InfoWorld review: The Dell Precision M6500 is a true workstation in a notebook

Only high-end workstations deliver more client side firepower than the M6500, but they certainly don’t come in such an attractive package

Bottom Line

Dell's Precision M6500 mobile workstation is the fastest notebook available today from any source, with the fastest processor, graphics card, and memory. It also has a true, full-size keyboard and superior LED technology in its 17-inch screen. However, it is heavy, somewhat cumbersome, and pricey.

The notebook market is a strangely fragmented consolidation of different user needs and preferences expressing themselves through a vast array of options. In the midrange -- the bulk of the market -- are standard workaday laptops that provide knowledge workers what they require plus a few gewgaws for entertainment. Products from Dell, HP, Lenovo, Toshiba, and Apple all battle for the hearts and minds of consumers in this space.

At the highly mobile end of the market, we find a small collection of products that emphasize either lightness (Apple MacBook Air) or small form factors (netbooks). On the high end of the power and weight curve, we find the fewest options: portable workstations from Dell and HP. Of these, the systems from Dell have been consistently revved and are very much promoted by the company as their flagship notebook. At InfoWorld, we view Dell's notebook workstations as an excellent augur of things to come; that is, they form the leading edge of notebook technology. And so, each year as Dell rolls out a new model, we try to elbow our way to the front of the line to see what Round Rock has wrought.

[ How does Dell's Nehalem notebook compare to its deskbound counterparts? See InfoWorld's review, "Nehalem workstations: A new era in performance" | How does it compare to the previous generation of mobile workstations? See "Speedy mobile workstations: Dell, HP, and Lenovo." ]

Our exclusive first look at this year's model, the Dell Precision M6500, shows a significant increase in system performance and a large leap in graphical capability. The performance of this notebook is equivalent to that of midrange workstations of a year ago; the 17-inch screen with its 1,920-by-1,200 resolution is the top of the line for laptops and the envy of many desktops; and the keyboard is full sized -- not nearly full size, but truly full size. It measures across exactly the same as Dell's desktop keyboard. This is a monster machine, not so much a desktop replacement as a desktop upgrade. It does have some limitations, however; it's bulky, it's heavy, and it's expensive. Let's look at all these aspects in more detail.

Under the hood

The M6500 comes with a few processor offerings. The version I examined was driven by the most powerful CPU offering: a quad-core Intel Core i7 (Nehalem) x920 processor running at 2GHz. This is one of the first Nehalem mobile processors to ship. It supports Hyper-Threading, so it provides up to eight execution pipelines. These are fed by an 8MB cache that in turn can be fed by up to 16GB of DDR3 memory running at 1,333MHz. On my machine, the system had 4GB of RAM (using two DIMMs).

The graphics system consists of the just-released Nvidia Quadro FX 3800M adapter, with 1GB of dedicated RAM and a 650MHz internal clock -- the fastest currently available model of mobile graphics cards.

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Test Center Scorecard
20%20%20%15%15%10%
Dell Precision M650010109799

9.1

Excellent

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