Slim and sexy is good for travel and keeping up with the Joneses. But sometimes big and chunky is what's really needed to get the job done. And so it is in mobile workstations, where the sheer amount of componentry and connectivity required to replace a desktop workstation is currently impossible to shoehorn into a 20 mm slab. Here's our Dell Precision M6800 Mobile Workstation review.
The Dell Precision M6800 is the latest version of Dell's 17-inch professional workstation laptop, replacing the outgoing M6700, with Dell's marketing copywriter announcing it as ‘the world's most powerful 17” Workstation'.
Let's get the physical shock and awe out of the way first. This notebook computer would weigh mighty heavily atop your lap, at close to 4 kg. And while battery life as measured in the lab was not entirely tragic at around 4 hours, if you have pretensions of travel with the M6800 you will need to pack a big charger, a flattened brick of a mains adaptor the size of a paperback, itself tipping the scales at another kilo.
In comparison with state-of-the-art computing, the new Apple Mac Pro desktop workstation packs many times the computing performance of any professional notebook, and similarly weighs 5 kg.
What the Precision M6800 offers though is a self-contained computing platform with keyboard, display and trackpad (and trackpoint stick), all in a flat-packable form ‘just' 38 mm thick.
The chassis is gun-metal coloured but mostly plastic to the touch. So while it looks seriously sturdy we'd expect paint to rub or chip from the plastic frame after some use. Like Windows laptops of yore, it has a tiny trackpad just 80 x 45 mm, but with three discrete buttons below that worked smoothly.
To the right of the Qwerty keyboard is a separate numberpad, and the action of these slightly dished and rubbery keys could be described as spongey. In full typing flow the sound is somewhat muted rather than clackety, and we found the overall feel a little soft.
Ports and slots
Thanks to the power of expansion docks and hubs, many laptops can easily supplement their limited range of built-in ports. But if you need to keep it all aboard, the Precision M6800 will have most jobs covered.
There are four USB 3.0, two each side, plus a combined eSATA/USB 2.0 to the rear. Also at the back is a gigabit ethernet port, VGA D-Sub and HDMI. Version of the latter is not specified, although we were able to drive a Dell UP2414Q monitor at native 3840 x 2160-pixel resolution, which suggests HDMI 1.4. Missing in action for video professionals are FireWire and Thunderbolt.
To the laptop's left side is a tray-load DVD drive for reading and writing optical discs, coupled with a 54 mm ExpressCard slot and SD card reader. A narrow slit here will also accept smart cards.