Dell Precision M3800: Ultra-High Resolution Touch Laptop that’s also a Workstation

Dell Precision M3800: Ultra-High Resolution Touch Laptop that’s also a Workstation

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Imagine a laptop that’s thin and light that also has a beautiful 15” ultra-high resolution 10 point multi-touch screen. Now imagine it’s also equipped with high-performance workstation-class internal hardware. Sound too good to be true? This isn’t a wish list, I’m describing the new Dell M3800 workstation laptop.

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The new Dell M3800 mobile workstation is thin, light, beautiful, and powerful (click/tap to enlarge)

This story started for me when I was invited to help Dell announce the new Precision M3800 Mobile Workstation. I can recall thinking to myself: “wow, that sounds amazing, but I wonder how good the screen is?”. If the screen looked as good as I had hoped, this would be a great mobile hardware platform for the creative professional or enthusiast. Then came word from one of my co-workers that we actually had one of the M3800 units at Microsoft in a secret testing lab. I had to go over as soon as I found out about it to take a look at the screen. When I opened the lid and saw the Windows 8.1 Start Screen, I uttered out loud: “wow, that looks awesome!”. With an ultra-high resolution screen like this you have to get real close to appreciate just how crisp text, images, and graphics look. You have to see it in person to appreciate it. After seeing the M3800 briefly I decided I needed to get my hands on one!

Clean Design
The screen may be the first thing I noticed about the M3800, but when I started to use the M3800, there was another thing I began to appreciate: the design. Simplistic clean lines, high quality materials, and a thin profile work together to form a laptop that challenges the traditional concept of a mobile workstation. I’d love to show you the M3800 in person, but since I can’t do that I’ll instead use pictures I took to give you a “virtual tour”.

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The M3800 features a 10 point multi-touch screen with 3200x1800 resolution – this screen will blow you away (click/tap to enlarge)

When you open the M3800’s lid, you see something that I can appreciate: a clean and symmetrical layout. There’s plenty of room for your hands to rest when typing and using the trackpad and there’s only one button on the top surface surrounding the keyboard: the power button. Next let’s take a look at the side profile and ports!

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From left: power jack, HDMI out (full size), DisplayPort out (mini), USB 3.0 ports (2), headphone and microphone jack, battery life indicator (click/tap to enlarge)

The base is thin, and the screen is thin. The M3800 is a compact package that feels good in your hands. It’s got a defined shape with edges, but no sharp ones. The ports are arranged in a logical manner and are biased towards the back (hinge) so that you can reach them better when the M3800 is in your lap.

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From left: 3-in-1 media card reader, USB 2.0 port (1), USB 3.0 port (1), security port (click/tap to enlarge)

With a built-in multi-card reader I can read media from my digital sound recorder, HD Camcorder, and DSLR camera without the need for any cables or dedicated readers- nice! With no connectors/jacks on the back or front of this laptop you also don’t have to worry about clearance when working in cramped environments like an airplane seat. It’s these kinds of thoughtful design details that I appreciate when working with a laptop on the road, at home, and at work.

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The backlit keyboard features low-profile keys with great tactile feedback and actuation (click/tap to enlarge)

Now that we’ve taken a “virtual look” at the M3800 from a few different vantage points, let’s look under the hood and see how the M3800 performs!

Smoking-Fast Dual Storage
One of the most important aspects of any performance PC is the storage hardware. If you want Windows to load fast and apps to launch quickly you need fast storage. Working with video editing and photo editing apps can also demand high-performance multi-drive storage solutions. Since the M3800 is available with dual large SSD drives, it provides an ideal mobile storage setup for performance minded enthusiasts or professionals. The M3800 I used was equipped with dual internal 512 GB SSDs which offered great storage performance for intense video and photo editing. Here’s the view from Windows Explorer:

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Dual internal high-capacity SSDs are amazing for mobile workstation scenarios

Mobile storage technology has come a long way in just the last couple of years! With 1TB internal storage I can tackle large projects with large files without the need for an external hard drive.

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File IO between the internal SSD drives is amazingly fast

Having enough space is one aspect of the storage equation. The ability to move large amounts of data quickly is another critical consideration. With my M3800 I was able to move 1GB between the internal drives in just over 2 seconds, that’s fast!

Efficient Graphics Horsepower
Graphics hardware is a critical aspect of any workstation PC. When selecting a mobile workstation, I like to find a balance between all-out graphics horsepower for heavy-lifting and power efficiency for optimal battery life. The M3800 was designed with these scenarios and tradeoffs in mind. The M3800 has two GPUs, each with complementary strengths. The on-board Intel 4600 graphics provides plenty of graphics capabilities for most common tasks. Here’s the specs as shown in GPU-Z:

GPU-Z-Intel-4600

When it’s time to get down to business, the NVIDIA Quadro K1100M discrete GPU kicks in so that you can work with CAD, edit photos, and edit video with the power of professional graphics.

GPU-Z-NVIDIA-Quadro

The M3800 will automatically switch between GPUs depending on what apps are running. This optimized graphics mode switching is possible because of NVIDIA Optimus technology. The NVIDIA graphics driver used by the M3800 is aware of what apps are running and the corresponding GPU requirements at any given point in time. When more graphics capabilities are needed, the NVIDIA Quadro K1100M GPU is powered up. When graphics demands are lower, the K1100M is powered down leaving only the Intel 4600 GPU active. With this Optimus setup you don’t have to think about what apps are running or flip mechanical switches, everything happens automatically. I used the M3800 with both Adobe Photoshop CC and Adobe Premiere Pro CC and found the performance to be great. In both apps, the Mercury acceleration worked out of the box with no configuration needed.

The M3800 is a great professional-grade workstation PC for those that need to work with accelerated apps on the go. Dell has definitely found a great balance between mobility and power with the M3800!

Specs
Here’s the specs for the M3800 used for this article: (full specs available at Dell M3800 product page)

  • Processor: Intel 4th generation Core i7 4702HQ (Haswell)
  • Graphics: Intel 4600 (onboard), NVIDIA Quadro K1100M
  • RAM: 16GB 1600 MHz
  • Boot drive: 512 GB SSD mini-card
  • 2nd drive: 512 GB SSD

Find me on twitter! @GavinGear

12 Comments
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  • fed
    0 Posts

    @: fwiler

    I agree it isn't Dell's fault, but I think there should be written somewhere on their advertising/web page/product features list that certain software may not run/display correctly at the highest settings, just to trigger the interest in a detailed research on the matter. I've never owned before a HD display machine, how could I knew there was going to be this kind of problem?

    ANYWAY, there is a solution while waiting for some software to be updated for high res display...if it will ever happen...

    the most up to date drivers for both Intel and Nvidia cards seem to work fine. The files should be downloaded from Dell download center (Nvidia drivers from Nvidia were corrupted).

    By setting the resolution at 3200x1800 Windows will look as it should while all other software can be seen normally by changing the display settings (Control Panel\Appearance and Personalization\Display) to LARGER.

    Before the drivers update this setting did not change the programs appearance.

    Programs like Adobe Photoshop/Illustrator or Autodesk 3dsMax won't look ultra sharp (antialiasing will not be great too), but at least the UI will be visible and usable.

    Now that I can press the buttons I'm looking for I can say the machine is fast as hell and so far reliable (finger crossed).

    The screen IS glossy. Side visibility isn't great. I suggest to switch the "splendid" colour option to "generic" to get a more realistic colour rendition on screen. This can be done from the Mobility Center control panel.

    I hope this helps anyone else who went into panic mode after running Adobe programs the first time...

  • fwiler
    0 Posts

    @: fed

    Yes you should have returned it, but instead bought the 1920x1080 version. You should have done your research.  It's not Dell's fault that software manufacturers have not updated their software to scale with the higher resolutions coming out now.  There's also the option of reducing the resolution, which is a perfect solution until the software gets updated. Many people here do that on their Macbook Pro's because of the same issues.

  • fed,

    Are you able to run lower resolution in order to see the UI icons?  Hopefully with all the super high resolution displays on market this problem might go eventually go away.

  • My biggest concern is the glossy screen. Can anyone tell me how bad the reflections are on either of the screen options?

  • fed
    0 Posts

    Dear all, I've just received this laptop at home. It is beautifully built and very powerful, but it has a major problem.

    The machine is sold as a workstation for professionals (design professionals too) and Dell states on its website that it is certified to work with software made by the likes of Autodesk and Adobe. I work with Adobe CS and Autodesk products like 3ds Max.

    The native resolution of the screen is so high that it is IMPOSSIBLE to see the UI of all applications from Adobe or Autodesk, but I believe from other software houses too. That is because the applications aren't programmed to scale for screen of such high definition. This makes the machine unusable. UI icons are 3mm wide and text so tiny you just see a black line. I wish I could post a photo of the laptop with the new Photoshop CC open. You'll have a good lough. It is a shame because Photoshop is perfectly usable and visible on a MacPro retina display! But not on a high def screen on a machine running Windows 8.1. (Try parallel desktop on a Mac and you have the same issue).

    Funny thing is that Dell states the product is certified by Adobe and Autodesk. Have they even tried the machine?

    Major usability issue = product return.

    If you don't use design/engeneering applications the standard Office apps work fine, but then, why would you need all that power and that graphic card?

    big disappointment. High def disappointment. QHDisappointment!

  • scottch
    0 Posts

    Dell offers the following options:

    Display: 15.6" UltraSharp™ FHD Touch(1920x1080) Wide View LED-backlit with Premium Panel Guarantee

    Storage: 500GB 2.5” Solid State Hybrid Drive

    more info - www.dell.com/.../fs

    Which brings the price pretty close to what CaptainStack is looking for !

  • RyanH
    0 Posts

    I own a company that specializes in *fast* turnaround of video content from events (we travel a *lot*) so we need fast/powerful computers that travel well (thin, resilient, etc) and this has been the best computer we've worked with so far all-in-all.  Recognon mentioned the aspect ratio (which is nice for us since we work with hd video but I understand its not for everyone); I'll add that the resolution is so high that I usually have multiple apps open (like I do on my larger desktop monitors) and sized to whatever aspect ratio feels right, so the aspect ratio of the monitor itself is moot most of the time.  I understand the concerns about price but I think that's why these Precision computers have largely been marketed to businesses/industries that find more value in what they get out of a truly top of the line workhorse like this than what they're paying as a premium to get it.  Our configuration isn't cheap but it's been a great value considering what we put it through in the field.  I like that it feels like we (the industry) are finally getting to a point where the tradeoffs (battery life, thinness, power, resolution, weight, etc) aren't huge; it wasn't all that long ago I was hauling around a giant heavy Alienware because it was the most powerful computer I had and now I can probably fit three M3800's in the same space that thing took up.  :)  

  • I really can't understand the furor.

    First off, the most giant flaw, the screen, high-resolution though it may be, retains the hideous 16:9 aspect ratio. I'm still using my now 8-year-old machine becaus. To see why, simply Google "Golden Ratio," 16:10, or _nothing_. Not to care about myself, or all the other people holding on to machines where professional work is the primary function rather than watching movies. Forget me, forget all the other people who don't want to squint while working, what is truly remarkable is how Linus Torvald's post making the same point about 16:10, slipped through computer journalists' hands last summer.  

    The second problem is the keyboard. I'd go after the 16:10 Apple if, like this Dell, they hadn't shrunk the keys well within the chassis boundaries.

    Sorry, my hands are too big and my eyes are too round. Together, these simple ergonomic flaws outweigh anything beneath the hood. As you say, this machine "blows me away," except in the other direction.

  • <a>Agreed</a>

  • Agreed @CaptainStack. I definitely would've picked up one for Christmas had it been around $1000

  • Thomas B
    16 Posts

    I wonder how much NVIDIA Quadro K1100M CAD horsepower it took to re-badge this XPS 15 into this "Precision"

  • I loooooooooove this machine but I'd think they could knock ~$500 off with some very modest compromises. It could even just be a cheaper version.

    1. A 500GB - 1TB hybrid disk drive with a decently big SSD cache (at least a few gigs) would offer nearly equivalent performance at 1/10th the price of the daul 256GB SSDs.

    2. A 1080p screen would look great, cost a few hundred less, and would offer better performance and battery life. If they had a 13" screen option it would still be nearly "retina class."

    If those were the only compromises and they could get that entry price to around $1000 it would fly off shelves. As of right now, it will be a bit niche, and while I'll try and get my hands on one, it won't be easy.