Dell Precision M2800 review
Dell has been making an effort to slim down many of its larger 15- and 17-inch laptops recently, but the Precision M2800 is very much a high-end mobile workstation that focuses on performance rather than aesthetics.
Dell quotes a weight of 2.5 kg for the 15.6-inch M2800, but that's for an entry-level model with an Intel Core i5 processor and 6-cell battery. We reviewed one of the top-of-the-range models that is equipped with a more powerful Core i7 and 9-cell battery, and weighs in at a hefty 2.8 kg. It also measures a chunky 33.4 mm thick, with the large battery protruding out of the back of the unit like a small docking station. This is the sort of laptop that will require a proper carrying case rather than just being slipped into a backpack.
It looks old-fashioned too, with a chunky black plastic bezel running around the edge of the screen, and running a good old-fashioned copy of Windows 7 Pro. It's very sturdy, with good support for the screen panel, and a firm keyboard with comfortable moulded keys and a separate numeric keypad.
Dell Precision M2800 laptop review: connectivity
Connectivity is good, with four USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, and VGA interfaces, built-in DVD drive, two-stream 802.11ac Wi-Fi and gigabit ethernet for wired networks. There's also a docking port on the base of the unit – Dell's port-replicator unit will set you back another £179. One complaint here is that the trackpad is also old-style and annoyingly small, at just 80 x 45 mm.
The M2800 packs in plenty of power to justify its above-average size and weight. Prices start at around £1200 for the dual-core Core i5 model, and our review unit included a quad-core Core i7 processor running at 2.8 GHz, 8 GB of memory, 128 GB solid-state drive, and an AMD FirePro W4170M graphics card.
This combination currently costs £1971 inc VAT.There are a number of build-to-order options available as well, but that special offer price only seems to be available for the configuration reviewed here, so you might need to haggle with Dell's sales staff if you need to alter the laptop's standard specification.
Dell Precision M2800 laptop review: performance
The general-purpose PCMark 7 benchtest produced a respectable but not record-breaking score of 5700 points, but that particular test doesn't really make full use of the FirePro graphics card.
In contrast, the application-oriented Home and Work test suits in PCMark 8 benefit more from the laptop's graphics performance, and stormed right ahead with scores of 4161 and 4550 points respectively.
Those are the highest scores we've seen since we started using PCMark 8 so there's little doubt that the M2800 provides true professional-level performance for graphics, video and 3D design work. The only minor disappointment here is that FirePro doesn't score particularly well in Windows gaming performance, only managing a modest 50 fps on our Stalker: Call of Pripyat casual gaming test.
Dell Precision M2800 laptop review: display
The 15.5-inch display is a fairly conventional twisted-nematic (TN) panel – and its 1920 x 1080 resolution is far from state-of-the-art anymore – but the image is bright and colourful, with good sideways viewing angles and a matt finish that reduces glare and reflection.
Battery life is a pleasant surprise, as that huge 97 Wh lithium battery pack managed to run the Dell for six hours when using the integrated HD 4600 graphics to stream video from the BBC iPlayer.
The battery pack is designed for easy removal too, so you can quickly swap in a spare battery (£144) if you need to use the more power-hungry FirePro graphics when you're away from the office. It was also interesting to see the variety of power plans available for the M2800, with a number of power-saving or power-maximising plans – and even a battery plan designed for low-latency audio applications.
The Precision M2800 is big and heavy, but its performance is hard to beat if you need a high-end mobile workstation for graphics, video or 3D design. Battery life is quite respectable for such a powerful laptop, and along with Dell's three-year on-site warranty will ensure that the M2800 earns its keep.