Dell M6500: Specced to the Hilt

The M6500 marries high performance components with an understated aesthetic. It's definitely not going to challenge any thin and light notebooks for the pure mobility crown, but it's great to get a notebook that doesn't try to proclaim it's awesomeness with a bunch of superficial bling. We're also ecstatic that we don't have to worry about fingerprints marring the exterior for a change. Let's start with a quick rundown of the configuration options.

Dell Precision M6500 Configuration Options
Processor Intel Core i7-920XM
Intel Core i7-820QM
Intel Core i7-720QM
Intel Core i7-720QM
Intel Core i7-620M
Intel Core i5-540M
Intel Core i5-520M
Chipset Intel PM55 (quad-core)
Intel H55 (dual-core)
Memory Up to 4x DDR3-1066/1333/1600 SO-DIMMs
(Max 4x4GB DDR3-1066/1333 or 4x2GB DDR3-1600)
Graphics NVIDIA Quadro FX 3800M 1GB
NVIDIA Quadro FX 2800M 1GB
ATI FirePro M7740 1GB
Display 17.0" RGBLED Matte or Glossy WUXGA (1920x1200)
17.0" LED WUXGA (1920x1200)
17.0" LED WXGA+ (1440x900)
Hard Drive(s) Up to 3x: 256/128/64GB SSD
500/320/250GB 7200RPM HDD
RAID 0/1/5 Supported
Optical Drive Slot-load Blu-ray Recorder
Slot-load 8x DVDRW
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
802.11n or 802.11b/g WiFi
Bluetooth (Optional)
Mobile Broadband (Optional)
Audio HD Audio (2 stereo speakers with two audio jacks)
Battery 9-Cell, 11.1V, 8400mAh, 90Wh extended life battery
Front Side Latch button
Left Side PC Card
Flash Memory Reader
Slot-load Optical Drive
2 x USB 2.0
FireWare 1394
Kensington Lock
Right Side ExpressCard/54
Wireless On/Off Switch
1 x USB 2.0
1 x eSATA/USB 2.0
Back Side 2 x Cooling Exhaust
Power Adapter
Bottom: Docking Port
Operating System Windows 7 Professional 32/64-bit
Windows 7 Ultimate 32/64-bit
Windows Vista Business 32/64-bit
Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS v.5.3 EM64T
Dimensions 15.4" x 11.0" x 1.35" (WxDxH)
Weight 8.5 lbs (with 8-cell battery)
Extras USB 3.0 (for quad-core chassis)
2MP Webcam
101-Key keyboard w/10-Key
Multi-touch touchpad
Pointing Stick Controller
Aluminum Cover
Smart Card Reader
Contactless Smart Card Reader (Optional)
Fingerprint Reader (Optional)
FIPS Fingerprint Reader (Optional)
TPM 1.2 (where available)
Wave Embassy Trust Suite
Warranty 3-year warranty
4-year/5-year extended warranties available
Accidental Damage Protection available
2/3-year extended battery warranty available
Pricing Starting at $1799 (with $310 instant rebate)
Price as configured: $4698 (with $310 instant rebate)

The specifications of the Precision M6500 are a Who's Who list of high-end components. Take the best mobile parts (at least as far as raw performance is concerned) and they're nearly all available as a configuration option. You can configure up to a Core i7-920XM, three SSDs/HDDs, a Quadro FX 3800M graphics, and up to a whopping 16GB (4x4GB) of DDR3-1333. The memory department in particular deserves special mention, as the M6500 has four SO-DIMM slots compared to the typical two (sometimes three) we see in most other notebooks. Right now Dell "only" supports 4GB SO-DIMMs, which isn't a huge problem considering 8GB SO-DIMMs are very difficult to come by (and expensive); still, given the target market we're a little surprised Dell hasn't validated any 8GB SO-DIMMs.

The unit we received for review is now slightly "outdated", as Dell is now shipping M6500 systems with Core i5 CPUs and optional USB 3.0 support. Note that at present, USB 3.0 is only available if you select a quad-core i7 configuration. Dell also ships the M6500 in an "Energy Star" compliant package, which consists of a slim 210W/240W power brick (presumably higher efficiency, though Dell doesn't make this clear) and requires an NVIDIA Quadro GPU. Our test unit came in the Energy Star configuration, though without both power bricks we can't confirm whether the "Energy Star" power profiles actually make a significant difference.

The only area where maximum performance isn't an option in Dell's configurator is the storage department. Dell has SSDs and encrypted SSDs available, but what you won't find are the top performing Intel SSDs—or Indilinx, SandForce, or C300. Considering the enterprise market, that's not especially surprising (Anand has managed to brick both an early SandForce as well as a C300); Dell goes the safe route like most OEMs and uses Samsung SSDs. Like many other SSDs, Samsung suffered from degraded performance once a drive was in a "used" state, but with the latest firmware and TRIM support that's no longer as much of a concern. For most usage scenarios, the Samsung SSDs perform well and are available in sizes up to 256GB. The only flaw in Samsung SSDs is random write performance; while they're an order of magnitude faster than conventional HDDs, the best SSDs are another order of magnitude jump. However, in normal usage (measured by PCMark Vantage), the best SSDs are only about 10% faster than the Samsung, which is around twice as fast as a 10000RPM Raptor. On the other hand, supporting three drives (if you're willing to give up the internal optical drive) is a nice bonus

The other item that we really need to applaud is Dell's RGBLED backlit WUXGA LCD with an anti-glare coating. This is a great looking laptop LCD—almost the best we've tested to date. It's bright, it has a great color gamut, and the contrast ratio is good as well. It also has the best viewing angles we've seen from any TN panel, though we can still wish for an IPS panel—a rarity at best for laptops. The base model has a 1440x900 glossy WXGA+ panel with CCFL backlighting; $160 will bump you up to glossy 1920x1200 WUXGA with CCFL backlighting, while $300 gets the tested anti-glare 1920x1200 RGBLED panel. We figure if you're going to spend a lot of time with a notebook like this, and you're already spending a few grand, the $300 extra is money well spent. The only caveat is that the LCD has a definite blue tinge using the sRGB and AdobeRGB profiles, which results in calibrated Delta E results that are much worse than other laptops. You'll want to run the NTSC profile in the Dell ControlPoint utility to use the LCD in "native" mode; read the LCD results page for additional details.

Most of the remaining specs are typical, with various WiFi, Bluetooth, and mobile broadband options. The keyboard is quite good in nearly all respects, and it's backlit as an added bonus. The one thing we missed on the keyboard was a dedicated context menu button (normally located to the right of the spacebar). Perhaps I'm one of the few people that use such keys, but I definitely noticed it was missing. The number keypad on the other hand is great, with a layout that mimics what that of desktop keyboards. Unfortunately, there's only a DisplayPort and VGA port for external video, and there are also just four USB ports—one more than consumer laptops, but there's a ton of open space on the sides of the chassis that could have been used. At least Dell provides a powered FireWire port and ExpressCard/34 slot, and they even provide a PC Card slot for customers that need support for older devices. There are also several security options available: TPM 1.2, FIPS Fingerprint reader, Smart Card reader, contactless Smart Card, and Wave Embassy Trust Suite. And if you're not sure what half of those items are, the M6500 might be overkill. :-)

Dell provides a 3-year warranty standard on the M6500, with optional 4- and 5-year warranties for an additional charge. 3/4-year accidental damage and 2/3-year battery warranties are also available. Considering the cost of the M6500, we're glad Dell doesn't skimp out on the warranty. In fact, standard 3-year warranties are common on most business laptops (along with anti-glare LCDs), so keep that in mind if you're every looking for replacement with those features.

Index Design: Understated and Attractive
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  • Nick-932 - Saturday, August 21, 2010 - link

    Have you seen one in real life next to an Apple...Because all apples look like wimpsy flimsy notebooks comparing to an M6500.

    Additionally, they do not even have any spec similar as the M6500, even 8 months after their initial release.
  • jabber - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - link

    ...but that 'thing' above the keyboard...????

    Didnt read the review actually as it's too expensive for me. So if what ever that thing is is explained as crucial then I apologise.
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - link

    I read the review and still don't know. I was expecting an explanation of what the thing that looks like it was attached with a blob of caulk is on a laptop they think looks good.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - link

    I guess you guys are referring to the FIPS fingerprint scanner? It's not "attached by a blob of caulk"... though I suppose the images don't quite convey what it actually looks like. Here's a better shot, if you didn't look at the gallery:">

    It's an optional extra for security; rather than swiping your finger, you place it on that scanner. It's supposed to be more accurate than the swipe scanners.
  • jabber - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - link

    So why does it look bolted on?

    Lenovo manage to make a decent looking fingerprint scanner.

    This thing is a mess. In fact the more I look at this laptop the more crap it looks.

    Looks like a rough prototype.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - link

    Perhaps it looks better in person. The scanner is flush with the rest of the chassis, and about the only complaint I'd have with it is that the scanner has a gray border. Trust me, the chassis as a whole feels rock solid. I don't think it's the most awesome looking laptop ever created, but the LCD does look great and it's nice to see a large notebook I wouldn't be embarrassed about using in a business setting.

    Since you dislike the look of this notebook so much, what do you think makes for an attractive notebook? And please don't say MacBook Pro... they're fine, but you simply can't fit quad-core i7 with a Quadro FX 3800M into anything that thin. I'm actually quite impressed that the M6500 is "only" 1.3" thick!
  • jabber - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - link

    lol, no I wouldnt say a MacBook pro.

    However, I do find it baffling why manufacturers struggle to come up with something asthetically pleasing.

    I do believe less is more, though it would be hard to design a laptop on that principle that wouldnt infringe on the mac design. They have reduced a design to it's near minimum.

    I like the general look of my Inspiron 13Z though the 8 cell battery pack spoils the lines. It does mean however I can go 8 hours+ without power. The glossy plastics are also a big no-no.

    If Dell just improved the build quality of say their Studio line with better/tougher plastics then that would go a long way.

  • DukeN - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - link

    Would truly have appreciated a Lenovo W5XX comparison here, or even a T500. TIA.
  • hko45 - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - link

    Another reason to get this is the E-Port Plus docking (for all mobile Precision and most Latitudes -- I haven't seen anything comparable from anyone else). It allows the connection of two DVI or DisplayPort displays. That's what I use for my M6400 when I run PhotoShop & Lightroom. This should take care of any color issues. I would only use it as my first edit pass for my photos when on the road anyway. I'm definitely going to get an M6500 as soon as funds permit.
  • geekforhire - Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - link

    I received my Precision M6500 about a week ago, and in general I'm very happy.

    Mine has the i7 Q720 processor, 64GB SSD, CD/DVD burner, 1440x900 RGBLED display, Intel 5300AGN Wifi card, 4GB memory, and Windows 7 Pro.

    My previous notebook computer was 15.4" Dell Inspiron 8600, which I also designed, and served me well for 5.5 years. It failed about 6 months ago with a motherboard problem that would be expensive to replace - about as much as a netbook. At the time, I didn't want to spend alot of money on a replacement computer, so I got a netbook: Asus S101. It's a nice little (little!!!) machine, came with a Window XP Home on a 16GB SSD (note: they are now shipping with a 32GB SSD, which is actually livable, where the 16GB is definitely /not/ and later upgraded to 64GB). It does alot of things very well, but I eventually came to the conclusion that this was not enough computer for me. And if it failed I'd have to ship the computer away to the manufacturer for service - which would put me out of service for about 2+ weeks. So I bit the bullet, and got another real computer.


    Performance is excellent. This is safely the fastest notebook I've ever had the pleasure to work with - ever.

    The display is excellent, displaying everything including movies with great sharpness, color quality, and contrast.

    The keyboard has good touch, and the back-lighting is a nice touch that really should be included with every notebook.

    Someone gave good though to the internal airflow, which allows the machine to be quiet and be effective even when resting on my lap with a comforter.

    The SSD is giving snappy performance, but it's actual available physical C: size is 58.7GB, and there is the risk that the performance will decline over time (trim capability is unknown yet).

    Fastest wifi performance I've ever measured: downloaded iTunes yesterday and the Network tab on the Task Manager showed an average 10.5% utilization with frequent peaks of 11.75% of a 54mbps wifi connection (I have a 7mbps DSL line to the internet with a high performance wifi router, but the Apple servers deserve some credit too).

    The sound fidelity coming from the speakers is extremely good, especially for a notebook. Playing the movie "The Transporter" (music by Stanley Clarke), there were several very interesting sound positioning effect that many other speakers just won't present quite as well.

    The built in webcam and array microphone work well. I'm having lots of great conversations with my daughter via Skype, who's on a 2 month trip in Ireland. Visual detail is good, and room echo of what I'm sending is low to non-existent.

    I'm a believer in the Dell 4 year high end extended service warranty, and include it in all of the notebook computers that I design, because notebooks are subject to physical insults that desktop computers are not, and Dell will overnight ship replacement parts. Want to rent a great notebook computer for the price of a new great computer, here are 2 realistic human threats that tend to produce total loss: Dropping, and Liquid Spills.

    Overall build quality is good. But it kind of better be with a machine this heavy, or else simple motions like lifting it from the front corner is going to cause the chassis to quickly split.

    There are oodles of practical connectors and adapters built in, and I really like the slot-load CD/DVD drive.


    The battery life seems to last about 2 hours, not the 3-4 hours I was designing for (I attribute this to the lowest end display card, which is much stronger and much higher power consuming than I wanted). I've played with the various power options and I've been able to improve the duration from the 1.5H that I seemed to first be getting when I received the machine, but I think 2.5H is going to be the wall.

    The touch pad is left of where it should be. It's centered under the keyboard, rather than in the physical center of the computer, causing an awkward right hand "lunge" across to 1.5" left of where I naturally expect it to be. But I can recalibrate.

    This machine and power brick are large and heavy, and are well served by backpack transport rather than something with just a single handle.

    The low level light performance of the webcam in a dimly lit restaurant is fair, producing brownish grainy images. (reminder that the human eye has such an amazingly good sharpness even with wide variations of available light, that even modern DSLR technology comes no where near what the human eye can do so easily that we take that capability for granted.)

    The machine was shipped about 3 weeks later than the original estimate. Note that this longer-than-expected actual ship date has happened with all other 17" Precision notebook computers that I've designed in the past.

    Not sure yet about the 64 bit OS. There have been 1-2 weird freezing issues which I suspect the 32 bit OS may not experience; there is a compatibility issue with printing from a 64 bit machine to a printer attached to a 32 bit machine, but the effective work around is to print directly to the network attached printer. But having 4GB of available memory with a 64 bit OS is nicer than having 3GB of actually available memory on the same machine with a 32 bit OS. So the jury is still out on whether to reinstall with the 32 bit OS, or stick with the 64 bit OS.

    In a nutshell, I can see myself growing old with this woman.

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