Design: Understated and Attractive

Some women have natural beauty and don't need to put a lot of effort into their hair, makeup, and clothing. They can put on an understated outfit and still turn heads. Others need some good lighting and photoshopping skills to reach the level of magazine covers. We'd place the M6500 firmly into the former category, and when we unpacked it our first thought was, "Wow… why can't more desktop replacements look this nice?" There are no real extra lights or chrome to liven things up, just clean lines and an excellent industrial design aesthetic. The flashiest part of the M6500 is the backlit keyboard, but it's a truly useful feature rather than just unnecessary flare. If you walk into a meeting carrying the M6500, it will likely go unnoticed, but anyone that gives it a closer look is sure to be impressed with the design and construction.

Part of what we like about the M6500 is the flat design; there's no sloping keyboard or chassis here. Many notebooks with a high-end CPU and GPU will have a thicker back to accommodate larger cooling configurations. Dell has put some real effort into keeping the chassis as slim as possible. Make no mistake, it's still a 17" chassis, but compared to many other such notebooks the M6500 looks and feels a bit smaller. It also fits into my "standard" 17" notebook bag quite easily, which isn't always the case. The slim slot-load drive also helps with the chassis design.

While we really like a lot of the features in the M6500 construction, there are a few areas where it falls a bit short. The biggest complaint we have is with the number and type of ports. It's little surprise that Dell includes DisplayPort for video output, and it worked quite well connected to a Dell U2711 LCD. The problem is that there are no other video output options other than an aging VGA port! You want HDMI or dual-link DVI? Sorry. (Note that the docking station can support additional DVI ports, but we still would have preferred a DVI output instead of the VGA port; DVI-to-HDMI and DVI-to-VGA dongles would seal the deal.) As mentioned on the previous page, there is a lot of unused space on the sides of the chassis where Dell could have added additional ports. Sure, routing traces for another video port costs money, but we'd much rather have a DVI port with a DVI-to-VGA adapter, and a couple extra USB ports would have been nice. Not everyone needs a ton of USB ports, particularly on a laptop, but then not everyone needs some of the other extras (contactless Smart Card, FireWire, DisplayPort, PC Card, etc.).

Back to the better aspects of the design, the chassis and metal exterior are a great example of what Dell has done to help the M6500 stand out from the competition. For one, it gives the notebook a durable feel without adding to the weight. What's more, the chassis is extremely easy to disassemble compared to most notebooks. Remove the battery and two screws and you can access two of the SO-DIMMs and both hard drives. Accessing the other two SO-DIMMs requires a bit more effort, as you have to pop off the hinge cover and remove the keyboard first (four screws), but that's a small price to pay to get four DIMM slots. Even with the extra steps to remove the keyboard the disassembly process is far easier than most notebooks.

The chassis does come with a huge palm rest area and a full size keyboard. It's good to see Dell make full use of the available chassis space, though the palm rest is so large that it almost looks barren compared to smaller laptops. Or maybe it's the lack of stickers? Thankfully, Dell doesn't slap a bunch of stickers on the palm rest listing features and branding; the only sticker on our test unit was for "Windows Vista"—and Dell actually shipped both Vista and Win7 hard drives for testing. (Vista was required for SPECviewperf testing; otherwise we stuck with Win7.)

In the end, what appeals to your sense of aesthetic will largely determine what you think of the M6500. It's either simple and elegant… or boring and dull. Dell does offer a "covet" version that ditches the sliver/grey exterior for an orange anodized aluminum finish if you want a bit more flash. The Covet version also comes standard with WUXGA RGBLED, only with a glossy "edge to edge" sheet of plastic in front of the LCD panel. If you want more bling than that, you'll need to look elsewhere, but "bling" and "mobile workstation" make strange bedfellows.

Dell M6500: Specced to the Hilt Testing Overview
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  • FXi - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    The M17x sure could have used some touches to bring it more along the looks of the M6500. I have a M6400 and it's really a fantastic machine. It gets looks and questions wherever I take it.

    Why did the M17x lack a latch, USB3 and some of the other subtlety that the M6500 has in spades? It's not that the M17x is "bad", not at all. It just could have had a more subtle elegance with so little additional effort. And moreover, the M17x "could" have used the very same docking station as the M6500. Same chipset, same overall form factor. The grill bottom of the M17x could have taken a docking port without making it too weak.

    Anyway I have a M6400 and it's really a fantastic machine. Moreover I get about 2-2.5 hours on the battery which is wonderful for car appointments sitting in the lounge getting work done.

    Great machine. Only sadness is the case is so packed they can't fit SLI Quadro's. But that doesn't keep it from being a Class A machine.
    Reply
  • hko45 - Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - link

    I have an M6400. I like it's clean, serious look. Not like the over-the-top "fashion" toys I've seen from other laptop purveyors.

    As I said in an earlier post, the E-Port and E-Port Plus docking stations make Dell Precision & Latitude laptops my only choices for now. (Other docking stations that I know about do not offer multi DVI/DP options and require a USB connection, as opposed to the dedicated docking port on the Dells.

    Although, I've heard rumors that NVidia is considering offering an external graphics card option (that I presume will use USB 3.0). If so, they'd be crazy not to include multiple monitor capabilities.
    Reply
  • wicko - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    Would be nice to see a consumer version of this, I'd be completely interested if it weren't for the abnormal price range. Reply
  • geekforhire - Wednesday, March 17, 2010 - link

    Goofy question, but would your opinion change if this machine were $3000 rather than about $6000? Check my review above.


    Reply
  • Lothsahn - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    We use about 20 of these (M6400) where I work, and they are extremely fast, but their quality is absolutely horrible (despite what the article says). We've had nearly one problem in each laptop within the first year (some worse, some better).

    My laptop was completely replaced by Dell due to 10 separate RMA requests, likely resulting from a defective powerbrick that Dell could not diagnose (even with my suggestion that they replace the power brick).

    Some of the problems we've seen:
    1) fan failures (requiring replacement of the ENTIRE graphics card daughterboard, not just the fan, because they're integrated together

    2) battery failures

    3) Motherboard failures

    4) Power supply failures

    5) Display issues-- the contrast is EXTREMELY poor on the displays ( http://www.google.com/search?q=M6400+display+color">http://www.google.com/search?q=M6400+display+color )

    6) Numerous driver issues causing BSOD's in WinXP-64.


    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    Hopefully Dell provided good service at least in terms of getting things replaced? I did tech support for a giant corporation at one point, we had hundreds of Dell PCs and laptops, and they would send someone out within 24 hours to fix problems.

    Obviously, I can't comment on long-term stability when I only have a unit for a month, but I didn't have any stability problems at all. The PSU is now updated relative to the M6400, and for sure the LCD doesn't have "extremely poor contrast"... I tested this one, and it rates 670:1, which is great.

    As for the color tint, that's partly a problem from too bright a backlight (run at ~40% and you'll be a lot closer to 6500K; 100% is likely in the 9000K+ range). For calibration, you do need hardware and software, but with a 1.8 gamma setting (see above and updated text in article) that issue is now addressed.
    Reply
  • Lothsahn - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    Dell provided excellent service. No complaints there. But I would be terrified if we didn't have a 3yr onsite warranty--these units are all out of a typical 1yr warranty now and given the current failure rates, I would expect most of them to be dead within the next year if we didn't have them repaired.

    I should clarify the LCD issue--it's not "contrast" in terms of brightness of white to black. The monitor is extremely bright and contrasty. However, certain colors have NO grey definition whatsoever. There are details in this post:
    http://en.community.dell.com/forums/p/19243123/195...">http://en.community.dell.com/forums/p/19243123/195...

    If you look at the yellow pushpin on the M6400 monitor, ALL greys in the yellow pushpin are nonexistent--the pushpin is one solid color. For graphics editing, that is clearly unacceptable. Thankfully, we don't graphics edit, but some webpages are still more difficult to see because of this problem.

    People reporting this error have calibrated their displays, but that does not resolve the issue. It's more than a software or a calibration issue.

    I have adjusted gamma and brightness settings in the Nvidia driver (from the default settings), which has been good enough for web browsing, although the problem remains. However, when you pay 4-5k for a laptop, you shouldn't have these sorts of problems.
    Reply
  • mino - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    Just give me DUAL NIC for VMware worstation dual-node operation and I be in heaven.
    The node2 being something in x200 tablet class ...
    Reply
  • Lazlo Panaflex - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    POS screen with unfixable blue tint, no DVI (vga? LOL!) and lack of other ports, expensive price tag and bland asthetics...sorry, but this is epic fail for Dell.

    Jarred, methinks you were a bit too kind in your overall assessment of this lemon.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - link

    See above: LCD issue is "fixed" now and I updated the article. Docking station provides two extra DVI ports I believe, but it's still irritating. Still, that's not "epic fail" by any but the most limited perspective. Reply

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