This post gathers my impressions on the Dell Precision 5510, which is for sure one of the most interesting 15-inch workstation notebooks available right now in stores.
Unlike other similar devices, this one is thin and light, while it still packs an excellent display, an Intel Skylake Xeon processor and Nvidia Quadro graphics, tucked inside an aluminum and carbon-fiber shell that only weighs 4.4 lbs.
All these do come with a hefty price tag, but if you need a powerful, yet portable enough to easily carry around, computer for graphics related works, this Precision 5510 should be on your list.
Stick around till the end of this review and you’ll find out all you should know before buying one.
Specs as reviewed
||15.6-inch 3840 x 2160 (UHD) touch screen, IGZO IPS
||Intel Xeon E3-1505M v5 2.8 Ghz, TurboBoost up to 3.7 GHz
||Nvidia Quadro M1000M (2GB GDDR5)
||16GB DDR4 2133MHz
||Hynix SC210 512 GB SSD (2.5″ 7 mm)
||Wi-Fi AC (Intel Tri-Band 8260), Bluetooth 4.1
||1x Thunderbolt 3/USB-C 3.1, 2x USB 3.0, HDMI, 3.5 mm audio, SD card reader
||357 mm or 14.06” (w) x 235 mm or 9.27” (d) x 11 mm or .45” (h)
|Weight as configured
||1.95 kg or 4.4 lbs
Design and exterior
On the outside, the Precision 5510 is both beautiful and toughly built.
Solid sheets of metal cover the lid and the belly, sandwiching a carbon-fiber made interior. Dell pioneered these lines with the XPS 13 9343, and as someone who’s been using one of those since its launch in early 2015, I can tell you three things. First, these laptops draw a lot of attention. Second, they are sturdy and well built, with little to no flex in the hood or in the keyboard area. And third, they age well, as long as you’re aware that the aluminum exterior can scratch and treat it with care.
All these aside though, the compact form factor is this laptop’s major aesthetic selling point. Just like the XPS 13 and 15, this Precision features a nearly bezelless display, with the top and lateral bezels being just a few millimeters thick.
There’s one drawback to it though: the webcam is no longer placed on top of the panel, but beneath it, so people will always see you from the chin up. The microphones are not around the webcam either, but on the laptop’s front lip, which causes distortions and overall poor voice quality. So if you really need this laptop for Skype or Hangout calls, you should probably look somewhere else, but I for one am more than willing to sacrifice these for the compact format.
Given the slim bezels, this device is also more compact than a regular 15-inch laptop. It’s also slimmer and lighter, weighing just shy of 2 kilos, or 4.4 pounds, for the tested configuration, which is impressive for a workstation.
As for the looks, I doubt anyone could argue this is a beautiful machine, yet still sober enough to make its way into those strict professional environments.
Let’s talk about how this laptop actually feels in daily use. You’ll drool all over it from the moment you’ll take it out of the box, but once you’ll try to lift-up the screen, you’ll notice you’ll need both hands for it, since the hinge is tight. Based on my experience with the XPS 13 it won’t loosen in time, so that’s an aspect that might bother those used to softer hinges. On the other hand, it does a great job at keeping the display in place, with minimal wobble even when you pinch and touch it, cause don’t forget there’s a touchscreen on this machine.
The interior is made from a soft-coated carbon-fiber material and it feels really nice to the touch. It’s actually a pleasure to lean your wrists on it while typing and the front edge or the corners are friendly, unlike on other razor-thin machines out there. However, the soft interior shows smudges and finger-oil like nothing else. The finishing is similar to that on the XPS 13, but because the palm-rest is larger, the smudges are a lot more visible. And yes, you can wipe them clean with a piece of cloth and moist tissues, but you’ll actually have to do it a few times a day if you’re as OCD as I am.
The IO is something else we should talk about. The ports are lined on the left and right edges, towards the back, and you’ll find two USB 3.0 slots on this machine, an USB 3.1 port with Thunderbolt 3 support, a card-reader, the headphone/mic jack and a full-size HDMI connector. There’s no miniDP, so you can only connect high-resolution external monitors through Thunderbolt and you’ll require adapters, which are not included in the pack. That aside, I would have appreciated having at least one extra USB slot on this machine, given how I expect users to have all sorts of peripherals hooked to it most of the time.
One final aspect to discuss here regards the laptop’s underbelly. It’s made of metal, like I already mentioned above, with two long and grippy rubber feet, an air intake grill and the speakers placed towards the front. The entire back-panel can be removed easily with the help of a Torx screwdriver, giving access to the storage drives and the two RAM slots. We’ll get back to those further down.
I mentioned in the beginning this laptop packs an awesome display, and that’s because our unit came with the UHD wide-gamut panel option, which is bright, sharp and able to cover 100% of the AdobeRGB spectrum, thus an ideal pick for professionals and anyone else needing a top-tier screen on their devices.
I’ve added some measurements taken with the Spyder4 Elite below, just to know what to expect:
- Panel HardwareID: Sharp SHP143E (LQ156D1);
- Coverage: 100% sRGB, 99% NTSC, 100% AdobeRGB;
- Measured gamma: 2.4;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 309 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 720:1;
- White point: 8100 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.43 cd/m2;
- Average DeltaE: 0.85 uncalibrated, 0.65 calibrated.
The screen is fairly well calibrated out of the box, but if you want to use our calibrated color profile, you can find it right here.
Now, keep in mind this is an UHD panel, and that means you’ll have to scale it to at least 200% to be able to use it comfortably, and you might run into occasionally scaling issues with some third party software, especially with older programs. Modern software scales well though.
Besides that, keep in mind this is a touchscreen, so you can swipe your fingers around it to perform various tasks. And as with every touchscreen, the panel is covered by a layer of glass, Corning Glass in our case, which means you’ll run into reflections and glare in bright environments. There’s no Anti-Glare filter, like on the Macbooks for instance, but as long as you don’t put the display in direct sunlight, it’s going to be usable even in bright light, mostly thanks to its high brightness.
Personally, I’m a fan of matte panels, but Dell only offers the UHD wide-gamut version as a touchscreen. There’s also the option of a FHD matte panel, which is also around $300 cheaper than the high-res alternative, but it’s not going to offer the same brightness, contrast and color-accuracy, so it’s probably not going to be the best option for professionals.
Keyboard and trackpad
Screen aside, let’s talk about the keyboard and the trackpad on this Precision 5510.
The keyboard is identical to the one on the XPS 13, which, to be frank, is somewhat disappointing. That means it doesn’t get a NumPad section and settles for a slightly minimalist layout, with no dedicated keys for Home/End or Page Down/Up. I can live with these just fine, but those that usually buy workstations might not.
There’s a row of function keys at the top, which by default perform various functions and adjustments (sound, screen brightness, etc), but you can easily set them to act as regular F-keys by hitting FN+Esc.
That aside, this keyboard is shallow, with only 1.3 mm of key drop, and as a result the typing speed and overall experience isn’t marvelous. It’s not that bad either, especially since the keyboard is backlit and pretty quiet. Now, I for one am used to the short stroke and overall feeling, since the XPS 13 has been my daily driver for a long while, and was able to type in this review easily and with few errors, but if you’re coming from an older machine or one of the classic laptop keyboards, chances are you’ll struggle with this one.
So long story short, I’d advise you give this a try in shops if possible, just to make sure it’s what you want. You don’t have to test it on the Precision, which might be more difficult to find, since the XPS 13 and XPS 15 feature the exact same keyboard and are more widespread.
The trackpad sits beneath the keyboard and it’s not bad overall. It’s a glass Microsoft Precision surface and it responds well to swipes, taps and gestures. I’m one of those persons who tap for right-clicks and I didn’t run into any issues with them here. Gestures worked surprisingly well too, from two-finger scrolling in a browser, where my XPS 13 for instance is pretty rubbish, to the standard Windows gestures.
There was one tiny aspect where I wasn’t entirely satisfied though: precision swipes, for instance when going through a quiz with radio-boxes tied together. In this case the cursor wasn’t as accurate as I would have wanted, and given the limited customization options provided by the software, there was little I could do about that.
Of course, this is a Synaptics surface, so there’s always the option to install Synaptics drivers, but I just didn’t bother with it, cause overall this is a pretty good trackpad for a Windows machine.
Hardware, upgrades and daily experience
Our test version comes with an Intel Xeon E3-1505M processor, 16 GB of DDR4 RAM, a 512 GB Hynix SSD and Nvidia Quadro M1000M graphics, so it’s one of the higher end configurations available for this computer.
Let’s take them one at a time. The E3-1505M processor is a 45W Skylake unit with four cores, hyperthreading, 8 MB of L3 cache, a stock frequency of 2.8 GHz and Turbo frequencies ranging between 3.3 GHz (4 Cores) and 3.7 GHz (single Core). It also bundles Intel’s P530 integrated graphics, which is a GT2 Skylake-generation solution.
Compared to the stock Core i7-6700HQ processor available on the Dell XPS 15, the Xeon CPU offers a minor increase in operating speeds, 2 MB of extra Cache L3 memory and, more importantly, support for ECC RAM and a few additional management features. However, it looks like this particular Dell laptop does not support ECC memory, based on the specs sheets and user comments.
In practice, the Xeon processor proves to be 5-10% faster than the Core i7-6700HQ CPU in benchmarks, and it’s up to you whether that’s enough to justify the price difference or not. The Precision 5510 line can be equipped with either the Xeon E3-1505M or the Core i7-6820HQ processor, a beefed up version of the Core i7-6700HQ, with the Xeon going for $70 extra.
As for the RAM, our version comes with two 8 GB sticks, but the laptop can take two 16 GB DIMMs in its two slots, for a total of 32 GB.
However, Dell only bundles the Precision with standard non-ECC memory, which is a bit of surprise since that would have been one of the reasons to go for the Xeon processor. Still, you can replace what they offer with your own ECC RAM, in case that’s something you might need. No you can’t. ECC memory is not supported.
Then there’s the storage. Out unit came with a 2.5” 7 mm Hynix SATA SSD placed in the 2.5” bay. The Precision also gets an M.2 NVMe storage slot, unused on our unit. If you aim for the best performance on your machine, I’d advise getting one of these NVMe drives for the OS and your programs, it makes a hell of a difference. That if you can actually get it to run at native speeds, which is actually more complicated than you’d expect and can cause BSODs, according to the forums. In fact, that’s one of the reasons Doug decided to run the NVMe drive on his XPS 15 in RAID mode, which cuts the speeds in half, but is more reliable.
Regardless, the RAM and the storage can be upgrade on this laptop, so you have the option of buying a lower-end machine and then beef it up yourself, for less than you’d have to pay Dell for.
Last, but definitely not least, there’s the graphics. The Precision 5510 gets an Nvidia Quadro M1000M dedicated chip, which is a professional workstation grade solution. That means it’s not something you should get for gaming. In fact, in games and related benchmarks the Quadro M1000M sits somewhere between the GTX 950M and the 960M.
|NFS Most Wanted
So what is this good for: OpenGL and CUDA applications, or software like AutoCAD, Autodesk 3DS Max, Maya, Sketchup and others. Quadro chips get optimized drivers for those, meant to offer stability and increased performance. I won’t get into more specifics, but I did run some of the SPECviewperf 12 benchmarks on the Precision and the results are solid. You’ll find them below, alongside some of the other “standard” benchmarks I usually run on laptops.
- 3Dmark 11: P4522;
- 3Dmark 13: Cloud Gate – 14818, Sky Diver – 10467, Fire Strike – 3265;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 2931;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 44.22 fps, CPU 7.74 pts, CPU Single Core 1.69 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 50.26 fps, CPU 729 pts, CPU Single Core 158 pts.
- GeekBench 3: Single Core – 3740 , Multi Core – 13514;
- SPECviewperf 12: Catia – 32.50 , Creo – 28.17 , Maya – 21.02;
- x264 Benchmark 4.0 32-bit: Pass 1 – 166.35 fps, Pass 2 – 45.21 fps;
- x264 Benchmark 5.0.1 64-bit: Pass 1 – 76.34 fps, Pass 2 – 14.63 fps.
So the main reason people would want a Precision 5510 over a consumer-oriented XPS 15 is the Nvidia Quadro graphics, better optimized for certain professional apps. Dell includes a Precision Optimizer software, a manager of different profiles tailored for various applications, or in other words an optimized set of hardware and software settings for each program, so you can squeeze the most out of your workloads.
Another reason is the Xeon processor (despite the lack of support for ECC RAM), and last, but for sure not least, is the Precision’s increased stability, crucial on a workstation. If you’ve read Doug’s review of the XPS 15, you noticed the long list of bugs and issues he runs into on a daily basis, there’s an entire section about them. With few exceptions, I haven’t run into any of those on this Precision, and here are the exceptions.
First of all, I got a BSOD while performing driver updates, and after the laptop recovered I got a “no boot drive error”, but it managed to sort it out itself after a cold-reboot. Second, I ran into some sleep issues, as the laptop woke up from sleep by its own will at least two times, once in my bag and the other time during the night, while on my desk. These aren’t major issues, but are annoying nonetheless, and I sure wish I wouldn’t have to deal with them on a premium and expensive machine as this Precision. But other from these and one or two Intel driver crashes, my experience has been positive.
That aside, when Dell first announced this laptop I was somewhat concerned about temperatures and potential throttling issues, as squeezing powerful hardware inside a thin body usually spells trouble.
CPU throttling is indeed present in some benchmarks and high-load activities, as the processor reaches temperatures close to 100 degrees Celsius, and the frequency is capped in order to handle those temperatures. That happens both when plugged in or on battery. I’ve added a few printscreens with the performance in the Cinebench R15 Multi-Core test, which clearly shows the correlation between temperatures and the speed loss.
I haven’t noticed anything similar in games, where the CPU and the GPU remain within much cooler limits, and as a result run at their full potential, while plugged in. On battery though, the CPU runs below the default speeds most of the time, but that doesn’t have a significant impact on the gaming performance, since the GPU is not affected in any way. See the third pic above for details. It does have a significant impact in some other demanding workloads though, the kind that put both the CPU and the GPU to work.
I’ve also ran a few stress tests. First, I’ve pushed the CPU to its limits with Prime95 and the picture below shows that while at the beginning the speeds remain within TurboBoost range, after a while the frequency starts jumping between 2.8 and 3.1 GHz, dropping to the lower limit when the temperatures get close to 100 Celsius. There’s no throttling though.
Pushing both the CPU with Prime95 and the GPU with Furmark sets the processor’s frequency to a maximum of 2.8 GHz, with occasional throttling. Frequency drops are also noticed on the GPU’s side as well.
In other words, this computer is a solid performer in any daily activities and can handle demanding loads fairly well. However, on battery the CPU’s speed is capped, so you’ll need to plug this machine in to squeeze the most out of the hardware. And even in this case, sustained high loads will lead to the internals reaching their thermal limits, resulting in occasional throttling and performance drops.
So if you need a workstation for solid performance on battery, the Precision is not the one and on top of that it’s not a flawless performer when plugged in either.
Emissions (noise, heat, speakers) and Connectivity
Outer case temperatures are pretty high on this machine, as expected, but I’ve definitely seen hooter machines in the past. Certain spots go above 45 degrees Celsius in high loads, but most rest between 35 and 45 degrees. The top-middle part, just above the keyboard, is actually the hottest spot on this computer, sith the back running several degrees cooler, so if you planned using this computer with the screen closed, I’ll suggest you don’t.
The fans inside are rarely idle, mostly when the laptop was just recently turned on and the internals didn’t get to heat up yet. After a few minutes, the fan will kick in and will continue to spin even when performing very light activities. It’s not noisy, but you’ll hear it in quiet environments.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in Edge for 30 minutes
*Load – playing Need for Speed Most Wanted for 30 minutes
The fans do ramp up when performing more demanding loads and I’ve measured a maximum noise level of 52 dB at ear level with my iPhone app, which is for sure noisy, but take it with a grain of salt since I haven’t used a professional tool to record it (ambient noise is measured at 32 dB with the same app, for reference).
The speakers are able to cover the fan noise in daily use, but not that much in full-load. Having used the XPS 13 for so long, I actually had high expectations from the Precision’s audio system, which wasn’t fully met though. Dell went with two speakers placed on the belly and bouncing sound from the desk. They sound pretty bland and muted out of the box, but can be revived with the adjustments included in the Dell Audio apps. These are software tweaks though, so do cause a slight amount of distortions, but I was able to get decent enough audio with their help. Audiophiles will have to stick with headphones though.
Connectivity wise, there’s Wi-Fi AC and Bluetooth on this Precision, and Dell went with an Intel Tri-Band 8260 wi-fi module. Close to the router, it proved to be one of the best performers I’ve ever tested, but once I got to 30 feet with walls in between, the speeds dropped significantly, to only around 30 Mbps, and the signal strength lost a bar as well.
Now, keep in mind I only tested the laptop on a 2.4 GHz connection, while this should shine on 5 GHz connections. But at least I haven’t encountered any drops or signal issues, nor during daily use or when resuming the laptop from sleep, so the Wi-Fi performance is overall consistent on this Precision 5510, yet there’s a fair chance it might not deliver for you if you have poor signal in your office or home.
Last but not least there’s the webcam, which many have been complaining about. Yes, this machine pretty much sucks for calls, as the webcam is placed beneath the display and shows you from an unusual angle, while the microphones placed on the front lip distort voices. But like I already said above, this is a downfall I for one am willing to live with.
The Precision 5510 is available in two options, one with a 56 Wh battery and a 2.5” storage bay, and another with a 81 Wh battery. We tested the former, and as a result I wasn’t expecting much in terms of battery life, and didn’t get much:
- 5.2 W (~10 h 45 min of use) – idle, Power Saving Mode, screen at 0%, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 13 W (~4 h 15 min of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 12.5 W (~4 h 30 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 10.5 W (~5 h 15 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 19.5 W (~2 h 50 min of use) – heavy browsing in Edge, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON.
I’ve set the screen at 30% brightness for these tests, which is roughly 120 nits.
Keep in mind the CPU does not run at full-potential on battery in most apps. If it were, the system would deplete the battery in under an hour on high loads.
The Precision is bundled with a 130 Wh power brick, which is potent enough for its needs (throttling does not occur due to power-limitations), and a full recharge is going to take around 2 hours.
If you’re interested in what the 81Wh models can deliver, you could have a look at our review of the XPS 15, which was equipped with that larger battery.
With the 56 Wh battery, expect the precision to last for around 3-4 hours in daily use
Price and availability
The Precision 5510 starts at $1399 on Dell’s website, but that’s for a basic configuration with an Intel Core i5-6300HQ processor, 8 GB of RAM, Nvidia Quadro M1000M graphics, a FHD matte display and a 500 GB HDD.
If you aim for a beefier model, prepare your wallet. The Xeon processor is going to cost you $300 extra, the high resolution UHD touchscreen $300 as well, 16 GB of RAM another $110 and storage options between $200 and $1000. You can also get the 81 Wh battery for $49, but keep in mind it eliminates the 2.5” storage bay from your configuration.
You can configure your own unit on Dell’s website.
In other words, a powerful configuration with an Intel Xeon E3-1505M processor, 16 GB of RAM, the Nvidia graphics, the UHD display, a 256 GB NVMe drive and a 1 TB HDD for mass storage will set you back around $2500 in the US, and roughly the same in EUR over here across the pond.
The UHD dispaly is splendid, but also glossy and an expensive option
When we get to draw the line on the Precision 5510, one question probably rests on everyone’s lips: is this machine worth that kind of money?
The answer is not as simple as you might expect, mostly due to the XPS 15 also being available in stores.
If you want a sleek, compact and fairly light 15-incher for daily use, gaming, programming and some occasional demanding tasks, your money would be wiser spent on the XPS, which is going to be several hundreds dollars cheaper than a similarly configured Precision.
Just keep in mind that the XPS 15 is still fairly buggy right now, as you can read in our review, while the optimized drivers on the Precision provide a more stable experience. The XPS 15 is also not as configurable as the Precision, so you might not find the exact package that you want there.
On the other hand, if you actually need a workstation, the Precision 5510 is the better pick. Dell equips it with a Xeon processor and the entire software/hardware optimization packages should make a difference in professional apps, where stability is a must. Last but not least there’s the Quadro chip, which boosts performance in apps like AutoCad, Maya, 3DS Max and others.
In other words, the Precision 5510 is a niche computer, meant for those willing to “spend money to make money”.
The Precision 5510 is one of the best 15-inch laptops out there, but not necessarily a proper workstation
But this machine is not exactly the workstation I would have hoped for, since it pretty much sacrifices performance for the sleek form-factor, and I’m not so sure many out there are willing to make this trade-off. If you’re buying one of these for its portability, knowing it will throttle in certain cases, then you should be fine with it, but if you’re expecting to get a high-end performer in a compact package, you might end up disappointed.
So at the end of the day, the Precision 5510 leaves me undecided. On one hand it is one of the nicest 15-inch laptops I’ve ever got my hands on, but on the other I feel that it doesn’t entirely deliver as a workstation for professional users, while its high price-tag make it a tough buy for regular people as well. Yes, it does provide a more reliable experience than the XPS 15, but are you willing to pay hundreds of dollars extra for that?
With that in mind, we’ll wrap this up here. Let me know how you guys feel about this laptop, get in touch if you have anything to add or if you have any questions, I’m around and will help out if I can.
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