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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  • geekforhire - Friday, March 12, 2010 - link

    Some things I forgot to note:

    The cost of mine was a little more than half the amount quoted in the article - complete. This a beast of a machine is available for a modest premium if you just resist the temptation of designing with only bleeding edge equipment.

    When I ordered mine, the Core i5 processors were not available for the M6500. That may be part of the intent as part of the prerelease whisper from the manufacturer, but as of yesterday they still aren't available for the M6500.

    There's a wonderful article on the virtues of the Core i7-720QM processor from last fall, here:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/mobile-core-i7...">http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/mobile-core-i7...

    Reply
  • geekforhire - Friday, March 12, 2010 - link

    Here's a link to the Core i7-790QM processor spec sheet from Intel:
    http://ark.intel.com/Product.aspx?id=43122">http://ark.intel.com/Product.aspx?id=43122

    Here's a link to a page on the Intel website which helps decode what the processor numbers mean.
    http://www.intel.com/products/processor_number/ind...">http://www.intel.com/products/processor_number/ind...

    The i7-720QM has a 45W package, 4x1.6 Ghz processor cores with HyperThreading, 6M cache, DDR3-1066/1333 memory, 8GB max physical memory limit, and a "Turbo Mode" which allows a few cores to spin up to 2.8Ghz (note that all processors cannot operate at this speed simultaneously, but is available when some cores have been dynamically turned off and the TDP would not be exceeded).

    Reply
  • Naina - Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - link

    I like what you said about the Dell M6500. I am a photoartist and work mostly with Photoshop. I do this
    professionally and I am travelling a good deal. I like the Dell M6500 but am not sure what configuration to look at which would meet my need for speed and space.

    I wonder if you could make a suggestion.

    Naina
    Reply
  • icrf - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    I've been using an M6400 at work for the last six months, which is very similar to this. The chassis looks the same, but it's generation older hardware (Q9100 / FX2700M).

    On the docking station front, I apparently ended up with the cheaper one. It has DVI, DP, and VGA ports, but it won't drive both the DVI and DP, so I have to run one of my two external displays on an analog VGA connection.
    Reply
  • hko45 - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    I haven't seen any other comparable docking station to the E-Port Plus -- to be able to connect to two monitors through the same kind of ports (DVIs or DisplayPorts). When you're editing images, you need to make sure that both monitors are reasonably alike. That's why I would only buy Dell's Precision or Latitude (not all) laptops -- just for to be able to use that docking station. Reply
  • icrf - Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - link

    Some of my co-workers have dual-DVI (but no DP) docking stations. We're just developers, so the accurate color reproduction isn't all that important. Honestly, if I could have gotten the thing without the Nvidia graphics, I'd of been better off. I never render anything in 3D. I was just looking for a 17" 1920x1200 chassis with a speedy quad core and 8 GB of RAM. Unfortunately, the office wouldn't spring for a SSD, as I think that would have made the most difference. I get the feeling random read is the biggest bottleneck. Reply
  • Fanfoot - Thursday, April 01, 2010 - link

    The laptop I see on Dell's site doesn't appear to bear much of a resemblance to the one you describe. The one I see has a max of 4GB of RAM, comes with 32-bit Windows, has no USB 3.0 support, and is very expensive. Even basic WiFi isn't included in the price of this thing. Three drives? Where does it say that? I assume one of the drives you're counting is the special 64GB Flash drive, probably a mini PCIe card, but still, show me where it says you can swap out the SLOT LOADING DVD for a second full sized 2.5" drive, something I'm used to with Thinkpads, but that is otherwise uncommon.

    From the machine that I appear to be able to configure on Dell's website, I'd say both HP and Lenovo have better, more capable, machines in this range available today. The one you talk about sounds fine, but I see no way to configure a machine like that on Dell's website...
    Reply
  • holytouch - Sunday, April 11, 2010 - link

    i think you should go back to dell.com and try again. the laptop he describes is there, and contains the specs within the review. make sure you look at the 6500/6500 covet. i ordered mine with win7 pro/64bit with no issues.

    honestly, it couldn't be any easier to see that the machine he describes is on the site.
    Reply
  • tozndsand - Saturday, June 19, 2010 - link

    I have heard that i5-i7 processors are not supported by Adobe CS5. Is that correct? That would be a deal breaker for many. Thanks Reply
  • DellVictim - Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - link

    I am frustrated with how many positive editorial reviews this machine is getting. I bought one with all the trimmings (twin HD's with RAID etc) and before long at all, started having lots of issues. One of the HD's has been replaced 4 or 5 times, the motherboard 3 times, the graphics card twice, the screen, and it's currently broken, again, despite two dell technician visits - the last of which left telling me the RAID was rebuilding and all was good. Less than 30 minutes after he left, there was a beep, the computer restarted, got stuck in the dos BIOS screen and when I pressed F1 to continue it told me that there was now NO bootable disk! I'm fusious. I have been without my laptop and important data now for over three weeks. So much for next day service, everytime they need to get parts, they seem to be out of stock for several days, then they don't ship them early enough in the day for me to get them next day. They leave voicemails saying they'll call you later and they don't. They won't give you a direct dial number to your service representative. They won't pass you through to the team that deal with refund/replacement requests and that team seems to take 3-4 days to decide that despite the appaulling history or clearly recurring problems with this machine, they don't feel it deserves either a replacement or refund. Instead, they'll send someone out a week later with insufficient parts to make it worse!

    I don't think I need to explain the moral of the story here folks.
    Reply

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