This review will be from the perspective of someone who uses this to create graphics, e.g. 3D work, graphic design, photo and video editing. The software I use for this review includes Photoshop and Illustrator CS6, Lightroom 5.7, Maya 2016, Medibang Paint Pro and Mischief.
I'm not into benchmarks and running numbers. Those tests don't mean much compared to using the laptop to do actual work. However, I will compare it to the Mac Pro 2013 (Xeon Quad 3.5Ghz) that's my main machine at home, and also my office computer, an Intel i7 Quad 2.93Ghz with Nvidia GT520 (oh yeah, it's old and creaking). Oh, I don't game.
Disclaimer: Dell loaned me a unit for two weeks for this review
The Precision series are the workstation grade laptops from Dell. They have top of the line specifications normally seen in desktop computers. As such, their prices are also higher than normal laptops. The Dell 5510 is also known as the M5510.
Are they suitable for digital artists? It depends on what you want to do on it.
The model that I received has the following specifications:
- Xeon E3-1505M v5 (Quad Core 2.80GHz)
- Glossy IGZO 3840 by 2160 resolution screen
- 1TB PCIe SSD
- 16GB RAM
- Nvidia Quadro M1000M 2GB
- 6-cell (81Wh) battery
That adds up to USD $3134 not including tax.
The default configuration cost $1399 and comes with the following specs:
- Intel i5-6300HQ (Quad 2.3Ghz)
- 1920 by 1080 IPS panel with anti-glare coating
- 500GB 7200RPM 2.5-inch SATA drive
- 8GB RAM
- Nvidia Quadro M1000M 2GB
- 3-cell (56Wh) battery
My recommended specs
The laptop is incredibly customizable through Dell's website. You can customize almost everything except the ports and graphics card.
Do not under any circumstances get the default 7200RPM drive. Storage drives have always been the bottleneck of any system. I recommend getting a SSD which will make any system so much more responsive.
The options for storage drives are determined by their connection. There are the PCIe (small) and 2.5-inch SATA (bigger). If you go for the smaller PCIe SSD drive, you will have the extra space inside the laptop to get the better battery...
Battery life for the 6-cell (81Wh) battery is between 5 to 6 hours. Using the smaller capacity 3-cell (56Wh) means you have to be near a power socket all the time. Spend the extra $49 and get the better battery. On the good side, the battery charges extremely fast, like close to a full charge under 1.5 hours.
It's best to get 16GB RAM. That's worth the money also.
The default model needs to be configured to get what I call the real workstation.
When I first took the laptop out of the box, I was surprised by the size. It's not much bigger than ordinary 15-inch laptops. I was expecting something really thick. The 5510 measures at 1.1cm thick, not including the screen.
The screen is quite thick by itself at 5mm.
The build quality is fantastic, sturdy. Metal is used for the exterior and the palm rest uses carbon fiber which feels so nice to touch. However, from what I've read, the downside is they are prone to collecting grease from the hand and difficult to clean. I've not used the laptop enough for it to collect hand grease yet.
Underneath the laptop are two long stripes of rubber to prevent slipping. There are also grills for ventilation (more like getting air in). The fan blows out hot air from below the screen. Those two grills at the bottom left and right at the speakers. They are pointed downwards so you need to put the laptop on the tablet for the sound to reflect towards you. If you're using it on your lap, the sound will sound muffled.
As I was swinging the laptop in the air, I felt the weight. It's not light. My bathroom scale says it weighs 2.1kg. When you consider the specifications, it's considered light.
The keyboard is great for typing. Well spaced with good vertical distance.
Keys will light up when the surrounding is dim.
The screen on this unit has the IGZO 3840 by 2160 (4K) glossy screen which is quite thick to me. The bezel is really thin so the screen feels really expansive.
I don't like that it's glossy as I've always found glossy screens to be distracting.
The default configuration is an IPS panel at 1920 by 1080 resolution with NTSC 72% color gamut.
The IGZO panel is marketed with 100% Adobe color gamut and cost an additional USD $299. When I look at the 4K screen, the colours are really good, deep and vibrant. The 4K resolution makes almost everything look sharp. Almost.
The deciding factor to choose either the 1080P or 4K screen depends on what software you'll be using. Not all software have their user interface updated for use on such high resolution screens.
For example, older software like Adobe CS5 and CS6 have incredibly tiny menus and tool buttons that are so frustrating to use that you'll feel like tearing your hair out. The alternative is to upgrade to the latest Adobe CC which means you'll have to fork out additional cash, monthly. Maya 2016's menus and buttons look small, but not as tiny as Adobe CS5 & CS6. Lightroom 5.7 has UI at satisfactory sizes.
Above's a screenshot of the tiny user interface from Photoshop CS6. Click for a 100% view. Or better, download it to your computer and scale it down to 15-inch diagonal with your ruler to get a sense of what you will be looking at.
You can apply a hack to scale up the resolution however everything, e.g. Photoshop images or Illustrator vector art, will look pixelated because in essence you're upscaling a low res interface for a high res screen. Again, click the above for a 100% view.
I recommend you research at the respective forums to see if your software supports such high resolution or Retina screens.
Oh, the IGZO screen is a touchscreen by the way. It's convenient to use at times but if your fingers are oily, be prepared to see lots of finger prints. The touchscreen works well with fingers and badly with stylus.
These are the ports included.
- 1 Thunderbolt 3
- 2 USB 3.0
- 1 HDMI
- 1 SD card reader
- 1 Headphone and microphone combo jack
These are the ports on the left and right. They actually have the new Thunderbolt 3 port which doubles up as a USB 3 Type-C port.
Those ports blazing fast when it comes to transferring large files. I can plug in the USB 3 thumb drive, drag the files to the desktop and it will start copying instantly, at few hundreds MB per second. Just for comparison, my Mac Pro has to wait for the drive to mount, and when I copy, it will pause for a while before copying and copying speed doesn't feel anywhere near this Dell laptop. Very impressive!
The default configuration has an Intel i5-6300HQ (Quad 2.3Ghz). The unit I have has the Xeon E3-1505M v5 (Quad Core 2.80GHz). The other option is the Intel i7-6820HQ (Quad Core 2.70GHz). From benchmarks I've read from other technical reviews, the Xeon processor is faster than the i7 and is probably worth the extra $70 over the i7.
Regardless of the processor speed you choose, you'll have no problem running 2D software like Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign or any other digital painting software. Opening a 500MB file will take around 3-4 seconds.
Whether you want to upgrade the processor from the i5 to the Xeon will depend on what kind of work you frequently do and whether your software supports multi-core processing. In short, if you're into video editing or 3D rendering and use a software the takes advantage of multi-core processors, go for the upgrade. It's worth the money. Skip the i7.
This is the part where I can't be very specific about how fast the Xeon technically is.
I tried to render a busy cityscape scene with occlusion preset at 2K resolution and here's how long each computer took:
- Dell 5510 Quad 2.8Ghz with Maya 2016: 2min 20s
- Mac Pro 2013 Quad 3.5Ghz: 2m
- Office Quad 2.93Ghz with Maya 8.5: 13+ min
Obviously Maya 8.5 is not using all the cores for rendering. Maya 2016 has written to handle multi-core rendering so the advantage is there.
Main point to take away here is the Dell 5510 took just 10% more time to render that scene compared to the Mac Pro. Impressive.
I usually render 3D work for newspaper infographics. To render a 2K resolution scene at production quality using 2 minutes is considered very fast to me.
If you're into animation and have to render frames at 1080P, you can render 30 seconds of 24fps footage in a day. It depends on the complexity of your scene yes, but with the multi-core and Maya 2016, it makes producing homemade independent animation more accessible now.
Next up, I compared the Dell and my Mac Pro when it comes to exporting a bunch of RAW photos. The Dell is slightly slower but not significantly so.
Once it starts rendering 3D or exporting photos, the fan revs up. I'm not sure how well the ventilation works but the fan does a good job getting the hot air out. It does get hot when it's rendering.
Unfortunately, I don't have any video editing software for Windows so I can't speculate how fast it is. But if I were to make a guess, it should perform close to my Mac Pro, and that is very satisfactory. Since this laptop has the option for a 4K screen, you'll be able to edit 4K videos.
So who is the 5510 for?
If you're buying this computer just for graphic design, 2D digital painting, photo editing, the Dell 5510 is a serious overkill. You can save your money by getting something cheaper but handle your work just as well. Mainly because you don't really need that good a graphics card in order to create 2D graphics.
The Dell 5510 is for people whose work requires a lot of processing power, such as rendering 3D models, animation or encoding videos. For videographers who have to work on location, I think this is a fantastic workstation. You can shoot a whole day's worth of wedding footage and churn out a video compilation at the end of the day without much stress because you know your laptop can do it.
Best laptop for Maya or 3ds Max? It's a good contender.
Lastly, I want to warn you about getting the 4K screen. Make sure your apps user interface are optimized for high resolution screens. If not, using those applications will be daily hell, that is unless you spend money to upgrade to the latest software.
The matte 1080P screen will work well with all applications but you have to compromise on the smaller colour gamut. I haven't seen that screen so I can't comment exactly on the quality.
Overall, if you value time, then yeah, this is worth the money.
Avoid those without SSD storage.
Pros and Cons at a glance
+ Good build quality
+ Looks good
+ Carbon fiber palm rest feels good
+ USB 3, SD card reader, Thunderbolt 3 ports are extremely fast
+ IGZO 4K screen is sharp and colour reproduction is wonderful, vibrant
+ Thin bezel makes the screen look expansive
+ Lots of configuration options
+ Once you add a SSD option, it's becomes a decent performer
+ Keyboard good for typing
+ Good stereo speakers
+ Decent weight considering the specifications
- Inclusion of a 7200RPM bottleneck drive as a workstation option
- Average battery life of 5-6 hours with the 6-cell (81Wh) battery
- Apps not optimized for 4K screens will have tiny frustrating user interface
- 4K screen probably use up a lot of battery power
- IGZO screen is thick
- You cannot upgrade battery if you choose the 2.5-inch SSD
- Windows 10 still has some bugs (not related to Dell)
To customize the laptop, just go to Dell's website. That's where you can also choose the different type of support or extend your warranty.