Dell M6500: Specced to the Hilt

The M6500 marries high performance components with an understated aesthetic. It's definitely not going to challenge any thin and light notebooks for the pure mobility crown, but it's great to get a notebook that doesn't try to proclaim it's awesomeness with a bunch of superficial bling. We're also ecstatic that we don't have to worry about fingerprints marring the exterior for a change. Let's start with a quick rundown of the configuration options.

Dell Precision M6500 Configuration Options
Processor Intel Core i7-920XM
Intel Core i7-820QM
Intel Core i7-720QM
Intel Core i7-720QM
Intel Core i7-620M
Intel Core i5-540M
Intel Core i5-520M
Chipset Intel PM55 (quad-core)
Intel H55 (dual-core)
Memory Up to 4x DDR3-1066/1333/1600 SO-DIMMs
(Max 4x4GB DDR3-1066/1333 or 4x2GB DDR3-1600)
Graphics NVIDIA Quadro FX 3800M 1GB
NVIDIA Quadro FX 2800M 1GB
ATI FirePro M7740 1GB
Display 17.0" RGBLED Matte or Glossy WUXGA (1920x1200)
17.0" LED WUXGA (1920x1200)
17.0" LED WXGA+ (1440x900)
Hard Drive(s) Up to 3x: 256/128/64GB SSD
500/320/250GB 7200RPM HDD
RAID 0/1/5 Supported
Optical Drive Slot-load Blu-ray Recorder
Slot-load 8x DVDRW
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
802.11n or 802.11b/g WiFi
Bluetooth (Optional)
Mobile Broadband (Optional)
Audio HD Audio (2 stereo speakers with two audio jacks)
Battery 9-Cell, 11.1V, 8400mAh, 90Wh extended life battery
Front Side Latch button
Left Side PC Card
Flash Memory Reader
Slot-load Optical Drive
2 x USB 2.0
FireWare 1394
Kensington Lock
Right Side ExpressCard/54
Wireless On/Off Switch
1 x USB 2.0
1 x eSATA/USB 2.0
Back Side 2 x Cooling Exhaust
Power Adapter
Bottom: Docking Port
Operating System Windows 7 Professional 32/64-bit
Windows 7 Ultimate 32/64-bit
Windows Vista Business 32/64-bit
Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS v.5.3 EM64T
Dimensions 15.4" x 11.0" x 1.35" (WxDxH)
Weight 8.5 lbs (with 8-cell battery)
Extras USB 3.0 (for quad-core chassis)
2MP Webcam
101-Key keyboard w/10-Key
Multi-touch touchpad
Pointing Stick Controller
Aluminum Cover
Smart Card Reader
Contactless Smart Card Reader (Optional)
Fingerprint Reader (Optional)
FIPS Fingerprint Reader (Optional)
TPM 1.2 (where available)
Wave Embassy Trust Suite
Warranty 3-year warranty
4-year/5-year extended warranties available
Accidental Damage Protection available
2/3-year extended battery warranty available
Pricing Starting at $1799 (with $310 instant rebate)
Price as configured: $4698 (with $310 instant rebate)

The specifications of the Precision M6500 are a Who's Who list of high-end components. Take the best mobile parts (at least as far as raw performance is concerned) and they're nearly all available as a configuration option. You can configure up to a Core i7-920XM, three SSDs/HDDs, a Quadro FX 3800M graphics, and up to a whopping 16GB (4x4GB) of DDR3-1333. The memory department in particular deserves special mention, as the M6500 has four SO-DIMM slots compared to the typical two (sometimes three) we see in most other notebooks. Right now Dell "only" supports 4GB SO-DIMMs, which isn't a huge problem considering 8GB SO-DIMMs are very difficult to come by (and expensive); still, given the target market we're a little surprised Dell hasn't validated any 8GB SO-DIMMs.

The unit we received for review is now slightly "outdated", as Dell is now shipping M6500 systems with Core i5 CPUs and optional USB 3.0 support. Note that at present, USB 3.0 is only available if you select a quad-core i7 configuration. Dell also ships the M6500 in an "Energy Star" compliant package, which consists of a slim 210W/240W power brick (presumably higher efficiency, though Dell doesn't make this clear) and requires an NVIDIA Quadro GPU. Our test unit came in the Energy Star configuration, though without both power bricks we can't confirm whether the "Energy Star" power profiles actually make a significant difference.

The only area where maximum performance isn't an option in Dell's configurator is the storage department. Dell has SSDs and encrypted SSDs available, but what you won't find are the top performing Intel SSDs—or Indilinx, SandForce, or C300. Considering the enterprise market, that's not especially surprising (Anand has managed to brick both an early SandForce as well as a C300); Dell goes the safe route like most OEMs and uses Samsung SSDs. Like many other SSDs, Samsung suffered from degraded performance once a drive was in a "used" state, but with the latest firmware and TRIM support that's no longer as much of a concern. For most usage scenarios, the Samsung SSDs perform well and are available in sizes up to 256GB. The only flaw in Samsung SSDs is random write performance; while they're an order of magnitude faster than conventional HDDs, the best SSDs are another order of magnitude jump. However, in normal usage (measured by PCMark Vantage), the best SSDs are only about 10% faster than the Samsung, which is around twice as fast as a 10000RPM Raptor. On the other hand, supporting three drives (if you're willing to give up the internal optical drive) is a nice bonus

The other item that we really need to applaud is Dell's RGBLED backlit WUXGA LCD with an anti-glare coating. This is a great looking laptop LCD—almost the best we've tested to date. It's bright, it has a great color gamut, and the contrast ratio is good as well. It also has the best viewing angles we've seen from any TN panel, though we can still wish for an IPS panel—a rarity at best for laptops. The base model has a 1440x900 glossy WXGA+ panel with CCFL backlighting; $160 will bump you up to glossy 1920x1200 WUXGA with CCFL backlighting, while $300 gets the tested anti-glare 1920x1200 RGBLED panel. We figure if you're going to spend a lot of time with a notebook like this, and you're already spending a few grand, the $300 extra is money well spent. The only caveat is that the LCD has a definite blue tinge using the sRGB and AdobeRGB profiles, which results in calibrated Delta E results that are much worse than other laptops. You'll want to run the NTSC profile in the Dell ControlPoint utility to use the LCD in "native" mode; read the LCD results page for additional details.

Most of the remaining specs are typical, with various WiFi, Bluetooth, and mobile broadband options. The keyboard is quite good in nearly all respects, and it's backlit as an added bonus. The one thing we missed on the keyboard was a dedicated context menu button (normally located to the right of the spacebar). Perhaps I'm one of the few people that use such keys, but I definitely noticed it was missing. The number keypad on the other hand is great, with a layout that mimics what that of desktop keyboards. Unfortunately, there's only a DisplayPort and VGA port for external video, and there are also just four USB ports—one more than consumer laptops, but there's a ton of open space on the sides of the chassis that could have been used. At least Dell provides a powered FireWire port and ExpressCard/34 slot, and they even provide a PC Card slot for customers that need support for older devices. There are also several security options available: TPM 1.2, FIPS Fingerprint reader, Smart Card reader, contactless Smart Card, and Wave Embassy Trust Suite. And if you're not sure what half of those items are, the M6500 might be overkill. :-)

Dell provides a 3-year warranty standard on the M6500, with optional 4- and 5-year warranties for an additional charge. 3/4-year accidental damage and 2/3-year battery warranties are also available. Considering the cost of the M6500, we're glad Dell doesn't skimp out on the warranty. In fact, standard 3-year warranties are common on most business laptops (along with anti-glare LCDs), so keep that in mind if you're every looking for replacement with those features.

Index Design: Understated and Attractive
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  • FXi - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - link

    The M17x sure could have used some touches to bring it more along the looks of the M6500. I have a M6400 and it's really a fantastic machine. It gets looks and questions wherever I take it.

    Why did the M17x lack a latch, USB3 and some of the other subtlety that the M6500 has in spades? It's not that the M17x is "bad", not at all. It just could have had a more subtle elegance with so little additional effort. And moreover, the M17x "could" have used the very same docking station as the M6500. Same chipset, same overall form factor. The grill bottom of the M17x could have taken a docking port without making it too weak.

    Anyway I have a M6400 and it's really a fantastic machine. Moreover I get about 2-2.5 hours on the battery which is wonderful for car appointments sitting in the lounge getting work done.

    Great machine. Only sadness is the case is so packed they can't fit SLI Quadro's. But that doesn't keep it from being a Class A machine.
  • hko45 - Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - link

    I have an M6400. I like it's clean, serious look. Not like the over-the-top "fashion" toys I've seen from other laptop purveyors.

    As I said in an earlier post, the E-Port and E-Port Plus docking stations make Dell Precision & Latitude laptops my only choices for now. (Other docking stations that I know about do not offer multi DVI/DP options and require a USB connection, as opposed to the dedicated docking port on the Dells.

    Although, I've heard rumors that NVidia is considering offering an external graphics card option (that I presume will use USB 3.0). If so, they'd be crazy not to include multiple monitor capabilities.
  • wicko - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - link

    Would be nice to see a consumer version of this, I'd be completely interested if it weren't for the abnormal price range.
  • geekforhire - Wednesday, March 17, 2010 - link

    Goofy question, but would your opinion change if this machine were $3000 rather than about $6000? Check my review above.

  • Lothsahn - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - link

    We use about 20 of these (M6400) where I work, and they are extremely fast, but their quality is absolutely horrible (despite what the article says). We've had nearly one problem in each laptop within the first year (some worse, some better).

    My laptop was completely replaced by Dell due to 10 separate RMA requests, likely resulting from a defective powerbrick that Dell could not diagnose (even with my suggestion that they replace the power brick).

    Some of the problems we've seen:
    1) fan failures (requiring replacement of the ENTIRE graphics card daughterboard, not just the fan, because they're integrated together

    2) battery failures

    3) Motherboard failures

    4) Power supply failures

    5) Display issues-- the contrast is EXTREMELY poor on the displays ("> )

    6) Numerous driver issues causing BSOD's in WinXP-64.

  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - link

    Hopefully Dell provided good service at least in terms of getting things replaced? I did tech support for a giant corporation at one point, we had hundreds of Dell PCs and laptops, and they would send someone out within 24 hours to fix problems.

    Obviously, I can't comment on long-term stability when I only have a unit for a month, but I didn't have any stability problems at all. The PSU is now updated relative to the M6400, and for sure the LCD doesn't have "extremely poor contrast"... I tested this one, and it rates 670:1, which is great.

    As for the color tint, that's partly a problem from too bright a backlight (run at ~40% and you'll be a lot closer to 6500K; 100% is likely in the 9000K+ range). For calibration, you do need hardware and software, but with a 1.8 gamma setting (see above and updated text in article) that issue is now addressed.
  • Lothsahn - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - link

    Dell provided excellent service. No complaints there. But I would be terrified if we didn't have a 3yr onsite warranty--these units are all out of a typical 1yr warranty now and given the current failure rates, I would expect most of them to be dead within the next year if we didn't have them repaired.

    I should clarify the LCD issue--it's not "contrast" in terms of brightness of white to black. The monitor is extremely bright and contrasty. However, certain colors have NO grey definition whatsoever. There are details in this post:">

    If you look at the yellow pushpin on the M6400 monitor, ALL greys in the yellow pushpin are nonexistent--the pushpin is one solid color. For graphics editing, that is clearly unacceptable. Thankfully, we don't graphics edit, but some webpages are still more difficult to see because of this problem.

    People reporting this error have calibrated their displays, but that does not resolve the issue. It's more than a software or a calibration issue.

    I have adjusted gamma and brightness settings in the Nvidia driver (from the default settings), which has been good enough for web browsing, although the problem remains. However, when you pay 4-5k for a laptop, you shouldn't have these sorts of problems.
  • mino - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - link

    Just give me DUAL NIC for VMware worstation dual-node operation and I be in heaven.
    The node2 being something in x200 tablet class ...
  • Lazlo Panaflex - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - link

    POS screen with unfixable blue tint, no DVI (vga? LOL!) and lack of other ports, expensive price tag and bland asthetics...sorry, but this is epic fail for Dell.

    Jarred, methinks you were a bit too kind in your overall assessment of this lemon.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - link

    See above: LCD issue is "fixed" now and I updated the article. Docking station provides two extra DVI ports I believe, but it's still irritating. Still, that's not "epic fail" by any but the most limited perspective.

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