Last year, we did a roundup of some of the fastest laptops available at the time. The three laptops came from different sources, but all used Clevo chassis as the base for the build. Clevo is known for making high-end gaming laptop designs, but the build quality and materials can often leave us wanting. Glossy LCDs have some adherents, but the glossy—often mirror-like—surfaces used on the chassis are hard to get past. They're also very bulky designs, and it's hard to fathom spending thousands of dollars on a laptop chassis only to end up with a standard injection-molded plastic box. There has to be a better alternative, right? Of course there is, and as an example of a high quality design we have the Dell Precision M6500.

Right from the start, there's a lot to separate the M6500 from the previously mentioned Clevo designs. For one, users get the choice of glossy or anti-glare LCDs, and what's more they can also elect to pay for an RGBLED model that will provide a high color gamut. It's not just the LCD that's better: Dell delivers a chassis that has aluminum covers on most of the outside surfaces—available in standard silver or an eye-catching orange anodized aluminum. The M6500 is still a large notebook, true, but compared to many of the other desktop replacements we've looked at over the years, the industrial design is robust and reasonably attracted; it doesn't need to scream for attention, unlike other offerings.

Let's get this out of the way: the Precision M6500 doesn't come cheap. It packs a quad-core Core i7 Mobile CPU (i7-720QM to i7-920XM), four DDR3 SO-DIMM slots, two HDDs/SDDs, workstation graphics, a slot-load DVD/Blu-ray drive, and a standard 3-year warranty. Dell also includes the typical WiFi and Ethernet, along with optional Bluetooth and mobile broadband. An optional fingerprint scanner is available—standard "swipe" or FIPS certified for $70 more—as well as an optional contactless smart card reader. The latter is not something home users need, but it's a feature some enterprise customers want. And "Enterprise" is definitely the name of the game here, with a price to match. The basic configuration starts at $2750 $1800 (now that Core i5 CPUs are supported), and our test system maxes out everything but the storage options for a final price tag of over $5000!


Shocked by the sticker price? Besides the R&D efforts and high quality industrial design, part of the price also comes from the ISV certifications. The M6500 is certified to run over 100 professional applications from 30 different ISVs. Sample applications include AutoDesk Inventor, SolidWorks, PPC Pro Engineer, and WindChill to name just a few. To give you an idea of pricing, the typical cost for a basic installation of many of these applications will run at least as much as our test laptop (i.e. $5000), and some of the packages can apparently run up to $100K per installation. Obviously, if you're buying a software package that can cost that much, having certified hardware is a must and the cost of the hardware is secondary to the cost of the software. As for performance in the various software packages, the only way you could get a faster laptop would be to use a desktop processor—not the ideal solution in most cases.

Before we get to the rest of the review, it's useful to discuss quickly why "mobile workstations" are useful. If you're after maximum performance you can get a desktop workstation with far more power than any notebook. With a clock speed of 2.0GHz on the i7-920XM as the maximum we'll see from mobile CPUs, i7 Xeon CPUs like the 3.33GHz W5590 are over 50% faster; pair a couple of W5590s and you're looking at over three times the performance in heavily threaded scenarios. Then there's the matter or maximum RAM support, GPU support, etc. Obviously, there's no way to get performance equal to a desktop workstation that can use 500W+ of power out of a <200W notebook chassis. The problem is that such workstations are difficult to move, so consultants and employees that have to work away from the home office need an alternative. They can save time by avoiding the need to travel back and forth between the office/datacenter, not to mention avoiding travel costs. Remote (i.e. VPN) solutions can provide more computational power still, but the latency of such solutions is a different problem. Thus, the target market for notebooks like the Precision M6500 is professionals that regularly need to be able to take their work on the road.

Technically, the M6500 can also play games, but that's not the target market… unless you happen to be a game developer working on the road, I suppose. While we wouldn't recommend the M6500 for mobile gamers, we would love to see some aspects of the styling and build quality make their way into such offerings. Dell's own XPS and Alienware notebooks could learn a thing or two about construction and features from the M6500, and we'd love to see Clevo give their whitebook customers a high quality chassis—and an anti-glare LCD would be icing on the cake. As we'll see in a moment, the M6500 is not without flaws; ultimately, it's going to come down to priorities and personal taste. If you happen to like glossy LCDs and bling, you probably won't like the M6500.

Dell M6500: Specced to the Hilt
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  • geekforhire - Friday, March 12, 2010 - link

    Some things I forgot to note:

    The cost of mine was a little more than half the amount quoted in the article - complete. This a beast of a machine is available for a modest premium if you just resist the temptation of designing with only bleeding edge equipment.

    When I ordered mine, the Core i5 processors were not available for the M6500. That may be part of the intent as part of the prerelease whisper from the manufacturer, but as of yesterday they still aren't available for the M6500.

    There's a wonderful article on the virtues of the Core i7-720QM processor from last fall, here:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/mobile-core-i7...">http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/mobile-core-i7...

    Reply
  • geekforhire - Friday, March 12, 2010 - link

    Here's a link to the Core i7-790QM processor spec sheet from Intel:
    http://ark.intel.com/Product.aspx?id=43122">http://ark.intel.com/Product.aspx?id=43122

    Here's a link to a page on the Intel website which helps decode what the processor numbers mean.
    http://www.intel.com/products/processor_number/ind...">http://www.intel.com/products/processor_number/ind...

    The i7-720QM has a 45W package, 4x1.6 Ghz processor cores with HyperThreading, 6M cache, DDR3-1066/1333 memory, 8GB max physical memory limit, and a "Turbo Mode" which allows a few cores to spin up to 2.8Ghz (note that all processors cannot operate at this speed simultaneously, but is available when some cores have been dynamically turned off and the TDP would not be exceeded).

    Reply
  • Naina - Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - link

    I like what you said about the Dell M6500. I am a photoartist and work mostly with Photoshop. I do this
    professionally and I am travelling a good deal. I like the Dell M6500 but am not sure what configuration to look at which would meet my need for speed and space.

    I wonder if you could make a suggestion.

    Naina
    Reply
  • icrf - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    I've been using an M6400 at work for the last six months, which is very similar to this. The chassis looks the same, but it's generation older hardware (Q9100 / FX2700M).

    On the docking station front, I apparently ended up with the cheaper one. It has DVI, DP, and VGA ports, but it won't drive both the DVI and DP, so I have to run one of my two external displays on an analog VGA connection.
    Reply
  • hko45 - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    I haven't seen any other comparable docking station to the E-Port Plus -- to be able to connect to two monitors through the same kind of ports (DVIs or DisplayPorts). When you're editing images, you need to make sure that both monitors are reasonably alike. That's why I would only buy Dell's Precision or Latitude (not all) laptops -- just for to be able to use that docking station. Reply
  • icrf - Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - link

    Some of my co-workers have dual-DVI (but no DP) docking stations. We're just developers, so the accurate color reproduction isn't all that important. Honestly, if I could have gotten the thing without the Nvidia graphics, I'd of been better off. I never render anything in 3D. I was just looking for a 17" 1920x1200 chassis with a speedy quad core and 8 GB of RAM. Unfortunately, the office wouldn't spring for a SSD, as I think that would have made the most difference. I get the feeling random read is the biggest bottleneck. Reply
  • Fanfoot - Thursday, April 01, 2010 - link

    The laptop I see on Dell's site doesn't appear to bear much of a resemblance to the one you describe. The one I see has a max of 4GB of RAM, comes with 32-bit Windows, has no USB 3.0 support, and is very expensive. Even basic WiFi isn't included in the price of this thing. Three drives? Where does it say that? I assume one of the drives you're counting is the special 64GB Flash drive, probably a mini PCIe card, but still, show me where it says you can swap out the SLOT LOADING DVD for a second full sized 2.5" drive, something I'm used to with Thinkpads, but that is otherwise uncommon.

    From the machine that I appear to be able to configure on Dell's website, I'd say both HP and Lenovo have better, more capable, machines in this range available today. The one you talk about sounds fine, but I see no way to configure a machine like that on Dell's website...
    Reply
  • holytouch - Sunday, April 11, 2010 - link

    i think you should go back to dell.com and try again. the laptop he describes is there, and contains the specs within the review. make sure you look at the 6500/6500 covet. i ordered mine with win7 pro/64bit with no issues.

    honestly, it couldn't be any easier to see that the machine he describes is on the site.
    Reply
  • tozndsand - Saturday, June 19, 2010 - link

    I have heard that i5-i7 processors are not supported by Adobe CS5. Is that correct? That would be a deal breaker for many. Thanks Reply
  • DellVictim - Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - link

    I am frustrated with how many positive editorial reviews this machine is getting. I bought one with all the trimmings (twin HD's with RAID etc) and before long at all, started having lots of issues. One of the HD's has been replaced 4 or 5 times, the motherboard 3 times, the graphics card twice, the screen, and it's currently broken, again, despite two dell technician visits - the last of which left telling me the RAID was rebuilding and all was good. Less than 30 minutes after he left, there was a beep, the computer restarted, got stuck in the dos BIOS screen and when I pressed F1 to continue it told me that there was now NO bootable disk! I'm fusious. I have been without my laptop and important data now for over three weeks. So much for next day service, everytime they need to get parts, they seem to be out of stock for several days, then they don't ship them early enough in the day for me to get them next day. They leave voicemails saying they'll call you later and they don't. They won't give you a direct dial number to your service representative. They won't pass you through to the team that deal with refund/replacement requests and that team seems to take 3-4 days to decide that despite the appaulling history or clearly recurring problems with this machine, they don't feel it deserves either a replacement or refund. Instead, they'll send someone out a week later with insufficient parts to make it worse!

    I don't think I need to explain the moral of the story here folks.
    Reply

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