By Dariush Derakhashani
Issue: May 1, 2005



PRODUCT: Precision M70 laptop

PRICING: Starting at $1,849


- 2GB of DDR RAM for application space

- Designed with DCC in mind

- Nvidia Quadro FX Go 1400

The Dell portable workstation is perhaps the nicest in the field. Admittedly I have not had my greasy paws on every single laptop there has ever been, not for any lack of trying, but I've used enough laptops and desktops to have a confidence that the Dell Precision laptops are not only elegant and solid, but powerful and definitely deliver the goods - especially for professionals in digital content creation.

Cliches aside, the Dell Precision M70 sent to me by Dell came equipped for content creation. An Intel Pentium 4-M running at 2.13GHz powers the machine with a full 2GB of DDR RAM for application space. These accoutrements, along with a healthy video platform, are what a workstation needs to be built around: a fast CPU and a large trunk of memory. This is critical to DCC applications, especially if you find yourself multi-tasking between power-hungry apps like After Effects, Maya, and Photoshop, with a sprinkling of Office, Premiere, and some Internet porn to round out the experience.

The M70 may not be the speediest laptop around, for example Alienware offers 3GHz+ on some of their portables. Though it would be nice to see faster processing come to the Dell line, I wonder if that would increase the unit's currently silent operation to an annoying whine to accommodate the extra heat generated. While it is important to have a fast CPU, it is vastly more important for a tightly integrated machine that is capable and reliable on and off the road, and so pure CPU speed should not be your litmus. This is where the Dell is exceedingly good - tight integration.


The inside of a machine counts, but a laptop needs to be solid enough to withstand being carted around, especially if you find yourself on location shoots a lot. While the Dell is certainly not the lightest notebook around, and is difficult to use in a coach airline seat, it is certainly concrete, keeping about the same styling as the M60. I never felt as if something would simply crack or snap off, due to a sturdy, two tone silver titanium case - a vast improvement from two generations ago with the Dell M50. This is important on location or on set, where I've dragged my Dell unit several times, usually catching the eye of a few of the crew - at least from the ones in the know.

The cream filling to the Twinkie of this M70 has got to be the PCI Express-based Nvidia Quadro FXGo 1400 and the accompanying hi-rez 15.4-inch widescreen LCD display. It packs an impressive 1920x1280 pixels, which may not dither the best in Web graphics at times, but gives me a lot of screen space for my Maya and compositing tasks. Some notebooks offer a staggering 17-inch widescreen, so I wonder how this system would feel with one that large. Dell offers a Dimension XPS laptop with a 17-inch screen, but that system overall seems more of a gaming desktop replacement machine than a serious portable workstation, due to its GeForce video system.

The high-resolution screen was indeed the first thing I noticed when I started up the system. The second thing I noticed though was an unfortunate lack of a FireWire port. I feel this is a critical port to have on a machine, to make you as compatible and flexible as possible. Dell does offer a PC Card FireWire solution you can pop into the machine's one PC Card slot, but that just adds more to carry and worry about. Aside from that, the M70 sports four USB 2.0 ports, headphone and mic jacks (with adequate stereo speakers), an external analog VGA port enabling single or dual display on an external monitor - though a DVI port may have been better - and TV and coax digital audio out with attached dongle.

Storage needs are met with a zippy 7200RPM 60GB hard drive and a dual format DVD burner which handles -/+RW media as well as CDs. Stepping up from the M60 is an 802.11g WiFi to get you on a network at 54Mbs, as well as a Bluetooth option for wireless accessories like a cell phone or printer and a wired Gigabit Ethernet to hook up into your main office network. The Gigabit connectivity is great, and lets you set the M70 as a desktop replacement as well as your office to go.

Using the M70 for the past several weeks has been a pleasure. I happened to use this machine solely as my main system on and off set at my last project - I hardly missed my regular dual CPU desktop system. And now while working at a facility away from home, I cannot stress how much I have come to rely on this machine at my little temporary apartment here or in the studio at my crowded desk. And though I am traveling back and forth on the weekends and none of my animation and writing projects seem to have slowed down one bit, I've been able to keep pace with everything running on the M70 - leaving my home dual Xeon machine off and sitting there beside my also neglected wife and TiVo.

I don't think I would have felt this comfortable using a less elegant and well-rounded laptop, despite the missing FireWire. As a matter of fact, the animator sitting next to me logged onto Dell's site within two weeks of my arrival here and bought an M70 for himself. You?d be hard-pressed to find a better machine, perhaps until the next Dell Precision M series model.