DELL Precision M3800

VERDICT

Good for processor- and graphics-intensive tasks, but its touchpad and display scaling issues are frustrating

DELL’S PRECISION M3800 is a powerful mobile workstation that’s loaded with top-end components, including an Nvidia Quadro graphics chip. It’s the business version of Dell’s XPS 15 laptop, with which it shares many of the same physical and performance characteristics. You can buy a base-specification Dell M3800 including VAT, but our review unit came with many optional extras, including a 512GB SSD, a high-resolution 3,200×1,800-pixel touchscreen display and 16GB of RAM.

The chassis of the Precision M3800 is identical to that used by the XPS 15, and is sleek and handsome. Unfortunately, it suffered from a few of the same problems, notably its display scaling and 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.

This is a shame, as otherwise the keyboard is satisfying to use. While its unusual key shape and spacing take some getting used to, the keyboard provides great tactile feedback, and we never missed a keystroke. There are four USB3 ports around the edge of the device, plus Mini DisplayPort and HDMI connectors. There’s no wired networking port, but you do get a USB-to-RJ-45 network adaptor in the box.

If you don’t have a high-resolution external display to hand, the Precision M3800’s incredible 3,800×1,800-pixel touchscreen should more than meet your needs. The quality of the display is comparable with the best laptop screens we’ve seen: it’s bright, vibrant and extremely accurate. Our colour 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.

Sadly, this fabulous panel is let down by some frustrating issues in Windows 8.1, which struggles with high-resolution displays. While many programs look great on a very high-resolution display, there will inevitably be some legacy applications that don’t scale properly and prove almost impossible to use. These applications require a great deal of tweaking in order to display properly, and even then there’s no guarantee of success. If you’re using software that’s critical to your work, make sure it’s compatible with very high-resolution screens before you consider buying the Precision M3800.

Although the specification of the M3800 is fairly similar to that of the XPS15, the key difference is the graphics processor used. The XPS 15 uses a gaming-focused Nvidia GeForce GT 750M, whereas 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, which all receive a special performance boost thanks to the Quadro graphics chips.

We’re happy to report that the 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, and while we’ve seen higher scores from certain gaming laptops, those machines are large, bulky and power-hungry devices, not slim ultra-portables such as the M3800. The Precision M3800’s battery life is also impressive, managing 11 hours and 22 minutes in our old light-usage test.

There are a variety of storage options available with this laptop. Although our review unit came with a 512GB SSD, mechanical and hybrid hard disks are also available. There’s even room for a second drive should you need more space.

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS

If you’re looking for a high-end business device to perform challenging media and editing tasks, Dell’s Precision M3800 is a great choice. However, we’re still disappointed at the way Windows 8.1 and many of its applications handle a high-DPI display such as the one included here. If you’re looking for a business laptop without professional graphics hardware, we’d recommend HP’s Elitebook 840 G1. Its excellent screen, decent performance and much cheaper price make it an excellent alternative.

SPECIFICATIONS

CPU Quad-core 2.2GHz Intel Core i7 A702HQ
RAM 16GB
STORAGE 512GB SSD
GRAPHICS Nvidia Quadro K1100M
OPTICAL DRIVE None
DISPLAY 15.6in widescreen IGZO touchscreen (3,200×1,800)

OPERATING SYSTEM Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
DIMENSIONS 18x372x254, 1.9kg
POWER CONSUMPTION 1W standby, 22W idle, 63W active
WARRANTY One-year onsite

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