Dell M6500: A Precision Strike on Blingby Jarred Walton on March 9, 2010 3:00 AM EST
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.