By Neil Bennett | on June 05, 2006
Price When Reviewed: 949 . 1989
Pros: Ultra-powerful graphics chip. Fast processor and lots of RAM. Great screen.
Cons: Large and heavy. Only 3GB of the 4GB RAM accessible.
The Precision M90 has a much chunkier shell than its M65 cousin (reviewed in Digit 101), as it’s based on a completely different line of laptops. The M65 is based on Dell’s Latitude line for business users – where mobility is a priority – but this M90 model is drawn from the company’s home- and multimedia-focused Inspiron range. At almost 4kg, it’s not the kind of laptop you’re going to want to carry around with you too often.
The M90’s Inspiron heritage does give it a much better screen than the M65, as it has an X-Black-style coating. At 17-inches diagonally, the high-definition 1,920-x-1,200-resolution screen is much less likely to give you eye-strain than the M65’s 15.4-inch screen. Size and weight aside, the M90’s ergonomics are excellent, being comfortable to use with a responsive keyboard and mouse.
However, the choice of chassis drops the useful wireless on/off switch in favour of irrelevant audio playback controls, though the built-in media card reader is useful.
It’s the NVidia’s Quadro FX 2500M graphics processor that makes the M90 a mobile workstation – and it’s the best chip in its class. It garnered a score of 3852 in our Cinebench test, helped by its groundbreaking (for a mobile chip) 512MB RAM. The score puts it a notch above ATI’s top-rated laptop graphics processor, the FireGL V5200, found in HP’s Compaq nw8440 (reviewed on page 97).
This mobile workstation is heavy on the main RAM too. Our test unit featured a full 4GB of RAM – though only 3GB of that is usable by single applications, and we had to tweak settings to make more than 2GB available. Like most laptops, the M90 has only two RAM slots, so if you want more than 2GB you have to plump for the full 4GB – though the price quoted by Dell for the unit is fair for the usable amount. Photoshop certainly appreciated the extra RAM – after the tweak – taking just over three minutes to complete our Photoshop actions.
The M90’s LightWave score was as expected for a laptop with Intel’s top Core Duo chip.
Everything about the Precision M90 is top notch except for its size and weight. Creatives such as video editors who want more mobility should check out HP’s forthcoming Compaq nw9440, which has a less powerful graphics chip (the Quadro FX 1500M with 256MB RAM), but is a whole half kilogram lighter.