Dell’s new lightweight laptop may be a dead ringer for an Apple MacBook Pro, but it’s an entirely different beast — a dedicated 3D CAD/BIM mobile workstation, certified for a wide range of applications including Revit.
As far as mobile workstations go, the slimline Precision M3800 certainly stands out from the crowd. Starting at 1.88kg and boasting an incredible 15.6-inch QHD+ display no other mid-sized CAD laptop can compete on portability. Its aluminium frame, lightweight carbon fibre base, island style keyboard and spacious touchpad all contribute to what is a refined, well built machine.
There is a downside to the elegant design. The Intel Core i7-4702HQ CPU and Nvidia Quadro K1100M (2GB) GPU, standard on all models, are a few notches below what you’d find on a typical 15-inch mobile workstation. There’s also a maximum of 16GB RAM so CAD/BIM models can’t get too hefty.
In our CPU-intensive tests we found the M3800 to be around 20-25% slower than a comparative Intel Core i7-4800MQ-based machine. Graphics also takes a hit, partly due to the processing power of the entry-level to mid-range Nvidia GPU, but also because of the stunning QHD+ (3,200 x 1,800) resolution screen.
With three times as many pixels to push around as FHD (1,920 x 1,080), most users will probably experience some slow down in 3D performance. This will vary according to application, datasets and how you view your models (e.g. plain shaded with edges or realistic materials), but the Quadro K1100M should still be perfectly adequate for small to medium CAD / BIM models.
The 15.6-inch QHD+ display may put an additional load on the GPU, but the image quality is exceptional. CAD models are incredibly crisp with fine lines and vibrant colours. The glossy Gorilla glass display is 5-finger multi-touch enabled, a nice feature that works best with Windows 8.1.
Our test machine came with a 256GB mSATA SSD for operating system and apps and a 512GB SSHD for data, but there are plenty of other options. The machine boots in a mere 10 seconds, but this is probably mostly down to efficiencies in Windows 8.1.
There are some downsides: there’s no DVD drive, numeric keypad or RJ45 Ethernet port — though a USB to Ethernet cable is included. And because the M3800 is based on a consumer chassis (Dell XPS 15) it misses out on business features such as a fingerprint reader and docking port (though a Dell D3000 USB 3.0 Docking Station is supported). The warranty is also consumer focused: 1-year compared to the three offered on other Precisions, though upgrades are available.
Under heavy loading fans are also more noticeable than they are standard 15-inch mobile workstations. Some may find the noise annoying but the processors did appear to keep running at full speed even under long term loading.
These compromises may be deal-breakers for some, but for a machine that offers such impressive portability in a stylish minimal package, the Dell Precision M3800 is simply in a class of its own.