With powerful processors, impressive cooling, good serviceability and excellent build quality, this 17” mobile workstation is hard to beat for taking CAD, viz and VR on the road, writes Greg Corke
Dell’s 17-inch Precision mobile workstation has come a long way since the early 2000s when Dell simply put workstation parts inside a budget consumer Inspiron chassis.
The latest model, the Precision 7720, is all about premium materials and build quality. With a machined magnesium alloy chassis, carbon fibre lid and soft touch palm rest, it is both exceptionally strong and stylish. Serviceability was all the rage a few years ago, but many vendors now prioritise slender form factors over the ease with which key components can be replaced.
At 28.5mm (front) and 34.49mm (rear), the Precision 7720 may be slightly thicker than the HP ZBook 17 and Lenovo ThinkPad P71, but all internal components have easy access. Notably, the battery and 2.5-inch HDD can be got at very quickly, thanks to a tool-free service panel. Then, if you want to access the memory or the two M.2 NVMe SSDs, simply remove two screws and slide off a second panel.
Weighing in at 3.42kg, this is not a light machine, but pretty average for a 17-inch mobile workstation. The 240 Watt AC adapter is slim, but adds an additional 1kg, when you include a UK plug.
Like most 17-inch mobile workstations, the Precision 7720 is all about performance. Our test machine came fully loaded with the kind of spec you’d expect to find in a mid-range desktop workstation. This includes a quad core Intel Xeon E3-1535M v6 CPU (3.10GHz to 4.20GHz Turbo) and Nvidia Quadro P5000 GPU (16GB GDDR5 memory). Both are top-end models, but there are plenty of other options should you wish to reduce the £5,129 + VAT price tag. The GPU, for example, goes all the way down to an AMD Radeon Pro WX 4130 if you simply want a large 17-inch screen for precise 3D CAD work.
■ Intel Xeon E3-1535M v6 (3.1GHz, 4.2GHz Turbo) (4 cores, 8 threads)
■ 64GB (4 x 16GB) DDR4 2,400MHz
■ Nvidia Quadro P5000 (16GB) (385.69 driver)
■ 512GB M.2 NVMe SSD Class 50
■ 17.3-inch UltraSharp PremierColor UHD IGZO (3,840 x 2,160) AntiGlare
■ 417 x 281 x 29-34mm 3.42kg
■ Windows 10 Pro for Workstation (up to 4 core
■ 3Yr ProSupport and Next Business Day on-site
CPU benchmarks (single threaded) Seconds (smaller is better)
■ SolidWorks 2015 IGES export (single threaded): 103
CPU benchmarks (single threaded) Seconds (smaller is better)
■ Luxion KeyShot 6.1 render test (multi threaded): 762
■ V-Ray render benchmark (CPU) (multi threaded): 167
GPU compute benchmark Seconds (smaller is better)
■ V-Ray render benchmark (GPU): 101
3D graphics benchmarks (3D CAD) Score (bigger is better)
■ SPECapc for SolidWorks 2015 (shaded + edges): 4.39 (test run at 4K)
■ SPECapc for SolidWorks 2015 (RealView + shadows): 7.87 (test run at 4K)
■ SPECapc for SolidWorks (RealView + shadows + AO):18.26 (test run at 4K)
■ SPECapc for PTC Creo 3.0 (shaded + edges): 8.81 (test run at 4K)
■ SPECapc for PTC Creo 3.0 (reflection): 13.3 (test run at 4K)
3D graphics benchmarks (design viz) Frames Per Second (FPS) (bigger is better)
■ LumenRT (hotel model) (FPS): 23 (test run at 4K)
■ LumenRT (roundabout model): 12 (test run at 4K)
■ Autodesk LIVE (Villa Enhanced model): 44 (test run at 4K)
■ Autodesk VRED Professional (AA off): 28 (test run at 4K)
■ Autodesk VRED Professional (AA medium): 16 (test run at 4K)
■ Autodesk VRED Professional (AA ultra high ):6 (test run at 4K)
3D graphics benchmarks (VR) Frames Per Second (FPS) (bigger is better)
■ VR Mark (Orange): 168.87 (VR resolution
■ VR Mark (Blue): 32.83 (VR resolution
■ VR Mark (Cyan): 98.03 (VR resolution)
Of course, the Precision 7720 is all about the high-end 100W Quadro P5000 GPU, which is powerful enough to run an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive VR headset. In the synthetic VRMark benchmark, performance was almost identical to the Quadro P4000-based desktop workstations in this special report. But it was notably faster than the PNY PrevailPro P4000, which has an 80W Max Q mobile design of the Quadro P4000.
We also tested its capabilities with an Oculus Rift. Initially, we had problems registering the headset over HDMi. However, after a little troubleshooting, we found the root of the problem was that the Oculus was only picking up Intel Integrated graphics, which is way too underpowered to drive a VR headset. Disabling switchable graphics in the BIOS fixed this.
Once up and running, we got a flicker-free experience in Revit Live and when using medium-sized models in Autodesk VRED Professional. With some datasets, we could turn on medium anti-aliasing to smooth jagged edges without any ill effects.
The 17.3” UltraSharp UHD IGZO (3,840 x 2,160) PremierColor display is a thing of beauty, delivering crisp CAD models, bright, accurate colours (with 100% Adobe colour gamut) and a wide viewing angle, which is great for presentations.
Having four times as many pixels to render as a FHD (1,920 x 1,080) display puts a big load on the GPU but we still managed to get decent, if not perfectly smooth, frame rates in all of our viz-focused benchmarks. 3D performance in CAD and BIM is a given for a GPU of this stature. However, in SolidWorks 2015, the benchmark figures were lower than expected. This did not impact our modelling experience, however. We expect this is a driver compatibility issue as the 2015 version of SolidWorks is not certified to run on the Precision 7720 (only the 2016 – 2018 SolidWorks releases).
The Precision 7720 also performed well in our single-threaded and multi-threaded CPU tests. This is partly due to the Intel Xeon E3-1535M v6 being a top-end CPU but, more importantly, because Dell’s excellent thermal management system allows it to run at high clock speeds without being throttled.
In our KeyShot and V-Ray benchmarks, for example, the CPU sustained 3.90GHz for the entire duration of the tests, only dropping to 3.70GHz after 15 mins. It was only when we got both CPU and GPU running flat out at the same time that speeds started to drop. And even after 30 mins, the CPU only went down to 3.5GHz, while GPU dropped about 100MHz to 1,550MHz. Most impressively, the fans did not run too loud during all of this testing.
Our test machine was maxed out with 64GB (4 x 16GB) 2,400MHz DDR4 Non-ECC SDRAM and a single 512GB M.2 PCIe SSD. Storage can be expanded with a second M.2 PCIe SSD or a 2.5-inch Hard Disk Drive (HDD) up to 2TB in capacity. While HDDs are significantly slower, they are perfectly fine for data and give you a much lower price/GB.
The 91Whr long lifecycle Ion Polymer battery lasted 116 mins in the demanding PCMark OpenCL media test, which pushes both CPU and GPU. This is pretty good considering the machine has a 17-inch 4K panel and power-hungry processors. Under more balanced workloads, it will last longer, plus with the easy-access battery, you can keep a spare in the bag.
The machine is well-equipped for VR with one HDMi and USB 3.0 port on the left-hand side and three more USB ports on the right. All four USB ports are USB 3.0 (up to 5Gbps) and not the faster USB 3.1 (up to 10Gbps). This means slower data transfer rates, but probably not as slow as things look on paper. Our tests on the Samsung SSD T5 show USB 3.0 to be only 7-19% slower than USB 3.1. The machine also has Thunderbolt 3 and Mini DisplayPort.
The back-lit keyboard is a joy to use –rock-solid with a numeric keypad. The multi-touch trackpad has just the right amount of friction but the two sets of mouse buttons (one above, one below) have a little too much travel for our liking. For data security, there’s a number of features built in, including SmartCard and fingerprint readers. There’s also an optional self-encrypting drive (SED).
The Dell Precision 7720 is a very impressive mobile workstation, combining excellent build quality and good serviceability with powerful processors that sustain performance under heavy load.
A 17-inch mobile workstation will never replace an ultra high-end desktop workstation, because it can’t compete on CPU cores or ultra high-end GPUs. However, if you’re looking for a great portable machine powerful enough to handle 3D CAD, real time viz and VR, it is very hard to beat.
Price: £5,129 + VAT
This article is part of an AEC Magazine workstation special report. To read articles and reviews in this report click on the links below.
Desktop Workstation Buyer’s Guide
Essential advice for those looking to buy a workstation for product development
Boxx Apexx S3
The overclocked six core ‘Coffee Lake Core i7 CPU makes this CAD workstation fly
Workstation Specialists WS-1160A
AMD CPU and AMD GPU combine for a powerful workstation for CAD,viz and VR
AMD Radeon Vega GPUs
What does AMD’s Vega GPU architecture bring to CAD, VR, viz and GPU rendering?
Armari Magnetar R80 (Pre Production Unit)
This dual Intel Xeon Gold workstation delivers the goods in single and multi-threaded workflows
Boston Venom EPYC (Pre Production Unit)
Dual 32 core AMD Epyc CPUs make this rendering beast fly, but it’s at the expense of single threaded performance
Mobile workstation buyer’s guide
A rundown of the things to look out when buying a professional 3D laptop
Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16
Wacom’s legendary pen technology is embedded in a pro 3D tablet
HP ZBook x2 G4 (Pre-Production Unit)
This detachable 2-in-1 combines Wacom pen technology with a Quadro GPU for 3D CAD
PNY PrevailPro P4000
This slimline 15-inch mobile workstation breaks all the rules by putting a powerful ‘VR Ready’ GPU at its heart
Choosing a workstation? It’s not that straightforward
How to future proof your workstation to support new and emerging product development workflows
Rendering beyond the CAD workstation
When rendering work is on the cards, what’s the best way for a firm to get its machines and its workflows up to speed?
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