In and Around the Dell Precision M6700

The internal hardware goes a long way, certainly, but the Dell Precision M6700 is unfortunately on the back foot when it comes to shell design. Take a look at our review of the HP EliteBook 8760w then come back here, and you'll see that Dell's aesthetic comes up short in more ways than one. You'll see it's not just about looks, either; HP's design is more functional.

Part of what kills is that the Precison M6700's shell may incorporate magnesium alloy and aluminum alloy, but it feels largely plastic. Dell's site lists the M6700 as having been subjected to Mil-spec 810G testing, but not if it meets that standard, while HP confirms that their current-generation 8770w does. They apparently use aluminum for trim and the back of the lid, but as a whole the notebook just doesn't feel as all around sturdy as its competitor is.

That said, when you do open it, the interior surfaces are flex-free, just uninspiring. The M6700 is two-toned, but the two tones aren't really complimentary. They use a gunmetal gray that's very dark, so that in soft light it's essentially indistinguishable from the black plastic used for the keyboard trim and bottom panel. As a whole, the two tones aren't unattractive, but there's a kind of cheap feeling to the materials, regardless of whether or not they actually are. HP's EliteBook looks and feels sturdy, with the aluminum trim and interior shell.

People who lament HP's shift to a chiclet keyboard may be happy at first with the M6700's traditional key style, but Dell's keyboard layout is confused both for them and for the end user. The "Page Up" and "Page Down" keys sandwich the up arrow, while the row normally reserved for document navigation above the number pad is instead a shortcut for the calculator and then media controls, which just plain don't belong on a notebook like this. Those could very easily and should very easily have been Fn+Function Key combinations. Overall the keyboard is plenty usable, but the layout is off-putting. On a less expensive notebook it's something that can be tolerated and adapted to; on a notebook that starts north of $1,600, it's unacceptable. As for the touchpad, it's mostly fine and easy to use, but it's actually on the small side and could stand to be wider. Again, though, Dell's design lacks the pleasant surface treatment of HP's.

Finally, the M6700 could make up some ground by at least being easy to service, but that turns out not to really be the case. HP's design is as easy as pushing a latch and popping off the bottom panel, but the M6700 was actually a little confusing. There are two screws hidden inside the battery slot that must be removed, and then the panel slides up and off. The interior layout supports three 2.5" drives and an mSATA drive, but what's the point of having one drive caddy slide out of the side of the case if you have to remove an internal screw to unlock it? It's not a horrible interior design and definitely looks reinforced, but the M6700 just feels a little more cobbled together than I'd like.

Introducing the Dell Precision M6700 Application and Futuremark Performance
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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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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?

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  • 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.

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    Reply

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