Dell Precision M4500 £999.99
13th Jul 2010 | 16:05
A powerful graphics workstation with a stunning screen, but its flaws are prominent
Dell Precision M4500: Overview
Dell's laptop range covers a broad spectrum of consumer and business requirements, with its Precision range comprising its most powerful high-end mobile workstations.
Packing cutting-edge components and performance, the Precision M4500 sits in the middle of the range and aims to offer a compromise between compact mobility and big-screen graphics power..
Billed by Dell as 'the world's most powerful 15.6-inch mobile workstation', we expected nothing less than the holy trinity of laptop design from the Precision M4500 – portability, performance and usability.
Thankfully Dell has succeeded and, despite some very minor complaints, the Precision M4500 is one of the best workstations you can currently buy.
While Dell's corporate laptops often come from the same school of design as Lenovo's ThinkPad range – with plain black plastics used throughout and very little design flair on show – the Precision M4500 is more pleasing to the eye.
Finished with a ribbed, brushed-aluminium lid, it carries a high-end corporate look that will fit nicely into any office environment.
The interior of the Precision M4500 is less eye-catching, with matt black plastics used liberally, but when combined with the aluminium lid it creates an impressive level of resilience that will easily withstand years of daily use.
Entirely scratch and smudge resistant, with no noticeable flex on the lid or any of the panels, this is one of the toughest laptops we've seen.
The Dell Precision M4500's chassis is not as well equipped as we were expecting, however. The left-hand side of the chassis is fitted with just two USB ports, an ExpressCard slot, an SD Card reader.
A DisplayPort is also in place for connecting digitally to an external monitor, but
we would have preferred an HDMI port, as compatibility for DisplayPort technology is so rare.
The right-hand side of the chassis is far better equipped, with two more USB ports, a mini-FireWire port, an SD Card reader and a standard PC Card slot.
A DVD rewriter is also in place, with the unusual ability to be quickly hot-swappable. A compact handle pops out of the drive and can then be pulled to remove and replace the drive while the laptop is switched on.
Despite having a comparatively large chassis, the keyboard of the Precision M4500 is not as large as we'd expected. Rather than span the width of the machine, two large speakers are fitted on either side, reducing the keyboard's size.
Audio quality is excellent, however, with a surprisingly powerful and warm sound that can easily fill a small room without straining.
The keyboard itself is one of the best we've used of late, although its lack of a numeric keypad is unusual for a business machine. With large, firmly fixed keys and no flex on display at any point, we were able to type accurately and comfortably all day.
Our only gripe is that the board is set quite far back on the chassis, forcing you to lean forward slightly when typing.
As with such rival corporate machines as those from Lenovo's ThinkPad range, both a touchpad and pointing stick are in place for controlling on-screen actions, each with their own set of dedicated mouse buttons. Both also include a third mouse button in the centre, which can be clicked to allow you to easily scroll up and down inside documents and internet pages.
Dell Precision M4500: Specification
As far as the specification goes, of particular note is the Precision M4500's 15.6-inch screen. Calibrated to 100 per cent Adobe Colour Gamuts, image quality and colour reproduction is truly stunning and ideal for professional graphics use. It is also one of the brightest screens we've seen which, when combined with its non-reflective matt coating, makes easy to view in all lighting conditions.
Driving the screen is an Nvidia Quadro FX 1800M graphics card – a chip designed by Nvidia as a professional business graphics solution for CAD use, computer animation and video editing.
Performance is outstanding, with the Dell Precision M4500 powering through out benchmark tests with ease and delivering ample graphics performance for all requirements.
Standard office performance of the Precision M4500 is equally impressive. While the 2.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor and 4096MB of DDR3 memory of our test machine is not a particularly impressive specification on paper, we were amazed by just how quickly it dispatched the most demanding office tasks, even when running multiple applications.
Since the Precision M4500 can also be configured with a top of the range, quad-core Intel Core i7 920XM processor and up to 8192MB of DDR3 memory at the time of purchase, there's no reason to suspect that it can't fulfil its claim of being the world's most powerful 15.6-inch mobile workstation, as it's by far one of the strongest we've seen.
Less pleasing is just how hot the chassis gets during use. While far smaller yet more powerful laptops such as Sony's VAIO Z-Series manage to stay cool at all times, the underside of the Precision M4500 quickly becomes uncomfortably hot, even when the system is not being driven to its maximum abilities.
This means it is better used on a desk than on your lap.
That's unfortunate, because the Precision M4500 provides a surprising level of mobility.
While its 3kg chassis is too bulky and heavy for daily travel use, it is compact enough to be carried on shorter journeys. Its 260-minute battery life is also particularly impressive, considering the amount of power on offer, letting you work for half a day away from the office.
Storage is equally pleasing, with the Precision M4500 fitted with a 500GB hard drive – more than enough to hold large design files and thousands of business documents. A choice of operating systems is also available and while our test unit was installed with the 64-bit Windows 7 Professional OS, you can opt for Red Hat Linux software if you prefer.
Dell Precision M4500: Verdict
While we can't say for sure whether the Dell Precision M4500 is the world's most powerful 15.6-inch mobile workstation or not, it;s certainly among them.
With its stunning performance, surprising battery life and feature-packed specification, it's a truly impressive workstation and a viable alternative to such other high-powered workstations as Lenovo's ThinkPad W701.
Squeezing maximum performance from Intel's mid-range Core i5 technology, the Precision M4500 is one of the most powerful business machines we've seen. When combined with its high-powered Nvidia graphics card, any office task can be ran with speed and ease.
The stunning 15.6-inch screen continues Dell's recent run of vibrant laptop panels. Offering 100 per cent Adobe Colour Gamuts, accurate colour reproduction and staggering brightness levels, this screen can easily be viewed in all lighting conditions.
While the keyboard is not as wide as it could have been, usability is excellent nevertheless. All keys respond well and the choice of a touchpad and pointing stick is a nice touch, giving the user a choice of ways to interact with the screen.
The stereo speakers that flank the keyboard are surprisingly powerful and provide a warm and full sound ideal for use at home or in the office. It is unusual to see such good speakers on a business laptop and professional video editors are sure to appreciate them.
Despite its large chassis and mid-level components, the base of the Precision M4500's chassis quickly gets uncomfortably hot. Although there is a large cooling fan in place, it gets far too hot for laptop use, making it better suited to use at a desk.
Even though the chassis is thick and bulky, it's disappointingly poorly equipped. Ports are limited and the lack of an HDMI port is unfortunate. A DisplayPort is in place for connecting digitally to external Dell monitors, but you can't easily connect to an HDTV.
Although the keyboard is comfortable to use, it's set too far back on the chassis, with the palm rest proving far too large. As a result, you're forced to lean forwards when typing, which can place you in an awkward and uncomfortable position when sat at a desk.
While the Dell Precision M4500 lacks the power and features of larger graphics workstations such as the Lenovo ThinkPad W701, its impressive power, usability and mobility make it a viable alternative.
The poor cooling system and limited extras hold it back from greatness, however, as it is uncomfortable to use on your lap and lacks comprehensive features.
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