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Dell Precision M3800: Keyboard, Trackpad and Verdict

By Mike Jennings



  • Recommended by TR
Dell Precision M3800


Our Score:


Dell Precision M3800 – Keyboard & Trackpad

The Dell’s keyboard draws instant parallels with the MacBook: it’s a Scrabble-tile unit that sits in a recessed section in the middle of the wide wrist-rest, and it’s got plenty of unused space on either side.

The typing action is good: the solid base combines well with the responsive, consistent action from each key, and the slightly soft action reminded us of the MacBook – in a good way. We were quickly up to speed, and the trackpad is just as good, with gesture support, a wide, smooth surface, and two snappy buttons. The keyboard is backlit, too.

Despite the ease of typing on this machine, though, it’s not without issues. The omission of a numberpad seems like a decision borne of form over function, and there’s no excuse for slimline Return and cursor keys on a laptop of this size.

Other things to consider

Dell offers four different configurations of Precision M3800. Our £1,865 sample isn’t the most expensive: pay £1,974 and you’ll get a 512GB SSD – double the size of the drive included with this system.

Dell’s £1,738 model has the same specification as our review sample but without a year of ProSupport warranty cover, and the cheapest system – which still costs £1,506 – drops down to a 1,920 x 1,080 screen, 8GB of RAM and a 500GB hard disk.

Each system can be customised with a host of service options. Basic and ProSupport warranties are available to last between one and five years with prices that add between £102 and a whopping £511 to the total cost, and accidental damage and theft protection is also available.

Other services improve security. Anti-theft tagging, data protection and tracing options can be added. It’s even possible to customise the BIOS with settings from boot devices to wake-on-LAN for a small fee. A £157 docking station adds USB ports, display outputs and a Gigabit Ethernet socket and sits beneath the rear of the machine, which props it up to a friendlier angle.

Should I buy the Dell Precision M3800?

The Dell’s stunning screen makes a fantastic first impression thanks to Retina-beating pixel density that’s able to match Apple’s finest, and the Precision M3800 continues its excellence elsewhere with superb design and build quality.

The processor and graphics chip are powerful, but the ISV-certified Quadro chip and the rest of this machine’s specification comes with a couple of caveats. The Macbook’s integrated GPU, and cheaper consumer machines, have more raw graphics horsepower – and the middling battery life can’t match the MacBook.

The biggest obstacle may be the price, though: this £1,864 machine is more than £150 more than Apple’s cheaper 15-inch MacBook Pro, and only the screen justifies the extra expense. If you need the best panel possible, buy the Dell, but the MacBook’s better battery, faster processor and all-aluminium construction means it’s still our favourite stylish workstation. That still means the M3800 is the best Windows option in this category, however, which is no small feat.


The Dell’s stunning screen and superlative physical design make it a contender if you need one of the best panels in any laptop, but Apple’s MacBook Pro is marginally quicker, better battery life and is a little cheaper. The Precision M3800 is superb, but it’s strictly a high-end option for those with money to burn.

Next, read our round-up of the 10 best laptops

Overall Score


Scores In Detail

  • Battery Life 7
  • Build Quality 8
  • Design 9
  • Heat & Noise 6
  • Keyboard 9
  • Performance 9
  • Screen Quality 10
  • Touchpad 9
  • Value 6


February 4, 2014, 5:36 pm

For CAD work you end up using the number pad a lot, seems mad to not have one on this just so you an fit into an l.a starbucks a bit better. Nice to see things moving along though, in a couple of years there should be some really nice laptop workstations.


February 4, 2014, 7:01 pm

A great laptop from the review here and elsewhere. A question I haven't yet found a good answer to yet though: what is the difference between M3800 and XPS 15? The spec, case, price and benchmarks look identical. Is it just down to the marketing?


February 5, 2014, 1:50 am

92.5% sRGB is woeful figure for a serious laptop. This is not a toy, this is high end device. My XPS 15 has 96% AdoberRGB, around a 30% larger gamut and 100% sRGB and cost a hell of a lot less.


February 5, 2014, 4:25 pm

Actually contacted a dell rep about this. His reply was the Precision is slightly pricier as it has a more heavy-duty motherboard and the chassis design built for a continuous heavy workload. Case, CPU, memory, SSD are the same though it looks like. Not sure about the screen.

Brian O'Neill

February 5, 2014, 7:08 pm

I picked up an i5 xps 12 with 128gb drive and HD screen for £590 from the dell outlet store, £1800 seems very pricy for this.

David Gradwell

February 5, 2014, 7:14 pm

"Only apps and websites not optimised for this high-pixel panel look poor."

That'll be them all then!


February 5, 2014, 7:25 pm

Seems like a good laptop and good review. But I find the article headline somewhat childish. "Its the best reason not to buy a Mac" - really. That is the best you can do. Silly.


February 6, 2014, 9:29 am

The GPU's in the Precision line are Nvidia's professional grade Quaddro line which are optimised for CAD and AdobeCS work, the consumer grade XPS has a GeForce GPU for multimedia and gaming (they still help in some CAD and AdobeCS applications but are not optimised). This is the only difference along with the 256GB SSD option on the Precision whereas the XPS has a 512GB SSD.


February 6, 2014, 5:55 pm

As someone who's owned a Precision M6300 for the past 6 years (with lots of heavy use - I'm an architect), I wouldn't be surprised that Dell indeed put a different motherboard and build a stronger chassis on this thing.

I remember when I first opened my laptop after roughly 4-5 years of use (after the 3 year guarantee had expired) - it was no easy task: lots of screws to remove, several layers of protection, structural elements in an aluminium or magnesium alloy of some sort. When I finally got to its innards I was amazed: no dust accumulated, rock-solid assembly, big copper heatpipes.

Guess that's one of the reasons it never failed seriously on me (and virtually all of my colleagues have had - at least once - a major catastrophic crash on their laptops, be it Macbooks, Asus, Sonys, HPs, whatever.). And anyway, Dell is just on a league of its own when it comes to support service, so any serious professional looking for a serious workstation should consider this.


February 7, 2014, 4:26 pm

Cannot see how this can compare to the MacBook Pro.. The MacBook is faster, cooler and look way better than this

Matthew Salmon

February 7, 2014, 8:17 pm

MacBook is not faster - this has faster gfx and cpu - and a better screen


February 8, 2014, 3:05 am

The MacBook Pro has battery management technology that allows you to plug it in whenever it's convenient without fear of damaging or shortening the natural lifespan of your battery.

The importance of this cannot be overstated, especially as user-replaceable batteries are becoming rarer and rarer in these days. If we were to use an automotive analogy it would be as if Apple were the only marque to equip their cars with ABS or airbags.

Now before anyone jumps down my throat with cries of 'fanboy!', I am actually writing this on a Dell laptop that I am very happy with.

However, it could be said that one reason to NOT buy anything other than a MacBook Pro is the fact that you'll always be waiting for the battery to drain before plugging it in again, which leads to the habit of waiting for it to fill up before unplugging it if at all possible, hamstringing it's inherent mobility.

Unless of course you don't mind or don't care about diminished laptop batteries, or the other advantages of the machine outweigh the battery issue, which is fair enough.


February 10, 2014, 2:17 pm

The reason I bought an ASUS Zenbook over the Mac.


February 14, 2014, 10:53 pm

This is the only review of the M3800 that thinks it runs hotter than a MB Pro. The advantage of Quadro graphics seem completely lost on every reviewer, so they are at least consistent here. Bottom line is that the crappiest, most gutless Quadro card will always beat the fastest gaming card when it comes to pro software, especially any that rely on OpenGL. Quadro's OpenGL drivers are simply unbeatable.


February 19, 2014, 8:20 am

I'm sorry but the battery technology is the same as for every other laptop battery. Apple may make token efforts to improve longevity but it's only going to have a small, probably not overly noticeable, effect. And far from being the only company to try it, Samsung also offer a charging mode specifically designed to improve the longevity of the battery.

Your advice is also flawed - you should NEVER fully drain a Li-Ion battery, neither should you ever fully charge it. To maximise battery life, you should only charge it to 80% (which is what Samsung's special battery mode does) and you should not let the charge fall below 20%.

Despite all this, I have a 2008 Dell M4400 that was only ever good for around 1hr 45min and after around five-and-a-half years it still lasts an hour on a charge, so I can't see that it is much of an issue anyway.


February 19, 2014, 8:24 am

I'll agree that it isn't the prettiest laptop around but it has a higher resolution screen and infinitely superior graphics for professional use. MacBook Pro is a pro-sumer machine, at best, whereas this thing is a serious mobile workstation suitable for the most demanding tasks, up to and including film-res visual effects and 3D animation. I've done product demos on all manner of Mac and PC computers and nothing beats Dell's Precision laptops.


February 19, 2014, 8:26 am

They are different classes of machine. This will be a tax write-off for 99% of it's target market. I'm ordering one next week and it will pay for itself in two weeks.


February 19, 2014, 9:50 am

You've missed my point. A battery's overall usefulness lies not just in the longevity of one cycle but also in it's ability to maintain optimum performance as a battery over many charge cycles.

How many people who make a habit of plugging and unplugging their laptops (as opposed to predominantly leaving it plugged in) have the luxury of being able to do it in such a way as to optimise battery life and efficiency like you describe? Many people just plug or unplug it as circumstances dictate and have no choice but to just suck it up and accept that their batteries will be due for replacement sooner than is technically necessary.

Ideally you should be able plug it in at any opportunity, whenever it is convenient, without stressing and degrading the battery chemistry.

As far as I'm aware, Apple is the only manufacturer to include a chip which ensures that only the depleted cells will accept a charge ( although I am happy to be corrected), in effect breaking up the battery into many small batteries for the purposes of charging.

OK, so they haven't actually done anything special to the battery itself, I'll grant you that, but they have implemented an intelligent battery management system that does a great deal to free the user of battery care considerations.


March 3, 2014, 3:35 am

I bought this M3800 for working with Autodesk Revit and the computer just freezes every time I open the application. I configured the video card so the Nvidia Quadro K1100M be use with Revit and nothing, any ideas what could be happening??


March 15, 2014, 11:43 pm

I just recieved my P3800, and it is a really nice piece of equipment. I do have one problem, however... I ordered on-line and included Office Pro - the next business day I called Dell to ensure that the Office installation was the 64-bit version - the Dell guy said that Office wasn't actully installed - they just inclded a link to a download site, and you had to choose language and version (32- v. 64-bit) at that site. That sounded okay to me.
When I was setting up the machine, I saw that Office was, indeed, installed (although I had a huge problem in authorizing it). On inspection, it was the 32-bit version. After 90 minues on the phone with a Dell technical support guy providing screen-sharing support, he concluded that the Microsoft website for installation / activation was faulty - he advised that I contact MS directly.
I did so, and (after several attempts to convince me that I don't really need 64-bit software) they claim that the OEM version of Office is strictly a 32-bit application. I have contacted Dell to ask them how this should be resolved, but had no response.
I guess this is just a heads up to anyone considering bundling Office with your purchase if the 64-bit version of Office is important to you.




April 2, 2014, 12:45 am

I'm sorry Mike, but you have no idea when it comes to the needs of professionals. The slowest, cheapest, nastiest Quadro card will flog the highest of high end gaming cards when it comes to professional applications like 3DS Max or anything cross-platform that relies on OpenGL. Apple's OpenGL drivers are a joke, as are ATI's Radeon drivers for PC. GeForce does OK but nothing beats Quadro drivers. And the ISV certification is not just a gimmick. When I was working for Autodesk as a product specialist, I often used to do Combustion presentations alongside our 3DS Max guy and if we forgot to switch the settings over, the difference in performance was immediately obvious. So when it comes to a workstation, a MacBook Pro isn't in the game. It's either this, another Dell Precision machine or an HP Z Series laptop. Everything else is pro-sumer at best and really not in the same ballpark.


April 27, 2014, 9:07 am

I missed nothing, it is you who missed the example of my M4400 and of my Samsung Series 9. Had your comprehension been up to speed, you'd have realised we were talking about precisely the same thing.


April 27, 2014, 9:13 am

I couldn't care less about the laptop's screen because I'd never be stupid enough to use it to finish anything. With it's glossy screen it could be the best, most accurate screen ever created and it will amount to zero because you'll be looking at it through a reflection. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, my friend, and I imagine your knowledge on this subject is so little that it amounts to nothing at all. e.g. Where are the missing 4% in your XPS and where are they in this screen? In all likelihood they are in the blacks, because only OLED can do pure black. If that's the case, it is probably an indication that the M3800 has superior daylight readability which would be more important to most professionals than sRGB gamuts (because sRGB is just a fraction of the colour gamut of film anyway).


May 24, 2014, 12:57 am

Trembly, MotorMouth is correct here. If you look on Apples website on how to prolong battery life, it advises the exact thing that any other Lithium cell manufacturer recommends. So what you are saying is incorrect and no, Apples don't free the user of battery care considerations. Apple PREVENTS the user, or makes it even more difficult by not allowing removal of battery and making it almost impossible for 99.9% of people to replace battery themselves. My acer laptop is 4 years old and it still lasts 2.5 hrs, down from 3.5 hours, thanks to me being able to remove the battery when i dont need it.. If i had a macbook, i would have lost 90% of its capacity. (for real, iv seen it happen) because im forced to use the battery at all times, preventing me from taking care of it my own way. So one needs to replace it every 2 year with apples ridiculously expensive replacement service. with my acer laptop i can buy £30 a new battery. Im so tempted to buy a macbook due to its nice design and battery life. but its hardly productive unless your a photographer or video editor or iphone app developer and not worth it. there are better options out there now a days. (lenovo yoga, surface 3 etc)

Jim Dawkins

June 15, 2014, 3:00 am

What does looks have to do with performance. This is a professional workstation laptop.

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