PRODUCT: Precision 15 5000 Series (5510) Workstation
PRICE: Starts at $1,399
• Intel Xeon E3-1505M quad-core processor at 2.8GHz
• Nvidia Quadro M1000M graphics system with 2GBs of GDDR5 video memory
• Gorgeous 4K, touch-enabled 15-inch screen
I am no stranger to Dell’s line of mobile workstations. My first review of one was in 2002, when I looked at the M50, in what seems like a lifetime ago. That was a 7.5-pound, black plastic hulk that brought to life workstation-class capability in a mobile form factor. Cut to 14 years later, and it feels like a whole new world.
The barely four-pound, sleek Dell Precision 15 5000 Series (5510) workstation falls in Dell’s mobile Precision line-up, promising “better” professional graphics performance and “best” display resolution and color from its 15-inch display (to use Dell’s own “Good-Better-Best” Website comparison of the 3000, 5000, 7000 series).
Since I own a one-year-old Dell M3800 for one of my side-jobs (no longer available), it seemed a no-brainer for me to compare these two machines in performance and subjective-use testing, and generally see how it stacks up against my monster home-built rig just for giggles. And the kinds of use I have in mind are all in the world of CG and digital content creation on a professional level, which is you! Hi!
The 5510 is a solid, sleek, lovely looking machine. The setup is on the high-end of the company’s 5000 series configuration, with an Intel Xeon E3-1505M quad-core processor at 2.8GHz, 16GBs of system memory (up to 32GBs), an Nvidia Quadro M1000M graphics system with 2GBs of GDDR5 video memory and a 512GB M.2 interface SSD drive. The display is a gorgeous 4K, touch-enabled 15-inch screen that is not quite edge-to-edge, but has a nice thin bezel around the sides and top. This is a nice improvement over the M3800, which has a much wider bezel.
The first thing I set out to do was stress the 5510 system with several days of a punishing barrage of back-to-back SPECViewperf runs and renders through Maya just to see how hot and loud it can get. And, as expected, when under stress the fan does kick into high-spin mode, which actually wasn’t too bad. It beats other workstation laptops I’ve worked with that sound appreciably louder. Plus, it’s a definite improvement over the M3800's noise, since the M3800 fan kicks into high (loud) mode on a very regular basis, likely due to its super-thin chassis and a poorer heat dissipation.
As far as chassis, the 5510 is strong and sturdy, despite its surprising lightness and is easy to tote around in my Crumpler messenger bag. I was pleasantly surprised to see (and feel) that the 5510 is about the same weight and only slightly thicker than my M3800 — which was billed at its debut as the 'lightest and thinnest' workstation to date. The M3510, which seems to be the M3800’s replacement, is a different chassis than the M3800, and is hopefully better all-around as well.
Overall, the performance on the 5510 is pretty good for a mobile workstation. It won’t be a desktop-replacement (perhaps the M7510 might?), but it does a nice job keeping up with reasonable graphics-professional needs on the road. CPU performance is quite good for a mobile machine, with the more powerful Xeon processor, and that helps the overall feel that the 5510 is a zippy machine.
It ran Maya without issues and displayed scenes with good speed and interactivity with its Quadro M1000M — which happens to be the only video option for the 5510. Compared to the previous generation K1100M in the M3800, the benchmark results using SPECViewperf 11 were mixed.
Surprisingly, the 5510 was 12 percent slower than the previous generation K1100M on the M3800 (both GPUs have the same 2GBs of GDDR5 video memory). I expected at least a little better scoring with the M1000M. Subjectively, however, I didn’t notice any difference working on the 5510.
The 5510 display is beautiful. It’s bright, vivid, with rich blacks and a super crisp sharpness. I can’t fault the 15-inch 4K IPS panel in any way. The only hang-up I had is that viewing a desktop at native 4K can be a strain, if not agonizing, for those like me with a little grey in their hair. This is where Windows 10 display scaling is a great feature in the OS, making everything as large as you need to, with an especially crisp detail to them. Word of warning, however, some apps like Maya and 3DS Max don’t seem fully supportive of Windows 10 scaling, and may throw some errant (usually minor) display issues.
Add to that the general feeling that Windows 10 is just not ready for primetime in the world of workstations (IMHO). Therefore, for now I would recommend Windows 7 and going for the HD resolution non-touch enabled screen. 4K at 15-inch is just too hard to look at without Windows 10 scaling. However, the 5510 is more than capable of running an external screen easily at 4K, so having a 27-inch secondary display is marvelous. This you can run through the Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) interface, which gives you a ton of connection options, as does an HDMI port.
I am hopeful that the powers out there in the ether will work out the Windows 10, 4K scaling kinks with these pro apps soon, so I can have the best of both worlds. Though I do realize that this will take time (as will just making Windows 10 live up to Windows 7 stability in general).
The 5510 fast disk subsystem (going directly through the bus and not a SATA port) allows you to run your footage speedy quick and comps and edits, and the external ports (one Thunderbolt 3 and two USB3) help in easily adding super-fast storage. A built-in SD card slot makes it simple for photo and video ingestion from most cameras (sorry CF cards, you’ll need a USB reader), making this an easier system to take on-set and process footage as you capture it.
Dell’s Precision 5510 is responsive and agile. While it won’t be replacing an in-studio desktop rig anytime soon, when on-location or on-set, the 5510 can be a super-helpful and easily-mobile machine to bring the graphics studio with you and give you serious capability when you’re not in the office hammering away on looming deadlines. I just wish I knew about the 5510 when I bought the M3800.
Intel Core Xeon E3-1505M v5 Quad Core Xeon 2.80GHz, 3.70GHz Turbo, 8MB 45W
Intel Core i7-6820HQ Quad Core 2.70GHz, 3.60GHz Turbo, 8MB 45W
Intel Core i5-6300HQ Quad Core 2.30GHz, 3.20GHz Turbo, 6MB 45W
Windows 7 Pro (64-bit)
Windows 10 Pro (64-bit)
Windows 10 Home Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 7.2
Canonical Ubuntu 14.04 SP1
Mobile Intel CM236
Nvidia Quadro M1000M with 2GBs GDDR5 dedicated memory
Intel Pro Graphics 530 & P530
Dariush Derakhshani is a VFX Supervisor and lecturer based in Los Angeles. He can be reached via his Website: kooth3d.com.