Dell Precision M480017 Nov, 2014 By: Art Liddle
Editor's note: This review is part of a Cadalyst Labs Report. Read "Mobile CAD Workstations Priced Under $2,500" to learn how this model compares to the others included in the product roundup.
We last reviewed a Dell mobile workstation in March 2013, when we looked at the Precision M6700, a generously configured, extremely speedy system, with a 17.3" display — and a cost of more than $7,000. With our price limit of $2,500 for this review, we knew we would see something a little different this time around.
Dell sent us its Precision M4800 mobile workstation, which is smaller and lighter than the M6700. Its off-black magnesium alloy and anodized aluminum case measures 16.4" x 10.7" x 1.5" and weighs 6.8 lbs. The M4800 has a latched lid, which is a nice touch and unique in this roundup. It meets the military standards (MIL-STD-810G) for extreme environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, vibration, dust, altitude, and shock.
Dell's Precision M4800 mobile workstation offers great performance in a rugged chassis that's light on its feet.
The M4800's UltraSharp FHD (1,920 x 1,080) LED-backlit display (Dell offers resolution up to 3,200 x 1,800), with antiglare matte finish, measures 15.6" diagonally, and carries Dell's premium panel guarantee: there will be zero "bright pixel" defects in the display. It provides a bright, crisp, wide-view image that we've come to expect from Dell. The keyboard includes a dedicated numeric keypad, a multitouch touchpad with three buttons, top and bottom, and a track stick. A pair of speakers is positioned at the back of the deck, near the full-length display hinge.
The M4800 includes Intel's Extreme Quad Core (i7-4940XM) mobile CPU. This has four cores and eight threads (virtual processors), as does the processor in each system reviewed. What sets this one apart from the crowd is its 8 MB of level 3 cache memory (the others had 6 MB) and its clock speed of 3.1–4.0 GHz (next fastest was 2.8–3.8 GHz). These advantages paid off when it came time to measure CAD performance.
Dell paired this speedy processor with NVIDIA's Quadro K2100M graphics card (2 GB GDDR5), which we consider the midrange option in this review. The K2100M is the best option available for the Precision M4800.
The M4800 has room for three drives. The first slot is filled with a 256-GB full mini-card solid-state drive for primary file storage. An 8x DVD-ROM drive (read only) sits in the external optical drive bay. This leaves one internal 2.5" drive bay available for another storage device. As for system memory, all four SODIMM sockets are filled with 4-GB DDR3 1,600-MHz DIMMs, for a total of 16 GB. The system can handle a maximum of 32 GB — assuming you're willing to remove the 4-GB DIMMs and replace them with 8-GB sticks.
The Precision M4800 offers lots of connectivity options, including four USB 3.0 ports (one powered), one combination eSATA/USB 2.0 port, one DisplayPort 1.2, one HDMI 1.4 video port, one VGA port, microphone and stereo headphone jacks, a network connector, and a docking port located at the bottom. Note: An Intel dual-band wireless adapter card supporting 802.11ac/a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 wireless standards was omitted to meet the $2,500 price point; it's a $17.50 option.
To gauge system performance, we used a combination of the Cadalyst c2015 benchmark running AutoCAD 2015, and SPECviewperf 11. Per our standards, we enabled hardware acceleration for AutoCAD, turned off the graphics card's vertical sync, and set the screen resolution to 1,280 x 1,024 (32-bit color). Dell chose Microsoft's Windows 7 Professional 64-bit operating system.
The Dell Precision M4800's Cadalyst c2015 benchmark scores were as follows: total index = 564, 3D graphics index = 1,198, 2D graphics index = 460, disk index = 323, and CPU index = 275. The test results for the SPECviewperf 11 suite of tests, single sample mode only, were as follows: 48.24 for catia-03, 24.23 for ensight-04, 78.04 for lightwave-01, 86.86 for maya-03, 21.52 for proe-05, 52.88 for sw-02, 36.59 for tcvis-02, and 31.13 for snx-01. The average SPECviewperf score is 47, giving a combined score of 611 for the M4800 — less than 3% off the top mark and good enough for an A for CAD performance on our report card.
The last thing we checked was battery performance while running the 1,000-loop option of our c2015 benchmark. The M4800, which includes a 6-cell, 65-WH smart lithium-ion battery, averaged just 80 minutes off the grid — at the bottom of the range for this review.
Summing It Up
The Dell Precision M4800 mobile workstation, as configured for this review, carries a price tag of $2,492, which includes ground shipping. The warranty covers three years of basic hardware service with three years of next-business-day limited onsite service after remote diagnosis. Dell accepts returns within 30 days, less shipping costs, and, unless the product is defective, a restocking fee of up to 15% of the purchase price.
It's apparent that Dell had to cut corners to meet our strict price cap. The omitted wireless adapter is the most obvious example, but there should be a second hard drive (500 GB, 7,200 rpm) for additional file storage, the DVD read-only drive should be a read and write drive, and Dell's 9-cell battery option (97 WH) should replace the 6-cell battery (65 WH) reviewed here. With these changes, the total cost of the reconfigured system would be $2,655.40.
With that said, the reviewed configuration offers great performance in a well-engineered system that's light enough to take on the go without first hitting the gym. You should not ignore the fact that it could be a top-of-the-line system for just another $164.