Review: Dell Precision 5510, missing the target

ACCORDING to Jon Peddie Associates, the workstation market declined in the first quarter of 2016. Total units shipped fell below a million, representing a year-over-year decline of about one percent and a sequential decline of 12 percent.
 
In this declining market, Dell currently holds the second place behind HP with 33 percent market share. With the workstation market predicted to shrink further, Dell needs some breakthrough products to maintain its market share and maybe even get some from rival HP.
 
Can the Dell Precision 5510 portable workstation be that product?
 
Design

Review: Dell Precision 5510, missing the target
 

At first glance, from a distance, you might be forgiven for mistaking the Dell Precision 5510 with the company's XPS 15 laptop. Just like the XPS 15, the Precision's screen lid and bottom cover are made of silvery aluminium.

Review: Dell Precision 5510, missing the target
 

The keyboard and touchpad area is made of a soft carbon fibre composite. This gives the hand rest area a very comfortable feel. The touchpad is also about 50 percent larger than those found in regular laptops. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the keyboard. But the keys themselves are very responsive and the buyers would have no problem using them for long durations.
 
The Precision 5510 is slightly thicker and heavier than a regular laptop, particularly some of the newer variants just hitting the market. Weighing in at just over 2.08 kilograms, this portable workstation has a tapered edge similar to ultrabooks.

Display and Ports
 
The creme de la creme of the Dell Precision 5510 is its 4K touch screen. At 15.6 inches, it is not the widest screen that we have seen. But the bezels which are almost non-existent, make it appear wider. It is also the brightest that we have seen on a laptop. The screen also boasts complete coverage of the Adobe RGB spectrum, a specification clearly aimed at 2D and 3D artists who are the likely customers for this workstation laptop.
 
On the laptop's left edge, there is a power jack, a USB 3 port, a HDMI port, a Thunderbolt 3 port and a combo headphone/microphone port. On the other side, there is a SD card slot, a second USB 3 port and a security lock.
 
Internal Hardware
 
The Precision 5510 is marketed as a true workstation laptop. Therefore, Dell has outfitted the system with workstation-class components.
 
Instead of one of the usual Intel Core CPUs that we see in most mainstream laptops, the Precision 5510 has a quad core Intel Xeon CPU running at 2.8GHz. The discrete GPU is also a workstation-class Nvidia Quadro M1000M. The laptop also has 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD for storage.
 
Performance
 
Let there be no doubt about it - the screen is a joy to behold. Its touch sensitivity is also ideal for Windows 10. Professional artists should be very happy with its performance. The SSD is also blisteringly fast. Windows 10 and installed applications launch in mere seconds.
 
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the laptop's CPU and GPU. In our DirectX tests, the Precision 5510 came in about 20 percent slower than Dell's own XPS 15 mainstream laptop. The OpenGL performance test using Maxon's CineBench was almost 50 percent slower than the XPS 15. Considering the workstation label on the laptop, these benchmark results should be considered below average.
 
GPU manufacturers like Nvidia often argue that their workstation products like the Quadro offer more than just brute performance. According to them, one of these benefits is certified drivers for popular digital content creation applications like 3DS Max, Maya and Lightwave. Components like the Quadro with certified drivers are supposed to offer greater stability and performance in these applications than mainstream GPUs like Nvidia's GeForce series.
 
But it is doubtful if this argument still holds true. Years ago, there was certainly a time when there was a massive gulf between workstation and consumer-level components in terms of stability and performance.
 
As the stability of Microsoft Windows, rendering APIs like DirectX, OpenGL and hardware drivers have improved, this stability and performance gap has narrowed to negligible levels. As an occasional Autodesk Maya user, the writer can testify that it has been years since he had stability or performance issues using a mainstream PC.
 
We are witnessing the same with the Precision 5510. Although the components are 'workstation class', the system does not have the application performance to give it a rousing edge over its consumer-level siblings. In fact, rather strangely, it is clearly trailing.
 
Software
 

Review: Dell Precision 5510, missing the target
 

In a refreshing change from regular laptops, the Precision 5510 includes some useful software. One of this is the audio application, MaxxAudio. This allows you to tweak all the audio features in a single interface and setup custom settings.
 

Review: Dell Precision 5510, missing the target
 

The most useful application is Dell PremierColor, which lets you customise the display's colour temperature, brightness and gamma. Coupled with the laptop's gorgeous 4K screen, the final results are very impressive.
 
Conclusion
 
There is a lot to like about the Dell Precision 5510 mobile workstation. Along with a 4K touch screen which is a joy to behold, the laptop has a speedy SSD and ample RAM.
 
Dell is pricing this laptop at RM9,143. And this is the real issue. Compared to regular consumer laptops, unfortunately, the application performance of the Precision 5510 simply does not justify the high price.
 
The simple truth is that there are several laptops now available in the market which are cheaper and faster than the Precision 5510. Therefore, unless you absolutely require the 'safety' of certified GPU drivers and a high quality 4K screen, it may not make sense to opt for this portable workstation.
 

Review: Dell Precision 5510, missing the target
Review: Dell Precision 5510, missing the target

 
Rating: 3 out of 5

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