The screen is the first clue to the target market of the Dell Precision M4800. The 15.6-inch panel is labelled Quad HD+ which in plain English is a resolution of 3200 x 1800 pixels. That level of detail should make it attractive for CAD and fullscreen editing of better-than-HD video formats.
Video pros take note, the pixel density of this Sharp IGZO panel trumps that on the original Retina laptop, the otherwise similarly specced Apple MacBook Pro with its 2800 x 1800-pixel IPS panel.
However not only is the list price much more expensive than its Mac rival, this is also a far heavier beast; our test model with slot-loading DVD±RW drive came in at weighty 3.28 kg.
The machine is fast, aided by the solid-state drive, 16 GB of memory and Haswell-generation Intel Core i7 processor.
Storage options are attractive. In addition to the 256 GB SSD supplied in out top-spec sample, which sits in an easy-to-eject drive bay, you can add another of the same (if you remove the DVD drive), as well as add a mSATA mini-card option.
The nVidia Quadro K2100M graphics processor with its 2 GB of memory easily satisfied the requirements for GPU-accelerated 3D rendering when testing the real-world performance with Adobe's video software.
After Effects CC demands a suitably beefy CUDA-compatible card. Running the 3D Camera Tracker in After Effects is a processor-intensive task, but the M4800 managed to solve – that is, calculate tracking markers – in a piece of HD footage in about ten seconds.
Rendering out a 23-second composition with effects and motion graphics to a 3.29 GB AVI file (1920 x 1080) took 1 minute 41 seconds. Meanwhile our three-year-old MacBook Pro (2011, 2.2 GHz Core i7 with 8 GB memory) took 4 minute 34 seconds.
In the PCMark 7 test the M4800 scored 5879 points, a decent result that is close the highest we've seen for a laptop, while Cinebench R15 showed scores of 145 cb points (single) and 689 (multi-threaded mode). Most impressively the OpenGL graphic test here played at 68 fps.
Dell Precision M4800 Mobile Workstation: Apple Retina-inspired display
The real gripe with such an impressively high-resolution screen is that it doesn't really work with Microsoft Windows. The user interface appears tiny. You can scale up the interface size in Windows, but the fonts within many applications like After Effects remain essentially unreadably small. If you're only looking at images and aren't required to read, it's a bonus for something as picture-focused as Adobe SpeedGrade CC though; colour correcting HD video never looked so good.
The backlit keyboard could come in handy whether you are gaming or grading. We first ran the M4800 through benchmarks for Batman: Arkham City.
Running at the laptop's native resolution of 3200 x 1800 pixels, it averaged 33 fps, dropping down to a treacle-like 7 fps at the 'extreme' setting.
Set for normal at 1280 x 720, it averaged 52 fps, while at Very High Detail, with all the DirectX 11 bells and whistles enabled, it scored an average 41 fps. So if you want to put the Dark Knight through his paces while waiting for the work to come in, you have more than enough power on tap.
The aluminium and magnesium alloy chassis feels very substantial, but throughout our tests the dual fans kept the M4800 fairly cool and reasonably quietly too – the base was warm but not uncomfortable.
Battery life was disappointing, but perhaps to be expected given the machine's workstation priorities. Set on Dell's balanced power setting, we found normal operation (web browsing, some video post-production) to stretch to a shade under 3 hours.
Running a looped video stream from our NAS over Wi-Fi it lasted only 2 hours and 5 minutes. Only running idle, with no major application activity, allowed the M4800 to last 5 hours and 28 minutes.
The spectacular screen on the Dell Precision M4800 will make maximum impact in the high-end video and CAD space. That screen comes at a price however – this less than portable workstation represents a substantial investment. And Windows and many programs will be difficult to use with this resolution of screen. Power concerns may also dictate adding a secondary battery, but this is a fast, professional workhorse that could deliver real productivity results.