We review Dell's mobile workstation which promises potential for superb rendering performance. Find out how it fares for 3D artists in our in-depth review...
Product: Dell Precision M4800
Mobile workstations were once all about compromise. If you wanted performance even slightly close to that of a desktop, you needed a heavy 17-inch beast of a machine, which wasn't particularly suitable to carry around. But now, mobile rendering workstations are becoming more portable, with highly capable 15-inch systems like the Dell Precision M4800.
Dell's Precision Mobile workstation line has undergone a renaissance during 2014. The Dell Precision M3800
came out in January, a mobile workstation with such thin-and-light dimensions that it almost rivaled Ultrabooks
, and is the first svelte laptop to squeeze in both a Quadro
and high-resolution QHD+ screen.
"There's a serious computer lurking underneath the grey metal case, well suited for portable rendering"
The Dell Precision M4800 retains the traditional design of Precision laptops, with a 1-inch display, thick chassis and lashings of performance. Indeed, there's a serious computer lurking underneath the gray metal case, well suited for portable rendering.
An Intel Core i7 M4900MQ powers this beast, which is one of the fastest mobile CPUs available. It has a core clock speed of 2.8 GHz, and a turbo frequency of 3.8 GHz. You can have up to 32GB of memory, and an NVIDIA Quadro K2100M
, with optional SSDs of sizes up to 512GB or hybrid hard disks for storage, along with 802.11ac wireless networking.
One aspect of the Dell Precision M4800 that immediately grabbed my attention was the matte display. There's no touch-sensitive version available, since touch displays are glossy and reflective by nature. It looks superb and is perfectly readable – even with bright office lights nearby.
We were sent a version with a QHD+ IGZO screen, which means a whopping desktop resolution of 3200 x 1800. But this can cause problems with some Windows desktop software. And you'll need good eyesight, since windows, text and icons are microscopic when they're rendered at standard DPI.
This setting can be raised in Display Properties, though, and happens automatically in Windows 8.1. The screen looks great at this high-resolution, when all the text and graphics are at the correct size.
However, not all software scales in accordance with the DPI setting. Programs such as 3ds Max
are almost unusable at this resolution. There's no easy fix, aside from lowering the desktop resolution, and it's infuriating.
The Dell Precision M4800 can be ordered with a 1920 x 1080 display, though, where text, icons and windows look peachy. Unfortunately it's a Twisted Nematic (TN) display – a display technology that's much older than IPS, where the color reproduction, contrast and brightness levels aren't quite as good.
We had the luxury of being sent 2 units: one with the QHD+ screen and one with the 1080p screen, and tested both with a Sypder4 colorimeter
. The QHD+ display managed close to 100% SRGB coverage, while the 1080p screen could only manage 80%.
The Quadro K2100M is another point of interest. Part of the second wave of NVIDIA mobile graphics cards based on the Kepler architecture, it's a powerful GPU, with 576 shaders and 2GB of video memory. In performance, it's not too far from NVIDIA's older K3000M graphics card, which was restricted to 17-inch laptops.
We ran a sequence of tests on the Dell Precision M4800, with good results across the board, but it particularly excelled in CPU-bound tests. The Studio scene in 3ds Max 2014 rendered in 2 minutes 26 seconds at the default 700 x 400 resolution, while at 1920 x 1080 it took 14 minutes 54 seconds.
In comparison, the Dell Precision M3800, with an Intel Core i7 4702HQ quad-core processor, took 2 minutes 55 seconds to render the Underwater scene, and 17 minutes 41 seconds at 1080p.
Results in CINEBENCH 15
were similarly pretty good. 609 points in the CPU test and 69.8 fps in the Open GL test indicate desktop-class rendering is possible on the Dell Precision M4800. The M3800 with its Quadro K1100M graphics card managed 582 points and 51 fps.
"Its real trump card is the amount of rendering muscle that fits into its 15-inch chassis"
, the K2100M in the Dell Precision M4800 managed a score of 1670 in the Fire Strike benchmark, roughly half the score attained by a desktop workstation with a Quadro K4000. That's actually a very good achievement, considering this a laptop!
Although few will be impressed by the Dell M4800's relatively bland appearance, and the QHD+ screen has scaling issues, its real trump card is the amount of rendering muscle that fits into its 15-inch chassis. In my opinion, it comfortably spanks just about every other 15-inch mobile workstation going.
Orestis Bastounis, Freelance Technology Writer
Score (out of 5): 3.5
£1,149 ex VAT ($1,249) (basic config.)
£1,431 ex VAT ($1,531) (config. reviewed)
• Fast performance
• High-resolution screen
• Up to 16GB system memory
• Optional QHD+ (3200 x 1800) resolution display
• Intel Core i7 4900MQ Processor
• Nvidia Quadro K2100M Graphics Card
• Up to 32GB DDR3 memory
• Up to 512 GB SSD, Hybrid Hard Disk
• Intel 7260 802.11ac/n/g/b wireless adaptor
• Cinebench 15: 609
• 3DSMax 2014 Underwater scene: 04:49
• 3DSMax 2014 Studio scene: 21:56
• 3DSMax 2014 Underwater scene (1080p): 02:26
• 3DSMac 2014 Studio scene (1080p): 14:54
• Cinebench 15: 69.33
Visit the official Dell website
Learn more about NVIDIA Quadro cards