Dell refers to the 15.6-inch Precision M4500 laptop as a mobile workstation, and it's easy to see why. With its speedy Intel Core i5 processor and meaty Nvidia Quadro FX graphics chip, it's much more powerful than most business laptops. All this power doesn't come cheap, though. The M4500 will set you back at least £1,300.
As with most of Dell's business-focused machines, its design isn't the M4500's strong point. Measuring 374 by 36 by 253mm and weighing in at 2.7kg, calling it big-boned would be putting it politely. Its angular lines and the cheap-looking matte plastic around the screen and keyboard don't help matters either. In fact, the only touch of style is the ribbed lid, which has a brushed-metal paint job. Another issue is that the bottom of the chassis can get very hot, so you certainly can't use this laptop for any prolonged period of time with it perched on your lap, unless you don't want kids.
Despite the M4500's girth, Dell has chosen not to include a numerical keypad such as you'll find on many 15.6-inch machines. This is slightly odd, as there's about 40mm between the edge of the keyboard and the edge of the chassis on either side. Instead of extending the keyboard, Dell has used this space to mount small speakers behind long, metallic grills. The speakers are pretty good by laptop standards, but it's not like Dell couldn't have shifted them to another part of the chassis and still managed to fit in a numerical keypad.
The keyboard uses standard tapered keys. There's very little compromise in the layout, which isn't surprising given the amount of space available. The keys have plenty of travel to them and this helps to make the keyboard feel very responsive when you're typing at speed.
Like many of Dell's business models, the M4500 has a trackpad and a pointing device nestled in the centre of the keyboard. The trackpad's pretty good, if a little small, while the pointer takes more getting used to.
Dell offers the laptop with a range of different screen resolutions. Our model had a 1,600x900-pixel display, costing an extra £58. This has a matte coating that helps to reduce glare, making it more comfortable on your eyes when you're pulling a late shift. The screen is quite bright and colours are punchy, although they're not as vivid as those you'll see on a glossy display. The screen's viewing angles are very good, though, and text and images look impressively crisp and sharp.
The laptop doesn't skimp on the range of ports it offers either. There's both a VGA socket on the rear and a DisplayPort connector on the left-hand side for connecting it up to an external monitor. There are also four USB ports, one of which doubles up as an eSATA port (useful for connecting external high-speed storage devices). The M4500 also has PC Card and ExpressCard slots, and there's a good range of security features, including fingerprint and Smart Card readers.
Thanks to its fast, dual-core, 2.53GHz Intel Core i5-M540 processor and generous 4GB of RAM, the M4500 is no slouch when it comes to performance. In the PCMark05 benchmark test, it racked up a very impressive score of 6,665, which makes it one of the speedier business laptops around.
While most business machines struggle when it comes to 3D graphics, the M4500 has no such problems. In the 3DMark06 test, its Nvidia Quadro FX 880M GPU pushed it to a score of 7,011. This makes it a good bet for those seeking a portable machine that can handle business-focused graphics programs, such as CAD and 3D animation applications.
Given the potent processor and graphics chip, we weren't expecting the laptop to put in a great performance when it came to battery life. But, surprisingly, it managed to keep running for just under 1 hour and 40 minutes in the intensive Battery Eater Classic test, which puts it up there with some of the best 15-inch machines.
The Dell Precision M4500 looks brutish, so it won't appeal to those who value form over function. But, if you're after raw power, then it certainly delivers the goods, both in terms of processor and graphics performance, albeit at a high price.
Edited by Charles Kloet