Users who favour functionality and don't mind lugging additional weight if it gives them the equivalent of a true desktop environment will find much to like in the Dell Precision M6300, a workstation in the form factor of a laptop.

We reviewed the Dell Precision M6300 over the course of several weeks and found it to be a superb portable for the demanding user.

The ideal user would be a scientist or engineer who needs the full 3D graphics capabilities of the Dell Precision M6300 - the wide screen, the fast processor, and the numerous ports - and who is willing to haul the extra kilos that provide this firepower.

The one thing that user won't have to do is lighten his wallet: the Dell Precision M6300 is surprisingly affordable.

Big on the inside

The Dell Precision M6300 we examined had an Intel Core 2 Duo processor (model T7700: dual core, 2.4GHz, 4MB L2 cache, 800MHz front side bus), 4GB DDR2 667 RAM, an Nvidia FX 1600M graphics card with 512MB (of which 256MB is discrete) driving a 17in WXGA+ LCD screen; plus an 80MB hard drive spinning at 7200rpm, Gigabit Ethernet, and 802.11a/g/n high-speed wireless - all that and some more for a street price of just over a grand.

In addition to a remarkable capability to interact with numerous peripherals, the Dell Precision M6300 workstation has a veritable constellation of ports.

The rear panel contains two video display jacks (one VGA, one DVI), an S-video jack, four USB ports, and the usual network and modem jacks. The side panels add two more USB ports, a FireWire 1394 jack, a slot for SD/MMC or xD cards, and jacks for microphone and audio out. An Express is also built-in.

In terms of other peripherals, the Dell Precision M6300 we examined had an 8x read-write DVD drive. In short, if there's any connectivity this side of SCSI that you're looking for, this laptop has the goods. For our needs, we found the six USB jacks to be a rare blessing.

The Dell Precision M6300 is designed for rugged use (a typical use case according to Dell is a mobile desktop system for engineers working in the field). It has a magnesium alloy chassis that has been stiffened, shock-mounted hard-drives (with free-fall-sensing disks available), and steel hinges for the screen.

Although not completely ruggedized, the Dell Precision M6300 is a rugged system.

This extra strength, though, contributes to the workstation's biggest drawback - its weight. As configured above, the M6300 tips in at 3.88kg. It's not excessively unwieldy, however: the outside measurements are 286x400x32mm.

Users who can abide the weight will find in the Dell Precision M6300 a remarkably capable high-end laptop that can run Windows XP, Vista (with Aero), or Linux. But what will impress them the most is the display and graphics subsystem.

The Dell Precision M6300's display is 17in across (9 by 14.5in) and can be either WXGA+ (1400x900 resolution) or WUXGA (1920x1200) depending on the model purchased.

The display is driven by an Nvidia Quadro FX 1600M graphics card with 512MB of which 256MB is dedicated.

We ran the Viewperf 10.0 SPEC benchmark on the graphics subsystem and found the results place it squarely in the middle of mid-range cards from Nvidia ' roughly between the desktop versions of the FX 1500 and FX 1700 cards.

To describe these cards as mid-range somewhat understates the case; they are substantially more than most knowledge workers' desktops have, and the street prices for these models are in excess of £200 today.

The Dell Precision M6300 has an extremely capable graphics system. The graphics card and the rest of the M6300 gear is driven by a nine-cell battery that gave us about three hours of service.

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