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
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
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
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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  • headbox - Wednesday, December 12, 2012 - link

    Yeah, but how many fps do you get playing Quake?

    Anyways. Resale value/demand for the Precision line is very bad. I've had two that I paid over $2k for, and couldn't get more than $400 a couple years later. Meanwhile I had a Macbook Pro I paid $1800, and sold it over 2 years later for $1400. The quadro is about the only thing that makes the Precision line worth considering, and very few people will benefit from it. Modern 2D and 3D apps makes good use of the CUDA cores in the GeForce cards just fine.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Wednesday, December 12, 2012 - link

    Look at the SPECviewperf results. Consumer GPUs are still woefully inadequate for a lot of workstation tasks that Quadros are geared towards. The GPUs in MBPs may be fine for video and image editing, but that's really about it.

    Also, MBPs are ever increasingly locked down, making them poorer and poorer choices for enterprise.
  • Zodiark1593 - Wednesday, December 12, 2012 - link

    For once being reputed for the "Pro", you'd have thought Apple would have at least offered Quadro or FirePro GPUs as options.
  • Steveymoo - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Actually, the GPUs are nearly identical. It's the drivers, and the customer support that you pay extra for with workstation GPUs. You can even use forceware to install quadro drivers for consumer cards - but obviously you won't get any support if anything goes wrong.
  • aguilpa1 - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    exactly, it's not like the quadro line is really that much superior to the Geforce line it is just the Geforce line has been artificially handicapped through software and I would guess some hardware features disabled. Software and driver qualifications for the most part just mean that you will never be able to have the latest updates or features because your driver model advances at a glacial pace and you pay extra for that. Quadro workstations are a niche product and should be relegated to that. I think the only reason Apple likes to use Quadro's is because then they don't have to mess with driver releases and charge even more than they already do for a unique product most Mac users don't even understand they don't need.
  • RandomUsername3245 - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Can you post a link on how to get quadro drivers to work with geforce cards? I know people could hack cards in the past to do this, but I haven't seen it work in the last few years. The Quadro drivers (and nvidia-enabled hardware) on Quadro cards make allow for huge performance gains in some CAD applications.
  • ananduser - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Apple's resale value has everything to do with the supply. You want to get an OSX capable machine from other place rather than Apple with lower prices you have no choice but to pay those high resale values. Good for you, bad for the purchaser but way better than buying straight from Apple.
  • Solandri - Monday, December 17, 2012 - link

    The high resale value is because Apple makes it virtually impossible to tell which year the laptop was made. They're all called Macbook or Macbook Pro. You buy a used "Macbook" off of craigslist and you pretty much need a tech guru with you to figure out what year it was made. (The label with the model number is hidden underneath the battery, and you have to cross-reference it with wikipedia since Apple's page of model numbers hasn't been updated in a year and a half.)

    So basically, the prices are high because a bunch of computer neophytes (most Mac users) are buying 2-5 year old laptops thinking they are 1 year old. My cousin almost bought a new Macbook at his school store on sale for $900. He called me first and I talked him through how to find the model number. It was an ancient Core 2 Duo model when the latest were sporting Sandy Bridge CPUs.

    If you desperately want to run OS X on a cheap machine, get the VMWare hack to unlock the limitation that only allows OS X Server to run. Then you can run vanilla OS X under Windows or Linux. (How you get the copy is another matter...)
  • robinthakur - Wednesday, December 19, 2012 - link

    That's not really true though and is a gross over simplification. Perhaps just for uninformed people such as your cousin. The majority of smart people making an investment in the region of £1300-£2000 do quite a lot of research before parting with their cash. If you look on Craigslist/Gumtree etc. it will most usually say what the CPU and RAM are and you can work it out from this, or just look on the box label/System Information in OSX if you really can't work it out. You can also buy them reconditioned cheaper directly from Apple's website where it gives you a detailed system spec along with when it was originally released. I own a Macbook Pro retina and a Win8/Hackintosh which I built myself from scratch.
  • piroroadkill - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    .. Which is exactly why I bought a Precision on ebay! A fantastic way to get a great machine.

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