Dell Precision M6500

If you’re looking for power in a laptop, you’ve found it–the Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) Precision M6500 is about as powerful as modern desktop replacement laptops get. The M6500 has a number of features that you won’t find anywhere else: support for up to four memory DIMM slots (holding up to 32GB of RAM); over 1TB of hard-drive storage space; and a 17-inch, 1920-by-1200-pixel screen.

Our review model (priced at about $4700 as of September 29, 2010) is a little less impressive than the Precision M6500’s topped-out specs. It features a 1TB hard drive, 8GB of RAM, and a 2GHz Intel Core i7 processor, and it runs Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit). It also packs an nVidia Quadro FX 3800M graphics card with 1GB of dedicated memory, a built-in fingerprint reader, a 2.0-megapixel Webcam, Bluetooth, and an 8X DVD rewritable drive.

The Precision M6500 is extremely sturdily built. The outer chassis is made of smooth, slate-gray aluminum with a very small Dell logo on the left side, while the interior is smooth matte-black plastic. The entire notebook looks very clean and businesslike–and tremendously sexy for a desktop replacement. The speakers are positioned along the top of the keyboard, interrupted briefly by the silver fingerprint reader, a ‘Reader 2.1’ button, and the power button.

The ‘Reader 2.1’ button is a dedicated button that lets you quickly and conveniently access e-mail, contact information, calendar appointments, and task items stored in Microsoft Outlook when the system is hibernating or is turned off.

Dell supplies a couple of other dedicated buttons as well, though fewer than we usually see on powerful laptops–a simplification that I appreciate. Above the number pad sit a calculator button and three volume control buttons (up, down, and mute). The calculator button, which brings up the Windows calculator, is one of the most useful dedicated buttons I’ve ever seen on a computer.

The M6500’s array of ports is fairly normal: On the left side are two USB 2.0 ports, a 1394 six-pin port, headphone and microphone jacks, an eight-in-one card reader, a PC Card slot, and the DVD+/- RW slot (not a tray). On the right side are two more USB 2.0 ports (one a USB/eSATA combo), a VGA-out port, a display port, an ethernet port, an ExpressCard slot, and a Wi-Fi switch.

The Precision M6500 weighs in at a whopping 8.5 pounds, including its nine-cell battery but not counting its rather hefty power brick. The 17-inch workstation measures 15.4 inches wide by 11 inches long by 1.35 inches thick–larger than most laptops, but reasonably thin for such a powerhouse. Clearly, this isn’t a laptop you’ll want to tote around on trips (and the battery life of just over 90 minutes encourages you not to try).

The Precision M6500’s keyboard is one of the best I’ve seen in a notebook. It features soft, smooth, regular (read: not Chiclet-style) keys, optional backlighting, and a number pad. The keyboard is exceptionally easy to type on and the keys have just enough give. You can turn off the backlight (or switch it to “auto” mode), but you can’t be manually dim it.

Relative to the size of the laptop, the matte-black trackpad is quite small. Unfortunately, because it feels very much like the rest of the computer, I found it difficult to distinguish from the rest of the wristpad. Though it’s a multitouch pad, its size makes performing multitouch gestures on it nearly impossible. There are three nice, large, and easy-to-click buttons at the bottom of the trackpad (as well as three at the top that correspond to the ThinkPad-like pointing stick nestled between the G and H keys on the keyboard).

The 1920-by-1200-pixel RGB LED backlit display delivers amazing image quality. Though colours are a tad washed out, the screen is big, bright, and great for viewing at an angle. Except when looked at from above), the screen showed generally good contrast and colours stayed vivid. The screen also has a wide range of brightness levels, though even the lowest setting is a little brighter than I usually like.

Video playback is very good. Streaming video from Hulu is a breeze, and HD clips play faultlessly. Audio is less successful: The speakers aren’t as loud as some of the netbook speakers I’ve seen, and the sound lacks depth and separation. Headphone quality, however, is good–though this may have a lot to do with the headphones I used).

Aside from a few Dell programs for configuring the Webcam and other peripherals, virtually no software came bundled with our review unit . I’m not a fan of companies that load extra software on my laptops, but the lack of even a trial version of Microsoft Office meant that I had to write most of this review in an e-mail text box. Never fear: The configurations listed on Dell’s Web site indicate that members of the Precision series generally come with a Microsoft Office Starter Edition unless the user explicitly requests that it not.

It’s hard to imagine why someone would need 16GB–let alone 32GB–of RAM on their laptop,but if you’re looking for a powerful desktop replacement, the Dell Precision M6500 is a good choice. It’s quick, smooth, and full of simple elegance–and its only significant drawbacks are its weight and its short battery life.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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