Dell Precision 5510 Review: A Solid Travel Laptop

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  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Software & Support
      • 9
      • Upgrade Capabilities
      • 7
      • Usability
      • 7
      • Design
      • 9
      • Performance
      • 8
      • Features
      • 8
      • Price/Value Rating
      • 5
      • Total Score:
      • 7.57
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Small and lightweight for a 15.6-inch mobile workstation
    • Excellent non-glare non-touch display
    • Silent operation under light usage and reasonably quiet under load
    • Long battery life with the high capacity battery option
    • Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C port
  • Cons

    • Premium pricing
    • Awkward to open
    • Lacks a full set of navigation keys

Readers of my Latitude E5570 review may recall that I had concerns about whether I could adjust to the offset keyboard layout. The outcome is that my fingers refused to adjust properly, perhaps because having my wrist resting on the corner of the computer wasn’t comfortable. In other respects, the E5570 had satisfied expectations and a BIOS update had made it happy to work with a 65W PSU.

Dell Precision 5510 review unit

Dell Precision 5510 laptop

So, again, I had to consider at my computer options. Several Dell Precision 5510 laptop models were available via the Dell UK Outlet and the availability of a 15% off coupon stopped me dithering and I ordered one which had the non-glare FHD display and the 84Whr battery. Within a week I was the proud owner of a Precision workstation. One of my first observations was that was almost the same size as my old Samsung NP900X4C, which was a very good start. What else have I discovered? Read this Dell Precision 5510 review to find out.

Build and Design

The Dell Precision 5510 laptop is a mobile workstation but you might want to think of it as the business version of Dell’s popular XPS 15 9550 notebook. The construction is a sandwich of metal and plastic. Both the base and the display back are unpainted metal while the chassis is plastic and the palm rest is carbon fiber. The overall result is something which feels well-constructed while not adding excessive weight. My first action after unboxing the computer was to put it on the scales and see how the actual weight compared to the specifications. Dell advertises the notebook as being 1.78kg with SSD and non-touch display. The high capacity battery is 0.1kg heavier than the normal one which suggests a weight of 1.88kg for my notebook. A weight of 1.93kg is close to specification, unlike the E5570 which was significantly heavier than I expected.

Dell Precision 5110 laptop vs. Dell Latitude E5570

The Dell Precision 5110 laptop on left and Latitude E5570 on right. The size difference is noticeable and, in this photo (taken in semi-sunlight), the 5110’s less effective anti-glare coating is evident.

The display unit for this non-glare, non-touchscreen version is very thin (about 5mm /0.2”) but the metal back provides good protection to the LCD panel. The top and side display bezels are very narrow which reduces the overall size of the computer although a side-effect is that the webcam is located below the display. There is a slight raised lip around the display edges but no rubber strip which creates the possibility of long-term cosmetic damage around the edge of the palm rest. It is possible to slightly twist the display but it resists my efforts to put any ripples on the panel. The display bezel, palm rest and keyboard are black which avoids distracting glare and provides good contrast with the backlit letters on the keyboard.

4_5510 fan outletThe hinges are very stiff and hold the display firmly in position without any hint of wobble. The design of the hinges means that the display can only be tipped back to about 135°. The air discharge vents for the fans are in the gap between the hinge and the back of the computer. The hinge stiffness means that opening the computer is a two-handed task, not helped by the absence of any recess on the front to provide any finger hold. A small recess in the front of the chassis would make opening easier.

The base is secured by 12 screws but, once these are removed, then it lifts off to provide access to the inside. Instead of the usual “feet” on the bottom of the notebook the 5510 has two longitudinal rubber edged ridges which are an integral part of the metal base and perhaps their primary function is to provide extra stiffening – the base is rigid but not heavy. A consequence of the ridges is that there is no flow path for air from the back edge of the computer to the air vents but a benefit is that, when the computer is used as a laptop, legs are not touching the potentially warm base.

The bottom of the computer is dominated by what appears to be generous air vent but, in reality, a substantial part of it is covered on the inside. A useful detail is that the label with the computer information is under a small cover (held closed by a magnet) in the center of the base. This avoids the risk of it being rubbed off during everyday use. I’ve put my business card in there.

5_5510 bottom 6_Flap

Removing the twelve screws on the bottom provides access to the inside. The location of the battery under the palm rest keeps it away from the hot components and provides a counter-balance to the weight of a pushed-back display. Access for upgrading or servicing is good.

7_5510 base inside 8_5510 inside

I opted for a 5510 with the 6 cell 84Whr battery which increased the prospect of all-day operation without external power. The battery is longer than the standard 56Whr battery and occupies what would otherwise be the bay for a 2.5” storage drive. The 2280 M.2 slot is configured to take both SATA and PCIe devices and was shipped with a Toshiba NVMe SSD.

Ports and Features

A key feature of the Dell Precision 5510 laptop is the Thunderbolt 3 enabled USB-C port. The future is here. Well, almost! This port offers substantial connectivity potential when the firmware and drivers are fully debugged and attached devices more reasonably priced. So far, the main potential I have noticed is that for draining the battery: Plugging anything in to this port (e.g. the network adapter included with the computer) results in the system power drain increasing by about 3W. Lesson for now: Avoid using the port when running on battery.

The design of the hinge means that there are no sockets along the back. Instead, they are all on the sides where they are more accessible. The chassis is too thin to provide a built-in RJ45 network socket so Dell has provided a USB-C network adapter. The port layout is reasonable with all ports being on the back half of the chassis so any devices and cables won’t intrude on areas where a mouse may be used. I would have preferred a further USB 3.0 port instead of the battery gauge. One suggestion to Dell: Why not print some symbols onto the palm rest / keyboard surround adjacent to the various ports so that it is easier to plug things in without looking?

Dell Precision 5510 review unit speakers and microphone
Front side: Two loudspeakers under the front edge; twin microphones each side of the centre and a power status light at the center which glows white when the battery is charging. I would have expected it to work under conditions such as when the computer is closed but sleeping. Dell has taken a step backwards with the indicator lights.

Dell Precision 5510 laptop ports
Left side from back to front: AC adapter socket; USB 3.0; full-size HDMI (HDMI 1.4); Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C; audio socket.

Dell Precision 5510 review unit ports
Right side from front to back: SD card slot; USB 3.0 port; battery gauge; security lock slot.

Screen and Speakers

The Dell Precision 5510 laptop is available with either a QHD touchscreen or an FHD (1920 x 1080) resolution non-glare display. Research revealed that the QHD display resulted in significantly higher power consumption under light usage, I didn’t want a glossy touchscreen while I still have reservations about Windows’ display scaling. Consequently, I opted for the lower resolution display which Dell calls “Ultrasharp” and is in fact a Sharp SHP1453 LQ156M1 display panel. The panel has a similar brightness to the display used in the E5570 which is rated at 300 nits and is more than adequate for normal use. There is some visible backlight flicker at minimum and 10% brightness. I thought that the E5570’s display was very good but this Sharp display has better contrast and appears crisper (subjective comparison indicates less anti-glare coating than the E5570).

Dell Precision 5510 laptop screen

The color rendering of the Sharp display panel is slightly bluish but I have adjusted it using my Spyder 5 Express calibrator which revealed that the display covers 99% of sRGB / 79% of AdobeRGB, which is better than most notebook panels. The viewing angles are also very good.

Dell located two speakers under the front side of the chassis. The speaker positioning on the angled front edge benefits from the sound being reflected upwards when the computer is on a table top. However, there is an absence of any bass, probably because of the constraints imposed by the thin chassis. The volume is more than sufficient for a medium sized room with no serious distortion when the volume is increased.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Precision 5110 on left and Latitude E5570 on right highlights the differences in size and keyboard layout

Precision 5110 on left and Latitude E5570 on right highlights the differences in size and keyboard layout

Dell used the uncluttered approach for the 5510’s keyboard which has only 81 keys. It lacks the dedicated PgUp and PgDn keys above the left and right cursor key which Dell included in the Latitude business notebooks. The keyboard has less travel than the Latitude keyboard but this is easy to get used to.

The keys have backlit lettering improving legibility of the letters under all lighting conditions. The backlight has three brightness settings: Dim; bright and off, with Fn+F10 stepping through these settings. There is a non-adjustable time-out on the backlight of 10 seconds. Perhaps a future BIOS update will give users greater control over this as the option exists in the Latitude BIOS. The keyboard is is securely fixed from below in the palm rest / keyboard surround which means that the keyboard and has no over looseness or bounce but a disadvantage is that keyboard replacement requires complete dismantling of the computer.

The Precision 5510’s touchpad, at 105mm x 80mm, is enormous and large hands are needed to utilize the full size. The front part of the pad includes embedded buttons. The pad supports gestures but there is only a limited range of customization options.

Performance

My Dell Precision 5510 review unit was delivered with the following hardware (this was the configuration available on Dell UK Outlet which most closely matched my requirements and budget). There are numerous other configuration options.

  • Processor: 45W Intel Core i7-6820HQ (up to 3.6GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • Graphics: Intel HD 530 (integrated in CPU package) plus dedicated Nvidia Quadro M1000M GPU
  • Display: 15.6” inch Sharp anti-glare 1920 x 1080 FHD non-glare wide viewing angle
  • Memory: 2 x 8GB DDR4-2133 1.2V RAM
  • Storage: Toshiba 256GB THNSN5256GPU7 NVMe M.2 2280 SSD
  • Wireless: Intel 8260 802.11ac (dual band + Bluetooth 4.1)
  • Web camera (1280 x 720 resolution) below display and twin microphones (on chassis front)
  • 84Wh 6-cell battery
  • 130W PSU with 1m power cable
  • Windows 10 Pro 64-bit pre-installed (recovery media to be created by user)
  • Dimensions: 357 x 235 x 19mm (front) /21mm (back) (including rubber-edged ridges on base) or 14.06″ x 9.25″ x 0.75/0.83″
  • Notebook weight as received: 1.93kg / 4.25 lbs
  • Travel weight: 2.38kg / 5.25 lbs (with Dell 130W PSU and 1m mains cable)
  • 3 years next business day on-site warranty

Benchmarks

A range of benchmark tests have been run to enable comparison of performance with other notebooks. Not surprisingly, the results are good as would be expected for a mobile workstation.
CPU / GPU Performance

wPrime measures raw CPU performance. The processor comparison results are in seconds (lower scores mean better performance):
5510wprimechart

PCMark8 Home (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for general activities including web browsing and video streaming to typing documents and playing games (higher scores mean better performance:
5510pcmark8homechart

PCMark8 Work (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for work-related productivity tasks (higher scores mean better performance):
5510pcmark8workchart

3DMark 11 measures the overall gaming performance of the GPU (higher scores mean better performance):
55103dmark11chart

3DMark Fire Strike is a newer DirectX 11 benchmark that measures overall graphics card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
55103dmarkfirestrikechart

The test results for the 3D benchmarks shows that the Precision lags behind the XPS 15 9550 despite the two having nominally similar GPUs. I suspect that the Precision may be set up to run slower for better stability while it is possible that the certified graphics driver is not optimized as well as the more frequently updated driver for the consumer GPU. I have encountered no stability problems with this computer.

CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance tests:
CrystalDiskMark Toshiba 256GB NVMe

Dell installed a Toshiba 256GB THNSN5256GPU7 NVMe SSD in this notebook. This uses the M.2 2280 form factor and a 4-lane PCIe interface to achieve much faster maximum performance than the limit of the SATA interface. However, sustained intensive storage access can trigger thermal throttling. Dell provide a thermal pad on the SSD to pass some heat to the computer base to mitigate this problem.

Heat and Noise

15_5510 cooling systemThe Dell Precision 5510 laptop has a cooling system with heat pipes serving both the CPU and discrete GPU and cooled by two relatively small fans. The computer stays quiet under light usage although modest CPU activity will get the fans running at an almost inaudible 2500 rpm. This appears to be the result of a low trigger temperature rather than heat and the bottom of the computer stays cool. The maximum fan speed I have observed is 3700 rpm when the noise is noticeable. The CPU can reach about 80°C under sustained heavy load (wPrime running 8 threads) although the worst case is combined CPU and graphics operation. I do not expect to normally need to use the full power of this computer and obtrusive fan noise should be a rare event as most of my software is only single-threaded.

Battery Life

Dell offers 62Whr and 84Whr batteries for this notebook. The former can co-exist with a 2.5” storage device while the latter blocks the 2.5” bay. I opted for the higher capacity to improve the prospect of having a computer which could be used away from the power socket for a whole working day. So how does the battery perform in typical usage? I first tried a simple rundown test playing an mp4 video at half display brightness. The computer shut down after 8 hours 30 minutes which indicates an average power drain of about 9W. That is more than half an hour longer than the E5570 suggesting that either the 5510’s higher-rated CPU is more frugal under light usage or the display is more power efficient.

I then performed an everyday usage test which comprised working on this review, web browsing and emails at about 30% display brightness (quite usable due to the excellent screen quality) with some short periods of inactivity. As the test progressed I stopped trying to conserve power. However, the cumulative operating time was 11 hours giving an average power drain of 7W: My goal of all-day usage is achieved. How often I will need to do that remains to be seen, but it is of considerable comfort.

Dell ships the Precision 5510 with a 130W power supply which provides sufficient capacity for full CPU load, full GPU load and recharging the battery. Leave one of these out of the equation and 90W should be enough while 65W should be sufficient for light usage plus battery recharging. So I have tried using the lower rated PSUs (which required buying the DC plug adapter to convert from the standard Dell PSU plug to the thinner size used on this notebooks). I was pleased to discover that the computer didn’t throttle the performance when running off these PSUs, so there’s scope to reduce the travel weight. One benefit of using a lower rated PSU with a plug adapter is that it has an L-shaped plug which means that the power cable can be routed behind the computer and doesn’t get in the way of the adjacent ports. Advice for Dell: Straight DC plugs makes sense when the power socket is on the back but please provide L-shaped plugs when the power socket is on the side.

Conclusion

Dell Precision 5510 review unit

Dell Precision 5510 laptop

Finally, what are my conclusions about the Dell Precision 5510 laptop? My fingers quickly adapted to the keyboard and the 5510 proved to be a better traveling companion compared to the Latitude E5570 thanks to the smaller overall size and weight while not losing any display size. The travel functionality is further improved by the fact the high capacity battery provides at least 10 hours of light use.

Heat and fan noise is not a problem under light to moderate use. Thunderbolt 3 + USB-C provides good future-proofing if Dell manages to fix the current glitches. I’ve paid for features which I don’t think I’ll use (mainly the dedicated graphics) but that’s the penalty of getting something which meets my other requirements. I have the comfort that, by shopping at Dell Outlet, I paid about half of what it would cost to order as a new notebook.

Pros:

  • Small and lightweight for a 15.6-inch mobile workstation
  • Excellent non-glare non-touch display
  • Silent operation under light usage and reasonably quiet under load
  • Long battery life with the high capacity battery option
  • Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C port

Cons:

  • Premium pricing
  • Awkward to open
  • Lacks a full set of navigation keys



LEAVE A COMMENT

7 Comments

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  1. sooomitin

    15.6″ and travel laptop? Really? Unless you are a hulk, and/or prefer larger screens, and/or travel in cars only, 15.6″ shouldn’t even be the laptop screen size, IMHO. I got Dell E5470 as my business laptop (14″ and 3.88 lbs), but I wish it could be smaller (13″ or less) and lighter (< 3 lbs).

  2. balevb

    sooo, did you actually bother to read the specs before posting. The laptop is smaller than 14 inch laptop hence no arrow keys, virtually no bezel just like a mobile phone, supports 32GB RAM and 1TB ultra-fast M2 NVMe SSD.

  3. Eireman

    Thanks for an excellent article. One disappointment is the ‘web camera’. I don’t want less than a 15.6″ laptop as I want plenty of screen space to do development, and my wife runs many Microsoft Word files + browser apps + Windows Explorer at the same time. Thus I don’t want a sub 14″ system to do ‘real’ work. But my wife hates the excessive number of passwords you have to remember. That is why I am looking for a computer like this one, but with a genuine ‘Intel RealSense 3D’ camera that is Microsoft Windows 10 – Hello compliant. I like the biometric security features being used in Windows 10, but it’s very hard to find vendors who make a decent spec’d laptop, and includes biometric security features. Also the up and coming Kaby Lake processors will have native support for Thunderbolt ports which together with the up and coming Microsoft Windows 10 – Anniversary edition update should provide the balance I am looking for in a modern laptop that’s bigger than a phablet.

  4. sooomitin

    @balevb Yes, I read before posting (don’t you see I write citing specs, too?). It’s still heavy, IMHO. Moreover, in a business laptop, the portability is more important than the jaw-dropping performance related specs (32 GB RAM is of no use to most of us, the same goes for the 1 TB drive). No bezel in a laptop can be a problem rather than a solution (hold the display to see what I mean).

  5. balevb

    I own it. The laptop has the smallest possible footprint for 15.6 inch device, in the lightest possible frame at the moment.
    And you still insist on having an extra handle to hold the display….

  6. sooomitin

    @balevb everybody has his own need/opinion/choice. fair enough? be happy with it, but don’t insist that I should accept it. my need is different; and therefore, my choice is different (specially, given that my opinion is different, too).

  7. John Ratsey

    Yes, it is big compared to a 13″ machine (I still have my Samsung NP900X3B for when I want to travel very light) but the 5510 doesn’t take up much more space than a 14″ notebook while packing a lot more capability than smaller notebooks. It also gives me a lot more screen real estate which my aging eyes appreciate (it’s not so many months ago I thought I was very happy with the 14″ Dell E7450 but then my eyes started to complain). I’ve got a thin neoprene sleeve for when I want to put the 5510 into a small case which helps to minimise the bulk. Also, when travelling, a 65W PSU is enough if I don’t anticipate loading the CPU + GPU and recharging the battery concurrently.

    The workaround for the webcam location is to tilt the screen back.