Hands-On: Dell Precision M6500 Workstation

By: J. Simon Leitner 12/01/09

Don’t call it a Laptop.

First of all the Precision series of Dell attracts professional users with especially high demands on performance. The Precision M6500 replaces the existing M6400 and offers as usually the most powerful hardware for notebooks: Intel's Extreme Core i7-920XM CPU, Nvidia Quadro FX 3800M or ATI FirePro M7740 graphics and up to 16GB (!) DDR3 1600MHz RAM. Anything else?

Dell Precision M6500

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Already the Precision M6400 Series belongs to the most powerful mobile workstations. The HP Elitebook 8730w and the Thinkpad W700 from Lenovo can be listed as closest competitors. Dell is now the first, who updates its top-performance model most up-to-date processor and graphics hardware.

At least regarding CPU most will now know what they can expect to find inside the coming M6500 – Right, of course Intel's new Core i7 processor generation, the most powerful mobile CPUs at the market today. But also graphic hardware has changed much. Here, Dell counts on the one hand on the well-known ATI FirePro 7740 and on the other hand uses the Nvidia Quadro FX 3800M, the successor of the so far most powerful graphic card for professionals, the FX 3700M.

Case & Design

One thing first: Compared to the M6400 you won't find any striking changes. Once again the especially robust case made of high-quality materials is used. The case tray and the display lid are both covered with an especially thick, exolated aluminum sheet, which not only ensures a distinctive look but also an excellent stability.

Those interested in games will likely recognize similarities to the last models of the Alienware series. A similar design principle is used in the bigger M17x as well as in the smaller M15x. However, originally this design was introduced by the M6400 series.

The 'Covet'-edition was especially designed for 'creative professionals', as Dell calls developers and designers with a creative mind, and already introduced in the M6400. Its lurid orange ('blood orange') finish should represent the flagship of this series and is apparently well accepted by the target group. Therefore it is no surprise that the M6500 is also available in this look.

Dell Precision M6500
Dell Precision M6500


Also the connectivity has not changed much. There are still a total of 4 USB ports, one of them a combined eSATA/USB interface, a 6-pin Firewire 1394 interface, a digital display port, VGA-out and an RJ-45 LAN interface. And again a modular drive slot allows to either insert an optical drive or a second hard drive. Furthermore, it is possible to reuse accessories bought for the M6400 as they are the same size. Dell, e. g., lists some port replicators, notebook stands, and hardware.

A highlight of the Precision M6500 is that it also supports displays with an extremely high resolution. According to Dell it can handle up to two external 30-inch displays connected via display port (one directly at the case, the other via docking station) at full resolution (2560x1600 pixel).

A notebook for professionals also focuses on security. Besides the physical security of the robust case it also integrates a number of additional features. Here we have to mention a smartcard reader and a “contactless smart card reader”, implemented as optical marked area on the right palm rest area, a FIPS-certified fingerprint reader or a standard fingerprint reader, TPM 1.2 and WPA/WPA2/VPN compatible WLAN hardware.

Dell Precision M6500
Dell Precision M6500

Input Devices

The keyboard utilizes a feature nowadays frequently used in many multimedia notebooks, a LED backlight. All those who already used such will conform that it does not only look good but is also handy. Especially in adverse, dim light conditions and even in complete darkness, the key light ensures a good contrast and readability of the key labels. In comparison it is much more efficient than Lenovo's Think-Light, which is integrated in the upper display frame. So, light is often blocked by the hands.

The touchpad got a decent LED light, too, which also improves the usability: If the finger touches a particular area of the touchpad, the light is activated and highlights symbols on the touchpad, which are now special buttons.

Dell Precision M6500
Dell Precision M6500


The Precision M6500 is particularly designed for CAD and CAM users, who need a big desktop. So, Dell offers three different display models in WUXGA resolution and only one WXGA+ screen with a resolution of 1440x900 pixel as alternative.

WUXGA also hints on another characteristic of the M6500: Against the trend to 16:9 full-HD displays, it offers a 16:10 aspect ratio. "Fortunately", most of the potential customers might now think.

So, what's inside the display in detail? Regardless of the model chosen a LED backlight. Expect of a standard ultra-sharp display, also a RGB-LED screen and a RGB-LED screen in 'edge-to-edge' design will be offered. The highlight is the representable color space, which should cover 100% of the Adobe RGB color space according to Dell.
In consideration of graphic users pre-defined and free-configurable color profiles are available in order to avoid a regular calibration of the display. Like many other business notebooks also the M6500 has a sensor for adaptive brightness adjustment.

Dell Precision M6500
Dell Precision M6500
Dell Precision M6500
Dell Precision M6500


A stable and elegant alu-case is nice, however, most customers will only be interested in one aspect: pure performance. In order to satisfy the demand for more and more power, Dell equipped the M6500 with today's most powerful mobile CPU: an Intel Core i7 920-XM. That is a chip of the extreme edition which allows enthusiasts with technical understanding some modifications in order to further raise the already unrivaled high performance. As alternatives also its colleagues of the i7-series, the 720QM and the 820QM are available. Details about the new Intel Core i7 family are available in our special review.

Regarding graphics the M6500 offers new and well-known. Dell, e. g., lists the Quadro FX 2800M and the 3800M, which are both equipped with one GB GDDR3 memory (256-bit). Models with ATI graphics show probably due to a lack of alternatives, nothing new: As before, only the FirePro M7740 with one GB GDDR5 memory (128-bit) is available. According to Dell differences depend on the application. Some software runs more efficient with ATI hardware while others perform better with Nvidia GPUs. As usual details will be covered by a comprehensive test.

Dell Precision M6500
Dell Precision M6500

Dell waivers on a switchable graphics solution, according to Dell, because graphics cards are more and more used for not graphic related tasks and calculations. Both graphic cards support OpenCL, Nvidia with 128 Cuda-Cores and ATI with 640 steam cores and can so support the CPU in special tasks. An example would be for example Photoshop CS4, which can already profit from powerful graphic cards.

In addition to CPU and GPU, the core components, two further parts contribute to the system performance: RAM and mass storage. The Dell Precision M6500 has a total of four memory slots, each of them can be occupied by a 4 GB module giving a maximum RAM capacity of 16 GB, whereas you can choose between 1066, 1333, and 1600 MHz modules. "Unaffordable", some might think straight away. In general this is true, but users with such a memory demand might still not be put off. However, you might even profit from four slots in little. E.g., two GB modules are already quite affordable and 2 times 4 GB gives 8 GB, and is much cheaper than two 4 GB modules.

But, Dell also thought about mass storage options. According to them Raid 0/1 and Raid 5 is supported. How is this possible? Up to two standard hard drives or two SSDs and an additional SSD-Mini-Card are supported. So, numerous configurations are possible, some for users with focus on performance and some for those with high demand on capacity.

Dell Precision M6500
Dell Precision M6500
Dell Precision M6500


Even if we were only allowed to look at the Dell Precision M6500 so far, we were quite impressed. Just the technical data suffices to attract performance-oriented users.

The target group, 'create professionals', i.e. users in the fields of animation, videoℑ, and audio, but also the 'engineering' clientele working with CAD and CAM, will appreciate the performance boost by the CPU. But, in addition there are also numerous other reasons to select this new workstation. While you can already order the notebook, it will not be delivered before the beginning of the next year, because of the save-launch phase of the first tranche. At the same time, the M6400 will probably expire.

And now to the last aspect: the price. At a certain level common people should better stop asking. As the M6500 is already available in the online-shop, it is, nevertheless, possible to get an idea of it. The entry-level price is just 1.499 euro, however, as usual without VAT and shipping. But, if you configure the M6500 to the maximum, the price quickly exceeds the 7000 euro level – Respect!

The fact that some software which should run on this notebook costs five-digit amounts puts this into perspective, but does not change the fact: With according equipment the Dell Precision M6500 belongs to the most expensive notebook series available today.

Dell Precision M6500
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Simon J. Leitner, 2009-12- 4 (Update: 2012-05-26)