Dell Precision M3800 review
As ever, our only qualms concern the screen’s staggeringly high resolution; something we’ve moaned about previously in our reviews of laptops equipped with high-DPI displays. While Windows’ scaling settings render many applications at a sensible size, many others end up with text, icons and menus so tiny as to be borderline unusable – before taking the plunge, it’s worth doing some research into whether or not the applications you use properly support high-DPI displays.
Look around the Dell’s slender edges, and there’s a reasonable amount of connectivity on show. There’s a full-sized SD card reader, one USB 2 port, three USB 3 ports, HDMI and a mini-DisplayPort output. The presence of Bluetooth 4 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi is reassuring, too. The only major disappointments are the lack of an Ethernet socket and, in particular, Thunderbolt, which would have been a perfect addition to a slim laptop with limited internal expandability.
The M3800’s slim chassis has other downsides. Upgradability suffers most acutely, and while it is possible to unscrew the ten Torx screws on the underside and access some parts – the mSATA SSD, empty 2.5in HDD bay and two RAM slots – it isn’t as easy to swap out parts as it is with Dell’s larger Precision mobile workstations, and the battery is more fiddly to replace. Cooling is also something of an issue. Although we didn’t notice any throttling or slowdowns while benchmarking, we couldn’t help but hear the fan noise. Start pushing the Dell’s CPU or GPU, and its low-profile fans spin up with an intrusive whirr.
Some users will also miss the keyboard and touchpoint from chunkier Precision models – we definitely did. There’s little wrong with the M3800’s backlit Scrabble-tile keyboard. It’s a pleasure to type on. However, it doesn’t have the desktop-like key travel of the other Precisions we’ve tested, and there’s no numeric keypad. The loss of the touchpoint is another minor niggle, but it’s the M3800’s buttonless touchpad that’s least endearing. We had to spend some time getting the sensitivity just right, and for a professional machine the integrated buttons don’t work reliably enough. Discrete, physical buttons would have been a much better bet.
Dell has done well to pack usable amounts of workstation power into such an attractive lightweight package and, while we’re still not sure about the benefits of high-DPI displays, the quality on offer is superb. Our biggest worry, however, concerns future-proofing: the slim chassis compromises on easy upgradability, and the lack of Thunderbolt limits external expansion. If you can live with those compromises, you’re unlikely to be disappointed; the Precision M3800 is as stylish and speedy as Windows mobile workstations come. However, there’s definitely room for improvement.
|Dimensions||372 x 254 x 21mm (WDH)|
Processor and memory
|Processor||Intel Core i7-4702HQ|
|SODIMM sockets free||0|
|SODIMM sockets total||2|
Screen and video
|Resolution screen horizontal||3,200|
|Resolution screen vertical||1,800|
|Resolution||3200 x 1800|
|Internal disk interface||mSATA|
|Hard disk||Lite-On LMT-256M6M|
|Replacement battery price inc VAT||£0|
|Wired adapter speed||N/A|
|802.11 draft-n support||yes|
|Integrated 3G adapter||no|
|USB ports (downstream)||1|
|3.5mm audio jacks||1|
|SD card reader||yes|
|Memory Stick reader||yes|
|MMC (multimedia card) reader||yes|
|Pointing device type||Touchpad/touchscreen|
|Camera megapixel rating||1.2mp|
Battery and performance tests
|Battery life, light use||5hr 42min|
|Overall Real World Benchmark score||0.93|
Operating system and software
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit|
|OS family||Windows 8|
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