REVIEW: Dell Precision M4600

Dell’s mobile workstations are specifically engineered for users who need uncompromised performance on demanding, specialised applications. The type of users who need an on-the-go graphics powerhouse for analysing massive amounts of 2D and 3D data (CAD/CAM/CAE). Available in a choice of two screen sizes―the 15.6-inch M4600 (from £939 ex. VAT) and the 17.3-inch M6600 (from £1,199 ex. VAT)―the Precision range packs a punch. Sure they’re not attractive or lightweight (they’re basically a heavy rectangle with corners), but they deliver where they’re needed―performance!

Industrial Engineering

The Dell Precision workstation family caters for all types of designers and engineers, from those using entry-level 2D CAD, right up to high-end simulation software. But workstation-class performance and reliability doesn’t end on the desktop. Ten years after launching the first mobile workstation, Dell is pitching the Precision M4600 (33-37x376x256mm, 2.79kg) as the world’s most powerful 15.6-inch mobile workstation. Offering the latest multi-core Intel mobile processors, capacity for up to 32GB memory and supporting up to five external displays, there’s no denying its capabilities.

But it’s the machine’s considerate industrial design which also deserves to share the limelight. The Precision M4600 sports a professional redesign with a rigid and durable aluminium and magnesium alloy chassis that’s MIL-STD 810G tested for extreme temperatures, vibration, dust, altitude and shock. The optional 4-finger multi-touch display (£185 ex. VAT) can be utilised for drawing, writing, editing and zooming onscreen with fingers or stylus and touch-enabled engineering software applications, and the optional PremierColor IPS RGB LED display (£216 ex. VAT) with calibration software is a must where accurate colour reproduction and brilliant clarity is required.

Power Aplenty

Dell has successfully packed more performance and power into its new mobile workstation while at the same time increasing usability for on-the-go productivity. Running Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit), the Precision M4600 now offers a full-size antimicrobial keyboard (optional backlight) with a dedicated number pad, multi-touch touchpad with three buttons and track stick with three buttons, increased maximum memory capacity of 32GB, and protection of data with RAID 0/1.

The machine features second generation Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, up to Core i7 Extreme Editions. With two CPU cores, the Core i5 is the value choice for CAD, while the quad-core Intel Core i7 offers additional processing power for CAM, CAE and design visualisation. Inside the Precision M4600 are four DIMM slots, allowing it to accommodate up to 32GB of 1,333MHz memory or up to 16GB of faster 1,600MHz memory. On par with a single processor desktop Precision workstation, the Precision M4600 can handle demanding CAD/CAM/CAE and design visualisation datasets.

The AMD FirePro M5950 with 1GB GDDR5 provides mid-range graphics for all types of professional 3D software, but more demanding CAD/CAM/CAE projects may require nVidia’s Quadro 2000M graphics card with 2GB GDDR3 memory (£199 ex. VAT) as it allows design datasets to be loaded entirely into GPU memory, helping boost performance. For powering desktop monitors, the Precision M4600 can support up to five displays.

The hard disk drive has been bumped to a maximum of 750GB (7,200rpm) and can be supported by a second 2.5-inch (7,200rpm) SATA drive (up to 750GB) or a solid state drive (up to 256GB). RAID 0 (performance) and RAID 1 (reliability) is supported across any two drives and Dell’s fast response free fall sensor helps protect data loss from drops.

Dell offers various LED-backlit display choices, ranging from the standard 1366×768 unit up to the 1920×1080 Wide View IPS RGB unit which is fantastic for displaying high-clarity CAD drawings and 3D renderings with impressive brightness, colour accuracy and richness. There’s even a multi-touch option that supports stylus or four finger simultaneous. All displays come with Dell’s Premium Panel Guarantee, which offers a replacement screen should even one bright defective pixel be found on the screen during the warranty period.

Connectivity to virtually all major peripherals is catered for with five USB ports (two USB 3.0, one doubles as eSATA) and three video-out options including DisplayPort, VGA and HDMI. There’s no Thunderbolt port, but there is IEEE 1394 (FireWire), headphone and mic jacks, and an SD card slot. Wireless LAN and WiMax, mobile broadband and GPS, Wireless 375 Bluetooth 3.0 and 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet are all present. For usability enhancements, there are power and battery LEDs on the left side of the machine above the DVD+/-RW drive (Blu-ray costs an additional £358 ex. VAT), and a dedicated Wi-Fi on/off switch on the other side.

Summary

The Dell Precision M4600 is an incredible mobile workstation, offering silent operation and professional-level performance for demanding applications. It’s also backed by an excellent 3-year warranty, support, and security options professionals need to make sure their data is safe and they stay up and running.

However, it’s heavy, the 9-cell (97Wh) battery is good for just 3 hours, and the optional extras mean you’ll need deep pockets. We’d also have liked a bigger trackpad. It’s worth noting that its bigger brother, the Precision M6600, offers even better levels of performance in advanced 3D applications and OpenCL software, in addition to increased storage options. Overall, the Precision M4600 is highly recommended for running demanding CAD/CAM/CAE and visualisation software but is a total overkill for running cloud apps and Microsoft Office.


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