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
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
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
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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  • ShieTar - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    You are not supposed to actually pay the $2k, you are supposed to get a "Buy DELL exclusively, only pay 50%" contract and then pay $1k. And then pay $100 for a 5$ keyboard.

    Why would you expect to get much resale value out of it anyways? It is clearly a business notebook, with a very reduced value for private use. For every 20 business notebooks flushed into eBay when they are 3 years old, there is maybe 1 person who is actually looking for a good 3 year old busines notebook. The other 19 just go cheap to students.
  • Calista - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    I love the crappy resale value of business notebooks. Paid $170 for a Latitude E4200 with a 128GB SSD and 5GB RAM. And it's still covered by a two year next-day warranty. It's with me daily and I don't care the least if it gets scratched or dinged.
  • jacobdrj - Tuesday, December 18, 2012 - link

    How? Where?
  • sjalsevac - Wednesday, December 12, 2012 - link

    I waited a long time for Dell to bring out its latest Precision. I had a series of them, the latest being the M4400. When the M4700 came our recently I ordered a fully loaded one. It came and was very regrettably sent back within a couple of days. Here is why:

    1. The unit is a bulky, heavy beast. I could not bear the thought of lugging this thing around on all my travels. The M4400 proved to be too heavy and bulky and its huge and heavy power supply added a lot to the burden. Two generations later I assumed Dell caught on with modern developments. Nope. Not even remotely.
    2. The layout of the keyboard with the touch pad off center over to the left was weird and not logical.
    3. The time of startup and shut down was still way too long and no better than my old M4400 despite the M4700 having been ordered with high level current processor, video card, memory and other options.

    In sum, very, very disappointing. Dell does not seem to have its customers needs in mind when designing these things. I presume engineers' preferences, rather than customers' needs were allowed to be the dominant priorities - a sure sales losing strategy.

    I have been with Dell for many years. I very reluctantly switched for the first time to a Macbook pro (Retina). It starts and shuts down instantly, weighs a lot less and is far less bulky than the Dell and has many other benefits such as long battery life and 750 GB of solid state drive. There are also many downsides to the MacBook Pro and the transfer to Apple has been brutal. Still, carrying around that very powerful computer has been a Great relief. I no longer experience feeling as though my arm and shoulders are going to give out carrying my laptop on travel assignments. The Macbook's instant start and shutdown all means a lot for my very heavy and constantly changing work routines.

    If Dell introduced a comparable new Precision I would consider going back to Dell. I prefer the Windows operating system. Windows 7 is responsible for that. I have been very impressed with many aspects of it but not its terribly slow startup and shut down. However, I waited for a number of years and could wait no longer for Dell to do what was naturally expected to do.

    They just don't seem to understand or want to understand the current needs of customers. Very strange. I would say Dell risks going the way of RIM.
  • Zodiark1593 - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Obviously, you don't need the Quadro, or one of the fastest Mobile CPUs on the market if you so easily went Macbook. This workstation is meant for if you actually need a rendering machine on the go, and in this case, weight is sacrificed in the name of performance.
  • jabber - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    So let's get this straight.

    Basically you made an expensive blind purchase and that's Dell's fault?

    You didn't bother to check the specs for size and weight? Didn't think to check an option for SSD or install one yourself?

    I don't think the problem is with Dell really.
  • ijozic - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    I guess he needs a Macbook Pro counterpart and not a workstation and blames Dell for not having converted its workstation to something like Asus U500.

    While Dell might want to consider jumping that bandwagon, I see no reason why he would expect them to kill the serious workstation line for something flashy and overheating when subjected to a more serious load.
  • peterfares - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    If the MBPr is useful for what you do, then you didn't need a Dell Precision.
  • Stuka87 - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    1: Its a workstation, all mobile workstations are bulky. They are intended to be desktop machines that you can move around.

    2: This is normal for any machine that has a num pad. The touch pad is centered with the keyboard. If it was centered on the machine your palm would be sitting on it.

    3: Sounds like you ordered it with a standard hard drive. Which is the limiting factor when booting up. Get it with an SSD and you will boot up in just a handful of seconds.

    Over all it sounds like you are just shopping for the wrong type of machine. It doesn't sound like you need a workstation.

    I own an M4600 (Same chassis, only with Sandy Bridge) and I am very happy with it. Best Dell laptop I have ever owned. Typically use it as a desktop connected to two 24" displays. But then take it home to work remote when needed.
  • ndornquast - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Seriously ugly brick. I am really shocked that this would be produced (on purpose) today. This is the type of workstation required by graphic artists and architects. Are we to suppose there is no need for beautiful form with this group of users.. purely function.

    And what's with the small, 3-button trackpad?

    Not to be the FanBoi.. but Dell needs to take a page from Apple's book. Or at least revive the Adamo (possibly Dell's only foray into the land of style).

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