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Electronics Dell Precision M6700 - The One Legacy Laptop to Rule Them All

Arnox

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$500
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Sorry this took so long to get out. I kept forgetting to write about it. lol But yes, what we have here is a Dell workstation-class laptop that was released to the public in 2012. This was back when Dell actually knew how to make damn good laptops, and this Precision is pretty much Dell at their absolute zenith. Many people boast about the Thinkpad line and how good they were back in the day, but when this laptop came out, Thinkpads were on the decline in terms of raw quality and Dell and HP were eager to seize those potential professional customers who had bulging wallets. Of course, the laptop had fully configurable hardware specs, but the top of the line you could get for this bad boy was a nasty little i7-3840QM paired with the best of the best of the best, sir (at the time), mobile Quadro. The K5000M.

But all that's not really why I'm bringing this laptop to everyone's attention here...

No, what made me really pay attention to this laptop in particular was the fact that this is one of the few laptop models out there that is fully capable of running EVERY Windows NT operating system on bare metal, from XP to 11. And not just in a basic capacity. I mean with full working drivers. It runs XP like a champ and it runs Windows Vista and 7 even better. I would have installed Windows 8.1 too, but my sole retail 8.1 Professional key is still in use right now, so I sadly couldn't. Ah well. It's not needed at all anyway. But we're starting to get a little bit ahead of ourselves. Let's check a look at this beauty from outside to inside.

The Outside

Definitely the first thing you notice when you get this thing in hand is how fucking heavy it is. 8.25 pounds. Or 3.75 Kg for our non-'Murican friends. And not just that. From the pictures, it looks like a relatively compact laptop but you would be WRONG to assume that. It's a big bastard as well. Chonky and thick and loaded with features. Just how I like 'em. Most of that weight has to do with both it's magnesium and aluminum chassis along with beefy cooling solutions for both the CPU and GPU and its honking big 97 watt-hour removable battery. And trust me. You'll need every one of those watts for this beast.

Coming in from the left, we got a Kensington Security Slot, 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1394 (Firewire) port, mic jack, headphone jack, SD card slot, an Express Card slot, and an optical drive bay for the... You know... The optical thing. It also can double as an extra SATA port, but we'll get to that soon enough. On the backside, we got a gigabit Ethernet port, a VGA output port, an HDMI 1.4a output port, and an eSATA port that doubles as an extra USB 2.0 port, and then you got your usual barrel-plug power port. On the right-hand side, you got a physical networking shut-off switch, a bay for a SATA drive, 2 USB 3.0 ports, and a DisplayPort. Version 1.2. And finally, to top it all off, on the bottom of the laptop, there's a huge slot that allows you to mount the laptop onto a separate Dell docking station made specifically for the Precision line which greatly expands its already incredibly generous port selection even more, or you could event mount a second battery to the bottom as well for a backup battery that the laptop can easily switch to if needed.

Opening the laptop up, we get a standard but also still pretty good laptop keyboard with that incredibly useful number pad to the right. We also have our usual Function keys plus a few media keys and some convenient little volume buttons that somehow happily always work, no matter what operating system I use them with. In the middle of the keyboard, we also got a trackpoint. Now, some people really like these keyboard nubs, but me personally, I just really don't. Nevertheless though, they're incredibly easy to ignore, and to each their own, so no big deal at all. We also got another set of mouse buttons for left click, right click, and even middle click on the top of the trackpad on top of the usual ones at the bottom. My only complaint with this whole setup is that the trackpad is small compared to the much larger modern ones we see now, but honestly, for basic stuff, I never really had an issue with it either, personally, so there's that too.

There is one issue here though with this laptop and the first issue we run into. And that is that Dell has put this rubberized coating on the hand rest and the keyboard border. Thankfully, the coating on mine has miraculously not started melting off at all yet, but I absolutely dread when that's gonna start happening. I may have to bite the bullet and send it in to a computer repair shop and just have them scrape it off if it comes to that, but I'm sure it's not gonna be cheap. >_>

And now we come to the screen. This one's kinda interesting because my display is a professional color-accurate 10-bit 1920x1080 display, so that means that the K5000M must take over for all graphical duties, no matter how light, and the internal Intel HD Graphics 4000 is hard disabled since it can't drive 10-bit displays. Now, this is a tradeoff I'm happy to make, personally, as the display alone is worth it, and not having to fuck around with Nvidia Optimus or whatever the equivalent is on Linux is pretty damn nice, funnily enough, but this does definitely mean lower battery life on an already powerful laptop which is a shame of course.

The Inside

Now, let's get into the real meat and potatoes here. And let's start with one of the coolest unique things about this laptop. Everything is modular. EVERYTHING. Even the GPU. Totally modular. You can swap it out to whatever you want, as long as it's in the MXM 3.0 form factor. Of course though, this does mean that if you get a used one of these laptops online, it could have some parts like the WWAN/GPS module (yes, this thing can accept SIM cards and also receive GPS signals) just not be there at all either because the owner either stripped it out or simply because it was never ordered with the laptop to begin with.

Anyway though. To start out, we got our aforementioned i7-3840QM and Quadro K5000M. These were effectively the last most powerful core laptop parts that could still run Windows XP with full drivers. And you'd expect that the 3840 wouldn't really be able to hold it's own at all against a phat i7-3770K since it's still, after all, a mobile CPU. Miraculously though, it does. And especially since it's so nicely supported by the huge M6700 cooling system which keeps everything cool and even kinda quiet, relatively speaking. Expect performance to be about 92% of a 3770K in both single and multi-threaded applications. Yes, 92%. Of a 3770K.

As to the graphics card, it's sadly not nearly as miraculous in the performance department as the CPU. Its desktop Quadro K6000 counterpart runs right over it, and even its K5000 counterpart takes its lunch money despite the K5000M being the most powerful mobile GPU available at the time that could still run XP. Expect performance to be just a little less than a full 750 Ti but with 4 GB of VRAM also instead of 2. It also doesn't inherit the K6000's decentish FP64 performance, so you're not exactly gonna be running top-class simulations on this thing either. And thus, we come to the first major, but pretty obvious drawback to this laptop. It may have been an absolute insane beast back in 2012, but that was over 10 years ago. Hardware has, uh... Progressed a little bit since then. So yeah, you're not gonna be running Cyberpunk 2077 at absolute max settings here. Not gonna happen.

Now don't get me wrong. For older games, this thing will still scream. I was getting a steady 40 FPS in Crysis on XP with all High settings, 1920x1080 resolution. For an old mobile GPU from 2012, that's incredible, and it probably would have gone even faster if I had truly let it off the leash and tried the 64-bit version of Crysis on Windows 7. Also consider the use case for this laptop. I didn't buy it because I thought it was gonna run the most modern games at max settings. I bought this laptop for legacy purposes plus as a mobile media center and backup station. But more on those later. As a powerful legacy laptop, this thing is absolutely stunning, and it also ensures that no matter what happens now and what OS I use in the future, I will always have full bare-metal access to the old Windows versions that I need.

After that, the last major components are the RAM and the drives. Sadly, due to Intel's market segmentation nonsense, we can't run ECC memory on this laptop since it's not running a special snowflake Xeon. Whatever though. Not important at all. We have a whopping 4 available slots for DDR3L 1866 MHz RAM. At the moment, I have 16 GB loaded in it but it could also take 32 GB. Then we have the drives. We got 3, count 'em, THREE drive slots in this laptop plus maybe a 4th slot if we're willing to forgo the optical drive. And further, we don't just get any old Kingston drive (though those are actually fine enough in a pinch). We get a full Intel Datacenter drive. And that's significant because these Intel SSDs are INSANELY reliable. They make Samsung premium drives look like they wear out within a month. Of course, Intel drives are not the speediest drives you can buy, but they will run and run and run, and what's written them might as well be engraved on steel.

And then lastly, we have our 9.5mm optical drive slot. Mine came with an autoloading DVD drive. Bleh. That's... Fine, I guess, but I switched it out for a tray-loading BDR-XL drive. Much much better. And this along with my, uh... Very legit copy of PowerDVD 14 Ultra (last PowerDVD to support both Windows XP and 3D video) also means I can now finally collect blu-rays. :D

The Software

Since this is a Dell Precision, it thankfully comes with a lot of software goodies, and one of those that you'll first notice is that the laptop BIOS has the capability of running a full self-diagnostic test on itself before booting any OS. It even uses a Memtest86 equivalent to test the RAM and it doesn't even take that long, even with a thorough test. Now this right here... This is sheer workstation awesomeness that I love to see. But anyway, let's move on.

Normally, for my systems, I will have one, maybe two OS installs, but usually just one. But this was a pretty special laptop and it pretty much yelled out that it was ready for so much more than that basic nonsense, so I greatly expanded that policy for this specific laptop. I inserted another Intel SSD that I had into the secondary SATA slot and installed an encrypted version of MX Linux onto that. The MX install would be the backend of the laptop. The command and control center for web-browsing, downloading, backup purposes, and running fully modern apps, games, and hardware. After that, on the primary drive, I have my desired Windows version installed. Usually XP or 7. Now here's what's really cool. I've set it up to where I can copy the full Windows drive image with Clonezilla to the MX drive, and with that, I've copied fully completed XP, Vista, and 7 images. So, I could be running XP one moment, and then, within a matter of minutes, I could have the Windows 7 install fully up and running on that same primary drive as if nothing whatsoever happened at all.

Conclusion

When I said that this was the legacy laptop to rule them all, I wasn't kidding. I wasn't exaggerating in the slightest. And with the utilization of DOSBox-X, I could go even further back. In fact, the only thing that truly hamstrings this laptop from truly doing EVERYTHING is that it's pretty damn chonky and its performance just cannot compare at all to modern hardware. If those are factors one can accept though, then you'll find that this laptop is pretty much unbeatable. It is scary good, and finally, it's a damn shame that Dell fell as hard as they did after this, but at least they made this utterly timeless and incredibly well-built laptop before they became another generic laptop company, and maybe that's enough.

I wonder if the one who sold me my M6700 would have charged a lot more for it if he knew what he had on his hands. With the BDR-XL drive addition, this laptop is much more like... an 800 dollar piece of hardware I'd say, even over 10 years after its release.
 
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