adapter speed||N/A|
|802.11 draft-n support||yes|
|Integrated 3G adapter||no|
|USB ports (downstream)||1|
|3.5mm audio jacks||1|
|SD card reader||yes|
|Memory Stick reader||yes|
|MMC (multimedia card) reader||yes|
|Pointing device type||Touchpad/touchscreen|
|Camera megapixel rating||1.2mp|
Battery and performance tests
|Battery life, light use||5hr 42min|
|Overall Real World Benchmark score||0.93|
Operating system and software
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit|
|OS family||Windows 8|