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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  • hrrmph - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    WiFi-ac?

    More crickets.

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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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.

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    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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