Product Review: Dell Precision 7720 Mobile Workstation

Like Deckard in Blade Runner; I am in love with a machine and I just don’t care!

It was love at first sight when I unpacked the top spec Dell Precision 7720 last week. Cupid’s bow twanged and his poison arrow thudded deep into the meat of my heart, I was a gonna. She was over £7k of laptop and I was a drooling geek, palms sweaty at the prospect of an Intel Xeon E3–1535M v6 server processor, Nvidia Quadro P5000 and a Samsung SM961 M.2 SSD. My shaking hands slowly peeled off her cardboard clothes, plugged her straight into the mains and turned myself on 😉 So how was it? Well, it was sweet while it lasted but she soon left me and drove away with the same cheeky UPS driver!

Check out the Specs below:

Obviously, any laptop packing this kind of heat is going to be rather big and not a ‘pop in your bag and take to a meeting’ kind of computer:

Height: (front) 1.12″ (28.5mm) Height: (rear) 1.36″ (34.49mm) | 2. Width: 16.42″ (417.04mm) | 3. Depth: 11.08″ (281.44mm) Weight: (starts at) 7.55lbs (3.42kg) You can see that it is large and heavy but still, much more portable and versatile than a PC tower while every bit as powerful. Should you take it out and about though, the soft-touch, tough-looking carbon fibre shell is very sturdy and as Dell claims,

The brilliantly designed chassis is subjected to and passes MIL-STD 810G testing, ensuring durability and reliability for wherever your job takes you.

Anyone spending this much on a Laptop will be using some serious software for the kind of creative jobs that make the UltraSharp UHD (3840×2160) screen on my test unit an essential option, but for when 4K is not enough there is an HDMI 1.4 out and mini DisplayPort 1.4 out that supports third-party screens of up to 8K!

The keyboard is really quite nice to use, with a pleasingly soft key feel and minimal travel, but I don’t think it will see much action as this is not a machine for writing. Disappointingly the touchpad is a miserable flash back to the 90’s and is basically useless, truly awful! However this would only be a real issue if users planned to move the 7720 around like a notebook on a daily basis, but it’s just not that kind of machine. Creative power users working on video, graphics or VR dev jobs will most probably plug in a mouse or pen and tablet for controlled cursor control and happily bypass the build-in touchpad altogether.

As you would expect on a gargantuan beast like the 7720 connectivity is excellent. Four USB 3.0 A ports with PowerShare technology for charging peripherals, one super fast Thunderbolt 3 port and a Gigabit Ethernet socket. 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi plus Bluetooth 4.2 will get you further connected and a side-mounted SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-II port will gobble up all your digital media. The 7720 also sports dual, integrated, noise-cancelling, digital array microphones, and stereo speakers powered by Waves MaxxAudio Pro plus has a good old headphone jack to boot!

As usual, there are a few bundled pieces of software, some useless like Candy Crush Soda Saga (why?!) but the Dell Optimizer 4.0 app might actually be one of the rare useful ones.

The Dell Precision Optimizer 4.0 takes the guesswork out of customizing settings and automatically adjusts them. It automatically tunes your workstation to run the most popular Independent Software Vendor (ISV) applications at the fastest speeds possible for the fastest results. Featuring enterprise smart alerts for processor, storage, memory, and graphics utilization all in an elegant, new UI.

When not on mains power the 6 Cell (91 Whr) Long Life Cycle Lithium Ion Polymer Battery kept me going for a solid seven hours of video editing and a little light rendering. This is a very useful feature and the 7720 lasted longer than any other workstation level laptop I have used. I would normally expect no more than four hours of serious use on battery power, but I’d recommend staying glued to the mains for any serious rendering as the 7720 is a real monster and gets pretty hot under load. As workstation classification demands cooling is taken seriously and Dell have done a good job, the fans are not too loud and are quite effective at cooling it down during render-heavy tasks.

Dell’s patented 5th generation dual cooling fans provide a brilliant approach to thermal cooling, taking performance and comfort to levels never before seen on a task-intensive laptop. No matter how high-powered your project, your processing and graphical applications will work within turbo frequencies and your system will stay cool.

Security is another plus point for the 7720 and it comes as standard with a smart card reader with TMP encryption but an optional fingerprint reader and NFC sensor offer more options for keeping international spooks out of your machine. I didn’t test the fingerprint reader on my sample but it looks the business and is placed nicely, out of the way in the right corner.

VR is our specialist area here at Tech Trends so I was very happy to see the 7720 claims to be VR-ready. That is quite a claim so I plugged in Dell’s own excellent Windows Mixed Reality Visor Headset, hooked up the accompanying Bluetooth handsets and gave it a spin. I was very impressed and after Windows updated a few of its MR components I was straight into the Cliff House, teleporting around, using apps and having fun. There was no lag or judder and the hand controls were super fast. Yes, I was using the top spec version of the 7720 and am sure that less well-speced versions might not be as slick with VR so users would need to make sure they choose the appropriate VR-capable options for maximum graphics and processor power.

Get the best of work and play. Dell’s first VR-ready mobile workstation is optimized for gaming and content creation in addition to all your mainstream professional ISV applications. It’s so powerful it can handle complex VR work flows — so you can game or create in immersive virtual reality.

The Nvidia Quadro P5000 is an awesome GPU built on NVIDIA Pascal™ GPU technology and with 2560 CUDA Cores and 16 GB GDDR5 memory, it does an incredible job with VR and pretty much any resource-heavy, VR, 3D graphics or 4K video editing jobs you throw at it. It gave a smooth and faultless user experience and lent its considerable muscle to CUDA compatible applications.

Now we come to the negative, as yes, there was one thing that caused me serious annoyance with the 7720. It was slow. What!! I hear you scream, how can a machine with specs like these be slow? Well, I wondered this too, and can only place the blame on the slow speed, low cost, Samsung M.2 SSD and its drivers. Windows 10 was just sluggish, opening browsers, folders and utilities took two to three seconds and I felt like I was wading through treacle.

Try as I could, I couldn’t find newer M.2 drivers online to test my theory so I can’t really be sure what the problem was and the bundled Dell Precision Optimizer 4.0 was no help. This issue didn’t totally undermine the power and usability of the 7720 and didn’t affect VR at all but irritated me to the point of screaming at it while I waited for new windows to open and Win10 to do basic tasks. I am sure a service call to Dell and some fiddling around with drivers would fix this but for £7k+ I expected lightning speed out of the box and I didn’t get it. I am sure this is just a glitch so can’t hold it against the 7720 which overall is an incredible workstation and well worth the price tag for creative professionals working in cutting-edge Graphics, Video or VR.

RRP: £7263 on Dell UK

Tom Atkinson is a Digital Producer & Photographer at R3Digital and Reviews & Dept. Editor at Tech Trends. Connect on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter @R3Digital

Technology writer for FastCo, Quartz, The Next Web, Ars Technica, Wired + more. Consultant specializing in VR #MixedReality and Strategic Communications

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