- Durable chassis
- Powerful configuration options
- Gorgeous screen
- Flexible keyboard
- Flexible screen lid
- Hot spot on keyboard
A powerful 15-inch mobile workstation with lots of options.
The Dell Precision M4500 is the latest 15-inch mobile workstation featuring powerful Intel processors up to the Intel Core i7 Extreme Edition and Nvidia Quadro FX 1800M discrete graphics for video editing, animation, and CAD manipulation. The Precision M4500 boasts an optional 64GB SSD MiniCard for fast start up and your choice of up to a 256GB SSD or a 500GB HDD for file storage. Is this the most powerful workhorse on the market? Take a look and see if it’s time for an upgrade at your office.
Our review unit of the Dell Precision M4500 features the following specifications:
- Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit) with option for Windows XP Professional downgrade
- Intel Core i7 620M @ 2.67GHz
- 4GB DDR3 (1333MHz)
- Nvidia Quadro FX 1800M graphics (1GB dedicated memory)
- 15.6″ FHD LED Back-Lit Display (1920×1080 resolution, matte screen)
- 64GB Solid State Drive MiniCard (operation system)
- 500GB (7200RPM) HDD (storage)
- Blu-ray disc drive (DVD recordable)
- Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6200 802.11a/b/g/n Half Mini Card
- 802.11 Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), 802.11i (WPA2), Virtual Private Networks (VPN) 802.1x with EAP modes and compatible with CCX 4.0
- Dell Wireless 375 Bluetooth Module
- Integrated webcam and microphone
- Backlit keyboard
- Dell Precision ON Reader
- FIPS Compliant Fingerprint Reader and Contactless Smartcard Reader
- Weight: 6.0 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
- Dimensions: 14.72 x 1.15-1.42 x 9.96 inches (W x H x D)
130 Watt AC adapter
- 9-cell (90Wh) extended life battery
- 3-year basic limited warranty and 3-year next business day on-site service
- MSRP: $3,664.00 ($3,280.00 with instant savings)
Build and Design
The Dell Precision line of mobile workstation notebooks has long been a staple of corporate IT where users need the fastest multi-core processors and the most powerful discrete graphics for 3D animation, video editing, and CAD applications. Whether you’re a Hollywood animator working on next year’s blockbuster, or an engineer developing the next generation of communications satellites, you need extreme computing power with workstation-class certifications so you know it will work with the software you use every day.
The Dell Precision M4500 packs all that hardware into a durable shell with an old-fashioned industrial design. The magnesium alloy chassis is boxy and bulky yet very strong. The screen lid features a brushed aluminum appearance, while the interior has a simple black design. The massive palm rests show very little flex even under severe pressure and provide a comfortable platform for typing on the full-size, backlit keyboard.
Dell engineers had to strike a difficult balance between durability and weight with the M4500. Since the thick magnesium alloy chassis is loaded with a ton of hardware, the screen lid needed to be made of much thinner alloy and plastic in order to keep the weight down to a reasonable level. Weighing in at almost seven pounds as configured with the extended battery, the M4500 is almost painful to pickup by the palm rest with a single hand. Unfortunately, the thinner materials used in the screen create a great deal of flex when pressure is applied to the back of the screen lid. While we’re on the topic of the screen and weight, it’s worth mentioning that the screen hinges don’t adequately support the weight of the screen, so if you lightly shake the notebook the screen will move back and forth. On the brighter side, the screen features a dual latch mechanism to hold the lid closed during transport.
For those who require higher levels of security on mobile workstations, the M4500 comes with an optional FIPS Compliant Fingerprint Reader and Contactless Smartcard Reader. The FIPS (US Federal Information Processing Standard) reader captures an image of the complete fingerprint with several times the number of points of comparison. In addition, these security readers can be tied to pre-boot, multi-factor user authentication to disable the SSD and HDD with hardware-based drive encryption to protect your data.
One of the must-have features for business notebooks is extremely easy access to internal components. IT managers have to be able to open up a notebook to customize systems as needed for specific applications or make repairs. Dell designed the Precision M4500 with a single massive bottom panel that provides quick access to the RAM, hard drive, SSD MiniCard, and wireless cards inside the notebook. You’ll have to remove five screws in order to open the bottom of the notebook (that’s one more screw than similar HP mobile workstations) and that’s all that you need to do in order to start messing with the internal components.
Screen and Speakers
Dell offers the Precision M4500 with several different 15-inch screen options with 1366×768, 1600×900, and 1920×1080 resolutions. Our review unit came equipped with the 15.6″ FHD LED Back-Lit Display (1920×1080 resolution, matte screen). This 1080p high-definition display is perfectly usable both indoors and outdoors and features excellent color with rich contrast. The LED-backlit panel offers excellent brightness and we typically left the brightness set to between 50% and 70% when using the notebook indoors. The M4500 features an ambient light sensor to automatically adjust the screen brightness based on the available light, but we disabled this feature during our lab tests so that the screen brightness would remain constant.
Horizontal viewing angles are very good and you only start to notice some obvious color shift after you get more than 75 degrees off center. Vertical viewing angles are average as the screen begins to wash out from above and colors begin to invert from below after about 45 degrees in either direction.
The one-inch stereo speakers used in the Precision M4500 provide excellent volume range with fantastic highs and midtones with a modest amount of bass. Thankfully, these speakers are located on either side of the keyboard and are positioned to direct sound up and toward the user. I can’t tell you how much nicer it is to have speakers in this position rather than lap-firing speakers found on most smaller notebooks. Lap-firing speakers direct sound down at your lap or your desk and result in muffled audio. You can easily fill an office with music or the audio track from a video you’ve been editing thanks to the speakers on the M4500.
The single headphone jack on the M4500 works well with the two different brands of earphones I used during the test. No static or other noise was noticed through the jack besides imperfections in the audio source itself.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The full-size keyboard on the M4500 features perfectly shaped keys with just the right depth to each press, perfect key spacing, and soft feedback without the loud click-clack sounds you’ll often hear when typing on business-oriented notebooks.
The one negative aspect to using this keyboard was the surprising amount of flex or “bounce” while typing. I could feel a significant degree of flex around the “F”, “C” and “V” keys as well as the “L”, “;”, “‘” and “.” keys on the M4500 even when using modest typing pressure.
That said, keyboard flex may vary based on typing pressure and the specific keyboard you select. Our review unit came with the LED-backlit keyboard, which provides excellent backlighting so that you can type in a dark room or airplane cabin.
The ALPS touchpad on the M4500 uses proprietary Dell touchpad drivers and is reasonably responsive with just a bit of lag during rapid movement. The matte touchpad texture is okay, but division between the touchpad and the three touchpad buttons sometimes results in pressing the wrong touchpad button by accident. The touchpad buttons are about the right size with shallow feedback and soft clicks when pressed.
Dell also includes a textured trackpoint/touchpoint with three additional dedicated buttons. The trackpoint movement isn’t nearly as fluid as what we’ve seen on Lenovo ThinkPads and HP EliteBooks, but it’s there if you hate using a regular touchpad.
Ports and Features
The M4500 features an impressive number of ports and external features crammed into a 15-inch notebook. You get both a PC Card and an Express Card slot for expansion and external peripherals, three dedicated USB 2.0 ports, one combo USB/eSATA port for connecting external hard drives, DisplayPort, FireWire, and even an additional Smartcard slot. Let’s take a brief tour …