Dell Precision M65 Review (pics, specs)

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Buy Direct From Manufacturer


by Kevin Giberson

Dell Precision M65 Review


The 15.4″ Dell Precision M65 under review is one of two workstation-class notebooks currently available from Dell’s business-oriented website, the other being the Precision M90. The main differences between the two models are portability and graphics performance, with the M65 holding a significant advantage in the former category and the M90 being far superior in the latter, due to its top-of-the-line NVIDIA Quadro GPU options. Both machines, however, are OpenGL compliant and presented by Dell as capable of handling demanding graphics work, such as CAD, 3D modeling and video editing. As of this writing, both offer the same CPU options, ranging from the Intel Yonah Core Duo T2300E right up to the newly released, and high-priced, Intel Merom Core 2 Duo T7600.


Dell Precision M65 Specs:

  • Processor: Intel Yonah Core Duo T2400 (1.83GHz/2MB L2 Cache)
  • OS: Microsoft Windows XP Professional
  • Hard Drive: 80 GB SATA @ 5400RPM
  • Screen: 15.4″ WSXGA Widescreen (1680×1050)
  • Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro FX 350M 512 MB TurboCache (256+256) OpenGL
  • RAM: 2 GB DDR2 SDRAM @667 MHz (2 x 1GB)
  • Optical Drive: 8x CD/DVD burner (DVD+/-RW) w/Double Layer Support
  • Battery: 6-cell lithium ion
  • Wireless: Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 802.11 b/g Mini Card (54 Mbps)
  • Weight: 6.2 lbs
  • Dimensions: 1.4″ (H) x 14.2 ” (W) x 10.3″ (D)
  • Ports/Slots: 1 IEEE 1394 (FireWire), 4 Universal Serial Bus (USB 2.0), VGA monitor out, RJ-45 Ethernet LAN, RJ-11 modem, 9-pin Serial, 1 Type II PC Card, ExpressCard 54mm, smart card, headphone/speaker jack, microphone connector, docking connector

Reasons for Buying

I bought the M65 from Dell Outlet in order to replace an e1705 purchased about four months ago. The consumer-class, multimedia-oriented e1705 had a 2.0 GHz Core Duo CPU, ATI x1400 GPU and 1440×900 resolution, and though it never gave me a single problem, I still found myself wanting something a little different. In the end, my main reasons for making the switch to the refurbished M65 were as follows: a resolution of 1680 x 1050, a ThinkPad-style pointing stick, smaller size and less weight, 2 GB RAM, a much better warranty, and finally, I must admit, a more appealing look. In addition to a slight CPU downgrade, from 2.0 to 1.83 GHz, I lost a DVI connection (something I had once considered important, but never actually used on the e1705), 20 GB of hard drive space and 2 USB ports, none of which should make much difference to me.

Selling the e1705 and buying the refurbished M65 meant spending an additional $150 or so, which seemed like a small price to pay to get the screen resolution I really wanted, plus double the RAM and a 3-year on-site warranty. To be true to a spirit of full disclosure here, I should also admit that a large factor in the decision to go with the M65 was my prior use of a ThinkPad T40, which I really loved. After lugging the e1705 around the house for a few months, looking at its silver-and-white finish and its 1440 x 900 LCD, and making do with no pointing stick, I wanted to return to the look and feel of the T40, without sacrificing the performance offered by the e1705, and without spending too much more. The refurbished Precision M65 seemed as good an option as any, so as soon as I saw the right configuration, I bought it.

First Impressions

My first reaction after unwrapping the M65 was that it should perfectly meet my computing needs and desires. Although a 6-pound, 15.4″ notebook is by no means small, the size seemed to offer just the right blend of form factor and function, and the look appealed to me: a brushed-silver lid highlighted by a darker silver border, with a touch of black trim at the base; and inside, mostly black, with a silver border around the black keyboard, and matching silver touchpad. I find the businesslike appearance of the M65 nearly as fetching as that of the aforementioned ThinkPad T-series notebook, though the M65 is a tad flashier.

As I looked everything over more carefully, however, I noticed that a small piece of plastic had been gouged out of the side of the chassis, next to the cable lock slot beneath the left LCD hinge, and the adjoining air vent was bent inward and missing a fin. It almost looked as if someone had tried to force out a cable lock with a screwdriver and thereby damaged the case. Since I had specifically purchased a Certified Refurbished notebook because of the statement on the Dell Outlet web page that “Certified refurbished systems do not feature any cosmetic blemishes,” I was rather disappointed, despite the otherwise good condition of the machine and the fact that it wouldn’t be too difficult for someone handling a lot of return merchandise to overlook this damage. In the end, I contacted Dell support and was subsequently sent a replacement, which I will touch on a little later. Most of this review, at least where general usage and benchmarks are concerned, is based on the original notebook, which performed flawlessly, chassis imperfections notwithstanding. (Pictures, however, are of the replacement notebook.)

Design and Build

The look and feel of the M65 are exceptional, just as I expected from the Precision line of notebooks. This is a well built and well designed machine that, as far as I’m concerned, presents no real weakness in either construction or aesthetics. The tasteful, somewhat muted design may not appeal to everyone, of course, but I’m very fond of it and couldn’t be happier with the notebook’s appearance, given the machine’s size and utility. Fit and finish are generally superior, as well: not a trace of rattling or wobbling; no wide, uneven gaps; a strong magnesium lid attached to the base by solid hinges; a screen latch that clicks nicely into place, with almost no play.


Front side of Dell Precision M65 (view large image)


Left side of Dell Precision M65 (view large image)


Right side of Dell Precision M65 (view large image)


Back side of Dell Precision M65 (view large image)

The Screen


Dell Precision M65 screen (view large image)

The WSXGA+ matte screen, with its 1680×1050 resolution, suits me perfectly, and there are no dead pixels and only very minor light leakage at the bottom, which I never actually notice while using the notebook. All in all, a very nice screen, preferable by a significant margin, I find, to the LCD monitor attached to my desktop computer at work. There is also a built-in ambient light sensor, and though I didn’t use it much, I found that with a little playing around, it could be quite useful for providing finer control of LCD brightness than that afforded by the seven brightness settings available with the function key. As long as there are no serious flaws and everything is sharp and easily viewable or readable, the main issue when it comes to using a notebook screen is simply the resolution, and I find 1680 x 1050 to be ideal with a 15.4″ screen, and so I’m happy with this notebook. When I originally purchased the now departed e1705, I worried that 1440 x 900 resolution might not suit me, and that turned out to be the case. A WUXGA option was, and is, available in the e1705, but I knew without a doubt that this would be too high a resolution for me. I think it’s hard to put too much emphasis on choosing the right resolution when purchasing a notebook. In any case, the issue of screen resolution has proven, over the past several months, to be very important to me, more important, I’d venture, than the choice between a glossy and a matte screen.


Dell Precision M65 playing widescreen DVD movie (view large image)

Graphics

The NVIDIA Quadro FX 350M graphics processor, which has 256 MB of dedicated RAM and can make use of an equal amount of system RAM, is well beyond my needs, but, for reasons I can’t fully explain, I would probably never buy a computer that did not have dedicated graphics memory, except maybe an ultraportable notebook. That said, the M65 is not designed to be a gaming machine, at least if 3DMark scores are any indication (as I believe they are), but the Quadro 350M should nonetheless be able to handle serious graphics work, though not with the same aplomb as its bigger and much more powerful siblings, the Quadro FX 1500M and 2500M GPUs, which are available in the 17″ Precision M90.

Sound and Video

I’ve always known I’m kind of an anti-audiophile, which means, among other things, that I generally like notebook speakers just fine, as long as the volume is adequate. Yeah, sure, external speakers or headphones offer some real improvement in sound quality, but a little bit of tinny sound never hurt anyone, and bass is just generally overrated. In short, I had no trouble listening to, and enjoying, music and video on the M65, which has good volume and decent clarity.

Processor and Performance

I’ve now used the T2300, T2400 and T2500 Yonah Core Duo processors, and not one of them has been a disappointment. I’m just astounded by the lack of drag when running multiple CPU-intensive applications. If you’re in the habit of calculating pi out to 32 million digits while running a virus scan, watching a DVD and doing a little word processing, the Yonah Core Duo is a fine choice of CPU. And, for all practical purposes, the T2400, running at 1.83 GHz, will give you the same stellar effort provided by the 2.0 GHz T2500. There’s plenty of buzz right now surrounding the new 64-bit Merom Core 2 Duo, and the hype does seem somewhat justified, but I’m just so enamored of the regular old T2400 Core Duo in this M65, I can’t see myself moving to Merom for a while, despite the 64-bit capability and even greater performance.

Benchmarks


Settings for Dell Precision M65 graphics card (view large image)

Super Pi Comparison Results (calculating Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy)

Notebook

Time

Dell Precision M65 (1.83 GHz Intel T2400)

1m 21s

Asus W3H760DD (2.0 GHz Pentium M)

1m 33s

Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.0GHz Core Duo)

1m 16s

Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)

1m 18s

Toshiba Satellite M100 (2.00GHz Core Duo)

1m 18s

Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo)

1m 29s

Dell XPS M140 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)

1m 41s

Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)

1m 53s

IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)

1m 45s

 

The 3DMark05 scores are plenty for me, but would probably disappoint serious gamers:

Notebook  3DMark 05 Results

Dell Precision M65 (1.83 GHz Intel T2400, NVIDIA Quadro 350M)

 1,987 3D Marks
Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB)  2866 3D Marks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60 Nvidia GeForce Go7800 GTX)  7,078 3DMarks
ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz, ATI X300 64MB graphics)  727 3DMarks
 Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI Radeon Mobility x700 128 MB)  2,530 3D Marks
 Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)  2,273 3DMarks
 HP dv4000 (1.86GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)  2,536 3D Marks
 Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)  4,157 3DMarks

 

Ditto the somewhat low 3DMark06 result:

Notebook  3DMark 06 Results

Dell Precision M65 (1.83 GHz Intel T2400, NVIDIA Quadro 350M)

 691 3D Marks
Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB  1,528 3D Marks
Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)  794 3DMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60 Nvidia GeForce Go7800GTX)  4,085 3DMarks
 Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB)  1,819 3D Marks

 

PCMark05 Comparison Results

Notebook PCMark05 Score

Dell Precision M65 (1.83 GHz Intel T2400, NVIDIA Quadro 350M)

3,482 PCMarks
Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo) 3,487 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60) 5,597 PCMarks
Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron e1405 (1.66 GHz Intel T2300) 2,879 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400) 3,646 PCMarks
Toshiba Satellite M70 (Pentium M 1.86GHz) 1,877 PCMarks

HD Tune hard drive performance results:


(view large image)

Keyboard and Touchpad


(view large image)

I’m happy with all the input devices, and especially the little blue eraser-head pointing stick, which I missed while using the e1705, despite ever-increasing comfort with a standard touchpad. The M65′s keyboard is excellent, equal, as far as I’m concerned, to that of the T40, with good travel and responsiveness, and just a pleasant hint of noise.

Battery Life

The 6-cell battery was spent and the M65 automatically went into hibernation at the 2:40 mark. I didn’t expect much more than two hours, so the battery life was better than expected, especially given my refusal to make any power-saving sacrifices. I suppose a 9-cell would last close to 4 hours, thought I don’t anticipate a need for that.

Heat and Noise

I regularly noticed the fan quietly humming away, but the noise was never a bother, though as I’ve said before, a loud fan is one of my pet peeves. Aside from the bottom of the unit, which is fairly warm on bare skin, the M65 is nice and cool.

Wireless

The Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 has worked just fine. Zero dropped connections as of this writing, using the Intel management utility, which was active upon first boot.

Software

Although I doubt that I’d ever make a decision to buy or not buy a notebook computer based on the amount of junk software I had to remove after getting it home, the M65 was delightfully free of bloat, to the point that Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is actually very useful, was not even installed. It was refreshing to forge right ahead with software installation rather than first having to remove a lot of garbage. There were a couple of pre-installed multimedia programs, but since I kind of wanted them anyway, just as I wanted the Adobe Reader, I neither removed them nor classified them as junk.

Service and Support

As indicated above, I have been in touch with Dell customer support regarding the damage to the case of the first M65 I received. All of my contact has had to do with this issue, rather than technical support per se, so my experience is somewhat limited. But I must say, everyone I’ve talked to has been helpful, well spoken, polite and unfailingly assiduous in their work. The decision was made almost immediately to replace the M65, but I have contacted Dell multiple times to ask questions regarding return shipping, billing and order status, and my experience with people from different Dell support locations (mainly India and the U.S., I’m guessing) has been marked by clarity and competence. At one point there was a little confusion regarding return shipping of the original order, but that was fairly minor and easily sorted out. I really can’t say enough about the particular people who helped me.

The replacement M65, received very recently, is essentially flawless. It might also be worth adding that I sent photos of the damage right away, as a follow-up to an initial email, and tried to be careful to reply only to those emails that actually invited replies.

Conclusion

The Precision M65 offers an excellent combination of workstation performance (including OpenGL compliance), solid build and businesslike appearance, in a 15.4″ notebook package that doesn’t preclude limited portability. Two of the M65′s main competitors in this particular market segment are the Lenovo ThinkPad, which can be configured with the ATI FireGL V5200 GPU, and the HP Compaq nw8440, also containing the ATI V5200. While all of these machines are somewhat expensive to configure and purchase new, at least when compared to typical consumer models offering similar day-to-day performance, the M65 can be nicely decked out for around $2000, which is highly competitive and does not seem exorbitant given the quality of the machine and the inclusion of an on-site 3-year warranty. As for me, I found the right configuration for my needs in a refurbished model, thereby reducing my cost by a considerable margin, and when it turned out that there was damage to the case of the refurbished notebook, Dell took care of the situation beyond what I had expected or hoped for. Though I don’t need OpenGL graphics, and any number of other business-class machines would probably have been fine, everything about this particular notebook suits me and the resolution alone has made me forget about the little bit of time, effort and money involved in replacing the e1705 and getting everything else sorted out. In addition to being a replacement for the e1705, this notebook is also a fine successor to the T40, and that’s just what I was looking for.


Pros:

  • Excellent performance
  • Very sturdy
  • Tasteful no-nonsense design
  • Reasonably cool and quiet
  • Great keyboard and built-in pointing stick
  • Nice screen
  • OpenGL graphics
  • 3-year on-site warranty

Cons:

  • Limited portability, same as most 15.4″ notebooks
  • Modest GPU compared to Precision M90

 

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