Product review: Dell's mighty mobile workstation rewards the strong-armed
Dell Precision M6300 proves that a laptop can greatly exceed the capabilities of most desktop systems without costing an arm and a leg, or at least a leg
I ran the Viewperf 10.0 SPEC benchmark on the graphics subsystem and found the results place it squarely in the middle of midrange cards from Nvidia — roughly between the desktop versions of the FX 1500 and FX 1700 cards. To describe these cards as midrange somewhat understates the case; they are substantially more than most knowledge workers' desktops have, and the street prices for these models are in excess of $350 today. This is an extremely capable graphics system. For users who demand more than "extremely capable," Dell has just begun shipping the FX3600 for an extra $630. I didn't examine this option, nor are benchmarks yet posted, but it's likely this card substantially boosts graphics performance. The graphics card and the rest of the M6300 gear is driven by a nine-cell battery that gave me about three hours of service.
A new breed of notebeast
In the heyday of Unix workstations, the term "workstation" referred to a high-end desktop system. Not just any loaded desktop machine, but one with specific characteristics: superior graphics hardware, more RAM (often significantly more) than other desktops, and SCSI drives. Workstations also tended to have faster processors. You'll note that many of the workstations we have reviewed in InfoWorld over the years conform by and large to this definition, with the notable exception of SCSI drives.
So it's legitimate to ask how is the M6300 a workstation? Except for superior graphics when compared with other laptops, this machine would seem more like a top-of-the-line laptop with pretensions than a genuine workstation of yore. I believe that you have to define workstation for this context in terms of other laptops. By comparison with most high-end laptops, the M6300 has a 64-bit dual-core processor, whereas many laptops are still running at 32 bits and aren't certified for 64-bit operating systems; the M6300 can support as much as 4GB of RAM, and, of course, it has the killer graphics. The final determining factor is that Dell had the M6300 certified to run many of the principal workstation software packages — including those in the geosciences, medical, CAD/engineering/design, and finance industries.
I think this is sufficient to consider the M6300 a breed apart — legitimately, a laptop workstation. I suspect, however, that many users will see it as a superior business laptop. And given its reasonable pricing, the only thing those power users will have to consider carefully when examining this system is whether they can comfortably deal with the 8.5-pound weight. If so, they'll find a truly terrific machine.