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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  • ijozic - Friday, December 14, 2012 - link

    I'm not sure, do a search on the net? I think it's probably an 8-bit IPS since it has switchable graphics..
  • kabelmk - Friday, December 14, 2012 - link

    I've tried to do a quick search and i couldn't find something concrete. I didn't know about Intel integrated graphics limitation (that can drive up to 8-bit panels only).
    Based on anandtech color gamut chart, it seems like the Retina MBP panel can't be better than 8-bit.

    Hm, interesting ...
  • j_newbie - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    I bought a m4600 refurb last year.
    I mainly use ansys and other cae software on it.
    I can honestly say that it has been an amazing laptop, mainly thanks to the cooling system. I can run 24 hours at 100% cpu load with the hdd not even 50 deg C.

    Its a little bulky granted.

    The user access panel allows you to pull the fans out for cleaning which not many other notebooks do.

    They need to redesign the 180W power brick though, its too big.

    The touchpad buttons are great and the layout is fine with me.

    Its worth it if you can buy@dell outlet. some great deals out there.

    I picked up mine for 1000$ came with i7-2720qm, fast 7200 rpm disk, 4 gb ram, long life 87wh battery, 1080p screen, firepro m5950.

    Currently its got 32gb ram, a second hdd using an aftermarket caddy.

    I can play Dota 2 on it with the thermals barely above 60 deg C (Its the only game I play)

    Its taken a few drops and falls, some tough field conditions and lots of other abuse and it just keeps going.

    I usually change my laptop every year (buying midrange stuff) but this one I am keeping for another year atleast.

    Great job dell, who cares about the aesthetics, Reminds me a bit of the original thinkpads, tough as nails and looks like your grandpa's laptop.


  • AnnoyedGrunt - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    I have the smaller, previous generation 4600 for my work machine and find it to be a great laptop.

    I'm a mechanical engineer, and use it for Solidworks, Pro/E, their respective FEA programs, CFD, and Matlab, and have been very happy with the laptop so far.

    The only flimsy thing I notice is that when closed, the screen does not clamp firmly to the base. The latches leave quite a bit of play, but at least they are metal and look to be robust.

    I typically have the laptop docked at work, but can easily take it home when necessary. I can run Solidworks for a few hours on battery power, and with the three button trackpad can scrape by without a separate mouse if necessary (although it is painful). I don't notice the keyboard layout issues much, but that's because I'm not big on the document navigation because I almost alway have a mouse in hand for CAD work.

    Overall I'm quite happy with the machine, but haven't had any others to compare it to.

  • piroroadkill - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    "I may be too critical of Dell's Precision M6700. It has the performance, it has the price, it has the expandability, and looks aren't everything."

    I think you are, definitely. Most people at their desk are going to use it in a docking station with external KB/monitor/mouse.

    The sheer amount of expansion available in this and the power makes it unrivalled. Who cares about the rest of the stuff you mentioned?
  • piroroadkill - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Just to expand on this - people who actually need to get shit done are going to pick this up.

    If you're not that guy, you shouldn't be bothering with reading about a workstation, surely..
  • Siorus - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    I'm really surprised by the tone of the article and a lot of the comments here. I strongly disagree with your assessment of the M6700's chassis, Dustin; the things that you find nonsensical appear to be quite straightforward to me.

    I can't speak to the relative feel of the HP chassis vs. the Dell, because I haven't used the HP. I do, however, have a M6600-which uses an identical chassis to the M6700-and having read your own review of the HP I would argue your contention that the HP is more functional.

    I use the calculator shortcut on my machine multiple times a day, and I prefer the page up/page down keys next to the arrow keys as opposed to up at the top of the machine. Why? Because it requires that I move my hand a shorter distance to access them, and I use them quite literally hundreds of times a day; it's an easier, faster method of scrolling than using the touchpad, particularly if you read as quickly as I do. The media keys make no difference to me one way or the other; I never use them, but I don't see what they'd be replaced with that would improve the functionality of the keyboard.

    I do not find the touchpad too small; I don't need or want a large touchpad. Why on earth would you want to map cursor movement across a larger space when you can accomplish the same thing in 1" (which is about how much of the touchpad on the Dell I make use of)? You wind up moving your finger further-and thus taking more time-for no reason. Is the average person's hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness really so poor that they need to map cursor position on a 17" screen across a 4" touchpad for accurate mousing? It just strikes me as a wholly unnecessary waste of space.

    Regarding ease of service, I think you have latched onto the least relevant aspect of the whole process. Go back and look at your review of the HP, specifically the picture with the bottom cover removed. Quite a bit of the machine is still obscured by the case. On the Dell, the entire underside of the machine is exposed, including both of the fans, which are easy to remove either for replacement or to properly clean the heatsinks. The HP's fan is only accessible if you disassemble the entire machine, and if you look at the relative thermal performance of the two machines you will find that the HP's thermal solution is an exceptionally-indeed, inexcusably, in this class of machine-poor piece of engineering.

    The HP's CPU temperatures are comparable to the Dell's, but the HP's 2820qm is a 35w part versus the 55w 3920xm in the Dell, and the Dell's GPU runs considerably cooler than the HP's, despite having an identical TDP (for the record, I have several M6600s with Quadro 5010ms and i7 2960xms deployed that also run considerably cooler than the HP you tested does.).

    I think the quick release hard drive that's screwed into the chassis that you complained about makes quite a bit of sense if you view it as a security feature. The drive does not need to be screwed into the chassis to stay in place, the quick release mechanism alone will hold it securely. You have the option of screwing the drive into the machine, which makes running off with the drive somewhat more inconvenient.

    With respect to the "cobbled-together" impression you got from the M6700, my personal M6600 took an unprotected fall out of the back of a Yukon XL onto asphalt, landing on the right rear corner. The case had some minor damage but the machine was 100% functional. The only piece that I can find on these things that feels flimsy and "cobbled together" is the plastic bezel around the keyboard, which needs to be removed to access two of the four RAM slots. On the other hand, judging by the pictures of the HP, you'll be removing the keyboard to get access to two RAM slots on that, too, and since the whole top panel on that appears to be one piece, I'm going to guess that that's probably a much more involved process than it is on the Dell.

    I'm afraid that I just can't see any relevant criterion by which the HP could be judged to be a better machine. It's both heavier and larger than the Dell (although the differences in both measurements are, admittedly, essentially academic in nature), the thermal performance is embarrassing, and-once the bottom cover is removed-it is not as easily serviced as the Dell. It seems to me that if you buy the HP, you're paying more for the privilege of owning a lower quality machine.

    With respect to the commenters comparing this machine to anything Apple makes, all I can say is "get real." I own two Macbook Pros, a Macbook, two iPads and an iPhone; I'd hardly call myself biased against Apple products. But any attempt to present a Macbook Pro as a credible alternative to a mobile workstation such as the M6700 or the HP 8770w is indicative of a complete lack of even the most basic understanding of either product.

    Apple does not build high end mobile computers for serious business applications; in fact, they don't really build high end computers for serious business applications, full stop. If all you want to do is watch movies, play some fairly lightweight video games, or do some very basic work in programs like Photoshop or Lightroom, the Macbook Pro will suit your needs just fine.

    But the Macbook Pro will not handle serious CAD applications; there is no Solidworks or Pro-E on the Apple platform because their machines use consumer GPUs that do not have the driver support for proper OGL acceleration in CAD/CAM applications, and the machine does not support the installation of enough RAM to maintain acceptable performance if you're trying to use it for serious engineering work.

    The M6700 and the 8770w are not designed for or marketed to people wanting to do copy editing for a newspaper. They are built for people that need mobile platforms on which they can do real work.

    The TDP of the CPU and the GPU COMBINED in the current, TOTL 17" Retina MBP is less than the TDP of the graphics card alone in the M6700 in this article, and the Mac has problems handling *that* heat load. The kind of power that is required to render a solidworks assembly with hundreds or thousands of parts in real time doesn't fit in a 3/4" thick notebook. Cosmetics aren't real important in this category; the target market for these machines is the manufacturing industry, not graphic designers.

    The Macbook Pro is not a high end mobile workstation; it never has been. And that's fine, it has its own niche and its own design criterion which it meets very well. But to compare it with the class of PC notebooks which the M6700 is a member of is, at best, the height of ignorance.
  • theeldest - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Thank you.

    I came here to say much of the same but you did better than I ever could.

    I absolutely agree on the calculator button. I have one keyboard that doesn't have it near the numberpad and it drives me crazy.

    And finally, am I the only one that likes the aesthetics of the Dell more than the HP? Seriously, it looks better.
  • BitJunkie - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    No! you aren't. For different reasons, the company I work for has 50% Dell and 50% HP computers. I have a M6600 and wouldn't trade it for one of my colleagues HPs.

    I say that from the perspective of aesthetics, as well as performance. I don't care about how the thing looks, it's just a very fast and solid bit of kit for running 2D / 3D FEA.

    I'm not a mechanical engineer: more interested in soil mechanics and using advanced constitutive models that couple strength with stress-state and volume change: so volumetric / shear hardening and softening. I look at this for offshore structures for oil and gas projects.

    These powerful laptops have really changed our workflow and how we resolve some really difficult challenges.

    I find the pg up and pg dwn keys to be quite convenient too.

    I like the work that anandtech do, but this review is basically a consumer review of a professional bit of kit. The really important stuff about how fast a 3D mesh will generate, decompose and then be solved using different types of iterative solver is missing....

    Shame, but hey ho.
  • RedWingB - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    I agree.

    I feel that this review is poor and time and time again attributes huge importance to minor differences when comparing the new Precision to HP's counterpart. For the record, I own both an 8760w and an M6600 and whilst they're both great notebooks, the significantly better thermal solution of the Precision line is what I find most useful as a power user. Pushing your system to the limits by overclocking your GPU and CPU in the Elitebook? Forget about it. The system will handle it fine but your temps will be hitting 95 Celsius + in no time, your system will sound like a jet engine, compared to the Precision whose better thermal solution allows harder overclocks, lower temperatures and lower fan noise, consistently.

    Some may also argue that the look and feel of the Precision are more business appropriate.

    As for the display comparisons between the M6700 and 8760W (PremierColor vs Dreamcolor), well I'm not too sure about this, I know for a fact that they both use identical LG panels so I guess the difference may be attributed to what happens on the software side.

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