Introducing the Dell Precision M6700

When you think about it, the enterprise workstation market really only has three key players. You have HP, who produce some excellent mobile workstations but have been stagnating horribly on the desktop side. You have Dell, who produce what are in my opinion the best desktop workstations but seem to be substantially less exciting on the notebook end. And you have Lenovo, who excels in neither discipline but offers a fairly balanced portfolio in exchange. This presents a problem, and it's a problem we're looking at today.

What we really want and need is a single vendor to order notebooks and desktops from and be able to call it a day. While HP's desktops aren't bad, they're overpriced compared to Dell's offerings. Today we have the updated Dell Precision M6700 on hand, a robust notebook featuring a full sRGB IPS panel with user-configurable gamma, a Kepler-based workstation GPU, and Intel's Ivy Bridge quad core processor. But with workstations it's not just about the internals, it's about the design and the experience. Did Dell come up with a worthy competitor to HP's EliteBooks, or did they just come up short?

Three years ago, this wasn't the way things were. HP had great desktops and Dell had great notebooks, but the situation seems to have almost completely flipped. The design language on HP's enterprise class notebooks suddenly unified, offering a combination of style, serviceability, usability, and performance that was able to compete with Dell's Precision line as well as Lenovo's sadly declining ThinkPads. As you'll see, though, just as HP's desktop workstation department seems to be coasting, Dell's mobile workstation department is having a hard time playing catch-up.

Dell Precision M6700 Notebook
Processor Intel Core i7-3920XM
(4x2.9GHz + HTT, 3.8GHz Turbo, 22nm, 8MB L3, 55W)
Chipset Intel QM77
Memory 4x4GB Kingston DDR3-1866 (expandable to 4x8GB)
Graphics NVIDIA Quadro K5000M 4GB GDDR5
(1344 CUDA cores, 601MHz/3GHz core/memory, 256-bit memory bus)
Display 17.3" LED Matte 16:9 IPS 1920x1080
LG Philips LP173WF3
Hard Drive(s) Samsung PM830 128GB mSATA 6Gbps SSD

Seagate Momentus 7200.5 750GB 7200-RPM SATA 3Gbps HDD
Optical Drive HL-DT-ST Slot-Loading DVD+/-RW GS30N
Networking Intel 82579LM Gigabit Ethernet
Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6300 802.11a/b/g/n 3x3
Bluetooth 4.0
Audio IDT 92HD93BXX HD Audio
Stereo speakers
Mic and headphone jacks
Battery 9-Cell, 97Wh
Front Side Latch
Right Side Wireless toggle
HDD caddy
2x USB 3.0
DisplayPort
Left Side Kensington lock
2x USB 2.0
6-pin FireWire
Mic and headphone jacks
SD/MMC card reader
ExpressCard/54 slot
Slot-loading optical drive
Back Side Vent
Ethernet
VGA
HDMI
eSATA/USB combo port
AC adapter
Operating System Windows 7 Professional SP1 64-bit
Dimensions 16.41" x 10.65" x 1.3-1.42"
416.7mm x 270.6mm x 33.1-36.1mm
Weight 7.76lbs / 3.52kg
Extras PremierColor display
Flash reader (SD/Mini SD, MS/Duo/Pro/Pro Duo)
USB 3.0
SIM card slot
Optional WWAN
Fingerprint reader
Backlit keyboard
Trackpoint
Warranty 3-year parts and labor
Pricing Starts at $1,614
As configured: $4,533

On the hardware side, the Dell Precision M6700 certainly has a lot going for it. While Dell's BIOS doesn't allow for any overclocking, the Intel Core i7-3920XM is still an incredibly fast processor, with a nominal clock speed of 2.9GHz, able to turbo up to 3.6GHz on all four cores, 3.7GHz on two cores, or 3.8GHz on one core. These turbo speeds put it within striking distance of desktop Ivy Bridge CPUs.

The NVIDIA Quadro K5000M is an interesting story in and of itself. While last generation's mobile workstation GPUs continued to be served by die harvesting GF100, the K5000M inherits all the strengths and disadvantages of GK104. Single precision performance should be top flight, but GK104 is more of a gaming chip than a compute chip (similar to GF104/GF114), and so its double precision performance is liable to be below last generation's Quadro 5010M, and we'll see when we get to the workstation benchmarks. For this reason, the 5010M continues to be available. The K5000M is clocked slower than the current top of the line mobile gaming GPU, the GTX 680M, running at just 601MHz on the CUDA cores and 3GHz effective on the GDDR5, with no boost clock.

Internally, Dell also offers an mSATA port at SATA 6Gbps speed as well as two 2.5" drive bays and the ability to remove the optical drive and replace it with a third 2.5" bay, allowing for potentially four storage devices. Also included are a SIM card slot and space for a WWAN card. Externally you have a card reader, USB 2.0 and 3.0, ExpressCard/54, 6-pin FireWire, eSATA, and every modern display connector except DVI.

Rounding out the trimmings, our review unit has Dell's PremierColor IPS display which is touted to offer the full AdobeRGB gamut; this is essentially to compete with HP's own DreamColor display. Unfortunately we did run into some issues with PremierColor and our calibration/measurement software, ColorEyes Display Pro, which we'll discuss later on. But Dell has a healthy number of choices for displays, including a basic 900p display, 1080p, 120Hz 3D Vision Ready 1080p, and the PremierColor IPS panel.

In and Around the Dell Precision M6700
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  • bramv101 - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Architects and graphic designers?
    Google for CFD, FEA, Siemens NX, Catia --> these are the type of software that dell keeps in mind when designing this mobile workstation, and I would say that this type of industry is considerably bigger then the photoshop/maya users out there.

    I think most scientist/engineers like myself would not consider apple for any serious work.

    Macbook pro is targeted at another market that does not need this type of quadro GPU or high level CPU
    Reply
  • ingwe - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    ndornquast: People who are buying this to use for work probably don't care that much about the aesthetics.

    bramv101: I am an astrophysicist who is currently working as an engineer and most all of my colleagues and previous colleagues use an apple for just about everything (the main exception is if they are putting simulation work on a cluster). Apples definitely have their place in the scientist/engineering world, but it definitely depends on what the workload is going to be. The CPUs in the current line definitely aren't slouches. I can understand how a lot of people can't use them because of the lack of workstation graphics though.
    Reply
  • A5 - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    I'm an embedded systems engineer, and none of the software I need to do my job (besides Office I guess) is available natively on OS X. I'd actually have an easier time switching to Linux than OS X at work :-p Reply
  • A5 - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    That said, we have a couple Macbooks for people that travel a lot, but the first thing we do to them is Boot Camp Win7 and set it as the default OS. We don't do our heavy stuff on the road, so a 13-inch MBP running some of our on-site tools is a great option. Reply
  • Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    I am certainly all for form following function...or at least form being somewhat aesthetically informed by function (ThinkPads for the win)...

    ...but good god. That thing looks exactly like what you'd get if you bought a laptop-shaped Christmas ornament. It's like a parody of laptop design, but they're being serious.
    Reply
  • CobaltFire - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    As an owner of an Optimus equipped Quadro 4000M packing M6600, I will say it (Optimus) works fine. What stops it from functioning is the IPS display. The bit width (8 or 10, I cannot remeber) means that the IGP cannot actually run the display.

    This is a known fact for those of us who put our money down for these, and affects the PremiereColor machines as well.
    Reply
  • CobaltFire - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    I meant that the issue affects both PremiereColor (Dell) and DreamColor (HP) alike. This is an issue unique to the IPS panels, and why many buyers purchase the quite good standard 1080p models. Reply
  • ijozic - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Yeah, exactly. I'm surprised that the reviewer doesn't know this. The IPS panels are 10-bit, while the Intel IGP is again 8-bit.

    Dell actually went the extra mile here compared to the HP - the HP just circumvented the IGP together and the Optimus is not supported even if you get the non-IPS configuration. Dell M6700 (as the M6600 before it) on the other hand has two display connectors on their mainboards, one which circumvents the IGP, one which takes the IGP output. So, if you configure your Dell with a regular screeen (supposedly, the 3D screen isn't supported by the IGP, neither), you can get the Optimus functioning and double your battery life.

    I don't get the rage about the keyboard. For instance, I use arrow keys rather than numpad to get around (I presume the reviewer uses the numpad arrows) so the document keys above the numeric keypad are almost unusable as they are hard to reach. Getting the PgUp/PgDn keys finally next to the arrow keys is a godsend and I only wish they had the secondary Home/End functionality added in combination with the Fn key.

    The whole review seems rather subjectively negative like it stems from the fact that the reviewer prefers the HP design and keyboard (which has awful arrow keys, personally). Yes, I prefer the HP boxy aluminum looks, too (apart from that ugly silver panel under the display) and think that M6700 is somewhat a step back from the M6400/M6500 (the two-tone inside colors and the keys remind me of the HP 8740W design), but I would still go for the M6700 as it has better cooling, QC (from what I'm reading in the owners threads) and Optimus support.
    Reply
  • kabelmk - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    So, is the MacBook Pro Retina 15" 8-bit or 10-bit? Reply
  • kabelmk - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Or is it 6-bit panel? Reply

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