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
DisplayPort
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
Ethernet
VGA
HDMI
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
Trackpoint
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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  • critical_ - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    It is necessary. My M6700 has a Core I7-3940XM, Quadro K5000M, 3 7200RPM HDDs and a mSATA SSD. When everything is going full blast there is quite a bit of power draw.

    The Lenovo W530 (another workstation) comes with a 170 watt power supply. It only has the K2000M which has a 55W TDP versus the 100W TDP of the K5000M. Remember, these are workhorses not aesthetic queens.
    Reply
  • Gunbuster - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    You sure do a lot of complaining about aesthetics in this review yet fail to mention Dell offers a Covet edition in red with edge to edge glass screen...

    As for your HP obsession the M6700 demolishes it in nearly every one of your tests and cost 30% less (before any discounts that dell is well known for) Did HP give you the 8760W to keep or was it a really nice steak dinner? I don't understand at all.
    Reply
  • cknobman - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    My company bought me a Dell m4600 which is a very similar model to the one reviewed just slightly smaller at 15.6 inches, has a i7-2720qm, and only a Quadro 1000M.

    I have been working with the laptop for a year now and it is by far the best workstation laptop I have ever used (of course most of the companies I've worked for are cheapskates and bought crap).

    I love the design, 1080p screen, and portability is pretty decent. The unit is screaming fast (I am a .Net developer and it tears through anything I have thrown at it) and even plays games like BF3 (at 1600x900) and Diablo 3 (full 1080p) with no problem.

    My only knock against the unit is the bottom access panel. It is held on with two cheap plastic tabs secured by screws and they break easily. If I am not careful I can accidentally slide the access panel open when carrying the unit around.

    My favorite aspect of the system is even with a Quadro 1000M I can flawlessly run 4 1080p screens (counting the laptops own LCD) with no problems giving me tons of workspace.
    Reply
  • hrrmph - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    The QM77 chipset only supports SATA 6.0Gbs on 2 ports.

    Both the Dell and HP mobile workstations have 4 drive bays. Which bays are SATA 6.0Gbs and which are SATA 3.0Gbs?

    Or did Dell and / or HP add a third-party controller chip to bump up the number of 6.0Gbs capable drive bays?

    -
    Reply
  • critical_ - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    That is a limitation due to Intel's chipset. The primary and secondary hard drive bays are SATA 6.0Gbps. The mSATA slot, optical bay, and eSATA port are SATA 3.0Gbps. Reply
  • hrrmph - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Thanks for the precision in your reply. Very helpful :) Reply
  • hrrmph - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    1920 x 1080 is a step backwards.

    I already have a 17" 1920 x 1200 laptop (albeit an ancient HP ZD8000).

    Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo all need to pony up and try something new. How about an 18" 2550 x 1440 mobile display?

    -
    Reply
  • hrrmph - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Where's the USB 3.0?

    Really! More than a decade later, both Dell and HP have USB 2.0 ports on their most exclusive machines?

    And they b*tch about not being able to sell PCs.

    Innovate da**it!

    -
    Reply
  • critical_ - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    There are 2 USB 3.0 ports on the right side of the laptop itself and 2 USB 2.0 ports. I'm glad USB 2.0 is included because not every rescue disc and OSs have drivers built-in to handle USB 3.0. On multiple occassions having USB 2.0 ports has saved me. Lenovo's ThinkPad workstation does this as well. Reply
  • hrrmph - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Okay, let me restate it another way: There aren't enough USB 3.0 ports.

    This is regardless of how many USB 2.0 legacy ports they want to tack on it for disaster recovery.

    Dell, HP, Lenovo, and most others cheap out here.

    The exceptions are a few models of Asus and Toshiba. I have an all-USB 3.0 Asus machine with USB 3.0 x 3 ports and Toshiba offers USB 3.0 x 4 ports on some machines. But, those 'lesser' machines aren't in this lofty class of machines populated, really, only by Dell and HP.

    Technically its possible to do the deed. If I understand it correctly, the Intel chipsets are able to handle USB 3.0 x 4, PLUS an additional USB 2.0 ports x 2, or more.

    So there is no need to give up anything. But, the manufacturer's are stuck on offering Firewire and eSATA, at the expense of more USB 3.0.

    The subject Dell and the HP machines are supposed to be the 'best of the best' desktop replacements / mobile workstations. So 6 x USB should be considered standard in keeping with the "we charge you more, but you get more" philosophy for these computers.

    So manufacturers: Wire up those 4 ports of USB 3.0! Already!

    2007 is calling and people want to know where their long awaited USB 3.0 ports are.

    -
    Reply

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