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Dell Precision M4600 review: Dell Precision M4600

Dell Precision M4600

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

6 min read

As mobile workstations go, the Dell Precision M4600 delivers everything we expect. There are several configurations available with plenty of options for fine-tuning it to your performance needs. It's stacked with ports, inputs, and outputs so it can easily connect up to a number of external devices and just as easily stand on its own. And Dell offers the warranty, support, and security options professionals need to make sure their data is safe and they stay up and running.

Dell Mobile Precision M4600 Computer Workstation- Intel Core i7-2720QM (Quad Core 2.20GHz,6M cache) with Turbo BoostTechnology 2.0
7.5

Dell Precision M4600

The Good

The <b>Dell Precision M4600</b> is a flexible and powerful mobile workstation thanks to an abundant component selection, plentiful ports and connections, and ample warranty, support, and security options.

The Bad

Judging from our Dell M4600 review system, quality control is a little lacking.

The Bottom Line

If you've got the money--and a strong back--the Dell Precision M4600 is a very good mobile workstation.

Our review system was loaded with high-end components and it performed accordingly. No disappointments there, really. What we were less than thrilled with were either matters of personal preference or things that might have more to do with the quality of our particular laptop than the M4600 on the whole.

Also, while we expect mobile workstations to be expensive, the M4600 seems a bit pricier than similarly configured competing systems. Then again, the regular price is never what you end up paying; the starting price for the M4600 was $1,798 at the time of our review, but Dell was offering a configuration for just $1,119.

Price as reviewed $4,384
Processor 2.5GHz Intel Core i7 2920XM
Memory 8GB, 1,600MHz DDR3
Hard drive 500GB 7,200rpm
Chipset Intel QM67 Express Chipset
Graphics Nvidia Quadro 2000M with 2GB GDDR3
Operating system Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 14.8x10.1 inches
Height 1.3 - 1.4 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 15.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 7.4 pounds / 9.2 pounds
Category Desktop replacement

The M4600 is a thick, heavy laptop. Chances are if you're shopping for a mobile workstation, you already know this is pretty much a given for the category. The starting weight is 6.2 pounds plus about a pound for the large power brick; add-ins and extras can drive that up to more than a 9-pound travel weight. Made from an aluminum and magnesium alloy, its inconspicuous design should be suitable for just about any environment. It's basically just a big rectangle with rounded corners. The chassis is MIL-STD-810G-tested for extreme temperatures, humidity, vibration, dust, altitude, and shock, and it certainly feels sturdy. Well, except for the left side of the screen bezel on our review sample, which was pulling away slightly from the cover.

The antimicrobial keyboard and number pad are comfortable with good key travel, though after we typed for a bit our spacebar started occasionally squeaking like a rusty hinge. It is backlit, so that's a bonus (a $49 extra bonus, but nice nonetheless). Above the keyboard on the left are volume and mute buttons and on the far right is the power button. The M4600 has both a multitouch touch pad with three buttons and a track stick with three buttons; we'd trade in the latter for a larger touch pad if we could.

Dell offers four 15.6-inch display options for the M4600. Two of them are 1,366x768-pixel resolution, one with four-point capacitive touch and stylus support. The other two are 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, one of which is Dell's PremierColor IPS RGB Anti-Glare LED-backlit display. Our review sample had the PremierColor screen, which comes at a $449 premium over the base display. Dell promises 100 percent Adobe RGB color gamut, and indeed, color performance was impressive. Viewing angles were also excellent, 85 degrees horizontal and vertical. With Dell's device manager software you can select from NTSC, sRGB, or Adobe RGB color spaces. That's not much if you need precise control over color space out of the box, but is enough to get you working. One thing we did notice is a pulsing or flickering when the backlight is reduced to about 75 percent brightness, and which gets more noticeable the dimmer you set the screen. We're chalking it up to quality control; the LCD is covered under the system warranty and Dell's Premium Panel Guarantee for zero bright pixels.

Dell Precision M4600 Average for category [desktop replacement]
Video VGA, HDMI, DisplayPort VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers; headphone, microphone jacks Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 2 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, eSATA/USB 2.0 combo, mini FireWire, ExpressCard54 slot, SmartCard slot 2 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, eSATA
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive Slot-loading DVD burner DVD burner, optional Blu-ray player

The port and I/O connections on the M4600 are ample, including five USB ports, two of which are USB 3.0. The power input, eSATA port, Ethernet jack, HDMI output, and VGA connector are all on the back where we like them on desktop replacements. Those considering the M4600 for audio/video work will likely be happy with the full sound of the built-in stereo speakers. They sounded equally good with music and speech. Audio pros will likely want to take advantage of the stereo headphone/line-out jack, but we're glad the speakers sound decent enough to use in a pinch.

As for its internal components, Dell offers multiple setups as well as the option to configure one from scratch. You can choose from two Core i5 or four Core i7 processors; up to 32GB of memory; hard-drive capacities up to 750GB and solid-state drives up to 512GB; optical drives including a Blu-ray burner; three graphics cards; and, as mentioned earlier, four display options. Of course there are plenty of accessories, too, including extended-life batteries. Basically, you can make it what you want and still get all the durability and security extras.

The performance of our review laptop was above average for its class, but it was not the mind-blowing experience you might expect for its price tag. That's not to say the CPU/GPU combo we had was slow; it can certainly handle demanding tasks. During anecdotal testing we experienced no slowdowns with photo and video editing, and multitasking definitely posed no problems. It did well in our lab tests, too, but next to the consumer-oriented high-performance laptops we've tested, it appears fairly ordinary. The graphics cards available for the M4600 are designed for 3D modeling, CAD, and graphic arts, so our gaming tests don't really do them justice. Still, you should have no difficulty playing games on this system at high resolutions. Keep in mind that a lot of this system's cost goes to the rugged build, the PremierColor display, and its various other capabilities.

Juice box
Dell Precision M4600 Average watts per hour
Off (60 percent) 0.74
Sleep (10 percent) 1.38
Idle (25 percent) 17.71
Load (5 percent) 91.88
Raw kWh 84.13
Annual energy cost $9.55

Annual power consumption cost

Mobile workstations aren't known for their great battery life. The M4600 did well in our video drain test, though, for what it's worth. It stayed up and running for 3 hours and 16 minutes with its nine-cell (97Wh) battery, which is all the more surprising because the PremierColor display requires a lot of juice compared with what a regular LCD needs. What's nice is that this larger battery pack doesn't add to the dimensions of the laptop at all. What we would like to see, though, is easier, more straightforward power management beyond picking from a handful of preset plans.

Part of the reason to get a professional system such as the Dell Precision is for the increased warranty and support options over consumer systems. The base warranty is for three years, but you can increase that coverage with accidental damage protection and data recovery services. Something that also shouldn't be overlooked is the host of security options Dell offers for its Precision systems. This includes Dell DataSafe for online backups, tracking and recovery service should your laptop go missing, and Laptop Data Encryption for remote encryption of all data on any corporate PC connected to the Internet from virtually any location.

Conclusion
Overall, the Dell Precision M4600 is a very good choice for professionals whose performance needs go well beyond spreadsheets and presentations. We're a little concerned about the quality of the PremierColor display, but everything is under warranty, and if your work doesn't demand color accuracy, you don't need to spend the extra money for this display--there are three others to pick from.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test laptops.

Dell Mobile Precision M4600 Computer Workstation- Intel Core i7-2720QM (Quad Core 2.20GHz,6M cache) with Turbo BoostTechnology 2.0
7.5

Dell Precision M4600

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7Battery 8Support 8
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