Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Dell Precision 5750 mobile workstation

With phones now capable of so much, those with laptops are expecting more from PC systems.

Unless a laptop can do something substantially better than a phone or tablet, then its most significant contribution is the cardiovascular workout lugging it around provides.

The shifting balance of power between mobile and desktop solutions has encouraged laptop makers to try and provide an alternative to office-bound workstations. The new Dell Precision 5750 is a prime example of this new portable power generation that delivers a desktop-like experience to those that need performance on the move.

It’s hardly cheap and treads on a market Apple has successfully exploited, but the Precision 5750 might be the most subversive laptop to come from Dell in a while.

Dell Precision 5750

(Image credit: Mark Pickavance)

Price and availability

As with most Dell systems, for business customers, the actual specification of the system can be tailored to exacting needs. The Dell Precision 5750 can start at £2,029 exclusive of VAT ($2,089), and for that outlay, you get a 1080p screen, Core i5 processor, a modest amount of RAM and storage.

The review hardware Dell sent us for review was less cautiously specced, and by choosing the best CPU, most RAM, a massive amount of storage and the best 4K screen, we boosted that cost to £4,458.21, exclusive of VAT and $5,507.58 in the USA.

And, as we’ll cover in the review, this machine necessitates some accessories that aren’t included in that price.

Dell Precision 5750

(Image credit: Mark Pickavance)

Design

In the Dell marketing material for the Precision 5750, much is made of how light and thin it is, and indeed this is a svelte design. The review hardware sported a 17-inch 4K display with minimal borders and one of the biggest touchpads we’ve ever seen on a laptop.

Outside is a brushed aluminium skin, where the inside is has a black carbon fibre effect finish that looks more durable than it probably is.

While it might be thin, at more than 2Kg without the necessary accessories, this isn’t the lightest mobile system we’ve encountered, being only marginally lighter than the latest Dell XPS 17.

Until recently, only Apple had the arrogance, or bravado, to deliver a laptop exclusively with a new port and then charge its customers for an adapter to give them the ports they need most.

While USB-C isn’t entirely new, most Dell business customers won’t be using it that much yet, which makes the designers choice to make this machine exclusively USB-C a bit revolutionary.

Dell Precision 5750

(Image credit: Mark Pickavance)
Spec sheet

Here is the Dell Precision 5750 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:

CPU: Intel Core i9-10885H CPU
Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro RTX 3000 with Max-Q Design
RAM: 64GB DDR4
Screen: 17-inch, WLED UHD+ resolution 3840 x 2400, 60 Hz, Touch display
Storage: 2x 1TB KIOXIA NVMe SSD
Ports: 4x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C port with Thunderbolt 3,1x Universal Audio Jack, 1x SD card slot, 1x Wedge security slot.
Connectivity: Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201, 2 X 2, 802.11ax with Bluetooth 5.1
Camera: Infra-Red Windows Hello compliant
Battery: 97 WHR, 6-cell, Lithium-ion polymer
Weight: 4.70 lb (2.13kg)
Size: 374.48 x 248.08 x 13.5 mm (W x D x H)

Sharper commercial minds at Dell prevailed, but not until the machine specifications were finalised, so a small USB-C dongle was included that provides a single USB-A port and HDMI out.

The hint, if you missed it, is that this machine needs a Thunderbolt docking station, and Dell is happy to sell you one of those.

We'd recommend a Thunderbolt docking station because the four provided ports are Thunderbolt 3 specification that can downgrade to USB 3.2 Gen 2. As one port is always required for charging and/or connection to the docking station, there is plenty of bandwidth available through the remaining for additional displays, external storage and other bandwidth-demanding peripherals.

Beyond the four USB-C ports are a single 3.5mm audio jack and a standard SD card reader, and no other ports. No LAN, USB-A, DisplayPort or security card slots.

Without a docking station, this machine will require plenty of Thunderbolt or USB-C adapters to add back all the ports that most people need.

For those curious about potential upgrades over the working life of their machine, the news isn’t good. There are no access panels for memory or storage, and those wanting to explore those options will be required to deploy the TORX screwdrivers and remove the entire underside of the machine.

Dell Precision 5750

(Image credit: Mark Pickavance)

In use

It’s worth pointing out that not all Dell Precision 5750’s are made equal, and the review hardware was on the top rung of its performance ladder.

Therefore a user using a Core-i5 based system and 1080p display machine won’t have the ultra-powerful experience that we did with a spec that included a Core-i9 CPU, 64GB of RAM and a 4K panel.

Out of those parts, the most impressive component is undoubtedly the display, as it has excellent colour representation and brightness. This panel is rated to output 500nits of backlighting, delivers 100% of AdobeRGB gamut and is certified for HDR400. It’s the best thing about this machine, though the processor comes a close second.

All the available CPUs for the 5750 are 10th generation Intel. The review hardware utilised the Intel Core i9-10885H, an eight-core CPU with sixteen thread processing and the ability to turbo boost to 5.3GHz. As mobile CPUs go, on paper at least, it’s a bit of a monster.

For those that want it, Dell also offers the Xeon W-10885M as an option. It has almost identical specs to the Core i9-10885H, but the choice is yours.

The CPU carries the processing requirement so far, but if the need is for compute power, this machine can include an Nvidia Quadro GPU, with options for either the T2000 or RTX 3000 mobile GPUs.

Our review machine had the RTX 3000 with Max-Q Design, a variation of the mobile RTX 3000 configured to be more power-efficient.

We’re undecided on the value of Quadro video technology and assumptions that owners might make about the performance they’ll get from them.

To be clear, the Quadro RTX 3000 in this machine didn’t deliver anywhere near the performance of the mobile RTX 3070 we’ve recently tested, and that GPU is a shadow of the power of a discrete RTX 3070 in a desktop system can output.

While they might make Intel’s integrated UHD Graphics 630 look as glacial as they genuinely are, there are faster options for those that want more graphics and compute power.

Due to these limitations, this isn’t a platform that many gamers might want to borrow, even if the display and processor are appropriate.

As with all performance laptops, the Precision 5750 is a compromise between what is possible and practical. And, in this example, it might be dramatically better than a stock Dell Inspire or other branded performance machine but won’t have many desktop workstations concerned for their long term appeal.

Performance

Benchmarks

Here's how the Dell Precision 5750 scored in our suite of benchmark tests:

3DMark: Wild Life: 13,744; Fire Strike: 13,387; Time Spy: 5,765
Cinebench R20 CPU: 3,508
Cinebench R23 CPU: 1,165 (single-core); 8,575 (multi-core)
GeekBench: 1,056 (single-core); 7,832 (multi-core)
CrystalDiskMark: Sequential Read: 3,042MB/s; Sequential Write: 2,818MB/s; 4KiB Q32T1 Random Read: 43.44MB/s; 4KiB Q32T1 Random Write: 102.8MB/s
PCMark 8 (Home Test): 3,550 points
PCMark 8 Battery Life: 2 hours and 21 minutes
Battery Life (Techradar movie test): 3 hours and 22 minutes

It pains us to admit this, but the Intel Core i9-10885H processor isn’t as big a performance monster as we initially assumed.

While it delivers excellent multi-core scores on those tests that consider that aspect, its single-core performance is mediocre considering that, in theory, it can boost to 5.3GHz.

In GeekBench, as an example, the Intel Core i7-10870H that we tested in our Gigabyte AERO 17 review managed 1,290, over the 1,056 that the Core-i9 achieved.

Comparing it to the AMD Ryzen 5980HX CPU appearing in some new machine, that chip scores 1,617 on GeekBench single-core test and 9,624 on multi-core.

Continuing the theme of fast, but not the fastest, the GPU related tests reveal that the Quadro RTX 3000 with Max-Q Design is about 70% of what a mobile RTX 3070 offers on a similar system.

Dell Precision 5750

(Image credit: Mark Pickavance)

Had Dell used that GPU, it might have made this machine even more expensive, but it would also have been quicker.

The performance of the NVMe drives provided by Toshiba is good, but not exceptional. As Intel didn’t embrace PCIe 4.0 on the WM490 chipset, and so this machine can’t exploit any of the super-fast NVMe drives that support PCIe 4.0 mode.

That it doesn’t might also be a blessing in disguise, since the worst numbers of our test are the battery scores, as this machine eats through the 97 WHR, 6-cell, Lithium-ion polymer battery disturbingly quickly.

Incredibly Dell offers the cheaper versions of this hardware with a 56 WHR, 3-cell battery, and how long that might keep the system afloat would be a concern.

In short, this machine needs mains power for any degree of prolonged use.

Dell Precision 5750

(Image credit: Mark Pickavance)

Final verdict

As mobile workstations go, the Dell Precision 5750 is a classy option that delivers many of the performance features that power users would like.

Dell put its business hat on when they included the Nvidia Quadro GPU option and left out the superior mobile RTX 3070 crushes any Quadro card, regrettably. Either of the possible Quadro options is by a magnitude better than the Intel UHD 630 integrated GPU, so we should count those blessings.

Where this machine departs from the normal Dell designed hardware is that they’ve allowed the designers to imagine the system they’d most like. The Precision 5750 has a purity of purpose that many business machines lack, and it is refreshing to see from Dell.

This clarity is exemplified by the port layout, with only Type-C ports and no other options.

We admire Dell’s ambition here, but even with the included HDMI/USB Type-A gizmo they included, this machine demands a Thunderbolt 3 docking station to address the numerous port omissions.

Dell makes a selection of docking stations, though there are some even better and more affordable ones from OWC and Glyph, among other brands. Anyone considering this unit should certainly budget for one of them, plus any other port-converting accessories that they might need.

Where this design disappoints is that it is impossible to buy a lower specification design and upgrade it later without dismantling the machine, and the battery capacity isn’t nearly enough for levels of power this system can guzzle.

In both the US and UK, it is cheaper to have a single 2TB NVMe SSD installed than to have two 1TB drives, as in the review machine. And, whatever choice you make the cost of storage from Dell is much higher than the retail cost of identical parts.

We expect high costs whenever the word ‘Workstation’ is brandished by PC makers, but the Dell Precision 5750 is expensive for a machine that can’t run for prolonged periods on battery and isn’t easily upgraded.

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