Dell Precision M4500 review

25 Jun 2010

A highly configurable workstation offering top-of-the-range components in a genuinely mobile frame

Price when reviewed: 
1,378(£1,619 inc VAT)
5

Dell’s Precision range of mobile workstations promises serious performance, and equally serious prices. The 17in Precision M6500, which we reviewed in early May, came in at £3,090 exc VAT.

The new M4500, though, is a more modest offering. With its 15.6in screen and 3.6cm depth you could almost mistake it for a regular laptop. From the outside only the severe magnesium chassis sets it apart from the ranks of mid-range notebooks. That, and the unusually comprehensive set of ports: you get four USB 2 sockets, four-pin FireWire, EC/34 and SmartCard slots, plus a multi-format card reader, Gigabit Ethernet and DisplayPort and D-Sub video outputs. There’s no USB 3, alas, but one of the USB 2 ports also supports eSATA.

Open the lid and things remain low-key. The plain black design bespeaks function rather than style. The keyboard is slightly spongy, but the sheer weight of the keys feels reassuringly professional. It’s not overburdened with custom keys, but you do get volume controls, plus a shortcut to Dell’s clever Reader 2 application that lets you access Outlook email, contacts, tasks and calendar without having to boot up the OS.

Dell Precision M4500

In business-friendly style, the M4500 offers a trackpoint as well as a touchpad, each with its own set of buttons, and instead of a numeric pad, there are speakers either side of the keyboard. These are surprisingly loud and clear – you could happily use them for an informal presentation – but certainly not audiophile quality, with no bass response whatsoever.

Power and punch

The screen on our review model was businesslike too: a matte 1,600 x 900 panel, which is predictably lacking in vibrance but very bright and crisp. Depending on your needs you can alternatively choose an antiglare display, which we suspect would restore some of the missing depth, in either 1,366 x 768 or Full HD resolutions.

But it’s under the hood where the M4500 offers most choice. Our review unit came with a Core i5-520M, but you can take your choice from the whole range of mobile Core i5 or i7 processors (excluding low voltage parts), all the way up to Intel’s flagship Core i7-920XM.

And you’ve almost as much freedom with the memory and hard disk. We tested a 4GB configuration with a 320GB hard disk, but you can go up to 8GB (or down to 2GB) and upgrade to a half-terabyte drive or a solid state drive in 128GB or 256GB capacities. There’s also the option of a 64GB SSD that connects to a mini-PCI slot, so you can partner it with a regular 2.5in drive.