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_ - Friday, December 14, 2012 - link

    It may be technically possible but the issue is that I would much rather have more types of different ports than get stuck with a whole bunch of USB 3.0 ports. More USB 3.0 ports can be had through the port replicator, through an ExpressCard addon, or through a hub. In fact, there are still users of the M6700 that bemoan the loss of the PCMCIA slot in 2012. A fair bit of research goes into these workstation-class laptops to address the needs of large buyers. If Dell, HP, and Lenovo wanted to add a gazillion USB 3.0 ports then they would have done it but their target demographic doesn't want them. Reply
  • hrrmph - Friday, December 14, 2012 - link

    "get stuck"?

    With more modern faster ports?

    And I know that you haven't argued the point, but another user argued that Thunderbolt, an even faster port, was undesirable.

    And, yes I'm sympathetic to the need to have backwards compatibility for a few years, especially for industrial equipment and applications.

    But, 10 years is enough for a defunct standard.

    IEEE 1394a? That died a decade ago.

    Mobile workstations are the largest ships in their class. Are people arguing that these machines aren't physically capable of holding more ports?

    My point isn't to say that any given legacy port shouldn't be included if it is popular and needed, but rather that at this lofty level of the market, you cannot expect people to comfortably transition away from the desktop if you don't give them something closer to desktop capabilities.

    For Anand it took Thunderbolt combined with Pegasus storage to make the transition.

    As a well-versed non-Apple PC user, I'm fairly confident in saying that the non-Apple manufacturers are very late to providing modern peripheral I/O ports.

    I don't buy Apple, but I am jealous of their ability to buy machines with more peripheral bandwidth.

    I would deploy that bandwidth very quickly... if I had it.

    -
    Reply
  • ShieTar - Friday, December 14, 2012 - link

    What in the world does anybody do with multitudes of USB 3.0 ports anyways? Storage is generally connected through a network, and the USB ports on machines like this are usually only used for keyboard/mouse and software dongles.

    Seriously, I dare you to provide a single usage case, where the owner of such a notebook would even need the 2 USB3 ports.
    Reply
  • hrrmph - Friday, December 14, 2012 - link

    "Seriously, I dare you..."

    Ummm... okay... let's look around my desk...

    128GB thumbdrives x 3;

    64GB thumbdrive x 1;

    External drives x 6;

    Monitor with hub x 1.

    All of them needing a USB 3.0 port to connect to... because... they are all-USB 3.0 by design.

    ----------------------

    Oh...

    My photo, slide, film scanner could use more bandwidth for transferring the results back to the host machine more quickly. So as soon as a faster operating, higher bandwidth version is available, I would like to replace that piece of equipment.

    Even my printer takes too long to get rolling, so maybe more bandwidth is needed there.

    -----------------------

    Two thumbdrives are installed at all times and two external drives are installed at all times. That's 4 ports needed to start with.

    A scanner and printer would be 2 more ports.

    2 spare ports for transient devices (the occasional visiting thumbdrive, external drive, etc.) would be nice.

    Hmm... thats 8.

    ----------------------

    The USB 3.0 hub in the Dell 27" monitor can relieve some of that pressure, but not when I'm on the road using the display that is built in to the laptop.

    As much as I prefer the Dell and would probably buy it over the HP mobile workstation (if I had to buy today), it must be admitted that HP has a better docking station solution for USB 3.0.

    With the HP docking station's ports combined with the laptop's ports, you get USB 3.0 ports x 6 total. With Dell you get only 4.

    Still, I wouldn't pay HP an additional $800 just for 2 extra USB 3.0 ports.

    ----------------------

    I've tried adding an ExpressCard with USB 3.0 x 2 ports to my existing ancient HP 17" machine. It works.

    I've even added USBGear Industrial Hubs x 2 with 4 additional ports on each hub. That gets me USB 3.0 ports x 8 on that old machine. It works (see my extensive reviews at Amazon for more info).

    Although it works, its not ideal. Although it is much faster than USB 2.0, the limited bandwidth of the ExpressCard port takes about a a third or so of the performance off of the top of what it could be.

    The ExpressCards themselves are bulky and stick out of the right front corner of my machine... occupying the same chunk of table real estate that my mouse would like to occupy.

    The USBGear industrial hubs are great, but as with all other hubs that need to drive several external drives, external supplemental power is needed via a wall brick plugged into mains power.

    If you use two hubs, then make that two extra wall bricks in addition to the massive wall brick needed to power a mobile workstation.

    --------------------

    All of this effort is just to try to bring my storage capabilities on the road up to something a little closer to what I have on my desktop machine at home.

    I have 2.5inch x 15mm x 4 bay racks x 3 on my newest desktop machines for a total of 12 possible drives. There are usually 8 drives resident.

    I could see the possibility of eventually migrating completely over to mobile workstations, but not unless the storage capabilities get better.

    ------------------

    All in all, its just better for the manufacturers to build the USB 3.0 port into the machine.

    A pair of Thunderbolt ports would nice too.

    -
    Reply
  • spiceshaper - Friday, December 14, 2012 - link

    So why the f**k would you need to connect all that sh*t at the same time? Reply
  • hrrmph - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Thunderbolt?

    Thunderbolt?

    All I hear from Dell and HP are crickets.

    -
    Reply
  • p05esto - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Really? Who uses Thunderbolt except Apple weinies who pay $50 for cables, lol. I own nothing that uses Thunderbolt. Fool. Reply
  • hrrmph - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    HP offers a docking station that lets you add 4 more USB 3.0 ports and a bunch of other ports.

    Dell has a USB 3.0 equipped docking station, but according to Dell's website the M6700 is unlisted as being compatible.

    So Dell's most exclusive laptop isn't compatible with their most exclusive docking station?

    I'm confused. How could this be? Or is it just that Dell's website is confused about what works with what?

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

    I have the correct docking station. It is Dell part # 331-7947 (or T0J21). It adds 2 more USB 3.0 ports. Reply
  • hrrmph - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Again, thanks for the very helpful replies :)

    Especially regarding the part numbers for the docking stations and telephony cards. I've noted both part numbers in my 'lab' files.

    If my 17" machine dies a terminal death, I will be replacing it with a Dell or HP mobile workstation. Right now Dell has the upper hand, partially because of price for what you get.

    -
    Reply

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