My Dell Precision M6600 Review, Commentary and Conclusions.

April 13th, 2012 by Andrea Matesi

In the end, I settled with the Dell M6600 because this is the best 2011/2012 laptop that satisfied all of my needs without compromises AND stood inside my budget.

Alienware series.

The Alienware series is a kick ass computer series, they have really powerful desktop-like performance and dual GPUs. They are highly suggested for gaming addicts, which I (thankfully) am no more. The Alienware were a little bit over my budget, also (but this is a personal preference), I didn’t quite like too much their fancy eye-catching design, and I reckon they may not look as professional and business-friendly as I preferred. They also don’t have IPS LCD and professional features.

Apple Macbook Pro 15 & 17.

The Apple computers made a name for themselves for their beautiful design and their excellent build quality. I highly respect OS X for its “UNIX” roots. But I think the Linux argument doesn't apply too much to a desktop system (Answer this:"Would you install a "LAMP" environment on your personal desktop?!" That's correct: Parallels or VMWARE!).
Now for the Apple disadvantages!
OS X is usually the first to fall when it is put under security scrutiny during hacking contests.
I found I am not particularly fond about the fixed menu bar over the top (Ubuntu Unity smartly improved this concept - check it out!).
Macs are seriously overpriced.
The hardware is not so performing for the games I "suppose" to play (someday...sob!).
Apple Macs do not support intel AMT and Anti Theft technologies (although they offer some form of remote device locking with Apple Mac OS X Server).
All the Mac laptops do not have a numeric Keypad, for a person that deals with numbers a lot, this is a "feature"!
My AVerTV Hybrid NanoExpress Express Card 54 would not work, not by hardware (missing 54mm EC slot), nor by software.
In short (and with all my personal respect and appreciation for Apple Mac OS X friends and professionals): fantastic UNIX performers but also "too exclusive" and sometimes (depending on their use) nice ornaments.

Asus G73.

I tracked the evolution of this nice and sturdy computer, but it didn’t satisfy me from the CPU and chipset POV (no virtualization features and no professional features like intel AMT). Other than that, I must say I’m impressed by its design and by the new Asus G74 with i7 fully virtualized CPUs, too bad they didn’t deploy intel Q67m chipsets!

Dell XPS 17.

I was really close at buying an XPS 17 with sandy bridge, but, at the time, I figured the price difference between the M6600 and the XPS 17 was almost negligible (considering the XPS 17 default standard warranty of 1 year vs the M6600’s 3 years). This laptop is a very good overall performer and it would have practically suited me for everything but the Professional features. Its Geforce 555M has Optimus (but it’s not as powerful as Quadro 3000m). It has an amazing sound (my wife's XPS 15 which really kicks!). It doesn’t have the EC 54 slot, so no tv for me (true, I had the option to buy the pre-installed tv module by Dell, but why pay if I already had a spare 54 EC TV Card?), and last but not least, the XPS 17 doesn't give you this "tank" feeling.

HP Elitebook 8760w.

The HP 8760w is the closest M6600 contender and candidate alternative, but at a price. This machine has everything needed to satisfy your computing needs, too bad that when you try and crank it up, you may end up spending, like $ 3.500+ (not counting your expensive aftermarket accessories). But it's not just that: the HP has serious limitations compared to the M6600: for one, they don't have Optimus, they have 1 fan less than the M6600 (which, with the Optimus feature enabled is unhearable even under medium-high load - the only Optimus downside is that it works only under Win), there is no mSATA slot (which I am actually using it!), and, compared to the M6600, I think it's less scalable hardware-wise. BUT their design is good, so if you're into "design" is better than performance, efficiency and scalability, have a look at it!

Dell Latitude E6520.

This was another close-buy, but since it lacked decent Casual gaming capabilities, I excluded it. Also, it seems, I don’t quite like 15.6 formats, and, esthetically, I highly prefer the cleaner M6600 curves.

The really expensive Vaio.

Well, when the Vaio Z series popped up, I looked at it with contempt and admiration, but, frankly, I think this is just another ornament for the rich (Why doesn't Apple buys the whole Sony I still don't know yet).

Lenovo w520 and the X220.

The w520 is a hell of a machine! But since it seems I’m not fully convinced by the 15.6 LCD format, I was expecting a possible w720 series. Too bad plans for the w720 were scrapped :|
Sometimes in the future, I suppose an x220 will be a great lightweight backup pc with its beautiful IPS screen!

Barebones

I’ve also looked through the barebones like sager and the others, and since I’m more a do-it-yourself kind of person, this choice may have made a lot of sense.
I found their offers honest and tempting, but, still, a little more expensive and less integrated than my Dell M6600. And they weren't having intel Q67m chipsets.

M4600 vs M6600.

So, why I ended up getting a Second World War Battle Tank instead of the slightly slicker M4600? Good question! Well...maybe I thought “bigger is better” :D Jokes aside, I chose it because of its solid features, sturdy materials, unpaired upgrade-ability, screen real estate (even if it was reduced from 1920x1200 to 1920x1080) and Metal design. For people like me, the M6600 is the reliable solution: Dell did a really great job of documenting and publishing pictures on how to upgrade it as well. It is really a great system (in every aspect) and a solid performer that won't let you down. I have no regrets and I didn't have to compromise on anything.

I know inside my review there are some harsh/direct/raw judgements that may sound like bashing (especially "against" the Apple/Sony friends/fans/crowds), but I spoke only about facts and personal experience, so I hope nobody feels offended by that (they're just Companies and you maybe shareholders, so what? We're all free to say what we think, especially on a personal blog).

I will conclude my review with some pictures that are worth more than 1000 words.

With an M6600 you can have all of this:

Before M6600.

into this:

Dell Precision M6600

"Future Scenarios" ideas:

- Internal Quadro 1000m + e-GPU.

- Pair the M6600 with one or two 24+" Decent LCDs.

- Add the Docking Station to expand its connectivity.

- Make it an home server.

- Crank the RAM @ 32 GB 1600Mhz (it seems to work - search through the M6600 Owner's Thread).

- RAID 0 w/dual SSDs (plus an External ESATA Backup).

As you can see, limitless possibilities for your ideal and perfect system.

Senior Professional Network and Computer Systems Engineer during work hours and father when home.

Andrea strives to deliver outstanding customer service and heaps of love towards his family.

In this Ad-sponsored space, Andrea shares his quest for "ultimate" IT knowledge, meticulously brought to you in an easy to read format.

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My Dell Precision M6600 Review contestants.

March 25th, 2012 by Andrea Matesi

When I needed to "cashout", I closed the circle on the following subset of laptops:

  • The Alienware series.
  • The Apple MacBook Pro 15 & 17.
  • The Asus G73.
  • The Dell Latitude E6520.
  • The Dell XPS 17.
  • The Dell Precision M4600/M6600.
  • The HP 8760w.
  • The Lenovo w520 and the x220.
  • A really expensive Sony Vaio Z.
  • Some barebones like Eurocom/Sager, etc.

Some of those are, like...WOW!

BUT I simply kept in mind "what I needed" with "what those laptops offered".

Here's some personal considerations which brought me to my personal choice:

- Virtualization, Certification studies, experimenting with labs, some development, browsing, emailing, etc. (all at the same time...), asked for a "many-cores" CPU with virtualization extensions, plenty of RAM and medium/fast SSD.

- DSLR photography requested for an high-res and 100% rgb color space display, so I had to look for a high quality IPS LCD display (no more dithering please!), and since my eyes are thankful for my previous 24” Dell 2405FPW LCD, I wanted no compromises. This feature alone disqualified almost all of the contestants, but the HP 8760w, the Dell Precision M4600 and the tiny Lenovo x220. Too bad the IPS LCD was still in the making when I got my M6600, so I had to compromise on it (suffice it to say that now you can have a fantastic IPS LCD for your laptop AND I will highly envy you!).

- Since I had an Avermedia 54mm nano Hybrid Express TV Card lying around, my Home entertainment needs requested for an Express Card 54mm port (which is also nice to have for other things...). For music and movies, I am fine with a standard cable headset and I felt I didn’t need high-power JBL sound systems like what a Dell XPS 17 could have offered (even if I am quite into Rock, Metal, Alternative, industrial, some electronica, etc.).

m6600 bottom panel off - expandabilty details

m6600 bottom panel off - expandabilty details

- Casual gaming for me represents some FPS/RTS/RPG/4X games I played in the past and I still can't find time to play in the present. In the past I played FEAR, Oblivion, the C&C series and some very beautiful variations, I enjoyed the RPGs (the Baldur's Gate series, Planescape Torment, the Neverwinter Nights series, SWTOR-series, the first Mass Effect (WOW!) - but no time for 2nd and 3rd chapter...sigh!), and I really liked Space Sims and 4X games like MOO, Galciv, Sins of A Solar Empire and the Sci-Fi Fans apotheosis: the X-Universe series. Anyway, I thought I needed efficient graphics, which could (some-day-don't-know-when) satisfy my "leisure time requirements". In the end, I simply compromised on it and I choose an Optimus 3000m.

- The Majority of the listed notebooks are easily upgradeable. Some require you to go under the keyboard (and the M6600 is no exception). Essentially all of them are more or less scalable/upgradeable, as they allow for plenty of intervention by their owners. Well, not every of those allows you to crank it up seriously as the M6600 allows you to, but nonetheless, your requirements might be different. Dell publishes detailed manuals with clear explanations and pictures on how to service and upgrade the M6600 on your own (check this out: http://support.dell.com/support/edocs/systems/wsm6600/en/SM/index.html). The HP 8560w seems well documented too, the others I don’t know, but I suppose today all laptops offer you some way to "dive-in".

- The M6600 is made of a sturdy composite alloy made of zinc and plastic elegantly blended together, the HP design is fantastic and the Lenovo seems excellent too, the unibody designs are also winners. The Latitude design looks solid. Less so for the ASUS, the XPS and the barebones (but I think they are still superior than the average commercial plastic notebooks).

- Since I were putting 2 months of my life on this expensive baby, I wanted to dedicate a small part of my budget to "security" features, so I decided to pay the "lojack" tax w/the intel anti-theft technologies and a kensington cable to keep me partially covered (but I forgot to get the fingerprint reader...whoops!).

dell-m6600-left-side-connectivity

dell-m6600-left-side-connectivity

Before the M6600, I started to think that the laptop I needed was either non-existant or out-of-my league (ie. the HP 8760W), but as time passed by and new models popped up, I kept looking and looking until I found "the right one".

Senior Professional Network and Computer Systems Engineer during work hours and father when home.

Andrea strives to deliver outstanding customer service and heaps of love towards his family.

In this Ad-sponsored space, Andrea shares his quest for "ultimate" IT knowledge, meticulously brought to you in an easy to read format.

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OCZ nocti 120GB SSD Review (w/CrystalDiskMark/AS SSD Benchmarks).

March 22nd, 2012 by Andrea Matesi

In October 2011 I got an mSATA SSD because my Dell M6600 had a tempting mSATA (SATA II - 300Mbps) slot which made me think:"a small SSD may come in handy here!".

The effective available space is 111GB and the controller should be the Sandforce 2181.

The small OCZ nocti mini mSATA SSD inside my M6600.

I experienced first person that the SSD performance is not so "WOW, that was fast!".

But they are not so bad either, since this thingie results 3 to 4 times faster than an average velociraptor!

I did some benchmarking from the normal Windows 7 installed by Dell into my original (spinning) hdd included with my system. In other words, I wasn't booting my OS from this tiny SSD: I was just formatting and running the benchies on it (screenshots below).

What I specifically wanted to asses was if there was some difference between formatting the SSD with:

  • A default NTFS cluster size.
  • A 4k NTFS cluster size.
  • An 8k NTFS cluster size.

My results are very similar one-another and I found that, even if the majority of your files seem to be between 4k and 8k, this SSD seems optimized for the "default" NTFS cluster size.

It's also worthwhile noting that my results are far from the marketed "280Mb/s - 260Mb/s" from the OCZ website. That's because marketers, while publicizing their SSD performance, prefer to refer to their benchmarks using "compressible data".

At the moment I'm using this SSD as a single partition with a default NTFS Cluster Size.

It is attached to Hyper-V as a pass-through disk.

I installed into it an instance of MS Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 with:

  • An Active Directory Domain.
  • MS SQL Server Express 2008 R2 (running as a "least privilege" instance with its own user accounts).
  • A secure Sharepoint Foundation 2010 instance with Kerberos (running with its own user accounts too).

And I must admit all works pretty well!

Here's my benchmark results:

Default NTFS Cluster Size.

CrystalDiskMark:

ocz-nocti-120-msata-default-ntfs-cluster-size-crystaldiskmark

AS SSD Benchmark (MB/s):

ocz-nocti-120-msata-default-ntfs-cluster-size-as-ssd-bench-MB

AS SSD Benchmark (IOPS):

ocz-nocti-120-msata-default-ntfs-cluster-size-as-ssd-bench-IOPS

4k NTFS Cluster Size.

CrystalDiskMark:

ocz-nocti-120-msata-4k-ntfs-cluster-size-crystaldiskmark

AS SSD Benchmark (MB/s):

ocz-nocti-120-msata-4k-ntfs-cluster-size-as-ssd-bench-MB

AS SSD Benchmark (IOPS):

ocz-nocti-120-msata-4k-ntfs-cluster-size-as-ssd-bench-IOPS

8k NTFS Cluster Size.

CrystalDiskMark:

ocz-nocti-120-msata-8k-ntfs-cluster-size-crystaldiskmark

AS SSD Benchmark (MB/s):

ocz-nocti-120-msata-8k-ntfs-cluster-size-as-ssd-bench-MB

AS SSD Benchmark (IOPS):

ocz-nocti-120-msata-8k-ntfs-cluster-size-as-ssd-bench-IOPS

Senior Professional Network and Computer Systems Engineer during work hours and father when home.

Andrea strives to deliver outstanding customer service and heaps of love towards his family.

In this Ad-sponsored space, Andrea shares his quest for "ultimate" IT knowledge, meticulously brought to you in an easy to read format.

Posted in REVIEWS | Comments Off on OCZ nocti 120GB SSD Review (w/CrystalDiskMark/AS SSD Benchmarks).

My Dell Precision M6600 Review intro.

March 17th, 2012 by Andrea Matesi
or why a pwrusr buys a Dell Precision M6600.

(a 3 Pts. article which explains why I got the Dell Precision M6600 Laptop).

I finally settled on a fancy new laptop which is, in fact, my first true personal laptop: the Dell Precision M6600 in all of its glory!

As some of the readers of this blog may have guessed, I deal with people and computers and I enjoy offering my services as a trusted employee.

Once I moved from Sicily to Northern Italy, all of my belongings followed me: my car, my (proudly self-built) desktop pc and the "best buy" of my life, a wonderful 24” PVA LCD from Dell (the 2405FPW).

But getting down under is a whole different story: I needed a Panzerkampfwagen VIII nice and sturdy laptop to start from scratch.

Before entering the flashy world of notebooks, I needed to feel the market pulse, so I started looking at the existing models, I investigated laptop hardware news channels, I made a notebookreview.com account (the best Notebook Community out there, seriously) and in the beginning I started reading various threads, then, once I thought I got something, I declared the M6600 Owners thread my notebookreview.com home (I also posted some doubts and shared my experiences with the other users, very good experience overall).

Anyway, before getting the M6600, I first wrote down some notes on what my “user” needs were and some (wife looking at you...), budget figures in accordance with my dear other half - in the end, we settled to “no more than 2 months of my (tiny) salary".

That's more or less what I needed:

  • A test environment to study and experiment with IT Certs.
  • Virtualization Support.
  • Browsing and E-mailing.
  • Casual web development.
  • Casual DSLR photography.
  • Casual home, music and movies entertainment.
  • Quality and sturdy materials for the casing.
  • Casual gaming.
  • Desktop-like scalability and upgradeability.
  • Some basic security features.

That's (more or less) what I got:

1xLaptop Dell Precision M6600 w/i7-2720 & 12GB 1333Mhz DDR3, Quadro 3000m, WLAN 6300.

1xCorsair Force 3 SSD (it works perfectly fine by booting MS-Win2k8R2SP1 w/the Hyper-V Role).

1xOCZ nocti mSATA SSD (it works perfectly fine, by booting a virtual instance of an AD w/pass-through mode).

1xTB 9.5mm Samsung M1 hdd.

Logitech G500 Mouse.

Dell WWAN 5550 (paired w/the the "bush survival kit" - more on that on another article :D ).

Senior Professional Network and Computer Systems Engineer during work hours and father when home.

Andrea strives to deliver outstanding customer service and heaps of love towards his family.

In this Ad-sponsored space, Andrea shares his quest for "ultimate" IT knowledge, meticulously brought to you in an easy to read format.

Posted in REVIEWS | 1 Comment »

pogo, the new 3D browser!

July 1st, 2008 by Andrea Matesi

I'm adding a new category on my site: reviews. Like all new things, my first review is more a "preview" than a review, and its subject is a closed beta 3D browser: the pogo browser.

Today's browsers became so popular that we may distinguish between "core"-browsers and "value-added" ones.

"Core"-browsers are more specialized on interpreting web pages and rendering them as faster as they can, their functionalities may be considered somewhat basic and somewhat current (although they can be extended with plugins). Examples of core browsers are Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari and Opera (and minor others).

"Value-added" browsers are built on top of core browser's engines, modified with custom stuff, redesigned UI and other hacks (when applicable). Generally you can find some ready made niche-oriented features, or simply some hacks that "core"-browsers can't offer out of the box (like Maxthon, a value-added browser built on top of the IE engine that offered tabs since IE5).

Examples of value-added browsers are Flock, Midori, or this new AT&T, Gecko-based (gecko is Firefox's engine), "valued added" pogo browser.

The main pogo browser's value added features are:

  • An exciting 3D interface for some common functions.
  • A cute lower bar, meant to represent thumbnails of open web sites.

Uhm...pogo they say? Hell, yeah!...that freaky way of jumping at gigs under your favourite bands, playin'it loud!

Imagine you were the playing band: the open browser's tabs may be considered your fans, pushing, jumping and freaking around under your cursor. That seems the driving pogo philosophy. Cool, isn't it?

So, after reading some news, I was driven at the AT&T's pogo Browser home page; after signing up with my email, the day after, I received an invitation code, to try their closed beta (thank you man behind the scenes!).

I proceeded with the Sign up process (becoming this way a registered member of their forum), and was invited to download and try their 1.1 Beta (this way, when they "Open for Business" they may claim to come out with a trendy "2.0" :).

For us westerners, the download maybe considered heavy - 56.4MB (well, I guess it is when compared to Firefox-latest, so it does feel kinda heavy unless you're pulling it off Japanese networks), but consider:

  1. This is beta software.
  2. It is a value-added browser.

As soon as the download have finished, I launched the install process: Installshield is one of the latest, so cool installer - click, click and done (user? can you hear me?).

Upon first launch, you're greeted by a wizard, it allows you to set some very basics, like importing your favorites from IE, Opera or delicious (no Firefox nor Google Bookmarks yet - weird: since it is based on Firefox, the unability to import my Bookmarks from Firefox makes me nervous).

As a personal note, I keep my bookmarks on Google, so I first had to export my bookmarks from Google to an HTML file, and then import them on IE.

Only then I could've been able to finally import my bookmarks within pogo. Unfortunately that didn't work.

So I repeated the same process by switching IE with Opera 9.50 (very good browser indeed), but the results were the same: no bookmarks under pogo for me.

Although this may sound wrong, I must say I can't expect everything to work: it is still a closed beta, to support this, I must say that the menu still has no function to import bookmarks, so I suppose this is still WIP (I accessed this function only from the [initial] Setup Wizard, by closing and re-opening the program).

The browsing experience is fun: the first eye candy is the bar on the lower side, where you have grouped all your open tabs.

Accessing tabs this way seem efficient and straightforward, but the preview is still too blurry: it's usefulness actually may work only on known layouts, if you were browsing a previously unknown site, you'll hardly recognize it.

Switching through tabs is fine (for us all keybindings junkies, CTRL+T & CTRL+TAB works out of the box), but the close button location is really annoying: I ended up killing tabs I never meant to.

My search for the option to disable it, was fruitless, while on the contrary I discovered that the middle mouse button would do what you'd expect to (close tabs).

Another concern I had was the tabs representation on the lower part of the window - I wish I could've moved this bar on top - unfortunately, no option for that either.

The other eye candy feature is the vista-like representation of the Collections [of bookmarks] and the History.

Collections is a categorized representation of Bookmarks: you are presented with a stream of 3D tables, each grouping a category of your bookmarks. This concept is similar to files and folders management.

Example: say you have a folder named "IT NEWS" and within it you have files named "anandtech.com", "xbitlabs.com"..etc. With the scroll wheel you select your collection, after clicking on it, you are presented with a board made of your sites thumbnails. Even if this function is soooo slow, seems to be the most complete one. The only suggestion I feel I'd need is having more than just a collection open at the same time (consider who does have a big lcd and a powerful gpu - even if it seems this is not their targeted users).

The History representation is the more crippled feature of this closed beta: it aims at representing a nice and intuitive cronological order of previously browsed pages. Here, essentially, the scroll wheel doesn't work well - if you fast scroll forward or backward, the miniatures get resized up and down and their representational order responds randomly. If you are patient and scroll slowly, you can go correctly back and forth, although the unexplainable resizing remains.

Overall, my conclusion with this browser is positive: accepting the project roughness, and the need to polish it, after some time, I think this browser may gain some consensus, especially on the younger side. It is clearly not targeted at the super-efficient power-Firefox 3.x, it seems more targeted towards the bored and frustrated IE user, in search of a funnier, casual, browsing experience. And don't expect to keep 60+ tabs open simultaneously, save session and reopen them all up: 5 tabs are enough to cripple the computer's performance heavily.

As far as the OS compatibility goes, there seems there is still a lot of work to be done.

On Windows, no 64 bit version (for who cares of course); on the MAC and Linux side, if the devs choose to stick to DirectX, I see a performance hiccup on the alternatives (call it VM or wine, at least it won't be native).

If I receive the authorization to invite people to try this software, I'll gonna post it here. Otherwise wait (if haven't already forgotten already about it!).

Senior Professional Network and Computer Systems Engineer during work hours and father when home.

Andrea strives to deliver outstanding customer service and heaps of love towards his family.

In this Ad-sponsored space, Andrea shares his quest for "ultimate" IT knowledge, meticulously brought to you in an easy to read format.

Posted in REVIEWS | Comments Off on pogo, the new 3D browser!