Heat and Noise
External temperatures are usually a concern with mobile workstations that have high-end processors and graphics, but the exterior of the M4600 was never an issue as long as the massive air intakes on the bottom of the notebook weren't blocked. The cooling fans do and excellent job pulling in cool air and pushing hot air out the back of the notebook.
Unfortunately, the fans are almost always running even while the notebook is idle and the fan noise picks up considerably when the processor and graphics are being stressed with complex 3D rendering. The idle fan noise is pretty quiet and unlikely to be an issue in a typical office environment, but if you have a cubicle farm setup and a room full of mobile workstations each rendering models then the combined fan noise could be as disturbing as a room full of hair dryers set on low power.
Before we mention the battery life of the Precision M4600, it's important to point out that our review unit came equipped with the Intel Core i7-2920XM Extreme Edition processor. As the "extreme" name suggests, this is an extraordinarily powerful processor designed to deliver desktop-like performance. Unfortunately, it also sucks down power like a desktop processor. The end result is that our review unit of the M4600 delivered just three hours and 35 minutes of battery life during our standard battery rundown test (Windows 7 Balanced power profile, 70% screen brightness, wireless active and refreshing a web page every 60 seconds).
On face value alone, this is pretty pathetic in terms of battery life ... and it's even worse when you consider this M4600 was using a larger 9-cell battery. We have little doubt that the M4600 would have delivered better battery life with a lower-power processor and lower-resolution display, but it's tough to look favorably at these battery life numbers if you are a mobile professional who needs to work for extended periods of time without access to a power outlet.
Battery life test results (higher scores mean better battery life):
At the end of the day the Dell Precision M4600 is a very specific mobile workstation designed for a very specific set of business customers. Yes, it's a 15-inch laptop that weighs more than six pounds and is almost an inch and a half thick, but that massive size and weight give it the internal space needed to offer Core i7 Extreme processors, multiple storage drive options, three different graphics card options, and just about every port you can imagine.
If you're a serious graphic artist, architect, or engineer bringing your creations to life via 3D renderings then the Precision M4600 is exactly the kind of serious machine you need. The awesome 1080p IPS display might need some serious color calibration when you take this notebook out of the box, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a better display on an 15-inch notebook.
Something you'll need to remember is the fact that high-performance processors like the Core i7-2920XM Extreme Edition give you desktop-like performance but that processor also dramatically reduces your notebook's battery life. On that note, heavily customizing the M4600 with a better processor, more RAM, a fast SSD, IPS display and top-of-the-line NVIDIA Quadro graphics quickly raises the price from a modest $1,500 to more than $4,000. That's certainly something to keep in mind if you're an IT manager who has to outfit an entire department with mobile workstations.
At the end of the day, the M4600 is a very impressive machine that can handle any graphically-intense task a professional faces during the work day ... but you can get a 15-inch Lenovo ThinkPad W520 with a slightly weaker Intel Core i7-2860QM and no second hard drive at the time of this writing for well under $3,000.
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