Dell describes the Precision M4700 as ‘the world’s most powerful mobile workstation’, and we really can’t argue with that. It may not look particularly attractive, but if you need a mobile machine that can provide true workstation performance both indoors and outdoors then the M4700 fits the bill.
It’s safe to say that the M4700 has no pretensions of ultrabookishness. This dark-grey slab of a laptop measures 40mm thick and weighs a full 2.87kg, which is big and heavy even for models with a 15.6-inch screen and optical drive.
Even so, its sub-3kg landed weight is still light enough to qualify as mobile when you need to travel between sites, protected by a rigid magnesium and aluminium casing that’s sturdy enough to cope with some real-world use.
The two large cooling vents on the back of the unit did lead us to wonder about dust in messier locations, but Dell states that the M4700 meets US Military Standard 810G, which covers a range of temperature and environmental conditions, so it should be rugged enough to cope with most civilian workplaces.
The screen has a welcome anti-glare matt finish, which will also help when you’re outdoors in bright sunshine. The 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution produced a bright, sharp image with a good horizontal viewing angle. Built-in speakers are loud enough to be heard outdoors too. However, the vertical viewing angle is more limited, so you will need to tilt the screen back and forth now and then for best visibility.
The keyboard feels firm and comfortable, but the trackpad is annoyingly small – just 80 x 45mm. In fact, the two sets of buttons above and below the trackpad take up almost as much space on their own. Fortunately for those that demand it, the M4700 also has a rubber track-stick located on the keyboard to provide an alternative.
When required the M4700 can provide a wide range of connectivity options, including HDMI, DisplayPort and VGA video connectors, while the AMD graphics card supports up to five separate displays.
It has gigabit ethernet and a USB/eSATA combo port along with two standard USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0. There’s a proprietary Dell dock connector on the base of the unit, and even a mini-FireWire port too – although at this price we’d have hoped for the more up-to-date Thunderbolt as well.
Prices for the M4700 start at a quite reasonable £949 ex VAT for a model with an Intel Core i5 dual-core processor running at 2.7GHz, 4GB memory, 500GB hard drive and discrete AMD FirePro M4000 graphics processor. That model also sports a low-resolution display.
However, our review unit was decked out with quite a few added extras, most notably a quad-core Intel Core i7-3920XM running at 2.9GHz, along with 8GB memory, a 500GB solid-state drive, and a Blu-ray writer included for good measure.
The Extreme Edition processor upgrade alone adds a hefty £920 plus VAT to the price of the M4700. The other options included in our review unit brought the total to a hefty final price of £2952 before tax and delivery.
Windows 8 is an option although by default this pro machine takes Windows 7. You can at also save £52 plus VAT if you downgrade from the Windows 7 Ultimate on our sample to Windows 7 Professional.
That’s an expensive total by consumer standards, but a PCMark 7 score of 5300 points helps demonstrate that the M4700 can handle even demanding CAD and engineering software. Its framerate of 93.4 fps when running Stalker: Call of Pripyat at 1280 x 720 pixels and Medium details illustrates how its graphics performance outguns all but the most expensive gaming laptops that we’ve seen recently.
Battery life is pretty good for such a powerful machine too, thanks to the optional chunky 9-cell 97Wh lithium-ion battery. This lasted for spot on six hours (360 minutes) when we were streaming video over Wi-Fi. The battery pack is removable, so you can also easily carry a spare if needed.
The internal cooling fans occasionally emitted a low hum, but the noise wasn’t obtrusive and the cooling vents at the rear never became more than mildly warm over several hours of performance testing. Dell also provides a three-year warranty for the M4700 for added peace of mind.
It’s big, heavy and expensive, but the Dell Precision M4700 provides workstation levels of performance, along with a rugged design that can cope with a wide range of outdoor environments. This is not for people who simply need a desktop replacement system for office use – it’s a robust workstation for design professionals that will certainly earn its keep.