Price: £2,499 plus VAT
The words ‘mobile workstation’ used to be as much of an oxymoron as ‘military intelligence’, or ‘Microsoft Works’. Dell’s Precision M40, though, proves that you can have formidable graphics power without needing a forklift truck to transport it. It isn’t much heavier than the average laptop, but has graphics capabilities that put most desktops to shame. While this laptop’s specifications don’t differ too much from that of a classic power-laptop set up, it does enjoy a different class of graphics system running the display. NVidia’s Quadro2 Go chip is the first of its breed – a mobile version of the company’s popular Quadro2 range of workstation graphics cards. (The Pro version was found in most of last month’s workstation roundup.) As well as being more powerful than the consumer cards used by most laptops, it’s both DirectX and OpenGL compliant. The Quadro2 Go is also certified to work with top 3D tools such as NewTek LightWave, Softimage|XSI and Discreet 3DSMax (for which it’s optimized using the MAXtreme applet). It’s backed-up with an almost-perfect 15-inch LCD screen that updates quickly enough for high-frame rate video and offers great colour reproduction. A powerful processor At the heart of the M40 is Intel’s 1.2GHz Pentium III Mobile processor. It’s a nippy beast, with 512KB of Level 2 cache and the fastest mobile Pentium available, but it’s no Pentium 4 – and certainly no Xeon. But then you’re paying for the portability of this system, too. It shouldn’t be too long until a mobile version of the Pentium 4 launches though, which should bring a further speed boost that many may wish to wait for. The processor sits on Intel’s 815EP motherboard, with a system bus-speed of 133MHz – again, the best in its class. The motherboard also connects 512MB of ECC SDRAM, which is enough to coax impressive results from Adobe Photoshop, Discreet Combustion and LightWave (our main test applications). Error correction means that you can rely on it through long renders. This is the maximum configuration, however, so you can’t upgrade in the future. The 48GB hard disk is large by laptop standards – but again, the architecture gets in the way by limiting its speed to 5,400rpm and an Ultra-ATA/100 interface. One piece of architecture that is great, though, is the modular bay system. As standard you get a fixed CD-RW/DVD-R drive, a battery bay, and a floppy drive. The floppy drive is in a modular bay and can be replaced with a 20GB hard drive, a CD-ROM drive (for a higher reading speed or to copy CDs), a second battery, or a travel module to save weight. The rest of the input and output facilities are full and complete. There are two USB ports, and one each of IEEE 1394 (FireWire), VGA, S-Video out, serial, parallel, infrared, and audio (mic, line-in, and headphone/speaker out). There’s also a modem, ethernet connection, and a connector for a docking station. The M40 runs Windows 2000 Professional, the standard OS for most applications certified for it. Dell’s Precision M40 is never going to compete with your desktop workstation – it just isn’t fast enough. But it allows you to do things that were previously impossible. You can take it to clients, or use it as a mobile sketchpad. It’s expensive laptop, but if you want power and portability there’s nothing else out there that can compete.