Dell Precision M5510 Review

It started out with me selling my 2015 MacBook Pro i5 model on eBay, I was on the hunt for a more powerful computer that would closely match the feature set and design of my trusty MacBook Pro, my only reason for upgrading was performance and I wasn’t getting it with an i5 and I didn’t have $2,500+ for my budget…as the saying goes desperate times call for desperate measures…

I purchased the Dell Precision M5510 at a steep discount and was immediately attracted by it’s overall slim profile and similar design to the MacBook Pro, I did a lot of research and watched many glowing reviews that basically made this thing sound like it was magic, but here’s the thing it wasn’t magic at all. In fact, it was one of the worst purchase decisions I’ve ever made, an immediate buyer’s remorse sank in when I realized what I had done, I traded out of a premium notebook for a Dell. I did this because of the promise of a more powerful machine, this is my review.

I decided on one of the fully loaded models with a Xeon processor, the speedy 512 GB PCIe NVMe SSD, the Nvidia Quadro M1001M 2GB GPU and 16 GB of RAM. The first thing I noticed when I turned it on was the loud clicking sound that the trackpad made, it’s hollow and loud enough to make you want to just tap the trackpad instead, after a while your wrists are tired from having to tap everything instead of click and it feels kind of tedious.

DISPLAY

Dell’s InfinityEdge display is in full 4K glorious splendor but the appeal quickly fades when you realize that MOST of your apps will have terrible scaling problems with no real solution in sight, it affects more than just Adobe programs like Photoshop, it also affected simple programs such as VLC Media Player and Windows Media Player, the GUI of the software becomes so tiny that you literally need to turn on the magnifying glass within Windows to see anything at all, after exploring the application menus zoomed in the motion sickness started to sink in. Too much effort for simple tasks like clicking a toolbar or pressing a play button high DPI displays are not really consumer ready on Windows machines.

I didn’t really have much issue with the glossy touch panel, no more so than the glossy screen on the Retina MacBook Pro, Dell incorporated a great display on this machine. Touch is actually kind of a nice addition, sometimes touching the screen just works in certain situations.

This scaling issue also affected apps from the Windows Store, about 8/10 of the apps that I tried had really bad scaling, even bumping the screen output resolution down to 1920 x 1080 did not solve the problem, I’m afraid Windows 10 just doesn’t know how to properly scale yet, I’m not sure if it really ever will. It really made me regret the decision to buy the 4K model. It may seem like nothing but when you are faced with windows that open in 1″ x 1″ on a regular basis and you have to decipher what you’re seeing it quickly becomes apparent that 4K is very early adopter on Windows machines. Unscalable tiny buttons and text will no doubt be upsetting to most users.

Scaling on the display is still a Windows 10 issue.

 

Another thing worth noting is that in order to close the lid on the laptop you will likely touch the screen with your thumb slightly, this can become a nuisance with the 4K edge to edge screen as you will typically find your self clicking buttons or closing windows that you hadn’t intended while shutting the lid on the laptop.

TRACKPAD AND KEYBOARD

The trackpad had stability issues after Windows 10 upgraded it self to the latest version, I noticed that the Dell drivers had disappeared after update, I had to perform a weird work around to get Windows 10 to accept the correct drivers…the trackpad was jumpy with the Windows defaulted driver and the official Dell driver…it only became a problem after the Windows 10 update, which I found entirely odd and frustrating. The cursor would jump around the screen unpredictably when two fingers were near each other, it’s difficult to explain but definitely either hardware or driver related, I don’t know and really wasn’t interested in troubleshooting something that should just work correctly.

 

Poor trackpads are a pet peeve for me, this is something that is not unlike the CPU or GPU, this cannot be replaced or upgraded later, it was strange that prior to the anniversary upgrade to the newer Windows 10 the trackpad had no issues, post update the trackpad became a headache. Fiddling with drivers to make something work is the last thing anyone wants to waste their time having to do. Searching the web I found that many people had this issue with the driver of the trackpad on Windows 10, too finicky for most people I would assume.

The keyboard was okay, nothing really special, better than most Windows laptops, the brightness of the backlit keyboard was decent but not nearly as customizable as it’s Apple’s MacBook Pro. Keyboard travel was minimal, it was a pleasant input device.

PROCESSING PROWESS AND STORAGE

The Xeon E3-1505M processor was really quite amazing, because it is designed to sustain high load for long times it is a great workhorse CPU for a workstation, I was impressed by how nimble things were using this CPU in intensive 3D apps and while rendering video files. It transcodes a full 4K video like you just fed it a 3gp video file from your 1999 Motorola flip phone. I was impressed, but the heat and fan noise on high load was pretty atrocious.

The SSD is where I had a problem with mine, and I believe others may have mentioned it in online forums. The SSD emits a strange electrical whine while doing simple things like moving the mouse cursor on screen, the problem was exacerbated when the AC adapter was plugged into the unit. The noise was heard in a moderately loud room and became ear grating in a quiet setting, almost unusable without a pair of headphones on. Electrical noises like this are a total deal breaker for me, you don’t realize how annoying it is until it happens to you.

The discreet Nvidia Quadro M1000M GPU in this workstation is where I felt the Dell Precision M5510 performed as promised, there were no problems using intense 3d rendering software like Maya or Cinema 4D. It was a good performer in the graphics department and I have nothing bad to say about it. I will say that workstations are designed for professional applications like AutoCAD and Maya, using this to play the latest AAA gaming titles is possible but not ideal as these slimmer laptops tend to heat up quite quickly with that type of thing.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

The overall build quality of the machine is pretty good, but when you look up close at each of the individual components you realize that you sacrifice well-thought design and engineering for extra power and heat. I’m comparing this to the MacBook Pro because it is in the same caliber and from what I’ve seen the similarly designed Dell XPS 15 and the Dell Precision 5510 are kind of the same machine give or take a few variations of the latter, the Dell Precision is catered more towards the professional as a workstation and the Dell XPS 15 is more aligned to the needs of the average consumer looking for a powerful work/gaming laptop. I was impressed for the first day and then I realized how poor of a battery the Dell Precision 5510 had, I had the 6-cell battery and was not really getting anywhere near the quoted battery runtimes.

After all of this testing and the subsequent letdown this item was promptly returned, I toiled over what my next option would be and I finally gave up and decided to research on the mid-2015 15″ Retina MacBook Pro with a 2.5 Ghz i7 CPU and the new AMD Radeon GPU, it had most of the feature set I was seeking and I was such a fan of the design and overall feel of my 2015 13″ MacBook Pro model that I gave in and purchased what I wanted from the very beginning.

I’m really by no means an Apple fanboy but I just can’t put into words the feeling of disappointment I felt when my supposed workstation Dell Precision 5510 with full specs made strange electrical noises and had a malfunctioning trackpad moments after opening the box. From that moment I decided that reliability was more important to me than the latest and greatest specs are, I need stability and reliability with my computers and to be completely honest the 5510 just didn’t deliver what I felt it over-promised.

My experience may differ from your experience but I’m tired of chasing the latest and greatest only to be utterly disappointed, I don’t think I can justify deviating from Apple again. Apple machines have a track record of being dependable with quality builds, they last ages and they don’t really suffer from the problems that other power-house machines do. I know that there can be some CPU and GPU throttling on high loads but I think Apple is given a bad rap when it comes to this topic, because really at the end of the day a portable machine is meant to be portable, not plugged into a power socket…otherwise it would be called a desktop. I like having the option of mobility first and foremost, the well engineered design is a bonus and the balance of power vs. performance is much appreciated.