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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  • hrrmph - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    WiFi-ac?

    More crickets.

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

    And in a couple years where there WIFI-ac routers and services on the market I'm sure the M6900 will support it. Right now, totally not needed. Are you an Apple sheep or soemthing? Reply
  • critical_ - Friday, December 14, 2012 - link

    Does anyone make half-length mini-PCIe 3x3 (or greater) 802.11ac cards these days? Last I checked there isn't one BUT once there is replacing the wireless card in the M6700 shouldn't be tough. Reply
  • hrrmph - Friday, December 14, 2012 - link

    Good point.

    For what its worth, WiFi-ac is the only one of these subjects that I have any sympathy for the manufacturers on.

    It is THIS year's nascent technology. Its hard, but not impossible to get this year's new tech onto a machine.

    I use the laptop at home primarily, and infrequently in the field.

    In the field I need autonomy for up to 2 months at a time, sometimes in very far flung places with little else available infrastructure-wise besides mains power and maybe 3G or 2G GSM. Hence the obsession with local storage, but I digress.

    At home, I have ADSL.

    The NetGear WiFi-ac router R6300 is available now at Amazon. I think it is 3 x 3 so you might get close to Gigabit WiFi speeds, or in actual practice, maybe 75% of Gigabit WiFi speeds. That's a very impressive boost over WiFi-n.

    The equivalent NetGear ADSL Gateway Modem with built in WiFi-ac Router is the D6300. It is currently available at Amazon UK and should be available stateside any day now.

    WiFi-ac is today's reality. Why buy an uber-expensive laptop this year when next year's model will have wireless that is 5 times faster...

    Unless you want to gamble on the upgrade working.

    I hope that you are correct that these machines can be upgraded from WiFi-n to WiFi-ac with a simple mini-card replacement.

    But, when I tried to upgrade my existing ancient HP 17" from WiFi-g to WiFi-n, it didn't work. So I emailed HP and asked why. They said that for the newer WiFi-n mini-cards to be compatible, the BIOS needed to be changed and that HP wasn't willing to issue the necessary BIOS revision.

    Granted my machine isn't a mobile workstation (it is one grade below that). I would hope that in the future if I pony up the cash for a mobile workstation class machine, that the manufacturers would be more accommodating with BIOS revisions than what I've experienced with the "desktop replacement" class laptop that I have now.

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

    So? You connect to your own company network by cable anyways, and if you are traveling, what are the chances that even if you find a WiFi-ac connection that there is an Internet-Connection behind it that is actually fast enough to utilise -ac speeds? Reply
  • hrrmph - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    UEFI capable BIOS?

    What happens when drives exceed 2TB capacity. Is the Dell machine stuck? Or does it have UEFI so that it can keep on keepin' on?

    Th HP has it. I presume the Dell does too and the reviewer just didn't mention it. Still, it would be nice to know.

    Dell's website on the subject of UEFI: Silent.

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

    Yes it is UEFI, has Secure Boot, etc. Reply
  • hrrmph - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Sounds like the IPS panels are troublesome.

    Also, both Dell and HP make you drop extra equipment like the telephony SIM slots and GPS capabilities if you choose the IPS displays.

    So how much Adobe RGB gamut do we give up if we downgrade to the non-IPS panels?

    For graphics non-pros would it be noticeable? Annoyingly so?

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  • critical_ - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    I am a M6700 owner. The IPS display causes the loss of Optimus. This is due to the display chain being pure 10-bit throughout which the Intel HD 4000 can't do.

    As far as SIM slots and GPS goes... Dell's online configuration tool won't allow you to add these but they all come with a SIM slot and antenna leads for a WWAN (and GPS) module regardless of the screen you pick can be added separately. I'm running the Dell 5630 (Gobi 3000) without any issues that I added myself.
    Reply
  • hrrmph - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Bummer on battery life...

    Anyone want to guess if Haswell fixes this?

    I'm guessing not, unless Intel redesigns the EUs.

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

    Sweet! on SIM and GPS.

    Just to be clear:

    Is the SIM slot full-sized? (I hate to even ask, knowing it must be, but you just never know what you aren't being told when you buy something)

    Are the antennas themselves already installed?

    If not, did they come with the Dell 5630 card?

    Thx

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    Reply

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