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Zero Day Review: Dell Precision Workstation M90

Packed with Intel Core Duo and NVIDIA 512MB graphics, this laptop's tough to beat
This laptop has more than just a pretty face, too. There are multiple benefits to having these new Intel Core Duo processors inside. One is increased battery life, even in light of the fact that there is an industrial-strength graphics card and two processor cores chugging away under the hood. Even when you're using this notebook in the real world, its nine-cell 85 watt/hour batteries will probably give you about 2.5 hours of hard use per charge, and up to three hours if they're just running a battery benchmark.  

Those Core Duo processors are highly efficient, and that's why they don't use up much battery power. Plus, they don't generate a lot of heat, either, so they can be good citizens in environments where you'd like your computing equipment to stay quiet. Even when we really beat up on the machine, its fan would kick in during the only the heaviest rendering, and even at its loudest it was unobtrusive. Over the years we've noticed that Dell makes a special effort to keep all of its PCs quiet, and this M90 is certainly no exception.

The most obvious benefit of the Core Duo processors are their sheer power, which is not exactly the equivalent of twice the power of processors with similar clock speeds, but nearly so. Running our standard series of content creation benchmarks which use a real-world render-intensive applications such as Adobe After Effects, this laptop showed extraordinary performance for a portable machine, and rivaled the performance of most of the desktops we've tested here at the Midwest Test Facility.

The back of the M90 has DVI-D and a VGA video ports, so you can plug in two monitors. Notice the four USB 2.0 ports on the back; there are two on the left side as well.

There's a 1394 port, audio I/O, a 4-in-1 flash card reader, and an ExpressCard slot  on the right side (top of picture) while the left side has a DVD burner and those two USB 2.0 ports.

Taking a look at the table below, notice how the M90 was able to keep up admirably with our fastest dual core/dual processor Opteron 280 desktop workstation, even tying or besting its scores on a few of the tests, and not far behind on others. We found it remarkable that a little 8-pound laptop like this could beat our mighty state-of-the-art desktop workstations at any of the benchmarks. The M90 turned in a respectable score on the CineBench benchmarks, and it did well on our disk read and write tests, with a read speed of 41MB per second and write speed of 42MB per second, giving it more than enough disk throughput for most video editing tasks. And the most remarkable benchmark was the Open GL speedup offered by that 512MB NVIDIA Quadro FX 2500M Open GL 3D graphics card of 9.03x. Remarkable.

Results in minutes: seconds
Boldface indicates winner. After Effects Version used: 6.5.1
Dell Precision Workstation 470 Dual Intel Xeon 3.6, 2GB DDR2 RAM ($4639) HP xw9300 Workstation, two dual-core Opteron 280 processors running at 2.4 GHz, 4GB DDR400 RAM ($5499)


Dell Precision M70 Mobile Workstation 
Intel Pentium M 2.13GHz

Dell Precision Mobile Workstation M90 Intel Core Duo T2600 2.16GHz, 2GB RAM
1. After Effects: Animation :03 :02 :08 :02
2. After Effects : Video Composite :37 :40 1:07 :26
3. After Effects : Data Project 1:16 :50 2:43 1:08
4. After Effects : Gambler :19 :17 :31 :16
5. After Effects : Source Shapes 2:46 1:46 5:33 2:21
6. After Effects : Virtual Set 1:58 1:24 5:54 1:59
Maxon CineBench Rendering (CB-CPU score -- higher is better) 672 1335 227 591
TotalBenchmark comp 1 83 sec. 79 sec. 152 sec. 69 sec.
TotalBenchmark comp 2 960 sec. 881 sec. 1956 sec. 1081 sec.
Hard Disk Speed Read: 130MB/sec.
Write: 133MB/sec.
Read: 56MB/sec.
Write: 62MB/sec.
Read: 23MB/sec.
Write: 24MB/sec.
Read: 41MB/sec.
Write: 42MB/sec.


Summing up, this is a beautifully-designed laptop with performance that tops any that Dell has created. It's quiet, not too heavy at just over 8 pounds, and its components are all first-rate except for its screen which arrived at our facility with a stuck pixel and was unevenly backlit. The efficiency of its Intel Core Duo processor and power of its graphics processor are both significant enhancements to its roadworthiness for content creators, extending its battery power and its graphics number-crunching power to achieve a balance that gives users plenty of power yet long enough battery life to actually get some serious work done. The M90's sturdy build quality is an improvement over the already-excellent standard of its stellar predecessors, and its certification program that espouses a variety of content creation applications can instill confidence in its owner. Recommended. 8.9 out of 10 stars.

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