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Dell Precision M3800 review

Michael Passingham
21 Jul 2014
Dell XPS 15
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,955
inc VAT

Good for processor and graphics-intensive tasks, but its touchpad and issues with display scaling spoils it

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Specifications

Processor: Quad-core 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-4702HQ, RAM: 16GB, Dimensions(HxWxD): 18x372x254 (HxWxD), Weight: 1.9kg, Screen size: 15.6in, Screen resolution: 3,200x1,800, Total storage: 512GB, Operating system: Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit

The Dell Precision M3800 is a powerful mobile workstation that’s loaded with top-end components and an Nvidia Quadro graphics chip. It’s the business version of Dell's XPS 15 laptop, and it shares many physical and performance characteristics with the XPS 15.

You can buy a base-specification Dell M3800 for £1,255, but our review unit came with many optional extras, including a 512GB SSD, a high-resolution 3,200x1,800-pixel touchscreen display and 16GB of RAM. The chassis of the Precision M3800 is identical to that used by the XPS. While it's sleek and handsome, the same problems we identified with the XPS 15, such as the disappointing touchpad and display scaling are present here.

We must say, though, that the keyboard is satisfying to use. While its slightly unusual key shape and spacing takes some getting used to, it provides great tactile feedback and we never missed any keystrokes. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the touchpad. While the touchpad is responsive enough when moving the cursor, it can be a real struggle to click it at times, with certain areas of the pad failing to respond to our inputs. We’d recommend the use of a mouse wherever possible.

Dell XPS 15

There are four USB3 ports around the edge of the device, along with Mini DisplayPort and HDMI connectors. There's no wired networking port on the device, but you do get a USB to RJ-45 network adaptor in the box.

Dell XPS 15
Dell XPS 15

If you don't have a high-resolution external display to hand, the M3800’s incredible 3,800x1,800-pixel touchscreen should more than meet your needs. The quality of the display is similar to the best laptop screens we've seen. It's bright and vibrant and, most importantly, extremely accurate. Our colour calibrator showed that the screen was able to display 95.5 per cent of the sRGB gamut. This is a brilliant result for a full-size desktop monitor, never mind a laptop screen.

Sadly, this fabulous panel is let down by frustrating issues in Windows 8.1, which continues to struggle with high-resolution displays. While many programs will look great on a very high-resolution display, there will inevitably be some legacy applications that don't scale properly and will prove almost impossible to use. These applications require a great deal of tweaking on the part of the user to make them display properly, there’s no guarantee of success.

Dell XPS 15

If you're using software that’s critical to your work, it’ll be worthwhile finding out if it’s compatible with very high-resolution screens before you consider buying this device.

While the specification of the M3800 is fairly similar to that of the XPS 15, the key difference between the two laptops is the graphics processor used. While the XPS 15 uses a gaming-focused Nvidia GeForce GT 750M, the Precision M3800 is powered by an Nvidia Quadro K1100M graphics processor. Quadro graphics processors are designed for specialist software in industries ranging from media to manufacturing. There are hundreds of applications, including Adobe Photoshop CS6 and the AutoDesk computer-aided design package, that receive a special performance boost thanks to Quadro graphics chips.

We’re happy to report that the Dell Precision M3800 performed well in our application benchmarks. Its 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-4702HQ helped the laptop achieve a score of 80 overall. This a great score for a laptop, and while we’ve seen higher scores from some gaming laptops, those machines are large, bulky and power-hungry devices, not slim ultra-portables like the M3800. Indeed, the Dell Precision M3800's battery life is impressive, with the machine lasting 11 hours and 22 minutes in our older light usage test.

There are a variety of storage options available with the Dell Precision M3800, and although our review unit came with a 512GB SSD you should note that mechanical and hybrid hard disks are also available. There's even room for a second drive should you need more space.

Dell XPS 15

If you're looking for a high-end business device to perform challenging media and editing tasks, the Dell Precision M3800 would be a great choice. However, we continue to be disappointed by the way Windows 8.1 and many of its applications handle high-DPI displays. Nonetheless, if you're willing to spend some time and effort to overcome these shortfalls, the Dell Precision M3800 should power through any task you throw at it with ease.

If you're looking for a business notebook without the addition of professional graphics hardware, you should also consider the HP Elitebook 840 G1. Its excellent screen, decent performance and much cheaper price make it an excellent alternative, and the HP Elitebook 840 G1 remains our favourite business laptop.

Basic specifications

Rating***
ProcessorIntel Core i7-4702HQ
Processor clock speed2.2GHz
Memory16GB
Memory slots2
Memory slots free0
Maximum memory16GB
Size18x372x254
Weight1.9kg
SoundRealtek HD Audio
Pointing devicetouchpad

Display

Viewable size15.6 in
Native resolution3,200x1,800
Graphics ProcessorNvidia Quadro K1100M
Graphics/video portsHDMI, Mini DisplayPort
Graphics Memory2,048MB

Storage

Total storage capacity512GB
Optical drive typenone

Ports and expansion

USB ports4
Bluetoothyes
Wired network portsnone
Wireless networking support802.11ac
PC Card slotsnone
Supported memory cardsSD, SDXC, SDIO, MMC, XD, MS, Mini MMC, MMC+
Other ports3.5mm audio output

Miscellaneous

Carrying caseNo
Operating systemWindows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
Operating system restore optionrestore partition
Software includednone
Optional extrasnone

Buying information

WarrantyOne-year onsite
Price£1,955
Detailswww.dell.com
Supplierhttp://www.dell.com

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