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
Headphone/Microphone
FireWare 1394
Kensington Lock
Right Side ExpressCard/54
Wireless On/Off Switch
Ethernet
DisplayPort
VGA
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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  • GeorgeH - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    Wow, those LCD results were shockingly poor, and there's simply no excuse for it in this class of laptop. Hopefully HP and Lenovo will do a better job with their updated models.

    For personal use the way to order laptops of this class is to get the most stripped version possible and then upgrade it yourself; once the "New and Shiny" tax expires you could probably put together an equivalent laptop for around 3k. Still expensive but the build quality might be worth it, as AFAIK you simply cannot get a "gaming" laptop with anywhere close to the level of this and other "workstation" laptops.

    P.S. @ Jarred - Unless you're talking about the design's weight in earth's gravity, I think your dictation software has failed you. ;)
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    Figured out how to get the LCD to calibrate better... and it's MUCH better. But no one should need to calibrate to 1.8 gamma on Windows, and more to the point you should be able to calibrate to 2.2 just as easily. *Weird* to say the least.

    And I understand that aesthetics are a personal taste, but seriously: this is a better built and more attractive notebook than any of the gaming monsters I see. You're not going to make a thin and light Apple MacBook Pro out of these components, but this is about 2x as fast as the top MBP in CPU tests and an order of magnitude (actually more) faster in workstation apps.
    Reply
  • ghotz - Saturday, July 10, 2010 - link

    I've been trying to calibrate the monitor for some time now but didn't achieved yet the good results I had with my M90 yet.

    There are some problems that Dell should definitely address (the sRGB and aRGB color profiles that come with Dell ControlPoint have strong color casts) and other "features" they should definitely tell customer about like the LCD changing color temperature as shown in this video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_UQpeI8CRY

    I'm starting to become really unsatisfied with this machine, nearly as much as I was satisfied with my 4 year old M90 :(
    Reply
  • CList - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    All that sex appeal and modern technology and they STILL have a VGA port.

    FFS Dell!!! Get with the program already and ditch that crap. DVI -> VGA adapters do exist for those presentation projectors after all...
    They probably still have a parallel port on the back of their docking station as well.

    Cheers,
    CList
    Reply
  • Granseth - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    We still uses software that needs a parallel port for dongels, as well as allot of hardware that uses serial ports.

    And the VGA port would be invaluable if you travel around and have to use projectors at different locations.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    Well, by the same token they sell a DP -> HDMI dongle, so you could adapt to other ports. I would guess their research has shown there is still enough need for VGA to not remove it yet. Reply
  • justaviking - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    You did a great job of positioning this beast (I mean that in a good way) by talking about what software you would run on it.

    I see my former employer's logo on the slide on the last page.

    We used to demonstrate enterprise-level software to potential clients, or conduct training classes before their system was up and running. We basically used our laptops as portable servers.

    We ran large databases, our application, a web server, CAD rendering software, and clients, all from the same "laptop". It's amazing it ran at all, let alone usually having decent performance. Nothing we had would come close this this.

    The pre-sales "demo" guys always had the faster, newer hardware, but they were trying to make multi-million dollar sales. If a $5k laptop makes your software run better than a $2k laptop, it could be a very good investment.
    Reply
  • kahmisz - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    Speaking of use in Enterprise situations. Under $1600 for Enterprise pricing with i5, under $2100 with i7. Reply
  • lordmetroid - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    I think that may be one of the ugliest laptops I have ever seen. Damn, I can't stop looking, it is like watching the horrible scene of a car crash. Reply
  • TEAMSWITCHER - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    I agree, this laptop looks like it was beaten severely with an ugly stick. I'm sure the engineers over at Apple will hang a picture of this up in the design room to improve morale.

    I'm beginning to think that Apple has a patent on eye pleasing notebook designs.

    Dell, please send this one back.
    Reply

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