Design and Features
The Precision 15 justifies its expensive price tag with a premium look and feel. The exterior is made of aluminum, while the keyboard deck is built with carbon fiber. It’s a high-quality system, though at 0.66 by 14.06 by 9.27 inches (HWD) and 4.98 pounds, it’s more substantial and heavier than typical 15-inch laptops. Still, it compares well with other mobile workstations. It’s slimmer and lighter than the Lenovo W540, which measures 1.1 by 15 by 10 inches and weighs 5.67 pounds, and the Lenovo ThinkPad W550s(0.92 by 15 by 10.2 inches and 5.47 pounds). The Precision 15 is even slimmer and only a little heavier than the HP ZBook 15u G2$1,269.00 at HP.com, which we praised for its ultraportable form factor, at 0.84 by 14.78 by 9.98 inches and 4.23 pounds. It also measures up well against the 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro With Retina Display, which measures 0.71 by 14.25 by 9.75 inches and weighs 4.49 pounds.
Built into the carbon-fiber deck, the keyboard feels good and features backlighting, with two levels of brightness. The chiclet-style keys are solid, and offer good resistance and feedback. The touchpad is smooth to use, feels sturdy, and is very responsive. The system includes an HD webcam, which records video with good quality, but it’s located on the bottom-left side of the bezel above the hinge instead of centered above the screen where you’d expect. This keeps the top and side bezels extremely thin, which means that the display is almost edge to edge—a very appealing look.
The 15.6-inch, 4K Ultra High-Definition (UHD) touch display is easily one of the best we’ve seen&, with a 3,840-by-2,160 resolution and more than 8 million pixels. The picture is extremely sharp, colors are vibrant, and 4K video looks fantastic. The Dell Precision M3800 also features a 4K display at the same resolution, while the Lenovo W540 includes a 3K (2,880-by-1,620-resolution) display. The Lenovo W540comes with an integrated X-Rite Pantone color calibrator that uses a camera built into the palm rest to view and automatically adjust color balance on its screen, which is important for professional artists, but its display is not as sharp as the Precision 15’s, and lacks touch capability. The newer Lenovo W550s, which is more expensive than both systems, gives you a 3K touch screen. With the Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch, you get a 2,880-by-1,800-resolution, non-touch IPS panel.
There’s a 512GB solid-state drive on board for storage, which is the same capacity as the Lenovo W550s, but more than the 256GB offered by the Lenovo W540 and the Dell M3800. Unlike the Precision 15, however, the Lenovo W540’s internal hardware is accessible through a panel on the bottom, so you can upgrade or expand the machine, while the Precision 15 is sealed.
The system has a good array of connectivity options, including a USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3, a USB 3.0 port, a headset jack, the Power connector, and an HDMI port (absent from the Lenovo W540) on its left side. The right side holds an SD card reader, another USB 3.0 port, a Kensington security slot, and a battery-status button with light indicators. Like most competitors, the batteries are sealed and non-removable. It has Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, and dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi for wireless connectivity. The system is also independent software vendor (ISV) certified for compatibility with a wide range of applications. Dell provides one year of hardware service, including onsite repairs after remote diagnosis.
Equipped with a 2.8GHz Intel Core Xeon E3-1505M v5 quad-core processor, 16GB of memory, and a 2GB Nvidia Quadro M1000M graphics card, the Precision 15 is fast. It scored 2,738 points in the PCMark 8 Work Conventional test, putting it just ahead of the Lenovo W550s (2,736 points), and well out in front of the Dell M3800 (2,664 points). The Lenovo W540 did score higher (3,105 points) and the HP ZBook 15u G2 led the way with 3,124 points. The Dell’s demanding 4K display draws more power.
The system excelled in the 3DMark tests Cloud Gate and Fire Strike Extreme, scoring 16,103 points and 1,658 points, respectively. These scores handily beat any other system in the category. The Lenovo W540 was the closest, at 10,049 points in Cloud Gate and 821 points in Fire Strike Extreme, with the HP ZBook 15u G2 (7,532 in Cloud Gate; 408 in Fire Strike Extreme) and the Dell Precision M3800 (7,791 in Cloud Gate; 618 in Fire Strike Extreme) far behind.
Despite its business focus, the Precision 15 crushed the Heaven and Valley gaming tests. At Medium-quality settings, the laptop scored 58 frames per second (fps) on Heaven and 46fps on Valley, which is much smoother than the Lenovo W540 (30fps on Heaven; 42fps on Valley), the Lenovo W550s (27fps on Heaven; 33fps on Valley), the Dell M3800 (21fps on Heaven; 29fps on Valley), and the HP ZBook 15u G2 (25fps on Heaven; 29fps on Valley). None of these systems were able to go above 8fps on Heaven or Valley at Ultra-quality settings, so intensive gaming isn’t an option, but playing less demanding titles on lower settings is doable. The Precision 15’s processing power and discrete graphics card are better suited to game development than playing demanding games.
Multimedia test results were also at the front of the pack. The Precision 15 finished the Handbrake video-encoding test in 1 minute 13 seconds, the Photoshop test in 3:01, and it scored 583 points on Cinebench. The Lenovo W540 only beat it in Cinebench (637 points), as did the Dell M3800 (599 points), while the Lenovo W550s and the HP ZBook 15u G2 lagged behind in every test. Across the board, the Precision 15 is capable of completing tasks instantly, and is a more capable multimedia creation machine than any of the others.
The battery lasted 5 hours 8 minutes on our rundown test, an average score for a mobile workstation. The Lenovo W540 lasted 6:10, the Dell M3800 hit 4:53, and the HP ZBook 15u G2 managed 6:13. The Lenovo W550s showed a decent result of 6:44 on a single battery, but its dual-battery system combined for 17:21. Five hours isn’t all-day battery life, but this laptop is pushing pixels to a 4K display, and that requires a lot of energy.
The Dell Precision 15 5000 Series (5510) is a well-constructed system, boasting a solid build with quality materials like aluminum and carbon fiber, and it features one of the best displays around. Our configuration is pricier than some of the competition, but the striking screen—which features a 4K resolution and touch technology, both absent from the previous Editors’ Choice Lenovo ThinkPad W540—and fast performance warrant the extra cost. The Precision 15’s solid-state drive is also bigger than the one on the Lenovo W540, it comes with double the memory (though the system can’t be opened for upgrades, like you can with the Lenovo W540), and you get an HDMI port. With its excellent design, full feature set, and class-leading performance, the Dell Precision 15 5000 Series (5510) is our Editors’ Choice for mobile workstations.